or Why I am Most Enamored with Certain Pistols
I am one of those guys who likes to analyze everything, which sometimes drives many around me crazy. Still, it keeps me busy. To that end, I've always wondered what it was about various pistols, and especially the M1911, that so attracts me, and how I got here. I thought I'd break it down, because I'm not just a fan-boy, and you should know why. Before you yawn and move to the next article, this is definitely not just about 1911s, not even a 1911 article per se.
I like mechanical things and enjoy knowing how they work. The men behind these firearms impress me greatly with their ability to design such devices, for I have no such ability. I really don't even have natural mechanical ability. I have to learn about firearms, their operation doesn't come to me via some sort of osmosis. The fact that a firearm can be 100% reliable, accurate, safe, and durable—and shootable...that truly leaves me in awe.
So that's an important thing that draws me to firearms. They are bits and pieces that, put together just so, will propel a cartridge accurately to the target. That's neat. And the more I understand how a particular firearm works, the more I'm generally impressed by it.
I have rifles in my collection, shotguns too, whose function is generally clear to me. I own a pump-action shotgun, bolt-action rifles, and semi-automatic rifles. I can disassemble them completely and put them together. I know the purpose of each part in the function of the firearm, though I might not know the official name of the part on some guns. In general let's say I'm comfortable with them and have taken enough of them completely apart and put them back together again that they don't really faze me. That said, they are not my favorites.
I am a handgunner at heart, and handguns are the center of my collection.
I have a good variety of handgun types: double-action revolvers of different styles, and semi-automatics that are single-action, double-action, and striker-fired. Handguns fall into three categories, mechanically, for this discussion.
The first category are those I have field-stripped but never gone beyond that. In general this includes most of the double-action semi-autos. They are complicated mechanically, and complete disassembly is not required for maintenance because they are open access. By that I mean you can clean them completely, degrease them, and lubricate them without taking them completely apart. That's not true of all guns, or all handguns.
Some of my favorite handguns are in this first category, primarily Smith & Wesson all-metal semi-autos. I really like these guns a lot. I love the looks, and I can shoot them pretty decently. I don't have a good handle on the mechanicals, however, and don't detail strip them. As much as I like them for their looks, shootability, and durability, I'm not intimate with them because they are a bit complicated mechanically, and like I said, I'm not that good with mechanical things. Here's a photo of one below, my S&W M5904 (click to enlarge):
The final category of handguns are those which I can disassemble completely because I've learned how they operate and thus the various parts have meaning to me. The part is not just a small, odd-shaped piece of steel, it's a mainspring cap or a connector lever. I'm familiar with it thus I know where it goes and why it goes there— and usually what it does. This is the height of fascination for me. Knowing what a single part contributes to the whole in terms of function is very satisfying and one of the most enjoyable aspects of my hobby. (I never said I wasn't a bit weird.)
Only a few guns are included in this last category: mainly M1911-style pistols, the Glock, and the Browning Hi-Power, though I haven't spent time with it in years the way I do with the 1911 and Glock. I know how these guns work and for this reason among others I think very highly of them. That brings up a legitimate question for the curious:
Does becoming intimately familiar with a firearm in and of itself endear it to you?
It surely can I suppose, but there is more to it than that for me. For example when I was more heavily involved in collecting military surplus rifles than I am now, I was pretty intimate with, in particular, Swedish M96-type Mausers, the Lee-Enfield rifle, of mainly the No.4 style, and the Mosin-Nagant rifle. I have warm spots for all three, but they haven't endeared themselves to me in anything like the same way certain handguns have done. Part of that I believe is because those rifles are, today, toys. Lethal toys of course, to be treated as seriously as any other firearm, but you shooters understand what I mean by toys. They are for pleasure shooting on the range, period. I shoot holes in paper and nothing more, and would never employ those rifles for any serious purpose. You may feel differently, but I own other rifles that I would employ for more serious purposes if the need arose. The other rifles are not old, used, wartime relics. Oh, I fully believe the late Jeff Cooper's opening comments from The Art of the Rifle that “Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons.” That said, the handgun is the most personal of personal weapons, and furthermore, a handgun is the gun that is always there. That I have a fondness for the handgun is perhaps because it is the last sign of personal freedom—the firearm that is always with you.
