Ed Brown 1911 Review

Ed Brown has been building 1911s for many years now. What Ed and his crew make are not wild, space-age guns, not bling-dripping exercises in showy excess, but gems of performance and detail. Two on hand are cases in point.

The first is a Special Forces Carry II, which features a bobtail treatment of the frame and a 41/4-inch barrel. Now, on Ed Brown 1911s, you can have your choice (depending on the model and/or your powers of persuasion) of nonslip grip treatment. You can have sharp checkering of 25 lpi. You can have Snakeskin (overlapping scales) or Chainlink (staggered rows of scalloped and elongated recesses). Then there is what came on this Special Forces Carry II, which at first glance I called "golf ball," except it isn't really. Golf balls have dimples on their surface to aid flight, a process that takes advantage of a turbulent boundary layer, decreasing drag.

Unlike the dimples on a golf ball, which are spaced and do not overlap, the pattern Ed cuts borders one on another, creating sharp-edged boundaries between the dimples. This makes for a very nonslip grip without the hand-threshing effect of sharp checkering. It's eye-catching and very effective. Ed calls it Chainlink II.

Carryability or Class?

The bobtail is a rounded butt of the frame, which requires relocation of the mainspring-housing retention pin, then rounding the frame. It means the checkering pattern can only come down just so far on the mainspring housing, but that's not a problem, as it is where it can contact your hand. The rest is smooth, allowing your coat, jacket, shirt or whatever else to slide off and not print when you're carrying.

To further aid concealment, the barrel and slide are trimmed back, with the barrel being 41/4 inches long and the slide to match, so when you're carrying, the Special Forces Carry II won't pivot off your hip and gouge your kidney.

It is an all-steel pistol, so it will require a good holster (actually, anything you carry will require a good holster), and given its panache, something leather and fancy would be appropriate. The Special Forces II came clad in Ed Brown's Gen III coating, a durable, epoxy-based finish. While it would stand up well to a Kydex holster, that would come perilously close to abuse, a near-heinous act.

When I was first getting into firearms retail and gunsmithing, skip-line checkering was still the norm, except on the stocks of the premium models of rifles and shotguns. Worse yet, rifle manufacturers would used pressed skip-line checkering, and it didn't take long for me to become a little bit queasy when seeing a rifle so adorned. Thank goodness they learned how to cut checkering in stocks in an economical manner, and we stopped seeing dead trees being abused in such a way.

Well, the design is back, and I have to say it looks a lot better in steel than it ever did in wood. Pretty darned good, as a matter of fact.

The Ed Brown Executive Target features a fully adjustable rear sight. The top of the slide is finely grooved to cut glare when aiming, and the frontstrap and mainspring housing have been machined with skip-line checkering. When I first saw it, I had a momentary out-of-body experience. I was suddenly back in the gun shop called The Gun Room, and I was looking at a post-'64 Winchester, with its multiple accountant-induced warts and faults. And then I was back in front of the Ed Brown display, looking at a perfectly fitted 1911.

Unlike the Special Forces II, the Executive Target is your full-size 1911, with five-inch barrel and straight, full-length mainspring housing. Like the SFII, it is all-steel.

If a 1911 leaves the Ed Brown shop, it has the full suite of Ed Brown parts, parts that are used by many custom gunsmiths and even used (or copied by) other 1911 manufacturers. They have the full set of Ed Brown fire-control parts — hammer, sear, trigger, thumb safety — so I expected nothing less than very nice trigger pulls. There I was not disappointed. They were both clean and crisp. Curiously, the Special Forces, being something more likely to be carried, had one that was a bit lighter.

They both use Ed Brown frames and slides fitted to a no-play, but not binding fit. And inside they each have an Ed Brown barrel, matched to an Ed Brown bushing and fitted by gunsmiths who have to answer to Ed and his son Travis, who know 1911s inside and out.

On the back of each of the frames is an Ed Brown grip safety. When Ed designed this back in the mid-1980s, we were still working out the details of just how high and how hard you could get your grip onto a 1911 frame. Once his came out, there was no question anymore. Well, no question in my mind, as Ed's grip safety really fits my hand. Ed also designed his thumb safety so that it "breaks" in its paddle. The change in angle fits my thumb perfectly. Some do not find the design as perfect as I do. Oh well. You'll still find the design appealing and the proportions comfortable.

