One good U.S. military service pistol range showdown deserves another.
Last year, in the early months of my career as a writer for 19FortyFive I did a side-by-side live fire comparison of the current U.S. Armed Forces service pistol, the 9mm SIG M17 (P320) and its predecessor, the 9mm Beretta M9 (92FS).
Fast-forward to the present, and I thought it would be cool to explore the flip side, i.e. a range showdown between the traditional double-action (TDA) auto M9 and the singe-action (SA) autopistol that in turn preceded it as the American armed services pistol, the Colt Government Model .45 ACP, better known to most shooters nowadays as the M1911/M1911A1.
The inspiration for this article comes from a chapter in the 1986 “Gun Digest Book of 9mm Handguns” by Wiley Clapp and the late Dean A. Grennell. That specific chapter was titled “Old Colts and New Berettas.” Accordingly, I suppose you could call this article “A Newer Colt and a Somewhat Older Beretta.”
Contestant #1: Post-Series 80 (Current Edition) Colt Government Model
This is the newest Colt .45 autopistol I’ve fired since I last triggered the Series 80 Mk IV stainless steel Government Model and Gold Cup back in circa 1992. (Yes, I owned and fired a Series 80 10mm Delta Elite back in 2019, but that’s a different story.) The Series 80 guns generated quite a bit of controversy. On the other hand, Massad F. Ayoob, in his top-notch 1987 book “The Semi-Automatic Pistol in Police Service and Self Defense,” stated that “I have trusted, and would trust, this pistol with my life.”
However, plenty of other shooters had gripes about the Series 80 Colts, namely (1) the allegedly more fragile finger-style collet barrel bushings, which were actually a carryover from the Series 70 pistols, and (2) the biggest kvetch was the passive firing pin block, which on the plus side prevented accidental discharges when the pistol was dropped, but on the minus side led to suboptimal trigger pulls.
Which brings us to the current crop of Colt Government Model pistols. The one I tried this past weekend for the purposes of this article was a rental gun belonging to the highly impressive new XCAL Shooting Sports and Fitness indoor facility in Ashburn, Virginia. The gun is listed under the manufacturer’s “Traditional Series” with the full official designation “COLT GOVERNMENT .45 ACP 7RD X1 5″ STAINLESS/WOOD GRIPS O1911C-SS” and the following product description:
“When you think of a 1911, you think of Colt. A tribute to the revered Commercial Government Model pistols of the past, the 1911 Classic features the Series 70 firing system and rollmarks, national match barrel, staked on front sights, and spurred hammer. Chambered in .45 ACP and Stainless Steel, this firearm is a pure and simple 1911, designed for you to make it your own.”
Though listed on the website as having a 7-round magazine, the one that came with this particular rental gun was actually an 8-rounder. No complaints, mind you! Whilst the much-maligned Series 80 firing pin lock is still there – safety liability/CYA reasons, y’know – the collet bushing has been replaced by the far preferred, industry standard solid barrel bushing. The rollmark on the slide is also a throwback to the pre-Series 70 era, the old-school galloping pony logo, which is a really nice nostalgic touch.
The sights are not the 3-dot system so common on most combat autopistols these days, but are big and blocky, a vast improvement over tiny mil-spec sights of the old GI guns referenced by Messrs. Clapp and Grennell.
Contestant #2: Beretta 92FS (M9)
This is my personally-owned pistol that I’ve raved and gushed about in so many previous articles. I bought it back in 2003 from Belleville Shooting Range — now known as Metro Shooting Supplies – in Belleville, Illinois when I was a 2nd Lieutenant stationed at nearby Scott AFB. In 20 years and 20,000+ rounds fired, she’s served me faithfully through casual paper-punching, CCW duty, and competitive shooting matches alike, never failing to impress me with her accuracy, reliability, and smoothness. An all-time sentimental favorite from the world’s oldest existing gunmaker.
Range Performance. i.e. The Showdown
The live-fire comparisons were conducted as follows: 25 rounds of head shots 7 at yards – with the Beretta, DA mode for the first shot and SA all the rest of the way – followed by 15 rounds of center torso shots at 25 yards, and 10 rounds of groin shots at 5 yards. The 7- and 25-yarders were delivered from a two-handed Classic Weaver Stance, whilst the 5-yarders were fired one-handed – divvied equally between weak hand-only and strong hand-only – using the StressFire Forward Punch technique.
At 7 yards, the slimmer ergonomics, shorter trigger reach, and sliding trigger configuration of the Colt gave me a slight but nonetheless noticeable advantage – in spite of the typical grittiness of the non-tuned factory stock 1911 trigger — as it punched out the center of the Thug 2 paper target’s face (bridge of the nose) and left eye. The Beretta was no slouch either, but, especially with the “stacking” of the DA trigger, pulled slightly left – which, as noted by my friend and fellow firearms instructor Lou Chiodo is a common trait for cross-dominant right-handed shooters like myself – and thus chewing out the Thug 2’s right eye whilst leaving the center intact. The 5-yarders showed similar trends.
However, at 25 yards, the crisper trigger and higher-visibility sights of the M9 seized the advantage, with 13 out 15 shots landing in the green (primary) strike zone of the target and two straying slightly leftward into the orange (secondary) strike zone. With the Colt, two rounds strayed rightwards into the secondary zone and two strayed farther still into the white (tertiary) zone, merely striking the Thug 2’s forearm.
No doubt, a properly tuned, “factory custom” 1911 trigger like that of the Wilson CQB or Ruger SR1911 would equal or exceed the Beretta’s performance. But as far a stock gun vs. stock gun goes, the M9 won this fight.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 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.
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