As someone who carries because my life depends on it I have been asked this question and responded in much the same way that I am about to respond now. The simple answer to the title question is, yes if it is 99% reliable with 500-1000 rounds before using as a carry gun.
Now the difficult part to this question, showing you why it can be a good carry gun and what that may take.
John Browning invented the recoil operated semi-automatic handgun known as the 1911. This handgun is easily the most revered handgun even today by many shooters around the world. While it is no longer first choice of many responders and military organizations around the world this should not detract from the reality that the 1911 is a fine handgun.
As for suitability as a general carry firearm for self-defense, the idea is that there is reliability and then every other reason, so is the 1911 reliable? The 1911 is a “safe” gun, it has 3 safeties from the grip safety through the frame safety and in most cases needing to have the firearm cocked before shooting.
Unfortunately, this also means unless you carry it “cocked and locked” you have more fine manipulations before being able to use it than many modern handguns.
Reliability is not something to be taken lightly. There are dozens of major manufacturers that build 1911 style handguns. The real issue with the 1911 is that there is no milspec or stanag for this model of handgun. This means that there is often significant variations in quality and fitment of parts and magazines.
My suggestion if you decide to use a 1911 as a defensive tool, run 50-100 rounds through each magazine you have for the firearm. This will verify that the magazine and handgun are matched well. You may find that your particular build will function with every quality magazine built for the 1911 and you may find it only likes Wilson Combat or Mec-Gar magazines.
Fitting the magazine to the gun is extremely important with these handguns.
Next on the reliability list is the handgun itself. I have owned and or shot the following 1911 handguns. Remington Rand 1911 (this was a WWII carry back from a captain and was almost use free), Thompson Custom, Rock Island Armory, Colt Commander and Colt Government series 80 as well as a Wilson Combat.
I have taught and or attended dozens of classes and seen many hundreds of fellow students and instructors using many other variations, some work and some do not.
The only 1911 that needed no work or adjustments from the seller to the field for my personal use was the Remington Rand 1911. The other ones required minor work to everything from factory included magazines through replacing, adjusting or changing recoil springs and bushings/tolerances.
After small amounts of work and breaking them in there was only two that I was never able to rely on. The Thompson and the Rock Island Armory were never completely reliable, this means I was never able to go even 500 rounds without an issue.
Now, I am certain that someone reading has a perfectly functioning version of the mentioned named handguns if this is the case good!
The point of this is that you must make sure the reliability of EACH firearm prior to using it as a defensive tool. If you cannot afford to buy and shoot at least of 500 practice and 250 self-defense rounds to test reliability, look at a different firearm as a defensive tool.
Caliber types are as widely varying as any other modern handgun, certainly what most of us know is the .45acp and Colt 1911. However, the reality is that within a few years of making the début in .45acp the .38super had one leading to today where you can get the 1911 in 9mm Luger, .38super, .45acp, .380, 10mm and even some oddball cartridges.
Modern defensive ammunition (not military ball ammunition) makes the .45acp a secondary choice at best, however, if you choose the 1911 in .45acp understand the limitations of the round. The .45acp was designed before the jacketed hollow point, this means that at the time it was made to allow for a larger hole to be made in the target.
The round was designed to shoot a 230-grain FMJ or hard cast round at 850 ft/s. There have been adjustments made and with changes in powder, there are many loadings available today.
Unfortunately, it is still a slow round that regardless diameter and weight of round.
With 230 grain hardball, it generates 360 ftlbs of energy at the muzzle, by comparison the 9mm luger shooting 124 grain generates 345 ftlbs of energy at the muzzle. The difference in diameter between the two rounds are right at 2 millimeters, .45acp being 11.23 millimeters and the 9mm being, 9 millimeters.
Remember, you can buy the 1911 (1911 styled) in many calibers, so make sure you pick what will work best and test it!
When it comes to holsters there is again a large selection. However, if you have just spent $1500-$6000 for a reliable 1911 it will be difficult to use Kydex or an Uncle Mikes nylon holster. In fact, to make sure your gun remains pretty for many years you will want to have a well made, fitted leather holster.
If, however, you purchased this for purely defensive purposes and do not mind a little rubbing than a strong, weatherproof dedicated kydex fighting rig is where you want to go.
There are only a couple of leather holster makers I can recommend to the public at large, understanding that there are many amazing leather workers that make custom rigs. Here are my top selections for leather holster that are widely available and do not have a waiting period in most cases.
- Galco – this holster maker is one of my absolute favorites. I highly recommend their products and have a few I like from them.
- 1791 Gunleather – this holster maker is rather new, however, has a solid choice and makes a quality product. I also like the name.
- Black Hills Leather – I have owned one of these holsters, and I really liked it. The designer and builder have been doing this since 1973 and though the name suggests the Dakotas…it is in Texas.
