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.
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.