Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Little 1911s

My occasional compadre Rob Pincus is stirring up a bit of stir-up on Ye Ole Internet with this statement:
I have gotten tired enough of watching people fight with 3″ “subcompact” 1911 .45′s to put this video (and the accompanying challenge) out in public. I think 1911s are a bad idea to start with, but it is simply reckless to offer these mini-versions as defensive firearms to the public. They have a ZERO PERCENT Success rate in my training courses…. Never had one not fail. Yes, people will undoubtedly post how they have the magic unicorn Ultra Carry that never chokes. Cool— SHOW UP at a class and prove it…. I’ll refund your tuition and pay for the ammo if it really runs and you really run it...
Read the whole Facebook thread here, with uber-gunsmith Grant Cunningham and TBD legal correspondent (and founder of Firearms Academy of Seattle) Marty Hayes adding content, insight and humor.

Kimber Ultra Carry .45 by Wayne Novak; Detonics Combat Master .45 by Bill Laughridge

Lord knows Rob isn't known for his reticence and moderation (of course, neither am I), but I'm going to have to say that at least on the subject of itty-bitty 1911-pattern pistols, I agree with him. My experience has been that as a rule, they don't run worth a crap.

Like most things in life, there are exceptions, and I'll talk about those in a minute. I will of course take issue with Rob (as did Marty Hayes) that 1911s "are a bad idea to start with," but I think that's more of a generational thing. Marty and I have shot 1911s (that work pretty well) for a long time. And yes, I have gone through classes with 1911s, including out-of-the-box Commander-length 1911, that have worked flawlessly. Even the S&W that I intentionally didn't lube or clean. The manual safety, which Rob sees as a "bug," I see as a "feature." I have written extensively that I think manual safeties on semi autos are, on the whole, a plus for a lot of reasons I won't get into here.

But overall I suspect it depends where you come from. Marty and I (and some of the finest pistol shooters in history, I might add parenthetically) came out of first the Modern Technique of Pistolcraft and then IPSC. Because of our backgrounds, we have put quite literally hundreds of thousands of rounds through 1911 pistols, and we know those particular pieces of hardware intimately.

My take is always that there is no such thing as the "best" gun; there are only guns that you like and/or works best for you. That's a big difference. I also believe that anything made by human hands can and will fail. Yes, I know you have a [FILL-IN-THE-BLANK] and it has never failed and it is as if God Herself made it and as such it it impossible for it to fail...whatever. All machines can and will fail, and if we believe the dictates of Mr. Murphy, at the worst possible time. The neat thing is that we are CLEVER MONKEYS and can make those machines work again! Yes, I want my machine to be as reliable as possible, but I also need to be able to get that machine up and running as quickly as possible when it goes down.

The problem with "believing" in a machine, whether that machine is a gun, a carabiner, a scuba regulator or a motorcycle is the "lag time" in your head from "Holy Crap! I can't believe it broke!" to "Fixit...fixit...fixit!" The longer the lag time, the more likely you are to be a statistic. Sucks, don't it?

About small 1911s, I don't think John Browning would approve. The shorter slide guns (that is, shorter than Commander length) I believe compromise the basic operating integrity of the pistol...that is, there is insufficient mass in the slide for the gun to work as Browning intended. We try to make up for that insufficient mass by juggling the recoil spring weight or going to some sort of multi-spring system. My experience has been that some of those systems work better than others (e.g., the STI Recoil Master system, which is more-or-less based on the Detonics captive spring recoil system).

Walt Rauch wrote this in HANDGUNS Magazine back in 2005 (in a review of the revived Combat Master, BTW):
It’s not that these guns [little 1911s] are not good for the job; it’s just that they require more attention for their upkeep than I care to devote to a gun. As I’ve written in the past, the micro 1911 must have fresh springs, recoil and magazine to ensure that the gun will cycle reliably. Simply put, when the 1911 platform is decreased in size, there’s less margin for error, or, perhaps better put, they are unforgiving of neglect of these two areas.
Generally, the recoil spring life in a short slide 1911 pistol is short and brutish...more to the point, when the springs fail, there's very little warning...the gun just stops working. An unpleasant surprise in a class...worse if you badly need that one more shot in the Real World.

Obviously, we can mitigate this by regular maintenance, but I've found most of the little 1911-pattern pistols to have other strange quirks. I had an Officer's Model Colt I never could get to run...it was as if it was haunted. The Kimber Ultra Carry above is a pretty good gun, but it was completely rebuilt by Wayne Novak, who threatened to personally strangle me if I ever sent him another mini-1911.

