Concealed Carry

Custom Carry Guns: Pros and Cons

custom carry guns - guncrafter

When I choose a concealed carry handgun, I look at several factors. First: concealability. While some may be able to conceal a long slide 1911 or GLOCK 34, most of us aren’t able to carry that kind of iron.

These are handguns designed to be as large as possible and still be legal for competition use. Midsize handguns—such as the Commander 1911, GLOCK 19, and SIG P229 seem ideal for concealed carry use.

I am serious concerning handgun performance and have no reason to settle for less. The factors that I place first are:

  • Concealability and comfort
  • Safety
  • Power
  • Ease of deployment
  • Reliability

I also like to have a handgun that I feel will endure hard practice with minimal maintenance. Quality handguns are not inexpensive; skill at arms is purchased with a different coin.

The initial cost of the firearm will pale beside the cost of 10,000 rounds of training ammunition over a few years. The question we are looking at in this report is the pros and cons of custom carry guns.

The beginner should purchase a GLOCK 19, CZ P-10 or Springfield Lightweight Operator and a thousand rounds of ammunition—then practice with more ammunition when this is gone. Invest in quality carry gear, spare magazines and training.

When you feel the gun is limiting you as the shooter, then you are ready for custom carry guns. Not before.

Pro: Uniqueness

One of the pros of custom carry guns is the pride of ownership. You may practice more with a handgun you enjoy owning. Some like the battle-worn look, others like bright plating. As long as it doesn’t affect function, it’s fine. All finishes wear with time and use.

It isn’t a consideration in a working handgun. Another custom addition to service pistols is a good set of high-visibility night sights. Whether from TRUGLO or XS Sight Systems, there are good choices out there.

Some, such as the Heinie Ledge, are available primarily on high-end pistols. Changing the grips for superior types that fit our hands well and help absorb recoil is a good idea. When we define custom, I think that it entails a significant change to the handgun.

For example, changing grips is merely personalizing. Changing sights is a modification. Changing the action is a custom touch.

Heinie Ledge sights
Heinie Ledge sights are a good option for custom carry guns.

Con: Failure Potential

One of the primary changes that shooters make is to modify the trigger action. I believe that in the case of the GLOCK or Springfield XD, it is a better path to practice hard and master the handgun. Spend the money you would spend on an aftermarket trigger on ammunition.

The manufacturer knows what it is doing. A lighter trigger action—reducing trigger compression from 6.0 to as little as 3.0 pounds—isn’t a shortcut to accuracy. I think that this will lead to problems sooner than later, and it has resulted in legal difficulties for several shooters.

A pistol modified to a lighter action isn’t the same as a custom handgun delivered with a smooth 3.5-pound trigger. There is a huge difference. If you have not seen aftermarket triggers fail in rigorous training, then we have been to a different church.

Sure, the stock GLOCK trigger return spring fails as well. But simply replace it before the 25,000 round mark and all will be fine. Replace the CZ 75 extractor at 8,000 and the 1911 extractor at a similar mark.

I admit that sometimes the changing of the shape of the trigger is beneficial. But with the GLOCK, S & W and other striker-fired handguns, a carry versus a competition handgun should have a factory trigger.

CCI-Style Custom Carry Guns
This CCI-style “gun with no name” from Guncrafter is a first-class defensive handgun.

Con: Consistency

Be certain that you understand what terms like “pre-travel,” “creep,” “take-up” and “backlash” mean—not to mention “compression” and “pull weight”—before you consider modifying the trigger.

A terrible choice is to actually modify the trigger action by polishing or filing. This is particularly a bad idea with the 1911. Every file stroke reduces the contact between the hammer, trigger and sear.

The result is seldom consistent and does not hold up in anything other than casual training routines. If you must modify the 1911, use a complete matched set of action parts.

You do not need a carry gun that matches the trigger of your competition gun any more than you must have the rifle and shotgun trigger match the handgun. As you use the gun, it will smooth with use and be easier to use well.

You do not need a handgun that will stay in the bullseye at 50 yards. You need a trigger that is consistent and usable and a trigger that isn’t so light you may clutch it too soon when the adrenaline is going and you are in fear.

Don’t get me wrong, the trigger press of custom 1911 is a joy to use for those that practice. but it is a factory trigger action, not a modification.

Heinie Ledge sights
Heinie Ledge sights allow snagging the face of the sight and racking the slide if need be.

