Gun Review: Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special

 

Les Baer TRS Cover Courtesy Wes Minton

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.

TRS Courtesy Wes Minton

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.

Les Baer Side Courtesy Wes Minton

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!

les Baer Group Courtesy Wes Minton

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.

Les Baer Trigger Courtesy Wes Minton

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.

Les Baer Texture Courtesy Wes Minton

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.

Les Baer Sights Courtesy Wes Minton

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
Capacity: 7+1
Action: SAO
Length: 8.5″
Weight: 36 oz.
Barrel length: 5.0″
MSRP: $1,980.00

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.

comments

  1. avatar T.G. says:

    I echo your sentiments on the bluing. It looks so good, so classic….but it wears so quick compared to other finishes.

    1. avatar John in AK says:

      If it comes off in chunks, or peels off the metal, it’s not ‘bluing,’ it’s paint. ‘Bluing’ becomes part of the surface of the metal, being a chemical process akin to rusting.

      That being the case, I can get the same quality of finish from Dynamic Pie Industries on their new Hi-Point.

  2. avatar Jim Barrett says:

    Compared to what’s coming out of Bill Wilson’s shop, the price seems a relative bargain. It also goes to show that a proper break in period for a gun might well be over 500 rounds. Sounds like a hell of a good way to spend the afternoon.

  3. avatar lizzrd says:

    Great review. Not a 1911 guy, but that looks and sounds like a winner.

  4. avatar John L. says:

    What magazines have you tried / do you use? Does the gun prefer one brand over another?

  5. avatar Pulatso says:

    Less than half the price of the Ultimate Hi-Point means it’s less than half as tactical.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    1. avatar TTACer says:

      Do you even operate?

      1. avatar B says:

        The unobtanium coating allows tactical operators to strategically inject kinetic applicators in a force multiplication scenario using asymmetrical engagement opportunities!

  6. avatar Jeff says:

    two grand? no thanks. would rather buy an RIA, since all 1911s are basically the same

    *ducks incoming hail of flying chairs and beard combs*

    1. avatar Gene says:

      You know…. if you’re willing to dump in an extra $1500 on it, I’m sure it could be just as high quality. If you don’t have that kind of cash then elbow grease, carefully picked parts, and time can go a long way.

    2. avatar Tomyironmane says:

      They’re not, but an Armscor pistol WILL be reliable, and tough. Just not as shinypretty and not as pampering smooth and all that as a Les Baer.

    3. avatar LC says:

      “would rather buy an RIA, since all 1911s are basically the same”

      RIA fans are so absorbed in their bullshit, they actually believe this. Comedy.

  7. avatar Mediocrates says:

    I could just never bring myself to buy a $2000.00 weapon. Well, not yet anyways…

    1. avatar rosignol says:

      Keep telling yourself “Over the life of the weapon, the real expense will be the ammo, not the gun”. 😀

      It is good for a man to have a few Nice Things™ to pass on to the next generation. A Les Baer qualifies.

    2. avatar TTACer says:

      I probably won’t drop 2k on a handgun either but look at it this way-he has run 6000 rounds through it and it is still a) probably going to be an heirloom and b) probably still worth most of $2000.

      1. avatar Robert W. says:

        There is a reason that there are 3 different Les Baer 1911’s in the family gunsafe…

        1. avatar Tomyironmane says:

          Because you’re wealthy and have good taste?

    3. avatar jh says:

      $2000.00 is not a lot for a firearm. the wilson i am getting ready to order will be around $6000.00 with a 2 year plus wait . It is a long term investment and i hope my kid will enjoy it as much as i plan to

  8. avatar Not Rich, Not Poor says:

    Nice looking piece.

    However, I don’t have $2000 to spend on a handgun. Probably never will.

    I would really like to see a series of budget minded postings. Home builds, average Joe/Jane budget, etc.

    Posts, like on this Les Baer, are fun to read, great eye candy, and bling-tastic, but they will never grace my palm. I won’t even touch one at a GS. An unfair waste of the store’s time, and adds fondle threat to a piece that will eventually be purchased by someone else.

    Just sayin’.

    1. avatar JWFlack says:

      I understand the cost concern, we have a somewhat “tricked out” Springfield Armory that shoots almost as well as our Baers (with my old eyes). But there is just something about holding the quality of the Baers that brings us joy (my wife likes them as much as I do). The Baers quality and consistency actually improved my shooting, and not just with the Baers, don’t know why, but it happened. We shot several 1911’s from most of the big name manufacturers before acquiring our first Les Baer, I wish we would have bought ours sooner.

