The M1911 pistol served as the standard issue handgun for the U.S. military from 1911 to 1986. It uses a 45 ACP cartridge and is a single action, semi-automatic weapon designed by John Browning. Today we are looking at why the 1911 is such a popular handgun. Reasons Why the 1911 is so Popular Written by James Walton We’ll say it again: The 1911 is one of the most iconic handguns ever made. It’s one of the oldest and most legendary pieces ever […]
While we are surely in the age of the striker-fired pistol ascendancy, the single-action (SA) pistol still has a strong, iron-headed, devoted following. The siren song of crisp, short trigger pulls and positive external safeties, coupled with (usually) stellar accuracy and rugged dependability is a sweet song indeed – and when one throws in the romanticism of big bore, slab-sided pistols defending our country and ideals, well…it’s hard not to look at a high-end 1911 or Browning Hi-Power in the gun shop’s glass display case and wipe away just a smidgen of salivation.
Holding an early military contract 1911 makes me think of our WWI doughboys, knuckle-duster trench spike in one fist, cocked .45 retained with a lanyard in the other, fighting for their lives in damp, brutal trench warfare. Or maybe it invokes Alvin York on Hill 223, running out of .30-06 ammo for his rifle, then fending off a six-man German bayonet charge and capturing 132 of the enemy single-handedly – with a 1911 and one round of ammunition remaining. Perhaps we remember the legend of Sergeant Thomas Baker fending off a Japanese assault on Saipan, with a 1911 and his unit’s last eight rounds of ammunition – he was found dead, with a slide-locked pistol and eight dead Japanese before him; his men were able to withdraw and fight another day. (York and Baker both won the Medal Of Honor for their actions.) You see, the single-action auto is a symbol – some say THE symbol – of defiance, competence, ingenuity, and good old American ass-kicking, ensuring that no matter how many Glocks are made, the single-action auto will always have a strong place in our hearts.
And so it was inevitable, I suppose. All three of these magnificent handguns happened to be available at the same time, so I had to compare them – and definitely shoot them, right? Two of John Moses Browning’s most beloved and war-tested pinnacle designs from the early 20th century, and an example of Swiss ingenuity applied to the combat pistol concept – all three highly sought-after single action semi-automatic handguns, all three pistol perfection in their own right.
The three pistols we will be examining are lustworthy indeed: A well cared-for Colt Series 70 1911 Government Model in the classic .45 ACP chambering, a mint Browning Hi-Power Practical in .40 S&W, and a serious-looking Sig Sauer P220SAO, also in .45ACP. The 1911 and Hi-Power are loaners; I wanted to compare them to my single-action Sig Sauer P220 to see if the more modern design eclipses – or falls short of – the vaunted John Moses Browning designs.
The Colt 1911A1 MK. IV Series 70 .45 ACP
The Colt 1911 is, without a doubt, America’s pistol. Designed by the illustrious John Moses Browning in the early 20th century as an answer to the U.S. Military’s call for a new semi-automatic service pistol that “should not be of less than .45 caliber”, the 1911 was the final evolution of a series of pistols and calibers that started with the framing-square-profiled .38 caliber Colt M1900 and the improved Colt 1902. After the U.S. Military fought drug-addled knife-wielding Moro guerillas in brutal close-in jungle warfare and found that their issued .38 Special revolvers did not provide the needed stopping power, a request was issued for a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol design after the US military found that the stop-gap older 1873 “Peacemaker” .45 Colt revolvers stopped Moro charges with authority and saved our boys from being hacked to bits at bad breath distance by fanatics. After a gestation and trial period that lasted from 1906 to 1910, Browning’s new pistol – built by Colt – and its purpose-designed caliber, the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (or ACP for short) won a military competition handily, beating offerings from Webley, Savage Arms, Bergmann, and others. The new service pistol was formally adopted by the US Army in March 1911, leading to the year moniker all gun enthusiasts know and love. The Marine Corps and Navy followed suit two years later, and adopted the “Model of 1911” in 1913.
Related: 1911 or Glock
The 1911 went to war a few years later in 1917 when the United States entered The Great War, now known to us as World War One. The 1911’s most famous feat was the aforementioned capture of Hill 223 during the Meuse-Argonne offensive on October 8, 1918 by then-Corporal Alvin C. York: a story that captured the imagination of every American who heard it. York’s bravery and skill with his firearms – a GI .45 included – made the hearts of every patriot swell with pride and astonishment for the feat of arms and marksmanship that was Alvin York’s story.
