When I first was introduced to firearms there was one particular handgun that really stood out to me. That handgun was the 1911. As handguns went in my family, there were two generally accepted variations in my young mind. One was the Smith and Wesson revolver. The other was the Colt 1911. There were few deviations from those two.
My dad had a Colt Series 70 Government in satin nickel. It had an adjustable rear sight, Pachmayr rubber grips (the ones with the Colt medallion that wrapped around the front strap), and more than a fair share of scratches and scuff marks. The rear sight was broken and the rear notch would not always stay in place. But it was a nice gun all the same, as far as I was concerned.
At one point in time it was well-cared for. But for much of its life it stayed in a Buckheimer holster under the seat of the pickup. I still have that holster and believe that it is slightly older than dirt. No idea where it came from, but it was once owned by Uncle Guru so there’s really no telling where he got it. I suspect it might have come from his days chasing around escaped convicts, but that’s just a guess. It could be much older. What I do know for sure is that despite what would probably be considered heavy recoil for a 10 year old, I loved to shoot it.
The day came when the gun became mine. I shot it quite a bit, but it was in need of lots of TLC so I traded it in for a brand new Colt. Unfortunately, this occurred in a time period that Colt had some quality control issues. Instead of getting a working pistol, I instead ended up with a project gun.
The only cure was to send it to a gun smith. Or at least, that’s what I thought the only cure would be. I found I could not live with the sights along with several other features. This new gun started out life as a M1991A1 Commander and looked identical to this:
It went to the best gun smith I could find near college and the following modifications were made:
- Cut slide to fit and installed Novak rear sight
- Cut slide to fit and installed Heinie front sight (these were three dot sights)
- Videki’s Speed Trigger
- Wilson Extended Mag Well
- Wilson full length guide rod
- Wilson beaver tail
- New mainspring
- Exotic hardwood grips
- Hand etched grip screws
- Extended thumb safety
- Polished feed ramp
- Frame cut under trigger to enhance grip
- Trigger job (fitting the Videki)
- Replace flat main spring housing with curved one
Those modifications took a lot of time and money. Since I was a college student I could not afford all the fees at once and had to get a little done at a time. When it was finally finished, I shot a few IDPA matches with it and it performed wonderfully. I wish I had a picture of it but I guess over the years I’ve lost them all.
But as a lot of young folks are apt to do, I decided I wanted something else. The only way to get it was to sell the Colt, which I did. The 1911 I supposedly “upgraded” to was the Kimber Tactical Pro II. I wanted it due to the night sights, front strap checkering and a host of other features that, for some reason, I felt I could not live without. Best of all, the Tactical Pro II came with all the things I wanted from the factory. It looked like instant gratification and after all, weren’t Kimbers excellent guns?
Trading in the Colt turned out to be a huge mistake. The Kimber had to be sent back to Yonkers three times before it would run right. It was a beautiful pistol though, but it never did instill 100 percent confidence that it would go bang every time.
It was at this point that I bought an HS 2000, known to my friends and I as the “Croatian Sensation”. It was the first polymer pistol I’d owned. It went bang every time without fail. In fact I still have it and it still hasn’t had a malfunction. It was at this time that I, disappointed with the 1911 and feeling as if I could not depend on it as a home defense weapon due to its history of issues, decided to buy a Glock 17. That seems like a heretical maneuver on my part, especially since I sold the Kimber in order to buy the Glock. I’d have to agree that it was. But the Glock has also never failed me, despite having had quite a few rounds through it. And I bought it used. There’s really no way to know how much it has been shot, but it keeps right on going.
So for a while I had no 1911. In the back of my mind though, I still wanted one. I’ve always shot them better than just about any handgun and there’s just something substantial about the 1911. My other Uncle Guru (how lucky can one guy be to have two Uncle Gurus?) gave me a 1911 a few years back. It is a Norinco and it is a heck of a nice gun. I absolutely love shooting it and am amazed how accurate it is. For a bit, I considered sending it in to a custom 1911 builder and getting it upgraded.