So let's talk about the Glock, the Hi-Power, and the M1911.
The Glock is a pistol I've only come to in the last ten or so years. Still, as is my tendency, when I got interested in them, I got fully immersed. I think I've owned something like nine of them in all sizes. I've bought all the books about them worth buying, and had a Glock-trained armorer teach me quite a lot (thank-you Jerry). I got to the point where I am extremely comfortable with the pistols. I understand how they work, why they are accurate, and why they are safe.
The Glock is really phenomenal. You have to consider that it was designed by men who were not “gun guys,” but were nevertheless forward-thinking engineers of the highest order. They were not bound by anything they had built before because there was nothing. They were simply looking for a product that would make them money. That they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams was icing on the cake. The Glock was the first successful polymer pistol. Nods to H&K and their VP70, even their P9S, but those guns are footnotes in history, while the Glock rides in 65% or more of American law enforcement holsters, and the holsters of police and military members around the world.
The Glock is a simple pistol with a significantly small number of parts. It uses the typical John Browning falling barrel method of lock-up, actually locking into the ejection port via a rectangular shaped external chamber area, like a SIG-SAUER. It use a polygonal-rifled barrel, also common with H&K. The barrel tends to squeeze the bullet tightly and actually increases accuracy over a mass-produced, conventionally-rifled bore. Glocks are not just reliable, they are accurate. And they are accurate with about any ammunition, due to the nature of polygonal rifling. They will out-shoot many more expensive pistols. Here is my Gen 2 Glock 22 (click to enlarge):
From there the Glock is unique. It has a centered locking lever on the trigger itself that prevents the trigger from being pulled unless a finger is squarely on the trigger. A spring-loaded connecting bar slides smoothly against a connector. This trigger lever by the way has a flat on it called a cruciform which rides in a slot in the top of trigger assembly. Until the trigger is pulled and this cruciform moves to the rear where it can drop freely into a lower cut in the slot, the gun cannot fire. This is a unique drop-safety designed by the engineers at Glock. You can toss the loaded pistol around all day but there is no way the gun will fire because that cruciform piece can't drop into the lower slot. Additionally, there is a striker block to prevent the striker moving as well. There is simply no way to make the pistol safer and still a firearm. Glock guys like to say, loudly and often, “keep your darn finger off the darn trigger.” Or words to that effect. If you do so, there is probably no safer pistol, yet one so fast into action.
All that said the Glock is long in the tooth. There have been changes to the model, in the form of external gripping surfaces and the addition of finger-grooves, plus rails for lights or lasers. 2010 saw the addition of grip assemblies to give different size grip frames—a reaction to other companies in the industry that have done the same thing. Glock paved the way for the pull-and-go, striker-fired pistol, but once the floodgate opened, everyone else went to work on making a similar but better pistol. Glock has done what they can and still remain Glock. What they cannot do is to change their radical grip-to-barrel angle, which is something a loud minority dislikes. That angle is extreme. Most other brands are less so. Glock is also dedicated to finger-grooves, even though there is a cottage industry built around removing them from the polymer frame. But Glock soldiers on, and so far they are not losing many customers that I can see.
For some years I was enthusiastic about the Glock as a self-defense gun, and even got into their sport shooting for a couple years, via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation. Glocks are incredibly easy to completely detail strip, and easy to work on. Everything is drop-in. While that ease has spawned a growing aftermarket of slap-on, stick-in parts, I've chosen to stay with Glock factory parts for the most part because you can get any kind of trigger with the OEM parts, while maintaining that safety you get from using OEM parts designed to work in your exact model of firearm.
Where I'll reach to the aftermarket is for sights, and for conventional barrels. For you see, Glocks do NOT handle lead bullets safely, and they don't handle reloads of any sort. With lead bullets it is the build-up of lead in the polygonal rifling and the subsequent, rapid, unpredictable build-up of ridiculously unsafe pressures and possible “Ka-BOOMS," which you've no doubt read about. With reloads it is the work-hardening of brass causing eventual brass failure. Neither is desirable. (If you want more info on this, I recommend the excellent book The Glock in Competition, 2nd Edition, by Robin Taylor.)
