“The comparison between the GT-R and 911 is not appropriate for the 1911 [vs. polymer pistols],” TTAG commentator Dave Y writes. “Rather a comparison to a Harley Davidson is more appropriate. They’re from the same era, are evolutionarily unchanged since inception. However, where the HD is never going to win a race with a modern motorcycle, a 1911 can and often does shoot as accurately or better than modern pistols.” David Y’s Harley analogy is very, very close to my thinking about 1911s. But not quite . . .

First, I love Harleys. I’ve owned an example of just about every modern motorcycle made, from flying brick Beemers to F1-fast Hondas to monstrous Ducatis. I loved my Harley-Davidson Fat Boy the best. The brakes sucked, the handling was horrific and it sounded like an dinosaur gargling. But that Harley had soul. It was the only FMM (Five More Minutes) motorcycle I’ve ever owned; everything else was a straight shot into the garage and done.

I feel the same way about 1911s. I’ve shot three grand examples of John Browning’s 100-year-old design and 1911s so decrepit they make downtown Detroit look like The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. All of the pistols had genuine character. Firing the gun made me feel, well, manly. (Female readers are directed to the catchphrase for Irish Spring soap.) Like the Harley, the 1911 puts users in touch with mechanical parts, red in tooth and claw, ready to kick some major ass.


Of course, so is most every other gun made. And when it comes to the ass-kicking part of the program, there are are better choices than a 1911. Guns that are just as accurate as a 1911, equally comfortable, nowhere near as stylish, completely devoid of historical relevance and ten times more reliable. Yes, reliable. ‘Cause we can sit here and argue about the importance of ergonomics to accuracy (i.e. the best gun is the one you shoot best), but if a handgun goes click instead of bang when you need bang, that’s a magazine of not good.

My statement has no statistical evidence to support it and depends on a strict set of variables. If nothing else, you have to compare like-with-like. A high-end properly maintained 1911 is more reliable than a P.O.S. polymer pistol that’s been treated like a Japanese POW. And vice versa. But there’s no denying that the Glock (and its followers and imitators) take handgun reliability to another level. The modern gun’s mechanical simplicity and relatively advanced materials have the edge in the click not bang department.

That said, if you buy a well-made 1911, find out what ammo it likes, feed it just that ammo; fire, clean and service the gun regularly; keep the pistol away from heat and humidity and generally lavish it with love and respect, there’s no reason to expect the weapon will let you down when push comes to shove. In the same way you can keep a Harley running like clockwork—if you take the time and effort to do so.

But—what if you don’t? What if you want a handgun that delivers equal or superior reliability with minimal maintenance? One that can be treated like dirt, with dirt, and still fire thousands of rounds without fail? Then the Glock and its ilk win. All a modern combat handgun needs is an occasional clean and maybe not even that (lubrication is tantamount). Think of it this way: if a polymer gun wasn’t more reliable than a 1911 when abused and neglected, they wouldn’t exist. And modern police forces wouldn’t issue them.

The fact that elite special forces military units still use 1911s does not undermine this argument. If anyone’s likely to give a 1911 the care and feeding it needs to achieve combat-ready reliability, it is they. Which begs the question, why bother? Why not use the less finicky and thus ultimately more reliable pistol and call it good? Because JMB’s gun shoots big ass bullets with feeling. And, thus, astounding precision.

If nothing else. the 1911’s single action trigger requires less manual dexterity than the average—hang on. Why have we excluded revolvers from this discussion? Another time. Where was I? The 1911’s trigger requires less travel and effort than a polymer pistol’s go pedal. This “easier” trigger pull disturbs the gun less, enabling greater accuracy. Note: the 1911 itself isn’t more accurate than a well-made combat gun. Some people are far more accurate shooting a 1911 than a combat pistol. How great is that?

That’s not a rhetorical question. As the rabbi and other gun gurus will tell you, the 1911 is the best gun in the world to shoot someone with—and the worst gun in the world NOT to shoot someone with. In other words, the 1911’s light trigger pull requires serious training and discipline. In the heat of battle, you MUST keep your finger off the 1911’s trigger until you fully intend on firing. Otherwise, you WILL let loose the bullets of war. A negligent discharge is only a finger twitch away.

I reckon this is the crucial fact that explains the cultural divide between 1911 devotees and owners who prefer combat guns. The people who favor the 1911 know that their gun requires more commitment on all levels: maintenance, storage, operation (including manipulating the external safety) and training (including reloading). These requirements bond them to their weapon, and reward them with the thrill of mechanical mastery. They love their 1911s and see themselves (not without reason) as an elite.

