With the dramatic resurgence in interest in the 1911 platform, it's comforting to note the old war-horse is still a viable alternative to the black-plastic gun trend. While the average current generation polymer-framed "wunder-pistole" does indeed perform in the real world, it often lacks a certain air. Modern polymer pistols also often lack the ergonomics that garner the cult-like following of the 1911-even today some 100 years after it first saw the light of day.
When you pick up a steel, full-sized 1911, rack the slide and snick on the safety, you feel-no, you know-you have a serious fighting pistol in your hand. The authoritative demeanor the gaping bore imparts is not lost on the user-or on those facing that cavernous hole.
I have a friend who used to work a fugitive unit, and for years worked the biker gangs. He always carried a blue-worn Colt 1911 when he conducted raids. As he told me once, "When I pointed that big bruiser at some cretin who had no-good on his mind, you could see his wheels go to work as he calculated the odds of resisting. It usually took about one micro-second before his hands flew up. I asked one why he gave up so quickly and he said, 'Hell, I knew you would shoot me with that big pistol of yours. I ain't stupid.'" Perhaps there's a lesson here?
So let's assume you've seen the light and are aboard with the concept of the 1911 platform. Like anything in life, "You pays your money and you gets what you pays for." Can you get a 1911 for $500? Probably. But you'll probably get $500 worth of 1911. Factor in action work, a reliability package, maybe some accurizing, sights, and a custom finish, and you're quickly at the $1,500 mark. Very quickly.
When all is said and done, you'll have $1,500 in the gun and parts. And unless you have a high-end custom pistolsmith handle the chores, you'll regret every cent you spent. Having said that, there are factory 1911 designs out there that are very well made, perform well, and offer sterling service and factory support. There's nothing wrong with many of them and they are an excellent way to go.
But then there is the other way to go. The "I want the best money can buy" mode. After all, it's only your life here. Enter Les Baer Custom and his limited "production" guns. Available in about any configuration you may imagine, Les Baer's guns are-simply put-without peer in the business. They compare, toe-to-toe, with virtually any $3,000 custom 1911 from any of the premium shops.
Fit, finish, functionality, and accuracy rank at the top and it's not difficult to see why. On a personal note, I've owned a Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special for several years, and it has never failed me. Never. It has over 5,000 rounds through it and it's more accurate now than it was when I bought it.
I won't argue the merits of a 1911 as a duty pistol. You've either made up your own mind or your agency has done it for you. We'll assume you are looking for a package that will deliver the goods, regardless of the situation, and that's why you're reading this now.
Near Zero Tolerances
Ambidextrous safety, adjustable tritium sights, and flawless workmanship are part of the package.
Les Baer is the only "small" maker who actually manufactures his own frames and slides. This doesn't mean he gets them roughed out from a major player and does final machining. He owns his own CNC equipment and buys top quality, forged steel and then "makes" the frames and slides on his own machines. From scratch.
Get out your pocket calculator for this next thing. There is one major maker who advertises its tolerances on frame-to-slide fit are ".004 inch." That would be thousandths of an inch. Pretty damn close, we'd say.
To put things into perspective, Les Baer holds his tolerances to +/- .0003 inches. That would be an extra zero there, which translates to three "ten thousandths" of an inch.
"Plus or minus three tenths is unheard of in the business," Les Baer said in a recent phone interview. "The reason we can manage that is because we do all our final precision machining after we heat treat the parts, not before." There's no warpage problem that way. And it shows.
To check the fit, take the barrel out of your favorite 1911 and put the slide back onto the frame. With the barrel installed, many guns can feel like they're tight, due to the force of the barrel acting on the slide and barrel.
On the Baer guns, the lock-up is almost scary. I've felt guns with absolutely no play. None. Zilch. Baer says most of his guns have no play and only about one percent may show one thousandth. And that's the whole idea.
The real magic is the fact the guns are virtually 100 percent reliable. Many makers will say they have to have some "play" so they will run well. That's simply not the case, but most big makers simply can't afford to hold these kinds of tolerances in production guns they churn out by the tens of thousands. Again, we're talking about having the very best you can buy, and still be affordable for us working stiffs.
Barrels are also made in-house but are rifled by Fred Kart (as in Kart barrel fame) and then precision fitted by the Baer team. This culmination of precision machine work and hand fitting is the point where magic, myth, and the real world come together. It's no accident these pistols have become legendary-it's simply a matter of hard work.
There’s a reason the .45 ACP commands so much respect.