  9. avatar Accur81 says:

    I’m a Glock fan, but find the ergonomics of a high-end 1911 to be second to none, so I’m surprised you only gave it 4 stars in that category. I couldn’t bring myself to carry such a nice .45 (or a Wilson Combat, or the new USMC spec .45) on a day to day basis. Maybe some day I’ll be able to scrape the cash together for such a nice pistol, but not soon.

  10. avatar Kevin L says:

    Nice gun but I could NEVER justify spending 2 grand in a 1911! A nice MSR on the other hand…

    1. avatar B says:

      You could buy a Tavor and drop in an aftermarket trigger group. Or a 7.62 Ruger. Just way too many nice practical things to buy in that price range.

  11. avatar ThomasR says:

    1911’s are like the AR’s of the gun world; depends on who it makes on what day of the week if it works well.

    But if you paid for the privilege and got lucky on the day; then you’re golden. I also find I can get half again the tighter groupings at distance over my Glock . 1911’s, it is practically a religion.

    1. avatar Gene says:

      That trigger is sweet, though.

      1. avatar ThomasR says:

        One of the number of reasons I prefer the 1911 to my Glock; the trigger break is sweet.

  12. avatar seans says:

    So how many rounds have you fired to consider it reliable?

    1. avatar seans says:

      I mean how many malfunctions have you had since the “break in”.

      1. avatar ThomasR says:

        I’ve had my Kimber Custom TLE/RL for a while. I had bought it used so it was already broken in so no FTE/FTF for a couple thousand rounds. My Sig Scorpion with a 4″ barrel I recently bought new and I’ve had no FTE/FTF with about five hundred rounds so far(The stars were in alignment).

        This was with the normal range count of fifty to a hundred rounds. Would I expect that with hundreds or thousands of rounds between cleanings like I could with my Glock? Of course not. But for the twenty nine rounds I carry daily, I have absolute confidence the 1911’s won’t fail me.

        I’ll try an experiment and do just that and see how many rounds I can shoot before a failure.

        1. avatar seans says:

          Your 1911 might not fail you, but as CAG found out it is real easy to fail your 1911.

        2. avatar ThomasR says:

          I must have missed it; what happened to CAG?

        3. avatar seans says:

          Back when Iraq was still the wild west west for US forces, CAG(Delta) who probably had some of the best maintained combat 1911s , had multiple instances of guys not being able to use their 1911s due injuries which other platforms would still have been usable. Coupled with a couple of pretty high profile shooting by other SOF forces using either Sigs or Glocks while grievously wounded, they ended up switching over to Glocks 40s.

        4. avatar ThomasR says:

          Interesting; I hadn’t read about that; I’ll look more into it. I’m always willing to reexamine my rationales for my self-defense choices. Do you have some good links for those analyses?

        5. avatar seans says:

          Can’t really help you with links to the AARs unless you got a SIPRNet account, which would only cover the white side AARs. As for SMU AARs, those incidents either come from actually talking with the guys who were on the op, or just general pass down when cross training.

  13. avatar Lars says:

    Own just about every brand of top tier 1911 and while Les Baer is quality second to none I cannot justify the price tag on this brand. My Colts and Kimbers shoot just as well or better with and without added parts from companies such as Wilson Combat. I traded some authentic Nazi antiques that quite honestly deserved to be burned in a garbage pit for a new Les just to own one much like I bought a Henry original, it almost never sees the range and is a collector only piece. No other reason to own a Les as 1911s half the price shoot just as good and tend to be lighter if you carry. Whatever you do don’t buy anything in 1911 that isn’t the full size 5-6″, all commander and compact 1911s destroy the intended purpose and function of the design. I’d chose Colt over Les in most cases.

  14. avatar Ralph says:

    a combat pistol should have a more resilient finish than this

    Yes, but that’s not a combat pistol. It’s a showy piece of the gun maker’s art and should be enjoyed and appreciated for what it is.

    1. avatar John in AK says:

      How do you enjoy a piece of art when the paint is peeling?

      1. avatar R82997 says:

        This is how 😉

        http://i204.photobucket.com/albums/bb224/Naciones73/TRS%20Mar%2014/IMG_1682.jpg

        That wear is so damn sexy! I know I am not alone.

        1. avatar Paul says:

          That is a well loved and well used Baer, Les would be proud!!!

    2. avatar A-Rod says:

      Yup, I would put my 1943 Remington Rand against this $2k pistol any day. Loser buys the scotch.

      1. avatar Tazchaz says:

        I’ll put my Baer against your typewriter pistol. Loser drinks the scotch and buys the Jack Daniels Single Barrel Malt for the winner. Me.

  15. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I bought one when I was competing every weekend.
    This review is spot on.

  16. avatar DavyJones says:

    I honestly dont believe in a “break in period” for firearms, if i buy a gun and it doesnt run the way it should, especially for the price of a Les Baer or Wilson or Nighthawk, then its gone. However i am considering a Wilson Combat or Les Baer.

