Category Archives: Firearms

A 1911 by Any Other Name Would Be . . . an M1991A1 — Shooting Review


Colt M1991A1 Government Model

Colt M1991A1 Government Model

A word for the shooting enthusiast:  This review is geared toward novices in general and writers of fiction in particular.  If you’re a shooter or a fan of the M1911 you’ll still enjoy it, but please bear with some of the more extraneous background stuff.  For someone looking for a review of the M1991A1 with a purchase in mind, read through to the end for a detailed look at the fit, finish, and other particulars for this model.

Last Monday we took a look at John Browning’s handgun masterpiece — the Colt Model 1911 — and later advancements made to his original design by the company that commissioned him to develop it.  Today we’ll take a look at what it’s like to operate and actually fire a modern version of this century-old design.  But before we do, let’s make a size comparison of the M1911 with another favorite of mine, the Walther PPK/S.  The PP-series of pistols are much smaller, and they are straight blow-backs designed for smaller calibers such as the .32 ACP/7.65mm and .380 ACP/9mm kurz.

Two Pieces of History — Colt M1911 and Walther PP-series

Two Pieces of History — Colt M1911 and Walther PP-series

That “ACP” designation in .45 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol, and all ACP cartridges were designed for either Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FNH) of Belgium or the U.S. Colt’s Manufacturing Company by one man — again, John Browning.  Other Browning designed ACP cartridges are the .25 ACP and the all but discontinued.38 ACP.

If you compare the size of the M1911 to something considerably more concealable you’ll find that the M1911 is by no means a small pistol.  It is in fact quite large and very heavy.  The PPK/S you see below weighs in at around 22.4 ounces/635 grams, including an empty magazine.  The M1911 on the other hand tips the scales at almost 2½ pounds — 39 ounces/1.1 kilograms with an empty magazine for the original government model.  The modern M1991A1 in standard configuration beats that, but just barely at 37.78 ounces/1071 grams according to my kitchen scales.

Size comparison with a Walther PPK/S

Size comparison with a Walther PPK/S

Does that make the standard M1911 impractical for concealed carry?  Not at all.  I know several people who conceal the full-size version, and others who pack smaller versions.  Despite it’s 8.6-inch/217mm length the M1911 is particularly well suited for inside-the-waistband carry because it is relatively narrow — around 1.34 inches/34mm at the grip and an almost unbelievably narrow .91 inches/23mm at the slide.  The only real downside to concealed carry would have to be a hefty weight which requires a very good belt.

Surprisingly Thin

Surprisingly Thin

The M1911 is normally carried in the cocked-and-locked configuration (also called “condition one).  Cocked-and-locked means that there is a live round in the chamber and the hammer is fully cocked and ready to fire.  A thumb-operable external safety is engaged in condition one to prevent accidental discharge.

"Cocked-and-Locked"

“Cocked-and-Locked”

So, should you consider adding an M1911 to your collection?  Absolutely.  It’s the iconic U.S. semiautomatic, and has been since, well, 1911 (see: Historical Firearms — The Colt Model 1911).  It’s simply a wonderful range toy even if you opt to carry something more modern — intuitive to aim, fun to shoot, easily controlled despite being chambered in .45 ACP, and it’s one of the most accurate handguns ever devised.

Cocked and ready to fire — Safety off

Cocked and ready to fire — Safety off

Which brings us to some of the features incorporated into the M1911.  In addition to the external thumb safety there is an additional safety built into the grip.  If the grip is not properly held and the grip safety depressed, the weapon will not fire.  In what has become a familiar standard here in the U.S., the magazine is released via manipulation of the magazine release button located on the frame just aft of the trigger.  Internally, at least since 1983 on Colt Series 80 pistols such as the M1991A1 depicted here, there is also a firing pin block that only disengages when the trigger is pulled, which in turn can only occur if the external safety is disengaged and the grip safety is squeezed into the grip.

