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Review: A Forgotten But Perfect Gun For Concealed Carry

1911 pistol concealed carryGun manufacturers have overwhelmingly embraced the concealed carry movement that has swept the nation within the past 20 years.

More firearms choices are available specifically designed for concealed carry today than at any other point in history. Once the realm of .25 auto pocket pistols, many manufacturers now make small, concealable pistols in regular calibers, giving us more sheer firepower than ever before.

Standing in stark contrast to all these new concealable wonder guns is John Moses Browning’s masterpiece, the 1911 pistol, which is just as popular today as it was over a hundred years ago when it was adopted as an Army sidearm. It’s the pistol design that just won’t die, adopted by countless manufacturers and available in most every country that allows firearms.

On the surface, the 1911 seems antiquated to the lay person. First of all, it’s big, heavy and usually made of all steel rather than high tech polymers. Assuming the model chosen is a single stack design, it only holds between seven and eight rounds of ammo onboard, which is about half that of modern equivalents. The 1911 is also a single action pistol, usually carried “cocked and locked”; hammer back, safety on, round in the chamber. Oh, and did we mention that the field strip process for the pistol requires several more steps than it would for say, a Glock or Beretta? All in all, by glancing at the specs, the 1911 falls dramatically short when compared to modern pistols. Who in their right mind would want a single action, low capacity, heavy pistol as a carry gun?

We’re here to tell you that the 1911 deserves another look, and if you are just looking at paper specifications, you’re missing out on the whole package. There’s no denying the 1911 has some quirks – after all, it was designed in the closing days of the 19th century.

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But just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s bad – there are few, if any pistols that have had a century of refinement and tuning like the 1911 has had. This is a pistol design that’s stood the test of time, and as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Let’s address some of the “shortcomings” of the 1911 in detail:

Size: The 1911 is the smallest big gun you’ll ever carry. Yes, government models rock a 5-inch barrel, but somehow, when the gun is on your person, it conceals beautifully. Part of that is due to the fact that most 1911s have single stack magazines, making them an extremely thin pistol, even compared to modern guns. 1911s also have lots of rounded edges, whereas modern guns (cough….Glock….cough) favor squared edges, which require that much more space. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well a 1911 conceals, even considering the size of the pistol, and if you aren’t there are smaller models available, like a 4.25-inch Officer’s Model, and other compacts based on the 1911 platform.

Weight: There’s no denying that your average 1911 is heavier than a garden variety polymer pistol, but that weight can work to your advantage. 1911s are mostly steel guns; very few have embraced alloys, and none to our knowledge have gone polymer, and thus, they’re quite stout. On the other hand, this weight makes the punch of a .45 ACP quite manageable, especially when compared to similarly chambered pistols. Go shoot a full sized 1911, and then compare that to a polymer pistol chambered in .45 ACP – few such pistols are fun to shoot at all, having really snappy recoil and overall bad manners.

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Magazine Capacity: Yes, a single stack 1911 is low on the magazine capacity scale, but there’s nothing saying you can’t carry additional magazines. The ergonomics of the 1911s magazine release are so perfectly positioned that mag changes are a snap as well. Finally, if you must have a high capacity 1911, there are manufacturers that make “wide body” double stack 1911s that hold 14+ rounds.

Single Action: If there’s one thing that scares neophytes, it’s the sight of a holstered 1911, hammer cocked. Like the Sword of Damocles, people think that hammer’s ready to drop if the user so much as sneezes. Keep in mind that as a single action pistol, the correct way to carry a 1911 is chambered round, hammer back, safety on, also known as condition one. This is an inherently safe method of carry – to fire a round, three things need to happen: one, the safety needs to come off; two, the grip safety needs to be depressed, and three, the trigger needs to be pulled. Compare that with a Glock, wherein only the trigger needs to be pulled to fire the gun. Which one is safer? Yeah, we thought so — that cocked hammer isn’t looking so scary now….

Finally, the whole package is just…right. The 1911 is an exquisitely balanced pistol, a fine shooter, and has plenty of power to boot. It’s an inherently reliable gun, even if it does have a lengthier field strip process than newer guns, but if you take care of it, the 1911 will never fail you. Consider also that the 1911 has experienced a dramatic resurgence in professional users. FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, LAPD’s SWAT team, and Marine Corps Special Forces operators have recently switched to the 1911, even with a plethora of other designs on the market. Browning’s most famous creation is going strong well over 100 years after its formal adoption by our military. Perhaps it’s time to give it another look?

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9 comments

  1. The 1911A1 was actually based on the 1903 .32 ACP but I have found that with a six-inch, macro-grooved barrel it is quite sufficient even outside of “too” close-range contacts. The knock-down is unbeatable and all things being equal, not something I ever have or would ever consider “forgetting”. Just like my American Express, I do not believe in leaving home without mine as a matter of fact.

    • For general information, the concept of “knockdown” power in a pistol is a long-held myth. It’s basic physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, if there is enough power to knock down your target, then in all likelihood there will be enough power to knock you down when you shoot it.

      • However, there are rounds with better energy retention, ballistics and terminal effects than others and the 230 grains at 900 or so feet per second of .45 ACP have proven themselves as a most effective man-stopper, with proper shot placement.

        And one has to admit, the mass of a full-size 1911 does a great job taming the recoil of .45 ACP.

  2. first off , No Ward Tipton the 1911 and 1903 are completely different firearms. The similarity ends with looks. The 1903 is strictly a blow-back operated firearm, the 1911 a locked breech. next the a1 ia an adaptation of the true 1911.

