How to choose the Best 1911 pistol

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The 1911 pistol design has been around for roughly 115 years and does not show any signs of going away yet. The pistol is based on John Browning’s design in 1905 and adopted by the US military in 1911, (hence the name). There are approximately 130 manufacturers that make a 1911 model pistol. This makes choosing the best 1911 a real challenge.

Why choose a 1911 type of pistol

The 1911 pistol is one of those pistols that is just really easy to shoot. Its single stack magazine design keeps the grip slim and easy for almost any shooter to grasp. Being a single action pistol, (means that the pistol fires from a hammer back condition at all times), the trigger pull is always short and crisp. 1911 pistol models are available in several different calibers and sizes.

Single stack and double stack magazine side by side
Single Stack Versus a Double Stack magazine

The other big point that makes the 1911 pistol one of the best pistols on the market is the number of available upgrade parts. The fact that there are so many manufacturers making parts for these iconic pistol models the sky is the limit when customizing a pistol to suit you.

Available sizes of the 1911 Pistol

Just like many other pistols out there the 1911 style of pistol comes in a lot of different sizes. Each style of the pistol can be tasked to suit its mission or usage requirements.

Best 1911 Pistol, different sized 1911 models
Different sized 1911 Model pistols. Full Size Goverement model on the top right down to the Colt Mustang size on the bottom Right

The Colt Government Model 1911

This is the full-size version of the pistol. Over the years its styling and mechanisms have been updated. Though it still mostly retains the look and function of the original 1911 model pistol. The full size 1911 was originally chambered in .45 ACP using a 5” barrel and a 7 round magazine.

The government model 1911 pistol has seen military and police service continuously since its adoption by the US military in 1911. It has been adopted and used by 57 countries. With 31 of them still using the pistol, including the US military special operations units.

Colt Goverment Series 80 Pistol
Colt Goverment Model Series 80 Full Size 1911 Pistol. This pistol has been modified with custom grips, Commander hammer, wide grip safety and has a Wilson Combat 8 round magazine installed.

It is by far the most iconic symbol of the 1911 design. And it is also the most comfortable to shoot. With its large steel frame and slide, it is easily able to soak up the recoil coming from the .45 ACP round. The 5″ barrel gives it a range of approximately 50 Meters, (54.6 yards).

This style of 1911 pistol is a great choice for a duty pistol.

The Colt Officers Model and Commander Series Pistol

Colt Introduced the Colt Commander model pistol in 1949. Built using an aluminum frame and incorporating a 4 ¼” barrel. The Colt Commander was developed in response to the US military’s request for a lighter weight option.

Colt 1911 Pistol and Kimber Pro Carry II 1911
Comparing the difference in size between the Goverment model and a Commander Model. Goverment model on top and the Commander below it

This pistol is also a popular size choice for a concealed carry pistol. With its lightweight aluminum frame, it is easy to carry. The single stack magazine makes for a slim design, which makes the pistol easier to conceal. Yet the 4 ¼” barrel allows the pistol to retain good accuracy. The pistols grip size, trigger location, and magazine capacity remained the same

Colt also made an all-steel version of this pistol called the Colt Combat Commander. The only difference being the use of a steel receiver.

The Colt Defender Pistol

This is the smallest of the 1911 pistols in .45 ACP. Coming in at an overall length of 6 ½” and having a barrel length of just 3”. This pistol weighs in at just 24 ounces making it 15 ounces less than the government model or about 40% lighter. This makes carrying this size pistol concealed much easier.

Best 1911 Pistol, Colt Defender
Colt Defender in .45 ACP

Unlike the Colt commander models that used a full-size grip the Colt Defender model uses a smaller length grip and small length magazine. The magazine capacity remains at 7 + 1 rounds and the pistol can accept the regular full-size magazines.

The Colt Defender pistol was released in 2000. As a replacement for the troubled Concealed Carry Officers pistol. So far it has enjoyed a much better career than its predecessor.

Colt Defender and Colt Goverment model
Colt Goverement Model Versus the Colt Defender. Both Pistol chamber in .45 ACP with the Defender being approximately 40 % lighter than the Goverement model.

Colt Mustang Series of the 1911 design

The Colt Mustang is the smallest of the 1911 pistols. Chambered in .380 caliber and weighing at 12.3 Ounces. With a barrel length of 2.8″ this little pistol is surprisingly accurate. Being just 5.6″ in overall length it is easily concealed in your pocket. The pistol comes equipped with a 6 round magazine giving it a 7 round count with one in the chamber.

Colt Mustang and Colt Government pistols together
Colt Mustang compared to the full Size Colt Government Model

The Colt Mustang is a true pocket pistol in all senses of the term. Even being the size that it is, it still has all of the same features that make the other larger 1911 pistols so popular.

Choosing the Right pistol for you.

Choosing the best 1911 pistol is going to be based on several factors. Those factors include price, quality, and intended use of the pistol. Although in the text above I have used Colt models to reference the sizes of the pistols each different manufacturer has its own model designations. But they all seem to follow the same basic designs that Colt does.

For example, Kimber models versus the colt models

Colt Government model = Kimber Raptor, Custom II, Stainless II, KHX, ETC.

A Colt Commander Model = Kimber Pro Carry II

The Colt Defender model = Kimber Ultra Carry II

Colt Mustang model = Kimber Micro

Other major manufacturers like Sig Sauer and Springfield Armory have their own range of 1911 pistol models.

Customized Pistols

As I said at the top of the article there are so many companies that produce the 1911 style of pistol. And a large number of these companies are custom builders. Manufacturers like Wilson Combat, Les Baer, and many more produce custom 1911 pistols. A custom pistol can be used for anything. From pistol matches to every day concealed carry.