Custom Carry Guns Example: The 1911

There are a number of very good custom carry guns. Take 1911s, for example. The 1911 has many advantages, including:

  • A low-bore axis
  • A straight-to-the-rear trigger compression
  • A grip that fits most hands well
  • A grip safety and slide lock safety that makes for a safer tool in trained handguns
  • A relatively thin cross-section

The 1911 is a concealable handgun and a pistol that has what it takes to win the most difficult pistol matches. We may carry a handgun that is useful for home defense, but they aren’t the same type of handgun used in competition.

Nighthawk Falcon
The author finds the Nighthawk Falcon well worth its price. A great option among custom carry guns.

Con: Expense

A custom-grade 1911 is a shootable handgun in trained hands. The primary drawback is the expense. When a great 1911 (such as the Springfield Operator) is available for a few bucks north of $1,000, why would we spend $3,000 or more on a custom 1911?

A good comparison is the contrast between factory ammunition and handloads. (Sure, there are poor handloaders and poor gunsmiths. We are discussing the good ones.) Factory ammunition is often very good.

A handloader loading on a MUCH smaller scale may carefully control the powder charge, bullet choice and crimp—and produce truly accurate and incredibly consistent loads. The same principle applies to custom handguns.

The major makers produce handguns with a certain plus or minus specification. Parts are made in giant lots, sometimes from outsourcing. Many of the low-stress parts are metal injection molding (MIM) to save money. The better 1911s have machined, not cast, frames.

They are well-fitted and finished with minimal tool marks. Manufacture the parts, put them together with minimal fitting, and you have the pistol together. Some of the better factory 1911 handguns are very well put together and surprisingly accurate.

SIG Carry Nightmare
A counterpoint to the expensive custom carry guns at well over $2500 is this 1911 Fastback Nightmare Carry from SIG Sauer. Reliability is faultless and accuracy excellent. Think hard before you decide your current 1911 is limiting your performance.

Pro or Con: Fit

True custom-grade 1911 handguns begin with oversized slides and frames. They are carefully filed and fitted to a hard fit. This takes time and effort and the services of highly skilled gunsmiths rather than assemblers. The goal is to reduce slop in fitting.

Less looseness also means less eccentric wear on the long run. A handgun that locks up exactly the same with every shot is more accurate. It also wears down slower.

(Not to say the Springfield Loaded Model is a rattling wreck after a few years’ use. One of mine went 20,000 rounds without any type of problem. I traded it at that point and I suppose it is still running.)

In custom-grade 1911s, the front strap is checkered. It may be at 25 or 30 lines per inch, or the Guncrafter’s 21 LPI. This is very stable. The grips are usually a cut above the usual. The grips may be high-grade wood, G10 Shredder types or aluminum.

But the balance of adhesion and abrasion is well thought out.

concealed carry guns ammunition
Top-quality ammunition will deliver good results with custom carry guns.

The fit of the barrel-locking lugs is exact. The slide will roll over the lugs, locking and unlocking with a very smooth motion. The barrel bushing is tight, very tight, and usually requires tools to disassemble.

This is either a pro or a con depending upon your point of view and emphasis on easy field-stripping or accuracy.  The action parts are manufactured oversized, as those of you that have fitted custom trigger parts realize.

This means that they must be fitted for the best performance. There is none of the indifferent slop found in inexpensive handguns.

The slide lock safety is tight, the grip safety properly releases its hold on the trigger about halfway into trigger compression, and the trigger breaks very smoothly without creep or backlash. Smoothness is more important than a light trigger break.

A five-pound trigger that feels like three pounds is a desirable result of good fitting, but most true custom makers supply a 1911 with a 3.5-4.0-pound compression trigger. The fit of the slide to the frame at the heel is perfect.

There are no wear marks on the hammer where the hammer drags on the slide. The trigger slides in the tunnel smoothly. The magazine well is smoothly transitioned into the frame. The front strap checkering is actually cut into the grip frame rather than done by raising metal.

The difference is pleasing to the eye and the hand. The result is an exceptional handgun.

.45 ACP accuracy - target
This is typical 25 yards .45 ACP accuracy; some custom carry guns will cut cloverleafs at this range.

Con: Value

Back to the cons. The gun is expensive. Another con: if you can’t shoot well, the money is wasted. It takes an exceptional shot to get the most out of these handguns.

The difference in accuracy will be measured in a few tenths of an inch—and you really pay for that improvement in potential. It isn’t just slow-fire accuracy that is improved.

The smooth trigger and excellent sights—not to mention the highly developed grip checkering—make for greater combat accuracy and faster more accurate repeat shots. The controls make for faster handling and the magazine well makes for faster speed reloads.

