Panhandle Rancher: Living with the Model 1911 Caliber .45ACP Pistol [Part 2]

Part 1 can be seen HERE.


Range safety

Extend your right hand ahead and out at shoulder level. Move the hand to the right noticing the effort required. With the hand again pointing forward, move the hand to the left, again noticing the effort required. For the same reason that it is easier (but not safer) to rack the pistol slide with thumbs pointing in the opposite direction, the large chest muscles make it easer to move the hand toward and past the centerline of the body. Therein lies a clue for the assistant and/or coach. Smart assistants will generally stand on the strong hand side of the shooter, which is to the right hand side of a right-handed shooter. Smart assistants will also stand slightly behind the shooter. The alert smart assistant is then in a position to control any unexpected pointing or extension of the pistol to the right of the shooter, potentially toward the assistant. This is much harder to do when standing on the weak hand side of the shooter and makes it impossible for the assistant to observe proper drawing and holstering of the pistol.


Drawing and holstering a loaded and cocked handgun including the 1911 can be fraught with peril. As the pistol handle is gripped, the grip safety is automatically disengaged. A properly holstered pistol will have the slide safety engaged and the properly instructed shooter will have the trigger finger OUTSIDE of the trigger guard until ready to shoot. As the pistol comes on target, the strong hand thumb disengages the slide safety, trigger finger is moved inside the trigger guard, and target engaged. At the conclusion of a course of fire, the slide may be locked back on an empty magazine. The assistant/coach and shooter should both inspect the pistol to ensure the magazine is empty and that there is no round in the chamber at the conclusion of a practice set. At that point the shooter can eject the empty magazine and insert a loaded magazine or gently lower the slide on an empty chamber and holster. In either event, the shooter should automatically engage the slide safety when the slide is closed into battery before starting the holstering process.


Holstering a loaded pistol has its own dangers. The slide safety should be engaged and trigger finger held outside of the trigger guard at all times during the holstering process. It is easy to fall into a habit of pointing the muzzle excessively toward the rear of the shooter when holstering. This is to be avoided as the muzzle can point toward another person to the rear of the shooter. Range safety officers are always alert for shooters with this bad habit and should position themselves accordingly while offering helpful suggestion to the shooter. Put that trigger finger inside of the trigger guard when drawing or holstering and a loud bang will be heard accompanied by the occasionally ventilated buttocks or side of the leg. The slide safety should always be on and the trigger finger should always remain outside the trigger guard until actually engaging the target!


Speed in drawing and holstering comes with thousands of rounds of practice and is not a thing to be hastened. Speed and smoothness will happen with practice and patience. Speed should never be rushed.


Before firing that first round at a target

Always begin a range session by checking the pistol barrel for obstruction. Pointing the weapon in a safe direction at all times, the magazine is removed, slide safety disengaged, and round ejected. The slide is manually locked back and the shooter peers into the chamber, verifying that no round is present. The shooter also looks through the magazine well in the grip, verifying it is clear of obstruction and debris. At this point the shooter either inserts a cleaning rod from the muzzle and observes the end protruding from the chamber or actually peers down the muzzle. The latter practice is discouraged. Any foreign object or debris lodged in the barrel upon firing a round can cause rupture of the barrel and slide, possibly injuring or killing the shooter and/or bystander and certainly wrecking the pistol. Any foreign debris and or obstructions to the barrel bore must be removed before firing!


Hang fire and squib powder charges

In days gone past, bullet propellant (gunpowder) and primers were less reliable. Ball powders were actually remanufactured from decades old WWI naval rifle powder. Shooters would on occasion pull the trigger on a chambered round, the hammer would fall with a mechanical click, and the expected report and recoil not happen immediately. This condition was known as a hang fire or delayed ignition. Whenever the trigger is pulled and bang not heard immediately, always ALWAYS keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction, remove the trigger finger from the trigger and keep it outside of the trigger guard. Expect the weapon to discharge at any time without further action by the shooter.


Count to sixty using the one thousand, two thousand, method of counting seconds during which time the pistol is always pointed in a safe direction. Remember, the weapon could unexpectedly discharge at any time. If a minute passes with without the round firing, eject the bad round and examine the primer for firing pin indent. If there is no indent, the weapon has probably malfunctioned and must be repaired before attempting to fire again. If the primer is indented, set the round aside until it can be safely discarded by burying or similar. Reload with another round and proceed with the practice session.


Squib charges are cartridges holding a less than normal propellant charge and in the worst case, no propellant at all. In both cases the shooter will hear more of a pop than a bang upon squeezing the trigger. The firing report will certainly sound different than normal. If the cartridge case was lacking a propellant charge, recoil will be absent and the report quite mild. Either condition is highly dangerous should a subsequent round be fired without removing the bullet that is likely stuck in the barrel. This danger is enhanced in a single action self-loading semi-automatic pistol such as the 1911.


