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Auto-Ordnance M1911A1 Proves Reliable and Accurate Shooter

The New GUN WEEK, July 1, 2001, Page 6-7
By Jim Dickson

These days, the world is awash with target .45 autos designed for combat matches.

These matches-while fun-bear no resemblance to real combat where point shooting by instinct with a gun full of rust, dust, sand, and mud is the order of the day. When conditions get down and dirty, only the generous tolerances of the GI-issue, mil-spec M1911A1 will get you through without a fatal jam.

The tightened-up, accurized match pistol is as out of place here as a prima ballerina would be at a hoe-down. That’s why the mil-spec M1911A1 is the true combat .45 and the others are match pistols. Ever since 1911, it has outperformed every other pistol in the reliability department and it will continue to do so as long as nitro cellulose is our propellant. There are only so many design mechanisms possible and they have all been explored, leaving future guns to be mere reconfigurations and recombinations of existing mechanisms. Once you reach the top of the mountain and achieve perfection, everything else is downhill from there. They got the pistol perfected in 1911.


The Kahr Arms M1911A1 began its life when Kahr Arms bought Auto-Ordnance from Numrich Arms. Auto-Ordnance produced the Thompson SMG, the Thompson semi-auto carbine and the M1911A1, and Kahr is continuing this product lineup under the Auto-Ordnance name.

Auto-Ordnance is the original name of the firm that first made the Thompson SMG and is one of the grand old brand names in firearms. Auto-Ordnance began making the 1911A1 after being acquired by Numrich Arms, and it enjoyed considerable commercial and foreign military sales of the pistol. Now that Auto-Ordnance has been purchased by Kahr Arms, every effort is being made to produce the finest gun that they possibly can.

These are real military .45s ready for the dirt, dust, rust, and mud of battle. That’s the gun you want to defend yourself and your family. It’s s gun that’s total reliability under the world’s worst conditions.

There are many reasons that all come together to make the M1911A1 the most reliable combat pistol of all time.

Durable Gun

First on the list is its generous tolerances for dirt – the very thing you throw away when you get a pistol accurized on the advice of some combat match shooter. But you don’t need minute-of-angle accuracy from a military pistol.

Every Army-issue .45 I have shot has been capable of putting all its shots in the kill zone of a man-sized silhouette target at 200 yards. That’s further than you are likely to see the enemy in combat, and more practical accuracy than you need. Don’t sacrifice the essential reliability of a gun your life depends on for a worthless gain in group size, if you intend to live through a hard-fought battle.

Part of the M1911A1’s ability to handle dirt is having places for the dirt to go. While anyone who has ever emptied a sand-choked .45 and seen the sand flying out of the gun in all directions knows that the gun prefers dirt to be kicked out of it, that gun also has places for dirt to go inside-such as the Browning toggle, which also serves as a bridge between the separate ramps on the barrel and receiver, keying everything together for more strength than a solid ramp. This toggle also perfectly positions the barrel at the best angle for feeding after unlocking. Guns with sliding cams offer none of these lifesaving advantages.

Of course, cleaning is the best answer to dirt in the gun. The M1911A1 is the easiest pistol in existence to field strip, or detail strip, and change parts. There are no stamped metal parts riveted together to start rusting between the plates, and no plastic parts to react with chemicals and weaken without you knowing it. Remember, plastics are chemical compounds, but iron is an element.

Reliability Counts

The M1911A1 recoil spring, guide and plug assembly all work perfectly without the sophisticated modern guide rod, which can bend and jam the gun if the pistol is dropped accidentally.

The M1911A1 single-position feed, single-column magazine is the most reliable type of pistol magazine in service. The modern double-column, single-position feed magazines use a design that has long been abandoned for submachineguns because of reliability problems. The guns all went to double-position feed designs, which are more compact and reliable.

The flaws of the double-column, single-position are magnified in pistols where the springs are left proportionately weaker than on most SMGs, so that they can be loaded by hand without needing a magazine loader. None can be left loaded indefinitely like the M1911A1 magazine, and there is always the possibility of a partially loaded double-column being dropped and bouncing the cartridges out of position within the magazine, causing a jam.

Finally, the lips of any single-position feed, double-column magazine are drastically more undependable and susceptible to damage than either the single-column magazine or the double-column, double-position feed magazine found in modern SMGs, “assault rifles” and full-power military rifles.

The M1911A1 has an extractor with a controlled feed like the M98 Mauser rifle. The cartridge comes up under the extractor instead of the extractor snapping over the rim. This results in life-saving reliability.

There are few parts, and on this gun they are massively over-engineered for extreme long life. The actual service life of an M1911A1 is approximately 250,000 rounds. Normal service testing of new .45s delivered to the Army consisted of pulling a gun from a newly delivered batch, firing 10,000 to 15,000 rounds without any jams, and returning the gun to be issued with the rest of the batch. That’s more than the full service life of most recent designs.

The M1911A1 also has a solid receiver where the grips are not part of the structure, unlike some modern types where the grips are such that hammer spring falls out if the grips are broken.

The locking system is another example of the strength of this design. Its three locking surfaces on the locking lugs of the barrel and slide are capable of taking far more pressure than the cartridge brass can take.


