Right off the bat, Bill’s Custom Automatics does it right. I opened the custom case to find the Master Grade 1911 well presented and six Wilson Combat magazines, each inside their own little foam home, with numbers etched into them for easy performance monitoring. Bill’s Custom Automatics had polished the feed lips on each magazine. But wait, there’s more! Included in the case: extra fiber optic inserts, both red and green, for the Dawson Precision Front Sight. Now how much would you pay? Don’t answer . . .
The Master Grade 1911 case also contained the recommended lubricant and tools for takedown and disassembly. Other than ammo, for which they made recommendations and provided sample targets, Bill’s sent the gun and everything needed to shoot and shoot it. Outstanding!
When I contacted Bill’s about the review, I told them I was interested in a 4″ or 5″ daily carry model. They sent everything I mentioned I like in a gun. I prefer the Dawson Fiber Optic Front site. This gun sports it. I don’t like an ambidextrous safety on my carry guns. This one doesn’t have it. I like an aggressive grip. This gun has a skate board tape-like material on its handles. I usually don’t like hard chrome or mirror polish on a carry gun. The Master Grade 1911’s entire finish is a Black Salt Nitride done by H&M Metal Processing.
I said I preferred a gun that’s zeroed at 25 yards. I was shooting within half an inch of that as soon as I lined up the sights. I like a flattened top on the slide. This one’s slide is just that, disappearing under the sights even under the glare of an overhead sun. Heine Slant Pro rear sight? Thank you very much. The customer’s priorities are priority number one. Bill’s Custom Automatics nailed it.
The Master Grade is built on a Caspian frame and slide. Bill’s Custom Automatics says they’re fit within .001 to .002 on the frame, measured from an in-battery fitting. The trigger is set to three pounds, but I would have guessed less. The parts and modification list supplied goes on for a couple of pages. It includes the S&A 220 beavertail grip safety, Ed Brown flat mainspring housing, extractor, trigger, mag release, thumb safety, Wilson Combat extra power firing pin spring, one piece guide rod and spring cap, Dawson precision firing pin, EGW slide stop and barrel bushing, Cylinder and Slide Ultra-Light fire control group, hammer, sear and disconnect with a 19lb mainspring and lightened three-leaf sear spring.
And it goes on a bit more after that. For a custom build of this magnitude, I’d expect to wait a year. Let me rephrase. My experience with quality gunsmiths has left me to expect a year or more for builds or significant modifications. They had this gun done in two months. Barely 60 days for a truly custom-built gun.
The fit of the gun is what a gun of this quality – and yes price – should be. There was no play in the slide to frame fit, no slop in the barrel. There are no sharp edges where there should not be, no tool marks anywhere, and the everything comes together so nicely that a person who was not familiar with the 1911 would have a difficult time telling where one part started and another stopped.
The finish fits the Master Grade’s overall “working gun” theme; it’s completely unadorned save the Bill’s Custom Automatics’ medallion in the scales. You will find high mirror polish – inside of the gun. I don’t own anything as highly polished and shiny as the Master Grade’s feed ramp and breech. The whole gun is done so well it’s hard to not believe that Bill’s spent the just as much time on what you couldn’t see. When I pulled the trigger, it showed.
Sometimes I shoot well, sometimes not so well. Lately I’ve been shooting well. Much of that is due tot he fact that I’ve been shooting with, and against, a long time friend, a Navy Seal who has been operating operationally for about 14 years. When it comes to fast fire with pistols, I rarely outshoot J. He knows that (and I hate him a little for knowing that). After my first string of six magazines in fast fire with this gun, shooting at 15 yards, I saw fear in his eyes. Folks, this is a $6,000 pistol. That’s what $6,000 buys you: fear in the eyes of the mighty. It is so worth it.
Moving back to 25 yards using the dueling tree, we timed each other. We shot from the word “go”, drew, fired eight rounds, reloaded, fired eight more rounds, assumed the low-ready position and called time. (It only counts if all sixteen 5 1/2 inch plates fully moved over.) I was averaging mid 10 second times with the Bill’s Custom Automatics Master Grade 1911. His best was 11.23 with his EDC. That may not seem fast to many of you but I’m not Jerry Miculek and neither are you. Again, this was standing at 25 yards, not seven.
