July 2010

Wild Bunch Pistols, Part II: Kimber Wins Modern Guns Test

In our second look at SASS-legal guns for this fun new Cowboy Action game, we shoot and assess the Kimber Custom II, Springfield Loaded PX9109LP, and the Para Ordnance PXT 7.45.

In our May 2010 review of pistols suited for Cowboy Action’s widely popular new Wild Bunch side match, we noted two different categories of 1911s eligible to compete. There are two SASS classes set forth for 1911 handguns, which roughly correlate to the traditional and modern single-action class.

In our first review of handguns suited for the SASS Wild Bunch category—named in deference to the Sam Peckinpah movie, The Wild Bunch—we covered five traditional GI-type handguns from Springfield Armory, High Standard, and Colt. Prices ranged from $500 to $1000, a fairly large spread. The Springfield pistols included the GI Model, a stainless GI, and the Mil-Spec. The High Standard pistol was the 1911A1, and the Colt, the 1918 Black Army.

Recapping those guns, we said the Springfield Armory GI PW9108LP 45 ACP, $643, was the archetypical Wild Bunch pistol, meeting the rule specifications to a "T". The pistol features fixed sights, standard controls, and checkered plastic grips. We gave it a B+. Next, the Springfield Armory Stainless GI PW9151LP 45 ACP, $693, was identical in features to the Parkerized GI pistol reviewed above. For a modest additional cost, the stainless GI pistol offers an excellent appearance. Our testers said it was easily the best-looking handgun in the matchup. Still, it scored a C grade based on its poor accuracy and initial malfunctions. The third Springfield was the company’s Mil-Spec PB9108LP Parkerized 45 ACP, $753, which earned an A grade and a Best Buy recommendation for its superb accuracy and flawless function.

The two non-Springfield guns were the High Standard 1911A1 HSTX1911 45 ACP, $480, a ‘B’-rated gun, which we said was not the best-finished pistol, but it worked and gave adequate accuracy. Last was a Colt Black Army 1918 No. 01018 45 ACP, $1000, the most expensive pistol tested, which also earned an A grade and was our team’s favorite.

The "modern" class of 45s we test this month nods to the notion that quite a few SASS members probably already own such a handgun, and interested shooters from other disciplines may jump in to shoot Wild Bunch matches. The handguns legal for use in this category are middle-of-the-road pistols. High-visibility sights without night inserts are allowed and so are forward cocking serrations and full-length guide rods. Checkered grip straps are not allowed. Your Springfield TRP and Kimber Gold Match are not legal. We eliminated a number of capable 1911 handguns in the same price range because of the frame checkering and stippling limit. Getting something for free is an advantage, but in this case the advantages were "illegal" for competition.

Our Kimber entry was the Custom II 45 ACP, $828, which has been available for more than a decade and remains an excellent buy among 1911 handguns. Set against it was the Para Ordnance PXT 7.45 45 ACP, $986, and another Springfield, the Loaded Model PX9109LP 45 ACP, $1035.

Since SASS rules demand lead bullets running at less than 1000 fps, our test program for these guns was different. Personal defense was not a consideration, and neither was jacketed hollowpoint bullet performance. The choices among factory ammunition are limited. From Black Hills, we chose a 230-grain roundnose lead load and a 200-grain semiwadcutter. Then we worked up a handload using the Oregon Trail 200-grain semiwadcutter over 5.5 grains of WW 231, a proven accuracy load. It was essential each handgun perform well with these typical match loads.

In the previous test, all of the GI pistols and the modern Loaded Model in this test were Series 70 types, with no firing pin block, although the Springfield pistols offer a lightweight firing pin and extra power spring. Among the modern guns this round, the Para Ordnance is a Series 80-type pistol with a positive firing pin block, and the Kimber Custom II uses the Schwarz-type firing pin block.

We don’t think that obtaining an original-period Colt 1911 is the best route to compete in SASS’s Wild Bunch matches. They are expensive, with the cheaper samples beginning at $1000. The older pistols were of softer steel than we use today, and commonsense tells us a shooter pistol from the era is probably well worn.

Here’s what we learned about the second round of Wild Bunch guns:

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