Les Baer Goes High-Cap!

Les Baer Goes High-Cap!

Offering 19 rounds of .40-caliber firepower, the new high-capacity H.C. 40 is great for duty, personal defense, and competition.

The new high-capacity 1911-style H.C. 40 pistol from Les Baer Custom (LBC) was bound to happen. With the company already offering more than three dozen different versions of the single-stack 1911 and seven caliber options, it was the logical direction to take. But there are a few twists with this new model.


Whereas the frames of all LBC single-stack guns are precision-machined on CNC equipment at the firm's new facility in LeClaire, Iowa, the frame of the high-capacity gun is purchased from the Vermont firm of Caspian Arms. The frame is actually cast by the lost-wax process at Ruger's Pine Tree division and then shipped to Caspian, where it undergoes over 30 machining operations before it is ready to be forwarded on to LBC for use in building a gun.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Caspian Arms, I will mention that the company has long been manufacturing close-tolerance components for 1911-style pistols, and it introduced its high-capacity frame in 1991. Two years later, top-ranked IPSC competitors Matt McLaren and Kay Clark used custom guns in .38 Super built on the new frame to win the men's and women's divisions of the national championships and the World Shoot.


Fast-forwarding to September 2008, U.S. Army team member Travis Tomasie won the USPSA Limited championship match with a .40-caliber gun built on the Caspian frame. I mention all of this to make this point: When deciding on a frame for his new high-capacity 1911 pistol, Baer did a great job of choosing one with a proven track record. A frame capable of withstanding the punishment dished out by competitors who think nothing of shooting 50,000 rounds and more per year is sure to last the average shooter several lifetimes.


Many years ago, Caspian offered an aluminum version, and it was quite a bit lighter than the steel frame of a single-stack gun, but now it is available only in steel. This puts the empty weight of the H.C. 40 at 42.5 ounces, which is about the same as for a single-stack 1911 loaded with eight cartridges.

Baer Quality Through & Through
As I write this, the high-cap pistol is available only in .40 S&W. That cartridge is commonly loaded to considerably higher chamber pressures than the .45 ACP for which the 1911 pistol was originally designed, so the barrel on the new high-capacity pistol from LBC has a fully supported chamber.

You may ask, "What is a fully supported chamber?" In the original 1911 design, the feedramp is machined into the frame, and this along with a bevel at the mouth of the chamber leaves a section of a chambered cartridge from its head to just beyond the extractor groove of its case unsupported by the barrel. When a cartridge blows due to a weak case or from excessive chamber pressure, the rupture usually takes place at that point. When later designing his Hi-Power pistol, John Browning solved that problem by making the feedramp integral with the breech end of the barrel, resulting in near total support of a chambered cartridge.

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The H.C. 40's barrel (right) features an integral feed- ramp as well as a fully supported chamber, which provides more strength for the high-pressure .40 S&W cartridge. Standard 1911 barrels generally do not have supported chambers (left).

I am not sure who was first to install a barrel with that type of chamber in the 1911 pistol, but I do know that it quickly became a popular modification among gunsmiths soon after Rob Leatham started winning IPSC matches with the .38 Super in 1984. In their efforts to load that cartridge with light bullets to the power factor required for competition, some competitors blew cases like popcorn at a Saturday matinee until they started using barrels with full-support chambers. While not actually necessary as long as good cases are used in handloads and recommended chamber pressures are not exceeded, the full-support chamber does offer an extra margin of safety regardless of the load.

The 5-inch barrel of the H.C. 40 is made of 4350 chrome-moly steel. During one of our conversations, Baer mentioned that extensive testing had convinced him that while stainless-steel rifle barrels are as accurate as those made of chrome-moly, the same does not hold true for the 1911 pistol when it is built to a close-tolerance fit between barrel, slide, and frame. He went on to add that one type of barrel may shoot as accurately as the other in an off-the-shelf, mass-produced 1911 with loose-fitting parts, but when everything fits together with neither slop nor looseness, the chrome-moly barrel will almost always be more accurate. Barrel forgings are bored, rifled, and chambered by Kart but are finish-machined and hand-fitted at the LBC shop.

I own 1911 pistols built on several other high-capacity frames, and when I shot the H.C. 40, it quickly became obvious that its grip is shaped differently. It is thinner than the grips of my STI and ParaUSA frames, and this gives it an edge for concealed carry. But since the grip of the H.C. 40 measures a bit more from back to front, it ends up with a circumference of 5⅝ inches, which is exactly the same as for the STI and Para frames.

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Les Baer Custom H.C. 40:

Model:H.C. 40
Purpose: Personal defense, competition shooting
Manufacturer: Les Baer Custom, Inc.
1804 Iowa Dr.
LeClaire, IA 52753
563.289.2126
Action Type: Recoil-operated, single-action autoloader
Magazine type/ capacity: Staggered box/18 rounds
Frame/slide material:Blued steel
Caliber: .40 S&W
Barrel length:5 in.
Rifling: six grooves, 1:16 RH twist
Sights:Fully adjustable rear; blade front
Metal finish: Blued
Safties: Ambidextrous thumb safety, positive grip safety
Trigger Type: Lightweight target
Pull Wieght: 4 lbs. 4 oz. (as tested)
Grip material: Checkered walnut
Overall length: 8.69 in.
Height: 5.7 in.
Width: 1.52 in.
Weight, empty: 42.5 oz.
Accessories: Die-cut grip tape (optional), owners manual
MSRP: $2960

The H.C. 40 comes with checkered wood panels, and while they look nice, they do increase the width of the grip by a noticeable amount. I like them for general shooting, but to keep the gun trim for either concealed carry or competitive shooting, I would replace them with the die-cut panels of grip tape offered by LBC. The H.C. 40 comes with walnut grip panels, and the tape is included at no additional cost if requested in the original order.

