When you begin to search for a quality firearm, you may like to look over the top-end types. You must wonder whether the top-end guns are worth the money. Can you afford this gun? Do you think you deserve it? Is it the coolest thing you have seen? These are valid questions. Another question may be how much you are limited by lesser firearms?
When you’ve been shooting for some time, and have a good idea of your capabilities, you may feel the itch to step up to a high-end handgun. Until then, there are good, less-expensive pistols that serve well.
Most high-end handguns are 1911 types, but there are also high-end Beretta, Glock, CZ and SIG types. Not that long ago, there were no high-end factory guns, by today’s standards. The Colt National Match stood alone.
The shooter desiring an exceptional handgun sent his gun to Clark, Action Works, or a few other gunsmiths. These were good guns, but they were still a Colt or Springfield after all the work was done.
Today, Les Baer, Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom choose the best materials and manufacture their own parts. This is an expensive process. However, in the end, you’ll have a firearm that is exceptionally well fitted and long wearing.
I have examined some of the original Wilson Combat guns. Even those that have seen hard use still seem to be in excellent condition. These are tough guns. When there are tight tolerances, there is little room for excessive wear. This is the real difference.
The difference between the SIG P320 X-Five Legion and its less expensive little brothers is the tungsten-infused frame and more attention to detail. The sights are a good example. The pistol is expensive, but affordable.
A Les Baer is pretty much hand-forged. It is to handguns what the Excalibur was to other swords, in the minds of many. For most, sacrifices and money saved are involved in obtaining this handgun.
Fit and Finish
As far as function and accuracy are concerned, a high-end handgun is very good. Some guns are excellent performers at a certain price point. As an example, the Magnum Research 1911 reminds me of a Dan Wesson, but it is less expensive. The MR1911 has some MIM parts though. That’s ok, as the pistol works very well. It is a handgun that will defend your person and last for many years. However, if you want a custom-grade forged steel frame and slide, and all of the steel parts to last a lifetime, then you need to spend more money.
The Kimber, Magnum Research and Springfield handguns are well made. The high-end pistol may be built to tighter tolerances. There is no tolerance ambiguity with a Wilson Combat. It’s something that Bill Wilson simply would not allow. Dimension is one thing and tolerance is another.
When reliability is a primary concern and extreme accuracy isn’t as important, expensive machine work and tight tolerances are not at the top of the list. Clearance is the distance between two mating parts. Tolerance is the allowance made for departure from clearance. When the fitting is tight, wonders happen. You also pay a lot for moving the tolerances around another decimal point.
High-End Pistol Performance
When you have reached the point that my friend Rod has, and can shoot to the accuracy potential of a handgun — Rod has shelves of regional and national trophies to prove his skill — you know what you want, and a lesser handgun isn’t as exciting or worthwhile.
I have fired some of Rod’s highly-developed pistols. I don’t shoot them much better than the standard P320 X-Five, as an example, but his award-winning pistols have swept the field several times. He has reached the point that his skill matches the ability of the handgun.
Most of us advance quickly with proper training and practice. However, at some point, we reach a plateau at which we are pretty good shots and stay there for a time, maintaining skill. It takes some effort to advance further. When you do, your skills will be ready to benefit from a high-end pistol. Competition pressure may demand a move up.
Pressure from inside, such as competing against yourself, may be the trigger to select a premium pistol. At times, we simply want the best and are willing to sort our priorities out.
Do you really need a high-end handgun to shoot well and defend yourself to your fullest? Probably not. On the other hand, hig-end can equate to more reliability, which can tip the balances in a self-defense situation. Likewise, if you have the experience to wring top performance from the pistol, it is worth every penny.
Other High-End Handguns
It isn’t just the 1911. There are other types of high-end handguns to consider. As an example, I consider the Glock pistol a baseline for personal defense. The Glock is reliable — something of an understatement in fact. If you pay more for a pistol, you should consider what you are getting.
Are you getting a significant improvement?
If you pay less than the price of the Glock, chances are corners have been cut somewhere and the pistol may not perform as well. There is an elevated design that is based on the Glock, but has excellent upgrades. This is the Shadow Systems MR920. This handgun features a match-grade barrel, night sights and an excellent trigger. There are no drawbacks. The pistol is well worth its price, although it is comparatively more expensive than the Glock these days.
Other upgrades of standard pistols include the Wilson Combat Beretta. Wilson Combat upgraded the Beretta system to the Nth degree and the Wilson Combat Beretta is an outstanding pistol well worth its price. It is manufactured by Beretta with Wilson Combat upgrades and the package is less expensive than modifying the pistol on your own.
The upgraded pistols are exceptional. Adding custom grips or night sights is an option that is simply personalization. Customization goes a lot further.
The most cost-effective means of obtaining a superior handgun is to purchase a high-end pistol. In the meantime, a number of pretty ordinary performers are more than capable of serving well.
Get an ATI 1911 FX Series in 45 ACP. I know they may not be the most expensive or best, but mine does everything a 1911 could be expected to do, & has for years. If I found a Kimber or Wilson Combat 1911 I wanted, no way would I trade in my ATI.
I bought an H&K USP in 45ACP in 1999, as an “insurance agent” prior to the predicted crash of 2000. I thought it would be a valuable investment in case of social breakdown. Whereas that didn’t happen, it has been a great shooter, with over 10,000 rounds in twenty years. It still looks and functions like its fourth day (well, we all show a bit of wear after this long.) I love 1911’s, qualified expert in the USN on a Gold Cup, but really love this pistol. I weas a bit surprised not to see it on this list.
