The Future of the 1911 Pistol

My Personal Heirloom 1911 Colt Pistol

The fashioned steel piece of artwork you see above is my personal Colt 1911.  Carried on my side, reliably used by me for years as a duty weapon, it was handed down to me from my father decades ago.  The pistol was customized by Gunsite gunsmith Ted Yost circa 1990, has been through multiple Gunsite courses prior to my ownership and was even held by Col. Jeff Cooper himself.

This pistol remains on my side quite often and has been through countless tens of thousands of rounds, recoil springs, hammer springs and routine cleanings.  It was re-blued once already.  The barrel is the original factory OEM Colt barrel, non-match and nothing fancy.  

I love the 1911 design, the slender slide and frame, the accuracy, the crispness of the trigger that breaks like a tiny glass rod, the balance and the man who gave it to us - John Browning.  That being said, I think we should discuss the future of the 1911.

Looking back, I cannot retrace the exact history and timeline that would justly explain the meteoric rise in popularity of this 103+ year design that seemed to really explode sometime around the year 2000.  Sometime nearly 2 decades ago, the 1911 corralled itself a cult like following of believers.  I was one of them.  there was, "no other pistol".  Any red blooded American man worth his freedom, owned one.  The "Modern Technique of the Pistol" by Col. Jeff Cooper and the growth of schools such as Gunsite, aided in the popularity of this pistol as an accurate defensive weapon. 

During WWI and WWII  - there were multiple companies that produced the M1911 pistol for the war efforts.  Springfield Armory and Colt were the main manufacturers, however these two titans could not meet the demand  for this pistol that was in high demand by US forces thus contracts were awarded to Remington Rand, Ithaca Gun Company, Union Switch & Signal, and Singer.
After WWII the image of the venerable 1911 was ingrained on our culture.  There was a romantic nostalgia combined with war stories of its many accomplishments against the Axis powers.

Let's not look back as far as the 1911's history and inception into the US Military, but take a view at its explosion into the civilian ownership that followed, here in the US more recently.  

As decades ticked by, Colt became the main producer of the 1911.  With the growth of institutions such as Gunsite, the popularity of civilian shooting/defensive training, coupled with the writings and instructions of the many respected firearms gurus who preached the value of the 1911 platform, this pistol's popularity grew.  Colonel Jeff Cooper (Gunsite founder), without question perhaps the most influential firearms instructor of the last century was one of these instructors.  In large part due to his writings and doctrines, the 1911 found itself sitting atop a pedestal.  
Col. Jeff Cooper

Gunsmiths soon found a niche in tuning, and "perfecting" the pistol by providing many requested enhancements.  Enhancements such as the extended safety, beavertails, match barrels, improved bushings, tuned extractors, improved triggers, custom hammers, slide-frame fitting, checkering, grips, sights and springs began to spread among shooters as, "must haves" in order to have a proper 1911.  Much like plastic surgeons working in L.A., these educated gunsmiths went to work, perfecting the design and feel of the 1911.  

A myriad of custom parts and custom manufacturers began to fill this market demand.  Companies producing parts and complete guns began to pop up all over the United States - Slide-frame sets by Caspian, parts and complete pistols by:Wilson Combat, Les Baer Custom, Ed Brown, and Nighthawk Custom, just to name a fraction of what would soon become a burgeoning industry surrounding the production and customization of this one pistol model.  Eventually the list of manufacturers grew with what seemed an insatiable demand for this pistol; 

To give you and Idea of how many companies there are here is an Incomplete list of current and past manufacturers of the 1911:

A.J. Savage (US gov't contract slides only) American Classic, American Tactical, A&R Sales. AMT, Armi Dallera Custom (ADC), Armscor, Astra, ATI, Australian, Precision Arms, Auto Ordnance, Briley, Brolin Arms, Cabot, Caspian (slides and frames only), Charles Daly, Christensen Arms, Cimarron, Citadel, CO Arms
Colt (commercial and US/foreign gov't contract), Chiappa (.22LR 1911 copy), Crown City, Cylinder & Slide, Dan Wesson, Detonics, Devel Dlask Arms D&L Sports, Double Star, Ed Brown, EMF, Essex (slides, and frames only), Federal Ordnance, Falcon, Firestorm, Freedom Arms, Fusion, Gemini Custom, Griffon Combat, GSG (.22LR 1911 copy), Guncrafter Industries, Gunsite, Hero Guns High Standard, Imbel, Imperial Defense Infinity, Interstate Arms (Regent), Irwindale Arms Industries (IAI), Israeli Arms Industries (also called IAI), Ithaca (new business located in Sandusky, OH), Ithaca (old NY-based company, US gov't contract only), Iver Johnson, Karl Lippard, Kimber, Kongsberg (M/1914 pistol manufactured in Norway under Colt license), LAR, Les Baer, Llama, Lone Star, Magnum Research (Bul), Maximus Custom, Metro Arms, Mitchell MP Express, Nighthawk, Norinco, North American Arms Co. Ltd., Nowlin, Para Ordnance, Pistol Dynamics Olympic Arms, Omega Defense, Peter Stahl, Randall, Ranger, Reeder Custom, Regent, Remington, Roberts Defense, Rock Island Armory, Rock River Arms, Ruger, Safari Arms, S.A.M, Sarco, Schroeder Bauman, Shooters Arms (Philippines), Sig Sauer, Singer (US gov't contract only), Sistema (aka D.G.F.M.-F.M.A.P.) (M1927 pistol manufactured in Argentina under Colt license), Smith & Wesson, South Fork, Arms/Perkins Custom, Springfield Armory , STI SVI, Tanfoglio, Taurus, Taylor & Co., TİSAŞ, Turnbull Mfg., Unertl, Uselton Arms, USFA, Walther/Umarex (.22LR 1911 copy), Vega (frames only), Valtro Victory Arms, Volkman

I remember the first time I walked into a gun shop and peered into the glass pistol cases that were lined with dozens of various 1911 models and sizes.  There were the full size Governments (5"), Commanders (4.25"), and a mix of compacts.  The point of this article is not to fall into the swamp of no return, "what is the best 1911?", so let's just leave it at that in regards to the many brands I remember seeing and using over the years.  Every time I went to a shop it seemed a new manufacturer was producing their own 1911.  

