April 17, 2013

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec Stainless 1911A1 45 ACP

We recently read The Book of Two Guns, The Martial Art of The 1911 and AR Carbine, by Tiger McKee. McKee is the proprietor and headmaster of the Shootrite Firearms Academy (shootrite.org) located in Langston, Alabama. Printed in long hand with illustrations, McKee instructs and inspires the reader to consider what skills are necessary to effectively use the handgun and rifle weapon interdependently, as well as in transition from one to the other. With the two-gun concept in mind, they decided to go ahead with a story they’d been considering for some time—evaluating two pairs of handguns that could also be used to work effectively in tandem, in this case, two revolvers against two pistols.

Here’s what they said:

We picked one gun that was larger and better suited for primary carry, be it for duty or concealment. The other was significantly smaller and meant to be hidden in case of emergency. Each pair belonged to the same system, or as close as we could supply.

For primary carry we chose Springfield Armory’s $785 Mil-Spec Full Size Stainless 1911A1. To run with the Springfield, we added a $699 9mm Walther PPS semi-automatic, which was light weight and super slim. For our purposes, we will only discuss the Springfield here.

Our test ammunition was Magtech 230-grain FMC, Hornady 185-grain JHP/XTC, and Black Hills 230-grain JHP+P ammunition.

How We Tested

Our method of test began with firing from sandbag support. The primary guns were tested from a distance of 25 yards. Backup guns were tested on targets placed 12 yards downrange. We also spent time firing standing offhand at close-in targets 7 yards away. In addition we looked for clues regarding effective holstering and alternative modes of carry. Here is what we learned.

Gun Tests grade: A-/B. Two grades? yes. We give it an A- as a retro gun, but grade it a B; for lack of modern conveniences, such as higher-visibility sights and a memory groove beavertail.

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec Full Size Stainless 1911A1PB9151LP 45 ACP, $785

For many gun owners self-defense begins (and ends) with the 5-inch-barreled 1911-style pistol. Our Mil-Spec Full Size Stainless was a handsome retro-style example of the breed.

Features that distinguished it as such were most notably the sights, hammer, and grip safety. It also had a lanyard loop at the base of the mainspring housing. The trigger had a solid profile and was actually rather short in reach. The left-side-only thumb safety was minimal in platform. The light-colored wood grips added charm by showing the letters "U.S." carved into the center of each panel amid the checkering. The slide showed rear-only cocking serrations, and the sides of the pistol were shiny and flat. The label of "old slabsides" suited this pistol.

Recoil was handled by a short standard-length guide rod. The top end could be removed without using a bushing wrench. One seven-round magazine made of polished stainless steel was provided.

In terms of looks we knew we had a old-style pistol. But we hadn’t taken into account how the retro-features would affect performance and operation. In the past we have encountered olde-style 1911s that functioned only when loaded with ball or full-metal-jacket roundnosed ammunition. But our Springfield functioned perfectly with every round we tried. Furthermore, no malfunctions were encountered when we chose to feed ammunition from modern eight-round magazines by Wilson Combat and Chip McCormick.

Throughout our firing session we alternated ways of loading the chamber. Using several different magazines we alternated our charging method from manually racking the slide to beginning with slide locked back and releasing the stop. The Springfield fed reliably every time. Nevertheless, certain features dictated our shooting technique.

The flat surface of the grip safety did not match up well with the arched mainspring housing. We think most shooters will have difficulty keeping it compressed. But you can order your Mil-Spec with the flat mainspring housing.

The arched mainspring housing filled our hands. But it also hindered our ability to hold down the grip safety. The arch caused the contact surface to be tucked away from the inside of our palms. Some hands will be meaty enough to press the safety down every time, but some of our test shooters had to modify their grips. A flat mainspring housing would have been preferable, but consider the following:

Today’s 1911 shooter likes to ride the thumb safety. But when the thumb was applied to the platform on the Mil-Spec safety, this caused the grip safety to release. Grip safeties found on modern 1911-style pistols are seated higher and deeper into the frame. The modern grip safety also has a raised surface for better contact. This innovation, known as the memory groove, has been credited to gunsmith Ed Brown. To fire our pistol consistently, we had to use a low grip with the thumb riding below the safety. With our shooters concentrating on compressing the thumb safety, they found it difficult to concentrate on tracking the sights and pressing the trigger.

