When it comes to guns, I’m not much of a sentimental guy. I prefer to use them, not collect them. Not that there’s anything wrong with collecting firearms. But nothing sits in my safe for long. I use the guns consistently, sell them or give them to friends as gifts. There have been a few exceptions, but I don’t really own anything that commemorates dates or events, for example. All of my early service pistols are long gone, and when I retired from my local police department, I kept my sidearm only because it was already a personally owned gun.

But this sentiment changed recently when I acquired a Colt 1911 commemorating Gunsite’s 40th anniversary. While it’s no safe queen and I plan on using it, I bought it to commemorate a particular accomplishment: completing the rather arduous task of becoming a Gunsite Academy instructor in May of 2016. That’s not something most people can say, let alone those working primarily as gun writers. Most do it the other way around—work for years at Gunsite and write while there or upon retirement. But after spending over two decades teaching and training police officers and others to shoot, I was prepared for the challenge. It was hard work, but it was worth it, and the Colt Gunsite 1911 seemed like the perfect choice to remember it.

Cooper & Colt

Colonel Jeff Cooper always saw the 1911, when properly configured, as a “most useful” fighting pistol. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the American Pistol Institute (API) in 1976, long before the proliferation of pistols suited to carry and duty work we have today. And his creation, now known as Gunsite Academy, has been running continuously for over 40 years, in the same place, training shooters of all levels to use a variety of firearms. No other training entity that I am aware of comes close.

Over the years, much has been attributed to Cooper—some of it more fiction than fact—but there is little doubt that he saw the .45 ACP 1911 as an excellent pistol.

For one to be adequate, he maintained that it had to have “sights you can see, a trigger you can manage and a complete dehorning job.” In the November 1987 issue of “Guns & Ammo,” he described the Gunsite Service Pistol (GSP) as meeting those requirements. It was equipped with some of the best parts available at the time, including a 3.75-pound hand-tuned trigger and a high-visibility front sight, and the exterior was completely dehorned.

There have been several Gunsite models over the years built by a number of makers using different parts. Over time, two other features seem to have stuck, short triggers and thin grips. The first pistols used Springfield Armory base guns, but the most recent builds have started as Colts, and my personal gun falls into that latter category.

40 Years Strong

This particular pistol is part of a limited production run. Only 100 units are available through the Gunsite Pro Shop. Each gun comes with a 40th anniversary challenge coin and a knife from either Blade-Tech or Strider.

The base gun is a Colt Government Model Series 70 with a stainless steel frame and a black-coated slide. All of the enhancements are then added at Colt based on Gunsite’s specifications. The slide has “API Gunsite 1976” on the left side in gold lettering and “Gunsite Academy 2016” on the right. The Gunsite raven logo can also be found at the rear of the slide on the right, and the Rampant Colt logo is on the opposite side.

The slide houses a .45 ACP, stainless steel, National Match barrel using a standard bushing and a standard recoil spring plug. The Novak front sight sports a tritium insert surrounded by a large white ring, and the rear sight is a black Novak unit with a square notch.

The frame has a high-swept beavertail and an undercut triggerguard to promote a high grip. The frontstrap is serrated, and the mainspring housing, a Smith & Alexander unit, has 30-lpi checkering as well as an integral magazine well funnel. The Gunsite logo is also etched into both of the thin rosewood grip panels.

As for its controls, the customized 1911 features an extended, left-side-only thumb safety, a grooved and extended slide stop and a checkered magazine release. The Commander-style hammer is paired with a short trigger tuned for a 4-pound pull.

All together, my pistol is completely dehorned for carry and exhibits a quality fit and finish. Finally, it came with two 8-round magazines from Colt with metal followers and extended polymer basepads.

Desert Testing

Given this pistol commemorates not only the 40th anniversary of Gunsite but also my addition to the staff, a special holster was in order. So I contacted Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters to craft a complete carry rig from handmade leather.

My first experience with the Colt Gunsite 1911 came during a media event at Gunsite where we mostly used Black Hills’ 230-grain FMJs in various Wilson Combat and Colt magazines. I also tested the gun substantially back at my home range before using it to teach a 350 Pistol class. The grip panels were the only things I changed; thin grips are great for most shooters, but I have rather large hands. So I purchased similar full-sized grip panels at the Gunsite Pro Shop and installed them with standard grip bushings.

And while this Colt Gunsite isn’t a fully custom build, it was very accurate. Using a bench and a shooting bag for support, my best five-shot group came with Sig Sauer’s 200-grain V-Crown JHPs, but most of the other loads produced groups tighter than 2 inches at 25 yards. Many were closer to 1.5 inches. That is about as good as it gets for me outside a fully customized pistol and target loads.

Most of my groups at shorter distances were touching or close. Rapid-fire strings at 7 yards were all inside a fist-sized cluster, and off-hand groups at 10 to 15 yards were just slightly larger. Shooting from behind cover, I was able stay on 6-inch steel targets at 25 and 35 yards pretty easily. So this 1911 is undoubtedly more than capable of performing in a fight.

Over the course of a day at Gunsite and a few range visits back home, there were no failures to extract, eject or fire. The gun was simply reliable. One caveat, however: Using Black Hills’ new 135-grain Honey Badger ammo required running the slide hard on the first round. Locking the slide to the rear and using the slide release would cause a hang-up on the ledge of the bullet.

Using the Simply Rugged holster inside my waistband, the Colt carried very comfortably. The holster’s reinforced mouth made it easy to get the gun back into the holster, where it was held tightly—but not too tightly. The pistol’s dehorning was evident, as it didn’t snag on or print through my clothing. The gun also carried well outside the waistband. Of course, I’m probably not going to roll around in the mud with this rig, but I’m sure I’ll carry it.

No Safe Queen

Over the course of testing, I was able to alter my finger position and do pretty well, but these short triggers tend to beat up my fingertip. I will probably install my favorite flat trigger. Other than that, there is nothing I’d really to change to put this pistol to work. My guess is many will buy this Colt Gunsite and never use it, but that’s not my style. I’ll drag it out on occasion, but not enough to wear the laser engraving away.

I chose the Blade-Tech knife because it’s a bit larger than the Strider and is more geared toward combat, but it will stay in the case with the challenge coin, matching instructor hat, my certificate and the factory magazines.

While this Colt Gunsite is a commemorative pistol, it is well equipped to come out of the box ready to fight. My guess is that Jeff Cooper would probably want it that way. I never met him, but he was a mostly practical kind of guy. At least that’s the impression I get when talking to those who actually knew him and trained with him.

Colt has done a fine job on this pistol; it worked well and never malfunctioned while being accurate and comfortable to shoot. Whether you’re a Gunsite fan looking for a collector’s item or just a great pistol, make sure you check out the Colt Gunsite 1911. It will serve you well either way—just like Gunsite and its founder, Jeff Cooper.

Colt Gunsite Specs

Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel: 5 inches
OA Length: 8.7 inches
Weight: 39 ounces (empty)
Grips: Custom rosewood
Sights: Tritium front, Novak rear
Action: SA
Finish: Black, stainless
Capacity: 8+1

Colt Gunsite Performance

Load Velocity Accuracy
Federal 230 HST 894 1.60
Sig Sauer 200 V-Crown JHP 910 1.45
Speer 230 Gold Dot 915 1.66
Winchester 230 Ranger SXT 900 1.58

*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 25 yards. 

For more information about Colt, visit For more information about Gunsite Academy, visit

This article was originally published in “Handguns Buyer’s Guide” 2018. To order a copy, visit

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