Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)

HANDGUNS

The Other Polymer-Frame, Striker-Fired, Double-Stack Handguns

The “Not a Glock” handguns.

Well, some of them anyway.

This category is like buying a new computer that’s obsolete before you get it home. There are so many new guns hitting the market that anything I write as being “complete” today would be as pathetically out of date when you buy this book as your drunk uncle trying to show his “dance-floor cool” at a wedding.

Here are a few of the guns that I either own or have tested and can recommend. If a gun is not here that may mean it’s crap, or it may mean I just didn’t get a chance to test one. There are a lot of good guns out there in this category that are not included here. If you are thinking of buying one that’s not covered here, all I can say is Caveat Emptor.

Sig Sauer P320 Handgun

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The Sig Sauer P320 handgun is pretty much a “kit” gun. The serial number is on the trigger group, which is removable and portable. So you can switch frames, slides, barrels, and grips to configure the pistol any way you want.

You know how they say that the three most important things about real estate are: “1: Location. 2: Location. 3: Location”?

Well, for a defensive pistol it is: 1: Reliability. 2: Reliability. 3: Reliability.

Sig Sauer’s latest entry into the double-stack, striker-fired, polymer-frame handgun market impressed me with its reliability.

Although it’s new and lacks the long track record of some of the other guns, I think this is a good choice for a prepper. The gun is clearly well built and reliable. The modular approach allows for switching and swapping parts to configure the gun to suit your current needs. It’s a very simple gun to work on, which is important in a survival situation. Repairs are easy and you do not need to inventory a lot of parts.

But reliability trumps everything. All those endless arguments about cartridges, bullets, ballistics, sights, triggers, magazines, accuracy, and ergonomics don’t mean spit if the gun fails to go bang when bad things are happening.

There are several protocols to determine if a pistol is reliable, but I used a rather unique approach with Sig Sauer’s new entry to the polymer-frame, striker-fired world of defensive pistols. In late summer 2014 I completed a multi-day training course at the Sig Sauer Academy, during which I fired about 1,500 rounds of 9mm ammo from the Sig Sauer P320 handgun. I shot with my strong hand, weak hand, and both hands. I shot while on the move and when seated in a chair. I fired the gun from a locked, standing, modified Weaver stance and from a limp wristed, barely clearing the holster, hip-shooting position and everything in between. I did man-on-man drills when speed was more important than anything else as well as some slow “precision, shoot-for-groups” techniques. I did all this with a borrowed Sig Sauer P320 pistol and it never once even hinted at failure.

Most of the ammo was lead-free with frangible, lightweight bullets, which can be finicky in some pistols. I later used a different, new-out-of-the-box P320 for more range testing. In addition to a couple of FMJ target loads, I shot a dozen different defensive factory loads, including most of the popular bullet weights and designs from every major manufacturer. The ammo ranged from low recoil “home defense” through full-blown +P barn burners. I even picked two ammo products that I know are prone to feeding problems in other guns and, again, I experienced zero failures. I am closing in on 1,800 rounds with two different guns, which is a pretty extensive test protocol for a new pistol. Actually, it’s something like ten times the normal amount of ammo used in most gun evaluations for magazine articles, yet I have experienced zero failures. From what I can see, the Sig Sauer P320 pistol is one of the most reliable designs I have ever pulled a trigger on.

“So what?” you might ask. “Lots of striker-fired, polymer-frame guns are reliable.” And you would be correct. This is where all those other things become important.

Ergonomics, for example. The P320 is pretty much a “kit” gun from which you can design a pistol that works best for you. The serial number is on the trigger group, which is removable and portable. So you can switch frames, slides, barrels, and grips to configure the pistol any way you want, even switch cartridge chamberings. There are three grip-frame sizes: small, medium, and large. Then there are variations of those for full size, carry size, and subcompact. By my count that’s nine current options on the grip size alone. If like me you like the inexpensive 9mm ammo for training, but prefer something with a bit more whack for defense like the .40 S&W or .357 Sig, you can switch back and forth easily.

