Christensen Arms Custom 1911 Commanders

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As I get deeper into the mythical world of the 1911, I find I really don’t know as much as I thought about guns or obsessions. The worshipers of the 1911, people I used to consider somewhat cultish, are actually much more than that. They’ve taken the craft of pistol making and honed it into high art. Oddly, in doing so, they’ve also managed to make the guns less precious, more functional, and completely modern.

Take a Christensen 1911. That’s what we’re reviewing today, and this 1911 Commander is a fine example of what I’m talking about. Their guns are exquisitely beautiful. Fans of pattern welded steel flock to Christensen’s Damascus 1911. It is a showy gun. But it is no more complex than some of the Christensens that look much less ostentatious. Yet the guns are anything but simple. This review gun is a titanium framed Commander model.

Specs

Standard Features

  • VZ G10 grips
  • Stainless steel slide
  • Aerospace aluminum mainspring housing
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Picatinny rail
  • Tritium night sights
  • .45 ACP

Optional Features

  • Threaded barrel
  • Damascus slide
  • Tactical or Bobtail* frame
  • Ambidextrous thumb safety
  • Cerakote finishes
  • Carbon-fiber grips
  • Weight – 34.3 oz.

BOBTAIL* COMMANDER

  • Hand-fit slide with tungsten carbide runners
  • Custom slide serrations
  • Bobtail* titanium frame
  • 4.29” hand-fit match-grade barrel
  • Threaded barrel optional
  • Tritium night sights
  • Stainless adjustable trigger
  • Weight – 32.2 oz.

CUSTOM 1911 COMMANDER

  • VZ G10 grips
  • Stainless steel slide
  • Aerospace aluminum mainspring housing
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Tritium night sights
  • .45 ACP
  • Weight – 34.3 oz.

TACTICAL COMMANDER

  • VZ G10 grips
  • Stainless steel slide
  • Flared magazine well
  • Aerospace aluminum mainspring housing
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Tritium night sights
  • .45 ACP
  • Weight – 38.1 oz.
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The Cerakote can be done in any number of color combinations.

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The options allow for different sights, grips, finishes…

The barrel is a worthy of its own review. It is a thing of beauty.

The barrel is a worthy of its own review. It is a thing of beauty.

The Trijicon Novack 3-dot sights are solid, but sloped on the back side (which makes one handed operation of the gun unnecessarily complex).

The Trijicon Novack 3-dot sights are solid, but sloped on the back side (which makes one handed operation of the gun unnecessarily complex).

Part of what strikes me as odd about the titanium frame is its very existence. Titanium is incredibly hard, and hard to work. It requires harder tools and takes more time to machine. When you consider the man hours that go into hand fitting a 1911, you must consider that titanium will prolong that process.

The rails on the titanium frame has a tungsten carbide coating.

Tungsten carbide runners on titanium rails.

And then there are the rails. Because finished titanium can sometimes develop a course texture, Christensen has integrated tungsten carbide into the rails. The result is the smooth, consistent slide you would expect on a perfect 1911, only the materials themselves should last (and maintain their perfect fit) much longer than typical steel frames, and infinitely longer than an aluminum frame.

The rest of the gun receives the same over-built attention to detail. The match grade barrels are built by Storm Lake and come with a matched bushing. The barrel is a thing of beauty–almost delicate in appearance. They’re fitted into a Caspian slide. The model we have has been Cerakoted–both the titanium frame and the stainless slide. Much of the internal parts are made of stainless instead of carbon steel, which helps in the long-term preservation. Carbon steel can be hardened easily, but it has a propensity to rust, which changes physical dimensions. The beaver tail and safety are both titanium, too. As far as I can tell, everything on this gun that can be enhanced by material science has been enhanced–sometimes modestly, sometimes over-the-top.

So why do we need a titanium 1911?

