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
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 are times when you simply can't afford to scrimp. If you're motivated enough to learn to handle 1911s and your department is forward-looking enough to understand their value, then the final period to the sentence is top-notch equipment. Why stop half-way?
The Baer 1911 Premier II Super-Tac is the top of the line flagship in the tactical/duty pistol format from the Baer shop. There are dozens of other combinations, but this one, perhaps more than any other, epitomizes what a Baer pistol can offer.
Some specifics are important to discuss here. The frame, slide, and barrel are National Match configuration and the barrel bushing is carefully fitted as part of the package, of course. The slide is double serrated (forward serrations afford the ability to safely press-check a gun) and the low-mount adjustable rear sight and dovetailed front sight are both tritium. Some may argue the merits of adjustable sights on a duty gun, and, if you don't like them, simply get one with fixed sights.
Ambi-safety, tuned and polished ejector, Baer speed trigger, beavertail grip safety, beveled mag well, polished feed ram, and throated barrel are a short list of features. When you factor in the checkered front strap, deburring, and special Bear Coat anti-corrosion finish, you still aren't finished, but you get the idea. The other little thing? Les Baer personally guarantees these guns will shoot under 3 inches at 50 yards.
Do you really need performance like that in a duty pistol? Perhaps a better question is, can you afford not to have a gun that will perform like that? The really scary part is that Baer will build you the same gun that will shoot at less than one-and-one-half inches at 50 yards. Who needs a rifle, anyway?
Exactly nobody in the business- other than a rare few highly talented custom 'smiths-could make that guarantee. And their guns would take three years to get and cost enough that you wouldn't be able to afford your new Harley-Davidson.
At the Range
Yes, we shot this beauty. At 25 yards, using an Outer's Pistol Perch (basically a semi-fancy wrist rest) the test gun shot ragged one-hole groups with an assortment of ammo. Loaded with quality Black Hills hardball and premium self-defense ammo from Federal, Winchester, PMC, Remington, and Cor-Bon, the Super-Tac was almost scarily easy to shoot. Put the sights on the target, take a breath, let some out, hold it, and squeeze. Another hole goes into the same spot.
We had to try it. At 50 yards, we got 4.5-inch to 5-inch groups on a bright, sunny day that was causing us fits due to glare. But still, I barely shoot that well with a rifle. A bull's-eye shooter who was watching at the local range, asked if he could try. His match ammo shot exactly 2.80-inches at 50 yards! I don't usually use exclamation marks but we saw it ourselves and it's the absolute truth. Ask anyone who has ever shot a Les Baer pistol.
The range where we tested this pistol has a 100-yard gong that's about 12 inches across. After a shot or two to get the range, we could hit it every time. Every, single time. This is something special indeed and won't soon be forgotten by those who were there and who did it.
This Les Baer Super-Tac test turned into an experience for everyone who shot it. I know for a fact Baer has sold three pistols because of this test. And one of them is to me, since this test gun will not be returned. A check will be sent in its stead.
In my role as editor of American Handgunner magazine, I see countless custom 1911s and other high-quality pistols. The guns from the custom shops are often such that they take your breath away. Unbelievable workmanship, accuracy that astounds, and prices that can easily approach the $5,000 mark, are the norm.
Yet, when a reader, or a cop, or anyone asks me which 1911 he or she should buy, I tell them a Les Baer, unless they are willing to wait years and pay thousands more. And this test has only reconfirmed my impressions.
Les Baer Custom
Premier II Super-Tac
Caliber: .45 ACP (also available in .400 Cor Bon)
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Weight: 37 ounces
Trigger Pull: 4 pounds
Finish: Black, Bear Coat
Capacity: 8-round magazine
Action: Single action, 1911 style
Sights: Adjustable, tritium
Roy Huntington is editor of American Handgunner magazine and a retired
police officer who serves on the POLICE advisory board.