July 23, 2013
By Dusty Gibson
Perhaps the most polarized debate among 1911 aficionados is whether the integral Picatinny rail is welcome on John Browning's classic design.
Purists believe rails defeat the authentic appearance, while others argue they're the gateway for 1911s into the realm of modern firearms.
Those who oppose the presence of rails on Old Slabsides make their case on the grounds of added weight, bulky shape and lack of compatibility with traditional 1911 holsters. Among those in opposition are often the true 1911 connoisseurs who prefer the heritage of a no-frills G.I. model over modern designs with fancy features.
On the other side are those who attach accessories for a more tactical setup. Rail-mounted lights and lasers have become a force multiplier for many operators — especially in military, law enforcement and home-defense applications. Another common segment of the pro-rail crowd are folks who claim they'd rather have rails and not need them than need rails and not have them.
The significance of rails on a 1911 begs the question; If you could only have one 1911, would it have rails or not?
According to 1911 expert Dick Metcalf, "That's like asking Phil Mickelson what club he prefers. It depends on the shot he needs to make." Metcalf went on to say, "If I could only have one 1911, it'd have a rail because of the enhanced versatility. But the Classic 1911 still feels and balances better in my hand."
Thus, the presence of a rail really comes down to the intended application for each individual 1911 operator — whether it be for duty, everyday carry, personal defense or part of a collection.
Those on both sides of the argument often speculate whether John Browning would have included rails on his original design, had the light and laser technology of today been available in the early 20th century. If he could have fastened a tactical candle to the 1911 with the 500-lumen power of a Surefire X300 Ultra, John Browning would have done it.
Based on the sophistication of Browning's firearms, I strongly believe he would have included rails on his original design — especially had he known their benefit to the modern American soldier. As the Picatinny-railed Colt M45A1 CQBP joins the U.S. Marine Corps on the 21st century battlefield, it appears 1911 rail guns have one-up on the original design.
Rock Island Armory Tactical VZ Grip
The Rock Island Armory Tactical VZ Grip
is a baseline 1911 that comes out of the box with some great options for the price. Complete with a TruGlo
front sight, ambidextrous safety and VZ Grips
, this is a practical choice that won't break the bank. This pistol could serve as a reasonable starting point for someone to learn the 1911 platform without going overboard.
ATI Thunderbolt Enhanced
brings its Thunderbolt Enhanced
model to market at under [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],000. In addition to a picatinny rail, this 1911 comes with an adjustable target trigger, ambidextrous safety and ported barrel. An adjustable rear sight mounted to the dual-serrated 4140 steel slide makes this a good option for target shooting and plinking.
SIG Sauer Nitron Rail
Folks looking for a few more options in a hand-fitted 1911 should check out the SIG Sauer Nitron Rail
. This pistol sports premium internal parts such as a match grade barrel and trigger. Novak
night sights ride atop a patented Nitron-finished slide, allowing shooters to stay on target in low-light conditions. This 1911 stands apart from others with its wood grips, as well as checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing. SIG Sauer is known for producing quality guns for law enforcement applications, and this pistol is no exception.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],142
Smith & Wesson E-Series 1911TA
Smith & Wesson's
tradition of crafting high-quality, American-made guns continues with its E-Series SW1911TA
. A unique chainmail pattern serrates each side of the stainless steel slide, while flat-top serrations separate the front and rear tritium night sights. Checkering on the front and back straps are on point with that of premium-quality 1911s. Another value-added feature is Smith & Wesson's lifetime service policy, which will keep your gun running long after you've put it through its paces.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],319
Built specifically for tactical operations and combat, the Kimber Warrior
comes with some unique features not found on most Kimber 1911s. For instance, the low-profile tactical wedge night sights, ambidextrous safety and KimPro frame finish give this pistol an advantage for practical applications. This service gun also has frame checkering, G10
grips and a built-in lanyard loop to ensure weapon retention. Look to the Warrior as an all-purpose weapon that's a step up from its TLE/RL II
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],512
Dan Wesson Specialist
Oftentimes overshadowed by big name brands, Dan Wesson
makes some of the highest quality, hand-fitted 1911s for the price. Their small shop in upstate New York gives each gun a personal attention to detail that's normally found only among more high-end manufacturers. The Dan Wesson Specialist
has premium forged steel parts, and a matte black duty finish that can really take a beating before showing any wear. It also features a unique set of vertical two-dot, dual-colored tritium night sights for fast sight acquisition in all lighting conditions.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],870
Colt Marine Pistol
The only difference between the new military-issued Colt M45A1
and the civilian model — known as the Colt Marine Pistol
— is the serial numbers and U.S. Property roll marks. The design of this close quarters battle pistol was adopted by the USMC in July 2012 and will be issued to the most elite Marines in service.
The Colt Marine Pistol is finished in the Colt Custom Shop with a Desert Tan Cerakoted slide and frame, Novak night sights and a lanyard loop attached to the serrated mainspring housing. Internal parts and the match-fit barrel are hand fitted, and each firearm is test fired for optimum quality control. The Marine Pistol comes with the actual target used during testing.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],999
Les Baer Ultimate Recon
Its rounded corners and hand fitting make the Les Baer Ultimate Recon
an excellent option for a tactical carry gun. The quality many have come to expect from Les Baer is paired with a number of standard features, including a Streamlight TLR-1
attached to the integral picatinny rail. Its fine details include a beveled magazine well, checkered slide stop and flared ejection port.
Price: gallery= 332,370
Wilson Combat CQB Tactical LE
For over 30 years, the name Wilson Combat
has been synonymous with the highest quality 1911s on the market. The company's experienced master pistolsmiths hand-tune each CQB Tactical LE
to the highest tolerances for advanced SWAT and military special operation applications.
This pistol achieves optimum accuracy with a crisp 3 ½-pound trigger pull, match grade bull barrel and fiber optic front sight. The magazine well is beveled for no-look reloading, and the front strap is checkered with an elegant 30-lines per inch pattern. As with all Wilson Combat products, the CQB Tactical LE can be heavily customized to fit your specific needs.
Springfield TRP Light Rail
The Springfield Armory TRP Light Rail
comes packed with desirable features for the price. Originally designed around the same specifications as Springfield's FBI-contract 1911, the TRP offers similar performance for the civilian market.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery= 332],867
Nighthawk AAC Recon
The Nighthawk AAC Recon
is a beautiful 1911, and its also a real workhorse. Built in collaboration with Advanced Armament Corporation
, the custom serrations on the top of the slide, front strap and mainspring housing lighten the gun while also matching the markings on the AAC Ti-Rant Suppressor
Other battle-ready features include customized Heinie Ledge sights, which are designed to give a clear sight picture above the suppressor. Their distinct 'ledge ' shape can be used to cock the weapon on a hard surface as needed. Every component of this gun are expertly fitted and de-horned to create a truly functional work of art.
Price: $3,395 (not including suppressor)
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