The gun is lefty friendly. The magazine release is reversible and there is a slide release lever on both sides of the gun. Tritium night sights are standard.

The P320 comes with two magazines. About the only downside I can think of is that compared to other, similar handguns the P320 is still new on the market and finding magazines will not be as easy as it may be for some other guns in a crisis situation. I expect that will change as the gun gains in popularity. But for now, if you buy a P320, just be sure to buy plenty of extra magazines. Of course, that same thing would be said of any of polymer-frame, striker-fired, double-stack handgun, except perhaps the Glocks and M&Ps, because of their widespread popularity.

In the full-size 9mm I tested, the magazine holds seventeen rounds. The .40 S&W and .357 Sig magazines hold fifteen. The carry size is the same and the compact size magazines hold fifteen for the 9mm and thirteen each for the .40 S&W and the .357 Sig.

Sadly, the included holster is right handed only, so their commitment to all shooters has its limitations. (We lefties tolerate so much discrimination in a world designed for the comfort of the commoners.)

The P320 is designed with a grip angle the same as a 1911 pistol, which is familiar to most shooters. The trigger on my gun is a bit stiff at seven pounds, eleven ounces. However, it breaks clean and crisp (by striker-fired standards) and with very little overtravel, so it feels lighter. I find the gun much easier to shoot than other mushy-trigger, striker-fired guns with a pound or two less pull weight.

This gun is extremely easy to break down and unlike some other polymer-framed, striker-fired guns, the P320 can be disassembled without pulling the trigger. That makes it just a little bit more “idiot proof” and a lot safer.

While the striker-fired, polymer pistol field is pretty crowded these days, I suspect that with a suggested retail of $713 and a street price well south of that, the Sig Sauer P320 handgun will shoulder its way to the top of the category pretty quickly.

Springfield Armory XD Series

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The Springfield Armory XD(M)-9 5.25 pistol. Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FT. 25 yards.

These Croatian-made handguns have gained a good market share within the double-stack, striker-fired, polymer-frame handgun marketplace. They are well made, reliable, and reasonably priced. I bought an XD in .45 ACP for my son, Nathan, when he graduated from high school almost a decade ago. He has shot that gun silly over the years, including using it for USPSA and 3-gun competition. If you have never been around a gun-crazy teenager then you probably don’t understand the passion they can bring to depleting your ammo supply. I don’t know how many rounds he has fired through that pistol, but it’s in the thousands. The only part he has replaced is the bushing for the cocking indicator. He broke the plastic part while disassembling the gun, and it was not a malfunction or a bad part from the factory. Nathan made a new one out of aluminum in our machine shop and it has lasted for years.

I also reviewed the XD(M) competition model 9mm when it was introduced for NRA’s Shooting Illustrated Magazine. I will note that when I was finished with this article, rather than my sending the gun back to Springfield Armory, Nathan bought it and it is his primary competition pistol today.

Any handgun that can stand up to years of competition shooting is well suited for survival because it is rugged and dependable, not to mention accurate and fast.

Steyr Mannlicher L-A1

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Steyr Mannlicher L-A1.

I first ran into this new pistol when I was in Bessemer, Alabama, in April of 2014 for the grand opening of Steyr’s new US-based facility.

At first I thought it was “just another Glock clone.” Then we shot some early production models of the gun in Steyr’s indoor range and I discovered it was a lot more than that. This gun has a few unique and innovative features. I was impressed and intrigued enough with the handgun that I ordered one of my own before I left. It took a while to get it as they were ramping up production, but late in the year it arrived.

The L-A1 is a full-size, duty-style, double-stack, striker-fired, polymer-frame handgun. The gun is available in .40 S&W, .357 Sig, and 9mm. Mine is a 9mm. That means the metal magazine holds seventeen cartridges. The .40 S&W and .357 Sig versions will hold twelve cartridges. I am not sure why there is this discrepancy, as the magazines should easily hold fifteen, but that’s what the website says. I confirmed it with a company representative who also didn’t know why. The gun will fire without the magazine inserted, which is important in a self-defense handgun.