I admire and respect the Glock for what it is. But I'm also clear about what it isn't. It is not a firearm one covets as a personal arm for its beauty. It is not a pistol one customizes in the traditional sense, with special finishes, engraving, or fancy stocks (though people try!). It is not a pistol one sends off to a master pistolsmith for hundreds of dollars of special work. Now then, ask ten people and half will say those are good things. It's good to go. Half, the traditionalists, will say they are bad things. They will say the pistol is ugly and simply a tool, with no pride of ownership, and half the guys on the block own the same exact thing. At this point those who said the aforementioned aspects were good things will perhaps take exception and a shoot-off to prove that ugly can out-shoot pretty will convene elsewhere. No one will have told me where this is and I will be left here not knowing what the heck happened to everyone. Gosh darn it!
Well, I suppose that beauty is in performance, and I respect those who believe that. I still carry a Glock sometimes, because I know that if I ever need it, it will go bang, the bullet will go where I put the front sight, and that any failure will be on me, not the Glock. Still, it's one darn ugly pistol and they are a dime a dozen in the grand scheme of things. Archaeologists will be digging up Glocks 1000 years from now and turning up their noses at its ugliness all the while being amazed that they are all in one piece. Glocks...great guns but little pulchritude.
To me, the Hi-Power (High Power, P35, and they call it the GP35 as well, primarily in Europe) is an off-shoot of the M1911. Of course that sounds like a typically conventional viewpoint, but it's simply a matter of history. John Moses Browning began work on the pistol in the early 1920s, before he died so it is natural that many things he learned from the M1911 would show up in the Hi-Power. It was completed by his student, the man who succeeded him as Chief Designer at FN in Belgium, Dieudonné Joseph Saive. Any study of the pistol from prototype through fruition shows it to be more a product of Saive than Browning, but the basic concept was there.
The aforementioned Col. Cooper, diehard fan of the M1911, was not a fan of the Hi-Power because he didn't like the 9mm cartridge and because he thought the thumb safety was poorly located and no longer ergonomic. Regarding the cartridge, I believe that in 2013 we can stop arguing about 9mm vs .45, as the more important considerations today are primarily shot placement, no matter what you carry, and bullet selection, again, no matter what you carry. Rather than the diameter of the bullet, one should choose his specific defensive ammunition very carefully.
The Hi-Power's original safety as criticized by Cooper was bad, but the Browning Company improved it starting with their Mk.II model decades ago, and today there are aftermarket safeties that are better yet, such as the Cylinder & Slide model. Also, pistols like the 2000s-era Hungarian FEG, an unlicensed Hi-Power, have perhaps the best-shaped thumb safety ever put on this pistol.
Safety aside, the Hi-Power has an annoying feature that disconnects the trigger if the magazine is not in place. It's not the disconnect that I object to so, it is the results on the trigger. It takes the form of a spring-loaded plunger whose flat rubs against the front face of the magazine. You can polish this flat but it tends to create friction that is translated to the trigger pull, creating a pretty poor pull. It is a simple matter to push out a pin in the trigger assembly to remove this plunger. This instantly gives the pistol a much better trigger feel, even often dropping many ounces (or more) off the trigger pull weight.
In the modern era, however, when any feature of this sort is considered a “safety device,” this sort of tinkering is usually contra-indicated if you intend to use the Hi-Power for self-defense, as it could be something used against you in court. Be forewarned. I am not recommending you do this, and if you decide to do it I'll certainly not stand behind your decision!
I love the Hi-Power, have owned both Brownings and FEGs, but have had to remove the plunger in all of mine. I don't carry them, because I won't risk being prosecuted for something as stupid as removing an impediment to a good trigger pull, when a good trigger pull means being able to hit my target, and not an innocent bystander. There are more issues with the Hi-Power, however.
Even with the plunger removed and the magazine disconnect gone, the trigger is complicated.
Consider this: pulling the trigger itself lifts a trigger lever that is pinned to the side of the frame. The top of this lever presses the front of the sear lever, which is pinned through its middle, inside the top of the slide, so that pressing the front up moves the rear down. When the rear of the sear lever moves down it presses the front of the sear down (we're back in the frame now), releasing the rear portion of the sear from the hammer hook, allowing the pistol to fire. It's almost Rube Goldberg-esque, and has made it difficult to get good trigger pulls on Hi-Powers. That said, I've felt some good ones, and the two FEGs we currently own are the best. Essentially creep-free, and quite light. Better than the two Brownings I've also owned. So, it's a challenge, but not insurmountable. Then there is the thumb safety.
