Tips For Selecting the Best Model 1911
Selecting the Best 1911 Pistol by Shepard Humphries – 2012 Jackson Hole
1911 model pistols are currently my favorite type of pistol for target shooting! I have owned several brands and have learned from other’s experience about many brands and models. The 1911 is very customizable, which is wonderful for the expert shooter or for those willing to spend the necessary money to build a top-shelf gun. Some choose to have the gun built to their specifications from the ground up by a custom builder while others choose to buy a quality frame and add their favorite barrel, slide, trigger etc. My advice is geared toward the person with a budget of $1,000 to $3,000.
High end makers that I trust include:
Mid-grade makers that I trust include:
Last year (2011) we bought many guns, but all except one were for our business. The one that I bought for myself was a 1911 with THIS grip added. While I would have loved to go “all out” and buy a high-end brand, my budget was more in the $1,000 range. I had to accept that while I could buy a good gun for that price, I simply would not be able to own an excellent gun. I took the advice of custom builder Herb Hazen that if you don’t have at least $1,000 to spend; keep saving your pennies.
Just as being a good shot is a completely different skill than being a good shooting instructor, so are some people more “gun guys” than “shooters.” Because I am not very technically-minded and my mechanical abilities are nil, I am unable to understand much of the technical knowledge that friends attempted to pass on to me. If you have an engineer’s mind, it is wise to really read up on the best 1911 pistols and all of their variations!
In selecting my pistol, I spoke with many shooters that were very knowledgeable. I ended up buying a Springfield Armory Target 1911 for just over $1000. While I still yearn for a high end competition “race” gun, mine works nicely. After a catastrophic malfunction due to use of substandard ATI ammunition, I upgraded the barrel to an Ed Brown. Some things I learned through my selection process that you might consider and discuss with your builder include:
Beveled magazine well. Most factory pistols do not have a beveled magazine well. If you are interested in speeding up your reloading, is is prudent to have the help of a beveled well. Some tough guys will tell you that you don’t need a beveled well, that you just need to practice more. For those of you that plan to practice 25 magazine changes every day for 6 months, nope, you need not worry about the mag well. For the rest of us; it is helpful!
Extended magazine release button. For fast reloads, this is a real plus, but is not absolutely necessary.
Beavertail. Your grip safety must be depressed for the pistol to shoot. At the top of the grip safety, there are various options for the beavertail. Discuss with your builder which is best for you.
Full length guide rod. Many competitors prefer the full length guide rod whereas some defensive shooters don’t.
How much shooting do you plan to do? Most guns fire fewer than 500 rounds in their lifetime. Many competitive shooters shoot over 1000 rounds per week in practice. Where do you fall in this continuum? If you honestly predict only firing 250 rounds per year, perhaps you don’t need a high end gun? As an example, many gun dealers and yuppies love the Kimber brand. If, on the other hand, you ask a roomful of the worlds top 100 competitive shooters what brand they use, very few will mention the Kimber. If you plan to shoot 30,000 or fewer rounds through the gun in its lifetime, the Kimber is excellent and I highly recommend it!
Length of barrel. For greater accuracy and balance, I prefer longer barrels and for concealed carry for slight framed persons, many prefer short barrels. The “government” has a 5” barrel and a “Commander” has a 4.25” barrel, both are full frame. The “Defender” has a 3 5/8” barrel and a smaller frame.
Accessory rail. If you plan to add a laser or flashlight, some models offer a rail at the bottom of the gun in front of the trigger.
Update Summer 2015:We have invested in several more 1911’s since I wrote the above article, so I will offer some additional thoughts. First, we purchased a Sig Sauer Molon Labe 1911 for about $1,100. It is “ok” but not great. I would not recommend one. Next, I found an old Les Baer 1911, which I love. The fit is very tight and it shoots very well. Herb Hazen replaced some of the “cheap” internal parts with higher quality parts, and it is a great gun!
Next, I bought a used STI Edge 2011 in 9mm. Wow! This baby almost shoots itself, it is smooth, fast and accurate! it is the best 1911 pistol I own. If a bit over $2k is right for you, you will not be sorry! Next, while at the shot show, my wife won/purchased an STI .40 S&W 1911. It is tricked out and while not an official “race gun” it is a thing of beauty. Retail price would have been about $3k.
Since then, I have purchased several more STI Rangemasters for clients, and I love them!
Shepard Humphries is a former Police Officer, having served in Investigations, Patrol and SWAT as a sniper team leader. Shepard resides in Jackson Hole Wyoming where he operates several small businesses including an executive protection firm and two firearms related businesses, the Jackson Hole Shooting Experience and Counter Violence Institute. Known as “The Millionaire’s Shooting Coach,” Shepard provides shooting instruction, consultation and public speaking services in Jackson and where clients beckon. Shepard Humphries was consecutively rated the #2 rated shooting instructor internationally (SR) in 2013 through 2016.