Accurizing An Army Pistol

A topflight 2650 Club Precision Pistol competitor breaks down the best-known approaches to building the ultimate Bullseye handgun.

by Robert Kolesar

Tuning a 1911 pistol for serious bullseye accuracy is settled science. Good pistols, capable of shooting a perfect slowfire score at 50 yards (all 10 shots within the 3.36” ten ring) started showing up at Camp Perry in the 1930s, such as those accurized by gunsmiths like JD Buchanan of Los Angeles, who built pistols for border patrolman Charles Askins (1937 National Champion) and the LAPD Pistol Team.

The early, pre-war Colt National Match Government Model was a beautiful pistol but it wasn’t all that accurate – at least, at 50 yards it wasn’t. It was “hand-fitted” by Colt, which meant that the slide was carefully mated to the frame, the trigger pull set for a clean break of 4+ pounds and the fixed rear sight notch squared and deepened slightly. Sights were adjusted for a 25 yard six o’clock hold. The .45 phase of the National Match competition at Camp Perry then was usually a throw of the dice because the 1911 pistols used in the Service Pistol Match (which mandated a 1911 .45) were not that good, accuracy-wise. Ammunition accuracy wasn’t at the level it is now, either. Shooters shot issued .45 “hardball” corrosive ammo, usually left-over from WW I-era government stores.

In those days (1930s), the Border Patrol, Customs, the LAPD, and Detroit PD ruled the Bullseye ranges at all the big shoots in the US. The weapon of choice was the revolver, using .38 wadcutter rounds. Some competitors had .45 revolvers built that also shot very well. The active-duty military teams didn’t really get serious about marksmanship competition until post-WWII, when they consolidated their best gunsmiths and shooters into national all-Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force teams. The quest for an accurate 1911 turned into a race, with the military teams leading the way. Guns got better each year, as did the shooters. Post-War civilian gunsmiths also built some good pistols; among the greats were Jimmy Clark, Bob Chow, Al Dinan, and Jim Hoag. The military guns set the standard though, because of the unlimited supply of match ammo, excellent shooters, and the large amount of dollars that could be expended in building and testing a highly accurate, reliable .45 service pistol.

Getting a 1911 to group well at 50 yards isn’t an easy task. Here’s how it’s done.

Read more in the October 2018 issue.

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