The gun has a 4.52-inch barrel and is not particularly heavy at 28.8 ounces. It’s 7.9 inches long, 5.1 inches high, and 1.2 inches wide.

The handgun has a massive slide that is big and square in the European style. That helps control recoil with the mass and weight. The grip is square and boxy in the back, with finger grips in the front. It is a great fit for my hand and is very comfortable under recoil. It also lets you get your hand up high and close to the axis of the bore so, again, recoil is mitigated and controlled.

The trigger has a center-lever safety (like a Glock). The trigger points down, at close to ninety degrees to the bore axis, rather than angling forward as with some other striker-fired guns. Although the distance from where the web of the hand contacts the backstrap to the trigger is 2.9 inches, which is consistent with Glock and perhaps other handguns, this design makes it feel like the trigger is easier to reach. The trigger doesn’t “rock” on the axis as much as you pull it, making the feel much different and more like a conventional trigger. This is one of the features that I really like. I have wide hands with stubby, Irish fingers. Most striker-fired handguns put the trigger far forward on the gun and they just don’t feel right for me. This gun puts the trigger so it feels like my finger is pulling it correctly. I point this out so that other shooters who have trouble with the striker-fired trigger position might want to take a look at this gun. The trigger has a short travel for a striker-fired handgun, with a total travel of 0.2-inch. The two-stage trigger divides exactly in half. The first stage travels one-tenth and the second stage is one-tenth of an inch of travel. The reset is at the center point, one-tenth inch back. The total pull weight for the trigger on my gun is five pounds, ten ounces. The first stage is one pound, nine ounces, so the second stage is just over four pounds. The trigger breaks clean and crisp for a striker-fired gun.

The trigger guard is large and is actually larger in front, so it allows the use of gloves. There is a rail on the bottom of the frame for mounting accessories like a light or laser.

The gun has the slide release and the magazine release both on the left side for right-handed shooters. As a lefty I am used to that, and use my index finger to run both the mag release and the slide release when I use it. The truth is I rarely use a slide release when shooting, preferring instead to rack the slide with my weak (right) side hand. However, I can easily manipulate the slide release with my finger.

The loaded chamber indicator sits flush in the rear of the slide when the chamber is empty and is raised slightly when the chamber is loaded. This allows the shooter to check both visually and by feel for a loaded chamber.

The takedown lever is on the right side of the gun. There is a lock on the side that can be activated with either of the two keys provided that will lock out the gun and prevent it from being used.

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The Steyr Mannlicher L-A1 has very unique sights.

Perhaps the most unique features of this pistol are the sights. The front sight is a triangle with a white triangle insert. The rear sight is a trapezoid with two white trapezoidal inserts, one on each side. Both sights are in dovetails so they can be drifted for windage adjustment. There is no elevation adjustment. It takes a little getting used to, but once you understand the sights and train your eyes and mind not to be surprised when they appear on the target, this system works surprisingly well.

I used this pistol to do a lot of speed drills on paper and with my MGM plate rack. The first few times I presented from the holster these odd sights threw me a bit of a curve, but within just a few minutes of practice I could draw and shoot amazingly fast. Target-to-target transitions were also very fast. These sights inspire a “what-the-hell” reaction when you first see them, but after shooting a little you start to get a warm and fuzzy feeling about them.

But if you are one of those guys who hate anything different and if you just can’t stand change, there are optional traditional sights.

I have a few hundred rounds through the gun so far and it has been very reliable. Of course, I would expect that from this company; it has been building guns for very long time and has an excellent reputation for reliability.

The gun comes with a spare magazine, a lockable case, two keys, and of course, the Clinton-inspired and required padlock.

One great feature is the price. The MSRP is only $560. That should put the street price below $500.

1911

John Moses Browning’s masterpiece is, and always will be, a viable fighting pistol.

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1911 handguns in holsters by Galco.

