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In the great 1911 vs anything else debate, a critical fact is often lost: reliability isn’t that important. It is, but it isn’t. In other words, if you buy a good quality 1911 and treat it well, there’s no reason it shouldn’t go bang when required. If you’re a pistol owner who likes to treat ’em mean and doesn’t keep ’em clean—whilst shooting the living snot of your weapon—you’re better off buying a polymer pistol. And so the QOTD: how reliable does your gun have to be, given that you’re probably not taking it to Iraq or the Congo anytime in the near future? Is too much reliability not enough, or are you more “realistic”?

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  1. I make a distinction between reliability and durability.

    One firearm may be able to withstand all sorts of abuse without breaking or corroding, but still be unreliable due to a flaw in design or a bad part. Another may be able to fire tens of thousands of rounds, but not be built strong enough to take being thrown out of a helicopter.

    It really depends on the intended environment. If you’re driving around in an open HUMVEE on bumpy dirt roads, a weapon that can tolerate getting dropped and driven over is a good idea. On the other hand, if it’s a firearm that will only ever ride to the range in a velvet-lined case, you may be better served spending your money maximizing other characteristics, such as accuracy or even appearance.

    Different purposes, different priorities.

  2. Good question. I don’t think you need a gun that will function flawlessly in the heat and dust of Mogudishu over a 24+ hour firefight, but it does need to be able to empty a minimum of two mags (or assault clips, if you are using an MSR) when called upon. However reliability almost seems binary, either it will be able to handle 1k-2k with no problems, or you will have failures with every mag. I have had a couple different MSRs that would fail 10% of a mag or more. Once the crappy Olympus ammo and Orlite mags went in the trash I don’t think I have had a failure since.

    I had a 226 that had 0 failures through 500-1k, then I didn’t shoot it for a couple of months. I took it out and had multiple FTEs in the first mag, of course it was bone dry. A couple of drops of 3-in-1 or Mobil 1 and it was back at 100%.

    Speaking of 226’s and mags, for anyone out there who is not aware, Mec-Gar makes the factory mags for Sig and others. They are literally the factory mag without the stamp, so they cost $5-$15 less and also offer extra-capacity versions.

  3. Beyond considerations and concerns spurred by financial constraints, I see no reason to base criteria for choosing personal weaponry purely on need. Whether or not I’m likely to find myself in Afghanistan doesn’t concern me at all. If I have the money, I’ll buy the most reliable and durable pistol around. My 1911 satisfies both of those requirements, and my next gun is probably going to be a Ruger SR40, or (if I can gather some more cash) a Para Ordnance 16-40, mainly because a standardized and railed version of it is what I’d love the United States military to adopt as its next sidearm (pipe dream).

  4. I always laugh when Glock/AK guys attempt to prove their superiority by claiming that “I could bury my Glock/AK in mud for 6 months, come back, pee on it, and shoot 1000 rounds through it with no lube. Cause I saw it happen on youtube!”.

    And I’ve met both Glock and AK owners who rarely if ever clean/lube their firearms because “Well it’s a Glock” or “Dude, it’s an AK”.

    I generally just laugh and let them live in their fantasy world, because in my experience you can’t convince them otherwise.

    I take care of my weapons, especially the ones I carry. My CCW guns get checked and at least lubed once every 2-3 weeks. They don’t get run over by cars, or buried in mud for 6 months. For the record, I have absolute faith that my 1911s will take care of me as long as I take care of them.

    • I actually enjoy working on my guns. I don’t know why some people make such a fuss about cleaning theirs.

      • Doesn’t bother me either. I turn on the tube and lay out the guns on the table, and just take my time. It’s kinda relaxing.

      • I know, right? Car guys enjoy working on their cars, why shouldn’t a gun guy like tinkering with his gun? I don’t do anything major, buy I’m always swapping out springs, or trying new grips, mounting a bipod, etc.

  5. I can’t help it, it’s just part of me from being crazy enough to have served in 3 branches of the military. I like tough, reliable and accurate. That’s probably why I love project weapons like a plain 1911A1. I take it and tweak it to get the best from it. After a good throat and ramp job I then find which magazine brand and ammo work best, and then I have my new shooter. I have found that the 1911A1’s have personality-some will not work well with top dollar magazines that others will. The only consistent magazines I’ve ever found are the Chip McCormick 8-shot Power mags. Now for the torture tests-I defer to others. It’s like my Cold Steel knives, I only abuse if I have to, I let them do the testing for me-and they do.

    • I bought one of those inexpensive Glock knives and beat the crap out of it. I stabbed it into gravel, threw it, pried with it, whatever I could think of. The results would surprise no one, so I bought a couple more. Bonus, the hand guard is a bottle opener, that is Austrian engineering for you. As Ralph pointed out, fugly but functional.

  6. Given my lifestyle, the only time I operate a dirty gun is between the first shot and the last shot of a given shooting session. I prefer precision tools and am happy to maintain them. I do however understand the need for durable combat arms.


  7. In one of Patrick Sweeney’s books, he torture-tests 1911s. He put so much stress on a Wilson Combat CQB you would think it could not fire, but it does. In other words, there can be some statistical-outlier 1911s that trump the plastic-fantastics!