    Secondly, With all the minor changes that have been done to the 1911 over the last 50 years, its time for one more “universal” change, the addition of a higher capacity. The uninitiated cry that this will make it too heavy, and it will fatigue magazine springs. Both of which have been disproven by other high capacity handguns, especially high cap. 45’s. With the availability of the 1911 in multiple calibers from .38 super to 10mm, this only makes sense, particularly since all it takes is a trigger frame and magazine change

  3. I have no problem with the basic premise … size, weight, etc. And, I happen to be the happy owner of a 1911.

    But, I do have issues with 1911 carry.

    First, you would be far better off not recommending commander or officer variants, which I believe are never truly reliable for carry. Also, there are a LOT of unreliable full size 1911s out there. If you haven’t put a few hundred rounds through it, then changed the recoil spring and run some more, you shouldn’t carry it. While that could be said for any gun, it’s more so for the 1911. They typically require more “maintenance” to keep them reliable than more modern designs. This is far more true for short 1911 variants.

    Second, there are a lot of modifications and parts out there, many of which will make for a better “race” gun but are not good for carry. There are a lot of pitfalls here. Again, having a gunsmith or gunsmithing knowledge will stand you in good stead – and that’s not a requirement I want to have for my carry piece. Just as an example, there are a lot of safeties out there that are snag-prone, and I’ve seen guns where the safeties are so light that they could be inactivated by an inadvertent brush of a hand or clothing. Not great in a loaded .45.

    Third, while “cocked and locked” is effective and safe, IF YOU PRACTICE A LOT, it is asking for trouble if you get lazy. My partner just never could get the hang of C&L – she was always using the wrong control at the wrong time. She is safer, and more effective, with a no-safety DAO or striker-fired pistol.

    So, can the 1911 be a good carry gun? Yes, if you’re knowledgeable and practice a lot. That’s wishful thinking for far too many of us.

    • I am posting from South Africa. I have carried my .45 Government model for 50 years, on a daily basis, c&l. The grip safety in operation. Many years ago, I wanted to up my mag capacity, so I modified my Colt with a Para-Ordanance grip/mag coversion, to give me a double stack mag (10+1). Looking for a bit more “punch”, I resorted to my own reloads, 201gr, hard cast “Keith Type” semi-wad cutter, @ 1,100fps. I have shot thousands of rounds in competition etc. The load is reliable, and accurate, and will allow “head shots” at 50yds. By the way, we call the 9mm Parabellum, the 9mm Paraplegic

  4. First, I’ll open ith the disclaimer that while CCW is on the books for us Canadians, it is extremely rare for one of us “little people” with proper licenses and actual training and experience to get it. Civilian CCW is typically limited to prosecutors and judges in high-profile or controversial cases or defence lawyers who lose major criminal cases. Even the vast majority of our LEO aren’t even allowed to take their guns homes at the end of the shift, let alone carry off-duty.

    As for me, I have almost girlishly small hands. So double-stack pistols give me some trouble, particularly in getting a quick, accurate, stable and repeatable grip. So it leaves me with single-stack pistols. And I love my Kimber Custom TLE II. No rail, but that doesn’t but me at all, good weight in the hand, great ergonomics. But more parts than I’d like in field-stripping. My other pistol is a Sig P225 (with a 106mm barrel so it is legal for ownership in Canada), for which I have even called a complete and utter moron for owning and liking. But in the hand, with a Hogue grip, it feels almost like it was custom-made for me. And I am surgical with it.

    My limited experience with CCW is day-long IDPA matches. I know, hardly the same as carrying every day, but both guns sit just right immediately behind my hip and after the first hour of having either holstered I can almost forget it is there.

    And from where I am sitting, the only thing that could possibly be the ultimate carry gun (my opinion alone) would be a Sig P220, combining the works of my P225 with my favourite pistol caliber. I regret selling my 220 Combat now, but rent needed paying at the time…

  5. So…..the author says “You can always carry a spare mag”. With a full-size .45 already being heavy, adding another mag would only increase the weight to the carrier. I carry a Sig SP2022 in .40. And the polymer construction makes it lighter, and I have 13+ rounds with ONE mag. You load the correct round (165 grain Hornady Critical Defense JHP), and it is not “snappy” whatsoever. The .45 is a good weapon to practice with, and to show off. But I carry every day, all the time….and like more than 7 or 8 rounds, if it comes to that.

  6. Statistically, personal defense situations require two shots from the defender. Based on a report filed by the NRA, with analysis done by Claude Werner, this is the mean and average number of shots required to cease a situation and prevent further aggression. This study included all types of civilian armed conflict, including those with multiple aggressors, as when the first aggressor is shot the remainder almost always flee. Ladies and gentleman, thieves do not want to fight or work for your possessions, that is why they steal instead of work.

    This is a short clip from the article of the findings:
    Handguns were used in 78% of incidents while long guns were used in 13%; in the balance the type of firearm was not reported. The most common size of handgun was the .35 caliber family (.38, .357, 9mm) at 61%, with most .38s apparently being of the 5 shot variety. (.380s and below) were at 23%, and .40 caliber and up at 15%.

    You can have any opinion that you like, we are all entitled, but only a fool argues with fact. That being said, do I carry a derringer with the “necessary” two shots, no. I carry an EMP. It conceals well, I practice weekly to the tune of 150 rounds, and have utter confidence in my ability to protect myself in any real world situation.

    Lets be honest with ourselves, we can only engage one target at a time. In real world situations, the engagement/neutralization of the closest aggressor stops the encounter. If you need more than four to six rounds to stop an aggressor at close range you are not responsible enough to carry in the first place.

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