Modern aged woolly mammoths are thought to have gone extinct more than 10,000 years ago in what is now modern Alaska and the Yukon. In certain parts of Siberia and Asia, it’s likely that mammoths lived on until 6,000 years ago, and scientist estimate that 10 million mammoths remain frozen. Since the days they walked the earth, woolly mammoths have been hunted, but in the 21st century, mammoth ivory is growing as a popular substitute for elephant ivory. Mammoth ivory differs in appearance from elephant ivory in that it is browner and the Schreger lines, or crosshatchings, are coarser, giving it a distinctive aged appearance.
Mammoth tusks have been reemerging more frequently from the deep permafrost in Alaska and Siberia as well as from eroding creek beds and changing river bends. Intrigue with fossilized ivory combined with its availability at about $75 per pound make it a lucrative medium for artisans.
In some cases, guns serve as functional forms of art, and you don’t have to look beyond Republic Forge to find the artists. Republic Forge is a small builder of custom Model 1911s in Perryton, Texas, where three gunsmiths allow you to build your own interpretation of a 1911.
Each Republic Forge 1911 is a one-of-a-kind investment where every detail is optional. If you build one using the company’s drop-down menu at its website, you’ll find model names for longslides, full-size and Commander variants as well as caliber options including .38 Super, 9mm, .40, 10mm and .45. Carry cuts, sights, hammer, double stack, single stack, mag-well type, safety, serrations, finish and custom grips are among the decisions you’ll get to make. Custom isn’t cheap, but the results are absolutely incredible.
G&A Editor Eric Poole owns this particular Republic Forge 1911. Enough readers wrote in after seeing it in a “Carry Rig” column that he assigned a “Proofhouse” testfire for this issue. This pistol’s features are not all-inclusive, but they highlight the unique options Republic Forge offers.
The pistol tested here is Republic Forge’s Patriot, and the frame has been finished in a Burnt Bronze Cerakote. Because Poole ordered a set of mammoth-tusk ivory stocks, this color was chosen to complement the aged character the grips possess. The Cerakote process is a ceramic-based finish that is much more durable than bluing and stainless steel, and it works well to resist abrasion, corrosion and chemicals the pistol might encounter during its life of carry. Republic Forge offers a long list of earth-tone color options, and the Cerakote process is done on the company’s premises.
The Damascus slide was a $1,300 upcharge. Like the organic nature of the mammoth grips, these stainless slides offer a unique appearance with contrasting patterns. No two slides are alike. Imported from Damasteel in Sweden, Damascus slides usually require 10 to 12 months of patience to ship from the parent company. Due to warnings about shooting modern-pressure shells through 19th century shotguns with Damascus barrels, some shooters fear that Damascus steel is weak. Traditionally, welding two types of steel, usually in seven layers, produces Damascus steel. The one forge is then folded repeatedly until more than 100 layers are observed. For the last 20 years, Damasteel has been manufacturing its Damascus differently using modern gas-atomizing powder metallurgy. The process results in clean, tempered steel with very few inclusions and impurities.
Inside the Commander-length slide with a lowered and flared ejection port is a standard .45-caliber National Match barrel from Kart. Poole usually loathes the term “National Match” because he feels it is often perverted for marketing purposes, whereas pistol-smiths regard it as a description of unfinished parts that must be fitted by hand. (There’s no such thing as a “drop-in National Match part.”) This Kart barrel has been fitted masterfully by Republic Forge’s gunsmith Jeff Meister. Meister has been customizing and repairing 1911s since 1983, and he is a 2009 graduate of Bill Laughridge’s Cylinder & Slide Custom 1911 and Match Grade Barrel Fitting classes. As Poole is a 2005 alumnus of Laughridge’s training, he more than appreciates the level of detail Meister applies.
Poole doesn’t use forward cocking serrations, so this pistol lacks them. The slide, however, is expertly fitted with Trijicon’s Novak-type tritium night sights, and it reciprocates using a standard guide rod and 18-pound recoil spring.
Controls on this pistol were spec’d in black for contrast and in modern format with extended ledges for the slide-lock lever and ambidextrous thumb safety. For tactile familiarity, the aforementioned controls as well as the combat hammer spur, trigger and magazine release all feature serrations for texture rather than a checkered pattern. The frontstrap and mainspring housing have both been given a fine 25-lines-per-inch checkering for control, which overcomes the fact that the mammoth ivory grips are smooth and do little more than fill the hand in aiding control of the pistol grip.
Control of small groups downrange is aided by a crisp snap of a trigger press. Just 4 pounds of pressure has to be applied to the lightweight aluminum trigger to release the hammer forward. It’s difficult to appreciate the handwork that went into fitting the hammer, sear, disconnector and trigger component without detailed disassembly of the pistol.
Traditional flathead screws give way to hex-head screws on this 1911, and a quick inventory of the overtravel screw, mag-catch screw, grip screws and Novak rear sight screw reinforces that this pistol is a modern piece of work of an otherwise vintage design. Everything about the gun fits together and works flawlessly.
This pistol had been carried for a year and fired throughout by Poole, and for this assignment G&A staff assembled to evaluate it using two loads of defensive-minded ammo and one 1911-specific range load developed by Winchester. Surprisingly, there have only been three malfunctions experienced with this tight-fit custom pistol, and they were with Winchester’s new Win1911 load, producing three failures to feed. After careful analysis, it was our conclusion that this was attributed to a combination of the wide feed lips of Metalform magazines, which allowed the back of the cartridge to slide down vertically into the mag body before the flatnose bullet could properly navigate into the chamber. Otherwise, no malfunction has been observed in firing more than 500 rounds or with other aftermarket magazines.
After this test, G&A reached out to Jeff Meister about this concern and learned that Republic Forge, too, had experienced similar issues with Metalform magazines in its pistols. It has since switched over to shipping its 1911s with Cobra magazines from Tripp Research.
Hornady’s faster 185-grain Critical Defense and HPR’s heavier-jacketed 230-grain hollowpoint produced the tightest five-shot groups at the bench from 25 yards, with the HPR load resulting in this test’s single best target, with five shots measuring just 1.17 inches center to center. These results were not all that typical, as this pistol favors certain loads over others. G&A recommends that if you come to own and carry one of these heirloom-quality 1911s, you consider an assortment of ammunition and evaluate them to determine which load works best for you.