The gun I shot wore no checkering on its frontstrap or mainspring housing, but checkering is available at extra cost. The mouth of the magazine well is flared during the casting process, making insertion of a magazine quick, smooth, and snag-free when a reload has to be made under pressure.

Up top, the H.C. 40 is like any other 1911 pistol built by LBC. Sights consist of a 0.125-inch blade in the front and LBC's fully adjustable, low-mount sight at the rear. The rear sight is melted into the slide, and the edges of its leaf are rounded to prevent snagging on clothing during the draw. The 24 LPI grasping grooves machined fore and aft into the slide are coarse enough for a sure grip when retracting it but fine enough to minimize wear on a leather holster. A lowered and flared ejection port along with an extended ejector assure speedy and positive exit of fired cases from the gun.

The frame has a flared magazine well for smooth insertion of a loaded magazine.

The ambidextrous thumb safety of the H.C. 40 is basically a copy of the old Swenson design, the very best available, in my book. The high-position grip popularized by action-pistol competitors has its advantages, but it can sometimes prevent the grip safety from being depressed to disengagement, something that cannot be tolerated in a pistol designed for personal defense. This is not likely to happen with the H.C. 40 due to a raised section on the surface of its grip safety.

My sample's trigger pulled 4.25 pounds with no detectable variation in weight and no overtravel, and while I could feel a slight amount of creep when shooting off sandbags, it will surely smooth out and disappear once the gun has digested a few hundred more rounds.

The barrel is a standard-weight, bushing-type. The level of accuracy any 1911 pistol is capable of is greatly dependant on a number of things, but a top-quality barrel with a close fit between slide, barrel, and frame are the most important. Everything about the H.C. 40 fits as tight as a tick. Push down on the barrel hood with all your might, and it won't budge. Grasp the slide and try moving it either sideways or up and down, and you will feel zero movement. Retract the slide to full stop and try the same thing, and you will be amazed at the total absence of movement between it and the frame.

The magazine holds 18 rounds of .40 S&W and is not interchangeable with any other high-capacity 1911 pistol. Coming soon are the H.C. 38 and H.C. 45 in .38 Super and .45 ACP with magazine capacities of 19 and 12 respectively. The magazine-release button is the extended type, but reaching it with my thumb requires a slight shift in grip--same as I must do when shooting other high-capacity 1911s.

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Les Baer Custom H.C. 40 Accuracy

BULLETPOWDERVELOCITY100-YARD
ACCURACY
(Type)(grs.)(fps)(Inches)
.40 Smith & Wesson
Sierra 135-gr. JHPUniversal7.513181.39
Bull-X 175-gr. SWCUniveral5.3 10221.51
Sierra 180-gr. JHPPower Pistol6.5 972 1.26
Federal 135-gr. Hydra-Shok Fcatory load11642.02
CorBon 150-gr. JHPFactory load12771.43
Federal 155-gr. Hydra-ShokFactory load11482.18
Magtech 155-gr. Hydra-ShokFactory load12391.49
Black Hills 180-gr. FMJFactory load10161.84
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 25 yards. Velocity is the average of 25 rounds measured 12 feet from the gun's muzzle. Federal cases and CCI 500 primers were used for all handloads. Powder charges are maximum and should be reduced by 10 percent for starting loads.

Other key features include fully adjustable rear and plain blade front sights, lightweight hammer, humped grip safety, ambidextrous thumb safety,

and serrated slide.

Doesn't Miss A Beat
Action-pistol competition is quite popular at my gun club, and an area containing barricades and various other props built for use in matches is reserved exclusively for practice. So I set up a rather lengthy stage, hung a PACT timer on my belt, and burned up 500 rounds of ammo while shooting through the course a number of times with the H.C. 40. I had not shot a speed course in several years, so at first, I felt a bit slow and clumsy. After a couple of runs, it all suddenly came back to me. Each time I breezed through, my time improved, with most of my shots doing a good job of seeking out the "A" zones of IPSC targets. I shot the pistol from various positions and even threw in some weak-hand-only shooting for good measure, and despite being fed ammo with various styles and weights of bullets, the H.C. 40 ran smoothly without missing a beat.

Like all 1911 pistols built by Les Baer Custom, the H.C. 40 is a marvel of quality, reliability, durability, and accuracy. While its fully loaded weight makes it a bit much for concealed carry, that same characteristic makes it more comfortable to shoot than a lighter gun, and we all know that the more comfortable a handgun is to shoot, the easier it is for many of us to shoot it accurately.

Opinions will differ on where the H.C. 40 fits in the overall shooting scheme of things, but when thinking of personal-defense options, I see it as an excellent choice where firepower could be a plus and size and weight are not issues. My favorite car gun is a high-capacity 1911 in .45 ACP, and the H.C. 40 would be a clear winner in that role. And while my interest in USPSA competition has waned over the last decade, this new 1911 from Les Baer Custom is so much fun to shoot it might just be what fuels the competitive fire still smoldering inside me into full blaze.

The high-capacity, super-accurate H.C. 40 shines in action pistol competition, and it also is a great home-defense or car gun.

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