Standard M1911 controls

Standard M1911 controls

That last Series 80 feature is a bit controversial.  Some claim that it unnecessarily complicated the original design, degraded the trigger by making it stiffer and adding an almost imperceptible (in my view) amount of trigger creep before the hammer trips, and gunsmiths complained that the new design is more difficult to tune to competition standards.  My personal opinion?  It’s still one of the best triggers out there, and according to my research any gunsmith worthy of the title will be able to tune your trigger with just a bit more effort.  But even out of the box, I’d be hard pressed to understand why anyone would think this weapon needs any tuning whatsoever.  If the shooter can’t hold this weapon on target, then it’s the shooter who has a problem rather than the trigger and firing system on this weapon.

Range review:  I’ve fired other M1911 models in the past, including a Series 70 Gold Cup with National Match barrel.  And while it’s been awhile since then, I have no complaints concerning the current M1991A1 Series 80.  Trigger take-up is in the neighborhood of ⅛ inch/3mm.  The aforementioned trigger “creep” is less than even that.  As such, the hammer trip is very clean and exceedingly crisp, especially when compared to most modern trigger designs.  Trigger reset is equally short with a very positive tactile feedback and audible “click.”  Reliability is superb with the two ammo types I fed through it — full metal jacket and jacketed hollow points.  As for accuracy, this pistol without any modification whatsoever is capable of better accuracy than most any shooter who will fire one, and you can’t ask for better than that.  Indeed, take a look at this demonstration video from one of my favorite handgun reviewers, Hickok45:

Don’t Fear the Recoil:  Many people unfairly in my view criticize the .45 ACP cartridge as being “uncontrollable,” and thus fairly inaccurate especially on followup shots.  A lot of that is not born out by the physics, however.  The original .45 ACP design called for a 230-grain/.526-ounce/14.9-gram bullet traveling subsonically at around 830 feet/253 meters per second.  That works out to around 352 foot-pounds/477 Joules of force.  Compare that to the original specifications of the “much more controllable” 9mm Parabellum.  That cartridge was designed around a 115-grain/.263-ounce/7.45-gram bullet traveling at the supersonic velocity of 1,300 feet/390 meters per second.  Total energy from that round is 420 foot-pounds/570 Joules.  Bear in mind that 9mm weapons are for the most part considerably lighter than the M1911, yet as you can see they transmit more recoil force back through the weapon and ultimately to the shooter’s hand.  In my opinion the 9mm has a sharper, quicker recoil whereas the .45 ACP imparts a steady, even, thrust-like reaction.  Recoil management is thus easy to accomplish and target reacquisition is very quick.

A little side story on that slower .45 ACP velocity.  Back in my younger uncorrected vision days I could actually follow with my eye a .45 ACP bullet heading downrange, especially when shooting in bright sunlight at long ranges against a light-colored backdrop.  It was a truly bizarre experience, and I cannot recall being able to do that with any other bullet I’ve ever fired.

But back to what it’s like to fire an M1911 in .45 ACP (fiction writers in particular take note):  The noise from a .45 ACP is unlike most smaller caliber handguns such as the 9mm in that it imparts a slightly deeper, almost cannon-like “boom” rather than a sharp “bang.”  That’s not to say the .45 ACP is louder.  It isn’t.  What I’m describing is just a slightly deeper, lower frequency with less “crack,” probably as a result of comparing a subsonic round (.45 ACP) to one that will emit the “crack” of a sonic boom (9mm).  Recoil is surprisingly light.  Muzzle flip is negligible, especially with a proper grip.  Target reacquisition is quick and efficient, and followup shots are easily managed.

Now a look at the current fit-and-finish of the “New Roll Mark” post-2001 version of the Colt M1991A1:  If you’re considering adding an M1911 variant to your collection you can do a lot worse than this particular version.  This is first and foremost a real Colt and not a pretender.  Slide-to-frame fit is extremely tight with almost no perceptible play.  Barrel-to-bushing tolerance is so tight that I cannot induce any wobble at all in my example.

