A Pair To Draw To

The Sheriff says when selecting a defensive pistol, you must fit the gun to your own abilities and needs. He chose Colt Commanders as the basis for his customized carry guns because he was proficient in drawing and shooting them.

A good bit of my law-enforcement career was spent in rural ranching communities where a peace officer had to wear several hats. There were no CSI teams that a fellow could call in when physical evidence needed to be collected, and there was no tactical team available to come in and take over when the bullets went to flying. Often your only backup was 40 miles away at home, in bed asleep, so he could work a later shift. Nope, a rural officer had to be able to take care of all of that alone.

I began to see the need to keep more than one pistol handy. There were times, such as manhunts and felony apprehensions, that packing an extra pistol, with its added firepower, just made a lot of sense. Someone has referred to the wearing of two pistols as the "New York Reload." Grabbing an extra pistol is generally faster than reaching for spare ammo.

Another reason a matched pair of pistols made sense to me was the fact that people tend to focus on a threat. When the threat they focus on is your handgun and they fire their own gun instinctively, their bullet will often impact your pistol, taking it out of the fight. Police instructors across the country have documented this phenomenon, and it is not all that uncommon an occurrence. Some years back, an FBI team encountered a pair of bank robbers in the Miami, Florida, area and one agent's service pistol was put out of commission by a bullet from the bank robbers.

In my case, I had long ago settled on the 1911 .45 auto pistol as my personal choice for a law-enforcement handgun. Now, I freely admit that there are quite a number of handguns that will make good law-enforcement guns, and they aren't all autoloaders. When department policy allows, the officer ought to do some shooting with the various models to find out what works best for him.

Early on I carried a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum DA revolver. It was, and is, a great handgun. It's not too heavy for long hours of carry, and I found that I could get mine into action pretty quickly. It's also very accurate. My problem with the Model 19, and all medium-frame DA revolvers, is that I have a hard time managing them with full-power magnum ammo. For me, their recoil is so severe that I have a very difficult time getting multiple hits on a target with any sort of reasonable speed.


Legends In Leather is probably best known for the fancy gun belts and holsters it makes to commemorate the era of the B-movie Westerns. Each year it builds a fancy Western gun rig to be used in the raffle to benefit the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Happy Trails Foundation. Jim Lockwood, the company's founder, is a walking encyclopedia on the rigs worn by all the Western movie stars and enjoys building them for his many happy customers. But Legends In Leather also builds one of the best defensive holsters that I've seen in a long time.

Called The Justice, this holster is the epitome of practicality, concealment, and reliability. It is a pouch-style holster that is trim and utterly devoid of any unnecessary leather. It is made of two thin thicknesses of quality leather and has a welt along the back edge of the holster to help it keep its shape. Sight rails are located on the inside of the holster to keep the gun's high-viz sights from dragging leather. The belt loop has two tabs of leather, fore and aft, to give added security on the pants belt and keep the holster from sliding around. Altogether, this is a practical, durable holster for the defensive handgunner who wears a handgun every day.

The Justice is available for most popular autoloading pistols. Suggested retail prices begin at $175. (The customer's initials will be carved on the front of the holster at that price. Tooling and other custom features are also available and the customer can contact Legends In Leather for the price of those extras.)

For more information, contact Legends In Leather, Dept. ST, 8100 N. Red Oak Rd., Prescott, AZ, 86305; 928-717-2175; www.legendsinleather.com


Being a fan of Elmer Keith, I also toyed with the idea of carrying a four-inch Smith & Wesson Model 29. Again, this is a great old sixgun, highly reliable and accurate. But it's also big, and a fellow my size could just about forget trying to carry it concealed. In addition, I found that I just couldn't do any quick work with magnum ammunition. It just hammered me too much.

Moving back down the line to .44 Special ammunition put me back in the power range of the .357 Magnum, but with a bigger gun.

So I finally settled on the 1911 .45 ACP pistol as being the most powerful handgun that was both reliable and concealable for me. I have to admit that it was also a bit more comforting to pack a type of gun whose reliability had been tested in a number of wars and numerous small fights long before I was born. It never seemed very prudent to be the one to test the reliability of a new gun design in a real gunfight. I figured I'd stick with something that had already proven itself.

Although I own and carry a number of the five-inch Government Model pistols, I've always liked the balance and portability of the Commander models with a barrel and slide that is 3/4 inch shorter. They just seem to pack better, and this is the reason that my pair of working guns was built on the shorter pistol.

Tuning Up A Pair Of Duty Guns

I located a pair of Colt Combat Commanders, the all-steel models, and decided to use them as the basis for my project. The first step was to take them to Ed Collet (now deceased), an old friend and former Border Patrolman, for an action job. Ed instinctively understood what a fighting pistol ought to be, so he did not argue when I told him that I wanted the guns to b

e tuned with reliability foremost in mind. He polished the feedramps so that they would chamber hollowpoint ammunition, and he tuned the triggers so that they would break clean and crisp at four pounds.

The next step was to add Colt ambidextrous safeties to the mix. I am somewhat ambidextrous myself, so I wanted to be able to shoot the guns with whichever hand got to them first. I liked the Colt safeties because they were somewhat the size of the standard safety and did not have the long thumb piece of the early Swenson safeties that could be disengaged in the holster or waistband.

I decided that the pistols needed sights that could be more quickly engaged. And because they were law-enforcement guns and would be in for some rough duty, I settled on fixed sights that couldn't be knocked out of alignment so easily. Over 20 years ago, the time of the project, there was not the selection of high-visibility fixed sights that there is today. I chose Millett fixed sights. Today, I could opt for the good sights built by Wayne Novak and Richard Heinie, but I have to say that the Millett sights have given very good service.

The final touch on my pair of Commanders was to obtain a set of stag grips for each gun. Ed's son, Will Collett, did a fine job of inlaying my initials in the grips using German silver. This final touch did not address reliability or function, but it sure raised the stock of a Texas sheriff.

You may have noticed that I have not addressed the issue of accuracy. I had already determined that these Commanders would average two-inch groups with most of the duty ammunition that was available, and that was good enough. While it's true that you can tighten up a 1911 to give much better accuracy, I wanted to be sure that the guns worked every time they might be called on to save my hide. Reliability of function was always my top priority.

Find What Works For You

It's so nice when a plan comes together, and I was exceptionally pleased with this pair of .45 Commanders. I didn't always wear both guns at the same time. Usually, I had the right-hand gun on my hip and its mate was in a zippered case under the seat of my car. I located an old Jackass horizontal shoulder rig and, when the second gun seemed called for, slipped the rig on under my coat or jacket.

The main point I want to get across to you is that my choice of guns was made based upon my own abilities and needs. It seems pointless to follow fads when your life could be at stake. It is far better to find what works for you, even if it means swimming against the stream. The defensive handgun, whether for police or civilian, should be the largest caliber you can shoot accurately and quickly. It should be concealable and utterly reliable. For me, all of that came together with these .45 Commanders.

I don't carry these guns much anymore since I've retired from law enforcement. But I do enjoy getting them out, from time to time, wiping them off with an oily rag, and remembering the adventures we shared together.

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