Wow! Great comments. Since you wrote this article, I purchased a Walther PPQ M2 45 acp. Although it’s not a race gun, it has the smoothest trigger pull of any of my guns, including a Sig P365 micro & H&K P30 V1. Truthfully, after reading some of the responses, I may have to purchase yet another gun. So many great choices, so little time to shoot
I like articles on handguns so I can keep up on current information. I just started pistol shooting with in the last few years. I have a Dan Wesson SS Commander as my only 1911 and I have enjoyed shooting it every time I take it to the range. The trigger is excellent and the pistol performs well with all kinds of 45 ACP ammunition. I picked this Gun so I don’t have to worry about dependability. I carry my Sig Sauer Romeo Zero more than any of my other guns due to the accuracy size and the addition of a safety. I only feel comfortable with a gun setup this way so I can carry with a round in the chamber.
Nice article. I definitely agree with your choice of the Sig Mk5 226 ! It is my favorite piece and resides on the nightstand when it’s not with me. Its accuracy is better than I am. Also have an Israeli made Magnum Research 1911 which is an awesome gun, and I get many comments on it when I’m at the range.
I bought a Springfield 1911A PDP 45acp, all I had to do was polish the throat on the barrel. Slight trigger polishing , now I have a smooth shooting pistol. Love the comp on the barrel, keeps the gun shooting flat. Enjoyed the article on high in pistols.
Reliability is paramount. How much accuracy is required in most self defense situations???
I agree with the above comment on the ATI in the commander size. I also have a Sig 1911 which shoots very well and is one of my favorite guns of all time.
i’m a glock guy. the 1911s are great and part of american history, but unless you live in california the glocks are half the price and have about twice the magazine capacity of a 1911. if i was awash in play money i’d for sure have a shelf full of les baer, dan wesson and wilson combat in the safe. but until i win the lottery, i’m gonna stick with the glock. this was a good article. i might get an older base model 1911 in 45acp someday, but if i do, it’ll be for tradition and nostalgia, not for defense or competition. anybody who’s got the dough, though, go for it!
Although I’m not going to trust my life to a Jennings Arms, Davis Firearms or even a Taurus G2, spending an enormous cash reserve on a “bling” handgun is ridiculous. Invest in a reliable, proven and cost effective handgun and then practice, practice, practice. THAT is a key element in being an effective marksman. Be safe!
I have never had allot of money to buy “high-end” guns. I am not John Wick, nor am I a professional shooter. I have looked for better deals, that will protect my life and give me a tool that I can enjoy at the range. I think the fit to an individual’s hand, and the smoothness of the trigger are of key importance. There are many guns made that function as intended, but what good is a gun if you cannot afford one? I like the older model of EAA’s WITNESS 9MM, but the trigger could stand to be polished for smoother pull. I may attempt that task one of these days, but for now i am content with using the single action option for a lighter trigger pull.
The problem with a high-end handgun is that if you use it in a successful self-defense situation, law enforcement will inevitably confiscate your pistol. Guilty or innocent, your pistol will remain with them and they will refuse to give it back unless you hire a lawyer. Law enforcement knows that your lawyer will cost more than the market price of your pistol in most situations. For me, a very reliable great shooting pistol is what is needed. Having a Kimber confiscated will cause me much greater anguish than a Glock that would perform equally well in almost all situations.
1911 .45 ACP Dan Wesson Operator for me. Smooth trigger, no looseness in fit-ups. A better firearm than I am a shooter.
Great article, it was fair in assessing the reasons many purchase higher end handguns. I own a Kimber that, in my view and pocketbook was an expensive firearm. Wilson and Les Baer were completely out of my price range. My Kimber rests on a table by the bed, clean, oiled, cocked and locked. The irony is that going to the range is expensive, ammo is expensive, so basically I own a $1000 paper weight, lol.
This probably has no effect on whether top end handguns are worth the money, but I shoot an ATI 1911 Commander in 45 ACP that absolutely accurate & dependable. It only costed $325 total cost, barely used. If I had a “top end” 1911 that costed a LOT of money & it performed as well as this ATI, I would be happy with it.
In most cases, the higher end guns are well worth the money. My issue is the person who buys a high end gun, but doesn’t practice, and worse, doesn’t keep it properly cleaned. A properly maintained high end gun will often become more valuable, and maybe more accurate, after years of use. Seen too many high end guns end up as a junker, due to not the workmanship of the maker, but because the owner didn’t respect what they have. No reason why your grandkids shouldn’t be able to enjoy your high end gun as much as you did. It would also be a bonus for them, as it is now a family heirloom. As example, my Grandfather’s Winchester 1912 – 20 gauge, made in 1919, is more valuable to me as a family heirloom, than as a “collectable”.
Watch for a feature article on the Ruger SR 1911 very soon. A very, very good gun.
Between Walther and HK– tough, very tough, perhaps the Walther by a margin.
Favorite .22 Browning Buckmark.
Thanks for the excellent article! An enjoyable read. One word: sensible. Thanks, too, for the balance and fairness in discussing the merits of each gun. Just curious; where would you rank the Walther PPQ M2 45 acp? Or, the H & K P-30 V1? Personal favorite 22?
The Ruger SR1911 has the barrel, and the barrel bushing made from the same piece of steel, on the same machine, for concentricity sake, and kept together throughout the assembly process. Let that sink in for a moment, when considering accuracy, and affordable cost. It is said the SR1911 is capable of 1.5″ groups at 25 yards, out of the box. I know mine is, so I do not doubt the claim, which is very respectable for being well under $1,000.