Firearms

The Savage 1911: U.S. Military 1911 With a Savage Treatment

Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun with G10 grip panels

Understanding the 1911 handgun market is fairly simple. Unlike most pistol fans, 1911 shooters will own as many 1911 types as marital and financial harmony allow. A sense of history and emotional attachment play a role in owning a 1911. There is a certain genetic logic in owning the best possible answer to a deadly threat in a weapon that remains concealable.

1911 fans will purchase a quality $3,000 1911. They will purchase a bargain-grade shooter that resembles the 1911, if cheapened. The field was ripe for the introduction of a middle-ground 1911 with excellent performance but which appeals to personal defense shooters.

Field stripped Savage 1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic handgun
Disassembly isn’t difficult.

A certain synthesis of style was achieved without changing much of the appearance of the 1911 handgun. The Savage 1911 is a very good pistol worth the money and well worth a few words. Let’s take a hard look at the Savage, and see what data I can share along with a little supposition.

The 1911 Pistol

Having done a great deal of work with the 1911 over the past 40 years, my depth of research in the 1911 is deep. I won’t bore you with a thrice told tale. Suffice to say the U.S. Army set about to obtain a modern self-loading pistol with reliability accuracy and wound potential. The original specifications were rigorous.

A 6,000-round firing test was unheard of in the day. The .45 ACP cartridge was designed for effect again the nemesis of the day, enemy war horses. Jaguars encountered in the jungle were dangerous, and the Army desired a sidearm capable of dispatching these beasts and enemy soldiers equally.

There was nothing like the 1911, and there still isn’t. A single-action straight-to-the-rear trigger, and a cocked-and-locked ready mode that offered excellent speed to a first-shot hit are among the advantages. The pistol had to be safe if dropped from horseback. The slide lock safety firmly locked the hammer and sear when applied, and a grip safety prevented trigger movement if the grip safety is released.

None of the problems presented to Colt, Browning, and Colonel Thompson were structurally unanswerable. The original 1911 is still a model of combat efficiency. However, there was room for improvement — and improve the 1911 we have. Most of these improvements are focused on the sights, barrel fitting, and modifying the safeties.

pistol magazine showing signs of wearing on the trigger bar.
The supplied magazine showed signs of wearing on the trigger bar.

Savage 1911

I have great respect for Savage firearms and perhaps even an emotional attachment based on long association. Some of its rifles are utilitarian, some (such as the modern Impulse) are very nice rifles, and all are workmanlike designs. When it comes to the 1911, I don’t cut any slack in evaluating the pistol.

This is my favorite handgun, and I don’t like a handgun with a mistaken mission or cheap features. Savage has introduced a pistol without target features. Instead, it has good defensive features.

Savage managed to produce a distinctive handgun that will use existing holsters and magazines. Savage’s 1911 is a full length, and weight, Government Model. This means a steel frame and five-inch barrel. The pistol is offered in stainless steel or with a dark Melonite finish. There is also a two-tone version.

Savage 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun with Inforce combat light attached to the Picatinny rail
The Inforce combat light is a good match for any pistol with a rail.

Both 10+1 9mm and 8+1 .45 ACP pistols are available. Price point will run from $1,200–1,400. It is more expensive than the Springfield Garrison, as an example, but less expensive than the Springfield TRP.

The slide received the majority of attention, making the Savage 1911 a distinctive handgun. A cheap and tawdry 1911 takes predictable shortcuts, while the more evolved pistol offers plenty of leeway for art and flourish. The slide is cut and beveled in a unique series of cuts on the slide flats. While distinctive, this slide treatment doesn’t preclude holstering in quality holsters designed for the 1911.

The slide also features a nicely machined tool worked surface between the sights. The sights are Novak types by Night Fision, in my example. These sights feature a bright dot surrounded by brighter material (in the modern fashion) offering an excellent aiming point for speed shooting.

Fision front sight on the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
A bright front dot makes for rapid target engagement.