    1. avatar R82997 says:

      Might I suggest you do a little homework regarding the “hard fit” and hand fit manufacturing process. But if after the first hiccup, you decide you want it gone. Promise to send it my way, I guarantee you there will be a long line of buyers behind me 😉

      1. avatar DaveyJonesActual says:

        Haha you’ll be the first to know.
        I should clarify my opinion though, which is I don’t think a gun should need x amount of rounds through it to function properly amd I understand that we guns can have some teething pains as I call them. For instance I bought a SIG M11A1 back in April and on my second range outing I had a stove pipe. I cleared it, reloaded amd continued to shoot the rest of the day away. However if it continued to do it with a variety of shooters or it did it every other rand or continued to have some other form of malf then I’d get rid of it. To be honest I was limp writing a little. Fortunately I’ve been blessed to have guns that run like champs, even the one or two I bought used.

  17. avatar Alpo says:

    $2k isn’t crazy at all for a high-end 1911.

    I’m looking to add one my collection “someday”.
    And to make sure that someday comes (and it isn’t painful when it does), I started putting aside my day’s pocket change in my custom 1911 jar.

    Come home, fish out some coins and drop them in the jar.

    So yeah, “someday” is probably like 10 years away. But those years are going to pass anyway and spending that loose change isn’t going to give anywhere near the enjoyment that a top of the line 1911 will.

    EDIT:
    I do get the comments saying that’s just too much for a gun.
    That’s why, even though I could go out and buy one today and the wife wouldn’t even complain… much, I won’t.

    That would kill my gun budget for a long while and I’d rather use than on more practical (and just more) guns on the list.

  18. avatar Mark says:

    I have one of these. Bought it used, very slightly, from a person who was getting divorced and HAD to sell. I have had it for about 10 years, fired it in many IDPA matches. My wife commandered it and I had to get another 1911 so I got a Les Baer Premier II.
    Everything said about the TRS in the article is true. The gun comes with an 18 lb recoil spring and firing pin spring to match. The wife had a problem with the 18 so I swapped it for a 16 lb from Wolff. Wolff recommends changing springs every 3,500 rounds. Our TRS has had the springs changed about 5 times. Baer says he uses hardball to test the guns however I used the Hensley & Gibbs #78 200 gr semi wadcutter bullet. I can get five round into 1.5″ offhand at 25 yards with three rounds touching. The gun can be taken apart by hand, no bushing wrench required.
    I have fired a Wilson full size 1911 and in my opinion, and the Wilson is a fine piece, Les Baer builds the absolute best commercially available 1911 on the market…bar none. between the PII and the TRS, we have about 40k rounds through both guns with no, zero, none, nada malfunctions. I have fired next rto Glocks which have seized but NEVER the Baers. I would rather have a used Baer than a new any other 1911. Anytime I can pull off El Presidente in 7.04 seconds, down zero, I am a fan of the platform. This time with either of our Baers has been done. Cannot recommend them enough.

    PS: No I don’t work for, know, correspond with or anything else, with Les or his company.

  19. avatar Paul says:

    As an owner of a Baer SRP, I can attest to the quality of a Baer weapon, yes they are expensive, and yes they are a heirloom piece, but since purchase I’ve had one FTF, and One Stovepipe, and those were in the initial breaking in period. Since then its driven tacks like a workhorse, is not round sensitive, and is as accurate as hell. Its used as my carry weapon, (yes its a full govt ), and would gladly rely on it to save my sorry ass heaven forbid I need to do so…. Regrets none whatsoever…
    I tried the Wilson CQB, and the Nighthawk T3, and a Ed Brown before I purchased mine, and whilst its down to personal taste, Les stands by his Pistols, (yes he can be grumpy) but so far his service has been excellent and the build wait times are worth the wait. I wanted a definative 1911, and for me I found one that suited my needs and desires.

  20. avatar Del says:

    I purchased mine this year. Concur on all above. Swapped out an all black rear sight for the two dot and I added a magazine well. Obamabots travel in packs.

  21. avatar Lolinski says:

    Seems like a winner except for the 7-8 round mags. Wouldn’t have been too hard to make a doublestack version.

  22. avatar SigGuy says:

    After seeing a 1911 with a skeletonized trigger, the regular ones just look odd to me. That would be the only change I’d make to this one.