Combat weapon supporters prefer tools that do their job with the least amount of physical and mental effort, letting them concentrate on the business at hand (aiming, shooting, not shooting). They trust themselves to wield their weapon safely, but see no reason to depend on that trust for their survival when they don’t have to. And as a group, they like the extra confidence that comes from extra bullets.

If that’s you, the 1911 sucks. Truth be told, I fall into that category. I carry a Springfield XD-M chambered in 9mm. But I understand 1911 elititism perfectly. If I was a different kind of person, I’d carry a 1911 in a heartbeat and tell the polymer pistol people to piss off. But I’m not so I don’t. Or at least not yet. In fact, I’m giving serious thought to buying a serious 1911 because they don’t suck really. They’re just like a Harley only WAY cooler. And that’s saying something. I think.

28 Responses to Why 1911’s Kinda Suck and Kinda Don’t

  1. “And modern armies wouldn’t issue them” – riddle me this Batman, how many ‘real’ armed forces use polymer pistols (Sorry Romania!)? Even the HK USP (also a great gun) is only used by a few Armed Forces (mainly Germany if I’m not mistaken). It is my understanding that most plastic guns are used by police forces (albeit a lot of them!), where as full-size, metal framed pistols are used by national Armed Forces. For example, in the USA the M9 and M11 are utilized. The CZ75, SIG P220/226 being utilized in many other parts of the world. Wouldn’t a reliable, never requiring matinenance or cleaning combat pistol be better suited in our U.S. Military than in the hands of a local police departments (who usually have the time and convenience of being able to clean and lubricate pistols daily… like they ever actually do that!)?

  2. I do agree with you some though – it is all about preference (I think that’s what you were trying to say?). Do I need a pistol that I can treat like a kid’s outside play toy to provide protection for me and my family? No, considering even the cheap PPK knock-off in my safe is well maintained. However, some people might, and they can choose to pick whatever gun they desire. Then again, any of us can choose to pick whatever gun we decide. In over a year of competing so far, I have NEVER had to field strip any of my pistols (1911’s or XDM’s). Even a squib round in my 1911 only required a dowel rod. Even field-stripped, a polymer gun still would need a dowel rod in this situation. I put the same about of lubrication on my stainless 1911’s that I put on my SIG, XD/XDM’s, etc. Since I have yet have any issues with any of my 1911’s, or the Wilson I reviewed for TTAG, the concept of being reliably unreliable is nothing more than hersey. Show me the numbers where modern pistols (1911 and polymer) are compared side-by-side (same caliber to same caliber of course), and I may be inclined to change my tune. I like and enjoy shooting my SIG’s, and my XD/XDM’s even more… but, I LOVE my 1911’s. To each his own I guess….

  3. The fact that elite special forces military units still use 1911s does not undermine this argument. If anyone’s likely to give a 1911 the care and feeding it needs to achieve combat-ready reliability, it is they.

    I think there’s a certain shooting (for lack of a better word) flow that describes transition from rifle to MP5 style sub to shotgun to 1911 style handgun. I suspect elite units appreciate all having a safety, a nice consistent trigger, excellent balance and follow through.
    My (admittedly small, unscientific) sampling of 1911 fans and detractors suggests those who started shooting with rifles tend to favor the 1911…

  4. The Rabbi does have it 100 percent correct when he says that the 1911 is ” the best gun in the world to shoot someone with—and the worst gun in the world NOT to shoot someone with. In other words, I luv the 1911′s light trigger. All my custom shop kimbers are so smooth that I only have to think about pulling the trigger and these babies let you know how great a 1911 truely is. I was always taught that you only point a gun at something that you fully intend to shoot(unless your a cop which I’m not and I do like cops ). Now I can understand why a cop wouldn’t like this cuz they have to say freeze or drop your weapon or blah blah blah etc. to the bad guy. In the military you don’t have to worry about these silly little problems, you just aim and shoot and problem solved. The light trigger greatly improves your accuracy when your in a life or death situation (I.E. it helps save your life at the potential cost of taking the badguys)

  5. As an owner of a 1911 (10mm), XDm, USP(s), and more I cannot name off the top of my head, I think the side by side comparison would do nothing but give each camp what they respectively want to hear. Because realistically nothing any of us have typed, are typing or ever will type has any chance of changing the minds of true believers in 1911-fanboy or 1911-hater camps. Though we may have some degree of fun trying.