The rear sight is more complex that it first appears. The rear sight features a tritium bar. This bar dot system requires superimposition of the front sight on the target, while the rear bar offers positive alignment.

This is a sight picture I prefer over three-dot sights. Close examination shows that the rear sight is screw-adjustable for elevation. For windage adjustment, loosen the setscrew, and bump the sight to one side or the other.

The barrel bushing is fitted on the tighter side of snug but doesn’t require a tool for disassembly. The recoil spring is, thankfully, not a full-length guide rod. Instead, it uses a standard guide rod and recoil spring.

The barrel seems well fitted, as the locking lugs roll smoothly in and out of battery as the slide is racked. The requisite 1/32-inch gap between the two halves of the feed ramp — barrel and frame — is present. The surfaces are properly smooth.

The ejection port is flared and lowered to allow easy ejection of a spent case and to unload a chambered cartridge. The frame features a light rail. However, a slick-frame dust cover version is also available. The hammer is a rowel type that is easily manipulated. The safety is well fitted. This ambidextrous safety locks with a positive indent.

Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun in a leather Galco Combat holster
Galco’s Combat holster features a good draw angle (rear rake) and excellent stitching.

The grip safety is a high, upswept design with memory bump. Some of us using the ‘thumbs forward’ grip create a pocket in the palm and do not depress the grip safety properly. This safety certainly helps in that regard.

The grips are modern checkered G10 slabs with a relief near the magazine release. There is no front strap checkering. The magazine well is slightly beveled.

All a 1911 really needs is a nice set of sights, good trigger, and a speed safety. The trigger is a solid type. This is proper for a defensive gun versus a target gun. Aluminum, adjustable target triggers have no place on a personal defense or tactical pistol. However, due to trends and style, they have proliferated. The solid trigger is ideal for most uses.

VZ G10 grip slabs on the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
A solid trigger and VZ grips are good features.

The trigger action on my pistol breaks at 5.5 pounds after the firing tests. It was slightly heavier when delivered. The pistol doesn’t use a firing pin block. Instead, it has a lightweight firing pin with heavy firing pin spring. This is as drop safety as a Series 70 pistol may be.

I took time to clean the packing grease, which was minimal, from the handgun before firing. This sometimes affects trigger action. The two 8-round magazines are unmarked but appear to have the McCormick type follower. These magazines did not impress, and one was difficult to load to full capacity. I added MecGar, Colt, Cobra, and Wilson Combat magazines to the mix.

Specifications

  • Type: Recoil operated, single-action, semi-automatic
  • Cartridge: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 8+1 rounds
  • Barrel: 5 in. 1:16-inch. twist
  • Overall length: 8.45 inches
  • Weight: 38.5 ounces
  • Materials: Forged slide and frame
  • Finish: Melonite
  • Grips: G10 by VZ grips
  • Sights: Novak Lo-Mount self-luminous iron sights/Bar Dot
  • Trigger: 5.5 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,300 to $1,500, depending on options

Shots Fired

I lubricated the Savage 1911, on the barrel near the bushing, at the barrel hood, and on the cocking block. The primary test ammunition was Federal American Eagle. This ammunition is clean burning, accurate, and affordable. If the 1911 won’t run with 230-grain jacketed ammunition, it won’t run at all.

Malfunctions with a failure to go into battery or short cycles may be exhibited during the break-in phase with 1911 handguns, However, they are rare with modern 1911 handguns. The pistol ran fine with all magazines — save the supplied magazines. They were stiff to load, and failed to properly feed. A surprise! Maybe the R&D was done with other magazines, and these are a low bid. Had it been my gun and not a loaner, I would have discarded the magazine.

‘spring within a spring’ recoil spring for the Savage 1911 pistol
The spring technology handled recoil well.

I think I will keep the pistol. When a paid receipt arrives, I will trash this unfortunately poor magazine. With all other magazines, the pistol performed well.

