Years ago; more than I want to admit in fact, I was introduced to the Colt 1911 Government Model .45ACP pistol. It was my first duty weapon. The year I got out of the Army, the Beretta M9 9mm replaced the venerable old .45. It didn't change out the value of the .45ACP as I saw it. These many years later, I still have a fondness for and appreciation of the .45ACP and have personally appreciated the impact that big hole at the end of the barrel can have when someone sees it pointed at them. A few weeks ago we celebrated Veterans Day. This week I'm taking a look at a different veteran: the .45ACP and those pistols I've enjoyed carrying it around in.
Let's start out with a bit of history about the cartridge itself...
Way back in the late 1890s and early 1900s the .45 Colt Single Action Army had been replaced, in some cases, by a double action revolver chambered for the .38 Long Colt. The use of this cartridge in numerous conflicts, including probably the most famous against the Moro natives in the Philippine-American War, proved woefully ineffective. The lack of performance on the part of bullets in the .30 - .38 caliber family drove the military to seek bullets of a larger diameter. In response one of the designs they received was from John Browning: his prototype Colt semi-automatic pistol firing the .45ACP (.45 Automatic Colt Pistol). The .45ACP, in its final form (in 1911) fired a 230 grain bullet at about 850 feet per second. With a few changes that were required by the Army, that prototype Colt evolved into the Government Model M1911 Pistol adopted in, you guessed it, 1911.
The basic design hasn't changed much. The heavy pistol carried seven rounds of .45ACP in a single-stack box magazine giving the pistol a total capacity of eight rounds if you chambered one and topped off the magazine. The M1911 was carried by the U.S. Army and other American forces through 1985 when it was replaced by the Beretta 9mm pistol designated the M9. Even since then there have been a number of special operations military units which have opted to use the M1911 in its latest "dress" instead. Many police special units nationwide still carry some variant of the M1911 pistol. Truth be told, no other gun has ever felt as good in my hand as my M1911 and I've never fired any other pistol as accurately. I'm sure it's a mental thing, but I'll keep what I'm good and comfortable with.
The current crop of 1911-style pistols are fairly different from Browning's original Colt design. The basic design hasn't changed much at all. What has changed is the attachments, metals or polymers used, etc. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques things like different color finishes, high visibility sights, extended operating levers and easier to hold grip safeties make the weapons more "user friendly." Pictured here is my current carry Springfield Armory 1911. It was delivered with their OD Green ArmoryKote finish and had rubber grips. Currently I have G10 grips from Mil-Tac on the pistol. I replaced the Novak low profile sights with a set of standard dot 24/7 night sights from XS Sights. Because the front strap (the forward portion of the grip) is smooth I applied an adhesive chunk of (essentially) grip tape that I received from Tac-Grip. I tend to use Wilson 8-round magazines, a capacity not available in 1911 due to the metal technology of the times. At its most basic though, this pistol functions just the same as the original M1911s did and the design - with all of its changes and upgrades - is still the same as it was nearly 100 years ago. That says something about the success of both the pistol design and the reliability of the cartridge.
My other common carry .45ACP pistol is the Kahr CW4543. With a polymer frame and shorter slide / barrel, this weapon is far more comfortable to carry because of its light weight and smaller size. Of course, there are reasonably expected trade-offs with such changes. Thanks to the smaller size the magazine capacity is six rounds, so with the one I chamber I get seven rounds total in the weapon. I'm okay with that. With the full-size 1911 I usually carry one spare mag and end up with 15 rounds total on my person. With the Kahr Cw4543 I carry a spare mag and end up with a total of 13 rounds on my person. I've long ago stopped worrying about those two rounds. I remember the days when I would carry a 5-shot snub-nose revolver off-duty and think I was just fine - so 13 rounds if more than sufficient in my mind. Amazingly slim in its design, the Kahr CW4543 is a striker-fired weapon. Note that there is no external (or internal) hammer. There are also no external safeties to manipulate. Just like with revolvers, pull the weapon, aim and fire. No safeties to disengage - or to forget to disengage. This pistol is the one most frequently found on my hip.
More like the Kahr than the Springfield Armory, the Glock Model 36 is a polymer frame pistol that also uses an internal striker mechanism rather than a hammer. Also holding six rounds in its magazine (+1 in the chamber), the Glock 36 is almost as small as the Kahr. I carried a Glock 36 for many years and have no criticism to offer about it. In my experience, Glock pistols have proven reliable and able to take abuse. The Glock 36 was more comfortable in my hand than its double-stack magazine "brothers". Conveniently, it fit in many holsters designed for the mid-size 9mm or .40 caliber Glock pistols. My Glock 36 has been sold and now rides most often in one of my closest friend's off-duty holster. He is a former Marine and is as much a fan of the .45ACP as I am. As he once said, "Having lots of bullets in the gun is nice, but putting big holes in bad guys works better."
Through the years I've carried other .45s. I had a stainless steel Colt Commander that served as my back-up duty weapon for a number of years. I carried as my duty weapon at another agency when I did some targeted drug enforcement work. It was, in fact, the .45 I was carrying one day when I caught a burglar in the bedroom of an apartment, and I'll never forget what he said to me after the fact. When he asked what kind of gun I was carrying (and had pointed at him) and I told him it was a .45 he said, "Damn... that hole looked big enough that I could crawl into it and die."
What else needs to be said?