Old Slabsides, 100 Years Old and Still Kickin'


Colt M1911A1

It has sadly become common knowledge that the John Browning designed M1911 .45 government model pistol is difficult to shoot. Not!

In its original design it had very small sights, is a bit heavy by today’s standards, and has manageable recoil. We must remember that this pistol was designed in the early part of the last century. It was accepted into government service in 1911 making it 100 years old this year. Battlefield experience in WWI led to four modifications made in 1924 creating the M1911A1. The government model was originally made by Colt. The government purchases some 2.7 million M1911’s between 1911 and 1945 with 2 million of those for WWII service. The M1911A1 was replaced as the standard sidearm for the U. S military in 1985 when the Beretta M-9 was adopted. Many Special Operation units still use the M1911 as an alternate pistol.

I spent a number of years as a bullseye pistol competitor both as a civilian and in the military. I have never found the .45 especially difficult to shoot accurately. I have observed big burly men, very petite women, and all sizes in between do very well with a M1911 pistol in competition. Anyone with a little coaching and some self discipline and determination can shoot the M1911 well. Practice helps too.

Today dozens of manufacturers make M1911 type pistols for the general public with prices ranging from $400 to $2,500 and beyond for a custom gun. These modern iterations have a number of enhancements and their CNC machined tolerances are just unbelievable. There is no finer pistol to own or carry for self-defense. Just because the military judged this pistol to be obsolete doesn’t mean it is.  

The modern M1911 pistol is generally available in three basic sizes; full size with a 5-inch barrel, combat commander with a 4.25-inch barrel and the officer model with a 3.5-inch barrel and a shorter grip. Unlike the original models these all have very visible and usable sight arrangements.

I participated in a military pistol match in 1979 or 1980. Twenty-five M1911A1’s were drawn from the armory and distributed on the firing line at the range. These pistols were as issued and all were at least 40 years old. Competitors were assigned to the line in random order so that no one could choose their weapon. My assigned weapon shot just perfectly. Every shot went to point of aim at 25 yards. In fact, I had the highest score of the match and among others was awarded the Army Bronze 4-point Excellence in Competition Badge. The ultimate award in the shooting world is known as the Distinguished Badge.

I recently came across an unbelievable story from WWII that involved shooting the M1911.

In March of 1943 a group of B-24 bombers were on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge. Japanese fighter planes attacked the American bombers. A number of planes were damaged or shot down. Japanese fighter pilots had a nasty habit of attacking bailed out crewmen as they parachuted to safety.

Amazingly, even while injured, Army Air Force 2nd Lt. Owen J. Baggett played dead while drawing his M1911, holding it at his side. One of his pursuers slowed to stall speed opening his canopy to observe the “dead” crewman. That’s when Baggett suddenly fired 4 shots at the fighter pilot with his M1911.  

You can read the end of the story here.  

Imagine swinging from a parachute and shooting the pilot of a moving plane with your pistol? I think 2Lt Baggett deserves one of those Distinguished Pistol Shot badges, don’t you?

The State of Utah recently honored the John M. Browning designed M1911 by making it the “official arm of Utah.”

My recommendation is that you consider the M1911A1 as your first choice for a personal defense weapon. It served our nation very well for nearly 80 years as our standard issue sidearm and continues to serve with our Special Operation troops. It is still very popular with the shooting public and is available in a wide range of prices, calibers, and configurations. You can even get models that duplicate the ones issued to our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers during WWI and WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.