As for finish, the satin bluing is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen in recent years, and light-years beyond the Parkerized finish of the original “Old Roll Mark” version of the M1991A1:

Satin Blue Finish

Satin Blue Finish

The grips that come with the Colt M1991A1 are nicely textured, beautifully stained, semi-gloss rosewood:

Textured Rosewood Grips

Textured Rosewood Grips

Specifications:

  • Length: 8.54 inches/217mm
  • Barrel Length: 5.03 inches/128mm
  • Slide Width: .91 inches/23mm
  • Maximum Width: 1.34 inches/34mm
  • Weight with empty magazine: 37.78 ounces/1,071 grams
  • Capacity: 7+1

Pricing:  This particular Colt M1991A1 with blued finish and rosewood grips is Colt model number O1991.  The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $974, but you can find them available for under $900 and Bud’s Gun Shop is listing one at $834 as of this writing.

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Historical Firearms — The Colt Model 1911


Colt M1991A1 — The "Modern" Model 1911 with Series 80 firing system

Colt M1991A1 — The “Modern” Model 1911 with Series 80 firing system

Next Monday I’ll be presenting a review of the firearm pictured here, but today I want to devote this blog to one of the most iconic and historically important handguns ever produced — John Moses Browning’s superlatively designed, stunningly beautiful achievement the Colt Model 1911 designed for the potent .45 ACP cartridge.

You’ve seen the 1911 before, by the way.  In fact, whether you know it or not, you’ve seen it literally thousands of times over the years.  And, as a purveyor of fiction, I simply must note that you’ve seen it mentioned in countless novels as well — Even agent 007 used it in Ian Fleming‘s novel Moonraker and in the short story From a View to a Kill in the For Your Eyes Only collection of works.  You simply cannot escape it’s ubiquitous presence in television, movies, literature, and any serious history on the U.S. military over the past 100+ years.

For instance it was Thomas Sullivan Magnum’s favorite weapon.

 Image from Internet Movie Firearms Database (www.imfdb.org)

Tom Magnum on the case with his trusty Series 70 M1911— Image from Internet Movie Firearms Database (www.imfdb.org)

Mike Hammer called his 1911 “Betsy.”

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Stacy Keach) with “Betsy”

And even John Shaft used one.

John Shaft’s M1911 — For those times when his Colt Detective Special just wasn’t enough firepower

Indeed, you’ll see an M1911 used by either the hero or a bad guy in almost any film or television show in which firearms play a prominent roll in the storyline.  In real life the M1911 was used by various law enforcement agencies (and still in use by some, including certain FBI units), mobsters, gangsters, and spies.

M1911 "Government Model"

M1911 “Government Model”

But the Model 1911 (M1911 for short) gained its fame on the battlefields of World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, etc., etc., etc.  Indeed the M1911 was first adopted by the U.S. Army in early 1911 — hence the name — and was the primary sidearm of the U.S. military until it was replaced by the vastly inferior 9mm Beretta M9 (military version of the Beretta 92) in 1985.

9mm Beretta M9 — The Army’s idea of a “replacement” for the M1911

The M1911′s story with the U.S. military did not end there, however.  It continues in service to this day with  U.S. Marine Expeditionary Units under its new designation as the M45 MEU(SOC) pistol.  More recently the USMC has acquired directly from Colt a railed version of the 1911 designated the M45A1 CQBP — Close Quarter Battle Pistol — for use by both the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC).

M45A1 CQBP — Made by Colt and equipped with an accessory rail

Between the original M1911 and the M1911A1 version  that succeeded it in 1924, the U.S. military acquired an astounding 2.7 million copies made by Colt, Springfield Armory (the former U.S. government arsenal, and not the current company using that name), Remington, North American Arms, Ithaca Gun Company (known for shotguns), Remington Rand (the typewriter/computer company), Singer (another typewriter manufacturer), and even a maker of railroad signalling gear — Union Switch & Signal.

M1911 "Government Model"

M1911 “Government Model”

After World War II the U.S. military had enough M1911s on hand to last until their ultimate replacement some forty years later by the aforementioned M9 Beretta.  These M1911s were refurbished as needed at the Rock Island Arsenal (not to be confused with Armscor’s Rock Island Armory brand name), the U.S. Government Springfield Armory, and other military depots and arsenals.

