The 1911 is, in my eyes, the most iconic handgun of all time. Its features are clearly distinguishable. One glance and you know it is a 1911. I cannot think of another handgun in the world that has been reproduced or as duplicated as the classic 1911.
John Moses Browning developed the 1911 and i’s accompanying caliber, the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) for the United States military by inventing a short-recoil operated, locked-breech, tilting barrel semi-automatic pistol. The 1911 was a groundbreaking design and has become the building block for many manufacturers’ modern day semi-automatic handgun designs.
The other day a friend asked me about the best 1911 for accuracy and performance in .40 S&W. My initial reaction was, “Why .40? Just get the .45 ACP.” Our conversation got me to thinking; do 1911s in alternative calibers have merit?
Manufactures have produced 1911s in a wide variety of calibers, .38 Super (popular in the competition community), .22 TCM, .38 Supercomp, .400 Cor-bon, .460 Rowland, .50 GI, .45 Winchester Magnum, 10mm, 9×21, and 9×23. Cheaperthandirt.com carries Springfield Armory EMP 1911s in .40 S&W, more in 9mm: S&W Pro Series, Dan Wesson, Iver Johnson, and Colt. Surprisingly, in .22 Long Rifle, Cheaper Than Dirt carries Rock Island, Chiappa, Sig Sauer, Umarex, Puma, and American Tactical Imports.
You might be asking yourself, “is a .22 Long Rifle even a 1911?” Well, let’s break down what exactly a 1911 is before we begin to judge.
Many carry the 1911 fully cocked with the safety on and a round in the chamber. Most modern 1911s shoot single-action and feature:
- A single stack magazine
- A beavertail grip safety
- A visible difference in the barrel bushing
- A last round bolt-hold open
- All-metal construction
So, why a .40 S&W? Smith and Wesson and Winchester collaborated on developing the .40 S&W in 1989. At the time, the FBI used 10mm. Smith and Wesson and Winchester decided they could make a cartridge that was the same weight, bullet diameter, and velocity as the 10mm, but in a shorter cartridge. The Ammo Encyclopedia says that the .40 S&W is a “compromise between the 9 and .45.” Originally loaded with a 180-grain bullet that flew at 950 fps it has less recoil than the 10mm, but with the same stopping power. The .40 S&W has an above 90 percent average of stopping power in one shot. According to gun writer David Tong 70 percent of law enforcement agencies in the United States use the .40 S&W. Jeff Copper designated the 10mm as the perfect law enforcement round, however due to its high pressures, the 10mm kicks like a mule. The 1911 just wasn’t built for such a round and cannot handle years of abuse from a 10mm without breaking.
Developed in 1902, the 9mm, or 9mm Luger, is the most popular cartridge and most widely used military round in the world. With very manageable recoil, the 9mm has proven itself an effective self-defense round favored by many law enforcement agencies.
In 1929 Colt developed the .38 Super, a favorite of IPSC competition shooters. The company used their .38 Auto and created a higher-speed round. For a while, the .38 Super was the most powerful semi-automatic handgun cartridge. Even though the .38 Super does have higher velocities and energy than the 9mm, it is not by much and .38 Super ammo doesn’t come cheap.
Even though the .22 Long Rifle has been around since 1887, it is seeing a resurgence in popularity due to its affordability and accuracy. The Ammo Encyclopedia says it is “the single most popular sporting cartridge in the world with well over 5 billion rounds being loaded every year.” Any gun chambered for .22 Long Rifle has merit in my eyes. The little rimfire round is versatile enough to kill small game and varmints, cheap enough to be a plinker and target shooter, excellent for training, and is used in competition.
Depending on the reason why you want a 1911—and why wouldn’t you want to invest in a tried and true platform—I see reasons why you would be interested in an alternative caliber. To some the .45 ACP is just too much, while others may feel the .22 Long Rifle is not a successful self-defense round and will choose the .40 S&W or the 9mm. Whatever the case may be, choose the caliber you feel most comfortable with to suit your needs. The 1911 is a beautiful gun, regardless of it’s chambering.
Do you have a 1911 in an alternative caliber? Tell me about it in the comment section.