Dear 9 mm 1911, I ♥ You

Sometimes, it’s OK to put that old carry gun back into circulation.

posted on April 7, 2022
9 mm 1911

Dusting off and refamiliarizing yourself with a former carry gun can evoke nostalgia and reinvigorate neglected shooting skills.

How many years must you do something before it becomes a tradition? Is it as few as two? Because if two years qualifies, I’ve officially made a holiday tradition of not following my own advice.

To clarify, there are two practices against which I’ve inveighed in these very pages. One is the “carry rotation,” whereby the handgun carrier selects the gun they’re carrying based on some random or emotional reason, like “I’m in a .357 sort of mood today,” or “The grips on this 1911 match my socks.”

A firearm carried for personal defense is an emergency tool like the fire extinguisher in your kitchen, and you didn’t pick that out because it matched the cabinetry, did you? (Please say no.)

The other practice I often frown upon is carrying a gun with special personal or emotional significance. Like that kitchen fire extinguisher, in today’s legal and political climate, there’s a good chance that a firearm used in self-defense might be a one-and-done sort of thing. Once used, it may disappear into an evidence locker for who knows how long. I’m not saying that to say “don’t carry an expensive gun”, but rather “think hard before carrying a handgun with which you couldn’t bear to part.”

And yet, for the last two years running, I’ve broken out my old sharkskin-trimmed Milt Sparks Versa-Max II at Thanksgiving and holstered up what has rapidly become my favorite pistol, and toted it all the way through the first week or so of the new year.

I don’t rotate carry guns, but for a long time I’ve switched every year or two as a sort of project. I’d be trying to learn or master a different skill set, or I’d switch as a way to deep dive on a newer technology. As 2020 was drawing to a close, so was a couple-year experiment of carrying a traditional double-action pistol. I’d already decided that for 2021, I was going to jump feet first into carrying a pistol with a micro-red-dot sight, specifically an FN 509 Compact with a Trijicon SRO, but there was still that last month of 2020.

Since I wasn’t traveling for the holidays that year, I decided to visit an old friend, metaphorically, and reacquainted myself with the 1911 chambered in 9 mm.

Originally, I was not at all interested in John Moses Browning’s classic pistol in anything but the traditional 5-inch, .45 ACP format. I’d had bad experiences with reliability issues in some 9 mm-chambered 1911s, experiences that were only slightly offset by a Commander-size Para Ordnance LTC 9 that ran well—with most loads.

When the late Todd Green announced he was going to be using a 1911 from the Springfield Armory Custom Shop as his annual test gun in 2013, and that it would be a 9 mm, I was something less than enthusiastic. I sent him a string of pleading messages via the internet. “You hate 1911s! You think they’re unreliable and they suck! And if you shoot a 9 mm one, it’s going to be unreliable and it’s going to do nothing to change your mind!”

Only, it was reliable. At some point, the 9 mm 1911 magazine code had been cracked and Wilson Combat’s 10-round ETM magazines were some of the best. In fact, when I used the Wilson magazines from a test gun in that old Para Ordnance LTC, it went from reliable with most ammunition to feeding anything you put in the magazine, just like a pistol should.

Meanwhile, that Wilson Combat, an all-steel, 4-inch pistol, was a reminder to me of just how sweet-shooting a heavy 1911 in minor caliber could be. Shooting an all-steel 9 mm 1911 is like shooting on “easy” mode.

So, that Thanksgiving I decided to use the break between the holidays as a chance for some “me time” at the range. I’d carried 1911s for so long in the past that it only took a bit of dry-fire and a range trip or two to get back in the groove, and that 9 mm 1911 made me feel like a ninja with how well it shot.

Given that, when Thanksgiving 2021 rolled around, I decided to make a tradition out of it. I put away the 509C and, in the holiday gap before the start of the 2022 shooting season, I revisited that old friend.

In 9 mm, a Commander-size 1911 holds 10 rounds in its single-stack mag. With one up the pipe, that’s 11 rounds of 124-grain +P Federal HST. Since I try to avoid Christmas parties at Nakatomi Tower, that’s probably plenty to handle any holiday-season troubles I might encounter without having to resort to a reload. (But, if I did, those single stack mags make spares easy to tote.)

After a month or so of crushing it at the range with an easy-to-shoot pistol that makes even a thoroughly mediocre shooter like me look good, my confidence is buoyed for 2022’s carry-gun project.

Maybe this year I’ll try to level-up my skills in carrying, shooting and reloading revolvers. A year of chasing .44 Spl. ammunition sounds like fun—at least until next Thanksgiving, when I’m already making plans to visit an old friend again.


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