The thumb safety on the Hi-Power is not like the M1911. Rather than the plunger tube affixed to the 1911 frame with two pins on the ends of a shared spring, the Hi-Power safety itself has a ball detent that mates with a concave cut in the frame. People say this is superior, and mechanically it probably is more durable. I don't know if this affects it but Hi-Powers typically have “soft” safeties that don't inspire confidence. It probably has more to do with actual fitting. If you carry a single-action pistol you want the safety to stay locked. You value the audible and tactile click on/off that your safety lever has. The only Hi-Power pistol I've owned with a safety like that was my Browning .40 Hi-Power on which I had gunsmith install an aftermarket Cylinder & Slide safety.
By the way, the .40 caliber Hi-Power was an answer to those who loved the Hi-Power but not the 9mm round. At the time, the .40S&W was on the rise and the clamor for 9mm-size .40s was deafening. Browning was among the last companies to offer a .40 version of their successful 9mm, and the reason was because they carefully did the engineering required to build a .40 capable of taking the punishment of the .40 caliber round. Those companies in the early 90s who simply bored out their 9mm barrels, and possibly beefed up the recoil spring, found that their guns broke. A .40 Browning won't break. The slide is much heavier then the 9mm version, and the barrel has extra lugs. It is a beefier pistol all around. That said, the slimness and light feel one associates with a Hi-Power goes away with the .40 version. Having owned mine for several years, I can say it was a very nice pistol overall. I personally don't care for the Browning ambidextrous thumb safeties, thus the C&S replacement, and the trigger could have been better out of the box. Even after removing the plunger that activated the magazine disconnector the trigger was just okay. The magazine capacity was 10+1, which didn't compare that well with the 13+1 9mm version (sometimes 14+1 depending on your mags), but 10+1 looked good if you were comparing it to an M1911 at 7 or 8+1. After all, this was a .40, not a 9mm, now.
My FEG Hi-Power 9mm (click to enlarge):
When it comes down to complete disassembly, the Hi-Power is more trouble than the M1911. It requires punches, and it contains some tiny pins and springs. Even a complete disassembly usually does not include removing the roll pin in the slide which holds the sear lever. You must have the right size roll pin punch for this, and there is little reason to do so. There is, all considered, little reason to detail strip the Hi-Power. It is open and can be hosed out with an aerosol cleaner or cleaned ultrasonically once field-stripped. If you must detail strip the frame, you can still leave the trigger assembly together. Avoid having to reassemble the tiny bits.
The 9mm Hi-Power is a wonderful gun to handle and shoot. There are some mechanical improvements over the M1911 such as a one-piece ramped barrel, no barrel bushing, and no grip safety. There is a take-down notch in the slide to facilitate that action. I mentioned how slim and light the pistol feels, even with a double stack magazine. And shooting 9mm ammo in an all-steel pistol this size is quite comfortable. To me, the Hi-Power is a favorite because it is one of the most comfortable, shootable pistols in the world, but I have never owned one I would carry. They surely exist, but I've never found one.
In the end, the Hi-Power was a pistol designed by committee, comprised mostly of John Browning and Dieudonné Saive, and it shows, I believe. Over-all, the M1911 is a better pistol. I'll explain why. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The M1911 pistol is faulted for many reasons. Probably the most cited are weight and capacity. These two are usually dismissed quickly and derisively by M1911 hardcores with little thought or concern of winning converts. The weight is usually met with a request to “man up.” This usually fails pretty spectacularly. A guy used to carrying a pistol in the 20-something ounce range asking about a 39 ounce pistol gets nothing from being told to man up, except pissed off, as it has nothing to do that. However, in truth, there is not a great deal of difference in those ounces, especially when you fill up the double stack twenty-something ounce pistol with 15 or 18 rounds. But the gun carrier needs to have a solid understanding of carrying a gun, and this is not a common thing. Most people don't know how important a belt is in their carry gear, and especially, a good belt, thick enough not to sag. Furthermore, the belt should ideally fit the pant loops, and the holster loops. Additionally, the holster needs to be first quality. The ideal holster for an M1911 is an inside-waistband model, but I have carried outside-waistband models on good belts without sagging, so the IWB is not mandatory, just better. If you want an M1911, you can handle the weight--with the right support gear. A soldier is not sent into battle and expected to carry all his gear without a pack. Weight need not be an excuse.
