As I walked toward the target I had just fired I began mumbling to myself, “There is no way I could have missed it.” As I got closer, there was no doubt about it. Despite having fired five rounds, there were only three holes in the target and none anywhere else, not even on the cardboard backing. When I knelt down and peered at the target it became obvious that one hole was larger and more ragged than the others, and then it dawned on me–I had put three bullets into the same hole!
I have been an enthusiastic (note that I said “enthusiastic” not “skillful”) action pistol shooter for almost three decades. In fact, when I first became involved in the sport it had the politically incorrect name of “combat shooting,” a moniker that is frowned upon today outside of military and police training. In those simpler days, you showed up at the club with a pistol, four or five spare magazines, and a holster that you hoped the Range Officer would declare “safe.”
Except for a few Hi-Power shooters, the majority of us used a stock 1911 pistol with seven-round magazines, fixed sights, and wooden grips, and we fired hardball ammo or lead SWC handloads. At the time, the most radical modifications likely to be encountered were trigger jobs, although a few pistols sported adjustable sights. Stages of fire tended to have low round counts and were tactically simpler than today’s,although I believe they did require more athletic ability.
Clark 2011 Combat Pistol Semiautomatic Pistol
|Manufacturer:||Clark Custom Guns
|Model:||2011 Custom Combat Pistol|
|Barrel Length:||5 inches|
|Overall Length:||8.6 inches|
|Weight, empty||39 ounces|
|Safety:||STI ambidextrous thumb safeties; STI palmswell beavertail grip safety|
|Sights:||Bo_mar fully adjustable rear; Sawson Precision fiber-optic front|
|Stocks:||Integral polymer frame|
|Magazine Capacity:||17 rounds|
|Finish:||Blued steel, painted grip frame|
Those halcyon days were soon disrupted by the so-called “technology race” when it seemed that someone was always showing up with a new modification or gadget attached to their pistol that would make it shoot faster and more accurately while producing less recoil. Custom gunsmiths were “improving” the 1911 so fast that you expected to show up for a match and find yourself shooting an “obsolete” pistol! Adjustable sights, ergonomic grips, frame checkering, beavertail grip and extended thumb safeties were soon followed by extended magazine releases, compensators, ported barrels, special springs, and weighted recoil spring guide rods.
One of the biggest changes was when the .38 Super cartridge displaced the .45 ACP, and before you knew it everyone who was anyone had some type of optical sight on their pistol. Finally, we had the emergence of the “fat gun” 1911s with wide grip frames holding double-stack magazines containing in excess of 20 rounds of ammunition. What would be next? Captain Kirk and his phaser?
In an attempt to get things in some type of order, the governing organization of action pistol shooting, the United States Practical Pistol Association (USPSA), established separate divisions for different types of pistols. Those shooting tricked-out, compensated, optical-sighted “race guns” competed in Open Division while those of us who preferred pistols with iron sights and plain barrels shot in Limited Division. Of course, this in no way slowed down the technology race as Limited shooters and gunsmiths now pushed the limits trying to gain a competitive advantage.
Today, Limited Division is dominated by high-capacity 1911 pistols chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge and featuring every “bell and whistle” that the shooter’s bank account, and the USPSA rulebook, will permit.
I just got my hands on what just might be the ultimate example of the modern Limited Division pistol.
The Clark 2011 Custom Combat Pistol
Founded in 1950
by James E. Clark Sr., Clark Custom Guns quickly became known as one of the nation’s premier custom gun builders. Today, under the leadership of Jim Clark Jr., the company continues to provide competitive shooters, police, and military personnel with some of the finest 1911-type pistols, AR-type rifles, and other custom guns to come down the pike.
As the “Custom” in the company’s name indicates, Clark Custom Guns will build a pistol using whatever parts the customer specifies. The 2011 Custom Combat pistol I obtained for this report combines an STI 2011 5.0 frame/slide kit and components manufactured by Clark Custom Guns, STI, and other aftermarket sources to produce a pistol intended to run with the big guns in USPSA’s Limited Division.
STI’s modular frame consists of upper and lower assemblies. The 5.0 upper is made from 4140 Maxxell Alloy stainless steel and has the rails and a full-length dustcover. It is precut for a high-ride beavertail grip safety. The lower grip
assembly is made from black, glass-filled nylon polymer with metal panels molded into it so as to allow metal-to-metal contact with the upper frame. The use of a polymer grip frame produces narrow dimensions that allow the use of double-column magazines while keeping the width of the grip narrow enough so that even persons with smaller hands have no trouble using it.
|SHOOTING THE .40 S&W CLARK 2011 COMBAT PISTOL|
|BULLET||(TYPE)||(GRS.)||VELOCITY (fps)||25-YARD ACCURACY (inches)|
|Laser-Cast 180-gr. TC||W231||4.6||947||2.13|
|Hornady 180-gr. XTP||Titegroup||4.5||931||2.00|
|Winchester 140-gr. SuperClean NT||FACTORY LOAD||1110||2.63|
|Corbon 160-gr. Performance Match||FACTORY LOAD||874||1.75|
|Remington 165-gr. Golden Saber||FACTORY LOAD||1065||2.50|
|Speer Lawman 180-gr. TMJ||FACTORY LOAD||1054||2.33|
|NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three five-shot groups fired from a benchrest at 25 yards. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun’s muzzle.|
The slide is 4140 carbon steel and features front and rear grasping grooves that are very practical when a shooter must clear jams or charge his pistol under the pressures of competition–and they’re also very attractive. The ejection port has been lowered and flared to ensure reliable ejection of spent cases. Before the kit leaves STI, the frame and slide are hand-fitted to ensure a tight yet smooth fit, which is one of the basics in achieving the optimum in accuracy.
