The name Les Baer conjures up an image of expert gunsmiths sitting in well lit rooms that smell faintly of Flitz and CLP. I like to imagine them taking their time with each and every single action masterpiece so that they can make each one feel loved and have enough time to sprinkle some magical gunsmith dust into each and every beautiful blued frame. The one we’re taking a look at is a well-used Thunder Ranch Special in .45 ACP. The TRS is kind of unique in that it was designed in conjunction with Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch to be the perfect combat 1911. And when I say it’s well-used, I mean over 6,000 rounds fired by me in a dozen ranges across Texas. So I think it’s safe to say that I’ve put enough rounds down range to make an informed decision as to its quality . . .
When I first received the gun it was so tight that it required some strength to rack the action. I want to say that over time it’s loosened up, but that’s not fair to the Baer, so instead I will say that it has smoothed out. The word smooth doesn’t really capture how wonderful it has become. Suffice it to say it’s now like a single malt combined with million thread count silk sheets.
As you’d expect in a gun this expensive, the fit is extremely impressive, but the finish leaves something to be desired. Due to how tightly it’s put together, the bluing gets stripped at the friction points. This kind of leaves me with a love/hate relationship with the finish. I really like blued guns, but a combat pistol should have a more resilient finish than this.
While we’re on the finish I think it’s time to say that this is an absolutely gorgeous piece. The bluing is rich and deep. The gun screams classic 1911, but has all the improvements you would want in a modern pistol like the long trigger, extended beavertail and front cocking serrations.
Breakdown on the firearm is just like any full size 1911 with a GI-length guide rod. The philosophy behind making the gun so tight is to promote consistency. The more repeatable the lock up is, the more accurate the gun is. Or so they say. I’m going to go out of my general format to say (like a giddy schoolboy) that this thing shoots. Oh, how this gun shoots!
One-inch groups at 10 yards are a breeze. Sometimes I know that I pulled a shot, and somehow it still magically lands on the X. The gun makes me feel like I could be an exhibition shooter like Wild Bill Hickok. Les Baer guarantees a three-inch group at fifty yards on all his guns. While I could never pull a group like that, I’m curious to see what would happen with my gun and a ransom rest.
The trigger is exactly what I like, a little bit of pretravel with a solid break. It’s probably around 4.5 lbs. to my guess. The reset is consistent and predictable, making double-taps a cinch.
The TRS comes with slim line wood grips. My hands are too beefy for them so I swapped the wood for some extra thick stag grips. I’ve said before that I like aggressive texturing on my grips and the checkering on the Baer is just right. Actually it’s one of the few guns I own that my friends can shoot without feeling like they’ve handled a hedgehog. This is because of checkering that’s so fine it can’t be replicated by machines, only human hands can file so well.
The sights are a standard 3-dot tritium night sights, a Novak-style affair, and while I much prefer two-dot night sights, these seem to do just fine…until I switch them out for a set of Heinie Straight Eights, that is.
Lets talk reliability. Some high-end 1911s are a little shy at first. They need some special care and feeding to gain some confidence in their performance. This certainly applies to the TRS. There were maybe five malfunctions in the first 500 rounds, but that’s a thing of the past. Les Baer claims that this is due to how tightly fit they make the guns. The Baer now eats everything I throw at it. The TRS even did well with some 200 grain low recoil loads that I worked up.
The Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special is the 1911 that most 1911s aspire to be. It’s accurate, reliable and downright sexy. There are some things that not everyone will be a fan of, like the price (hovering around two grand) or the blued steel. In my opinion while the Thunder Ranch is not the perfect 1911, it’s pretty close.
Specifications: Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special
Caliber: .45 AVP
Weight: 36 oz.
Barrel length: 5.0″
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style: * * * * *
If you have a taste for high class and high performance, this gun is for you.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The checkering works well for me and isn’t too aggressive for normal shooters.
Reliability: * * * * *
Hiccups during the break-in, but if you can afford the gun then you can probably afford to shoot past the break-in period.
Customize This: * * * * *
It’s a 1911, so yes.
Carry: * * *
Too big…for most
Overall: * * * * *
Yes, the finish could be tougher, but this gun is a functional piece of art.