For kydex holsters I suggest the following.
- Clinger Holsters, they make a solid product that works! I highly recommend their products for all handguns, I have two and they work.
- Galco – yes they make kydex as well, and they use the good stuff!
- Concealment Express – because I do not carry 1911s much I cannot tell you if my favorite manufacturers also make them or not. This is a solid manufacturer and they do a good job.
With holsters as others have no doubt said, use leather if you want to keep up your firearms finish long-term, and kydex if you prefer a rig designed solely to fight with. (Leather requires maintenance but is beautiful, I love leather) Kydex does not need maintenance and I rely on mine for solid endless performance.
What about extra gear? All firearms need to be maintained, regularly and lovingly cleaned. A clean firearm is more likely to act flawlessly than a dirty one. Regardless of what televisions shows us about endless magazines and rusted inbred gator farmers the reality is, those who rely on their firearms clean them.
I have personally seen dozens if not hundreds of failures occur in firearms of the military, law enforcement, Appleseed instructors in Arizona and those who believe themselves to be amazing firearms people; many of the failures were because the firearm was dirty.
One person told everyone that “Glocks never need to be cleaned” of course they also believed strongly that Glocks also never fail. That person quit attending local events when their theory ended in a cascade of issues and failures with their precious firearms…that they never cleaned.
(A quick side note, none of this particular Appleseed Instructors 10/22s or FALs ever worked correctly either…
I am still uncertain to this day how someone like this became a captain in the military and a one-time shoot boss/Appleseed instructor) the point here is simple, CLEAN YOUR FIREARMS!
The 1911 is an amazing piece of hardware when built well, however, it will need a more detailed cleaning than almost every other modern defensive handgun on the market.
Here are the tools you will want to have for ensuring your 1911 is clean and running well.
- Brass cleaning rod
- Brass bore brush
- 1911 bushing wrench
- Clean, thin cotton cloths
- Hoppes or Klean Bore solvent (copper/lead residue comes off easier with these)
- Hoppes, Ballistol or a similar solid lightweight oil/ cleaner for after the solvent is used.
While I enjoy using and suggest getting bore snakes for many defensive firearms, for a 1911 I would avoid these and stick with a true cleaning kit alone. Make sure the pieces that may contact the barrel are brass, this will help prevent major scarring or damage from occurring.
My favorite kits are Real Avid and Otis and or a Hoppes kit if you find it. And again I will say, Ballistol is hands down the best gun cleaner I have ever used. It works with everything, the leather holster, the wood or ivory or mother of pearl grips and the steel. It will clean rubber, leather and washes out of cloth. I use it on all of my tools and to lubricate hinges and more.
So is the 1911 a good carry gun?
Honestly, if you can afford to spend $1500 to $3000 on the gun alone (before buying a case of ammunition to test reliability and a half case for self-defense ammunition testing for reliability) than it will not matter what I say.
If you really are interested in self-defense, understand that next to firearm reliability training with them is essential. Again, many years and rounds down range I have gotten to where I can tell you based on what a person is carrying primarily and or wearing how they will shoot.
Obviously, I am not always correct. I know a few amazing instructors that love their 1911s and revolvers, in fact, one of my favorite instructors has their own line of 1911s! The reality is a 1911 is f going to cost more up front and will be more expensive to keep up and run in many cases than many other modern handguns now available.
They are, however, very nice, extremely solid handguns. If you can test before buying do so! Also, make sure you have a solid gun mechanic (gunsmith) show you how to field service/clean and full detail your gun.
Not all gunsmiths will do this but the good ones know that over time you will visit them because the tools alone get expensive on your own. I have several sets of gunsmith tools, I can strip and put back together micro revolvers and large firearms including some belt feds.
On several occasions, I have taken in the “bag of parts” to my gunsmith friends. And yes, it pains me to admit to being all thumbs in some cases, however, it is necessary to understand that the costs of the 1911 can be likened to a high-end luxury car, they are nice when they work and can be reliable but are always more expensive to maintain and run!
So is the 1911 a good carry gun? Yes, it can be.
How many people who I work with, have worked with and or have trained under carry one solely, very few. While the 1911 is a fine firearm the reality is it has not been carried outside of specialty roles by the military since the 1980s and many police departments have long ago transitioned to firearms that offer similar or better ballistic capability with easier manual of arms (use) as well as being more reliable out of the box (without additions, break in periods or changes in factory material.)
And so like many firearm related topics this one really comes down to a simple reality. What are you wanting to do with it, why do you need it and are you going to be training with it. Outside of this all that matter is, is it reliable, not 3 magazines tested but is it able to go through 500-1000 rounds of standard ball and another 250-500 of your chosen defensive load?
If so then absolutely, carry it and trust your life and your families to its role!
Free the mind and the body will follow