    I am going to stick by my analogy of the 1911 to Harley Davidson. As a Duc owner myself I can’t see how anyone would ever even consider riding anything other than a 90 degree Desmo v twin 🙂 I’m trying to get NHTSA to mandate that all v twins from henceforth be between 89 & 91 degree crank offset.

    Someone make me a 1912. Give me a double stack frame, 4.5 inch barrel .45 ACP, either concealed hammer or striker fired, no external safety, ambi-slide release like the M&P pistols or H&K’s. No link, make it a ‘modified’ or linkless Browning OS. A traditional 1911 trigger, none of those dreadful Glock or Glock clone triggers, and give it a decent combat feel – consistent break at just under 5 pounds with no creep.
    As a compromise between poly & reality, let’s make it metal; but let’s go scandium or titanium frame. All of this should be easy-peasey to do for $800 or so.

  6. Well,

    To extend the analogy. I spend a lot of time at the track on a Suzuki GSX-R 750 (modified, of course). I’m also a certified LE armorer on a number of platforms. The real problem with the 1911 in terms of military or large scale LE deployment and use is simply armorer’s work. It requires more knowledge and more detail level work to keep a 1911 going.

    The reason the analogy diverges though, is Harley doesn’t really work in the performance sense. Even on my Zook, with brembo monoblocks, and master, different suspension, dampening, fuel management tires, it takes a bit of work. The two most common guns I see used by the top competitive and working shooters are probably glock and 1911. More like Suzuki and Ducati to me.

    I’ve done extensive formal training with SIG’s, GLOCKs, 1911’s, HK USP, P7M13/M8, M&P’s and more. They’re all great. But for sheer shootability, I’d still put the 1911 up top.

    Of course the other downside is the analogy still holds true. To get a 1911 that’ll shoot as well as my 17 year old P228 or my 22(!) year old P7m13 (and forget my 6 month old M&P), I’m going to have to spend a bit more. For me, a quality 1911 for reliable defensive purposes where I will put minimum 4000 rounds per year through the gun in formal training will probably come from Ed Brown, Les Baer, Wilson, Nighthawk, or Springield Custom. Ducati anyone?

  7. Guns-to-cars (or -motorcycles) analogies are a little tricky IMO, but point well taken. Maybe a better one (if less interesting) is the gun-is-a-tool analogy. As with cars or bikes, there is usually a “best” tool for the job, and a brand, make or style of that tool that just seems more right for our individual needs and sensibilities compared to all the others. What a Delta Force guy may want for his side arm for a given mission profile is gonna differ from what a SEAL may want, or a deputy sheriff as his duty piece, or you or me for range duty.

    When the ultimate objective is to simply put rounds on target every time you pull the trigger, it really doesn’t matter what pistol you’ve got in your hand. What matters is your familiarity with – and confidence in – your piece. XD-M, Glock, FN, 1911… who the hell cares? As long as you can put rounds on target with it when you need it most.

  8. Why do you keep saying “combat pistol/handgun” as differentiated from the 1911?

    Doesn’t the 1911’s history encompass as much or more “combat” as any other American handgun?

    As for what police units do – they aren’t about selecting the best firearm. They are about selecting a cheap, politically-correct firearm that even women can use. If your goal is lowest-common-denominator, 9mm is probably it. If you want stopping power with the first shot (a major goal of a “combat pistol”) you’ll want a caliber that starts with “4”.

  9. “the 1911′s light trigger pull requires serious training and discipline. In the heat of battle, you MUST keep your finger off the 1911′s trigger until you fully intend on firing. Otherwise, you WILL let loose the bullets of war. A negligent discharge is only a finger twitch away.”

    Rule 1, dude. Your own lack of training is showing.

    • Rule 1 is actually treat every weapon as if it were loaded…. if you’re going to come down on someone for lack of training then at least get your four basic firearm safety rules right.

  10. The bias/religion of those that instantly feel the need to knock anyone that dare question the mighty 1911 is truly pathetic. If you like your 1911, great. I own several but I do not see the need to “rush to its defense” when someone criticizes the gun. I also own just about every other pistol out there I can name. I like my 1911, but weapons that have come after (and based their basic operation on the 1911 mind you) can do certain things better. That’s fine if Glock can be recognized as being superior to a 1911 in certain areas…don’t forget where it draws its lineage from.

    That said, there is an absurd bias for 1911’s. It’s a cult. I consider 1911 fanboys the Apple users of the gun world…because they behave that way.