Capacity usually comes next, and the M1911 hardcore will make some smarmy comment about hits are what count, and that spray and pray never wins a gunfight. Well, this is more useless commentary when presented that way and not helpful to our guy asking about the M1911. Everyone carrying a gun should know that every bullet you fire is your responsibility, and that's a legal truth. Capacity has nothing to do with that. Where a large capacity shines is in saving the need for a reload. However, you should know that studies have shown that the need for a reload is an extreme rarity, even with low capacity pistols, even revolvers. The percentages are so low, over such a long period of time, that some leading instructors teach that spending an inordinate amount of time on practicing reloads is a waste of your practice time that could be better spent on actual shooting. Unless you are engaged in a shooting GAME that requires reloads, the street facts do not favor a great advantage in having a large capacity over a medium capacity pistol. If you simply want one, and this is an overriding factor to you, and you are not a potential customer for an M1911, that's okay. Just don't be taken in by shooting games that emphasize reloads, and by instructors who learned what they know from participating in shooting games.
So why go through the weight and capacity first? It usually comes up first. But now let's talk about the design. Detractors criticize the M1911 because it is over 100 years old. Probably some of those same folks take their M98 Mauser derivative hunting rifle out after deer each year, and give it no thought. Or they go afield with their pump action shotgun, also an “ancient design.” Heck, they probably keep that old pump action design for self-defense as well. But the M1911 is disregarded simply because it's old? Let's break this down. I might not want to carry a pistol made in 1910, with 1910 metallurgy, but one made recently has modern metallurgy, and was made on a CNC machine. What makes it out of date? It works perfectly. It is safe. It is accurate. It is reliable. Hmm. I think we can set that one aside. If all you got is “old,” you just don't like the gun, but probably don't know jack about it. Sorry guy.
A favorite, my stainless Springfield M1911-A1. 20+ years old (click to enlarge):
So, how does the M1911 work? Insert a loaded magazine and rack the slide to load the chamber. The hammer is back and ready to fire. If you press the safety lock up, the lugs on the inside of the safety itself internally block the hammer and the sear from moving. At the same time, a lug on the inside of the grip safety blocks the trigger bow from moving until you grip the pistol. So, do so. Aim at your target. Push the safety lock down. Pull the trigger. The trigger bow presses against the bottom of the disconnector, which in turn presses against the sear feet and cause them to rotate the sear. The sear nose rotates forward (toward muzzle), out of engagement with the hammer hooks and the hammer flies forward, striking the rear of the firing pin, which in turn flies forward and strikes the primer of the loaded cartridge. The round fires.
The barrel and slide move together, momentarily locked. As pressure drops the barrel lugs are pulled out of contact with the slide as the barrel moves down by the link rotating on the slide stop pin, out of enggagement with the slide. The lower barrel lugs strike the frame and the barrel stops. The case is still controlled by the extractor holding it against the breech face (it has been since clearing the magazine—like a Mauser 98 rifle, the M1911 has controlled round feed, and can be fired from any angle or attitude, upside down, sideways, whatever). As the slide continues rearward with the empty case, the case hits the ejector mounted on the frame and is kicked out the ejection port. The slide hits full rearward position.
As the recoil spring starts pulling the slide forward, the magazine spring pushes up and the magazine is presenting another cartridge up and in the path of the slide and breech. Because of perfect timing, the cartridge slides up under the extractor just as it is released from the magazine. The cartridge nose bounces a couple times, hitting the ramp, then the underside of the barrel hood, then enters directly into the chamber as the slide closes, pulled shut by the strength of the recoil spring, and the barrel is once more pushed up and locked into placed (into battery).
In the meantime that rearward motion of the slide rode back on the hammer and cocked it—with the slide riding back the disconnector was pushed down (and held down, keeping the trigger “disconnected” while the slide was moving), the sear feet forward, and the nose rearward, catching the hammer hooks. As the slide comes into battery, a half moon shape cutout on the underside of the slide lets the disconnector rise into that slot to be in place for another pull of the trigger—assuming you released the trigger to allow it to reset. If you don't release the trigger, the trigger bow will be in the way and you will not be able to fire another shot until you do so. The disconnector won't let you.
