May 26, 2021
Few training opportunities exist that are specific to the M1911. Despite the gun being Col. Jeff Cooper’s preferred model of fighting handgun, Gunsite Academy in Arizona only offers a 1911 Build Course (February 15-19; $1,500) and a Colt factory certified 1911 Armorer’s Course (July 26-27; $575) for 2021. There are still a number of pistolsmithing-type classes available, but those of us who have holstered a Model 1911 for duty or defense know that there are a lot of nuances to carrying a Model 1911. It is imperative for those who depend on one to raise their knowledge about the platform, and one remaining option is to attend Larry Vickers’ 2-Day 1911 Operator Course offered through Aztek Training Services ($575).
Vickers’ training highlights the differences in carrying and shooting a M1911. Students learn through short lectures and drills to reinforce various techniques and beliefs. Unique to Vickers’ curriculum is the second day’s classroom experience where students learn to disassemble, troubleshoot and reassemble their pistol. Afterwards, the group returns to the range to reinforce various skills. This class is excellent for evaluating and proving the accuracy and reliability of any new Model 1911 in any caliber since a minimum of 800 rounds will be fired through the pistol.
Also important is a quality holster, and the Blackhawk Serpa and similar holsters are forbidden unless they are issued by a student’s law enforcement agency or military unit. Additionally, this class does not teach appendix inside-the-waistband (AIWB) carry, so those holsters are not appropriate. A minimum dual-magazine pouch is recommended, as is lubricant and cleaning gear. Most importantly, Vickers requires a “good attitude.”
Springfield Armory’s new Vickers Tactical Master Class 1911 was announced on June 8, 2020. Larry Vickers is a combat veteran having retired from the U.S. Army’s elite 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (SFOD) Delta unit, and is a pistolsmith who once made one-off custom M1911s some 20 years ago. He estimated that he fired 1.3 million rounds during his Army career. It’s safe to say that he understands the M1911 platform thoroughly.
Vickers’ expertise extended beyond his ability to build and shoot 1911s, and he developed relationships with brands such as Glock and Wilson Combat who still offer his signature components on spec’d models. However, Vickers’ name and branded parts are commonly associated with high-end pistols. Vickers and Richard Lipsey, of the eponymous firearm wholesaling firm, shared an idea to develop a modern 1911 that could be afforded by most serious shooters. Wilson Combat’s Vickers Elite model is still an exciting prospect, but it starts at $3,850. To avoid a misunderstanding with his longtime friend and business partner, Vickers’ discussed the idea with Bill Wilson, who supported the Master Class project.
Also long-time friends with champion-shooter Rob Leatham, Vickers had the connections to develop a preproduction 1911 with Dave Williams of Springfield Armory. The prototype was created mostly to Vickers’ specs by the 2020 SHOT Show, and Vickers gave credit to Springfield Armory for coming up with the “Master Class” moniker.
I learned about the pistol in early May 2020 and discussed each feature with Vickers prior to signing up for his 1911 Operator course. His confidence in his own beliefs is assuring to students. Summarily, Vickers wanted a pistol inspired by the M1911 that he used with Delta, but something different than what’s on the market today. He is a man who successfully completed extreme-risk missions to include those in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Just Cause in Panama.
Vickers’ experiences influenced the functionality of the Master Class 1911. For example, there are woven grasping grooves that are initially limited to this model. At the back of the slide is a retro-styled combat hammer, grip safety and thumb safety made of tool steel by Wilson Combat. The safeties are precision machined and perfectly fit for reliability. To that end, the Master Class’ great trigger feel was also partly the result of Vickers’ mandate to incorporate Wilson Combat’s hammer, sear and trigger assemblies. The hammer falls after only 4 pounds of pressure, which feels different in your grip because of the gun’s length of pull.
“I specified a medium trigger be installed,” said Vickers. “Long triggers have grown in length through the decades, which is an issue because it makes the space within the triggerguard smaller.”