    The basic 1911 can readily be criticized. It is not a perfect pistol. I can see why people love their HK P30’s or their Glock 22’s. If you want to stack a custom 1911 up against any other modern pistol that has had extensive custom gunsmithing/optimized parts installed then the comparisons become ridiculous. In the end, the shooter is better off learning his weapon of choice in and out and practicing with it until it is an extension of themselves.

    The simple truth remains that with the 1911 there is alot to like. It’s Americana. It does alot of things well but so do many other guns. You don’t have to like that. Practice more, trash talk less. 1911’s are very capable handguns, but the rabid bias towards them is just plain ridiculous. People can get awfully sore at each other for criticizing what they think is the best gun in the world. Get a life…and a sense of identity that is derived from something that matters – such as your skill and not a make/model itself.

  11. As someone with “both oars in the water,” e.g. motorcycles (365K in 27 years mostly on BMW twins, freelance magazine writer) and pistols (36 years’ experience with Broomhandles on forward) I will tacitly agree with the author’s premise that one should be a gun guy to properly deal with a 1911. That said, it’s combination of slimness, power, a trigger that permits both accuracy AND rapidity of fire, is still a relevant choice. I’m sure that annoys some folks who think only “modern” “combat” “tacticool” stuff can stand. I like my P-226 just fine from a convenience perspective, and it is not the same.

    I also don’t think that an Airhead BMW is as good as a modern Oilhead, but for style, so there’ s another analogy. Ducatis are surely more modern, but are also more problematic, require more maintenance, and don’t last as long, so there’s a rebuttal.

    Now, a “modern” 1911 is a very fine tool indeed, if one appreciates that sort of thing. CNC has brought the price of a decent 1911 down to the point that it is no longer cost prohibitive to own one if one admires and can use its attributes.

    “Rubber side down and stay safe.”

  12. I think the best car-to-gun analogy for this situation is comparing a new camry to something like a Ferrari 308. The camry just works all the time, the Ferrari needs constant attention. The Ferrari is also much more expensive to own. In the hands of a capable driver, the cars are the same (realistically the camry is probably faster, but for the sake of argument they are equal). You will be much a much prouder owner of your old Ferrari than of your new camry. People will stop you on the street and ask about it. It will be a much more satisfying drive. It is a car you tell your kids about after you sell it. The 1911 is the old Ferrari, any of the polymer wonder pistols are the camry.

    • I’m in YOUR camp.

      The wife drives the Canry, I drive the Jag XK8 (Ok so I can’t afford a Ferrari!)

      If you GAVE me a Glock, I would trade it on an all steel (or at least aluminum framed)-gun.

  13. Patrick said, “how many ‘real’ armed forces use polymer pistols (Sorry Romania!)?”

    That was posted a few years ago, and definitely more true at the time. Considering the fact that the British army will now start issuing the Glock 17 gen4 to its soldiers (In replacement of the Hi-Power), I think that it shows a growing respect for the polymer wonder.

  14. Calling the 1911 unreliable is just a flat out lie,sure they aren’t Glock reliable but they are just as reliable as my Sigs and just about every other pistol I own.Only cheap 1911’s are going to be unreliable.(you get what you pay for)My Springfield GI in stainless can go up to 5K rounds without being cleaned before any reliability issues begin to start,If I have to defend myself I’m not going to blast through 5k rounds of .45 acp,so it really doesn’t matter.Any gun that is cleaned regularly of decent quality will be reliable when you need it to be,I know you can shoot K’s of rounds before needing to clean a Glock but I clean every firearm after I take it to the range even my Glocks(yes Glocks and 1911’s can coexist if you let them),a clean gun is a functional gun.

  15. I see a different angle on it.I believe 9mm rules in a glock. It is a challenge to get good with that trigger.So why not shoot a cheaper caliber? But in a 45 (which I love to shoot and prefer the bigger bullets for bad guys)the 1911 rules.7 rounds are enough for me.I will hit what I shoot at.

  16. I think you hit it on the money, Mr. Author. I’m a lifelong devotee of the 1911 in all its forms, from Taurus to Les Baer. I covet them and crave them like a junkie. However, the bottom line that you always come down to (and this is why I like your articles!) is this: shoot the gun that works for you. Can you lean in and prevent a limp-wrist? If not, a piston-driven Desert Eagle isn’t for you. Can you keep on target with a DOA trigger (I can’t!) ? Then single is your path.

    Fellow enthusiasts and commenters unite with me: don’t tell your brother he has the wrong gun because it isn’t your gun. Encourage him and support him for sticking with his strong suit.