The end result is a frame that fits my hand like a glove.

I do not find the recoil of a 1911 in .45 ACP to be oppressive. In an Ed Brown-built pistol, I don't even experience the occasional squirming in my grip, movement I get sometimes with other grip safety/thumb safety combos. If there is one thing I'd change on an Ed Brown-built pistol, it would be the grips. But I am an outlier here, preferring a flatter set of panels than most shooters do. And grips are easy to change.

At the range, the testing was extremely pleasant, in part because it was so familiar as to risk veering into boredom. I mean, when a pistol never fails to function, you come to take that for granted. And when everything you aim at you hit, provided you do your part, the mystery of "Can I hit that?" is replaced by "How many times can I hit that?"

Sitting at the bench, shooting the 100-yard gongs, I gave up counting. Three magazines straight with the Executive Target, and I had put every shot onto the one-foot plate. And me with no longer range within driving distance, at least not one that will let me shoot a handgun on it.

A good fit and being accustomed to the recoil of .45 ACP doesn't mean I don't notice the effects. In writing this, I didn't recall ever seeing anything but a .45 from Ed and Travis. So I asked. They do occasional runs of other calibers, but not many — once a year — and if you miss a run, you have to wait. (Hmm, I see a project forming.) Anyway, after a couple of days of chrono work, accuracy testing and just having fun, I noticed that my hands were a bit sore. A quick look back at the chrono data told me why. These were a couple of fast barrels, and I was hurling 230s at pin-load speeds. And one load, the Hornady Critical Duty, was treading hard on the heels of the .41 and .44 Magnum Police loads, delivering a 225 power factor.

If I had spent the time using relatively soft-shooting competition loads, I would not have noticed that I'd blasted my way through a couple of gallons of ammo. And with no malfunctions.

What Do You Get?

In the beginning I referred to these two pistols as gems. Which means they are expensive. Well, relatively. Actually, no, they aren't. An Executive Target starts at $2,895 and goes up a modest amount as you add options. The Special Forces Carry II starts at $2,745. I realize that I am old and therefore remember things that are now to be found only in history books and on rarely visited web pages. But, if I calculate backward, accounting for inflation, and arrive at that same time I was gawking at that über-ugly Winchester in The Gun Room, $2,800 2013 dollars isn't that much. Back then, it was $800, and I can tell you sadly that my first custom 1911 cost me more than that and was not nearly so well fitted. (Sorry, Frank, but it's the truth.)

For the money, you get a lot. You get premium-quality parts, assembled by experienced gunsmiths and fitted to a level that would have had us envious of the work back in those gloomy Carter years. You get a pistol that will reliably consume more ammo than you can afford and more than you could afford even if you reloaded it all. And even if, some several hundred thousand rounds later, it did show some signs of wear, Travis and the crew would be able to rebuild it back to as-new. Again, do the math. Even if you can somehow reload .45 ACP for only $250 a thousand, by the time you have fired 100,000 rounds (and that isn't even close to what a lot of us have done), you've spent $25K just on ammo. By this factor, it'd be almost unmanly to complain about a pistol (especially one so meticulously built) that costs $2,800.

Oh, and the record for most rounds through a single pistol? I know of one shooter who has more than 300,000 rounds through his 1911. You could buy a house for the cost of that ammo.

Now the question I have been avoiding all this time: Which one? The Special Forces Carry II would make a very nice and easy-to-pack carry gun. Albeit a bit on the heavy side for a Commander-size 1911, it would be compact, and it would hide under a suit without a problem. But a bit of weight to carry means less felt recoil with hot, defensive ammo.

The Executive Target just oozes class. The full size, the adjustable sights, the tackdriving accuracy, the checkering. I have to say, the mental scars of skip-line checkering are starting to fade, and the checkering on the Executive Target is really starting to grow on me. I started carrying by packing a full-size Government Model, and I learned that it is best done (at least for me) in moderation. But as a carry gun, it would be worth the bulk for the accuracy, ease of shooting and elegance.

Neither has bling, at least not in the modern, vulgar sense. But both are worth the wait, the cost and the weight.

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