In my experience (which is the only thing I'm qualified to talk about, I suppose), the true exceptions to the rule are the little Detonics Combat Masters. The Combat Masters seem to have gotten the balance between slide mass and recoil system (3-spring captive system) pretty well-balanced. I had one back in the 1980s and it was superb. I swapped it off for a couple of S&W .44 Specials when they were as rare as hen's teeth. I got one of the new Combat Masters when my friend Jerry Ahern relaunched the company for a brief period. They're beefy little things (34 ounces; 3 1/2-inch barrels) compared to modern mini-1911s, but they do work. I wish I'd gotten a bunch of the recoil spring assemblies at the same time. Technically, Combat Masters are for sale in their third iteration from Detonics Defense, Bruce Siddle's company, but I've never actually touched one.

STI LS-9

I've also had very good luck with the STI LS-9 9mm, which is a more or less 1911-pattern small 1911. I think the 9mm caliber coupled with the STI recoil spring system keeps the gun's reliability up. I'm probably going to buy one of the Sig P938s, the single-action 9mm version of the hugely successful Sig P238 .380, which is a shrunken down 1911 in and of itself.


I once ran the range for a police department qualification. One of the detectives had an itty-bitty Springfield that was his daily carry piece. I mentioned in passing that I had never had much luck with subcompact 1911s, and he proceeded to verbally maul me. According to him, his was a 100% gun, which is why he bet his life on it. In the qualification, it did not get through a single magazine with a stoppage, and it was a veritable catalog of Things That Can Go Wrong With 1911s.

18 comments:

Tim Covington said...

I think you've inadvertently hit on why most micro 1911s don't work. You need to shrink the round/recoil with the size of the pistol.
As you pointed out, as you reduce the size of the slide, you need to increase the strength of the recoil spring in 45 ACP. If you also reduce the recoil impulse, it appears to make the weapon more reliable.

gunman42782 said...

My Kimber Ultra Carry has been reliable, actually more reliable than my full size Colt XSE! I did have to change out the recoil springs. Kimber tells you to do so in the manual. I went far beyond the round count Kimber said to change them until I was having issues with it. Change the springs, and once again it is 100%.

Anonymous said...

It's why PH's in Africa like double rifles. When crap goes south, the keep it simple stupid rule applies. Gun technology and the gun industry are still operating in the late 18th or 19th century. Build, tweak, rebuild, hope, tweak, rebuild. When you can completely model the firearm, ammo, chemistry and physics in software, firearms will get better.

Anonymous said...

So, what is the relationship between reliability over a long period of time and reliability when required to fire a large number of rounds in a short period of time like what occurs during most advanced handgun classes such as those that Rob Pincus teaches? Could it be the factors previously mentioned plus the build-up of residue. What about temporary changes to the metal structure of the gun from all the heat generated when firing a large number of rounds in a short period of time?

Anonymous said...

Mike, ask Pincus what he thinks about open carry.

_DonWorsham_

That Guy said...

Personally, I think Pincus is goring a sacred cow to get more name recognition, and build his brand. getting free advertizing from every blog and message board that repeats his rant in either the positive, or the negative.

Tam said...

"In my experience (which is the only thing I'm qualified to talk about, I suppose), the true exceptions to the rule are the little Detonics Combat Masters."

FWIW, my Seattle Detonics CM sucked. Could not be induced to function for one whole magazine no matter what. :o

(And I wouldn't personally own any 1911 shorter than a Commander anyway, because they tend to be wretched pulsating balls of suck and fail.)

Anonymous said...

My first "intentional" carry gun -as opposed to what was issued or simply already in the safe- was an Officer's Model. I did all the "required mods" to be cool in school. It was a decent little gun, but never really fit my hand, and I don't have especially large hands. It had what I considered to be an avererage number of S/A failures, but convinced me smaller is not always better.

In the last 25 years I've relied on full and Commader size 1911's, a couple of combat tupperware
(17/19 combo) and a few 442's, both for BU and as the one gun I could hide on my corpse. I agree that there is no perfect gun, only the one that works for you. As a LE range officer at what I call the Dawning of the Glock Age, I made plenty of pocket change from those who believed that Glocks "never" jam. Bet made I would then take their pistol and department approved ammo to the line and drag queen it to show what a weak grip does to a flexible frame.

