It's been awhile since I took a walk down memory lane. I figured that I'd combine it with a bit of a rant. Sort of killing two birds with one post: I get to spout off on a subject that interests me while venting a bit of spleen.
Most people first learn how to shoot from a family member or trusted friend. Many women have told me that they first started because their husbands or boyfriends were involved in the sport and they wanted to participate (much to the chagrin of the aforementioned boyfriend). Many years ago I decided to learn because it became apparent to me that the only person responsible for my safety was myself, and I wanted to be prepared if the worst happened.
Since I didn't know anyone who was involved in the shooting sports I started to hang out at some local ranges, asking the guys there what the best choice was for home defense. Almost to a man they suggested this type of gun, a Colt 1911 chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Not a shotgun, not a rifle, but a handgun. Most of them even went so far as to suggest that not only was it the best choice, but that a man armed with anything other than a 1911 was dooomed to defeat.
Strong stuff delivered with conviction. The only dissenting voice was from a fellow I met at the range who hunted black bears armed only with a .357 magnum revolver. It seems that the bears he hunted were typically 200 to 300 pounds, right around what a large man would weigh. He stated that the heavier magnum loads, such as the .44 magnum and the .454 Casull, would overpenetrate and punch straight through the bear without doing enough damage. The .357 was a perfect blend of flat trajectory for long shots along with repectable power for the kill and he couldn't see any reason why it shouldn't be the same for a man as it was for a bear. We parted company with him saying that anyone who tried to hunt bear with a .45 was a fool that wanted to get killed.
This made senses to me, especially after I took a look at the ballistics tables. But not only was this just one dissenting voice in the crowd he was obviously crazy for hunting bears armed only with a handgun!
So I bought a Colt Government Model chambered for the .45 ACP. It was more expensive than many other guns and I was hardly rich, but I just kept thinking about how anyone armed with a lesser gun was helpless when faced with a 1911. The first hint that something was wrong came when the guy behind the counter said that I had to fire 500 rounds through the gun "to smooth out the action". Otherwise the gun could jam when I needed it most. I thought at the time that he was just trying to increase his profits by getting me to buy a bunch of ammo. After all, it was a brand new gun right out of the box! The factory wouldn't have shipped the product if it still needed some work.
I went to the range to practice and related what the clerk at the gun store had said. To my surprise everybody agreed with him! They couldn't tell me why such a "quality product" needed to be smoothed out by the customer, they just asserted that it needed to be done. So I bought 10 boxes of standard ball ammunition and started to methodically burn through them.
It was on the last box when it happened, round number 460 or so. I fired at the target and saw something big fly down range. I froze, wondering what the heck happened. When I glanced at the gun I saw that the slide was locked back even though there was still some ammo left in the magazine. It seems that the front of the slide had broken off. What I had seen fly away from me was the front of the slide with the front sight, the barrel bushing, the recoil spring and the recoil spring guide.
Now I knew why everyone suggested that I fire 500 rounds through the gun before trusting it with my life. Since it had just been purchased that day (and I didn't even have time to mail the warranty card) it was still under warranty. Colt fixed it in jig time and got it back to me, no questions asked. Now wary I bought another 500 rounds of ball ammo and went to the range to fire them off. The gun worked flawlessly, no jams, stovepipes or misfeeds. Hey, things were finally looking up! I decided to shoot a box of hollowpoint defensive ammo before going home.
Except that it wouldn't feed. Heck, I had trouble even getting the first round in the chamber! Then it would jam with every shot, always with a misfeed off of the magazine. The other guys at the range noticed my difficulty and said that I couldn't shoot hollowpoints through a standard 1911. The gun had already cost more than other .45's, but now I'd have to pay several hundred dollars more and send it off to a custom gunsmith before it would work properly. With all of the money I'd have to shell out I figured that I could buy three of these for the cost of one of these.
That pretty much ended my experience with the "ultimate combat tool". I traded it in for a used S&W 439 and I never looked back. The guys at the range that had been so enthusiastic when I bought the Government Model, my new buddies, treated me like a slack jawed idiot when I showed up with the 9mm. I started to go to another range and never looked back from that decision, either.
Through the years I've owned many different types of handguns chambered for many different calibers. Except for the 1911 I've never had anyone suggest that I have to shoot 500 rounds through the gun to "smooth out the action". None of my other guns ever had any problems with hollow point ammunition. Never has any other gun I've ever owned suffered a catastrophic failure before the 500th round was fired (actually I've never had any other catastrophic failures, but then again I've never owned another Colt either).
When I started to teach basic firearm skills about ten years ago I'd always take care to avoid mentioning the 1911. I'd bring my students to a gun shop after the course so they could look at all of the choices and make a decision as to which handgun they wanted to buy. My policy is that the right gun for anyone is the one they feel most comfortable with, so I'm always careful to say nothing but good things about any type of gun the student shows an interest in. So far no one has expressed an interest in owning a 1911.