After All These Years

Tami Keel talks about revisiting the 1911 as a carry piece:

I’ve had hardly any serious trigger time with 1911s for years now, so getting the opportunity to put several cases of ammo through a few over the space of a couple months was a chance to get a fresh look at the old object of my affections.
It reminded me how wonderful the trigger on a good 1911 is. The only way your trigger finger could have a more direct link to firing the pistol is if you reached inside it and pushed the sear off the hammer hooks yourself.
It reminded me of how slim the 1911 is. It may be a big-bore horse pistol at heart, but it’s skinny enough to carry inside the waistband with ease.
It reminded me of how it fits the hand.

All the above are good points, and I agree completely. However, Tami adds:

But, most importantly? It reminded me of all the things I don’t miss about carrying and training with 1911s, and that list is a lot longer than I would have guessed it would be.
For starters, I had forgotten how much of an annoyance low magazine capacity could be. There’s a saying about high-performance fighter jets: they’re almost out of fuel just sitting on the runway, and definitely out of fuel after takeoff. The 1911 is like that. I mean, you have to change magazines just to shoot a 10-round chronograph string! Horror! Nine-millimeter 1911s mitigate this somewhat, but 10 rounds still isn’t a lot of BB’s in the tank when you’re used to 15, 17 or more.
Speaking of magazines, how spoiled I’ve been for the last five years! When I was carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P, I bought M&P mags and they worked. Now I’m carrying a Glock and I buy Glock magazines and they work. When I was carrying a 1911, I practically had to have a degree in the arcane and eldritch science of 1911 magazine selection.

Mostly, I agree with her take on the latter issue — although I should point out that Chip McCormick makes the excellent 10-round PowerMag: I’ve used them in IDPA shoots and when I travel, I carry five of them in my bag. (I agree, though, that 1911 manufacturers — especially Colt and Springfield — did themselves no favors by issuing such crappy mags with their new guns. Once I discovered the aforementioned PowerMags, away went the silly and unreliable 7-round “issue” mags — literally: I hammered them flat and trashed them. I’ve fired PowerMags exclusively ever since, and in my Springfield they’re even more reliable than Wilson mags.)

I still don’t get the fascination for high-capacity mags in a non-military / -law enforcement scenario. I mean, seriously: if the average gunfight is pretty much over, one way or another after three rounds have been fired, the remaining dozen in your double-stack mag are superfluous.

More of a problem, though, is that the 15-round hi-cap mags make a handgun’s grips a lot thicker — and for most women, that could be problematic. (It isn’t for Tami because she’s a big woman — her hands are bigger than mine, I think.) When she talks about how the 1911 “fits” in the hand, it’s because the grip isn’t like holding a pineapple. Even Connie (another big woman) had a problem with hi-cap mags — her Browning High Power was at the absolute limit, size-wise, for gripping comfort, and she used to admit that my 1911 felt much better in her hand. (The recoil, of course, was another story.)

Tami’s right about one thing: the 1911’s trigger is without equal among serious carry pistols. When and if I do quit shooting my Springfield 1911, the biggest adjustment I’ll have to make is getting used to an inferior trigger, almost no matter what gun I end up shooting. The only non-competition pistol with a better trigger (out of the box) is perhaps the Browning Buck Mark, and it ain’t a carry piece.

There’s one more thing to add in the 1911’s favor. When you’re carrying that 3-lb chunk of steel loaded with some fine hollowpoints, you have the confidence of knowing that in any adverse circumstances, you have at your command the finest carry pistol ever made, and one of the greatest cartridges ditto. And you don’t really need more than a few rounds either, if you know what you’re doing — and you should.

And I agree: when you’re blasting hundreds of rounds away at the range, it is more convenient to have more rounds between reloads. But I don’t own a self-defense gun to plink at paper. My 1911 is for serious business, and its weight, low ammo capacity and all the other “faults” of the 1911 are completely irrelevant.

Let me share with y’all a little thought I’ve been mulling over recently: if I do ever retire the 1911 (because recoil), I might seriously consider carrying a .357 revolver as its replacement. Yeah… six rounds instead of fifteen. Don’t care. Right now, my 1911’s PowerMags are loaded with only eight rounds anyway, so the difference is negligible.