The overall accuracy potential is amazing even to accomplished shooters. The shooter paying for this type of handgun must appreciate the pistolsmith’s art.

For myself, the custom-grade 1911 was a career goal because it came as a result of many years of hard work and careful saving. My family did not go without, but I calculate my hours at work rather than mere money.

When an object represents 100 hours of work, you appreciate it more. A custom gun is a considerable investment in time, effort and training, and all are well spent.

LSCW ammunition
Another expense when it comes to custom carry guns is ammunition. This is 1,000 rounds of 200-grain LSWC. Without skills, no amount of money is well spent.

Conclusion

A final point: what is your life worth? Think about that. I suspect the answer is, “you cannot put a price on it.” That price certainly would not be $200, would it?

When things are going south quickly and you need every advantage, a superior handgun in trained hands just may alter that trajectory to one more of your liking.

What are your thoughts on custom carry guns? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. I’m new to carrying so I am far from being an expert but I remember what my CCW instructor said. He remarked that if one is involved in an incident (in California) the police will confiscate the firearm and in all likelihood it will never be returned. If it’s an especially nice gun, it will be “lost.” He suggested a comfortable, accurate, reliable, and commonly found handgun. He also suggested to have at least two handguns listed on the permit in case one is confiscated to avoid a lapse in ability to legally carry. (San Diego county allows a maximum of three on the permit)

  2. My personal experience, at the point where I shot good, not great, but good, was the point at which a very good handgun helped me shoot very good. In this case, a Springfield Armory TRP. The pistol maximized my ability within my skill level.

  3. Has there been any documented case where a custom gun allowed a self-defender to prevail in a fight, while a stock gun would have gotten him killed? I’ll concede that changing sights to suit one’s vision limitations is often necessary, so that’s off the table.

    In all my years of reading gun stuff and talking to other enthusiasts, I’ve encountered countless self-defense reports, but not a single one where anyone suggested that the difference between living and dying came from having swapped or tuned some part of their gun, with the possible exception of “adding sights I can actually see”. Simply “having” a gun seems to account for most cases, and most of the rest were covered by level-headedness under stress and basic competence as a shooter.

    If you want a custom gun because you just like it, that’s fine. But conversation in the gun world seems to be getting ever sillier, as everyone tries to pretend that everything they do, buy, or think about is some kind of crucial combative advantage, for a fight they probably won’t even be in. I don’t know if this trend is paranoia, or marketing, or some kind of masculinity-based pretentiousness, but I’m starting to have some sympathy for the people who think we’re all a little nuts.

  4. The only things he said that I disagree with are;

    1. No matter what level of shooter a person is the more accurate the firearm the better. I know my limits. I have about a 1.5” wobble unsupported at 25 yards. Meaning that’s MY level of accuracy. If I have a handgun capable of 1.5” at 25 yards, I will turn in a target with about a 3” group. With a super accurate .22lr target pistol capable of .25” at 25 yds my groups are just shy of 2”. With a 3” capable handgun my groups expand to ~4.5”. The better the gun the smaller your groups.

    2. A custom gun, if put together correctly, shapes the gun to the shooter instead of the shooter having to fit themselves to the firearm. That said, unless you shot a lot you’re not really going to know what gun fits you “best.” So the best thing a person can do to their gun to shoot better is to wear it out.

  5. “A lighter trigger action—reducing trigger compression from 6.0 to as little as 3.0 pounds—isn’t a shortcut to accuracy. I think that this will lead to problems sooner than later, and it has resulted in legal difficulties for several shooters.”

    I’ve heard this before and am unable to locate any legal cases. Please list one.

  6. What is your life worth is a very misleading question. I was asked that once when buying a helmet to wear when riding my motorcycle. Stupidly, I bought one of their $700 helmets (back in 2005). I later saw research about a cheap $150 helmet that outperformed all of the expensive ones. Sometimes, retail price is just for a manufacturer’s name or a salesman’s commission and nothing else. $200 very well could the answer.

  7. I like the article overall. But, if you have a decent gunsmith, you can source a Rock Island on line for under $500, have them polish up the action ($50 to $75) and upgrade the grips. I would stack it up against my $1,200 Kimber any day of the week. Both are accurate, both will hold 3″ at 15 yards all day long and both have over 3,000 round through them with no failures. An inexpensive gun is not necessarily a cheap gun. The with that $600 you didn’t spend on the gun, pick up a couple extra magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammo and a pack of snap caps to practice with. Heck, even spring for an hour with a shooting instructor to determine where you’re making mistakes. It’s worth it. Overall though, it was a well written, well thought out article.

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