Once Jim Clark’s gunsmiths get their hands on the STI kit, things really get radical. The most unique modification is the machining of the slide to accept a Schuemann Non-Ported Hybrid barrel. This style of barrel provides additional recoil-dampening weight up front, and it allows the Dawson Precision fiber-optic front sight to be mounted in a dovetail cut on the barrel itself.
This means that the front sight does not move with the slide and thus is not subjected to the strain of recoil forces that could move it out of zero or cause damage to the fiber-optic rod. In addition, the ramped Schuemann barrel is of a tapered design, which does away with the necessity for a barrel bushing while ensuring consistent barrel-slide alignment, which further increases the gun’s accuracy potential.
The rear of the slide is machined to accept a Bo-Mar rear sight, the granddaddy of all fully adjustable pistol rear sights on the market today and, in my humble opinion, the best.
The full-length dustcover of the upper frame assembly provides additional recoil-dampening weight, and to my way of thinking it looks really cool! At the rear of the frame are an STI palmswell beavertail grip safety, ambidextrous thumb safety levers, and a lightweight Clark Combat hammer that helps reduce locktime. The lower frame/grip assembly features further radical modification.
To wit, an APS Grip Modification. First the checkering on the grip frame is ground off and replaced with a textured surface to provide enhanced recoil control even with perspiring or oily hands. Material is removed under the trigger guard to permit a high grip while the trigger guard itself is reshaped and textured to provide a secure purchase by those who favor the “finger around the guard” grip. The APS modification includes a paint job. The customer can request almost any color, but my test pistol came
with a very attractive white/silver/black streak pattern that really sets it apart from the herd.
The chore of magazine reloading is speeded up thanks to an EGW Extended Paddle magazine release and an STI aluminum magazine well funnel. The latter accessory provides a gaping opening that should ensure smooth reloads for even the most uncoordinated among us, to say nothing of helping secure the pistol in the shooter’s hand. Each pistol comes with one tuned and tested magazine fitted with an extension that increases capacity to a most reassuring 17 rounds. This is very useful because in USPSA shooting you can never have too much ammo!
Internally, the pistol features all polished and fitted Clark Custom innards to provide a crisp, 2.5- to 3-pound trigger pull. An STI narrow, skeletonized trigger features an overtravel stop so the shooter can adjust it to his preference. And Clark’s Big Bushing Reverse Plug recoil spring system with a two-piece spring guide rod ensures smooth functioning and consistent lockup.
More Than A Pretty Face
So much for my surface examination. When I got to the range I found out just how special the Clark pistol really is. The pistol was test-fired for accuracy from a rest at 25 yards with factory ammunition and handloads. I selected .40 S&W factory loads from Winchester, Remington, CorBon, and Speer, and I also included two handloads that I use for shooting USPSA and steel matches.
As can be seen in the accompanying chart, accuracy was above reproach with the pistol showing a distinct preference for slower moving projectiles. CorBon’s rather sedate Performance Match ammo produced a nicely centered, 1.5-inch group, but the group I mentioned at the beginning of this report was even more impressive. It measured 1.75 inches but had three .40-caliber bullets in one ragged hole that measured only 0.55 inch in diameter!
The only fly in the ointment occurred when I experienced a number of failures to chamber with the Speer Lawman ammo. The pistol did not seem to care for jacketed flatpoint bullets, but it ran perfectly with my Laser-Cast lead handloads and the CorBon match ammo that used the same style bullet.
Further experimentation with other brands of factory ammo and handloads showed that the pistol ran great with ammunition that had roundnose or JHP projectiles. When using flatpoint bullets, however, I had feeding problems if their overall length (OAL) exceeded 1.130 inches; the Lawman ammo had an OAL of 1.138 inches.
I then set up a number of USPSA targets at distances ranging from 5 to 25 yards, belted on my holster, and ran the Clark 2011 Combat Pistol through a series of offhand drills, firing the pistol with free-style (two-handed), one-handed, and weak-handed grips. Thanks to the textured, reshaped grip and the concentration of weight in the forward end of the pistol recoil control was above average, and fast, accurate follow-up shots could be performed with aplomb. The Bo-Mar/Dawson sights proved a perfect combination and allowed fast target acquisition, transitioning, and shot placement.
With my self-confidence suitably inflated, the Clark pistol and I partnered up over the next few weeks to compete in a number of local USPSA matches, and I can report that the pistol performed in a most impressive manner. Accuracy and handling under the pressure of the clock was most pleasing.
In fact, the very first time I used the Clark 2011 pistol in competition I shot all five stages of the match completely clean. That’s right, I did not have a single Mike (miss) or no-shoot (hostage), and I only expended five extra rounds in a match that required 140 rounds. And, while my natural sense of modesty makes me loath to admit it, I finished in third place in my division.
I must report that after learning of its sensitivity to the OAL of the ammunition, I did not experience a single failure to feed, fire, or eject with the many hundreds of rounds I expended in competition. And while I’m not going to claim that the Clark 2011 Combat Pistol has enabled me to awe the competition and move up a class in Limited Division, there are certain nonperks unrelated to shooting to having one.
For the first time in my shooting career I have used a pistol that has every feature desired by serious Limited Division competitors. And I must confess that strutting around at matches with such a fancy pistol in my holster resulted in envious stares being directed at me by my fellow shooters, which does wonders for my rather fragile ego. Ahem.
NOTE: All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.