Which revolver would I carry, you may ask? Why, the S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum, of course (because they don’t make the “no-back-sight” Model 65 anymore):

How’s that for “low magazine capacity”? (And by the way, the K-frame Smith “fits” in my hand better than a Colt Python. I’ve owned both, and I’m not exaggerating.)

You may all start shouting at me in Comments, now.

Egregious Mistake Department:  I mistakenly called Chip McCormick’s mags “ProMags” when in fact they’re “PowerMags”. Thanks to Reader DrewK for pointing that out, and the necessary edits have been made.



  1. I’ve often wondered if the 1911 could benefit from an upgrade using modern manufacturing techniques.

    Don’t laugh, the 1911 was designed at a time when labor was cheap. Good quality 1911’s are expensive, and cheap ones are either unreliable or inaccurate and require the services of a good (expensive) gunsmith to make them function as Browning intended.

    So keep the single-stack mag, 45 ACP, the single-action, hammer fired mechanism, the narrow grip and the grip angle. In other words a gun that FEELS in the hand just like a 1911, when held and shot. Now build it using modern techniques, it doesn’t need to be compatible with the 1911, it just needs to have all the beloved features of the 1911 but made as if it were designed today, with today’s machinery, and at half to two-thirds the price of a 1911 and both reliable and accurate right out of the box. Hell, give it a polymer frame.

    I know, it’s sacrilege.

    The 1911 fans will poo-poo it, but people who just want a carry gun with the best features of the 1911 at the Glock price-point will buy them faster than they can make them.

    1. I think the only way you could make the price target would be a polymer frame – which means your ability to tune the trigger deteriorates due to flexing. It might be possible to do it with a chassis-based gun.

  2. The best thing about the 1911? The fact you can get a mill machine and the software from Defense Distributed and grind out as many 1911 frames you want in your garage/kitchen/bathtub until your little heart is content. Now, all they need is a Hi-Power template and I will really be happy.

  3. For feel and precision shooting, very little matches the 1911. I have a couple of CZ75s that Angus Hobdell built, and they’re easily as good as any of the tuned 1911s I have, but that’s about it.

    The one thing that kind of still confuses me, though, is that when I’m shooting any sort of action (instead of bullsye), I don’t score any differently or notice anything about the trigger while I’m shooting. To clarify, if I’m shooting an IDPA or IPSC course with a Glock 21, I’m just as fast and accurate as I am with a 1911. But if it’s purely shoot the bullsye at 25 yards? 1911 wins every time. Never been able to figure that one out, other than to assume that unless you’re cutting out all the variables and focusing on pure “machine” accuracy, my technique affects accuracy far more than the gun’s inherent ability or trigger. Which, I guess, is why my laziness has led me to carrying a Glock 43 instead of my aluminum commander.

  4. Bear in mind, Kim, that Springfield makes that lovely wee “EMP”, which is a 7/8 scale 1911, chambered in 9mm. So, you can keep your 1911 ergonomics and manual of arms, reduce your recoil, and a bit of weight on the hip at the same time.

    That said, you KNOW I’d never argue against carrying a S&W revolver as a primary. My EDC is the beautiful S&W 60-16, which is a five-shot, .357 Mag chambered, three inch barrel work of art. The barrel has a full underlug, a’la Python, and the front sight is a green Hi-Viz tube, paired with a “J-frame” sized adjustable rear sight.

    The carry load is Winchester Defender PDX1, .130 gr. JHP. I’d also choose the corresponding Federal Hydro-Shok, even though it’s considered “obsolete” by many.

    My carry round criteria is superb accuracy, reasonably low levels of blast and recoil, and a good performance reputation in the world of people and agencies which’ve used said round to good effect, in it’s intended role.

    Know what else fits that criteria? 148 gr. hollow-base, full wadcutter rounds. But, loaded to spec for a +/- 900 fps delivery, rather than the moribound, “target loads” which hold around the 690 fps to 730 fps range. 900 is sweet, as it’s fairly well below the 1,100 fps speed which is near-certain to “lead” one’s barrel.

