The history of the 1911 handgun platform is well-known, as are its virtues—a near-ideal grip angle that makes it comfortable for most people to hold, a design tunable for run-dirty reliability in the field, parts availability that makes it customizable for out-the-ying-yang accuracy, to name just a few. Most of us only think of the 1911 as an incarnation in .45 ACP, but there are plenty of other chamberings it has fired in its long and glorious history. Some of those cartridges are well-known; others are more obscure, as my following Top-10 list of alternative 1911 chamberings from Cartridges of the World 14th Edition illustrates.
The material for this article is adapted from Cartridges of the World 14th Edition.
No. 10: 10mm Auto
The 10mm Auto was introduced in 1983 as the cartridge for the Bren Ten semi-auto pistol, made by the now-defunct Dornaus & Dixon Enterprises, Inc., of Huntington Beach, Calif. Ammunition was loaded by Norma, with a 200-grain full-jacketed truncated cone bullet, similar to some 9mm Luger and .45 Automatic loads of some years back. According to data furnished by Norma, the ammunition is loaded to a mean working pressure of 37,000 psi, with a maximum pressure of 44,400 psi.
This is getting up in the area of some rifle loads and makes this a rather hot handgun cartridge. Muzzle velocity is listed as 1200 fps, and energy at the muzzle as 635 ft-lbs. This makes this cartridge more powerful than the .357 Magnum or the obsolete lead bullet .41 Magnum police load. Muzzle energy is about double that of the .45 Automatic. However, recoil is quite heavy. Commercial 1911s chambered for this round today include the Dan Wesson Razorback and Kimber’s Custom II Stainless Target II.
No. 9: 9mm Parabellum (9×19mm)
Yes, I know, apostasy and all that. But the 9mm Para round makes a wonderful chambering for a full-size, Commander, or Officer size 1911. The 9mm Luger, or 9mm Parabellum, was introduced in 1902 with the Luger automatic pistol. It was adopted first by the German Navy in 1904 and then by the German Army in 1908. Since that time, it has been adopted by the military of practically every non-Communist power. It has become the world’s most popular and widely used military handgun and submachine gun cartridge.
Currently, the 9mm Luger is the most widely used centerfire cartridge in the United States, though a principal complaint has always been that the 9mm Luger lacks stopping power as a defensive cartridge. Since the 1980s, when the 9mm became a very popular cartridge for use by law enforcement officers, those who have conducted research into the ability of a handgun cartridge to actually “stop” a bad guy have learned a great deal. Additionally, modern bullet engineering, combined with the moderately high velocities obtainable with a 9mm Luger, 9mm Luger +P, and 9mm Luger +P+ loads has changed not only the outlook on but the performance of the 9mm Luger. Extensive tests in 10-percent ordnance gelatin have shown that many defensive loads for the 9mm expand to a wider diameter and penetrate as deeply as many .45 Auto loads and they do this with a higher impact velocity. I like the Springfield EMP in this chambering, but there are dozens to choose from.
No. 8: .38 Super
Introduced by Colt in 1929 as an improved version of the older .38 Auto, the Super Auto is identical to the original cartridge, except that it uses a more powerful loading. This is a fine high-speed sporting cartridge for the improved Government Model automatic pistol, but it should not be used in the older Colt pocket models. The Thompson submachine gun was once available in a .38 Super chambering. In Spain, Llama has made pistols for it. It is not popular in Europe, but is very popular in Canada, Mexico, and South America, where pistols in military chamberings have been prohibited.
This was, for many years, the most powerful automatic pistol cartridge made in the United States, from the standpoint of both velocity and energy. It makes a good sporting cartridge for hunting small to medium game, because the flat trajectory permits accurate long-range shots. However, the original metal-cased bullet did not bring out the full potential. It is more powerful than the 9mm Luger. For handloading, any 9mm bullet can be used. This chambering has been extremely popular among IPSC competitors. The Colt 1991 Series 80 is a direct descendant of the original Colt M1911 with a long trigger, flat mainspring housing, and original-style recoil spring system.
