2011, Florida Tactical Conference: A combination of live-fire reality-based shooting and classroom training, the conference includes a shooting match — the famously difficult Air Marshal Course. The winner is Jon Hodaway, shooting a Nighthawk Talon 1911 in 9mm.

2012, Florida: The ProArms Invitational tournament, a competition into which only accomplished competitive shooters are allowed entry. The high female shooter is the petite Terri Strayer, shooting a Night-hawk LadyHawk 9mm 1911. In the toughest part of the match — stand at 100 yards and, on signal, draw and nail a human torso-sized steel target—Terri gets her shot off faster than anyone else, including the men, several of whom are International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) Masters. In about four seconds, she drew her 9mm Nighthawk, came to an isosceles stance and fired — “BANG-ting.”

2012, Arkansas: One of the students in my MAG-40 class is Haneesh Bagga, an IDPA Master. On qualification day he proved to be the top shot in class, firing a perfect 300 and winning $5 from me because his group, the tie-breaker, is more than an inch tighter than the group I’d shot in demonstration. I wished him luck at the IDPA Nationals, for which he left the next day, and where he’ll shoot the same pistol he did during the course: a Nighthawk Talon 1911.

Clearly, I’m seeing a pattern developing with the 1911 Nighthawk pistol chambered for 9mm…

Background

The 1911 has survived for more than a century in large part because it is an incredibly ergonomic firearm, one that makes it easy for a handgunner to shoot at his or her best. For most of its history, having always been known as “the .45 automatic,” it was seen as a hard-kicking pistol.

Initially, the gun was chambered for .45 ACP only. In 1929, the .38 Super cartridge was added to its repertoire. The Super was lighter than the .45, but it shot at a higher velocity and was generally perceived as delivering less kick. The 9mm cartridge predates the 1911, but because it was shorter overall than either the .45 ACP or the .38 Super, no one seems to have seriously considered chambering a 1911 for it until after World War II. The U.S. government put out the word that it was considering going to a 9mm pistol to have ammunition compatibility with its European allies. In the portion of southern New England known to the firearms industry as “gun valley,” both Colt and Smith & Wesson built lightweight aluminum-framed 9mm pistols in the hopes of winning a lucrative government contract.

It was not to be. With the world having seemingly reverted for the most part to peace and prosperity, the U.S. military lost interest in employing a 9mm pistol. (That interest was revived in the 1980s, culminating in the adoption of the Beretta 92 as the “M9 service pistol,” but that’s another story.) Meanwhile, S&W slowed its 9mm research, eventually introducing in the mid-1950s its trend-setting double-action Model 39 9mm.

Colt wanted to recoup its engineering costs sooner. Around 1950, Colt intro-duced their lightweight Commander pistol, chambered for .45 ACP, .38 Super, and yes, 9mm. It was the first 9mm 1911.

The Commander .45 caught on very quickly, and has been in the Colt catalog ever since. The .38 Super version placed a very distant second place in sales, while the 9mm lagged so pathetically in the doldrums that it was rarely produced, becoming something of a collector’s item among today’s Colt aficionados. Eventually Colt said, “To heck with it,” and for a time listed the Commander as available in .45 ACP only.

Time went on. Demand for a 9mm 1911 began to emerge, and Colt did limited production runs of their 5-inch-barrel all-steel 9mm “Government Model” to satisfy the limited demand.

More time went on. A handful of savvy handgunners figured out that the 9mm 1911 kicked even less than the 9mm Browning Hi-Power, all the while giving them awesome rapid-fire delivery of 9mm ammunition, which thanks to advances in the ammunition industry, was becoming increasingly more effec-tive. In the Carolinas, lawyer and ace instructor Tim Noe started carrying a customized all-steel Colt Combat Com-mander 9mm as his personal sidearm, and female shooting champ Bonnie Young adopted a tuned Commander 9mm as her carry piece. In gunfight-heavy Venezuela, where .45 ammunition was like gold but government-produced CAVIM 9mm available dirt cheap, the 9mm 1911 became the “in gun,” eventually replacing the Browning Hi-Power as the preferred handgun among the country’s serious competitive shooters.

Still more time went on. In the 1990s, the International Defensive Pistol Asso-ciation was formed. Among its entry fields is the Enhanced Service Pistol (ESP) category, meant for single-action autos of less than .45 caliber. Originally conceived of as something of a proving ground for the Browning Hi-Power, the competition quickly came to be domi-nated by 1911s chambered for something lighter — such as a soft-loaded .38 Super or standard 9mm. In the late 1990s, when Ken Hackathorn got me into the race to see who would be the IDPA’a first Four-Gun Master, I made my bones in the ESP division with a Colt “Government Model” 9mm customized by Al Greco (alscustom.com). The re-sulting score was still my ESP score for record when I became the IDPA’s first Five-Gun Master in 2005.

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