May 16, 2007

Because I Need More Hate Mail

Friends, Romans, Countrymen; lend me your ears. I come not to praise the 1911 but to bury it.

Okay, not bury it per se.

I like the 1911. It's a good design. Better than some, but not the greatest thing since sliced bread. In 1925 it may have been but today it's not (although without it we might not have arrived so quickly at the designs I feel eclipse it).

Just in case you're not familiar with the 1911 here's a good place to start for info.

Now as has been opined before the success of the 1911 is due to 3 things: it's mechanical virtues; it's appropriateness for its intended purpose, & its cartridge. When put together correctly the piece works. It's reliable & accurate enough for most defensive chores. Couple with its slim grip & ease of manipulation by most folks it is a great firearm to use one handed (which for ages was how soldiers, sailors & marines were instructed in its use). Topping things off we have the .45 ACP. It's a very reliable (though nothing is 100%) man stopper. It's a bit light for bear but most 2 legged predators succumb to its method of persuasion. If you get shot with a 230 grain slug a little less than half an inch in diameter you will most likely forget what you were angry about. If not then it's safe to say you have a serious grudge you're trying to work out.

Those 3 factors have made the 1911 what it is today, which is a damn fine pistol to have on your person. But it is not the end-all/be-all on the subject. As fine a design as it was in its original guise it has been improved upon. & more to the point of this post it has been surpassed.

Now I'm no great fan of double action pistols. In my view they are a mechanical solution to a training problem, & most often they're just a mechanical solution to an irrational fear. If there's a manual safety that allows for cocked & locked carry then that's how I usually keep my double action pistols. For a while I'd practice with the first shot being double action & the rest of the mag single action but eventually I gave that up. The transition wasn't that big of a deal to me & if for some reason it was ever necessary to fire a quick shot from the double action mode it'd be close enough that fine accuracy wouldn't be an issue.

So I'm not going to praise a different trigger system as being superior to what Browning brought down from the mountain.

The grip safety. I never saw the need for one but did see the potential problems with it.

If you do not properly depress the grip safety then the pistol will not fire when you pull the trigger. That's what it was designed to do after all - keep the gun from discharging unless it was properly engaged. But some folks have occasionally had trouble pressing the grip safety properly even when they had their hand on the pistol & the pistol aimed at a target (see here & here for some anecdotal verification of my claim). As a matter of fact Wayne Novak made a substitute for the grip safety that eliminates its mechanical function to solve this issue.

If I recall correctly Browning first used a grip safety on the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. This was a smallish pistol & as its name implied was often simply carried in a pocket. A grip safety made sense on this pistol because of the relatively slim but real chance that the trigger could get snagged on something else in the pocket.

I have heard two versions of the tale & I'm not sure which was factual. The most common version being that Browning did not want the grip safety on the 1911 but installed it at the request of the military. The other version is that he did not want the manual safety on the 1911 because the grip safety was adequate to the intended task. what I do know is that Browning didn't include a grip safety on the Hi-Power (although he passed before the pistol was fully developed).

In any event the purpose of the grip safety is a noble one (to prevent unintended discharges) but any device which performs a redundant function makes a tool more complex. I've never been a fan of complexity.

So the grip safety is a turn off for me & I believe it's a potential problem. There are times I can envision not having a proper grip on the firearm but needing to make a quick shot anyway. A grip safety gets in the way of that. It's true that 99.9997% of folks will never be in such a situation, but if I trusted odds then I'd have to throw away my "lies, damn lies & statistics" paraphernalia.

Moving right along there's the barrel itself. It has an unsupported chamber which is fine for the .45 ACP. For higher pressure cartridges such as the .40 S&W & 10mm (& definitely not for an overpressure load) I don't trust an unsupported chamber. A lot of other folks might but I'm not one of them. If I only used commercial ammo loaded to medium to low power levels then maybe I'd be okay with an unsupported chamber, but I handload & prefer full powered cartridges. A number of folks make after market barrels for the 1911 that have fully supported chambers but to my knowledge most (if not all) 1911's come from the factory with unsupported chambers. The Anarchangel penned a nice little piece on pressure that I'd encourage you to read if you haven't already. It should make clear why I prefer a supported chamber in full power loads as the numbers he discusses aren't ones you'd like to quote to your friends as possible reasons the brass "let go" in your hand.

To me those are the biggest detriments to the design. The Anarchangel has a post up with his take on the 1911's weaknesses & he's of the opinion that the internal tension spring extractor is the greatest single defect of the 1911. Read his thoughts on the matter because he's more knowledgeable on 1911's than I am & makes a more concise case about extractors than I could.