No. 7: .460 Rowland
This cartridge was developed by northwest Louisiana native Johnny Rowland, whose idea was to develop a handgun hunting cartridge for the 1911 pistol that would offer .44 Magnum levels of power. To do this, Rowland increased the .45 Auto case by 1/16-inch, to ensure .460 Rowland cartridges could not be loaded in .45 Auto handguns. The other main difference between the .460 Rowland and the .45 Auto is that the Rowland round is loaded to a much higher pressures, 40,000 psi as compared to 19,000 psi. Despite the .460 designation, the .460 Rowland uses .451-diameter bullets just like a .45 Auto.
The .460 Rowland is indeed a powerhouse cartridge, something you will realize the first time you fire one. Most 1911s in .460 Rowland are built with a compensator to combat the intense recoil. Currently, Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, and Wilson Combat all offer factory loaded ammunition for the .460 Rowland in various bullets weights from 185 to 255 grains. As of now, a .460 Rowland handgun is mostly custom option, with conversions available for the 1911, Glock 21, Glock 30, and others. However, Wilson Combat offers its Hunter 1911 in this cartridge.
No. 6: 9×23mm Winchester
Winchester introduced this cartridge early in 1996, announcing it at the annual NRA convention. This chambering was designed to meet a specific requirement of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competition, and is not well known outside that discipline. Owing to magazine capacity and grip size considerations, the 9mm-bore size is highly preferred. Because of the muzzle-braking devices used, combining a heavy charge of powder with a light bullet to achieve a given Power Factor results in a load that generates less disruption to the shooter’s hold, compared to a heavier bullet loaded at lower velocity but generating the same PF. While the 9×23 looks like a stretched 9mm Luger, there are significant internal differences. The 9×23 has an unusually thick web section. This prevents the dangerous case wall blowout that can occur with any conventional pistol cartridge when an unusually high-pressure loading is fired in a gun with a feed ramp in the bottom of the chamber that extends further forward than the “solid” portion of the case (the web). The 9x23mm case has sufficient capacity to allow IPSC shooters to achieve Major Power Factor using relatively light bullets and without generating gun-wrecking pressures. Ballistics are quite impressive. Les Baer makes the 1911 Ultimate Master Combat Pistol, the Baer 1911 Premier II 5-inch Model, Premier II Super-Tac, and Monolith in 9×23 Win.
No. 5: .50 GI
Frustrated by laws that banned .50-caliber handguns in his native Denmark, Alex Zimmerman created the proprietary .50 GI cartridge in 2002, Zimmerman having moved to the United States a decade earlier. First seen publicly at the 2004 SHOT Show, the .50 GI cartridge is not a magnum cartridge. Zimmerman engineered a 1911-style pistol and .50 GI cartridge combination to achieve highly controllable knock-down power for self-defense and IPSC shooting.
One .50 GI factory load drives a 300-grain bullet at 700 to 725 fps (translating into a 210 power factor), with felt recoil comparable to a 230-grain .45 ACP hardball round. For serious stopping power, a second factory load drives a 275-grain bullet at 875 fps, with felt recoil similar to a 10mm. To fit 1911 frames and slides, the .50 GI cartridge features a .45 ACP base and rim on a proprietary cartridge case manufactured by Starline. This feature allows the use of a standard .45 breech face, extractor, and ejector on 1911-style pistols. Changing a Guncrafters Industries .50 GI-chambered pistol to .45 ACP requires only a different barrel and magazine.
No. 4: .400 Cor-Bon
Peter Pi, CEO of Cor-Bon, designed this cartridge in 1995 by simply necking down the .45 Automatic to .40-caliber with a 25-degree shoulder. Unlike some earlier necked-down .45 Automatic designs, this case has a reasonably long neck. With the advent of plentiful .40-caliber pistol bullets, this was an obvious high-performance cartridge choice. This design offers several advantages. First, in most pistols, conversion is completed by a simple barrel replacement. Second, the feed ramp in the chamber can easily be shortened or eliminated, thus allowing safe use of loads generating significantly higher pressure. Third, owing to the bottleneck design, this case can function better with a wider variety of bullet shapes and is generally more forgiving toward machining, fit, and finish tolerances. This is a very fine cartridge for those who do not like excessive recoil.