Wartime experience with the 1911 ushered in several improvements on the initial design, and these minor changes were implemented in 1924 with the introduction of the M1911A1 variant. The easiest modifications to spot are the cutouts in the frame immediately behind the trigger, a shorter trigger, and arched mainspring housing. Other modifications included simpler-to-manufacture grips, a shorter hammer and longer upper tang on the grip safety – these latter two modifications adopted to prevent “hammer bite”: the painful pinching of the web of the hand by the hammer coming back to the cocking position when the slide reciprocated. Better, more solid sights rounded out the list of changes between a 1911 and a 1911A1….and since then, the basic design really hasn’t changed much. Sights may be improved, ambidextrous safeties and beavertail grip safeties may be installed, but today’s production 1911 differs very little mechanically from a 1911A1 produced in 1924 – and if you had the two of them side by side, it’s a safe bet that almost all the parts would interchange.
The 1911 loaned to me for this evaluation is a box-stock, near-mint Colt MK IV Series 70 Government model, meaning it sports the 5” barrel and full-sized grip; the largest 1911 model aside from any “longslide” variant. This particular Colt has the standard small plain black sights with no white dots or tritium inserts. The Series 70 is a highly desirable collector’s item, since it was the last model made before the introduction of the integral firing pin safety that came with the following Series 80 guns. Many 1911 purists eschew the now-standard firing pin safety of the later 1911 models, claiming that the added moving parts affect the trigger pull quality and offer one more place for the gun to malfunction – it’s also contended that John Browning didn’t put the safety there in the first place, so therefore it clearly wasn’t needed! Original Series 70 1911s were made from 1970 to 1983 (though Colt has brought them back into production), and are beautiful pieces of machinery, with high-polished flawless bluing and tight manufacturing tolerances. This particular Series 70 is no exception, with deep lustrous bluing that is only slightly worn, and nary a wiggle between the frame and the slide. It’s beautiful and businesslike….and it has a big damn hole in the dangerous end.
The Browning Hi-Power Practical .40 S&W
If I had to choose one semi-automatic handgun to be crowned “The classiest pistol of all time”, the Browning Hi-Power would be it. Any firearms enthusiast who has spent an extended period of time with a Hi-Power would likely agree; Hi-Powers are svelte, trim, and fill the hand perfectly, with graceful lines and a purposeful form. Hi-Powers – also known as P-35s or BHPs – were one of the 20th century’s most prolific combat handguns, serving in almost 100 different nation’s armies as the primary sidearm. In fact, many countries still issue the BHP: the Belgian Army, Australian Defense Force, and Israeli Police – amongst others – issue and carry the venerable design to this day.
The Browning Hi-Power (BHP from here on in this article) was John Moses Browning’s final design – one that was not completed upon his death in 1926. However, when the French Army issued a call to the Belgian arms company Fabrique Nationale (FN) for a pistol to meet stringent requirements, FN called upon the genius of John Browning to design it. Some of the requirements for the pistol seem yawn-inducing now, but were quite forward-thinking in the early 1920’s. The French wanted a compact gun that held at least 10 rounds in a removable magazine, have a manual thumb safety, external hammer, and magazine safety that denied the gun firing without a magazine inserted. They also issued the need for the gun to be able to kill a man a 50 meters and be easy to disassemble.
Read Also: The Katrina Pistol
FN commissioned Browning to work around these requirements, but there was a caveat – initially, he could not impede upon his own patents that worked so successfully with the Colt 1911. Browning started from the ground up, and created the framework for the innovative pistol we know today as the Browning High Power. There were several industry firsts introduced with the BHP, including the staggered double-stack magazine (holding 13 rounds of 9mm Luger), and the short recoil camming tilt-barrel locked breech design that almost all modern recoil-operated semi-automatic pistols employ today. Though Browning would not live to see the fruits of his labor completed, Fabrique Nationale ran the natural evolution of the design and completed Browning’s work, along with the help of a few design tweaks that were available after the Colt 1911 patents expired in 1928.
