Is the 1911 Reliable? Yes, Just Not Out of the Box

A common complaint about the 1911 is that is is an outdated and unreliable pistol. I have not found that to be true in a general sense, but it can be true in more narrow situations. If I knew I’d be in a gunfight the minute I walked out of a gun shop’s door, and would have to fight with the pistol I just bought new, I would not pick the 1911.

That’s not to say that all 1911s are trouble out of the box, but rather that they generally do need some testing and tuning before they can be depended on completely. Common teething problems are from magazines, ammo type, and extractor tension.

Dan Wesson Valor Commander
Dan Wesson Valor Commander

My Dan Wesson Valor Stainless Commander was bought as a shop demo and was literally as good as new when I unpackaged it. But after I had fired a few magazines to test it, the slide would bind on the frame requiring a light tap from a soft faced hammer to free it. With a liberal application of gun oil, a few more binding events, and maybe 50 rounds fired, it settled down and has run well.

The type of ammo you run (round nose, hollow point, semi-wadcutter, etc.) and the magazines you load them in, may not make your new 1911 happy. It’s important to test all of these as soon as you’re convinced the gun is in good condition and well lubricated. The business of which magazines work for which 1911s and with which bullet types is worth a blog post of it’s own. But for now, know to test this right away because the pistol may have to go back to the manufacturer to make it right.

Testing extractor tension, for the typical end user, is to remove the slide and slip the rim of a 230gr ball round under the extractor. A light shake of the slide should not release the round, but a vigorous shake should. Failing this test means the extractor is too loose or too tight and must be adjusted for reliable operation.

Doing these tests and fixing any problems discovered will go a long way to being sure you have a 1911 you can rely on. The finishing touch is to run several hundred rounds of your preferred ammo through it to prove it.

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