The price point on many of these guns is not for the faint of heart. You can spend anywhere from $2000 to $4,500,000.00 for a Cabot 1911 pistol made from a Meteorite. That’s right. You read it correctly. It is 4.5 million dollars for a 1911 pistol.

Cabot meterite 1911 set
A pair of Custom 1911 Pistols made from a fragment of the Gibeon meteorite. The pistols were made by Cabot Guns and valued at $4.5 Million Dollars

Building a 1911 pistol yourself

Another option is to build your own 1911 pistol. You can either buy a completed frame from a dealer or an 80% receiver and finish the machining yourself. This option is really for the guy that has some fabrication experience and has the tools to do the job right.

Colt Defender dis-assemblied
A Colt Defender completely disassemblied to show all its internal parts. Building your own pistol requires a some mechanical skills and tools.

By building your own pistol you can customize it to suit your own tastes and wants. Building your own pistol is still not cheap. So, do not expect to be able to build a high-quality pistol for a cheap price.

So, Which is the Best 1911 Pistol to buy

To break this down I have listed my top picks for the 1911 models by the following categories.

  • Best 1911 pistol by price, starting with the cheapest models
  • The best 1911 pistols for concealed carry
  • Best 1911’s for competition use
  • Best custom 1911 pistol

Please be aware at the time that this article has been released, (Sep 2020), the availability of some of these pistols may be limited. This is due to the Covid-19 and the current state of unrest in the United States. This has resulted in more people purchasing firearms for the first time for self-defense. So expect to see some models out of stock and you may have to back order the pistol you really want.

Best 1911 pistols for the price

The Rock Island Armory pistol is one of the cheapest 1911 style pistols on the market today. Made in the Philippines and imported into the USA, this is an Ok starter pistol. The finish quality of these pistols is not as good as its more expensive counterparts.

Cheapest 1911

Taurus PT 1911 Pistol, this is a great starter pistol for just a few more dollars than the Rock Island Armory pistol. I would rank the Taurus as a much higher quality in both the fit and finish of the pistol. This pistol has about an average 4.5-star review online

Buy Now at Brownells
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Springfield Armory 1911 Pistol, though at the higher end of the entry-level market place this pistol is worth it. It is a great starter pistol that you can build on and modify. Right out the box, it shoots well and great way into the world of the 1911 pistol

Our Pick for an Entry Level 1911 Pistol
Prices correct at the time of publishing

The Colt Government Model, This pistol is the direct descendant of the original M1911A1 pistol. Colt is the only manufacturer that has been making the 1911 pistol continuously since its inception. When you buy a factory colt 1911 model pistol it comes with excellent customer service, they are accurate and reliable right out of the box. They are also one of the few pistols that you can buy that may actually go up in value. I bought my Government Model in 1990 and today have over 100,000 rounds through it.

Best Goverment Model 1911
Check Stock at Brownells
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Best 1911 Pistols For Concealed Carry

The Colt Defender, this is my personal choice for an “EDC” 1911 pistol. I have carried Kimbers, and Parra Ordinance 1911 pistols, and hands down the Colt defender is the best. It is light and easy to conceal. When shooting it performs flawlessly and I never have issues cycling or jamming. The colt defender is available in both .45 ACP and 9 mm.

Our Choice
Colt Defender .45ACP
Check Stock at Brownells
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Colt Commander, this is the Colt Defenders bigger brother. It comes with a 4.25″ barrel and an 8+1 round count. The stainless steel finish helps to protect against corrosion when carrying the pistol against your body. This is a great choice for the guy that wants a bigger pistol but without the weight and size of a full size 1911.

Best 1911 Pistols For Competition

The Colt Gold Cup National Match, this pistol is one of the first 1911 model pistols developed for competition shooting.  It features an Adjustable Wide Trigger, National Match® Barrel, Adjustable Target Sights, and many other refinements as standard. It is a great out of the box pistol that you can put straight into any type of competitive shooting.

Our Pick

Wilson Combat EDCX9, this custom pistol built by Wilson comes with a number of upgrades and features that make it perfect for the IPSC type of competitions. The first being the high capacity of the pistol. it also features adjustable rear sights, a competition trigger, enlarged trigger guard just to name a few. This pistol is just at home as an everyday carry concealed pistol for those that want a higher capacity.

High Capacity 1911 Pistol

LES BAER CUSTOM, the Baer pistols are well known for there accuracy and reliability. The Premier II 1911 pistol is fitted with a 6″ barrel, low mount adjustable sights, competition trigger, and a custom Les Baer slide. The pistol is guaranteed to shoot 3″ groups at 50 yards. This pistol has been a favorite among IPSC and Service pistol shooters for years.

Check Stock at Brownells
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Best Custom 1911 Pistols

Wilson Combat Opti Comp 9 MM, This pistol by Wilson combat is based on years of custom building pistols. It comes standard with a host of upgrades including a pre-fitted Trijicon RMR red dot, an aluminum frame with light rail, custom long trigger, Top compensated barrel, and the list goes on.

Check stock at Brownells
Prices correct at the time of publishing

1911 Tactical Carry Combat, this pistol from Wilson Combat has been designed by Bill Wilson as the top of the line of there concealed carry pistol. But make no mistake this is no out of the box 1911 pistol. It comes with all the bells and whistles that Wilson Combat makes. The pistol is available in .45 ACP or 9 MM with a 7+1 round count and 9+1 capacity.

Available in 9 MM
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Now that you have chosen a pistol don’t forget to review biometric pistol safes, for the safe storage of your new gun

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