May 2010

Wild Bunch Pistols: Colt 1918 Leads The Pack, But At A Price!

In this five-way test of legacy guns, our team liked the Black Army a lotóbut its $1000 price tag gave us pause. Instead, we said Springfieldís Mil-Spec was a Best Buy at hundreds less.

While it seems as if the 1911 self-loader lords over most competition courses, there are certain games in which the 1911 is prohibited. There are revolver-only matches and long-range matches in which the 1911 is not a player. Among the greatest games going is Cowboy Action. Cowboy Action Shooting gets the old guns of the West and their modern replicas burning powder again. This is a great chance for lots of fun and an opportunity to meet some nice folks with an interest in shooting. The game is challenging, and there is a set of rules that dictates what you may use. As an example, the traditional revolver class includes original Colt Single Action Army revolvers and replicas such as the Ruger Vaquero. The modern class makes allowances for adjustable-sight single-action revolvers such as the Ruger Blackhawk. There is always a lively debate as to the relative merits of each firearm, but it is pretty obvious in competition which holds up the best.

A widely popular new match prompted us to our latest shooting review. The Single Action Shooting Society published rules for a special "side match," or a special match in addition to regular competition. (We almost said entertainment. Cowboy shooting is competition if you are shooting, and entertainment if you are watching.) This match is called the Wild Bunch match. You may have guessed that this match is in deference to the wildly popular Sam Peckinpah western, The Wild Bunch. The movie is set in time just after the introduction of the Colt 1911, and much of the action takes place in revolutionary Mexico. The 1911 Colt is very much in evidence in this movie.

Interested competitors contacted Gun Tests with a request to test several of the likely 1911 45 automatics to rate which of the pistols may be the best buy for such competition. A common thread among SASS members is sticker shock. They ask why one 1911 costs so much more than the others. They also wish to nail down the models suitable for the Wild Bunch shoots. Since SASS competitors tend to fire lots of ammunition in mastering their handguns, longevity is an issue.

There are two classes set forth for 1911 handguns, which roughly correlate to the traditional and modern single-action class. While the 1911 in original form was in use in the Wild Bunch days, we think that the modern class is fair because quite a few SASS members probably already own such a handgun, and interested shooters from other disciplines may jump in. Knowing these men and women as we do, it is an even bet that a diehard SASS member will opt for a handgun as close to the original as possible.

We donít think that obtaining an original-period Colt 1911 is the best route. They are expensive, with even a beater or shooter grade beginning at $1000. The pistols were of softer steel than we use today, and commonsense tells us a shooter pistol from the era is probably well worn.

There is a wide choice in 1911 handguns suitable for CAS, so we split the test program into two categories, traditional and modern 1911 types. We leaned more heavily toward the traditional type and tested five examples in this category this month and three popular pistols in the modern type next month. Some we have tested before, but we began fresh with new loads and new criteria. Some of the handguns had been tested with modern jacketed ammunition, but since SASS rules demand lead bullets at less than 1000 fps, the rules were different. Personal defense was not a consideration, and neither was jacketed hollowpoint bullet performance. Since SASS rules specify a 5-inch barrel Government Model handgun, no Commander, short-barrel or aluminum-frame handguns were tested.

Our five traditional GI-type handguns came from Springfield Armory, High Standard, and Colt. Prices ranged from $500 to $1000, a fairly large spread. In fairness we could not eliminate the high-priced Colt for reasons we will enumerate. The Springfield pistols included the GI Model, a stainless GI, and the Mil-Spec. The High Standard pistol is the 1911A1, and the Colt, the 1918 Black Army.

As many of you are aware, the pistols in use in the Wild Bunch era were 1911s, not 1911A1 pistols. After World War I, the Army instigated an improvement program that led to the 1911A1. All 1911 handguns today are 1911A1 types, although we call them 1911s. Even the Colt Black Army, for all intents and purposes a 1911 in appearance, is a 1911A1 under the skin. More about that later.

Hereís a partial verdict up frontónone of these pistols gave any hint of being a Donít Buy. All seem well made, and each is accurate enough for the intended task. For a more detailed examination, read on.

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