Gunsite Entrance
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Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the 250 Pistol class at Gunsite Academy. Since attending, I’ve found there are a lot of people with strong opinions about Gunsite, but they have nearly zero correlation with the reality those of us who have actually trained there experienced. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to dispel some common myths and misconceptions.

To help with this, I reached out to Freddie Blish and Ken Campbell. Freddie was the lead instructor for my first 250 Pistol class, and Ken is the Chief Executive Officer of Gunsite Academy, making them both highly qualified to speak on what actually happens there.

Q: Colonel Jeff Cooper was known to be a big fan of the 1911 pistol, and it’s become nearly synonymous with Gunsite in the minds of some people. So much so, that I’ve repeatedly been told that Gunsite instructors are limited to the use of a 1911, specifically in .45ACP, and in some cases, students are restricted to the old war horse as well. Is that the case?

Ken: Well, that’s crap to put it plainly. Gunsite was never only 1911. Many people make these foolish claims and have never attended Gunsite. Folks have attended classes with revolvers, traditional double-action semi-automatic pistols and more. (When I took my 250 in 1990, I used my department-issued S&W 645.) Many instructors chose to carry 1911, but others also carried Sigs, etc.

If we only allowed 1911 platforms, why did GLOCK ask us to do three 250 Pistol Classes in 2011 celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the GLOCK Pistol?

Freddie: This is one of the two biggest myths about Gunsite. The 1911 was Jeff’s personal favorite, and still very much appreciated by many Gunsite instructors, but Gunsite is not 1911-centric. I took my 250, 350, 499 with a Glock 21.

My 250 was in July 2001 and was a 250 Master Class because Jeff was teaching. After winning the Man V Man shootoff and earning an E Ticket, Jeff said, “Maybe there is something with the GLOCK.”

While many Gunsite instructors carry 1911s, an equal number carry GLOCKs, SIGs, and S&Ws. I often carry a Colt 1911 rail gun in 9mm, but if other instructors are carrying 1911s or the majority of students are carrying GLOCKs/striker fired pistols I’ll switch to a GLOCK or M&P. When teaching military classes I carried a Beretta M9 and now the SIG M17.

From Cooper’s Commentaries, Nov ‘05 . . .

The Glock pistol seems to be doing what is necessary. It is not a weapon for the master, but it seems to work well and, of course, reliability is a major consideration with a defensive weapon. So we see more Glocks all the time in school and in competition. The marvelous 1911 and its clones continue to be the first choice of the expert, but only a few pistoleros have the intention or the ability to become truly expert. 

From Feb ‘06 . . .

The continued sales triumph of the Glock pistols demonstrates the virtues of skillful marketing. The Glock pistol is okay. It is generally reliable, it is comparatively inexpensive, and it is available in respectable calibers. Above all, its after-market service is superior.

Modern 9mm hollow point ammunition and recent FBI study has ended the .45 vs 9mm debate. Most Gunsite instructors shoot and carry 9mm. I anecdotally estimate from the classes I teach that 80+% of students shoot 9mm in striker fired pistols, 10-15% shoot 45 from 1911s, and 5% shoot .40.

As instructors we may joke about the 1911 being God’s gun and .45 being God’s caliber but we recognize the reality of striker fired 9mm pistols. FYI if you want a 1911 trigger in a polymer framed 9mm buy a Staccato!!

Q: When it comes to stance, I hear folks equate the Modern Technique to essentially the Weaver stance. With that, people often say that Weaver is the only stance taught and permitted at Gunsite. Is there any truth to this?

Ken: Again, not true. While we were very strong advocates of the Weaver, it was never forced upon anyone. Now, we clearly teach a modern fighting stance. What was your experience in your 250 recently? We also teach folks to shoot with their strong foot forward. Rumors are great things, but if you read it on the internet, it has to be true. (Sarcasm font.)

Dan: My recent experience mirrors your comments. Freddie and the other instructors primarily teach a balanced fighting stance, but also provide academics on traditional Weaver, isosceles, and strong foot forward techniques. Everyone gets an opportunity to find out what works best for them, then stick with that throughout class. Using a modified isosceles throughout the week, I was never once corrected or told to change.

