Written by Greg Ellifritz
I will state this right off the bat: I’m not a 1911 guy. I was fairly fond of them at one point. That was back before I actually learned how to shoot. My first year working at TDI cured me of desire to carry one defensively.
In the beginning level classes at TDI, we see all kinds of guns in students’ hands. Over time, certain trends become visible. The first trend that I picked up on as a young instructor was that if a student had a malfunction or parts breakage of any type, more likely than not that student was shooting a 1911.
That’s not to say that all 1911s are unreliable. They are not. I’ve seen some that are unstoppable. That doesn’t mean that other guns won’t break. I’ve seen just about every make and model puke at some time over the years. What I’m saying is that I’ve seen significantly more 1911 “problem guns” in students’ hands than any other type of weapon.
Lots of things can cause problems in a 1911 that really aren’t the fault of the gun. We frequently see bad magazines, poor lubrication and crappy reloads choke up a gun that would normally run fine. But we also see a lot of problems with the system itself. With that said, some brands perform better than others.
I recently saw an article called the 1911 Ratings List on Gun Nuts Media. It’s the first time I’ve seen an honest and fairly reliable listing of which 1911s work and which don’t. It’s worth checking out.
I agree with almost all of the author’s assessments. Take a look at his list again. Here are my additional experiences based on my last 13 years spent as a full time firearms instructor:
Colt– Agreed. I’ve only owned two 1911 pistols in my life. Both were Colts. Both worked well enough for me to carry them defensively. I rarely see serious problems with the Colt pistols.
Springfield- Agreed. When Colts were harder to find, my default recommendation was to go with a Springfield. I really like their TRP and Rangemaster models. All are good choices.
Wilson Combat– Disagree. Here is my biggest disagreement with the author. My students haven’t had much luck with Wilson Combat pistols (or rifles for that matter). I know they have an excellent reputation in the industry, but I haven’t seen many of their pistols perform well. I personally wouldn’t own one.
Smith and Wesson– Agreed. These are generally good pistols. But I’ve seen enough problems with them to put them a step below the Colts and Springfields.
Taurus– Agreed. Horrible 1911s. We’ve had one team come down for training at TDI. They had quite a few Taurus 1911s. About half of them went down on the first weekend of training. Half of the remaining pistols went down when we saw them again the following year. They don’t bring the Tauruses (Taurii?) any more.
Kimber- Agreed. The author says “A Kimber costs as much as a Colt or a Springfield, and for that you get all the quality control of a Kel-Tec.” He’s absolutely correct. Huge variations in performance. Some work fine. A lot don’t. I’ve seen more problems with Kimbers than all other 1911s combined. I wouldn’t buy one.
Para- Partially agree. The author seems to think they are OK. Some are. In my experience, most are not. I have one officer who loves them and has carried three different models over the years. I haven’t seen any of the three make it through a single 50-round qualification course without a malfunction.
With regards to the other brands, I generally agree with the author but don’t have any significant additional personal experiences to add.
Before you get all pissy about me insulting your favorite blaster, let me tell you one other trend I see in 1911 shooters…
They tend to be either pure amateurs or pure professionals. There really isn’t a more accurate pistol with a better trigger on the market today. The pros know that. That’s why 1911s have dominated in the competition circles for so long. The pros also use guns that are tuned by professionals, well lubricated, and shooting high quality ammunition. That’s why their guns work well. It takes a lot more consistent effort to keep a 1911 running well as compared to a pistol like a Glock. The pros spend the time to do it right and their guns work well for them.
The amateur shooter is also happy with his choice. There really isn’t much to go wrong when you are casually shooting 50-100 rounds of FMJ ammunition a year and cleaning it after every shooting session. The amateurs are happy…but only because they haven’t pressure tested their guns. When they go through a 600-round day at a shooting school, they generally become disenchanted with their pistols fairly quickly.
The shooter most likely to be reading my blog will tend to have the most disdain for the 1911 system. This type of shooter puts a lot of rounds downrange…maybe five to ten thousand a year. He shoots enough for the problems to become evident, but not enough to afford the frequent trips to the gunsmith that are required by the high round counts in the 1911. This student gets frustrated and quickly puts the 1911 in the safe for use as a “BBQ Gun” as he carries a Glock or M&P for daily use.
If you are a 50-round a year guy or a professional shooter, this article isn’t for you. If you are an avid shooter who wants to make a 1911 work for defensive carry, I would advise buying a Colt or a Springfield. Get high quality magazines. Lube your pistol well and change the springs regularly. It’s your best chance for making your 1911 actually work.