The Readers’ ‘Dream-Gun!’
It’s here, rendered in steel, a sort of living performance of a dream Les and I have shared right along with many of you. This project is one of those times when an idea pinging away at you finally pushes itself to the front. Or, in this case, bashes down the door, demanding to be attended to. Then, suddenly, it’s real and I’m holding it in my hand, answering the question:
What would be a “perfect” 1911?
Over the years, I’ve kept notes on what you all have asked for in an “unspoiled” 1911. The gamut of wants ranges from Titanium frames, 1-lb. trigger pulls, laser sights, a .221 Fireball chambering — all the way “down” to a simple copy of a WWII GI gun. There has always been, though, constants in the list of must-haves. After deleting the oddities, the one-off ideas and the engineering impracticalities, I looked hard at the remaining features shooters listed again and again.
I weighed the benefits of each feature, just how practical they are in the real world, how generally appealing and realistic they seemed, then kept hacking away at the list until it seemed impossible to cut anything else. This isn’t what I feel, it’s what you feel too — even if I didn’t agree completely with your choice. Then, I took to heart what Sherlock Holmes said in The Adventure of the Blanched Solder: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.”
Your Thoughts Were?
I kept seeing things like “all-steel” and “5-barrel please.” Keeping plastic to a minimum seemed important, a slightly enlarged thumb safety, a grip safety with a bump, hand-filling, aggressively textured grips, front strap checkering, flat mainspring housing, enlarged ejection port, match barrel, a “good” trigger — it was all there.
One surprising consistency was a “low mounted adjustable rear sight.” That was pleasing to see as it’s a feature I have on most of my 1911’s. Being able to dial-in the sights for your specific load just makes good sense.
Especially when the gun is as accurate as one of Baer’s creations. Consequently, Les fits his “Rolo” adjustable, Tritium night sights to each Special Edition. A perfect solution to the quest.
The basic, keystone features the majority asked for read like a John Browning basic model but sort of “biggie-sized” using modern technology and design features. But all the riff-raff, non-essential fluff had to be gone. “… what remains … must be the truth.”
The list was done, what endured had passed muster — and was followed by a phone call to Les.
“Les, when you called not long ago asking if we’d like to collaborate on a special edition gun I took it to heart. I’ve assembled the ‘most-asked-for’ features from readers and I think you’ll agree, combined with your touches, the result should get some attention.”
I sent Les the list and when he called me back I could tell he was excited. I’ve known Les for about 25 years, having fired dozens of his guns — with some in the “tens of thousands of rounds” category. I’ve seen him excited, happy and enthused — and all three of those happen at once when we talk guns. Les wears his feelings on his face and there’s no baloney or niceties — what you see is what you get from Les.
“This is going to be great, and I can hardly wait to get moving on it!” he said. I could hear the grin on the phone. Les was very definitely excited. “It’s what they want — so let’s build it!”
Baer guns come with a long list of what I’d call “standard” features, but have nothing standard about them. His penchant for consistent quality is represented in the wide-range of 1911 models he makes and the fact each one rides in the top tier of their categories in the market.
Les and his team assured the American Handgunner Special Edition featured not only the “must-have” touches readers asked for, but those other thoughtful, even necessary, upgrades to 1911 engineering Baer’s shop has developed over the decades.
I like to call these touches Les Baer’s no-compromise components and build excellence. His “Guaranteed to shoot 3″ at 50 yards” promise is one of those and in my book one of most important. While pie-plate groups at 25 yards may get the job done in a defensive handgun — it’s not memorable.
A gun like the Special Edition can hit a soda can at 50 yards with the right ammo — and the right shooter on the trigger. Think about that for a second if you will. It’s something to savor, to anticipate and to aspire to. And that, friends, isn’t disappointing. It’s exciting to think about — and to plan on accomplishing. But you need the right tools.