Gunsite 250 Pistol
Freddie on the line during my 250 Pistol class

Freddie: First, what many people think is the Weaver stance and what Jack Weaver shot, as well as what Gunsite taught/teaches, are two different things. Many think the Weaver stance is bladed, it is not and never was.

The bladed stance was a bastardized version developed by law enforcement that combined their interview stance with the Weaver. We teach a balanced fighting stance and explain the pros and cons of both a correct Weaver and isosceles stance. If a shooter is struggling to control recoil, we will encourage them to try a Weaver stance, but no one is forced to shoot Weaver. I personally shoot a modified Weaver.

Jeff even grew tired of the Weaver vs. Isosceles argument and wrote about it in November 2005 Guns & Ammo Cooper’s Corner . . .

There is a great deal of foolish discussion bouncing around concerning the proper arm position for serious pistol work. Jack Weaver’s classic contribution consists in power control. If you crank the left elbow down and pull positive count-pressure, you dampen recoil very considerably. If you use mechanical means of reducing recoil, and if you lay great importance upon very rapid bursts of succeeding shots, this may matter, but in the overall picture, I do not believe it does.

It hardly matters whether you use the Weaver Stance or the Isosceles with both arms straight as long as you get hits and those hits should be delivered with a major-powered sidearm under controlled conditions. The argument is silly, and I wish it would go away.

Q: Without getting into too much detail, would you say that things have in fact changed since Col. Cooper founded API and then later Gunsite?

Ken: The Modern Technique continues to evolve. It did when Cooper owned Gunsite. But that is one of the many great things about it. It was designed to be flexible, but needed to be proven in real-world application.

How many schools are you aware of that failed or simply went away when the principle or founder left? I can list many. Cooper passed away in 2006 and Gunsite continues, growing each and every year. (We have had seven record years of student enrollments and appears 2022 will be number eight.)

Freddie: Polymer striker fired pistols in 9mm are the vast majority of the firearms used by students. Anecdotally, female students now comprise 30-40% of our classes. The Modern Technique has evolved to a balanced fighting stance. Pistol-mounted optics are becoming much more common, with anecdotally 20-25% of students using them.

Q: For those taking 250 Pistol, we’re restricted to outside-the-waistband carry to reduce some of the complexities associated with a concealed draw. Once students move on in their training, concealment is allowed in class, and in some cases encouraged. Does Gunsite allow appendix carry in classes where concealment is permitted?

Ken: Our experience has been that while building the foundation of the Modern Technique, the OWB holster is safer and better to use. The principles you learn apply to IWB of any type. Once you have successfully completed 250 Pistol, we allow IWB, including appendix. Having said that, if the student shows a propensity to be unsafe (i.e.: holsters with finger on trigger), we will require them to use OWB. We also offer courses in “Pocket Pistol” and “Tactical Concealed Carry Pistol.”

Freddie: 250 Pistol is restricted to OWBs. Follow-on classes are at the discretion of the Rangemaster, based on demonstrated ability of the student.

Q: This was a question I had personally before making my way to 250 Pistol earlier this year. Being a five-day course, I assumed Gunsite was pretty much restricted for serious shooters only. What would you say to newer shooters who were thinking about attending class at Gunsite?

Ken: Gunsite has never been restricted to experienced shooters. All start with the same program, whether experienced gun fighters or one of the eight million new gun owners. One of the nice things of new shooters is that they have fewer bad habits for us to break as they learn the Modern Technique. Experienced or novice, we will make you stronger as you learn to fight with your pistol, carbine, shotgun, etc.

Gunsite 250 Pistol
More shooters in my 250 Pistol were novices than not. Both were accommodated and pushed to grow during class.

Freddie: The 250 Pistol is a great course for a beginner, intermediate, or experienced shooters. I estimate 25 to 35% of our students in a 250 Pistol are beginner shooters. I definitely recommend the 250 Pistol for new shooters.

Q: When people talk Gunsite, I typically only hear about handguns, and the occasional scout rifle course. Tell us about some of the other offerings that people might not be aware of.

Ken: Gunsite has had a full curriculum of courses of multiple weapon systems for decades. We teach various levels of pistol, carbine, rifle, shotgun, precision rifle and more. We also have an excellent tactical medicine course, edged weapons, multi-weapon, and hunter prep.