  17. The 1911 is a great gun. I love the light solid trigger, it’s very accurate, it’s a lot more attractive than a generic Glock, its weight soaks up the felt recoil, and the flat frame and grip angle makes it ergonomic. These reasons alone makes it a good combat pistol. It’s better to have eight .45s dead on than more smaller rounds in a gun that you’re not as proficient with, whichever one you’re best with is the one for you. And it’s a sidearm, for CQ and when the main rifle fails or runs out of ammo. It’s not elitism, it is what it is. Though the grip safety seems redundant, one accidental slip and it doesn’t go bang. Steel vs. polymer is irrelevant, but out of preference I prefer steel and aluminum. As far as reliability, I do think a 1911 will have a stoppage before a Glock or Sig and it is maintenance heavy with more understanding needed. In the heat of battle, you probably are intending to shoot, so your finger should be on the trigger.

  18. They are all good guns — what ever you prefer to shoot. I agree that the Glock is more trouble-free. I had a client with a first generation Glock model 19 that he never cleaned or applied lubrication — and it still functioned. But, given my druuthers, I would rather defend myself with a moderately maintained 1911 (Colt, Kimber, Wilson, Springfield, or any other) than any Glock, or any other such variant. When me and my buddies go shooting — and we place bowling pings up at 1oo yards — and we plink at them, I am able to hit them with a 1911 — but not with the Glock or the other variants. Even my buddy with the full-size H&K is lucky to hit them. There is something about the 1911. It hits the mark. If the elite military carry a 1911, I understand why — less shots, but surer shots.

  19. I think there is a big disconnect here and I see it all the time, the “elite” military occasionally uses the 1911 when the mission specifically calls for close range stealth or near-stealth strike capabilities. That meaning, a suppressed pistol shooting a slow ass heavy bullet.

    They don’t pick them because they are any better than any other, it just fits a specific role, just like any car, tool, motorcycle, or yes… firearm.

    Having said all that, here is my take on all this.

    I own polymer guns, steel guns, and 1911s. Yes, the 1911 gets its own mention because I feel there is just simply nothing like it. Is it the greatest gun ever? Meh… If you catch me after a range day where I shoot it really well… “hell yeah! 1911 all the way!”. When I’m being honest, no, it’s just another design from a period of time when different parts of the world had different takes on what a weapon should be and be able to do. Now days, the world is a lot more connected and you see this in cars just as much as gun. They are all becoming more a like.

    Is this bad? Well there is no debating that technology has come a long way… that’s for sure. Can a 1911 still hang? Sure it can. Just like my 2000 turbo Camaro will run right next to a lot of exotics.

    I also truly believe modern guns in general are “inherently” more reliable. My 1911 (a cheaper one at that) has had zero issues, just like my H&K, Glock, and S&W. I’ve had more issues from my Springfield and Sig then the others. BUT! If I had to say out of the H&K, Glock, S&W and 1911 which would die first and last, I would say my 1911 would die first, my H&K last. If I am envisioning a full on combat situation where I am using the pistol a lot and routine maintenance might not possible or pertinent. Such as large scale conventional warfare or SHTF. This is just my gut talking, take it for what ever you think it is worth.

    The thing is, there is no answer to this debate. We all know, or should know, that all this debating is just gun guys wanting to talk guns. Just like car guys bench racing, we act like we believe one is better, but what we fail to realize is that we are all just lucky to be able to discuss all this stuff at all. Imagine not having choices for pistol. Worse still, no guns rights at all. Or free speech for that matter.

    I will always love reading these articles because I like seeing peoples take on it, I might even throw in my two cents like I’m doing now. I will only say this, if it comes to the point that you are truly getting upset and angry. Either take a step away or turn off the computer for a while. It’s simply not that important. There should be no need for you too feel so strongly about your choice in cars, guns, motorcycles, tools, favorite food, author, music, anything to ever get to the point of putting other people off whom share the same passions you do. You never know, one day, should the EPA crack down on hot rods, or the politicians make real head way against gun rights. These people we quibble with over the internet and at gun shops are your/mine/our best allies. Best to keep up united.

    Cheers,

    James T Kirk
    Starfleet Captain
    USS Enterprise NC-1701
    United Federation of Planets

    • Slightly incorrect about their use the military. The Marine Raiders and Force Recon guys who use 1911’s (M45A1 and the old MEU(SOC) 1911) carry them as standard sidearms, neither of those 1911’s were/are suppressor capable (no threaded barrel). I’ve seen these guys walking around with them in their drop-legs while on ship.The Marine Corps being the most tradition-obsessed branch of the military has a love affair with the 1911 and .45 ACP…. at least that’s my theory.

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