When one thinks of a gun for a manly man, the legendary M1911 .45 ACP autopistol readily comes to mind. After all, this was the pistol one had to master in order to earn the respect of “the father of modern combat handgunning,” the late great Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, as well as professional firearms instructors from Cooper’s coaching tree such as the late great Chuck Taylor. It was the gun that enabled Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin York to drop seven enemy soldiers with seven shots during the First World War.
By contrast, when one thinks of ladies’ guns, historically that role has been consigned to so-called mouse gun calibers like .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP. Thankfully, Smith & Wesson did much to promote the notion of women being able to handle more powerful calibers such as 9mm Parabellum and .38 Special thanks to its LadySmith series of revolvers and semiauto pistols.
But let’s go one step further in defying sexist stereotypes about handguns. Let’s talk about the M1911 .45 auto as the ultimate ladies’ gun.
One Expert’s Opinion
The notion of the M1911 as a female-friendly gun actually isn’t that new. Among the earliest self-defense experts to advocate this position was Massad F. Ayoob, a former Captain in the Grantham, New Hampshire Police Department and founder of the Lethal Force Institute. In his 1987 book The Semiautomatic Pistol in Police Service and Self-Defense, Mas wrote:
“Ironically, the GI Colt .45 automatic in the Government Model, Officer’s Model, Commander series and military 1911A1 configuration are much better adapted to the female hand [author’s original emphasis]. This is because all these guns have the shorter trigger with the cutaway frame behind the trigger guard that was designed for the ‘A1’ modification of the 1911 service pistol in 1928, to accommodate soldiers with smaller hands … Properly grasped, the pistol is not nearly as difficult to control as is commonly believed. The Colt .45 has only 17 pounds of free recoil, and even a petite female who is healthy will register at least 50-60 pounds of strength on a hand dynamometer…I have trained adult females as petite as 4’8” and 85 lb. to handle such pistols well enough to outshoot most males in their classes.”
My Female Shooting Buddies’ Impressions
Okay, that’s all well and good, but seeing how Capt. Ayoob is male, how about some first-hand feedback from actual female shooters? Well, ask and ye shall receive!
For starters, my USC classmate Nic, a former State Department Foreign Service officer with over a dozen years of shooting experience, has owned a Smith & Wesson SW1911 for a couple of years, and she’s very pleased with the gun’s accuracy, reliability, and handling characteristics. Her only gripe is that the gun pulls slightly left for her. She has zero complaints about the recoil. Nic was also quite fond of, and proficient with, my Springfield Armory Stainless Mil-Spec 1911-A1 when she fired it back in 2011.
Meanwhile, my wonderful girlfriend Lisa — who has over 30 years of shooting experience under her belt — was visiting from freedom-loving Florida this past weekend, and our fun-filled itinerary included a shooting range session at the excellent Silver Eagle Group indoor facility in Ashburn, Virginia. In exchange for her being so generous as to let me try her S&W M3913 LadySmith and Canik TP9, I let her try out my 9x18mm Makarov and my WWI-vintage Colt M1911. Here’s what she had to say about the bigger gun after firing a magazine’s worth of PMC Bronze 230-grain full metal jacket hardball at 7 yards and scoring solid hits in the process:
“M1911 – What can be said about this beautiful piece of history that hasn’t already been said? I will try, from a female shooter’s perspective, however. I can understand why most female shooters would shy away from this, as it can be daunting. Once you get over the initial reticence, you have a prime example of the phrase ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’ This isn’t as punishing as a modern gun of the same caliber. While there is some kick, it’s perfectly manageable with proper breath control and stance. Firing this gun is like taking a hot knife through butter – smooth and easy. This is easily one of my favorite weapons that I’ve had the pleasure to shoot.”
Some Buyers’ Options (Regardless of Gender)
Needless to say, there’s more 1911 pistol options out there than you can shake a stick at. As much as my girlfriend loved my aforementioned WWI Colt, that particular gun cost me $2,200, and I imagine most of our readers would rather pay a good bit less for a newer specimen that’s going to be used for heavy-duty self-defense work as opposed to mere historic collectible purposes.
Jacki Billings, Editor-in-Chief of Pew Pew Tactical, is partial to the Ruger SR 1911, which starts out at an MSRP of $799. Meanwhile, the lowest-priced iteration of the SW1911 , the E-Series, carries an MSRP of $1089, and the Springfield Mil-Spec goes for $725. Last but not least, the best bang for the buck arguably comes from the Rock Island Armory GI Standard FS, with an amazingly low MSRP of $499.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.