We encourage folks to visit our website (www.gunsite.com) and see the complete listing of our courses instructed by the best instructors in the business. Sounds pompous, but when we can deliver, it is no brag, just fact.

Savage 110 Scout Rifle (courtesy thetruthaboutguns.com)

Freddie: Originally American Pistol Institute had class designators based on college level courses; ie for pistol 250, 350, 499. Early on Jeff added Shotgun 260, Rifle 270, and Carbine 223. In all of those cases Gunsite was the first school outside of military or LE to offer those classes.

As a matter of fact the 260 and 223 classes are the genesis for the shotgun and carbine programs for most of law enforcement and the military. Gunsite offers classes for almost every shooting endeavor, as well as edged weapons and combatives.

Q: In the oversaturated training “community” that exists today, what makes Gunsite Academy stand out from the crowd as a place to come learn?

Ken: Gunsite is the world’s largest and oldest privately owned firearm training facility. While the military and law enforcement have been training longer, our “bread and butter” is citizens.

With our 47 years of experience, we continue to lead in offering the best training to clients such as the CIA, Special Operations Command, various federal agency special units, major law enforcement special units, celebrities, personal security details and more. Train where the masters learned.

Freddie: It’s the quality of the instructors. All are very experienced with military, LE, and hunting backgrounds. They also typically seek out training outside of Gunsite from top tier non-Gunsite instructors for professional development.

Gunsite 250 Pistol
Shooter navigating the shoot house, instructor in tow
The square ranges offer turning target systems that typical square ranges don’t which challenge students with both auditory and visual stimulation for reaction and action.
Outdoor and indoor simulators or challenging outdoor steel targets hidden by cover and concealment forcing students to move tactically to engage and the shoot houses with targets forcing students to move tactically and decide if they are shoot or no shoot.
In follow-on courses we introduce students to force-on-force scenarios using Simunition with skilled role players.

Q: Are there any other myths or misconceptions about Gunsite that you’d like to clear up?

Ken: We have heard the various comments on the internet (as our late instructor Pat Rogers called it, not the information superhighway, but the disinformation cow path). When we look to the source of the comments, 99% of the time it’s someone who has never attended Gunsite. It used to frustrate and aggravate me, but now I just shake my head and feel sorry for the person posting it.

Take a class at Gunsite. If you truly apply yourself and come in my office on Friday afternoon and convince me you learned nothing, I will reimburse your tuition. That is a check I really don’t have to write.

Gunsite 250 Pistol
Low light work as part of 250 Pistol

Freddie: Gunsite isn’t a “Fudd” school that’s stuck in the past. It’s constantly evolving at a proper pace so as to teach time-tested techniques, not the fad of the month techniques that often die out.

The Rangemasters frequently discuss TTPs that we are seeing from our experience, students experience, and trusted instructors outside of Gunsite so that we can advance the art appropriately for the success of our students.

Gunsite is a fighting school not a shooting school, so sometimes TTPs that are successful on the competition “one-way range” don’t always apply on the “two-way range.” As instructors we do our best to sift through those and present what we believe will help our students prevail on the two-way range.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully that clears the air for those of you who haven’t made the pilgrimage to Gunsite yet. Are there any questions we missed? If you’re interested in training at Gunsite Academy, I recommend you check them out here.

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49 COMMENTS

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    • You could make that argument for all non military gun owners. The intensity of military training is just not there for civilian training. People die in military training and the beat goes on.

      How often do civilian training courses have fatalities and when it happens do they continue as a business?

    • To be honest, I’ve rarely seen anyone go to Gunsite that out of shape. Most are either newbies or have some experience, and neither AZ summers or winters are anything to sneeze at when you’re on the ranges all day. I do recall two extremely overweight NYPD cops who ended up with heat exhaustion though.

  1. Training is like buying fish. Good training is seldom cheap, and cheap training is seldom good. There are a remarkable number of people offering training; many multiples of what was available in 2000. But there is a huge difference in quality between training with an experienced instructor who understands how to diagnose and coach, and standing on the line with a trainer who simply just runs drills. People grumble about the cost, but when training at Gunsite, Thunder Ranch, or with Randy Cain or Caylen Wojcik, you are getting skilled coaching, TT&P that have been tested, analyzed, and revised, and working with instructors who do this for a living, not as a hobby.