Fast shooting was accomplished by drawing from a Galco Combat holster. (Be certain to specify optics ready or rail gun when ordering.) I drew and fired at 5, 7, and 10 yards with good results. I don’t have a limited repertoire of tactics and executed several drills with the Savage 1911. Results were excellent. The sights are an advantage, and while this isn’t the lightest trigger, it is a smooth trigger action with rapid reset.

I fed the pistol multiple handloads, including a hard cast 200-grain SWC over enough Titegroup powder for 890 fps. This is a pleasant and accurate loading. I noticed the pistol is a soft shooter. It isn’t a 9mm. For a Government Model 1911 however, recoil was less than expected. Perhaps that’s due to something Savage has done with intelligent recoil spring and hammer spring choices.

Cranial paper target with bullet holes and a Savage 1911 .45 ACP pistol
The author’s headshots at 15 yards offhand. He needs work.

The Savage 1911 shoots well indeed. You don’t learn much past 1.5 hours of range work, so I retired to home, cleaned and lubricated the pistol, and returned to the range the next day. This time I fired for accuracy with proven loads.

I have a great respect for the Federal HST defense load. I proofed the pistol with this load and fired for accuracy. Firing from the MTM Case-Gard K-Zone mount, I put five shots into 2.0 inches. I also fired the Speer Gold Dot 200-grain +P, an overlooked and effective loading.

The Savage ran just fine with a magazine of these loads and then five more fired from the bench. A five-shot group of 2.25 inches was obtained.

bullet holes in a papertaget from Lehigh copper/fluted bullets
Lehigh copper/fluted bullets make a distinctive impression!

I also fired a box of Lehigh 135-grain loads. A screamer at 1,240 fps, recoil was modest for a load delivering over 450 foot pounds of energy. I put five shots into 2.5 inches, about 2.5 inches low. I could easily have adjusted the sights.

Next, I tested a small sample of Buffalo Bore’s 255-grain Outdoorsman. This is a hard cast, flat point clocking 946 fps in the Savage 1911. Recoil was there! If you need a hard-hitting loading for animal defense, or for taking medium-size game at moderate ranges, this is a good choice. Five shots went into 2.4 inches. Curious, I fired five rounds of American Eagle 230-grain FMJ. These loads went into 1.9 inches — the best performer of the firing test.

Postscript

The magazine problem was not welcome and could easily have been avoided with different magazines. After about 400 rounds, the pistol skipped a cartridge with the extractor failing to lock into the case rim. I didn’t like that. It repeated soon after. I will tune the extractor at some point. Potential is there, but I need to tweak this pistol more.

Paper anatomy target with bullets holes from rapid fire
Rapid fire accuracy was excellent.

I find the Savage 1911 a credible choice for personal defense and all around use. A powerful handgun is a great personal defense piece. Adding pride of ownership and good accuracy, we have a combination found only in a quality 1911 handgun. If reliability may be achieved, we have something. A friend’s all-stainless version came out of the box running and is still running. I had to repair mine.

Do you own a Savage 1911, or have you fired one? What was your experience with the Savage 1911? Which 1911 magazines do you recommend? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Forend of the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • stainless version of the Savage 1911
  • pistol magazine showing signs of wearing on the trigger bar.
  • ‘spring within a spring’ recoil spring for the Savage 1911 pistol
  • Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun in a leather Galco Combat holster
  • Field stripped Savage 1911 .45 ACP semi-automatic handgun
  • Savage 1911 .45 ACP pistol, right angled profile
  • barre; bushing on the front of the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • Lehigh’s 135-grain .45 ACP cartridges
  • bullet holes in a papertaget from Lehigh copper/fluted bullets
  • Fision front sight on the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • rear view of the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • Cranial paper target with bullet holes and a Savage 1911 .45 ACP pistol
  • Paper anatomy target with bullets holes from rapid fire
  • VZ G10 grip slabs on the Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • Savage 1911 .45 ACP handgun with G10 grip panels
  • Barrel wear on a 1911 gun
  • Savage 1911 .45 ACP semi-auto handgun with Inforce combat light attached to the Picatinny rail
  • Savage 1911 .45 ACP pistol, right profile