The superbly-designed .45 ACP cartridge also greatly adds to the gun’s reliability. It is a low pressure – 12,000 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) – straight case, 230 grain projectile round, giving a heavy operating impulse to the slide without high pressure.

The straight case of the .45 ACP cartridge transmits all its energy evenly and consistently to the rear. It has greater cycling energy than the 9mm, which was not even originally a pistol cartridge. The 9mm Parabellum was first made as a bolt-action rook rifle cartridge where its tapered case was not a disadvantage.

Stopping power problems with the .30 Luger cartridge resulted in Ludwig Loewe of DWM ordering the Luger chambered for this 9mm cartridge. It was far from the ideal pistol cartridge. Its excessive 36,000 psi chamber pressure and tapered case grip the chamber, but there is a secondary tendency to push the gun forward because of the tapered case with the bullet smaller than the base that can result in an uneven recoil impulse.

A little dirt will make it grip the chamber worse, and it doesn’t take much to jam the tapered case. The straight .45 ACP case simply pushes dirt in the chamber ahead of the cartridge and into the barrel.

A particularly vicious feature of the 9mm is that if it is bumped and set back into the case, the pressure can rise into the low 40, 000 psi range. That is a danger zone for many pistols.

The 9mm is the best termed a 115- or 125- grain FMJ .38 special equivalent. That’s not something you want to stake your life on. The 230 grain FMJ .45 ACP will reliably stop a man with one shot in the vitals, while still retaining the ability to penetrate barricades that stop soft-nosed slugs. It is perfectly balanced for the job of the stopping the enemy in combat.

Workhorse Pistol

This reliability is the reason we need a mil-spec M1911A1 instead of a match pistol for all serious pistol work. Leave the match guns at the matches. That’s where they belong and where they shine.

The Auto-Ordnance M1911A1 has proved to be a perfectly satisfactory Government Model .45, functioning flawlessly with 700 rounds of Winchester Winclean 230-grain ammo (this ammo really is well-named, as you will notice at cleaning time), 100 rounds of Winchester Supreme, and 200 rounds of Remington UMC 230-grain FMJ. It is well within government accuracy standards and shows very high quality production standards.

It is nicely parkerized with no tool marks showing through. Accurate, reliable, and well-fitted and finished, it’s just what you would expect of a M1911A1. Auto-Ordnance should be able to continue its long string of successful overseas military sales under its new owners, Kahr Arms.

Auto-Ordnance also offers kits to convert the .22 Ace pistols to .45 ACP. These consist of a complete slide assembly and magazine, allowing one to convert back and forth with ease. A few years ago, a large quantity of Argentine .22 Ace pistols were imported into the US. I took one of these and added a .45 ACP slide assembly, converting it back to a .45 ACP. I fired 200 rounds of Remington UMC FMJ and 600 rounds of Winchester Winclean. It was accurate and reliable. Anyone who bought one of the .22 Ace pistols can have a second gun in .45 ACP by simply switching the slide assembly and magazine. They convert back and forth effortlessly and no .22 Ace owner should be without one.

While we are on the subject of accessories, now is a good time to list what is available and where to get it.

For those interested in genuine Army surplus, contact: Standard Surplus Senter, 2202 Strand, Dept. GWK, Galveston, TX 77550; phone: 409-762 7397; fax: 409-762-7396.

Meyer Reiswerg offers nearly every surplus accessory, such as: a GI ordnance takedown tool; lanyard; GI shoulder or hip holster in brown or black; GI nylon holster; canvas or nylon pistol belts; magazine pouches; new Colt magazines in the wrapper, and original checkered wood grips. Standard Surplus Senter is the largest pure Army Surplus store in the world. I can’t recommend them highly enough. They have everything and Reiswerg is honest and trustworthy. What more could you ask for?


For a holster for open or concealed wear, the best is the original Pancake holster from Roy Baker’s Leather Goods, PO Box 893, Dept. GWK, Magnolia, AR 71753; phone: 870-234-0344. Owner Wayne Thompkins first served as a deputy sheriff and then two terms as sheriff of Columbia County, AR. This modern-day Buford Pussar has fought tirelessly in the battle to keep drugs out of his country. When you consider that Mena, AR, a community infamous for drug smuggling, is less than 100 miles away, you can see he had his work cut out for him.

Thompkins also knows holsters, and he knows what is need from firsthand experience. I have worn one of the first Pancakes holsters ever made night and day for the last 30 years, and couldn’t be happier with it.

For those interested in a new GI holster, contact: Pacific Ordnance Inc., 3639 San Gabriel River Parkway, Dept. GWK, Pico Rivera, CA 90660; phone: 562-695-0297; fax: 562-695-0397.

Great for fast Draw

Bob Brenner at Pacific makes the M1916 US GI holster, the M7 shoulder holster, and the M1912 holster. This one rides lower on the leg, has a swivel to let it bend with the leg, and features a small belt instead of a tie-down thong. His first issue holster for the M1911A1 was more expensive to make than the later M1916 holster, and many consider it the best. It is a very fast and comfortable, fast-draw combat holster.