  2. quote——-I anecdotally estimate from the classes I teach that 80+% of students shoot 9mm in striker fired pistols, 10-15% shoot 45 from 1911s, and 5% shoot .40.——quote

    Obviously the boys that have beating the big bore drums for years have become a minority.

    And the .40 seems to be dying out both in law enforcement and definitely with the public who buy self defense pistols.

    I might add that some of the most famous of big game hunters in the early to mid 1900’s all eventually switched from big bore blaster rifles to much smaller calibers to kill the biggest and baddest beasts in Africa. And that was even before reliable expanding bullets were invented.

    And it seems interesting that the militaries of the world that use pistols have them in 9×19 and seem to have no trouble killing people with full metal jacketed ammo. So the old myth that the 9×19 is good today only because of modern expanding ammo is not born out by the history of the cartridge.

    • 9mm was invented by the Germans and a favorite of the Nazis therefore it is the round of white supremacy, racism and sexism. How dare you proclaim its effectiveness without first apologizing for its racist riots.

    • dacian, the Dunderhead. Regret to inform you, but the .40S&W cal is far from dying out. It is the caliber of choice in this neck of the woods and for many departments throughout the nation. the .40 is chosen for the simple reason that it is a “man stopper” and has a manageable reoil for most officers. It is clear that as usual you have no clue what you are talking about. The main reason the FBI is changing over to the 9mm is because the ammo is cheaper. LOL. That is a great reason for change, don’t you think?
      Oh by the way, did you ever find out the firing sequence of a cartridge?

      • to Walter the Beverly Hillbilly.

        As usual you show your complete ignorance in regards to the sorry history of this cartridge. Police departments had problems with extremely short service life with many of their handguns because many of them were reverse engineered 9mm handguns that could not take the pounding of the 40 cartridge. The list of early parts failures is way too long to go into here but anyone who is even remotely familiar with this problem is well aware of its sorry history. I might add I have seen graphic pictures of early and extreme parts wear and galling on .40 cal handguns, even plasticky handguns from such prestigious firms like Walther.

        And not all police departments used Glocks, that seem to last a bit longer with this cartridge, although Glock had plenty of recalls too but they labeled them “upgrades” knowing that the average gun buyer was too stupid to recognize a charade when they were handed one. Glock had problems with trigger springs, end of the barrels braking off in the target ported version, extractor problems, striker safeties failing, and pins walking out of the frame. Notice the 40’s now carry an extra frame pin.

        Another reason Police departments switched over was because that this 40 cal cartridge in reverse engineered 9mm handguns gave much more recoil than 9mm guns and the cops, especially women cops did not like it nor were as proficient with it.

        With the advent of a plethora of new expanding bullets in 9mm the completing .40 cal was no more lethal than the 9mm. That part of the article written I agree with. And yes ammo cost was another factor but not the only one.

        As usual Walter you know as much about handgun history and handgun calibers as you know about rocket science which is zero.

        • Still nothing to say about your favorite nazi white supremacy sexist racist 9mm round? 9mm is the bullet of choice for fascists.

        • Dacian, back again? You have “seen pictures”. That’s damned near as impressive as the “studies” you used to site. Never quote. That would require a footnote. Wouldn’t it? Go away. Leave serious conversation to those it concerns.

        • dacian, the DUNDERHEAD. Do you just make this stuff up as you go along or does someone feed you this bull shit! The Police Depts nation wide get a SPECIAL deal with GLOCK of which 99.999999% of the semi-automatic pistols are purchased. For your edification, in NYS alone, I know of ONLY ONE DEPT that has a firearm other than GLOCK and that is Utica PD. They have S&W’s in 45 cal. There have been a few recalls by GLOCK but FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. Again, you are commenting on a subject you know nothing about. For your edification: The 9mm round can deliver anywhere from 355 to 455 ft-lbs of energy depending on the weight of the bullet, which translates into a ballistic gel penetration cavity of 41 to 84 ml. This is certainly enough to be plenty lethal with sufficiently accurate shot placement, it isn’t as powerful as larger-caliber rounds.

          The .40 S&W cartridge, on the other hand, can deliver significantly more energy to a target – from 460 to 588 ft-lbs on average.
          Now you are going to try to tell me that 355 to 450 is equal to 460to 585 ft lbs of energy? Did you ever take physics ? Take a loo at the ballistic gel results. Again, you are absolutely CLUELESS!
          Did you ever find out the firing sequence of a cartridge? Just wondering.