No. 3: .40 S&W
This cartridge was developed as an in-house joint venture between Winchester and Smith & Wesson within six months from the time it was first discussed in June 1989. Mr. Bersett at Winchester, and Mr. Melvin at S&W, were primarily responsible for this cartridge’s development and standardization. At that time, the FBI had been working with the 10mm Automatic, developing a load that met its criteria for bullet diameter, weight, and velocity. The folks at Winchester and Smith & Wesson realized that the power level the FBI had settled on could easily be achieved using a much shorter cartridge. This would facilitate accuracy and allow use of a smaller, more comfortable grip frame.
Until quite recently, none of the factory loads available actually took full advantage of this cartridge’s potential. Several now offered actually generate about 500 ft-lbs of energy in typical guns. This is serious power for such a small package and rivals the best the .45 Automatic can offer. However, such a powerful and compact package requires comparatively high pressures. High peak pressure and a short barrel equate to high noise and muzzle blast. Nevertheless, for its purpose, this has to be considered a superior cartridge design. The STI Trojan is one of the better 1911 40s I’ve had a chance to shoot.
No. 2: 22 TCM
Armscor President Martin Tuason and master gunsmith Fred Craig developed the .22 TCM (Tuason Craig Micromagnum) using the .223 Remington case shortened so that the shoulder is at approximately the same length as the case mouth of a 9x19mm cartridge. The result: Fired from a 1911, the TCM delivers 2,100 fps with a 40-grain bullet. The bottlenecked cartridge is similar in case capacity, general shape, and performance to the 5.7×28 FN.
Currently, only Rock Island Armory catalogs firearms chambered in .22 TCM. These include a 1911-style semi-auto pistol and a bolt-action rifle that can use the same magazines as the pistol. The base pistol is a wide-body, high-capacity 1911 built on a Para-Ordnance frame. Only Armscor, the parent company of Rock Island Armory, manufactures ammunition. The maximum overall loaded length is the same as a .45 ACP. The flush magazines hold 17+1 rounds of .22 TCM. Rock Island chambers several Micro Mag 1911-style pistols in 22 TCM, and they are a blast to shoot.
No. 1: 22 Long Rifle
This is on my list because there’s no better way (other than dry firing) to learn trigger control on a particular 1911 than to shoot with little to no recoil. The .22 Long Rifle was developed by the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co. in 1887. It is the .22 Long case with a five-grain black-powder charge (likely with a granulation similar to what we would now call FFFFg), and a 40-grain bullet instead of the original 29-grain. The Peters Cartridge Co. is supposed to have first manufactured it, specifically for Stevens. At one time, the .22 Long Rifle was available in black-powder, semi-smokeless, and smokeless powder loads. Remington introduced the first high-velocity type, in 1930. The 40-grain solid and 36- and 38-grain hollowpoint bullets have been available for many years. The original case was not crimped, a feature that finally appeared in 1900. Space does not permit a full discussion of the different loads and types of .22 Long Rifle cartridges or the rifles and handguns that chamber it. Suffice it to say, it is the most accurate and highly developed of any rimfire cartridge ever, the most popular match cartridge in existence, and also the most widely used small-game and varmint cartridge. There are numerous 45-to-22 conversion kits available, such as Kimbers’ for its line of .45 ACP 1911s.
Got a favorite cartridge not on this list? Let us hear what you think are the best alternative chamberings for the 1911 handgun.
Guest Post by Todd Woodard, Editor, Cartridges of the World. This material is adapted from Cartridges of the World, 14th Edition, copyright Gun Digest Books. Reprinted with permission. Paperback, 688 pages, available December 19, 2014.