Getting It Done
Obvious to the eye is the two-tone look of the new gun. A surprising number asked for a “retro” two-tone look with hard chrome lower and blued slide. Since we liked the look too, we went with it. Also, most specified no forward serrations on the slide, so they’re not there. We added the double-diamond custom VZ grips — highlighted with the black/blue look — making the final package really pop.
Among other features the Baer shop adds are: National Match frame, slide and barrel; fitted frame/slide; polished/tuned action; custom Baer parts; beveled mag well and the “tactical package” (slight rounding of corners) — along with a long list of Baer-specific special tuning and special touches done to all his custom guns.
Two premium Baer 8-round magazines are included, along with the special custom serial number and “American Handgunner” logo on the slide. I’m also proud to add my signature to Les’ on an insert card with each gun listing the serial number and the fact it’s a certified American Handgunner Special Edition 1911 meeting all of Les Baer’s specifications — including accuracy.
Les was insistent a custom serial number be used. From “AH00001” (Mr. Baer’s personal gun, by the way) to wherever the series ends, and each gun will be a unique Special Edition.
Speaking of “Number 1” — it was the prototype and Les shipped it to me for a look-see. I shot the hell out of it here at my place and couldn’t fault a single thing. It ran 100 percent, delivered the accuracy promised — and went back to Les slightly blue-worn, with a note from me saying: “Let’s do it.”
Shooting My Gun
The cover gun is serial number AH00003 and my personal gun, the one I used for this article. After getting it back from Rob, our ace photographer, I really put it through the mill. Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammo was curious about the project enough to send me 1,000 rounds of 230-gr. .45 ACP ball to try to wear it out. I also ran about another 500 rounds of assorted ammo through it.
Over about a month I shot it virtually every day here. Some was careful targeting and a good deal was just banging away at steel plates I keep up at 15, 80 and 100 yards to get the round count higher. About every 350 rounds, I broke it down, wiped the innards off, squirted a bit of oil on the rails and went back to shooting it.
If I was having a good day I could chase 1″ or just a tad over at 25 yards using that Black Hills 230 ball. Other days I’d ping around the 1.5″ to 2″ range regularly. It just depended on the light and how I was doing that day. But it does show consistency and the fact if you pay attention to that excellent trigger (3 lb. on average) it will likely out-shoot you. Les told me when he scopes a gun like this, it can shoot 0.77″ 10-shot groups at 25 yards. Call that one ragged hole.
The adjustable sights are great and are positive, and very low profile. A bit like the very low mount Bomars from the old days. With a gun as accurate as this one, hitting a squirrel at up to 50 yards is actually possible. I have that 100-yard torso gong and even off-hand, it’s amazingly fun to hit that again and again — “bang, clang, bang, clang.” A gun like this makes you look good if you do your part.
Keep an eye on Shooting USA as Jim Scoutten there has the gun slated for his TV show about when you get this issue. We also showcased the gun in our booth at the SHOT Show recently. Some of you attended and stopped by to say hi. The result was always the same when you saw it, “That’s one of the coolest 1911’s I’ve seen!” We appreciate your enthusiasm.
The gun ran perfectly, with honestly no issues whatsoever, but that’s typical from Baer. The lock-up is tight but not fussy and the slide runs like you’re ice-skating. I’ve pretty much kept this on my desk in my office over the past six or eight weeks and keep asking myself what would I change?
Not a darn thing. And not just because I had a hand in it. You all had many hands in it too, and it seems those many hands knew what they were doing, as the result is very definitely much more than the isolated ideas alone. Call it a perfect storm of 1911 features and benefits, all corralled by someone who knows the breed.
Keep this in mind too. Les says some of his guns have well over 600,000 rounds through them. He said, “I have customers who shoot 50,000 or more rounds a year. They send their guns back once a year and we install a new barrel and bushing and off they go again.” That amazed me when I heard it, and I believe it too based on my own experience.
Les and I have been threatening to do this for years and I admit having a plan come together as well as this one has is very pleasant to behold, indeed.
You should be enjoying it too.