I have two powerful memories related to the Model 1911 Government issue Colt .45 ACP, one associated with my Dad and the other with my father-in-law. My Dad was a firearms Instructor for the Air Force. He was a passionate hunter, shooter, reloader and collector of all types of guns. He passed on that passion to his two sons.
I can remember as a small boy struggling to squeeze my Dad’s service pistol with enough pressure to disengage the grip safety, while trying to maintain some semblance of an accurate sight picture. I rarely hit the target, let alone the black rings.
I also seem to remember that the gun did its very best to buck itself out of my small hands. A very clear memory was my conclusion that shooting my Dad’s .45 ACP was not my idea of fun.
In stark contrast to my Dad, I never witnessed my father-in-law, Grover Edward ‘Buddy’ Swinson, shoot a firearm. I don’t remember hearing him voice a negative viewpoint about shooting or hunting, I just don’t think he had any interest in the sport.
So, it’s ironic that my strongest recollection of the .45 ACP is actually associated with Buddy and his use of a Model 1911 during service in the WWII Pacific Theater. It’s even more ironic that I remember an event that, according to Buddy, was one of the dumbest things he ever did.
Buddy was an Army medic whose unit followed the Marines into Okinawa during Operation Iceberg. Some days after the successful invasion, Buddy’s unit had set up a camp into which they were receiving wounded personnel. It was from this camp that Buddy and a fellow Army medic observed a Japanese soldier entering one of the many caves that pock-marked the ridge above their position.
Apparently, their camp had been repeatedly fired upon by snipers who had taken up positions in these caves. American soldiers had been wounded, some fatally, from the work of these snipers.
In Buddy’s words: “It pissed us off to see this guy crawling into the cave so that he could shoot at us!” That was, according to Buddy, what prompted his and his friend’s ‘stupid’ episode.
Buddy grabbed his M1911, while his friend armed himself with a carbine. As they headed up the slope toward the cave they realized that there was little to no cover to hide their approach. Buddy referred to this as “the third most stupid thing I’ve ever done”.
Fortunately, the Japanese soldier didn’t come to the cave mouth while the two medics struggled up the hill. Upon reaching the ledge below the cave mouth, Buddy carried out “the second most stupid thing”; he and his friend stuck their heads into the cave mouth to see what the enemy soldier was doing.
The two medics’ luck had continued. The Japanese sniper was distracted while lighting a cigarette. They ducked back down, and then Buddy raised his sidearm above his head and pointed the muzzle in the general direction of the enemy combatant. His friend did the same with his carbine and they blindly emptied their firearms into the cave.
This was followed by “the stupidest thing”. They slowly raised their heads to see what had happened. Yet again they were more than fortunate because their indiscriminate shooting had fatally wounded the Japanese sniper.
When Buddy finished relating this story he said that it gave him no joy to kill another person. But, like so many other servicemen and -women, he put the safety of others ahead of himself.
This was the rich heritage – from both of my ‘Dads’ – upon which I reflected when I got the opportunity to review a Turnbull Government Heritage Model 1911.
This Model 1911 isn’t what I have come to call a ‘Turnbull-ized’ firearm (or in their parlance, Turnbull finished). Rather, it’s built from the ground up by their craftsman.
Turnbull’s only been making these 1911 pistols since 2015, based on the classic, full-sized Colt 1911 used during WWI.
Having previously reviewed Turnbull rifles (Winchester Models 1886 and 1892), I expected to be impressed by the craftsmanship. It seems, however, that I will always be surprised by the beauty of a Turnbull firearm.
That was my experience when I opened the hard-sided shipping case in which the Heritage Model 1911 was nestled.
As usual, the bone charcoal color case hardened finish (in this instance, on the frame of the handgun) was the first aspect that caught my eye.
As I looked further, the standard 5-inch barrel, charcoal blued slide as well as the smaller metal parts . . .
…the tritium Kensight sights . . .
…beavertail grip safety, Commander-style hammer . . .
…classic double-diamond hand-checkered walnut grips . . .
…and the checkered front strap came into focus.
As with Turnbull’s rifles, everyone present when I opened the shipping case gave out a collective sigh of admiration.