    That oil-drum shaped wadcutter round delivers some rather nasty terminal effects on tissue, and has the added benefit of being very a low recoil, low ricochet, non-over-penetrating kind of projectile.

    But in all, I’m with you in terms of Accuracy Wins. We all know that adrenaline tends to have adverse effects on said accuracy, but training and practice are the best medicine against those stresses. And this is where Tam shines. I don’t think I know of anyone on the ‘net who trains and practices as much as she, *and* who also maintains such a “teachable” mindset, when under the tutelage of qualified instructors.

    Would that I, too, had the time, sponsors and funds to shoot and train as much. That said, she’s EARNED it, over a career in shooty retail, much writing, and putting her work in front of the right eyes, at the right times, with the right talents. Good luck being all that work, preparation and such, right?

    That said… I’d put just as much money onto a bet for you n’ Doc Russia to win a game of “Mugger vs. Citizen”, as I would Tam, all that training notwithstanding. Hell, I’d give Doc Russia *better* odds, with a comedy bonus for watching the poor mugger’s reaction when he Suddenly Realized the Error of His Ways.

    And here’s a toast to the wish, that none of us ever have to find out, for sure.


    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  5. Edit to above, and feel free Kim, to edit my previous with this, accordingly:

    The carry load is Winchester Defender PDX1, .38 Spl. +P, 130 gr. JHP. I’d also choose the corresponding Federal Hydro-Shok, even though it’s considered “obsolete” by many.

    Typing faster than braining. It’s what happens without sufficient coffee on board.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  6. Nicely said, I have the Colt Defender, little 3″ barrel and I installed thin walnut grips. I purchased it used over ten years ago at Jackson Armory in Dallas and it was a real low mileage pistol but a gunsmith checked it out and it had an excellent trigger job. The downside at first, it gave me fits being reliable at the gun range so I ordered Wilson Combat magazines, three of them and right out of the box with the new mags I never had another failure to feed or misfire with all sorts of ammo. The Colt crap magazines went into the trash at the range.

    I have had a Para Ord 13 round .45 and a Sig P220 .45 and both were too wide for my hand to shot well. I traded the Para off and gave the Sig to my son and enjoy shooting my Colt Defender. I also shoot the Browning Hi-Power and spangly enough, when it comes to good triggers I picked up a Browning Buckmark two weeks ago that shoots very well. If you want the worst trigger on a .22 pistol get a Sig Mosquito, I have one I won’t sell to a friend and some day need to find someone I don’t like to sell it to. Tried to get a dealer to take it as a trade in and he laughed at me.

    In the 1980’s I had a nice FBI agent living next door and he told me that the most all gun fights were less then ten feet distance, two or three rounds and over in less than eight seconds. Maybe he knew what he was talking about, he said the movie, TV shootouts were the real odd exceptions. I tend to think 7 rounds in my Defender with a back up magazine will be enough for me, this is my carry to church gun on Sunday.

  7. Excellent choice on the S&W M 66. But not a new one. My EDC is a 66-1, 2 1/2 ” barrel. The last of the pinned and recessed. The best they ever made. I’ll bet you can find one for less than the cost of the new.

    The fellows over at the S&W forum have lots to say about quality control of current production S&Ws.

    My church gun is a Springfield loaded mode 1911 in blackened stainless.

  8. Kim – as always, enjoy the reads. And I’m with you on all that. I’m a 1911 guy at heart. I’m a history guy, so there’s that, and the trigger, and the safety of the design; cocked and locked requires THREE actions – all simultaneous – to shoot. That’s redundant safeties, and all of it ergonomic and intuitive. A masterpiece of design.

    But I went to a single-stack 9mm (like you, I think capacity is not particularly important in self-defense situations) so I have about the same capacity – 9 rounds vs. 7. I just got tired of the weight of the 1911.

    The other day I strapped the 1911 on again, thinking I’d carry it for the weekend – a change of pace, as it were. And I took it off shortly afterward. The weight difference was just too much; looking back, I wonder why I carried around that piece of steel as long as I did! Love my 1911s, and under certain circumstances, would carry them again. When the CMP gets the military 1911s on the market, I’ll put my name in the hat to get one. But for everyday concealed, I’m afraid the 9mm simply carries better; and it’s a difference that makes a difference. And in a firefight, one won’t notice the difference in triggers. At the range, shooting targets, it’s huge. When the adrenaline is pumping, not so much.