What has happened is that the primer fired as expected resulting in enough energy to propel the bullet into the forcing cone of the barrel where it likely stuck resulting in an obstructed barrel. Hopefully the recoil was insufficient for proper function of the auto loading capability of the pistol and it failed to eject the fired cartridge case and load another round from the magazine. The absence of a normal report is a clue.


Keeping the weapon continually pointed in a safe direction, count to 60 using the aforementioned method, remove the magazine and pull the slide fully back ejecting the offending round. Lock the slide open and visually check the chamber to ensure it is empty.


You performed a barrel check for obstructions before starting to shoot, didn’t you? Take the cleaning rod you used to perform this check and try to insert it down the full length of the barrel. If the tip will not pass beyond the chamber, you have a bullet stuck in the barrel. Had you attempted to fire the weapon again, the barrel would likely have exploded perhaps causing serious injury or death to the shooter and/or bystander. Always wear shooting or ANSI rated protective glasses when shooting or observing shooting.


A stuck bullet condition is not as melancholy as it seems. Disassemble the weapon for cleaning and with barrel removed from the slide, the stuck bullet should be visible from either end of the barrel. Place the end of the barrel with the shortest distance to the bullet on a soft piece of wood. Insert a length of 3/8” dowel rod into the upper end of the barrel and tap gently with a small hammer. This will eventually force the bullet from the barrel and if it was closest to the chamber end when jammed, upon reaching the chamber, the bullet will drop free. If the bullet was closer to the muzzle end, tap from the chamber end until the bullet nose is even with the muzzle and repeat the tapping process while holding the entire barrel freely in one hand. The bullet will emerge from the muzzle and drop free.


Clean the barrel and inspect carefully for any bulging or cracking. If none are observed, reassemble the weapon. It is ready for use. If there is any question whatsoever as to the condition of the barrel, the weapon should be examined by a competent gunsmith before shooting again.


Hang fires are very rare these days but there is always the potential for both newly manufactured ammunition and that a half century old or older. With either a hang fire or squib charge, always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction while counting to 60. The possibility of experiencing a squib load increases when shooting reloaded ammunition. Having shot nearly a million rounds, I have never experienced a hang fire and only one squib load that occurred early in my reloading practice at about age 12. Regardless of the weapon being fired, the competent shooter must remain aware of the possibility of both hang fire and squib load.


Mastering recoil and report induced trigger yank or flinch

Having learned the fundamentals of safe handling and mechanical operation of the 1911, you proceed to the target range and fire off a few boxes of ammunition. Of course you are wearing ear and eye protection. You shot better at the beginning of the session than at the end with final target hits stringed in vertical orientation. This is good news proving you are human, but bad news demonstrating almost total mastery of a bad and hard to break habit.


Experienced shooters understand what has happened. Rather than gently squeezing the trigger, in anticipation of the report and recoil, you have begun to yank the trigger. This is an unconscious action and must be overcome before that pistol will be of much use other than as a noisemaker. Choosing to and acting toward, overcoming this bad habit defines a transition between hobby shooter interested in nice toys with an accompanying bang and a developing warrior capable of successfully wielding the 1911 pistol in a combat situation.

[Improper finger trigger placement]

What produces that vertical string begins with the unconsciously yanked trigger. Abrupt trigger movement starts the muzzle moving downward while the bullet is transiting the barrel. Depending upon how the pistol is held and amount of finger engaging the trigger [see photo above], the vertical stringing may be slanted to the right or left. Proper finger trigger placement allows the trigger to be squeezed straight back along the longitudinal axis of the pistol in a manner causing minimal lateral movement of the pistol [see photo below].

[proper trigger finger placement]

Trigger finger placement is an easy fix. That flinch induced trigger yank producing vertical stringing of rounds on target is not so easy and in my experience has only one cure requiring an assistant, optimally a knowledgeable pistol coach. Introducing a second person into the new shooter firearm mix can be fraught with danger for all involved.


The best cure for that nasty bad habit of trigger yank is achieved by having your assistant or coach either loading or not, one round into a magazine, and releasing the slide chambering a round, or simply easing the slide closed on an empty chamber. If choosing not to chamber a round, the assistant must cleverly slow down the closing of the slide in order to prevent the type of damage described previously to the weapon. That clever assistant will also slow down the slide when chambering a round so that the shooter, even when wearing ear protection, cannot discern by slide sound alone whether a round actually chambered because without care, closing the slide on an empty chamber will sound different than when the weapon strips a round from the magazine and chambers. This difference is even more apparent when the shooter is wearing amplified hearing protection.