        • to Walter the Beverly Hillbilly

          quote———the .40 is chosen for the simple reason that it is a “man stopper” ——quote

          There is no handgun cartridge that is a man stopper as was proven years ago when the U.S. invaded the Philippian Islands. Troops even complained that their military rifles often failed to stop people which were way more powerful than any anemic handgun cartridge. Again Walter you know little about the true nature of ballistics.

          And your constant snide remarks about knowing the firing sequence of a cartridge while being to terrified to answer your own question when asked too speaks volumes about your real confidence in a debate with me over that subject.

        • dacian
          You simply amaze me with your brilliant answers to everyone’s questions. It’s like your a genius. You know everything about everything. If only the rest of us could be so intelligent.
          I almost forgot your mom said you need to clean your room and take the trash out.

        • dacian, the DUNDERHEAD, Again, your opinion? Based on what? Your experience with firearms? LOL. You don’t even know the firing sequence of a cartridge, and yet you claim to be an “expert” on firearms. You don’t know squat! For edification, when the US entered the Philippians. they were using .30 cal REVOLVERS. When they found that the Filipinos were hopped up on drugs, the .38s did not stop them at all. Ipso facto the US Army adopted the .45 cal. That stopped ’em. Again, your ignorance is exposed.

  3. Gunsmith advice from imbelciles tripping over each other to be the first to say GTG is disgusting to say the least. On ar15.morons a bozo told another bozo you’re GTG if the pivot pin does not lock in via the spring and detent. Another bozo advised another bozo to shoot a .308 with an ejector pin that could not be depressed. Another bozo posted photos of his upper clamped in a vice by the handguard while he demonstrated how to remove a flash suppressor and install a brake. Frankly the roads around guns has a litter problem.

    • I’ve taken classes at Gunsite in AZ. I’ve also taken Gunsite classes in Nashville, TN. I’ve taken a total of 6 classes from Gunsite. Check their website for classes off site, they have quite a few. Their classes are worth the investment, and that jis just what they are – an investment.

      • Y’all misunderstand. I was thinking more along the lines of business expansion, not just occasional offsite training. Franchises for example, particularly in the permitless carry States east of the Mississippi river.

  4. I took the 250 class about 6 years ago. Likely one of the best weeks of my adult life. My shooting improvement was impressive. One draw back is that this is a fungible skill. You must keep up with practice.

  5. When I took the 250 class at Gunsite 9 years ago I was one of two people using a 45ACP and the only one using a 1911. I became the poster child for magazine changes during that course. I did get cred for using the 45ACP. I also only had to hit the steel poppers once as opposed to twice with those using 9mm. That was about the only benefit during the class. We had three LEOs (if you count the Bureau of Indian Affairs agent, but hey, the feds were paying for him attending), a retired LEO and the rest were just regular folks. One had shot a handgun ONCE before, and she ended up being 2nd in the class at the end.

  6. I was invited to a 3-day gun writers’ workshop at Gunsite, and was so impressed with the experience that I signed up for the full 5-day Pistol 250 class the year after. It was an impressive, humbling, exhausting and enriching experience. I have been shooting since age 13, competed on the Ft. Belvoir pistol team in my 20s, and maintained an active interest in the shooting sports and personal protection for decades. Gunsite was an epiphany, and worth every penny.

  7. Col. Copper himself stated that a handgun was a means to fight to a rifle. His complaint about using a handgun other than the .45 ACP was based on the bullet and handgun technology of the 1960’s. So much has changed since then. Modern technology and manufacturing techniques means we have 9mm rounds that outperform the old .45 ACP ball ammo by a large margin. Still, a ~1100 fps pistol round will never match the performance of a 2500 fps plus rifle round. Training is one way to help close that difference.

    • Unless you have 7 grand to drop on a FK BRNO Field. 2000+ FPS out of a handgun. Reliably defeats 3A armor. But at 3 lbs weight and very real overpenetration risk, it’d be impractical for daily carry.