This gun shot so well that, at 15 yards in slow fire on paper, I made a game of shooting through the hole caused by my first five-round group to shoot another target behind that one for the last three. When you have to come up with stupid games like that, you’re into serious fun.
I spent about 400 rounds shooting this 1911 in fast fire and another 100 in slow fire or at the bench. At seven and 10 yards standing, I was nailing the plates about as fast as I could pull the trigger. That front site/flat top really helps, but there’s also something about the action of the gun that made it so.
Frankly, the Master Grade 1911 seems kinda lazy to return to battery. I don’t know any other way to explain it. It doesn’t slam home at all, but it’s right there in battery and ready to send another round by the time the sights fall back down. It’s not in a hurry, but it’s right there when it needs to be. I have to admit, that surprised me. Every time I released the slide forward on a new magazine, I thought surely it had not fully gone into battery. I even stopped to clear what I thought was a failure to return to battery twice. But it was there, right there fully in battery ready to fire, every time.
That brings me to reliability. I put through 400 rounds of Winchester white box 230gr FMJs through the gun without any malfunctions. Then I shot another hundred rounds of Remington Golden Saber 185gr Hollow Points, Winchester PDX1 230gr Hollow Points, and Hornady 185gr XTP rounds, also without issue. None. I think that makes this one of only two handguns I’ve reviewed now with no issues ever, and the first in .45ACP.
That doesn’t surprise me. Unlike most manufacturers, even the good ones, Bill’s Custom Automatics doesn’t fire a few magazines through it and call it a day. This gun had 500 rounds put through it before they shipped it, using 12 different rounds, using five different shooters, as well as Ransom Rest testing. That was all done, with no malfunctions, all before shipping the gun to me. Welcome to my new standard of quality control.
Where this gun really shined for me: off the front bag. Seated at a table, shooting off the front bag at 25 yards, the worst shooting ammunition I had (Winchester PDX) delivered a 2 inch group. Shooting the Remington Golden Saber yielded consistent one inch groups. Or less. In fact, my best group with this round was 3/4 of an inch.
Bill’s Custom Automatics sent me 10 different targets from their Ransom Rest firings. I abhor the Ransom Rest. I understand the necessity of it, the repeatability that a solid mechanical rest provides is vital for a serious builder. But it is absolute witchcraft to set up and I tip my hat to anyone willing to spend the time to do it.
The targets they sent me were seven shot groups off the rest at 25 yards. Bill’s measured both the vertical and horizontal spread of each round. The cheap PMC bronze 230gr FMJ measured at 1” horizontal and 1.3” vertical. The same Remington HP that shot so well for me off the bag shot 1”X1” on the Ransom Rest. And this is a carry gun, with all the reliability I would require of a gun to save my life. What’s not to love?
This gun is so awesome you forget the gun is there. There was no fighting the gun, no guessing on a slack or gritty trigger, no fiddling with your grip. It’s just BANG BANG BANG BANG, and the sights falling right back down every time. The gun times itself, I don’t have to drive it. It feels like the gun just disappears and leaves a bright shiny red dot in the air in it’s place. Instead of all that other stuff, I can just think about my target. A moment of zen. A joy.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Appearance * * * * *
Black Nitride polished out to a 600 grit wet sand on the finish. The pistol is completely de-edged and hand sanded. The slide is labeled, but simply, as are the scales on the handles. It is exactly what it was supposed to be, and perfectly executed.
Accuracy * * * * *
One inch groups off the bag, one inch groups on the rest, and ragged holes standing. I can’t beat that.
Reliability * * * * *
I’d love to test the ultimate reliability of this pistol. But I think I could only do that with tens of thousands of rounds over years. That’s what I think it will take for this thing to fail.
Overall * * * * *
This is the first 5-star rating I’ve given a gun. Note: I looked for reasons to dislike it. At $6,000 I wanted something to be imperfect. But I can’t, cause it is. Bill’s Custom Automatics is the current smith for Jessie Duff. Even if you’re not a pro, this gun makes you feel like one.