If all this sounds a bit jumbled, that's because it was from my head, not any book. Regardless, what you have is a very reliable machine that functions precisely, as precisely today as it did 100 years ago. You have a pistol with what is really the world's best trigger because it moves straight to the rear. It's the world's fastest trigger, and the most failure-proof as well. And the pistols built today are built with better steel, to more precise tolerances. There are multiple safeguards built into the M1911, including a simple but reliable disconnector, a drop safety, and a manual thumb safety. Does the M1911 compare to the Glock? In design, no, they are worlds apart. But they share a reliability.
There is one major difference. Because the M1911 design has been around forever, there are many drawings around and many manufacturers have built and continue to build these guns. Over the years some have not been built to very good specifications, some have not been built with much precision, and some fall into both categories. The result is junk!
Glocks are built by one company. If Glocks were around in the 60s and 70s and others built them because the patents had run out, you might have seen some junk there too. However Glocks, being modern pistols, have the benefit of some modern design that was not apparent to Browning or Colt in those early days of the semi-automatic. One important one was the straight feed from magazine to chamber. If you remove the slide from your Glock and place a loaded magazine in the frame, you'll notice how high it sits and how directly the round feeds. And of course the barrel of a Glock features a one-piece ramp. Browning, or perhaps Saive, had realized the benefit of that by the 1920s and that feature was part of the Hi-Power. Many aftermarket companies do offer one-piece ramped barrels made for the M1911, which require milling of the frame. One company, Para, actually uses one-piece ramped barrels on their factory pistols. Still, most M1911s with aftermarket ramped barrels have them because they are chambered for high pressure rounds such as the .38 Super or 10mm Auto, not because they feed better. The design that Browning used on the original 1911 actually works perfectly well. We just like the one-piece ramp because, frankly, it is easier to work with for the pistolsmith. Is it truly better? Maybe, maybe not.
When discussing the Hi-Power I also noted that it no longer used a separate barrel bushing, suggesting that as an improvement. You have no doubt heard that a bushing makes more sense because you can fit it to the barrel and the slide for better accuracy, and replace it when it wears out. I won't present an argument against that because it is logical, but in a modern CNC manufacturing environment, simply fitting slide to barrel sounds simpler. Either way, guns with or without a bushing can be and are quite accurate. You likely know that many M1911 type pistols today do not use a bushing but have bull barrels instead, and don't seem to suffer. I think that is another draw.
The grip safety on the M1911 is something many do not like. For most of the M1911's life the grip safety was a non-issue for the majority of shooters. The few who couldn't abide it had it pinned in place. When modern times made this something akin to removing the magazine disconnect on the Hi-Power, in other words, something we avoided because it was a potential liability issue, that practice mostly stopped. But the grip safety really became a huge problem for many this century. The modern style of shooting with one's thumbs both forward results in pulling the palm away from the grip safety, and has the side effect of the grip safety often times not being deactivated. I believe it was Ed Brown who first added a raised pad at the bottom of the grip safety to prevent this, and now all modern grip safeties with few exceptions feature this pad. Of course shooters who don't utilize the currently popular shooting style never had a problem, and can shoot with any style grip safety in place. Many of them would just as soon not have a grip safety at all. One such is Wayne Novak of Novak's .45 Shop, famous for the sight named after him. Novak created a one-piece mainspring housing/grip tang that replaces both the mainspring housing and grip safety. There is no stud to deactivate the trigger until the pistol is gripped with this part in place. Others still appreciate the grip safety for what it is, one more thing that prevents the pistol from firing until the shooter has the pistol firmly gripped in his hand. Call this what you will, a necessary part or a pain in the tush.
Some of the fitting required in building the M1911 pistol is fussy, especially in the older times. Having a rivet type arrangement for the plunger tube and having separate stock screw bushings is an antiquated way to go. The plunger tube should be integral to the frame, an easy thing with CNC machines. And the grip screws should screw directly into the frame like every other pistol out there. But one thing about guns that have been around a while is that there are a lot of the old ones still around, and we like to be able to keep things the way they always have been for the convenience of parts availability. Having to have two kinds of stocks, for example, would be very irritating to a lot of folks, so this isn't going to change. Another issue was the original tenon-style front sights, also a rivet-like arrangement, but thankfully those have been replaced on most M1911s, as well as most other pistols, with dovetailed sights, which are superior in strength and easier to replace when desired.