  8. I believe that given the number, diversity and experience of their former and current instructor base, GUNSITE is the largest and best repository of civilian self-defense knowledge in the world. That’s why We have chosen to “home” the new relaunch of THE BEST DEFENSE (with Rich Nance and Jeremy Stafford hosting) at GUNSITE. I have taken many GUNSITE classes over the years and am proud to count many of the instructors as dear friends.

    Maybe my favorites class was the 250 I took a couple of months back with friends Dave Spaulding, Tim Wegner, Dave Biggers and Bob Radecki. I took my first 250 with Dave Spaulding and Tim Wegner, like, 20 years ago, and we wanted something special for the 20th anniversary of that class. Lew Gosnell, Monte Gould and Verlin Rector delivered that in spades.

    FWIW, I shot Expert with a Tisas PX-9 9mm striker-fired gun.

    Michael B

  9. Gunsite is one of “those schools” that would be great to attend but might for many be out of reach both financially and geographically. This article is a good reminder of the value of high quality, respected instruction, and that we should try if we can to seek it out closer to home. Plenty of Rambo-wannabes offering “operator training” when they could probably barely complete my Basic Pistol course but if you ask around and do your homework you can often find excellent instruction close to home.

    I’m lucky enough to be in the Puget Sound region and have attended a number of Greg Hamilton’s courses with Insights Training. Great military pedigree (Rangers/SF), great instructor, but another hallmark of the courses is he picks good assistant instructors as well.

    One of those “no matter how good you are you can always learn something new” types of things. And a good reminder post-pandemic shutdown that I should register for a course!

  10. I’m geographically very close but financially far away. Are there perhaps videos that can be had (other than Utube fools)?

  11. A word of warning about the Gunsite 250 class… it’s a gateway drug. If you’re a student of the gun, you owe it to yourself to experience it. Been there 4 times for classes, which is a lot of time and treasure but I’m still plotting my return.

    Remember this, as told to me by one of the rangemasters: “We think about how much it costs you to come here every day.” For me, it’s been money well spent.

  12. I have not been to Gunsite, but some of my co-workers have. Nothing but positive reviews, they learned a lot and had a terrific experience. Of course, the price was minimal as these were industry related events, so its not like any of us were actually paying for it.

  13. “Back in the day”, I was one of the first to take 250 in the 80’s with a Glock 17. The crew at Gunsite and Ltc. Cooper were the best and the fact that I wasn’t using a 1911 meant nothing. They were about teaching the fundamental skills for future useage.

    Gunsite has been the Gold Standard for a reason.

  14. Aint no gunmshine when shes gone
    Ain’t no gunmshine when shes away
    And wino wino wino wino
    Wino I better leave that sub compact alone
    Aint no gunmshine when shes gone

  15. THe only commment I can bother with is that if the COLT.45 in any form is anybodies ‘favourite hand gun it’s about bloody time they retired. It was never anybodies ‘Favourite Handgun’ outside of the USA and the USA believe o itbor notn are NOT the worlds authority on handguns. That’s why eventually they followed the world and the 9mm became pretty muchnthe standard issue to US Police Forces and certainly for the Armed Services.
    Have you any ideas why the COLT.45 ACP was designed in the first place?
    It was designed for the sole purpose of killing MEXICANS and PHILLIPINOS America’s Colonial Wars.
    Did you know that America carried out a GENOCIDAL war in the PHILIPPINES? In one incident alone the USMC and the USA Army under orders killed between 15 and 20,000 men women and children

    • Albert L J Hall. We really don’t give a rat’s behind about your opinion of the Colt .45. For your edification, you are not anything near and expert on anything but anti-gun propaganda.
      You see, Albert in War, that is what a gun is designed to do, kill people. If you want to talk about colonial wars, look at your own British History.
      I don’t know where you get your information from, but it seems it is from the fantasy of your anti-American buddies.

    • The 1911 .45 ACP was designed to be a replacement for the rifle Bayonet. It had to be effective, mostly meaning completely reliable but also immediate man stopper – enough bullet energy and size – at twice bayonet distances. The originals were extremely loose, so that neither mud nor ice would stop them from cycling correctly; this made them inaccurate but at the intended distance nobody cared, it was all about reliability. Modern 1911s, especially those intended for target shooting at 50 yards, are much tighter. They have enough reliability to get through the target course of fire with excellent accuracy, but not the same as the originals. I like my 1911 target pistol, but also my S&W model 411 in .40 S&W.

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