I’m about to give those who tease me about my advanced age more fuel for their ribbing by writing about my favorite carry pistol — the 1911 Government Model .45 ACP. I have owned three since I was 14 years of age.
By today’s standards, this ancient John Browning creation, as manufactured in 1911 by Colt, is missing a few things that we have come to consider essential. There is no firing pin safety, guide rod, beaver tail, adjustable sights, beveled magazine well or checkered mainspring housing on those original century guns.
Most of today’s versions have some or all of those things. But most shooters today could pick up one of those 100-year-old guns and shoot it well. The 1911 Government Model .45 ACP pistol being made today is essentially the same pistol John Browning made for Colt back in 1911.
Adopted on March 29, 1911, by the Army’s Ordnance Corps, an original order for 31,344 guns was made to Colt, and the legendary pistol served the U.S. Military for 70 years.
As the poet once said about another old warrior, “Though much is taken, much abides.” What abides in the 1911 Government Model pistol is really the heart of the matter.
The Government Model was the first semi-automatic pistol adopted by the U.S military. It worked on John Browning’s version of the blowback principle, and it functioned flawlessly.
The pistol came at a time when the role of America in the 20th century was yet to be established. Within a decade of the gun’s introduction, it was clear that the United States was destined to lead the free world through some of the worst of times. The side arm that became the emblem of the armed American was the .45 M1911 pistol. Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC, with his insightful precision, chose to call it “The Yankee Fist.”
In the years since, the grip safety, which is not a firing pin safety, has been retained, and a slide safety has also been added, giving the wearer the option of safely carrying the piece “cocked and locked.” The cocked and locked condition of a 1911 Government Model looks dangerous to the uninitiated, but it provides the fastest, most accurate first shot out of a holster by a trained user.
Eventually, larger front sights and adjustable rear sights became an option. The Colt 1911 Government Model .45 ACP has not only served the military, but it was also adopted by police agencies such as the Texas Rangers. Even some of the notorious gangsters of the past, such as Baby Face Nelson, and many among the general public.
Because of it’s inherent accuracy, it continues to be a popular choice among competitors in various pistol competitions around the country.
The 1911, as it is generally called today, is now produced not only by Colt, but on license from Colt by Remington, Smith and Wesson, Kimber, Wilson Combat, Les Baer, Auto-Ordnance, Ed Brown, STI, Llama, Para-Ordnance, Sigarms, Springfield Armory and a host of others. I often carry one when I am visiting and working on some remote property that my family owns.
As a home and self defense weapon, it has no peers in my opinion. But I agree with master trainers like Massad Ayoob, John Farnam and the late Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC, that the 1911 is a professional’s gun only. That’s because the 4.5- to 5-pound trigger pull is easy to engage by accident in a tense situation, and the recoil is significant enough that one needs to get proper instruction on how to control the piece if quick follow-up shots are necessary.
I don’t mean to suggest that those who want to own one shouldn’t unless they are professionals. But if one is going to carry the 1911, particularly in public, proper instruction and familiarity of the piece is definitely recommended.
The 1911 is as popular today, if not more so, then it ever has been. That is quite a testimony of John Browning’s genius and his 104-year-old warrior — the 1911 Government Model .45 ACP.
Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He was a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University for 25 years. There he taught orienteering, marksmanship, self-defense, fencing, scuba diving and boxing. He was among the first DPS-certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructors. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.