All the important stuff remains though. The great trigger, the controlled round feeding, and the thing that appeals so much to me and hundreds of thousands of others; the feel of the M1911 pistol in the hand. The confidence of knowing one can launch those big .45 caliber bullets exactly where you want them to go, upon demand, is another important aspect of the M1911. After all, the M1911 is, if you don't mess around with it, an extremely reliable pistol that is also extremely accurate. At the same time though, it can be an extremely personal pistol.
The odds are good that every guy on the block will not have one just like it, even if he has an M1911. To some extent, with the coming of the “factory custom,” by which I mean the pistols that are good to go right out of the box, there is much less personalization going on with M1911s than there used to be in my early days with the pistol. This is both good and bad when looked at from varying perspectives. I will admit that it is very good in that you can very likely buy just the M1911 you want, with the features you want, right from the factory. Kimber, Springfield, Colt, Para, and many others are offering M1911 pistols with bells and whistles we used to pay extra to have done to our M1911s. And today's guns work.
For the aficionado, the picture is not quite as rosy, because if you've been a fan of the M1911 for many decades you probably have very specific tastes about what you like and don't like in terms of features, and, as is the case with all products, manufacturers tend to go with the popular features. You can't please everybody so they try to please the majority. Not many of today's factory customs really excite me, primarily because they have features I don't want – more so than they are lacking features I do want! To that end I've been relegated to buying pistols with fewer features than I might want in order to avoid those unwanted extras! In a way, it's is a bit comical, because I'm still buying the same plain jane pistols I always bought, but there is a difference. Plain jane or not, today's pistols work, even if they don't have every bell and whistle. Thirty and forty years ago, the M1911 you bought rarely worked well out of the box, even the best brand, and it had to go to a pistolsmith to get it in running order. That was a sad commentary, but it speaks to the lowering of quality control measures some companies were guilty of at one time. That, my friends, is no longer the case. Celebrate. In terms of quality, the best guns ever made are being built today.
Whatever you might prefer, plain jane, GI style, carry-ready, or competition special, there is a factory M1911 pistol out there that probably has your name on it, whether you know it yet or not. M1911s are something of an addiction with me. I love the design, I love maintaining them, I love handling them, I love shooting them. I enjoy other caliber 1911s as well. Most of mine are my favorite .45ACP, but I have a 9mm and a .38 Super, too. Some of mine have very mild customizing for carry, most of mine are quite plain, GI-style, and I'm extremely comfortable with those. I have one target gun, I like it very much, but my favorite is probably my second most-fired over the years, just behind my original Colt, an older, stainless Springfield Armory. It has nothing but Novak sights, but it is as reliable as the day is long, and feels like an old friend in my hand.
I'd own more M1911s but I suffer from being a gun-geek, and can't resist other handguns, and the occasional rifle, and those suck money away from my M1911 fund. As I get older I find the other guns just a little less interesting, but the M1911s have never lost their appeal.
UPDATE 2020: The M1911 continues to be my favorite pistol, and the stainless Springfield pistol pictured above is still my regular carry pistol three seasons a year. During the hot summer months I carry a Springfield Compact, all-steel, with a four inch barrel and shorter, Colt Officers ACP-length buttstock holding one less round, pictured below. It came to me used with a factory Parkerized finish, but I refinished it using Brownell's Aluma-Hyde II aerosol, matte black on the slide and Parkerizing gray one the frame.
I no longer carry any other pistols, including Glocks, and in fact no longer own any Glocks other than the one pictured in this article, which was a .40S&W I converted to 9mm with a Lone Wolf conventionally rifled barrel, aftermarket target sights, and a Glock OEM target trigger. That one is an occasional range gun I only shoot for fun. I also still shoot Smith & Wesson traditional semi-automatics as well as the FEG Hi-Power pictured in this article, all extremely fun to shoot on the range, but M1911s are the pistols that gets most of my trigger time.
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