    BTW – no one in a gunfight ever complained of having too much ammo.

  9. > if the average gunfight is pretty much over, one way or another after three rounds have been fired,
    > the remaining dozen in your double-stack mag are superfluous

    The average human being has one breast, one testicle, one ovary and about 2.5 inches of penis.

    Which is to say that if the *average* gunfight is 3 rounds, then there’s a bunch of 2 and 4 round gunfights, a handful of 1 round gunfights and a handful of five or more round gunfights.

    Pareto distribution.

    Also most of those gunfights are finished WHETER ANYONE IS HIT OR NOT. So really aiming is only necessary to the extent you don’t hit the uninvolved.

    As a follow-on to that, since it those fights end regardless of whether anyone is hit or not, it really doesn’t matter WHAT caliber you use, right? So a soft shooting .32 ACP is just about right?

    Times change. Many things that were true in the 1960s or 1980s are no longer true today. We see less low level street violence (or police do not report it) and more organized violence–this nets out to less overall violence, but it means that if you’re involved it’s *worse*.

    If your only threat models are a mugging at the ATM, a car jacking at a stoplight and a junkie breaking into your house in the middle of the night then yeah, a pair of 7 round magazines might be a little overkill.

    If you’re more worried about a street swarm, a BLM riot, a small pack of Jihadis wandering through the mall/downtown area you’re in, four or five people invading your house for whatever reason, then your 15 rounds (7 per mag x 2, one up the pipe) might run dry pretty quick.

    I split the difference–when I wander around my neighborhood I carry Glock 43. I don’t even carry a spare mag, because I’ve got a 70 pound New Mexican High Desert Garbage Hound who has demonstrated a willingness to get involved in defensive situations. That, and we’re out in the remote suburbs with no attractive nuisances around–it’s REALLY safe here. So 7 rounds of 147 grain 9mm, a big(ish) dog and a knife will more than suffice.

    But if I’m going downtown or to the mall it’s a glock 19 and 2 spare mags. And depending on the weather a Ruger LCP in the chest pocket of my coat.

    You figure out your threat model and arm accordingly.

    For self defense I think too much is made of the great trigger on the 1911. I’ve shot them (STI Trojan) and they’re *good* guns–not saying that–it’s just that at 7 *yards* (which is probably the 90th percentile for handgun fights) it’s not all that hard to keep all your rounds where they need to be.

    Where the better trigger excels is in *proactive* gun fights–where your opponent doesn’t realize the fight has started until he gets a splitting headache and the people around him have a mess on their clothes that WILL NOT wash out. However those situations are exceedingly rare (and I hope they continue to be).

    I’m pretty lucky where hand size is concerned. While my palm is about medium sized I am, in the words of a former cow-orker “Well hung for a lesbian”–I have not yet found a handgun that I couldn’t comfortably get my hand around and hit the magazine release with my thumb (some require a *little* shifting of the grip, but not much. Oh, and this doesn’t include the Euro style mag releases on the butt of the pistol).

    Hell, I have after market grips on my Beretta 92 that make it *bigger*, and it’s comfortable to shoot all day long. Not comfortable to carry all day long though.

  10. “I still don’t get the fascination for high-capacity mags in a non-military / -law enforcement scenario. I mean, seriously: if the average gunfight is pretty much over, one way or another after three rounds have been fired, the remaining dozen in your double-stack mag are superfluous.”

    I strongly suspect this is an idea that’s bled over from the competition arena for the average Joe Blow; not that having more rounds in your gun is a bad thing, unless it comes at the price of making it unwieldy and/or less shootable. Soldiers and civil servants, okay, I get it, but private citizens…it really depends on the person and their objectively-defined (like THAT’S ever possible when it comes to guns) needs.

    Me? I play the odds and generally only carry a J-frame, although I’ll relegate that to a back-up role as soon as my Kramer horsehide holster gets here for my K-frame .357.

