Monday, May 4, 2009

Not just another pretty gun

I was able to get out to the range with the Belleau Wood 1911 despite the intermittent rain that came and went all day.

I set up one of the Riposte-1 targets, designed by our friend and Gunsite alumnus Jim Higginbotham for use by the Kentucky National Guard, at seven yards. I figured that was about the range that most soldiers would have used a gun like this in the trenches of WW1.
I loaded the plain Jane Colt factory magazine with seven rounds of S&B 230gr ball, chambered a round and topped off the magazine. I took up a basic one-handed offhand bulls-eye stance of the sort that they likely would have taught to doughboys in 1917, took aim with the front sight obscuring the 'A' on the target and pressed the trigger. This is how the target looked after the first 8 rounds - (click on picture to enlarge)

It seemed to be hitting just a bit high and to the right, even at seven yards, but eight rounds of hardball in a group that size would likely have sufficed to unsettle even the most determined German shock troop, I venture.
Loading up again, I fired another 17 rounds, for a total of 25 fired at 7 yards. Here's how it looked then -

Okay, so I got a little sloppy and let two shots drift high and right. I was shooting at a fairly brisk pace, about the cadence of rapid fire in bulls-eye competition, and the front sight was picking up some glint even in the diffuse light of this overcast day. Still, while Higginbotham will never forgive me for such sloppy shooting, I suspicion that even those high hits would have inconvenienced or at least annoyed our imaginary German infantryman.
Moving the target out to 25 yards, I fired the remaining 25 rounds using a two-handed grip and a slightly more deliberate cadence, though still not as slowly as slow fire in bulls-eye. I began to notice a problem -

When I wasn't seeing the hits in center mass like I wanted them to be after I'd fired about five rounds, I deliberately held low and aimed at the center of the bottom line of the 'B' zone where the 'X' is marked on the target.
It became apparent that the pistol was printing about 5-6 inches high and 3-4 inches right at 25 yards. Some of the error might have been the light on the front sight, but I would attribute most of it to the short front sight, of the type that some refer to a the classic 'thumbnail'. Still, once I'd found where it was hitting, it wasn't that hard to bring the rounds down where they should have been and get hits that would have done for most combat situations.
A doughboy issued this pistol wouldn't have won any formal pistol matches with it, perhaps, but if he'd taken the time to find out where the sights were regulated he'd have been able to get adequate hits at what would have been considered any reasonable range for a pistol in that era. And at close range, belly-to-belly and nose-to-nose in the slop and slime of the trenches he would have had no trouble hammering down an enemy with it.
Other observations from today:
The trigger was crisp and predictable.
While I sometimes have problems tripping the standard grip safety on a 1911, this one worked for me in the limited and controlled firing done today.
The tang on the safety chewed a nice blister on the web of my hand the same way that every stock 1911 I've ever shot more than seven rounds through has done.

The fall of the hammer is magically musical on this gun. It must be the combination of solid carbon steel that's blued, not parkerized, and the harmonic convergence of the parts of Browning's genius.
With a little practice and a little tuning, I could have used this gun to win the pistol matches that my Dad and brother and I used to shoot in with the KPOA (Kentucky Peace Officers Association) long ago.
And right now, today, I have no doubt that I could pick it up, charge it with hardball and go out into the dark to win a fight with it.
It has the feel, it has the accuracy, it has the power. It's a 1911!

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