For a lot of hard-core gun guys one fighting pistol stands alone, the 1911. It’s controversial today and a lot of the Internet experts believe it’s an antiquated design chambered for an unnecessarily large cartridge and that it does not hold enough ammo.

I believe that everyone is entitled to his opinion . . . even if it is wrong and stupid.

Speaking of opinions, you might be questioning mine in a minute. In a book as wide ranging as this one, you will see contradictory statements. My goal is to provide information about as many guns as possible and let you, the reader, make up your mind. If you have read the section on polymer-frame, double-stack, striker-fired handguns, you saw that I believe that design may well be the best choice for a prepper’s primary defensive handgun. I’ll stand by that . . . but the 1911 may well also be the best choice for a prepper’s defensive handgun.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

—Walt Whitman

This concept of “the best guns for preppers” is large and contains multitudes. The new generation of high-capacity plastic guns has a lot going for it. But too, there is a lot to be said about the 1911 as a fighting handgun as well. Being in favor of both is not contradictory. It shows that you are large and have multitudes.

The fact that so many hard-core, in-the-know gun guys pick the 1911 as their defensive carry gun speaks volumes. Or at least it should.

As for the Internet instant experts, they are full of crap on all aspects of their criticism of the 1911, except perhaps one. This is a single-stack handgun chambered for a large cartridge and as a result the magazine capacity does not approach the volume of a double-stack Tupperware gun in 9mm. But I would counter that by saying that if you are planning your handgun strategy around how many times you are going to miss, the 1911 is probably not your pistol.

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I know that I wrote elsewhere about magazine capacity, the changing world, and the new threats we face. I understand that we may be facing multiple opponents and that a larger magazine capacity can be important. I stand by that, so this is one of those “contradicting myself” situations.

No gun is perfect. For example, I am not a big fan of the striker-fired trigger and I much prefer the more controllable single-action trigger pull on a 1911. Every gun has compromises and the trigger pull is one you must make when you choose a plastic high-capacity gun. With the 1911, the compromise is magazine capacity.

(The obvious solution is a double-stack 1911 with a higher magazine capacity. We will get to that later.)

Still, the 1911 brings a lot to the table and sometimes compromises must be made. It’s a metal gun, which, in theory at least, is tougher and will last longer. The trigger pull is excellent on most 1911 guns, which makes it easier to hit what you are shooting at, and the design has been proven in trial by fire more than any other current fighting handgun. The 1911 served through two world wars and one hundred-plus years of use by military, law enforcement, and civilians. This gun has won every type of handgun competition on Earth. The inarguable truth is that the 1911 has more than proven its durability, reliability, stopping power, and its accuracy.

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The 1911 is one of the best fighting pistols ever produced.

Yes, I said “stopping power.” I know that term is out of favor with the Cheetos-encrusted, basement-bound fanboys these days, most of whom have never witnessed a bullet strike living flesh in their lives. They have no idea about how a bullet actually works other than what they have read, but currently their flawed opinions are driving the conversation.

The term “stopping power” has been distorted and prostituted until its true meaning has been lost in the cyberspace arguments. Stopping power is not a myth as some would have you believe. They think it means that if you shoot somebody they instantly stop, fall down, and die. That is a myth with any cartridge; but that’s not what stopping power has traditionally been defined as during all those dark years leading up to the age of Internet enlightenment by keyboard warriors.

Stopping power is about the cartridge’s ability to stop the fight, to make the aggressor stop “aggressing.” How that happens is subject to a lot of variables and many of those variables are not in your control. But at least one is—the bullet you use and the cartridge that launches it. The bigger the bullet and the more energy it carries, the more effective it will be when it strikes an aggressive and dangerous target. That’s just simple physics and denying it is just proof of ignorance.

Remember that old joke when the reporter asked the Texas Ranger, “Why do you use a .45?”

“Because they don’t make a .46,” was the deadpan reply.