Mechanically that's the extent of the gripes I have with the 1911. They can all be remedied & in some cases are sold from the factory with those areas improved.

Let's talk about the .45 ACP. Here's a nice history of the cartridge.

For what it is it's a damn nice cartridge. Big, round, slow to medium fast (the latter in the +p & +p+ loadings) that seems to have a very good reputation as a man stopper. Too good a reputation some would argue, but a good reputation one the less.

But there's a better cartridge out there. Actually there are several depending upon the application. For the civilian world I think the .40 S&W delivers better performance than the .45 ACP does. Some would argue that the .357 SIG is the best choice of them all. Then there are the wildcats & proprietary cartridges such as the .400 Cor-bon. For rural &/or martial matters the 10mm is hard to beat.

But for the helluvit let's look at some numbers (courtesy of the Remington Ammunition page)

.45 ACP GSJHP 185gr 1140fps 534ftlbs
.45 ACP GSJHP 230gr 875fps 391ftlbs

10mm FMJ 180gr 1150fps 529ftlbs

.40 S&W GSJHP 165gr 1150fps 485ftlbs
.40 S&W JHP 180 1015 fps 412ftlbs

.357 SIG JHP 125 1350fps 506ftlbs

Those are your basic over-the-counter "if Wal-Mart has it..." type of loads. The .45 ACP & 10mm seem neck & neck but the .40 S&W aren't that far behind (& in fact if we look strictly at the 230 grain .45 load they pull ahead a bit). But let's look at what Cor-bon does with the respective loads:

357 SIG 115 GR. JHP 1500fps 575ftlbs
357 SIG 125 GR. JHP 1425fps 564ftlbs

40 S&W 135 GR. JHP 1325fps 526ftlbs
40 S&W 150 GR. JHP 1200fps 480ftlbs
40 S&W 165 GR. JHP 1150fps 485ftlbs

10 MM 135 GR. JHP 1400fps 588ftlbs
10 MM 150 GR. JHP 1325fps 585ftlbs
10 MM 165 GR. JHP 1250fps 537ftlbs*

.45 ACP +P 165 GR. JHP 1250fps 573ftlbs
.45 ACP +P 185 GR. JHP 1150fps 543ftlbs
.45 ACP +P 200 GR. JHP 1050fps 490ftlbs
.45 ACP +P 230 GR. JHP 950fps 461ftlbs

(* that has to be a typo from Cor-bon as any 165 grain bullet at 1250 fps should have a muzzle energy of 573 ft-lbs.)

As you get into the heavier weights with the .45 ACP it loses ground to the other cartridges but even with the .45 ACP's lighter loads it only exceeds loads from the .40 S&W & 1 load from the .357 SIG in muzzle energy. To be fair the .40 S&W is only topped by the .45 ACP's loads less than 230 grains (which is 3 of them) but it'd only take 10fps more from the 165 grain .40 S&W to match the 200 grain .45 ACP load.

So with them all being so close what's wrong with the .45 ACP? On its own nothing, but that's a large diameter case which means less mag room. With the 10mm, .40 S&W & .357 SIG one can fit more cartridges in a magazine than with a .45 ACP. It's not that big of a deal but in general more is better when it comes to defensive ammo so for the same space you can have more cartridges of arguably the same or better stopping power than the .45 ACP. You also have slightly less weight with the non-.45 ACP rounds listed above (which is mainly academic but some folks like to look at that sort of thing) which translates into either saving weight for a given number of cartridges or carrying more cartridges for the same weight of a lesser number of .45 ACP cartridges (which I'll be the first to admit isn't that compelling an argument except in very special circumstances).

The 1911 is good as is the .45 ACP. I do not think it's the best choice hands down for anyone in any situation; usually a pretty damn good one but not necessarily the best.

So what do I think is the best? Well when I found myself in need of a decent pistol some years back I went with a Taurus PT-100 in .40 S&W. More recently I decided to replace the Taurus & I opted for an EAA Witness (Tangfolio T95) in 10mm. That's how I voted with my wallet. Either time I could have opted for a 1911 in .45 ACP (or another chambering) but for the reasons listed in this post I didn't.

Further I think that a 10mm based on the CZ design (which at the moment is limited to Tangfolio's T95) would be the best choice for a service pistol for our military. This is mainly because the 10mm is (imho) almost the ideal round when you're limited to FMJ projectiles. Given a chance I'm positive it'd prove to be as good a fight stopper as the .45 ACP was thought to be, & probably a bit better.