  8. I don’t know how to answer this question. My PX4 has 2,500+ rounds through it with exactly one jam. (a head separated while feeding – factory ammunition, NIB) I have yet do do more than run wet and dry patches and a borebrush through it. I will have to research how to break it down and how to replace springs.
    I haven’t even had to do a tap-rack-bang drill since my first (pre-PX4) gun handling classes.
    Same with my CX4(400 rounds), my wife’s Five-seveN (700 rounds) and PS90 (800-1,000 rounds).
    My .32NAA (250 rounds since the trigger job. 450 overall) has been the same way.

    Are you guys telling me that this not normal for guns? That I should have more failures? Do they need more care? I only feed them name brand factory ammunition and follow the manuals recommendations for lubrication.

  9. In the Great 1911 vs everything else debate people conveniently leave out the 1911 was one of the worlds fist reliable semi-auto pistols, and that it wasn’t until the tolerances started getting goofed with by aftermarket companies in the last 30 years that it’s reliability EVER came into question. Price has NOTHING to do with 1911 reliability. USGI tolerances, good profile ammo, and USGI or hybrid magazine feed lips do. pay attention at the range and you’ll see Kimbers, Wilsons, and Nighthawks choke all day long, but “bargin” 1911’s chug away.

  10. Reliability is a key concern. If a gun doesn’t go bang whenever I want it to, it might as well be a paperweight. Durability is less of an issue. Most modern firearms are built for a duty cycle of 25K rounds and sometimes more. That’s plenty for me, and worn part can often be replaced so durability isn’t something that I spend much time thinking about.

  11. “In other words, if you buy a good quality 1911 and treat it well, there’s no reason it shouldn’t go bang when required. “

    Unless it’s a 1911, which was designed before hollowpoint ammunition came into common use. Then there IS a reason why it might not go bang when you need it.

    The reason is not tolerances, either. It’s the design. The old, obsolescent design. Hollowpoints aren’t a luxury, they are standard equipment for any law enforcement or self-defense handgun. And the 1911 has a problem with them.

    • If 1911s can’t handle hollowpoints, all mine must be defective! I need to call Springfield and Colt, and DEMAND new 1911s that won’t feed hollowpoints without choking!

      Love the myth that 1911s won’t run hollowpoints. Because they will, all day long if need be…

      • Some specific examples of 1911 (that deviate from the original design) will run hollowpoints. Others will run hollowpoints after being gunsmithed. Others will not reliably function with hollowpoints. Because it isn’t the manufacturer at issue, it’s the old design.

        The fact that you managed to find a 1911 that functions does not mean that the many documented instances of 1911s choking on hollowpoints cease to exist.

        But I am happy for you!

        • You know 1911’s not feeding HP’s was more of an ammo issue than firearm issue, and that modern .45ACP JHP bullets feature an ogive that mimics the FMJ ball rounds right?

          LOL and the “old design” is a cop-out. That “old design” led the way for MOST popular modern handguns. Tell me there is a fundamental difference between the breech, magazine, tilt lock barrel and feed ramp of a SW M&P .45, and a 1911.

          The only thing outdated about 1911’s is people’s collective memory of issues that stemmed from urban legend, gun store rumor, and ammo teething problems of the 80’s and 90’s.

          • Patrick,

            On this very blog I provided you with documentation of the 1911’s unreliability over the last 10 years. Not the 80’s or the 90’s.

            Care to address that? Or do you prefer your straw-men?

  12. *Rolls eyes* First pocket 9s are useless, now reliability is overrated. Flame bait much? If you can get more reliability, without sacrificing other attributes, then why not?

    If you’ve ever brought a gun camping, you can appreciate the need for reliability testing. Personally, I bring my CCW weapon along for mountain lion protection. With a quality holster, the gun is well protected from sand and dirt. But it can get wet, and easily. Rainstorms, and maybe an unexpected hole in a creek bed. At the end of a hike, don’t be surprised to find a little grit in your spare mag.

    How about to the beach? Sand and water. If you have kids, you’ll never know what they might kick-up around you. And you do sit down at the beach, don’t you?

    What about everyday civilian carry? Lubrication attracts dust and lint, especially in in-the-waistband carry. In everyday practice, don’t tell me you’ve never dropped your gun before.

  13. Wow–these are some really great responses. I’m a former Army guy. I was in shock and speechless when they got rid of the 1911 for the alloy M9 right before the Gulf war. I love the 1911 and fully agree with the sloppy tolerances that makes them reliable. The 1911 is a work of art and will forever remain the best ergonomic design. Those who dont agree probably don’t know how it was I tended to function, how to chamber properly, in what state it was designed to be carried, etc. Other pistols are fun and interesting to operate, but the 1911 is the perfect and necessary standard. My stainless DW CBOB is an improvement only in that it’s got night sights and a bobbed grip. Can’t really beat a beat-up Government 1911.

  14. Gunnutmegger: “The” 1911 (the Army issue sloppy Colt .45) has no feed problems. Everything finely machined that calls itself a 1911, as well as all other similar-operating pistols, like the afore mentioned M&P .45, is NOT a 1911 in it’s truest sense, and issues arising from these purposely-different tolerances prove this.

    • That’s right, MasterOfNone. A stock 1911 of original design, with 230gr hardball, is dead reliable. I have not disputed that; indeed, I have said that numerous times.

      But deviations from the original design, and the use of non-hardball/ non-230gr ammo, are the sources of the well-documented unreliability of the 1911-style pistol.

      Here is yet another 1911 that choked:

      And it happened in the last week. Not the 80’s or the 90’s, Patrick 😉

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