He was right. You can’t rewrite the laws of physics just because you read it on the Internet. While other cartridges may or may not be effective, to claim that one with a smaller, lighter bullet carrying less impact energy is “just as effective as a .45” is stuck on stupid.

As for “stopping power?” If the bad guy trying to kill you stops trying to kill you, then “stopping power” has been applied. The .45 ACP has a long history of making that happen more effectively than just about any other defensive pistol cartridge.

If you think that “stopping power” is the ability for any cartridge to stop a bad guy instantly with one shot, you spend way too much time indoors in front of an electronic screen. That doesn’t happen in real life with pistols or rifles.

Well, let me back up; yes, it can happen, but there is no way to predict it 100 percent of the time and, in truth, it’s rare. We can shoot a 200-pound deer with a .300 Winchester Magnum rifle and odds are that it’s going to run several yards before it dies. The only way to avoid that is to damage or impact the central nervous system, which is the brain or spinal column. That’s what the television guys do on the hunting shows to make the critter fall on camera. They go for a high shoulder shot that shocks the spine. That’s a risky shot with a higher potential for failure than other target areas, but if you pull it off the result is dramatic, which is all that counts on TV. If you shoot a bad guy in the brain with a pistol you get the same result, but that’s not stopping power.

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The 1911 was developed for and works best with the .45 ACP cartridge.

Stopping power is the ability of a cartridge and bullet to stop a fight with a wide range of various impact locations. The .45 ACP was developed due to a failure in stopping power of the cartridge the military was using at the time and it has proven its worth as a competent “fix” for that problem over the last one hundred years.

It wasn’t until the Internet came along and created all the basement experts that anybody even questioned the effectiveness of the .45 ACP. If you value the opinion of people with zero experience who just mimic each other like a bunch of trained parrots, then those guys have your back. However, if you value over one hundred years of battleground experience with the military, law enforcement, and civilian defensive shooters, then the .45 ACP has proven its worth.

One thing that bothers me greatly with the new generation of Internet bloggers is that they rely on criticism and complaint. They always seem to take the negative approach with articles like, “The five worst guns on Earth” or “Ten cartridges you need to avoid.” They thrive on tearing down rather than building up. That’s the foundation of all this criticism of the .45 ACP and the 1911. It was the king and so it must be crushed.

I think that the world would be better served by making a positive case for whatever cartridge and gun they wish to promote (if they can), rather than attacking the traditional mainstays. The .45 ACP can take the hits, but they are unnecessary.

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On that note, I was recently going over the specifications for a new custom 1911 handgun that I was having made. A friend was standing with me and asked, “What cartridge are you getting?” I was a bit shocked he even had to ask and took a minute before I replied, “There is only one cartridge for a 1911, the .45 ACP.”

Of course, the truth is the 1911 is offered in a lot of different cartridges. I have 1911 handguns in 9mm and .38 Super. You can also get .40 S&W, 10mm, and a few others. But those cartridges represent a fraction of a percent of the 1911 handguns sold. The overwhelming majority of 1911 handguns are chambered for .45 ACP. So as this chapter progresses let’s make it easy and, unless otherwise stated, you may assume any 1911 mentioned is chambered for .45 ACP.

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The author draws a 1911 handgun from a shoulder holster.

My novel The 14th Reinstated is an action adventure story that is set in New England a few years after the world has suffered a total economic and social collapse. It’s written in first person and the unnamed protagonist is an aging gun writer living in Vermont. (Write what you know, right?) Anyway, he has survived what we are prepping for and attributes most of that to having the right guns. His pistol of choice is the 1911 for a lot of reasons.

He thought the worst was over, until he has to shoot his way out of an assassination attempt and then stumbles onto a plot to take over the remains of the world.

Here is an excerpt from the book where he and his friend Davy are going into the bad guy’s compound to rescue his kidnapped niece. It explains a little about the 1911:

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I am a believer that lots of ammo can solve any problem. It’s not always the outcome you want, but the problem can be solved. (I once said that to a buddy of mine from Austria who ran the US sales division for one of the European sporting optics companies. “How about stinky feet?” he said with a smile. Then the smile disappeared. “Oh,” he said. “I guess you can fix that too.”)