To do a fast draw from either the M1912 or M1916 GI holster, make sure the holster is secured to the thigh with the tie-down strap or thong, depending on the model, and hook the thumb under the flap, popping it open. Now roll the fingers around the grip, starting with the little finger as you draw the gun from the holster.

Both of these holsters are incredibly well designed for military use, offering good protection and the fastest draw of any military holster. Seems that every bit of input from the old western gunfighters was incorporated by Pacific to best advantage. These are military gunfighting rigs, pure and simple.

Brenner also makes an accessory belt hanger for the M1916 holster, enabling it to be worn lower. This is a very useful general purpose item, allowing you to wear any canteen, machete scabbard, holster or gear with the hooks for a GI pistol belt on a regular belt. Simple, cheap, and indispensable – everyone need one.

Pacific Ordnance also makes a full line of US military holsters to mil-specs for a wide range of US military firearms.


Everyone always needs spare magazines, and the best magazine source for all types of guns that I know of is: Forrest Co., PO Box 5948, Dept. GWK, Yuma, AZ 85366-5948; phone: 502-210-7900 or 888-372-5968; fax: 888 GUNCLIP. Tom Forrest has a real one-stop store for magazines. I recently bought some of his 7-round, blackened stainless steel .45 magazines with rounded follower and was well pleased with the high quality and low price. He also has a really handy magazine loader that everyone could use.

Having looked at the reliability and stopping power of the M1911A1, let us examine some of its other features. Like the Colt Single Action Army revolver, this one is a heavy hitter in a light compact package. By comparison, today’s high capacity magazine 9mm pistols blur the size boundary between pistols and compact submachineguns. The M1911A1 can be fully concealed under just a shirt.

The thumb safety and magazine release are in the best possible position for speed and safety. And the grip angle has proven to be one of the best for accurate fire. It has also become one of the more widely copied angles in gun design.

Speed Counts…

No pistol is safer or faster to fire. Most people don’t know that the .45 was originally intended to be carried cocked with just the grip safety for protection against accidental discharge. The speed of the thumb safety made it practical to turn this mode of carry into the modern cocked-and-locked mode with no loss of speed and, if not greater safety, at least greater peace of mind.

Carried cocked-and-locked, it is ready for instant use. The time difference between the length of travel and weight of pull of a double-action and a single-action trigger pull means that a single-action trigger pull is always going to be slightly faster than the double-action pull. More important, it is more accurate. There is less poundage and less length of trigger travel on a single-action pull than a double-action pull.

When you compare the weight, time and length of travel of the trigger to the gun’s weight, it becomes obvious that it is much harder to control a squeeze that far outweighs the gun than one that doesn’t. Even a sightly lesser pull can make a big difference in group size.

As far as pistols that fire double-action first shot and single-action thereafter, did you ever see a revolver man do that? Not even Ed McGivern did that. The reason is that it is almost impossible to do this fast and hit with both shots, and it serves no useful purpose. You have to shoot either all single-action or all double-action if you want speed and accuracy, and single-action is the fastest, most accurate, and by far the easiest to master. Even today, the true masters of double-action shooting are far less than 1% of all pistol shooters.

Rapid-fire is another area where the M1911A1 shines. It has just enough length and weight to reduce recoil to a mere bounce, enabling you to quickly engage the rest of the enemy squad when using the gun as it was originally intended.

Today, that enemy squad might be a gang of muggers or a pack of wild dogs. The gun doesn’t care. Its powerful round needs only one good hit in the vitals per target, and you can go on to the next without worrying about waiting for results or putting more rounds into the first target.

That’s how you survive. Putting two or more rounds into each target is how you run out of time and/or ammo and don’t survive. That’s another reason to use a .45 instead of 9mm.

For big game like moose or grizzly, the .45 ACP will do anything the .44-40 will do and do it better. Always use FMJ ammo on such game because penetration is vital. It should be remembered that the .44-40 was once the most popular and widely used American cartridge and many have killed more North American game of all species than any other caliber.

Point Shooting

The fixed sights on the 1911A1 are true combat sights that are not easily damaged when the gun is dropped (Murphy’s second law being that a gun with adjustable sights always lands on them). It should be noted, however, that as with all pistol sights up until recent years, the sights are intended only to help you get the feel of where the gun is pointing quicker.

Gunfighting was traditionally done by point shooting, what we now call instinct shooting. This is the most accurate and by far the fastest. It is the only way to hit in time to survive a cavalry melee, Moro jungle ambush, or for World War I trench fighting. And this was well understood at the time.

World War I saw more pistol use than any other war in history, due to the close nature of hand-to-hand combat in the trenches. It is significant that all the countries involved agreed that the .45 auto was the best pistol for trench fighting. No war was ever more demanding of a pistol, as mud, dirt, dust, and sometimes incredibly corrosive poison gases mixed with having to stop an enemy soldier at grappling range. There has never been a test that severe before or since. The .45 auto emerged as the undisputed champion.

The mil-spec 1911A1 is the gun you choose when your life is on the line because it won’t let you down. And the Kahr Arms/Auto-Ordnance model is one of the best of the breed.