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 (15)

  1. I own a Savage Stance 9mm for my edc and love it. I did some cerakoting to make it look rad. My two favorite things about it are how fast and easy it is to do a complete take down for cleaning, and that it’s very accurate and American made. I may have to try out the new 1911. I like to see How Savage is making the move from hunting rifles to pistols, because we all know how reliable the rifles are and I have no reason to suspect that the pistols they are coming out with will be any different

  2. I began with a 1914-produced GI Colt that never made it back for the A-1 modifications. Then I bought a Remington R-1. Nice gun with a little work, it’s a tack driver, then I built one myself from parts. I agree the 1911 is meant to be a .45 and nothing else.

    I have to somewhat disagree that the supplied magazine IS a problem. How many people will depend upon only that one mag? I would have downrated it based upon a poor-performing magazine. Remember if it don’t feed, you have an expensive club in your hand, not a pistol!

    I also think the price is more than a bit too high for a knock-off.

  3. Per the opening paragraph of this article, I guess that I must be something of an anomaly when it comes to 1911 fans. I’m definitely a life-long fan, but I only own one. A Colt Combat Commander was the very first firearm I ever purchased. Mine was purchased new in 1973. Since then, I’ve added Wilson sights, a longer match trigger, an up-swept beaver-tail, and Pachmeyr grips. The feed-ramp has been polished, and the only feed problem I’ve ever encountered was when the extractor broke after 20 years with thousands of rounds put through the gun. In short, That 1911 has been made to fit my hand and the way I shoot. The weight is familiar and it just feels right to shoot. So, I’ve never really seriously considered purchasing another 1911. I love the one I’ve got. I’m seriously considering putting a new Wilson barrel, bushing, spring, & guide rod into it though. They are worn after so many years and so many rounds.

    I used GI mags until I discovered Wilson mags back in the late ’90’s. The Wilson 8 round mags have been my standard ever since then,

  4. Got a GI 1911 from CMP w/ 1 mag, Ithaca frame. Bought a Pro Mag, wouldn’t fit, got tighter the deeper it went until I was afraid it would jam solidly. Traded the mag to my gunsmith for a GI mag, works perfectly. Anyone else run into this?

  5. I have carried a Springfield Armory Range Officer since ccw in Illinois. A well maintained 1911 is still one of the finest defense weapons. Only had one fifth in over 2000 rounds. That was a primer that wouldn’t go off.

  6. I have over the years collected a number of 1911 platforms From two LesBear to entry level platforms from RIA.
    it has been my experience the most of the mid-range platforms in the $1000 to $2000 range have one issue or another right out of the box. Most have been easily solved but irritating all the same. I have had, on the other hand, little to no issues with entry level platforms from the better-known manufactures and none at all from either IRA or Springfield. I also have several 1911 GI Government models that have never been of issue including my fathers that he carried and used throughout WW2.
    I prefer my 1911’s chambered in .45ACP or 10mm. i do have a Springfield in 9mm but its not used. when it comes to “old school” 9mm, I’ll stay with the Browning Hi Power (now out of production) or its new variant the Springfield SA35. Excellent EDC platforms and seldom talked about in this day an time.
    i long ago discovered that seemly many of the issues concerning the 1911 platform boil down to a feeding issue. this is to say that as the tolerances and manufacturing improved over the years the 1911 became “pickier” about how it is feed. For whatever reason Magazine development did not keep pace with these better platforms.
    Enter Bill Wilson Combat aftermarket Magazines in 9mm, 10mm, and .45ACP. Experience has shown me over the years that simply using these well designed, manufactured, stainless steel, Magazines SOLVE better than 90% of the issues with OFTB platforms that are often found.
    It’s now the first order of business with a new 1911 I get or shoot… replace the magazine with a Wilson Combat, relegate the provided mags to backup status.
    I’m sure that there are other aftermarket SS mags no that will serve as well but i know the Wilson work every time.
    My EDC’s depend on the activity I’m involved in, I have been carrying a ParaOrdance P-14 for many years and will likely do so until I no longer can. The Para is a little known or talked of platform but worthy of mention. I also like my RIA TAC 10mm or my Springfield Operator in .45. I for backup there is always my Hi Power, my Brownings have been retired from EDC and replaced with the Springfield SA35.
    Many will say that the 1911 is no longer relevant, or has to many moving parts or to heavy or no longer reliable. That Glock and Sig or Ruger are “Better”. Whatever floats your boat and that your comfortable with is what you should be carrying. Glocks in my opinion are a fine platform but are not ergonomic to my hand, If its a Poly platform, it a Springfield full size XDm in 10mm or .45 in a chest rig. Sig is ok and the current flavor of the year it seems. Point being make your decision on sound facts and conditions.
    Having shot the New Savage id rank it among the better entry level 1911 out of the box. Would like to see it in a 10mm. a bit on the pricy side but from what i have experienced so far seems a fair price point. I would personally use the Wilson Mags and run 500 to 600 rounds through it to get a good break-in period before I’d depend on it as an EDC however.
    Just my experience and opinion stated here that body of knowledge works for me. If it makes someone else pause a moment an think than it has served itself.