I also believe that ammo is very possibly the one thing you can control as you go into a bad situation. There is no way to predict what is going to happen in a fight. Once the shit hits the fan, the splatter pattern is anybody’s guess. But if you control any variable you can, the outcome is weighted more to your favor. If you bring a lot of ammo there is no guarantee you will win the fight. But, if you run out of ammo in the middle of a fight, it’s a sure bet that you will lose.

My knees were complaining about the weight, but let them bitch. If they wanted to keep their jobs, we had to come out of this thing alive.

I still had my doubts about that happening, but I did know one thing for sure. If they wanted to see my dead body, they were going to have to wade through a lot of empty cartridge cases to get to it.

I was carrying my M4 semiauto carbine and two pistols. One was my 1911 and the second was another 1911 Jack had loaned me. His was a compact gun called an “Officer’s Model” and smaller than my pistol. But, like mine, it was chambered for the best fighting cartridge ever put in a pistol, the one the 1911 handgun was designed to use, the .45 ACP.

Actually, that cartridge dates back to a war the United States fought in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902. The US forces were using double-action revolvers chambered in an anemic cartridge called the .38 Long Colt. But too many of our fighting men were getting chopped to pieces with machetes even after hitting the drug-crazed natives with every bullet in the gun.

This experience, combined with the dubious Thompson-LaGarde Test of 1904, led the Army and the Cavalry to decide that a minimum of 45-caliber was required in the military’s new handgun. John Browning developed the .45 ACP in 1904 and it was adapted to the Browning designed semiauto pistol in 1911.

That confirmed a concept that dates back to at least when Sammy Colt first sent his hoglegs west, a concept that most gun guys still believed in, “If you bring a handgun to a fight, make sure it starts with at least a four.”

While both the pistol and the cartridge have undergone some modernization, the 1911 remains, at least in the minds of many gun savvy people, the best fighting pistol and cartridge team available. The only downside is the relatively small magazine capacity. The standard magazines I was carrying hold eight cartridges. Considering that some 9mm handguns hold as many as nineteen cartridges, that’s not a big number. But, I’ll accept the need to reload more often in exchange for using a handgun I shoot well and trust. Besides, I never saw the point in sending a swarm of little 9mm bullets to do what one grown-up .45 can accomplish.

While there are mechanical differences, from a shooter’s standpoint the 1911 differs from the striker-fired guns as it uses a traditional cocked hammer and has a lighter, single-action trigger pull. It also has a manual safety and a second, redundant, grip safety. The grip safety is disengaged by correctly holding the gun while the thumb pushes down on the mechanical safety to disengage it and allow the gun to fire.

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The proper condition for a 1911 is cocked and locked.

The correct way to carry a 1911 is cocked and locked. That is, with the hammer fully cocked and the safety engaged. It’s no different than carrying a rifle, shotgun, or pistol with an internal hammer that is cocked and with the safety on, except that the hammer is visible on a 1911. This will often frighten the uninitiated into thinking the gun is unsafe.

Another old story tells how a little old lady stopped a crusty sheriff and said:

“Excuse me sir, but are you aware that your pistol is cocked?”

“Yes ma’am, I am,” he replied.

“But isn’t that gun dangerous?” she asked with no little amount of indignation.

“You damn betcha it is!”

The truth is that with both a mechanical safety and a grip safety, the 1911 is one of the safest carry guns you can buy.

Many of the accidental discharges that are hurting people with carry guns are from striker-fired guns that catch on bunched up clothing when holstering. This can pull the trigger on a striker-fired handgun as it is shoved into the holster and has resulted in a lot of people shooting themselves. It’s a huge reason why I don’t carry appendix style. Nobody plans to shoot himself, but if it happens I would rather be shot in the ass than blow off pieces of my man parts.

No matter, a correctly cocked and locked 1911 cannot fire when holstering like a striker-fired gun—another check mark in the win column for the 1911.