Prices on 1911s began to rise.  There were the affordable or what some called, "cheap" versions that ranged from $600-$800 and then there were the ones that cost 2-3 months pay for some.  I recall the first time I saw a sticker price over $2,000 for a 1911 pistol.  Here is one now for $5195.00 base price: Wilson Combat Classic Supergrade

Remember the housing bubble?  The
Classic Supergrade by Wilson Combat $5195.00 Base Price
dot-com stock bubble?  Could firearms also abide by the very rules that govern economics?  I believe they do.  There has been a meteoric rise in production, and prices of the 1911.  There has also been a tremendous shift in the defensive pistol culture, training regimens, as well as social demographics.  

Prior to 1980 the 1911 was really one of very few choices for auto loading pistols.  With the 80's came the invasion of the European autos. SIG, Beretta, Glock, HK, and Walther began to produce pistols that fit the bill of reliability and accuracy for those in search of a defensive pistol.  The 1911 began to face a threat to the monopoly it held on the American psyche as the defensive auto-pistol of choice.

Below is a video testimonial I made a few years ago about my slow transition away from the 1911 serving as my predominate secondary weapon:

Recently I learned that I was not the only one experiencing this transition.  Please view exhibit A:

MY Personal Path Away From the 1911 - By Hilton Yam - this article is a must read on the issue of the future of the 1911.

Hilton Yam, is a highly respected expert on defensive pistol shooting and the 1911 itself.  Please read more about him by exploring the links here, and again READ HIS ARTICLE after you have explored the remainder of this article.  

I will not touch on all of the points that Mr. Yam brings to this discussion however there is one that I have struggled with more than the others.  My gun has run quite reliably, and is meticulously maintained.  The main drawback to the 1911 that I have learned to work around over the years is the magazine capacity, or should I say lack of magazine capacity.  Traditionally, the 1911 carried 7 rounds in a magazine, one more than a revolver.  With the addition of modern magazines that brought this single stack magazine capacity to 8 - now we see 2 more rounds than that of a revolver.  In running tactical drills, defensive shooting drills and scenarios, this becomes an obvious handicap.  

Recently I read a quote of another individual whom I deeply respect and is well known in the tactical shooting community who is also a competitor/shooter of the 1911; he stated the 1911 is "not a recommended 
combat pistol", but has become a, "sporting pistol".

As with any design such as even the M4 Carbine, which you readers know I adore, no firearm is perfect.  I do believe the pistol requires a heightened level of training to carry and operate proficiently, requires more attention by armorers/smiths, is limited in ammunition capacity, and depending on manufacturer can suffer from being, "too tight" leading to malfunctions.  On the other side, this pistol has over 100 years of history proving itself.  The triggers on the 1911 are known in the firearm world as the gold standard for any pistol, and the accuracy of the 1911 also is well regarded.

With the winds apparently shifting and the seas changing, will consumer demand continue to support the hundreds of manufacturers dependent on the sale of the 1911 platform?  What does the future look like for the 1911?  Recently I was in a local gun shop that has a very large case dedicated to 1911s.  Movement has been slow on them lately, and they had a discount marked on the front door announcing a, "1911 SALE!".  The shop owner explained that there was too much inventory, and they needed to clear out some of the 1911s.  

There will always be those who view the 1911 as, "the one and only" pistol.  To me, that is limiting and confines a shooter to parameters that may be detrimental.  I recently wrote a piece on this "black and white" line of thinking we often see in the firearm world (article in The Arms Guide).  The fact is, there are other pistols out there that are highly accurate, reliable and will do the job equally as well perhaps exceeding past the limits of the 1911's capabilities.  The applications, situations and individual shooter will determine which of the many pistol choices available today is the right one for them.  There is no judgement from me towards those who choose to carry a 1911 or those who chose to carry a SIG, Glock, HK or Walther. 

The golden age of the 1911 is beginning to wane.  Would I advise a young gunsmith entrepreneur to start a company producing 1911's?  No.  The pistol has etched itself into the annals of firearms history and reached it's apex in popularity most likely at some time within the last decade.  As Hilton Yam observed and is quoted in his article; "There has been an industry wide move away from the 1911 in serious training circles.  At the last three classes I attended, none of the students were shooting 1911s."
The genius of the design, the fact that it continues to compete alongside modern handguns in spite of being invented during the time of horse and buggy, the history it has made and memories I have, gives me a love for the 1911 pistol.  That being said, the 1911 is indeed passing the torch.  Thank you John Moses Browning for giving us the design, Colt for giving us the pistol, and you Col. Jeff Cooper for teaching us how to use it.

About the Author: A.A.S NREMT-Paramedic, P.O.S.T. Certified SWAT Paramedic, TCCC/TEMS, Active SRT Member since 2006, 25 years of experience and training with M4/AR-15 variants with tens of thousands of  rounds sent down range out of Colt 1911, 6933, 6920, MK18 without a hiccup.