In other words, if you’ve seen a war movie involving U.S. troops set in time from 1911 until at least 1986, chances are you saw an M1911 in the picture.  And if you’ve watched a movie concerning the U.S. Marine Corps after 1985, there’s still a good chance you’ve seen a version of the M1911.

Today everybody and his fourth cousin twice removed make some version of the M1911 — Colt (the true original), Springfield Armory (the company, not the original U.S. government armory), SIG, Kimber, Wilson Combat, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Remington, Para Ordinance, Taurus (Brazil), Rock Island Armory (the Armscor Filipino subsidiary), and even a .22 version marked under the Walther banner but made in Turkey for parent company Umarex. That’s just a partial list, by the way.  Past and present there have been well over 100 companies that have made versions of the M1911 in some form or another, and in calibers ranging from the original .45 ACP to at least ten other calibers from the diminutive (.22) to the ridiculous (.460 Rowland).

And who came up with this still popular design?  Why, John Moses Browning, of course.  You’ll recall that name from my series on Winchester lever-action rifles (see: Winchester Rifles — Part 1;  and Winchester Rifles — Part 2), another iconic series of historic firearms.  But to make a semiautomatic pistol that was still somewhat compact and relatively light, yet would stand up to the power of the .45 ACP cartridge, John Browning would have to invent an entirely new recoil mechanism.  Existing locked breech mechanisms of the era were complex, costly to manufacture, and unreliable.  So, what Browning came up with was a short-recoil, tilting barrel, locked breech design.  A simplified form of that Browning invention is still used to this day in nearly every semiautomatic handgun made for powerful calibers beginning with the 9mm Parabellum.  This short-recoil locked-breech mechanism works by briefly locking the barrel and slide together as a unit after the firing of the bullet.  The slide and barrel recoil back a short distance until the barrel tilts and disengages from the “locking” mechanism affixing it to the slide.  The slide continues reward, opening the breech, at which time the spent cartridge is extracted from the chamber and ejected through the now exposed port at the top of the pistol.  The slide then reverses, strips a fresh round from the magazine, and forces it into the chamber before reengaging the barrel and returning to battery (meaning the slide and barrel seated fully forward into firing position atop the frame of the weapon).

Here’s a demonstration to put all that mumbo-jumbo together for you:

As the M1911 was originally developed by John Browning under contract to Colt, I’ll now stick specifically to Colt civilian models rather that even thinking of touching upon the 100+ other manufacturers and their variants.  The most common Colt civilian variants of the full-size M1911 (not Commander nor Officer models with reduced length barrels and slides) are:

  • Colt Government Mk. IV Series 70 (1970 to 1983) — Revised “Collet” barrel bushing that supposedly increased accuracy, but was also prone to breakage thus reducing reliability.
  • Colt Government Mk. IV Series 80 (two basic versions)
    1. 1983 to 1988 — New internal firing pin block for additional safety against accidental discharges resulting from dropping the weapon; retained the Series 70 Collet barrel bushing.
    2. 1988 to present — same internal firing pin block; return to the solid bushing pre-Series 70.
  • Colt Government Mk. IV Series 70 (2001 to present) — A return to the original design that drops the internal firing pin safety of the Series 80; earlier 70 Series Collet bushing replaced with original-style solid bushing
    Note:  The return to the Series 70 firing system without the internal firing pin block was in response to criticism that it was more difficult to perform a trigger job on the Series 80.
  • Colt GovernmentM1991A1 (two basic versions)
    1. “Old Roll Mark” (ORM) version 1991 to 2001 — Series 80 firing pin block and original, pre-Series 70 barrel bushing; plastic trigger; cheap Parkerized finish; large and, to some, ugly “COLT M1991A” roll mark on slide.
    2. “New Roll Mark” (NRM) version 2001 to present — As with ORM above except an anodized aluminum trigger; much more attractive brushed-blue finish (stainless steel version also available); smaller, more sedate “COLT’S GOVERNMENT MODEL .45 AUTOMATIC CALIBER” slide roll mark.