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The 1911 handgun is made today by far too many companies to even think about mentioning them all. Traditionally, there are three basic sizes: The “full” size, which has a 5.03-inch barrel. The “Commander” size is in reference to Colt’s designation, which has long since gone generic. This gun has the same grip frame as the full-size 1911, but uses a shorter 4.25-inch barrel and shorter slide. The “Officer” size is again a Colt designation. This scaled-down handgun has a 3.5-inch barrel and corresponding shorter slide. This gun also has a shorter grip and uses a shorter magazine.

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1911 handguns, top to bottom: full-size Kimber; Commander-size S&W; and Officer-size Kimber.

There can be a little mixing and matching. For example I recently built a 1911 for myself using a Caspian frame. It had the Commander-size slide or upper with a 4.25-inch barrel and an Officer-size frame and short grip. The frame is titanium so this is a lightweight, easy-to-carry handgun. I also have a Para 1911 handgun that took the other approach. This one has the short, Officer-size 3.5-inch barrel and slide, but on a full-size frame. So, nothing is really cut in stone.

Full Size

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Remington R1 1911, full-size.

The full-size 5-inch 1911 has pretty well ruled the roost for years. There is not much more I can say about this gun that hasn’t been said a thousand times over. I have several full-size 1911 guns ranging from cheap imports through some top of the line models from the best names in the business.

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A Kimber full-size 1911 in Desert Warrior mode. The barrel is threaded and the sights are set high for use with a silencer.

I carry a full-size 1911 for defense quite often. Which one I carry is subject to whimsy and is often the one that is new and shiny so it has caught my eye. Lately it’s been a Remington R1 Enhanced that I have worked on a little bit, including the addition of an ambidextrous safety.

Indulge me a sidebar on that subject for a moment, if you don’t mind. For years I refused to buy a 1911 because back when I started shooting pistols nobody was offering ambidextrous safeties on a factory gun. It was an inexpensive add on that required a gunsmith to fit. (That was long before I learned how to do it myself.) I thought I was making a statement that if the gunmakers (mostly Colt at that point) were going to ignore the left-handed market, then I would ignore them. It was probably stupid on my part and it kept me from enjoying this fine pistol for decades, but it pissed me off.

It still pisses me off.

I was discussing ambi safeties with an executive from a very well-known 1911 manufacturer one night during dinner. After he had a few drinks he started to get belligerent. At one point he blurted out, “Fu*# you left-handed guys, as long as I am in charge we will never put ambi safeties on the 1911.”

I wish I could say he stopped there, but he didn’t. He went on to address his female boss in front of a group of shocked gun writers, commenting on her “saggy tits.” Needless to say, he didn’t last long. So for all the other people making 1911 handguns, including my friends at Remington, Ruger, and the other 1911 handgun makers, listen up! The message is clear. Put an ambi safety on all your 1911 pistols, or risk Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Besides, not doing so ignores and insults fifteen percent of your customers. Would you go out and deliberately drive away fifteen percent of your business? Would you run an ad campaign that alienates fifteen percent of your customers? Of course not. An ambi safety costs essentially nothing extra when making the gun and it subtracts nothing from the “commoner’s” market, where you sell to right-handed shooters. Besides, you should be able to run a fighting handgun with either hand, no matter who you are. If your right hand is disabled or busy, you must shoot with the left, which will be easier if the gun has an ambi safety. Even if you are a commoner and shoot right handed, you should have an ambi safety on your fighting guns. It should come as standard equipment on any serious fighting handgun.

Okay done, off the soapbox.

Anyway, I installed an ambi safety on my Remington R1, smoothed out the trigger, and opened up the gap in the back sight to let in a bit more light. I carry this gun often, including when I am hiking or hunting as well as in urban settings. I also shoot it in USPSA competition now and then.

I have several other full-size 1911 handguns from Kimber, Smith & Wesson, and a few other companies, and they have all served me very well for IDPA, USPSA, and 3-gun competition as well as for carry and lots of shooting practice.

