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Shooting an Old War Horse: CMP USGI 1911

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I was fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase a CMP USGI 1911, which are surplus US government 1911s available through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) (read about it here). Being a student of history and firearms, a GI 1911 is something I have wanted due to its significance with military and firearm design history.

It's hard to not feel nostalgic when holding this pistol. While growing up and even still reading books, watching old war movies and listening to first-hand stories from veterans of 20th-century conflicts, the 1911 was a trusted sidearm that accompanied millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on missions around the world.

With only 7/8rd capacity, the 1911 needs to be reloaded a lot.

In the 100-plus years of its existence, the 1911 has seen a lot of derivations and modifications. Action shooting sports and bullseye competitions have driven many enhancements, allowing for better ergonomics, accuracy, reliability or speed of operation.

This GI 1911 does not have extended controls, a tuned trigger, frame checkering, enhanced sights or a match barrel. Compared to a modern 1911 this GI spec gun is primitive but reflective of a service pistol made en-masse by a country in a total war effort. The basic 1911 design is still ergonomic in the hand, and the GI short trigger and arched mainspring housing making it sit well and easy to reach the controls.


After getting the pistol, I field stripped and wiped down the parts to inspect the condition. The pistol was in very good, service-ready condition with fresh springs. The Parkerizing is even and dark throughout, aside from some wear marks. With the inspection done, I re-lubed and assembled the parts. With a non-firing inspection, the pistol cycles and parts operate smoothly, not feeling loose or worn out.

The slide to frame fit has minimal slop, and the barrel locks up tight. The trigger is not match-grade, but very usable. The single-action design has some take-up, then a heavy wall with slight overtravel after the break. The reset is very tactile and audible. Functionally, all the controls like the safety, magazine release and slide release operate positively without binding or dragging. The staked front sight is short and small, without serrations. The rear sight is basic, with a square notch that offers some light around the front sight. These will be the biggest challenge when shooting the pistol.


Sight picture at 7 yards on 8″ steel plate


For range time, I brought my own 230gr FMJ handloads that I’ve used in many other 1911 pistols without fail. The pistol shipped with a US contract made 7rd magazine, but to keep from reloading the same mag I brought along several 8-round Chip McCormick Power Mags. My intended targets were 8-inch MGM steel plates that are easy to setup and teardown.

This target size is challenging for both accuracy and speed, and very unforgiving of bad shooting. I used one cardboard target to do a quick sight alignment check at 10 yards. The sights seemed regulated enough to enjoy shooting, but the shot grouping was center to high. With the steel, a center hold worked well for getting hits.


Shooting the GI 1911

Next, I shot a magazine at the steel at 5-yard increments from 5 to 25 yards. While the sights were small, getting good sight alignment wasn’t a problem in the daylight. At 5 and 10 yards, slow fire shooting resulted in 100% hits on the 8-inch steel. At 15 yards the hit percentage was 6/8 and at 20 and 25 yards the hit ratio was down to 50%.

As a control, I used a Springfield TRP that has a match barrel, and with the same ammo was able to make 100% hits at each distance. It is possible that different ammo or a worked-up handload might be able to squeeze a little more accuracy out of the pistol, however, the misses were very close and not highly erratic.


10-yard grouping to check sights

After figuring out the accuracy, the remaining ammo was spent shooting a variety of drills, ranging from one shot each on multiple targets to alternating number of rounds on target and mixed order target engagements. Inside 10 yards, the pistol had no problems completing the drills. The only downside for a guy used to more ammo in a magazine, was the gun had to be reloaded constantly.

Over 200 rounds were fired during the range session with no malfunctions. Something unexpected was the brass casings tended to eject up and back, with many going over my shoulder. This is a function of the GI guns having a higher ejection port instead of one being cut lower like on modern 1911s.

.45 ACP cartridge

.45 ACP cartridge

While the 1911 has been retired from US military service for 30 years, it is still a capable and fun pistol to shoot. While a stock GI gun is a basic configuration relative to modern built 1911s, it is still enjoyable to spend range time with. This pistol is a living piece of history, being built in 1944, spending a life in government service and now it is something that can be enjoyed at the range with friends and family.


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