The reliability, high capacity, and inherent accuracy of the BHP during wartime exploits earned the pistol a hushed, subdued respect that still soldiers on to this day. Today, people who use Hi-Powers regularly are pistol connoisseurs – users of the world’s greatest firearms designer’s penultimate handgun design.
The Browning Hi-Power tested for this article is a two-tone HP Practical variant, in .40 S&W. The slide has been beefed up very slightly to help compensate for the sturdier high-pressure caliber, but other than that, the pistol feels very similar and works identically to a standard 9mm Hi-Power. The safety is ambidextrous, and the sights are fixed – but improved over the standard MKIII version with a higher profile and white contrast bars. A neat upgrade to these later-production Hi Powers is an external magazine spring that ejects the magazines out of the grip with the utmost haste once the magazine release has been pressed.
Yes, I could have, maybe even should have, obtained a “classic” 9mm Browning Hi-Power to shoot and write up – but I wanted big bores, dammit – so I borrowed the .40 over the 9mm. It’s a choice I’m okay with.
The Sig Sauer P220SAO (Single Action Only)
The Sig Sauer P220 is the first design in a long and highly-respected series of pistols, the Sig Sauer “Classic” line of handguns. This series includes the models P220, P224, P225, P226, P227, P228, P229, P239, and P245. This family of pistols – especially the P220 and P226 – are the rock upon which Sig Sauer built its current reputation of “To Hell and Back Reliability”. Though the design was introduced in 1975 as a replacement for the highly vaunted P210, the P220 ushered in a new era of reliability, accuracy, and utter quality that still runs strong – and other manufacturers are still trying to match today.
A single-stack DA/SA (double action/single action) design traditionally, the P220 was redesigned in the early 2000’s to offer a SAO (Single Action Only) configuration. The familiar Sig Sauer thumb-operated decocker lever was eradicated, and an ambidextrous thumb safety, a la 1911, was installed at the rear of the frame. Other than these simple modifications, the internal mechanisms and external ergonomics remain mostly unchanged, and the P220SAO is as supreme a fighting and target pistol as its vaunted DA/SA brethren.
I’ve often said that the P220 will do everything a 1911 can do, but better (a phrase that has gotten me in some heated arguments over the years) but I stand by the proclamation – and now that the P220SAO is on the books, Sig Sauer has made my argument that much easier. The P220SAO is a marvel of modern engineering – beautifully made, reliable to a fault, and just ridiculously accurate.
This particular P220SAO was obtained by yours truly after a long and heartfelt desire was churned up in my innards – this emotion struck me the second I heard that SIG Sauer was offering a single-action auto version of the P220. It was one of those “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” moments that we all experience at some point or another, and it’s a special feeling. My P220SAO is bone stock, with Siglite tritium three-dot night sights and a factory two-tone finish, with the slide natural stainless steel, and the earlier German-manufactured aluminum frame (all current P220SAOs are made in Exeter, NH) in black anodized and blued controls. The P220SAO is the only pistol of the trio to sport a dust cover mounted accessory rail for lights and lasers, and it is the only pistol of the three to have an aluminum frame – the 1911 and Hi-Power are all steel.
The Big-Bore Nitty Gritty
All three of these pieces of weaponry art are what I would consider full-sized guns. Here is a basic run-down of the pistols’ particulars:
COLT 1911 SERIES 70 GOVERNMENT MODEL
Caliber: .45ACP, also available in 9mm, .38 Super (current production Series 70 guns are .45ACP only)
Barrel Length: 5”
Weight Unloaded: 37.5 ounces
Magazine Capacity: 7 rounds standard in .45ACP, higher capacity magazines available
BROWNING HI-POWER HP PRACTICAL
Caliber: .40 S&W, 9mm
Barrel Length: 4.6”
Weight Unloaded: 32 ounces
Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds in .40 S&W, 13 rounds in 9mm
SIG SAUER P220SAO
Caliber: .45ACP, 10mm
Barrel Length: 4.4”
Weight Unloaded: 30.4 ounces
Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds standard in .45ACP
As you can see, the basic pistols are all very close in size: less than an inch in length, a quarter inch in width, a half inch in height, and a third of a pound separate the three platforms. However, specifications alone don’t tell it all; each of these pistols has its own legion of heartfelt, ardent fans. In part two of this article, we’ll line them up at the shooting bench and dig into why each of these pistols is so successful, and popular – over a century after the single-action semi-automatic pistol came into its own. Stand by!