My current belief is that these little S/A firearms fill a shooting niche the same way a 329 does. Carry alot, shoot a little. Neither would be suitable for a high volume school. What the thread overall proves is that if one teaches shooting long enough they can, and do, gore anyone elses ox.

Michael Bane said...

Interesting point on class vs. the Real World...I have long contended that if one really wants to "torture test' a gun, there's no need to bury it in sand or cook it on a grill...run a lot of rounds through it quickly...heat build-up is the enemy of guns. I have and probably will again carry a gun that I wouldn't go through a class with...the ancient Star PD comes to mind. I had (and still have) one that was overhauled in the Olden Days by Mike LaRocca...heck of a little gun...I had maybe 500 rounds through it and carried it a lot. I wouldn't bet on 2000 rounds through it in a week. It's retired because of the shock buffer issue.

Tam, what can I say? When I got my Seattle CM back in the 80s, I was skeptical as all get-out. The thing was as loose as a WW2 Remington Rand and had what I considered Mickey Mouse magazines. Yet it was such a workhorse I started shooting it in IPSC matches. It even fed this H&G68 semiwadcutters we all so believed in. The only reason I get rid of it was looking at those 2 pristine S&W .44 Specials sitting on a table and the hungry eyes of the guy who wanted to trade...heck, that's a trade you'd make! I think Commander length is about as small as the Browning-designed gun will shrink without stepping into a minefield.

Shrink the gun, shrink the caliber seems to work better.

BTW, don't get me started on .40 1911s. I have one that works (sort of)...never was worth the grief.

mb

Michael Bane said...

And Brother Don, see my comments on the current Pincus Kerflunkle at SAYUNCLE:

http://www.saysuncle.com/2012/05/23/an-insult-to-is-llama/#comments

mb

Knitebane said...

To date, out of 2000+ rounds though my 3.5″ Rock Island SC over the past 2.5 years, I’ve had two stovepipes. Both with the factory magazine. I replaced the magazine with a Wilson ETM.

It does tend to not go all the way into battery when it is very dirty. I don't really consider this a failure of the gun but a failure of my maintenance practices.

When I bought it I was prepared to deal with malfs during the normal 200 to 300 round 1911 break-in period. Other than the cheap factory mag issue there was no break-in period. It just works.

It handles 230gr hardball or 185gr JHPs. No fuss. I ran some Hornady Critical Defense through it yesterday and it likes that too.

It came from the factory shooting about 4 inches low at 25 yards. I had a local gunsmith drift out the old rear site and install a taller one. Total cost, parts + labor: $45

The gun itself cost about $500.

I bought four mags total, all Wilsons, for about $20 each on sale at MidwayUSA.

I shoot it every Tuesday. I clean it about once a quarter. I lube it with Militec-1.

My only complaint with it is that you need a paper clip to disassemble it. I’ve considered replacing the guide rod assembly to make it easier to take down but I’m not sure I want to mess with a gun that works.

So for just over $600 I have a compact, sturdy, ergonomic, reliable carry gun. It goes bang when I pull the trigger and doesn’t when I don’t.

I added a Crimson Trace grip for low light. You can see a picture of it on my blog.

That puts the total price up closer to $800 but you’d add $200 or so to the price of any gun you put a CT on.

Oh! And I can shoot handloads without voiding the warranty (or endangering myself).

But now that Rob “Attention Whore” Pincus has denounced it I guess I’ll throw it away and buy a soulless piece of slippery plastic.

Because being an expert shooter with a Glock makes him an expert in everything else, right?

Oh and just in case Rob drops by here and reads this: I open carry it too. To make a political statement.