More From Wilson
Vickers’ Master Class 1911 included two of Wilson’s ETM-V eight-round magazines. Designed in collaboration between Bill Wilson and Vickers, these mags feature steel basepads with 10 dimples for marking, which are attached to the heat-treated, stainless-steel body. I typically avoid superlatives, but the Elite Tactical Magazine-Vickers (ETM-V) Duty Mag from Wilson Combat is my personal favorite since the Wilson 47D. It’s that good.
Wilson already had an excellent reputation for his 47-series magazines. Legendary instructor, lawman and IPSC/IDPA founder Ken Hackathorn recalled a few years ago, “Back in 1980, Bill Wilson asked me to test his new Wilson-Rogers .45 magazines. He felt they had solved the problem of cracked feed lips and that their new magazine fed much more reliably than any others on the market. Well, it’s 30 years later now and I’m still using some of those original six prototype magazines that Bill sent me.” Wilson’s magazines have had incremental improvements across five generations, but Vickers’ recent input eliminated every hole on the tube except for the magazine-catch notch.
Sold for $55 at shopwilsoncombat.com, I can understand why Springfield Armory decided to include only two of Wilson Combat’s Vickers Elite magazines, but I think the Master Class 1911 deserves a third — at least. Having an MSRP of $1,495, the handgun’s price would have exceeded that $1,500 price point. However, as I reflect on Vickers’ training, I can’t see how someone who purchases this pistol and attends training gets through his coursework with only a pair of mags.
“The sweet-spot was to make a pistol in the $1,500 to $1,600 price range,” Vickers said, “and I mandated that they had to use my magazines and rear sight. The front sight had to be an HD, also.”
The Master Class 1911 is fitted with a tritium-filled front night sight given a bright-orange luminescent ring at the front. It nests in the rear notch, which is black with no dots to keep the shooter’s focus on the front sight. The rear Vickers Elite Battlesight is also manufactured by Wilson Combat featuring a .145-inch wide and deep U-notch, as well as a serrated face that makes the front sight quick to acquire and align. The front of the rear sight is also sloped but is tall enough to hook for one-handed slide racking.
The Class Begins
Vickers’ teachings and drills stress accuracy first and speed second, but effectively merge the two by the end of training. Vickers’ targets were simply cardboard IPSC targets given a B-8 bullseye that’s spray-glued to the top of the silhouette’s torso. A 1-inch square was added with black target pasties or spray paint in the center of the headbox for an accuracy contest at the end of each day.
The class first formed groups of two on the firing line for the Ball-and-Dummy drill, which leaves the shooter unknowing as to whether a trigger press will result in a dry-fire or live-fire shot. This checks for flinching or the tendency for a shooter to look over one’s sights at the target.
Once good trigger manipulation was demonstrated by all, the class moved to learning how to shoot on Vickers’ buzzer rather than when perfect sight alignment on target was achieved. While grossly exaggerating a figure-eight wobble in his sights, he demonstrated that perfect sight picture wasn’t necessary for effective shots on a target at ranges inside of 10 yards. The give-and-take taught classmates how to accept some wobble and maintain confidence that they could still strike the black of the target. Light bulbs flickered on for everyone.
Along the way, students learned the drawbacks to carrying a single-stack M1911 for defense in modern times. In fact, he jokingly referred to the course as a “Glock-appreciation class.” Having between seven and eight rounds in a magazine, a 1911 user will load twice as often as a double-stack shooter, so we often backfilled our magazine pouches. Vickers worked to eliminate a student’s habit of catching, picking up and retaining partially loaded magazines as other schools teach it. He called this a “training scar.”
