Accurizing the Model 1911
November 30, 2016
Regular readers of Shooting Times know that I often get questions from fellow readers. One that I frequently receive has to do with how to improve a Model 1911's accuracy.
Gunsmiths since World War II have done amazing things with the Model 1911, producing extremely accurate and reliable handguns for many different uses, but what they do to a pistol intended for Bullseye competition is a combination of science and art.
The secret to better accuracy and superior performance is really not all that much of a secret. It's just plain old-fashioned attention to detail, even what you might think is the smallest and least significant detail. In addition, top-drawer accuracy requires the use of superior components.
Although today's factory-produced 1911s are tighter and better made than ever before, primarily due to advances in the manufacturing processes, there still can be room for improving 'em.
The heart of any firearm is the barrel, and that's a good place to begin. The standard factory gun normally has a pretty good barrel. It's sure better than the typical barrel used on most guns years ago, but it's usually not as good as a premium barrel used by a good custom gunmaker.
Many custom pistolsmiths set up their Bullseye 1911s with ramped barrels. These are barrels made with an integral feedramp, and this requires extra work in cutting the frame for the ramp as well as a good bit of special hand fitting.
The factory guns are made with traditional nonramped barrels with the feedramp built into the frame. That works, but it will never feed as well or as reliably with wadcutter or hollowpoint ammo.
Custom pistolsmiths also spend many hours hand fitting the barrel to the frame and slide. They don't depend just on the close tolerances of the individual parts. This, more than anything else, makes the difference in the accuracy of the handgun.
Keep in mind almost all custom pistolsmiths will guarantee a high degree of accuracy with their handguns. They'll normally specify how big a group the gun will shoot at 25 and 50 yards, and it'll be darn small! How small? About 2.5 inches or less at 50 yards.
The trigger is another good example of the differences you'll see between custom and standard-production guns. The trigger on a custom gun will not only be of higher quality, but it'll also generally have a greater degree of adjustment.
For example, it's pretty much standard on a custom Bullseye 1911 for the trigger to be easily adjustable for overtravel. Of course, the trigger will be hand fitted to eliminate even the slightest degree of unnecessary movement.
You'll find similar situations when you look at the internal components. An extractor looks deceptively simple. It's just a rod with a hook on the end of it designed to jerk the fired case out of the chamber, right? Well, there's a lot more to it than that.
The extractor on a custom 1911 will be set up so that there's minimal distance between the inside of the extractor hook and the breechface of the slide. This helps to ensure consistent and reliable extraction and proper positioning of the cartridge as it's stripped from the magazine and fed into the chamber.
On a custom Bullseye gun the gunsmith is concerned not just with reliable functioning but with every detail of how that part affects the loaded, as well as the fired, cartridge.
As with the barrel and other parts, a custom gunmaker will tend to use a higher quality extractor. It'll be made from better materials and to tighter tolerances. And most importantly, it'll be hand fitted in the slide and adjusted to exert a specific amount of tension on the cartridge rim.
I mentioned the slide breechface relative to the extractor. Part of the fitting of the slide and barrel entails a lot of detail work on the slide. The breechface on a custom gun will be polished to give it a super-smooth surface. Some custom gunsmiths will even give the breechface a mirror polish.
It isn't just for looks. As the loaded round is stripped from the magazine and the rim slips under the extractor, the base of the cartridge case must slide up the breechface as the round is chambered. A highly polished breechface makes this much easier and more reliable.
That's just one more feature of a custom gun. The typical factory gun seldom has any work done on the breechface. It's used pretty much just as it comes off the production machine.
It's basically the same story with all the other parts. The custom Bullseye Model 1911 will generally have much higher quality parts made of better materials and to tighter tolerances.
The custom gunsmith then carefully hand fits those parts to the frame and the slide. The result, of course, is a pistol capable of winning matches.