The front sight itself was small and snagproof. But we doubt the term snagproof was even used until the first attempts to adapt taller target sights to holster carry failed. Combined with the shallow notch rear sight, we were thankful that it was a bright sunny day at the range for our tests. In dim light the supplied sights might be useless.

Elsewhere, the trigger was the heaviest we’ve found on a 1911 in a long time. However, we could find no hint of creep or grit in the trigger. The press consisted of a short takeup to a 10-pound resistance that softened just before it gave way.

To make it easier on ourselves from the bench, we finally decided to fix the grip safety in the compressed position. We began firing with the Magtech 230-grain FMC rounds. Our groups averaged about 4.0 inches with little variation in size. The Black Hills +P ammunition was more accurate, despite recoiling much heavier. Our groups ranged in size from 2.8 to 3.9 inches across. The disparity was largely due to the shooters’ inability to control the gun consistently.

We could turn the bushing by hand, so no tools were necessary to remove the top end. Note the low front sight. Today's low-mount front sights are more visible.

Muzzle energy produced by this round was about 100 ft.-lbs. more on average compared to the 185-grain Hornady JHP/XTP ammunition. The thrust of the slide pushed the supplied recoil spring to the limit of its ability to return the gun to battery without hesitation. The lighter recoiling Hornady rounds afforded more control to the shooter and helped us print groups that were less than 3.0 inches across. Considering that the sights were barely adequate and the trigger was quite heavy, we thought this performance was remarkable.

In the rapid-fire tests our staff yearned for varying degrees of custom changes. Certainly, there are 1911s available at every stage of development for tactical or competition use. Packaged as it was, the Springfield Armory Mil-Spec Full Size Stainless would first be limited to the hands that can operate the grip safety. But it does illustrate that the 1911 platform—even in its most basic configuration—is a formidable defensive handgun.

Report Card: As a retro gun we give it high marks. Reliability with hollow points is one reason why. As a modern fighting gun, the sights were inadequate and we’d rather not be limited to a low grip. But this is a handsome, quality reproduction.


Comments (4)

Some interesting comments as regards items marketed as "Mil-Spec". Having spent 21 years on active duty as a commissioned Army officer (1963-1984), my view of this classification is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that when an item of materiel is Mil-Spec, that item may not necessarily be the best of its type for civilian application. When not serving in tactical units or teaching in Army service schools, a large part of my career involved the research, development, test, and evaluation (RDTE) of candidate items and systems for use by our armed forces. Ultimately, when a weapon, a system, or item of materiel is recommended for adoption and type classification, that recommendation is essentially based upon what is best for the troops at the most reasonable cost. That said, what is ultimately placed into service with the troops may be fine for its intended military purpose, but it may also not be as suitable for civilian use as one might think. In the decision-making process of military acquisition of materiel, very often the item that is "good enough" will be chosen over the item that is "best available"......C.A.Novack, Lt Col, US Army (Ret).

Posted by: canovack | April 23, 2013 11:18 AM    Report this comment

I have 2 1911 Mil Specs PB9108LP Models Parkerized, and if I'm not mistaken, the year I bought these,Spr. Amy. offered 3 different grades of the mil. spec. The models I bought was the middle grade and the model pictured above is the bottom grade. It's hard to tell though sometimes, with the changes some manufacturers have in their lines from year to year.

Posted by: winnieguy | April 19, 2013 9:38 PM    Report this comment

I own a Springfield Ultra Compact and would absolutely say its my favorite gun. It is durable and has never failed me in anyway. When contacting the company they have always gave me the answers to my questions whereas other gun manufacturers I won't mention are impossible to contact.

Posted by: simondcat | April 19, 2013 6:14 PM    Report this comment

Glad you cleared up the Mil-Spec/GI Model mix up. That said, I own one of each, and both pistols are supurb examples of our beloved 1911. I would add only that if in the market for a 1911, you will never go wrong with a Spfld. Armory model, as their after-market support is second to none!
Old Rakkasan (Dave Mitchell)

Posted by: DSMitch187 | April 18, 2013 3:52 PM    Report this comment

Add your comments ...

New to Gun Tests? Register for Free!

Already Registered? Log In