The assistant/coach must wear both eye and ear protection. The use of amplified hearing protection makes communication between assistant and shooter much easier and safer while preserving hearing from loud noise-induced damage.


This same clever assistant will randomly vary the time in which this closing of the action is accomplished, as the process is easier and faster when not loading a round into the chamber. In either case, the assistant must be certain that the slide is closed in battery and slide safety engaged before passing the pistol to the shooter. The assistant should produce a weapon that is either loaded or empty, in a totally transparent manner that leaves its status completely unknown to the shooter.


At all times both shooter and assistant must practice safe weapon handling, keeping the trigger finger outside of the trigger guard and slide safety engaged until just before intentionally firing a round.


The method I use when coaching the flinching shooter is to stand on the shooter’s strong hand side and slightly behind. Initially, I load a magazine to capacity, chamber a round, and engage the slide safety. Holding the pistol in my left hand [see photo below, safely passing a loaded pistol], with trigger guard covered by my hand on one side and my fingers on the other (always mindful to keep my fingers outside of the trigger guard) and pistol grip toward the shooter, I announce, “The weapon is cocked and loaded. The slide safety is engaged. At your timing, engage the target, until the weapon is empty.” The pistol is then passed to the shooter.

[safely passing loaded pistol]

Knowing the shooter has already mastered at least one bad habit; this exercise starts with a full magazine and is thereafter limited to presenting a weapon with either one chambered round or an empty chamber with emphasis on the latter presenting the shooter with an empty weapon more often than not. The initial full magazine shot at one time conditions the shooter to expect the weapon to fire each time the trigger is pulled. It also may produce vertical shot stringing on target indicative of a yanked trigger. If so, this is pointed out to the shooter before continuing.


Thereafter the assistant will either chamber a round or not announcing, “The weapon is loaded and slide safety engaged. With one round, engage the target.” The weapon is then passed to the shooter.


Upon receiving the weapon, the shooter points it toward the target, snicks off the slide safety and inserts the trigger finger into the trigger guard. These two actions should proceed in the same manner every time and only after the pistol is trained on the target.


If the trigger is yanked on an empty chamber, the muzzle will drop in a manner most noticeable to shooter and assistant. The assistant should be in position to notice trigger finger placement on the trigger, control the weapon if necessary, and to observe the motion of the muzzle when the shooter squeezes the trigger. That yanked trigger with an unloaded weapon is most instructive. The upward recoil of the weapon when fired obscures the initial downward motion of the barrel resulting from a trigger yank making the yank invisible to both shooter and observer. Its best diagnostic is trying to fire an unexpectedly empty chamber, which is of course, the purpose of this exercise.


When acting as the coach/assistant, I tend not to present a loaded weapon after that first magazine has been fired until the trigger yank is under control and the shooter reconditioned to expect an empty weapon. When a loaded weapon is eventually presented to the shooter, surprisingly the point of impact is almost always exactly where the shooter thought it would be based upon the sight picture at time of trigger release. I then transition back to presenting an empty weapon, occasionally introducing two successive loaded weapons in sequence with the goal being to always keep the shooter from knowing whether the weapon is loaded. At this point, the shooter should expect an empty weapon more often than one loaded.


Two hours of serious practice in this manner may only burn through only a couple of magazines of ammunition so the exercise is much cheaper than banging away at a can while at the same time, the shooter actually improves in ability to hit a target. In my experience, no amount of shooting where the shooter self-loads the weapon or has knowledge of its loaded/unloaded status will ever overcome the yanked trigger habit. Some things just take two people.


Having the shooter safely holster the weapon after ‘firing,’ and then un-holster an empty weapon and engage the target can provide variety to the yanked trigger exercise. This permits the shooter to practice safe holster technique.


The Magazine

Shooting the 1911 will provide plenty of practice loading magazines. Tactical pistol shooters should always practice loading magazines with heads up, eyes looking around, and not focused on the magazine. Focusing on the activity of loading a magazine ensures a degradation of situational awareness. If the head is consciously kept up with eyes scanning the surroundings, reloading will soon become an automatic activity.


There are several large capacity magazine carriers for the 1911 that are easily attached to a plate carrier or belt [] and other magazine carriers have a molded rail which is handy for keeping a laser and weapons light such as the Streamlight [] ready for situationally dependant mounting on the pistol rails.


Comments on cleaning the pistol

A most useful aid for cleaning all firearms can be made from a quarter inch diameter brass rod about six to eight inches in length. Form a one-inch diameter finger loop on one end of the rod for ease of handling and file a straight slot screwdriver blade on the other end. This rod makes an excellent fowling scraper to remove burned powder residue from bolt faces, feed ramps, and from frame and slide grooves. Brass is much softer than the hardened metal of the slide and frame and should not damage the gunmetal or finish. An application of Hoppe’s or similar powder residue solvent before scraping is of benefit. As an aside, a hard to remove residue often builds up on the front face of revolver cylinders and in the worse case, impedes rotation of the cylinder. This scraper tool is perfect for removing this residue [see photo below].