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Sig Sauer is a company known for its high-quality double-action semiautomatic pistols. But in 2004, the company made a bold move and entered the single-action M1911 marketplace. More than a decade later, the company continues to improve its 1911 offerings and is becoming a force to be reckoned with on the 1911 front.
Their first effort was the GSR, an abbreviation for Granite Series Rail, tipping the hat to the state of New Hampshire where their US headquarters and production facilities are based. The pistols are constructed of stainless steel frame and use a slide more reminiscent in profile to traditional, double-action Sig Sauer pistols. The rail is a Picatinny type, which allows the mounting of flashlights, lasers and other accessories.
Sig offers a version without the rail called the Match Elite. This version is marketed toward competitive shooters, and the pistol features a match grade trigger and barrel as well as a magazine funnel.
Some of the company’s offerings in the 1911 arena include the TACOPS and Scorpion models. These versions are coated in black Nitrolon for the TACOPS and a desert tan for the Scorpion. Most models are available with threaded barrels for use with a sound suppressor. The TACOPS makes use of gritty slim line grips, whereas the Scorpion utilizes G10 fiberglass grip panels.
Accuracy of these pistols is superb, and both models feature Novak-type sights, some with tritium inserts. The standard barrel length is 5 inches and a carry version is available with a 4.25-inch barrel.
Sig’s 1911s ship in durable foam-padded, hard-sided cases and come standard with two high quality magazines holding 8 rounds each. Other packages can be ordered, with as many as six spare magazines coming from the factory.
There seem to be three complaints about the Sig 1911 series.
The first is that the pistol makes use of an external extractor. Personally, I prefer this feature, as it seems to be more robust and more reliable than the version normally encountered on this over-a-century-old design.
Second is the use of some MIM (metal injection molding) parts in its construction. MIM is controversial, as some companies produce parts that can break easily and this taints the reputation of those companies who get it right. From an aesthetic perspective, most MIM parts give a mismatched look to any handgun due to the differences in metallurgy with slide and frame construction.
Third, there is the issue with the slide dimensions being thicker than most 1911 pistols. This can make finding a holster problematic or expensive if you go the custom route.
I can live with those three issues, as I have found my Sig 1911 pistols to be very reliable and surprisingly accurate for an out-of-the-box 1911. It routinely outshot some of my higher-end custom 1911 pistols to the point where I traded one in so I could buy two more Sig pistols.
In 2015 Sig announced a 1911 chambered in its popular 357 Sig cartridge. It is safe to say that this is a variant with which I want to try next.
Have you tried Sig’s 1911s? What was your reaction, and which one did you use? Share your advice below:
Between them and the FBI 9mm Justification can we finally let the silliness rest? I am not saying everyone should sell their beloved 1911 .45 then run out and buy a Glock 19, rock whatever you want I don’t care. What I am saying is that at a minimum objective arguments against both the Glock platform (and it’s M&P cousin) as well as the 9mm cartridge for use against 2 legged predators are basically invalid from the get go.
The comments section might be fun here.
This has me really wanting to do some sort of 1911 project. I wanted a cool pistol to go with my FAL and have been thinking about different ideas. A nice 1911 would fit the bill. I kind of want to build a cool old school (well to me anyway) 80’s era Colt 1911 with Pachmyr rubber grips and Novak low profile sights. Or I could go with the Longmire and get a plane jane one with Elk grips.
[Don’t have a clue how I would fund it. Also it would not be the best way to spend that money which if I shopped hard could get a serviceable but budget M4 pattern AR-15 for a truck gun and another Glock for a rainy day but I digress. Thinking about what we want to buy/ build is half the fun anyway and 2-3 times a year money has a way of appearing so who knows. On a serious note I will get a case each of 5.56, 7.62 ball AND a truck gun M4, though maybe not in that exact order, before thinking about it.]
Oleg Volk talks about Selecting Handgun Pairs for Carry and Home Defense. My thoughts on the subject:
-Oleg makes a good point about similar methods of operation, especially for an inexperienced shooter. Commonality is good as one system is easier to become proficient with.