There you have it - why I'm not crazy about the 1911 or the .45 ACP & what I use instead. Your mileage may vary of course & I'm going to be foolish brave & leave the comments open. Just remember my ancestors had nothing to do with my opinions about the Grail of Browning. :)

Posted by Publicola at May 16, 2007 03:32 AM | TrackBack

Yep, thass one way to get hate mail. I won't do that though.
I think one should carry, and shoot what one has confidence in. If you have confidence in the 10mm, or anything else, for that matter, then that's what you should carry. And I think none the less of you for it.
For me, it's a 1911 clone, or a wheelgun of some sort, in .357 Mag. Or a Colt Cobra. I like old stuff. I still listen to my RCA Red Labels and Mercury Living Presence recordings on vinyl.

Posted by: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner at May 16, 2007 04:09 AM

I enjoy my many 1911s, of course all but one are heavily modified.

What people don't appreciate is that the 1911 was designed with early 20th century mass manufacturing techniques in mind. When they say "they don't make 'em like they used to", I say thank goodness! A modern gunmaker can make finer examples of the 1911 but the compromises in it's design still remain. A barrel link? Puhleeze.

Take at a Glock (that'll get ya some hate mail) for example. Look at the cut at the end of the slide where the barrel passes through. Turn the barrel around and look how it fits when in battery. It's loose in recoil and snug in battery - all without a bushing or a fitted link. This is just one of the many details that makes the Glock a truly modern pistol.

On the other hand, a Glock is a throw away pistol just as a Bic is a throw away lighter. You may be attached to your Zippo but you toss the Bic in the trash.

Posted by: Ninth Stage at May 16, 2007 08:42 AM

Hey, pal, next time you plan to toss your Glock in the bin, give me a call. I'll be happy to take out your trash.

To your larger point, I have been since my youth and probably always will be in love with the 1911. I've owned a few of them--none of them Colt manufactured--and they've always made me happy. I recognize that pretty much everything Publicola says is dead on, I don't believe that the .45 ACP's reputation as a man stopper is 100% deserved, and I would agree that the 10mm is pretty close to idea. And, yet, I'd rather carry my .45 when and where possible.

Posted by: zombyboy at May 16, 2007 11:45 AM

Zombeyboy -

I toss my Glocks when they're empty just like I do with Bic lighters.

Seriously, if some horrible situation arose and I had to use one of my Glocks, the nice officer would likely "ask" to keep it for a while. A Glock I would happily hand over - there are millions more like it. I can't say that about most of my 1911s. Not only are they way more expensive than a Glock, but all (except one) have been modified for reliability and performance.

Posted by: N inth Stage at May 16, 2007 07:39 PM

When it comes down to it, all handguns are a compromise. None of them are 100% man stoppers. Most handguns of .380 or greater will make an assailant think twice. Find what you are comfortable with and shoot well. If you shoot a 10mm well and it's size isn't an issue, go for it. If you like anything reasonable to shoot a human with, go for it. This isn't a contest. The contest is when you have to actually use the firearm in self defense and if you pick the one not suited to you and/or don't practice, all the numbers in the world in cartridge comparisons won't save you.

I've had the pleasure of having Ray Chapman as a friend for a number of years. He related a story to me about when the battle for "major" and minor" power factors began in practical pistol competitions. Jack Weaver, yes that Weaver, liked his .38s and commented "If I shoot 'em in the eye it doesn't really matter if it's a .38 or a .45 does it?" He had a very valid point and well could dot eyes if need be.


Posted by: Tom at May 20, 2007 10:52 AM

After 25 years split between the military and police, to my mind it's not what's written on the pistol, it's about reliability, useability, and an adequate cartridge.

If it always goes "bang" when you pull the trigger, and the ergonomics are such that it hits where it points and you shoot well with it, then it doesn't matter how old or how new the design is. That gets complicated by the fact that what points well for some people does not point well for others. If the grip angle always tends to make you shoot high, then that isn't the pistol for you - at least at the moment.

Beyond that, comparing the ammunition of today to what we were carrying for defence even just 20 years ago is almost a joke. I never lost any sleep over the thought I carried a .38 Spl back in the day; well, these days with ammunition from companies like Cor-Bon and Double Tap, I would worry even less.

I currently carry a BHP in .40 S&W, a fairly old design. I prefer it over most of the new tupperware pistols, although I must confess S&W's M&P definitely appealed to me when I tried it. But if the auto pistols weren't available, I'd happily carry a Model 10 loaded with .38 Spl's and never give it a second thought. .357 Mag might be nicer, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over that either.

Those who carry would be much better off if they dedicated as much time to shooting as they do to worrying over which model of handgun, what caliber, what bullet, etc.

Posted by: Rick at July 3, 2007 11:22 AM