  11. Have to comment on this:

    Which revolver would I carry, you may ask? Why, the S&W Model 66 Combat Magnum, of course (because they don’t make the “no-back-sight” Model 65 anymore):

    Why should it matter what S&W makes now? Do you only buy guns new? For such an aficionado of things old and classic, I find that hard to believe.

    I don’t generally subscribe to the “they don’t make them like they used to” mantra. Particularly when it comes to anything technical. Today’s cars and motorcycles, for example, are light years ahead of what they were in “The good ol’ days.”

    BUT, with regard to Smith & Wesson revolvers, they are, IMO, the exception to the rule. Every “new” (i.e. post about 2000) S&W revolver I’ve handled has been clunky and unrefined. And don’t even get me started on the damned “trigger lock.”

    By contrast, a S&W revolver from the 60’s, 70’s or even the 80’s is a sheer work of art. The bluing on the blued revolvers (hey, remember BLUING?) was gorgeous, the fit and finish and refinement were second to none.

    There’s No Smith like and Old Smith. Forget that new crap. Find a model 64 (it’s not like there aren’t a jillion of them for sale) or if you live in a dry part of the country like I do, the blued equivalent the Model 13. Get a gunsmith to smooth out the trigger and that’s a gun you can be proud to pass on to your great grandchildren.

    1. My only problem with a second-hand K-frame Smith is that if the previous owner(s) used heavy .357 loads most of the time, there might be an issue with the frame — it’s the reason S&W replaced it with the 686, after all.
      I wish I could remember who bought my old Mod 65, so I could make him an offer…

      1. Check the forcing cone. Although a low-round-count gun will show in the wear ring around the cylinder. You should be GTG with one of those.

  12. I’ll be honest, I’m not a part of the 1911 cult. Nor the Glock cult, either. I own both.

    The problem is that I’m VERY spoiled when it comes to triggers. Anything short of a full Bullseye wad gun is substandard, by my standards. And as for a good trigger? Hammerli 208S, with the Pardini SP and Feinwerkbau AW93 close behind. Or go whole-hog into a free pistol.

    As for recoil, a 9mm 1911 may be an obscenity, but it works. Or if you want to go Old School, 38 Super in a 1911 is a very traditional round.

  13. I’ve still got my 686 in the safe. It was my first duty pistol from back in the day when we were “transitioning” from wheel guns to semi autos. At the time (1991) our sheriff felt that automatics were too “complicated” for reserve officers so we carried revolvers until the administration changed to a more enlightened sheriff the next year. I’ve tried to carry it as an off duty pistol and its just too big and heavy, even in a shoulder holster. A K frame Smith might be a bit better, especially if you could find a 3″ barrel version. A little lighter and handier and the 3″ barrel doesn’t give up much in velocity. When I carried the 686 I picked up a steel 640 J frame as my backup. That’s the hammerless snubby .357 that was patterned on the old Centennial. I still have the pistol and still carry it on occasion. Its heavy enough to handle hot .38 +p or .357 loads and always goes bang. What can go wrong with a good quality revolver? I carry 2 speed loaders and I think that 15 rounds will get me out of most trouble. Lots of law enforcement people carried 18 rounds on their duty rigs and considered themselves to be well armed.

    I’ve been known to carry a Charter Arms Bulldog .44 special. I found a very good deal on one with Crimson Trace laser grips from a guy who said that he couldn’t deal with the recoil. Mine is a late production and I’ve had zero issues with the gun. I shoot 240 grain hard cast semi wadcutters for practice and load Hornady Critical Defense for carry. I like big holes and it isn’t that rough to shoot.

    For the record I currently carry an XD9 on duty and I just bought a 9mm Smith Shield as my backup. Like Kim, the arthritis has done me in and I just can’t handle a full size 1911 as a duty pistol any longer.

  14. How about the best of both worlds?
    A Browning P35, High Power, Grande Puissance. The
    most commonly used military pistol in history. Lighter than a 1911,
    having a grip that is as ergonomic as any pistol ever made. With a little
    work the trigger is 90% of a 1911’s trigger. 13+1 of 9mm goodness for when the zombies
    attack and the arthritis in your hands precludes that thumpin .45. John Moses Browning’s (PBUH) final masterpiece.
    I own 3 1911s & have won many a match with them, but for a carry weapon, the HP suits
    me better.

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