Other drills cleverly reinforced fundamentals, but new to me was Vickers’ approach to trigger work. In an effort to teach students not to snatch the trigger and pull sights off target, Vickers’ discussed the placement of one’s trigger finger as related to the pistol’s length of pull. Vickers’ choice of a medium-length trigger on his Springfield Armory pistol proved more effective for me than the usual long trigger appearing on other 1911s at the firing line. Borrowing a lesson from his friend Leatham, we shot from the “At The Ready” presentation on a buzzer. First, we shot with our trigger finger starting at an indexed position along the side of the frame. Then we shot on the buzzer with our finger tip resting on the face of the trigger shoe — no take-up. Finally, we shot on the buzzer with the slack removed so that the trigger finger was already pressing against the wall. This third “staged” position was the hardest for shooters to learn because the finger is already applying pressure to the trigger, and the brain is anticipating the sound of the buzzer. At the start of the class, with muzzles safely pointed at an assigned target, there were several unintended discharges. The class enjoyed a chuckle when a round would be fired ahead of the buzzer, especially if it resulted in a chain firing of other students following the offender. Though I’ve learned to shoot precisely with a staged trigger press, this drill demonstrated a safety consideration I’ll never forget. In contrast, Leatham is an example of a successful shooter who effectively presses the trigger from a position where his finger is completely off the trigger. Leatham allows the trigger to come to full reset before each subsequent trigger press — even when he shoots rapid-fire stages.
During breaks, Vickers’ was approachable and enjoyed offering analogies. He answered any question, albeit sometimes off the record. Prospects should be ready for colorful commentary, which will be familiar to anyone who has served in uniform. “That’s as f***’d up as wet bread,” he’ll say, sometimes changing the suffix of that sentence for variety. “That’s as f***’d up as a screen door on a submarine,” or “… a chicken-wire canoe.”
Vickers isn’t demeaning, but he will bust you when you make mistakes. This is part of the experience that one gets in participating in an actual class that can’t be fully appreciated on his 897,000-subscriber YouTube channel or in an article. The interaction with Vickers as an instructor is a large part of what you’re paying for — and it’s worth it.
A lot of casual discussion occurs during the detailed disassembly part of the class on Day 2. He answered eternal questions such as whether he preferred a standard guiderod or a full-length guiderod in a M1911 and gear selection. I won’t spoil the answers for potential students reading this, but you can glean much of the obvious from studying the Springfield Armory Vickers Master Class 1911.
The last day of training concludes with movement while shooting. We practiced the heel-to-toe roll, flexing at the knee, unhinging the elbows, locking the wrists and keeping shoulders square — all while he reinforced fundamentals. In the end, every student left having learned more about themselves and their chosen firearm. Though the M1911 generally appeals to older students, there are typically two to three younger shooters in every 1911 class.
The 1911 Lifestyle
Springfield Armory’s Vickers Master Class 1911 performed with only a couple malfunctions that we attributed to a questionable aftermarket magazine (not the supplied Wilsons). The gun became sluggish twice near round counts 450 and 600. I stopped, wiped it down, applied lubed it and carried on. Every 1911 needed this attention.
I shot from a 5-year-old case of HPR ammunition loaded with Hornady’s 230-grain XTP hollowpoint. To say that the Master Class 1911 is “accurate” is an understatement. Every student was impressed by several one-hole 10- and 20-round clusters that I shot to 20 yards. It didn’t win every shootoff in competition, but I used it to take the top spot several times. At the end of class, I had some 250 rounds remaining, so many in the class helped me blaze through the leftover ammunition to reach the 1,000-round mark. Everyone loved this gun.
Vickers’ selection of Springfield’s and Wilson’s parts produced arguably the best fighting-ready 1911 Springfield Armory has made. Given the challenges surrounding the carry of any production-quality 1911 — questionable magazines; long ejectors; trigger slack, a stiff wall and overtravel; a bullet’s steep feeding approach to the chamber; and reliable thumb and grip safeties — the Master Class 1911 is a standout.
Springfield Armory Vickers Tactical Master Class 1911
Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
Cartridge: .45 ACP
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in., forged stainless steel
Overall Length: 8.6 in.
Height: 5.5 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 9.5 oz.
Finish: Black-T, bonded (carbon steel)
Sights: WC HD tritium/luminescent (front); WC Vickers Elite Battlesight, U-notch (rear)
Trigger: 4 lbs.; medium, solid shoe
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine