Several custom 1911 pistols have passed through my hands over the years. As a longtime user and fan of the 1911, there is nothing quite like a custom build. Even simple builds allow you to get exactly what you want. For some, it’s about cosmetics; others want the attention to detail a custom shop provides in tailoring a gun for a specific need, like competition, concealed carry or collecting.
Over the years, the 1911 has also evolved to accommodate pretty much every need, including different calibers. It’s grown from the ubiquitous .45 ACP to the increasingly popular 9mm and other calibers geared for hunting or competition. A few of these chamberings are designed specifically for personal defense, including the .50 GI from Guncrafter Industries.
Guncrafter Industries introduced the .50 GI in early 2004 for its No. 1, a full-sized 1911. Alex Zimmerman, Guncrafter’s owner, had been working as a master gunsmith for Wilson Combat and wanted to specialize in this caliber and his own 1911 builds. Guncrafter Industries was the result, with an initial focus on the .50 GI. Most .50-caliber rounds are huge with serious over-penetration and recoil. Sure, that’s great for movies, but it’s pretty useless for concealed carry.
So, Alex wanted to build a .50 that was useful in a proven platform. With his gunsmithing experience, it didn’t take long for Alex to come up with a cartridge that proved effective for self-defense. In fact, pistols chambered for the .50 GI are the same size as standard .45 ACP 1911s, and the recoil and chamber pressures are similar. It’s also very easy to reload .50 GI rounds with 350-grain or lighter bullets. Practice loads using 300-grain TMJs are downright pleasant to shoot. Loads using the 275-grain XPB penetrate as much as 17.5 inches, while the 300-grain TMJ and 275-grain JHP have displayed twice that effectiveness. Self-defense loads using copper hollow point (CHP) rounds expand to an inch wide while offering 9 to 12 inches of penetration. When it comes to pistol rounds, the .50 GI is quite versatile.
Those focused on Guncrafter’s .50 GI ammunition tend to overlook the quality of its pistols. Each Guncrafter Industries pistol is built by hand, one at a time, with great attention to detail. Every part is made from the highest-grade tool steel or bar stock and custom fit by hand to each pistol. In many cases, the parts are designed specifically for Guncrafter builds. In other words, these are custom-built pistols through and through. Guncrafter builds various sizes of 1911-style pistols in .45 ACP, 9mm, 10mm and .50 GI. Most are built to be working guns, although custom engraving is available along with exotic grips and other touches.
RELATED STORY: 11 Custom Gun Shops For 1911 Pistols
But it’s the all-business nature of Guncrafter’s pistols that drew me to them in the first place. I’ve tested several of the company’s pistols, and they were all built for use in any condition. They are some of the best 1911s I have every carried. They’re not flashy; they’re accurate and virtually indestructible. This is exactly what I look for in a carry gun, so it only made sense to go to Guncrafter Industries for a custom pistol.
I tested an early Commander-sized No. 3 chambered in .50 GI that proved impressive. It balanced like any other 4.25-inch-barreled 1911 and felt good in hand. The recoil with either 185- or 230-grain CHP loads was similar to a .45 ACP using +P loads. The pistol was a soft-shooter with 300-grain TMJs at 700 to 750 fps. I used this pistol during a Gunsite 250 class, where it ran accurately and flawlessly over several hundred rounds. In fact, a few students and a couple of instructors gave it a try, and they all commented on how pleasant the No. 3 was to shoot. They also seemed to enjoy the visibly larger hole it created in paper.
I carried that pistol for many years until Guncrafter’s Commander-sized Blackout FRAG in .45 ACP came my way. It was as if Alex had built the 1911 pistol I would specify if given the chance. It’s a no-nonsense pistol built to exacting standards for hard use. Everything about it is heavy duty, with few bells and whistles.
The FRAG checkering on the grip panels is aggressive and really holds the gun in my hands without tearing them up. A built-in magazine well facilitates smooth reloads. Grooves on top of the slide mitigate glare, and the FRAG features a flush-cut slide stop and a smooth profile to prevent printing through clothing or snagging on the draw. The pistol is coated entirely in black Melonite to protect it from the elements.
