The Colt M1911A1 is a semi-automatic large-frame pistol chambered in .45 ACP or .38 Super. The 1911 has a long history with the US military and, in some ways, became the archetype for pistols today because of its simple design that has remained relatively unchanged since its introduction in 1911. One feature that makes it so popular is its light recoil, especially for a .45. The recoil is absorbed by its heavy frame that weighs around 2.5 pounds. And, interestingly enough, the 1911 is recoil operated. The expanding gases that push the projectile out also forces the slide back and by doing so ejects the casing and chambers another round.
It has a hammer, but has a single-action only trigger that sets off the action with a short pull. It has two safety mechanisms. A grip safety that rests within the dovetailed curve below the hammer. The grip safety is automatically engaged when not in use, so it cannot fire unless the trigger is actually pulled. This means no accidental discharges if dropped. The second safety is a manual safety that turns on and off with a flip of a switch.
Although Colt is credited with creating the 1911 because it had the government contract, it does have numerous manufacturers. The M1911A1 remained the standard issued pistol until it was replaced in 1985 by the M9 made by Beretta. However, it is still in service within special military units and law enforcement.
My first encounter with a Colt 1911 was back when I was in the second grade and my dad let me hold the service pistol he carried while serving overseas during WWII. I knew it as a well-used tool my father depended on time and time again. It had noticeable wear around the edges, especially the grips. He always kept it strapped to his side with a rickety old brown leather holster whenever we hunted or went out plinking. It was his favorite go-to gun. But for me, my hands were still too small to wrap around the massive grip to keep positive control.
During the next few years, I started shooting bigger calibers like .22-250 and .30-30, but I didn’t shoot any handguns larger than a .22, so dad made sure to keep my interest piqued by letting me hold the 1911 every time we went shooting. Then, at the age of 10, he finally let me shoot it and let me tell you, that first time was epic. Even through the earmuffs I remember hearing POP! like I hadn’t heard gunfire before. The ensuing recoil made me step back slightly and I remember giggling to myself even though I failed miserably to hit the target. Dad was a different story. He’d shoot freehand with it and still get a tight grouping.
Now, flash forward an undisclosed number of decades to when I first went shooting with my soon-to-be-wife. The first gun out of her bag was a Colt 1911 and, let me tell you, if I hadn’t already committed to winning her over years earlier, I surely would’ve done so just then.
Talk about a stepping in the way-back machine, it was just as much fun as when I was a kid only now, actually being able to hold it, I developed a whole new appreciation for the Colt 1911 and its accuracy and dependability.
Even though my dad taught me to shoot the 1911, he didn’t teach me was how to fieldstrip it. My wife-to-be showed me how to take it down. After that, I was able to fieldstrip it in about 5 minutes even if I didn’t touch for months.
I can understand why the Colt 1911 is one of the most successful handguns of the 20th century in both military and civilian versions. The frame and action are very dependable, even in adverse conditions. I’ve heard some compare it to the AK-47 in terms of reliability. I’ve fired it in pretty dusty, dirty conditions and haven’t had any misfires. It is also highly accurate and can be tuned to be a match-level gun.
Of course, there’s a downside to the Colt 1911, compared to a modern handgun like a Glock 21 the 1911 is considerably heavier. It also has an inherently limited magazine capacity of 7 or 8 rounds depending on the model. Aftermarket clips are available to increase capacity by a few rounds, but it will be an extended clip that protrudes beyond the bottom of the grip.
Another issue I’ve noticed is the tendency for the slide stop to-not-want to-go-back-in. It’s a common problem and you can read how to get it in in my article on “How to Take Down a Colt 45 Series 80.”
There have been several different flavors of the Colt 1911 .45 semi-auto in the last century, but the overall dependability and desirability of this weapon has remained the same with few exceptions. If you’re looking for an industry standard go-to handgun that is highly accurate and dependable you’ll do well to consider the Colt 1911.