-The two guns need to be different enough in size to really be distinguishable. A full sized handgun and a gun on the top end of the compact range (I’m talking to you G19 and Commander Sized 1911’s) do not really offer much in terms of different options.
-Magazine and caliber commonality is good if you can get it.
– Modern upwards compatible handgun systems (Glock, M&P, XD, etc) that offer sub compact if not quite pocket sized models as well as larger compact to service sized handguns offer really good possibilities in this area. A G26 to carry and a G17 at home with a light on it by your bed is a heck of a set up.
-If wheel guns are your thing the classic combo of a little j frame .38 and a big ole .357 mag is a great option.
-I know a couple guys who have a full sized .45 for a house/ woods/ range gun and a little .380 pocket rocket to carry. This is a pretty decent set up; the only criticism I could bring of it is that they probably carry the .380 when they should have a real gun.
|1911 on bottom was traded for the AK|
The 1911 is as American as apple pie and pickup trucks, but in my situation it was a redundant firearm that was easily replaced by my Glock 19. The 1911 has amazing knockdown power and would stop a threat with one well-placed round, but so will any caliber firearm. No one shoots only one round in a life or death situation. The 1911 is by no means a piece of junk or a dying platform. For my situation the 1911 just didn’t make sense and the cost of .45 ammo is insane compared to 9mm or even 7.62×39.
|From a recent AK playdate|
- 12 gauge shotgun
- Pistol (9mm, .40, .45)
When the group all arrived we did our hugs and handshakes and then we got down to business. Lance went over the range safety rules and safety procedures, showing us the location of the medical kits and the information necessary to call for EMS in the event of an injury. Lance has clearly done his homework on how to run a safe range, it felt good knowing that the person running the range to the time to educate himself on proper range procedures.
|Lance shooting steel.|
We began our first course of fire with some basic pistol shooting drills to reinforce the basics of the SAFE series. Once our fundamentals were solid and we were warmed up we started to do some drawing from the holster drills and Getting off the X type drills. Being from Massachusetts where drawing from a holster is mostly banned at ranges these drills were a breath of fresh air to me, drawing in my living room with snap caps just isn’t the same as drawing and firing live rounds. We did variations on these drills for quite some time and moved onto strong hand only firing and reloading drills in which we would rack the slide off of our holsters or belts to get the pistol back into action. We moved on to shooting some Vtactargets in which Lance would call out a color and number and we would close on the target and shoot the designated number of rounds into each called target. I did almost all of my training with rifles in the military so pistol shooting is far and wide my weakest skill-set. I struggled a bit on these exercises, but anytime that I needed assistance or when Lance would see that I was getting sloppy he would be right over to reinforce the fundamentals in a manner which translated directly into hits right on target. Over the next few days we did some shoot and move drills with everything from a KRISS Super-V to some nice custom Ar-15 rifles in which he hid some of my favorite targets, the Ivan!
|Me shooting the KRISS|
It wouldn’t be an ORSclass without some serious PT involved, so we did a great deal of hill climbing and pull-ups because you only fight as hard as your body is capable. Lance setup 4 steel targets ranging from a sniper’s paradise target to some really challenging gong targets at distances of 15yds – 320yds. Lance was able to make our long days on the range seems like mere minutes when in reality we were spending upwards of 10 hours a day honing our skills in defensive shooting and long distance shooting.
We ended our last range day with a competition, a modified version of H.O.R.S.E. we would take turns calling the most difficult shot possible and it was no surprise Lance tied for first, I surprised myself and got second place but there was no better ending to one of the most memorable training experiences I have ever had in my life. Enough can’t be said to the level of approachable professionalism Lance has integrated into his company’s philosophy of training. I cannot wait to go back and get some more rounds down range, if you are looking to get some training in I highly suggest reaching out to ORS, you will thank me after and tell him KERsent you.
Things to come to terms with when making a list of items for a long term survival; you WILL eventually run out of ammo, if you plan on hedging your survival solely on firearms make sure you stockpile extremely common guns in extremely common calibers. I suggest keeping the same calibers as the military and police such as 9mm, .45, and .223/5.56. If something were to go completely haywire, plenty of ammo and gun parts will be reasonably available. That being said, if you are a long term survival planner then you probably already have some form of back up weapon like a bow or edge weapon that you can use over and over again for years if need be. Remember, as long as trees have branches you have arrows.