I was truly impressed by the FRAG and its excellent accuracy, which prompted me to custom order the same pistol but chambered in .50 GI. Essentially a No. 3 FRAG, it has become my go-to pistol for concealed carry.
RELATED STORY: Practical Concealed Carry – How to Carry A Full-Size Pistol
Each Guncrafter pistol arrives in a black Cordura nylon gun case with the GI logo. Two magazines, each tuned and tested prior to shipping, are provided. My pistol was quipped with a U-notch rear sight using a single tritium dot. The thin-profile front sight features a tritium insert that is surrounded by a white outer ring. The crisp trigger is a solid black, match-grade unit.
The frontstrap features Guncrafter’s FRAG checkering, and the undercut triggerguard makes it easy to obtain a high hold. Both of the grip panels as well as the mainspring housing also feature the FRAG treatment. Aluma-Grips with the GI logo were also included. The ambidextrous safety is crisp and positive. Fully dehorned, the No. 3 FRAG is smooth with a perfectly mated magazine well. It slid into my Milt Sparks Nexus IWB holster like it belonged there.
The custom No. 3 FRAG’s accuracy was what I’ve come to expect from a custom-built 1911. The most accurate factory round at 25 yards was the 230-grain CHP, which made a 1.5-inch group. Every other load created groups under 2 inches, including my 300-grain handload. Working on the square range at 15 yards and closer, the factory 300-grain JFPs were pleasant enough to shoot all day while staying inside a 4-inch circle. With a measured velocity of 825 fps, this load is pretty impressive. For those familiar with IPSC rules, it has a power factor of 247.5, whereas a 230-grain .45 ACP at the same velocity will only offer a power factor of 189.75. My handload measured closer to 750 fps for a power factor of 225—well over “major.”
I’ve been spending a considerable time shooting 9mms lately, so it took me a minute to get used to the .50 GI’s recoil, but the pistol was very controllable once I got dialed back in. I shot the No. 3 FRAG alongside an all-steel 1911 as well as an aluminum-framed Commander, and the recoil was comparable, especially with self-defense loads. The gun was just a tad snappier with the 230-grain CHPs compared to 230-grain Winchester +P rounds. But the difference was minimal, with a noticeable increase in energy. At 975 fps, the 230-grain CHP produces 485 foot-pounds of energy (fpe) with a larger sectional density than similar-weight .45 ACP bullets—all in a pistol with the same accuracy, recoil and capacity. Move to the 185-grain .50 GI and you get 564 fpe, which is pretty impressive. All the numbers are great for comparison, but more importantly, you get them in a pistol the same size, weight and profile as a standard Commander.
Using the No. 3 FRAG with factory-loaded 185- or 230-grain CHP ammunition provides a solid self-defense pistol suited to most concealed-carry applications. This ammo demonstrates 10 to 11 inches of penetration in ballistic gelatin. Of course, as mentioned before, you can get up to 17 inches of penetration with Barnes’ 275-grain XPB bullets in the 750-fps range. Of course, you are limited to Guncrafter Industries when it comes to factory ammunition and brass, but the round is easy to reload.
RELATED STORY: Hand Cannons – 9 High-Powered Magnum Handguns
Guncrafter also sends along a .45 ACP barrel for your .50 GI pistol for $395, including a recoil spring and one magazine. You will need to buy Guncrafter magazines, but they are excellent. This makes it easy to practice with less expensive .45 ACP ammo. The barrel conversion is a great choice if you don’t want to reload your ammo, allowing you to shoot factory ammunition for practice or carry.
Guncrafter Industries’ pistols are among the finest 1911s you can buy. For serious concealed carry, they may be the best period. While the .50 GI may not be for everyone, the same pistols are available in .45 ACP or 9mm, with some in 10mm. Either way, if you are in the market for a custom-built 1911 designed to be carried and used, make sure you check out Guncrafter Industries.
For more information, visit http://www.guncrafterindustries.com or call 479-665-2466.
This article was published in the 2016 edition of the Complete Book of 1911s. For information on how to subscribe, please email subscriptions@
Discussion about this post