Here’s a link list to the current Colt models mentioned immediately above as well as other variations I’ve not mentioned (including the .380 ACP variant known as the Colt Mustang):

  • Colt M1991A1
  • Colt XSE (a high-end Series 80 derivative)
  • Colt Combat Elite (tactical version of the Series 80 also available in 10mm)
  • Colt Rail Gun (Series 80 version with Picatinny accessory rail)
  • Colt Gold Cup (Series 80 target model with match-grade barrel, adjustable sights, and other enhancements)
  • Colt Series 70
  • Colt Defender (short-barrel Series 80 version optimized for concealed carry)
  • Colt New Agent (another short-barrel Series 80 version)
  • Colt Special Combat Government (larger, long-barrel Series 80 variant for open carry, law enforcement, and home defense)
  • Colt CQBP (current railed military version of the Series 80)
  • Colt .380 Mustang (extremely compact pocket pistol chambered for the .380 ACP/9mm kurz and using a Series 80 firing system and about ⅓ the weight of a typical M1911 pistol)

Remember to return next Monday to find out what it’s like to operate an M1911 (specifically an M1991A1 version) at the range, and find out why this firearm is still so popular over 100 years after its development.

Bibliography:

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Winchester Rifles — Part 2


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Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

John Moses Browning is the most famous gun designer in history. His accomplishments include:

  • The Colt Model 1911, a pistol that has endured in the U.S. military for over 100 years, and the design basis for nearly every locked-breech handgun made to this day.
  • The Browning Hi-Power (completed nine years after Mr. Browning’s death in 1926), the first truly successful double-stacked magazine handgun — a weapon that would later go on to serve in the military of over 50 nations
  • The world’s first gas-operated machine gun, which in turn led to the incredible Browning .50-caliber Machine Gun and the equally famous Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) of World War II fame
  • And, of course, the later much-improved versions of the Winchester lever-action rifles.

Browning’s first design for the Winchester Company was the Model 1886, designed for the most powerful rifle cartridges of that era. The Model 1886 would later form the basis for the Winchester Model 71, which was made for 23 years beginning in 1935.

But by the early 1890s the Winchester Model 1873, last of the true pistol caliber Winchester rifles up to that point, was showing its age. Winchester once again turned to Mr. Browning for a replacement. The story goes that Winchester Company President Thomas Gray Bennett offered Mr. Browning a bonus of $10,000 if Browning could design the replacement for the Model 1873 in 90 days, and a $15,000 bonus if he could do it in just sixty. Mr. Browning countered with an offer to produce the new design in less than a month if Mr. Bennett would increase that offered bonus. Mr. Bennett agreed, and less than thirty days later the genius John Moses Browning walked off with $20,000 dollars after dropping off the Model 1892 design.

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Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

It is most often this rifle you see, the Model 1892, whenever you watch John Wayne spin-cock a loop-lever rifle in Westerns from El Dorado to True Grit. And, as previously mentioned, it is the Model 1892 that somehow found its way back in time and into the hands of New Mexico Rancher Lucas McCain almost a dozen years before its introduction.

What is spin-cocking, by the way? It’s a Hollywood invention, but it’s neat-looking as all get-out:

It’s also impractical as all get-out. The rifle shown had to be specially modified to keep the cartridge blank from falling out of the chamber as the rifle is twirled. It’s also dangerous as all get-out, in that you’re more likely to shoot yourself trying this than you are to bring the weapon to bear on a man wearing a black hat.

Ready for Inspection

Ready for Inspection

Which brings us to the rifles shown in this weekend’s mini-blog series, the Winchester Model 1894. The Model 1894 is again a John Browning design, but unlike his pistol-caliber Model 1892 this rifle has more in common with his Model 1886 — it’s chambered for rifle rounds. Indeed, the .30-30 was invented with this rifle in mind, and the Model 1894 in that cartridge was for over 100 years the hunting rifle of choice for many deer hunters in the U.S.

Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

Winchester Model 1894 Rifles

I hope you enjoyed this bit of Western firearm history. Tomorrow we’ll return to our tour of Québec from the MS Maasdam.

Bibliography links to today’s blog topics:

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