  7. Having a 1911 is like having a 57 Chevy. Both are classic, fit certain groups, nice to have and use, both are intimidating looking, unfortunately no one is making new 57 Chevys. :-(.

    Pulling a Ruger SR1911 (under $1,000) out of the box and being able to do head shots at 25 yards consistently, one has to wonder what you get in a 1911 that cost $500 to $2,000 more?

    For me two cons of a 1911 are: First; cleaning all those nooks and crannies, say compared to a Glock. Second: After using one of the micro 1911s, and being able to unload with the safety on, why hasn’t the 1911 been updated to have this ability to unload (rack the slide) with the safety on?

    It is my understanding the slide lock was for the purpose of keeping the slide in place when breaking in a new military leather holster. If so, who uses those anymore, and so why not update the 1911 by removing the slide lock in favor of being able to unload with the safety on? I realize it runs the same risk as removing the fender skirts on the 57 Chevy, but in time we get use to it.

  8. I carried a .45 in sunny Vietnam and fell in love. If you cleaned it before closing your eyes it always did the job when needed.
    In Iraq I was issued a Beretta 9mm that held so much ammo that it encouraged pulling the trigger without aiming.
    Now I carry a Kimber.45 and am a happy camper.

  9. I put the .45 to use in Vietnam and later as a personal sidearm.
    Later as an advisor in Iraq I was issued a Beretta 9mm.
    Now I carry a Kimber.45.
    I love the.45 despite the limited round capacity.
    For my 2 cents the.45 is the perfect carry.

  10. I love 1911s, the way they fit my hand and how solid they shoot. One question: Does the Savage model feature a smooth trigger face at your fingertip or is is grooved?

  11. When the 1911 was designed, auto loading pistols were in their infancy. However, the basic design has lasted so long because it still effective. The low pressure 45 ACP round was also a large factor in the long-life span of the 1911 design. Now, with modern technology, a scaled down 1911 version in 9mm can be a good CCW for first time users. A modern full-sized 1911 in 45 ACP can also be extremely accurate and easily customized. How many of the new bred polymer pistols can be customized or upgraded like the 1911?

  12. I’m with madmax3.6. 1911’s are nice and fun to shoot, but when it hits the fan, I want my Glock 17 or Beretta 92 in my hand.

  13. I will admit the 1911 pistol is a fine looking pistol and served our veterans in two world wars and many other conflicts. Having said that, they are finicky about ammo and two many parts. When my life is on the line, reliability trumps everything else. I prefer a Glock or S&W M&P .45 over any 1911 because they always go bang every time you pull the trigger and feeds any type of ammo without any issues. Just my two cents, every one else’s mileage may vary.

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