Lots of folks might ask why on earth I would want to upgrade a Norinco, which is a Chinese made handgun. That probably stems from the fact that, thanks to Bill Clinton, we can’t import Chinese guns anymore. If we still did, I think people would be more aware of just how nice these pistols are. It turns out that in the early days of Wilson Combat, Bill Wilson used Norincos as a basis for some semi-custom guns. I’m not saying they rebranded them as Wilson’s. At one time Wilson modified all sorts of different kinds of 1911s as a gunsmith and not so much as a manufacturer. Of course, that changed and now Wilson Combat produces their own brand of semi-custom 1911s. Wilsons are also considered one of the best 1911s you can get without going the full custom route. True custom guns from the likes of Joe Chambers, Ted Yost, CT Brian, Stan Chen, etc., are going to cost many thousands of dollars and require extremely long wait times.
But for folks like me, of modest means, the highest end semi-customs were always out of reach. In fact it is safe to say that they remain out of my price range. However, there is one brand of pistol I have always wanted because it was one of the least expensive semi-custom 1911s, but were widely considered to be among the very best, despite the price.
The 1911 I’d always wanted was a Les Baer. I’d been lucky enough to shoot a few different variations at the range when I was actively competing in IDPA. Some of the gentlemen who owned them were kind enough to let me shoot a magazine or two. What I noticed was that the Les Baers were all about utility. They might not have been the most fancy, but they were certainly functional. That no-nonsense approach appealed to me.
Finally, after 20 years of wanting to own a Les Baer, I was able to make it happen with the blessing (and help) of my wonderful wife. I went with a model that was at the lower end of the Les Baer price range, but had the options I wanted. That turned out to be the Ultimate Tactical Carry. A few calls to CJ at 1911heaven.com, and within a week I finally had my Les Baer. I bought 500 rounds of ammo (which my wallet didn’t appreciate) and off to the range I went.
I opted for the 1.5″ group guarantee at 50 yards. It came with a couple certificates and three Les Baer magazines, test target, patch, etc.
Unfortunately, the pistol had issues right out of the gate. It had failures to feed, the slide would not fully return to battery, etc. But, Les Baers are notoriously tight and Les recommends that before any opinions are formed, the owner should put 500 rounds through it in order to break it in. So I put 600 rounds through it. The problems got even worse. In fact, on the last round, using 7 round Wilson magazines (47D) the slide would not lock back and the slide stop would be pushed out, completely locking up the pistol. The magazine would not come out and the slide would not move.
The picture above shows how the slide stop would get pushed out. So, I called up CJ and asked him about the best way to get it shipped back to Baer for repair. Once we figured that out, I wrote up a description and provided lots of pictures of the malfunctions, printed all of it out, stuffed it in the box, ready to ship via FedEx. Les Baer said it would take 4-6 weeks to fix. At that point, I thought “What the hell? I might as well get the short match trigger installed while they are fixing it”. A quick call to Baer revealed the process. All I had to do is drop a check in the box for $65, and they would provide a new short trigger and install it. I added the check to the box and the FedEx guy (who is a very nice fellow who happens to be a firearm enthusiast himself) sent it on over to Iowa, care of Les Baer.
Five weeks later, the pistol came back. It still doesn’t care for the Wilson 7 round magazines. Apparently, the followers on the 7 rounders sticks up too far and that is what is causing some of the issues with the slide stop. However, the good news is that the gun is otherwise fixed. Before I sent it off, it wouldn’t function with any magazine I tried. Now it seems to work with anything except the Wilson 7 rounds.
Now it shoots. And I mean….really shoots. The trigger is wonderful, has zero creep and breaks like the oft referred to “glass rod”. It has to be experienced to be believed. Baer did a wonderful job. There was a list of items they fixed on the invoice they sent back to me. It said:
**Install Short Match Trigger **Installed New Slide Stop & Adjusted Barrel Feed Ramp and Installed New Barrel Link, Checked over complete pistol and test fired
And I believe they did test fire it, because it was absolutely filthy from being fired when I got it back. Even the magazines were covered in black grit and lubricant. I tested it with several boxes of ammo and can now say that it runs really well.
Now that the Les Baer is running as it should, I do my best to torture the centerfire steel plates at the range. There’s just something about the 1911. Despite the design being more than a century old, I’ll always try to own a 1911. They are a joy to shoot and can be extremely accurate.
Safe and happy shooting to you and yours.