I can hardly wait for him to make his next announcement. Maybe he’ll denounce my daily driver and tell me what car I need to be driving!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pincus is entitled to his opinion. Just because it sucks is irrelevant. Oh wait a minute did I tread on the toes of one of the TV Gods of CCW? Guess I better back off before he hands me my ass in a sling. Seriously though, I view his comments as the rant of another opinionated A**hole (a category in which I include myself at times.) That was not a category I had considered him fitting into until now. Previously I had considerable respect for his teachings and comments. As noted, firearms are machines and machines break. Heck humans break! As to condemning 1911s, that is pure BS. Some of us just happen to shoot them better than any other platform. I have Glocks (3), Sig 2XXs (4), an XD (45C), a couple of BHPs, a baker’s dozen of 1911s and another bunch of Star 1911 (loosely) based semis. Therefore, after a half century of experience including CCW, I feel qualified to state what works and what doesn’t work, both mechanically and physically for ME. YMMV. I spent 5 years of my Navy career in a situation where I was able to routinely run 800-1000 rounds through 1911 and High Standard match guns WEEKLY. No, I wasn’t a great pistol shot, just lucky enough to be where they supported you if you were an active shooter and participated in matches etc. That is a lot of muscle memory that I developed. 1911s just point naturally as can be to this day. Sigs, BHPs and my XD all do the same in my hands. My Glocks all point high! I think I can agree that the sub 5” 1911 can be a problem. The more sub, the more problems. My daily carry piece is a combat Commander with old school S&W sights and a set of CT grips. Runs fine with everything I have fed it and no FTF or FTE (knock on wood here comes Mr. Murphy.) My favorite deep carry piece (Kramer shirt) is a Star PD, light as heck and completely reliable for well over 500 rounds after the first couple of magazines when new. My experience with sub 4” is limited to a Llama MiniMax (bought real, real, real cheap at local show and I now understand why) that has taken considerable effort and some parts swapping to get to 98% reliability with hardball. Could be the Llama or the 3.5” concept or both. Neither have a good rep. However I have a Star Firestar in 40 that runs like a champ and points just like a 1911. When asked about handguns do I condemn Glocks? Never, I just state they don’t work well for me along with the recommendation that a prospective purchaser try as many different platforms as he can before sinking his $ into one. I get asked frequently since I work with an ever changing group of young Airmen. With the exception of the PD (respect for longevity) & Llama I have run all of my guns through round counts into the thousands and used them in IDPA matches and have the upmost faith in them. I guess the summarization of my rant is find out what works for you, get an example and prove that it is worthy of trusting your and your loved ones lives to. Then carry it and feel secure in the knowledge that you have made an educated choice, not an opinionated one.
Thaine

Zef M. said...

Big Surprise, a compact 1911 not working? Anyone ever going to an IDPA match would know those pistols are... less than ideal.

Buy American, a 5" 1911.

What can I say, I guess Mr. Pincus isn't getting a sponsor from Kimber!

George said...

Michael,
What about the Para Carry 9? How did it hold up for reliability?

Thanks!
George

Anonymous said...

By Pincus logic, if I cant run a marathon, i shouldnt try to run a hundred yard dash. A Colt Defender as a carry gun will have to fire 20 plus rounds before the user runs out of magazines. I am pretty confident my 9mm Defender can accomplish that task 100 percent of the time.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting in all this talk about recoil spring weights for these small-ish 1911's, that no one ever mentions main spring weight. the mainspring, among other things, is what momentarily keeps the slide pushed forward into battery while it is cycling.

said another way, the slide's rearward momentum has to overcome the hammer, and cock it in order to cycle.

Anonymous said...

where do these fools come from

Anonymous said...

Well, from having a lot of experience shooting and teaching others to shoot I would have to say that I see poly/plastic guns more than anything else.

Also it seems to be in fashion these days to beat up the 1911. I understand that for 100 years the 1911 was the go to pistol for everyone who was "serious" about personal defense, however at the time there was little to choose from that could compare.

I for one carry a 1911 EVERYDAY for personal protection and do not feel it less of a weapon in any means. With that being said it is a matter of training (as with any firearm).

I believe we live in the instant gratification time of the world where people do not want to take time to get better at a particular thing. The idea behind using a "simpler" pistol than a 1911 such as a Glock is that it is easier to learn how to shoot it and the Glock requires "less" end user skill. The 1911 takes time and effort to be able to teach people to shoot effectivley and even more time to be able to teach a person how to defend themselves with it.

Bottom line is I do not believe the 1911 has draw backs other than as a society we are becoming lazy and the 1911 is not a lazy persons weapon.

I also own 2-3 inch Kimber 1911's. They run spectacularly well. All though not 100% reliable (NO GUN IS), they work all the time with a rare bobble once in a great while (I would say 99% reliable).

In regards to Rob's statements regarding the 1911 I have to say that I am not suprised. Making a statment challenging micro 1911 shooters to bring their guns to his course and if they did not fail he would cover their expenses. This made me laugh as I have hardly ever had a semiauto pistol shooter finish a course completly without malfunctioning. That is why we teach malfunction drills (I have also had revolvers break too).

On a final note I will say this. The 1911 is a matter of choice. When I go to that great shooting range in the sky you will see me with a 1911 in my hands. If you choose to carry something else that works for you great at least the choice was made to get a gun, now learn how to use it.