  23. avatar bontai Joe says:

    I love the 1911 design. I love shooting it, and I’m big enough to carry one concealed, but mine is my winter gun when I might have to shoot thru 4 or 5 layers of clothing. I carry a Glock model 17 as my summer gun, because it has more than 8 bangs in it. I also love the beauty of the high end 1911’s that Les Baer and Wilson make. They are gorgeous. My .45 is a utilitarian ugly Auto Ordnance with about $200 of 1980’s dollars of gunsmithing done to it. to make it more functional (but not any prettier). I’d love to own a Les Baer, just like I’d love to own a Rolls Royce, a gulfstream jet, private island resort, and a yacht, but my budget is more Chevy truck, canoe, and flying as steerage when neccessary

  24. avatar Fedlaw says:

    After years of carrying, competing and smithing 1911’s, a change in our competition league rules, winning a striker fire gun, and knowing neither of my competition Kimbers was 100% with JHP’s, caused me to sell my Kimbers and move to highly modified Springfields XDm’s: a 3.8 & 5.25. They are 100%, are highly accurate, have very good triggers (for striker fired) and I have recorded my best competition averages with them. All that being said, I returned to the 1911 fold about 4 months ago. Several factors are to blame: I saved a colleague’s life. I did not want it, but he insisted on giving me a gift certificate for “any gun I wanted.” Trouble was, I already had all of the handguns and long arms I wanted and way more than I needed (Ha. Ha.) Next came my local community which banned magazines over 10 rounds. That’s the background setting me up for my encounter with a Les Baer Premier II with the 1.5″ guarantee. I saw it, I held it, I dry-fired it, and I didn’t pull out my gift certificate. The test target was just a hair under 1.5″, however next to it on the dealer’s shelf was its mate, whose test target at 50yds was just over 0.5″ c-to-c and the trigger seemed just a bit better. I fell into 1911 lust yet again. I carry it, have run 2,000 trouble free rds through it, and have even shot a couple of off-hand sub-1.5″ groups at 50yds.

    1. avatar Iggy Vacarelli says:

      Just to clarify, it was another Les Baer Premier II that you bought, correct?

  25. avatar sean says:

    A shooting buddy of mine bought one some years ago. When he handed it to me to shoot, I grabbed a magazine of handloaded 200gr wadcutters out of my bag. Then I fired one shot. Dead center in the x-ring. Then I fired another. I thought I missed. Then I fired another. Still was thinking I missed. My buddy said “No, you put all three in the same hole.” Then I fired the next 5 rounds, ended up with an 8 shot group at 15 yrds about the size of a nickel. I then turn to him and said “Please sell me this right now” He didn’t. He eventually traded for something, instead of selling it to me.

  26. avatar djb says:

    I bought a new Premier II with the 1.5″ guarantee back around 1994. It was shipped in a cardboard box and the test target was piece torn from a larger target.

    I have no idea how many rounds I have through it over 20 years, but it is one of my favorite shooters so I’d say it has to be over 15000, and probably closer to 20000. The blue has worn a little, but only in the places you’d expect on a 1911 and it has never flaked off.

    Racking the slide has always been easy and butter smooth. I never had to shoot it in. This is also true of my Infinity. Based on my experience with those two, I don’t believe that an overly tight slide has anything to do with ultimate accuracy.

    The only jams were on my first trip to the range. I made the mistake of not cleaning it before shooting it, and the pistol was flooded with oil. I’ve shot it with all kinds of ammo since and never had a problem. It seems to especially like Federal Hydra Shok in terms of accuracy, and I believe that is what Les Baer used at the time for accuracy testing. I wanted to try the famous “flying ashtray” but I couldn’t find any so I loaded a magazine with an empty case under a single round, and it chambered the empty. I repeated that experiment about half a dozen times and it always worked. I clean my guns after every trip to the range so I can’t talk about how many thousands it will go without a cleaning. Once, however, I did fire about 500 rounds of range reloads without a malfunction.

    It doesn’t seem to prefer any one magazine brand over another.

    The only other pistol I have with an equal number of rounds through it and with equal reliability is a German made SIG P-226 that I also bought new.

    To the person who was interested in a hi-cap Baer: he did make one once based on a Para Ordnance frame. The finish was Birdsong Black-T. It was identical to the ones he made for the FBI.

  27. avatar A-Rod says:

    .45 AVP? Typo?

  28. avatar Ben says:

    I love the quality of Les Baer 1911 but on a budget, the Springfield XDM 45 works better for me to get started. Maybe after I have a AR10 and Benelli shotgun, as a second pistol, if I have the cash to splurge, a custom Les Baer 1911 would be pretty sweet to own and shoot. They are like the Rolex of the pistol world.

  29. avatar mike says:

    I’ll take two!

  30. Thanks a bunch! This is an wonderful web page!.

  31. avatar Jim says:

    My uncle recently gave me his 16 year old TRS. IT’S STILL IN THE BOX, UNFIRED. He has asked me to sell it for him so he can make some much needed repairs at his home. I think I will sell off some of my guns to buy his!!
    Email me if interested in a Range Officer 45 or 9mm..
    jimfabanich@gmail.com

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