The 1911 is a wonderful gun. It fits the hand snugly, the trigger is possibly the epitome of man/machine interfaces, and it throws a 230gr round affectionately referred to as a ‘flying ashtray’ with a stout and reliable authority.
It’s also a woefully antiquated design, with poor ergonomics, too much barrel and mass for concealed carry, and a very inadequate 7 rounds of ammunition on board.
If you are going to insist on porting around a 1911 style pistol for defense or carry or duty, I’d make the following recommendations to turn it into a slightly more viable weapon.
1) Ergonomics: The classic 1911 has a bump-ledge safety and no undercut to the trigger guard, which forces your frame down low and away from the barrel. Get a gunsmith to undercut the trigger guard for a higher grip and install a large, ledge-style safety to get your thumb on as a means of supporting your wrist and grip angle. Install an extended beavertail grip safety and, if you can, get it fitted by a gunsmith to remove the sharp edges that a ‘drop in’ fit would have. It’ll make shooting the gun immensely more pleasureable. If you’re ever going to CCW it, I strongly recommend a 4″ barrel and a bobtailed grip to help with concealability.
2) Reliability and Safety: Many people want to turn their fighting gun into a bullseye platform. Reducing tolerances is a good way to do that, but it makes the gun decidedly less reliable as a defensive tool that might see mud, blood, dust and guts. It’s the same principle behind why AK-47s are more reliable than AR-15s. Find a gunsmith with a strong professional reputation as a 1911 ‘smith, and inquire if he can do a carry and reliability package. You won’t get 1″ groups at 50 yards, but it won’t jam the first time some fouling gets near the linkage. I suppose it needs to be said too– buy quality. There is simply no comparison between a STI custom gun and a Metro Arms Commander, from fit and finish to even the quality of internal parts. For a duty gun, I would gut my pistol and supply it entirely with Wilson or McCormick internals that I verified personally. If you’ve ever had a trigger disconnect wear out prematurely, you’d understand why. You should also be considering a gun with a Series 80 safety– remember that safety devices are meant to be redundant, not exclusive. The Series 80 safety will help reduce the chances of a negligent discharge if your firearm is dropped or mishandled onto a hard surface, by interfering with the firing pin (and the camming action, properly cleaned and maintained, adds maybe an ounce of ‘weight’ to the trigger pull).
3) Sights and lights: Classic 1911 GI style sights are useless. Get your sights dovetailed– Novak is good, though a low-profile Bo-Mar sight cut is ideal (if expensive). Settle on some illuminated three-dots or a blackout/fiber front post, whatever your personal preference is. This is not a good place to cheap out, because cheap sights will fail you at the worst possible time. Make sure you have a 1911 frame that comes with an integrated rail system so you can install a tactical light– no duty/carry weapon is ready without a bright tactical light mounted on it.
4) Trigger Weight: 1911 triggers are very short and crisp but they can still be awful depending on how badly machined and fit they are. Do NOT try to hand-stone your sear, because that’s a sure way to ruin it. The engagement angles are incredibly sensitive to ham-handedness. Take it to a competent gunsmith and have your trigger set for around #4.5lbs. You don’t want a #1.5lb target trigger in a duty gun, as it vastly increases the probability of a negligent discharge under stress. As crisp as the 1911 trigger is and with such a short, positive reset, #4.5lbs is going to feel like a target trigger to the vast majority of shooters.
5) Caliber: .45 is dead. All hail 9mm. There is no such thing as stopping power or hydrostatic shock or ‘damn, that’s a big bullet’. Modern 9mm JHPs have been demonstrated to be as efficient in gunfights as .45 JHPs, and trauma surgeons and coroners alike can’t visibly tell the difference without a set of calipers. Both of them are plenty in excess of a minimum amount of cavitation/penetration needed to inflict lethal damage on an attacker. Even the FBI has gone back to 9mm. The minor loss in permanent cavitation/wound depth is absolutely worth the improvement in your shooting efficiency.
6) Magazines: Many 1911s are being produced now to accept double-stack magazines, such as the Para-Ordnance Para-16 model. Newer versions of the 1911, like the STI Modular 2011, can also accept double-stack magazines, and with 170mm magazines with extended baseplates you can carry around 26 rounds of extra ammo in your reloads. That would be four magazines if you are accustomed to carrying GI-style 7-rounders, and as everyone knows, unless you’re swimming or on fire there’s no such thing as too much ammo in a gunfight.