I think there would be little debate that the Turnbull Government Heritage Model 1911 is a beautiful firearm. And, maybe for some, it would be enough to have this wonderful handgun as a showpiece in their collection.
But, I was taught to consider firearms as more than just artwork. And, besides, what’s the use of being given the privilege of reviewing guns if you don’t also get to smell combusted powder? With that mindset, I headed to the range.
Those who looked through my review of the Manurhin MR73 might recall a disclaimer about the groups obtained – that the portable backstops had been removed from the pistol range leaving me with 42-yard fixed target stands.
Well, that was still the situation when I arrived to put the 1911 through its trial. But, this time I knew the value of firing from such an odd distance. If I could obtain decent groups at that range, it would be straightforward to achieve much smaller groups at standard self-defense ranges.
At least that is my explanation, and I am sticking to it.
Hornady provided two types of ammunition for my analyses: 200 grain XTP and 185 grain Critical Defense loads. The muzzle velocity for these loads was 929 ± 11 fps and 1018 ± 8.0 fps, respectively.
The felt recoil of the loads matched the velocities, with the Critical Defense rounds producing a noticeably greater ‘buck’. These loads brought back memories of my childhood. However, this time around I found the recoil enjoyable rather than frightening; it helps to have larger hands.
The groups obtained with the 20 XTP cartridges were very similar to those produced by the Critical Defense rounds (averaging ~4 inches in diameter from 42 yards).
The six-shot group reflects the largest diameter obtained and the three-shot group the smallest.
Simply put, the accuracy of this Turnbull reproduction of the Model 1911 was excellent. It must be remembered that the groups shown in the two photographs were obtained by firing at targets at a distance of 42 yards.
I can state unequivocally that the tritium Kensight sights were very bright, and thus extremely helpful for accuracy. Yet, when all is said and done, they’re still just open sights. Even so, the results were outstanding.
A necessary confession is that I expected to have to write that, though beautiful, this Model 1911 from Turnbull Restoration wasn’t wonderfully accurate. Thinking back on my Dad’s sidearm, I did not remember great accuracy, even when he was the shooter.
I mentioned this negative expectation to a number of friends prior to my range work. Needless to say, I am very pleased that I will have to eat crow. The Turnbull Government Heritage Model 1911 is definitely a gun you will want to show off to your gun aficionado friends. It’s also a handgun that you will want to take to the range as often as possible.
Specifications: Turnbull Government Heritage Model 1911
Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Overall Length: 8.75 inches
Weight: 2lbs 5oz
Finish: Bone charcoal color case hardened frame, charcoal blued slide, charcoal blued small metal parts
Ratings (out of Five Stars):
Style: * * * * *
There is no military arm more classic than the Colt Model 1911. The members of the Turnbull workshop have taken the classic 1911 paradigm and added their own unique artistry. The Turnbull craftsmanship is evident on every aspect of this beautiful pistol.
Fit and Finish: * * * * *
This pistol is characterized by the unique Turnbull finish: bone charcoal color case hardened frame and charcoal blued slide and smaller metal parts. The walnut grips are adorned with double-diamond checkering. Likewise, the front strap is heavily checkered. And with the hand-fitting that goes into a Turnbull firearm, there’s no Colt rattle in this 1911.
Accuracy * * * * *
In a word, fantastic. Diameters obtained at 42 yards, with two different bullet weights and loads, averaged ~4 inches. The Kensight sights are very clear and bright and helped tremendously with aiming.
Reliability: * * * * *
I had no mechanical problems during my range analysis. No failures to feed, extract or eject.
Overall * * * * *
From its superlative fit and finish to its dead-on accuracy, the Turnbull Government Heritage Model 1911 is a pistol anyone would be proud to own. Just don’t relegate it to safe queen duty, no matter how good it looks. This is a gun that demands to be fired.
Mike Arnold writes about firearms and hunting at his blog Mike Arnold, Outdoor Writer.
A note of thanks to the following people, without whose generosity this review would not have been possible: Mike Nelson, Paul Downs and Doug Turnbull from Turnbull Restoration; Tom McElwayne (Shooters Den); Tracy Ledbetter (Gun Racks for Less); and Neal Emery (Hornady Manufacturing)
All images courtesy the author unless otherwise credited.