Holsters for the workingman

During much of my career as a suit and tie agent, I carried a .45 in a thumb break, leather holster, worn on a thick leather belt. The thumb break is essential in this type holster to secure the weapon against accidental loss and for retention should someone attempt a weapon grab. Opportunity for the latter is minimized by keeping the weapon hidden unless in use. A slightly forward-slanting holster draws easier than a vertical holster and provides increased difficulty for someone trying to take the weapon from behind. Cross draw holsters beg someone to take your pistol and shoot you with it. Shoulder holsters may have their place in the coat and tie crowd but it is hard to beat the quick drawing capability of a weapon carried in a proper holster worn on the belt.


Some of the new Kydex and carbon fiber holsters are really excellent but criticized by the slight noise being made when drawing. Leather holsters are almost always quiet. Regardless of carry methodology, weapon retention practice should be a regular part of concealed carry training.


Any belt worn holster should if its design permits, be worn with the belt passing through the front holster loop, then through the side of the pants belt loop and proceed through the rear holster loop. This anchors the holster to the shooter. The belt buckle always positioned nearest to the holster and by always threading the belt to the holster in this manner, it is more difficult for the holster to freely fall from an opened belt buckle.


Upon retiring, I became the co-owner/manager of a ranch in West Texas. That experience taught new lessons in pistol packing. One of the first lessons was just how bad it hurt to be bucked from a two-year-old horse – and landing with the holstered pistol between body and earth. This is a special kind of hurt that endures.


If that ranch produced one species of critter in excess of the most fecund jackrabbit it was the rattlesnake. The wife having been bitten by one of these vile creatures declared war and no one went outside without packing a pistol. I first tried carrying pistols in the same manner as in government service, in a form fitted snap break leather holster. Days outside in the rare rain but all too often wind-driven sand worked their way on the exposed pistol.


Working outside on the ranch taught an old lesson and I learned anew why the US horse cavalry carried revolvers in a flapped holster. Slow to the draw but protecting the pistol from the weather it is and before long, I had a US Military style flapped holster. It helped somewhat with the wind-born sand and debris of life on a working ranch but I soon gravitated to a full flap holster that covered much of the pistol handgrip.


Most full flap holsters are sized for a 1911 with uncocked hammer because the military method was to carry the .45 with hammer down on an empty chamber. The flap holster makes drawing slow and having to chamber a round upon drawing even slower. A saddle maker or other competent leather worker should be able to relocate the flap closure mechanism and/or manufacture a longer flap that will cover the cocked hammer. While the flap is being worked on, the belt loop should be relocated as far upward on the holster as practical. This will help the holster hold the weapon closer to the body. Holsters for full-size weapons that have the belt loop near the center of the holster will eventually let the handgrip cant outward from the body which ensures it will snag on almost anything while generating a most Barney Fife look.


The Bathroom

Many methods have been used in attempt to secure the belt worn pistol when in the toilet. For those with a holster on a belt loop, the weapon tends to end up on the floor where it might even be accessible to someone in an adjacent stall. Some have placed the pistol on the coat hook on the back of the door hanging by the trigger guard. This is very dangerous as the pistol can be easily jarred from off of the hook and fall on the floor potentially making the pistol accessible to another or in worse case actually discharging. Others have placed their handgun on the back of the toilet on top of the water tank. Both of these methods remove the pistol from the immediate person and the latter makes it easy to forget the handgun when exiting the stall.


The best place for the holstered pistol when on the toilet is in your underwear between your feet. This keeps it immediately accessible and in a location impossible to forget.


Final Comments

Modern 1911 series .45 caliber pistols are sophisticated weapons for self-defense. The presence of multiple safeties, some automatically engaged, can make this pistol safe to carry with the hammer cocked on a loaded chamber but it is imperative the shooter receive hands-on training from a coach familiar with pistols of this design. Whenever possible choose a modern 1911 pistol incorporating the new safety features. The beginning shooter proceeding direct from the gun store with a loaded 1911 series weapon is exposed to a multitude of potential lethal dangers. Competent hands-on training should always be sought before chambering that first round.

This article advocates keeping the weapon in a loaded, ready to fire condition. When not carried on the person, any weapon in this condition should be secured in a safe or protective container designed for weapons. Children are naturally curious about handguns and may go to unexpected lengths to retrieve a weapon from what was thought to be a perfect hiding place. All weapons when not being carried should be protected from accidental handling by children or curious adult.


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