I even had good luck with the inexpensive Taurus PT 1911. Mine was good enough that I bought another for my son-in-law when he graduated from college. I don’t know what it would take to wear that gun out, but I know how much of my ammo he used trying, and it was a lot! (I don’t care. It was a good investment. He is a federal agent today and may well depend on his handgun shooting skills to stay alive.)

Commander

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The Commander-size 1911 is perfect for carry.

The Commander-size 1911 is very popular for concealed carry. It’s often made with an aluminum frame to reduce weight. My first 1911 was a Kimber PRO CDP lightweight frame Commander size. I added adjustable night sights and a set of Crimson Trace laser grips. This has been my primary carry 1911 since the mid-’90s. I have shot thousands of rounds through this gun and it’s never given me any sass or backtalk.

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The Ruger SR1911 Commander size.

As mentioned earlier, my first attempt at building a 1911 was with a Commander, 4.5-inch barrel and slide with the smaller Officer’s frame in titanium. It’s still a bit of a work in progress as I have some cosmetic work left to do, but it’s replacing the Kimber as my go-to carry gun.

I have a Ruger SR1911 in the Commander size. It’s my first experience with Ruger 1911 handguns, as they are relatively new to that market. However, I can say that, as expected, it’s a fine handgun; it runs boringly well with just about any ammo. My only issue? Right-hand-only safety. I sent a note to Ruger, perhaps they will listen, but probably not. This is a “loaner” gun, so I can’t modify it. If I could, I would carry this gun in a heartbeat.

That new custom gun I ordered? It’s Commander size. Designed for carry and defense. It has night sights, an ambi safety, of course, and not many other frills. The 1911 doesn’t need a lot of bling to do the job.

Officer

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Officer-size Kimber 1911.

This is the smallest of the 1911 handguns. It makes for a nice carry gun, particularly if the gun has a lightweight alloy frame. The downside is, some complain about the recoil with the smaller gun.

Another issue with this scaled-down 1911 is that it uses different geometry inside and can be very finicky about ammo. If you look around, the odds are good that you can find a decent self-defense load that runs well in the gun. This is fine for everyday carry, but from a prepping point of view you need a gun that can run just about any ammo available.

I have had two 3.5-inch 1911 handguns and both are picky eaters. I have had people tell me that they have 3.5-inch 1911 handguns with no modifications or tuning that will run any ammo presented right out of the box and never jam. The way I see it, guns like that are like unicorns. They may or may not exist, but I have yet to ever see one personally. If you find such a gun, treasure it.

The 1911 is more of an expert’s handgun in that it’s more complicated to use than a lot of newer designs. The biggest complaint I hear is that you must remember to move the safety to the off position before you can shoot. I have a retired police chief friend who teaches handgun classes now. He tells me about a training film in which a cop had his newly acquired 1911 when he walked in on a robbery. Used to his double-action revolver, the cop pulled the 1911 and tried pulling the trigger over and over without releasing the safety. The security cameras caught it all as the bad guy killed him.

The 1911 has also fallen out of favor for law enforcement and in some personal defense circles due to the single-action trigger. The thinking is that it’s easier to make a mistake when covering a bad guy in a stressful situation due to the lighter trigger pull.

Clearly both of these are training issues, not design flaws. The 1911 is not as simplistic as a point-and-shoot DA revolver or striker-fired pistol that requires nothing more than pulling the trigger, so I suppose the argument that the 1911 is an expert’s gun has some validity.

Then again, if you are prepping and you want to survive what’s coming, you need to be training with any and all guns you select for your defense. Not just a time or two, but with regular practice and a lot of it. It’s like the guy said, “buying a gun does not make you a gunfighter any more than buying a piano will make you a musician.” You need to practice and train. You need to become an expert.

If you practice and train with a 1911, then those “issues” raised by the critics are null and void.

It’s as simple as that.

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This little Browning in .380 ACP is a scaled-down 1911.