Titanium is some space-age stuff. I’m not going to pretend like I understand it. My limited metallurgical background consists of some iron forging, and blacksmithing, but I’ve never tried to work titanium. I do know that it is stronger and lighter. Those are both good things for the 1911. (They’re good things for me, too, but we’re not going there.) For me, this isn’t a high-tech 1911 built just-because-we-can. It is a 1911 that is stronger and lighter, and one that should last a lot longer. That’s enough of a justification.

And the proof is in the execution. The gun’s fit and finish, even though it takes longer to arrive at, is flawless. Perhaps it is the Cerakote, but the Commander has an almost humble look to it. If you were to pick it up and hold it, without knowing about the Christensen guns, you could easily mistake it for an aluminum framed 1911. The textures on the frame are not as sharp as some I’ve felt. Yet the work sufficiently and provide a solid grip. And the VZ grips are solid, and offer good friction without tearing up your hands.

Check out the depth on the serrations.

Check out the depth on the serrations. The Christensen logo is the ram, and the scales are supposed to mimic the way a ram’s horn grows.

But rack the slide and you’ll get the full experience. The first thing I want, that magic moment for me with any 1911 in this price range, is the slide to frame fit. The Commander’s slick fit hangs no snags and no play. It is ideal. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see something that points to the attention Christensen gives to even the more modest details. The slide serrations are stepped down on the front and back of the slide. They look like stacked half moons. But they are terraced down, toward the muzzle. What this does is interesting. It allows you to get a solid grip on the slide when pulling it backwards (as that’s where the steep angles offer the most grip). Yet it creates slide serrations that aren’t going to tear into your holster. When you draw, the slide serrations are going simply sliding across the tops of the serrations. This is actually so much harder to explain than I’d imagined it would be. But the Commander pulls from a holster, even a leather holster, without tearing out micro suede, like some slide do.

Shooting

Each of these guns has to pass a test at the factory before they can ship. Christensen shoots them, and if they don’t group well–the go back. The number I’ve seen in other reviews is 2.5 inches from 25 yards. That’s a decent level of accuracy. And, when you look at the targets below, you’ll see that’s better than some shooters can do with any 1911.

As this is a commander length gun, and a carry model, too, I wasn’t expecting astounding accuracy. Still, the gurantee is nice to have. I firmly believe that I could make this gun shoot one ragged hole from 25 yards, if conditions were right. I’ve shot this gun now on at least five different range trips, but the wind and cold are getting the better of me. I even shot it for more than an hour in freezing rain. It is that good. But… you’ll see the best I could manage isn’t going to win any competitions.

Five shooters with the Christensen from 25 yards. The accuracy is superb. The shooters, though...

Five shooters with the Christensen from 25 yards. The accuracy is superb. The shooters, though…. We all have things we can work on. That we all shoot slightly left suggests the sights may need a tweak.

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My best group. Not bad, but I still think the gun can do better.

The best I can manage though, even when my hands are cold and wet, will win that most important competition. This is a gun that’s meant for defensive use. It has a lot of features that are geared toward a life of active carry and exceptional service. To that end, I carried it. I ran it in the cold, and the rain. I ran the controls with gloves, and without, and I’d trust this gun with my life.

The white dot of the Novack sight is easy to pick up.

The white dot of the Novack sight is easy to pick up.

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation today with an instructor who made a very persuasive argument against the 1911. Capacity, reliability, and the external safety. He’s got very valid points. And I don’t think any 1911 has successfully answered the capacity issue (and don’t talk to me about double-stack grips–the 1911 grip is already a monster in its single stack form). The external safety is less of a concern for me on a 1911 than it is on many other pistols, as I habitually (alomst instinctively) drop the safety with my thumb on the way to a solid grip.

But reliability is a concern. I’ve watched a lot of die-hard 1911 defenders go to bat for their beloved single-actions. They froth at the mouth. They curse Italians. They will tell you that their guns never fail while an empty shell lodges itself in the half closed slide.

The Christensen didn’t have any problems. As I was running drills today, I was inducing failures purposely. I tried hard to limp wrist the gun, but couldn’t. I’m not saying this is some wonder gun incapable of failure, but I didn’t experience any problems in over 1,000 rounds.

Who needs a titanium 1911?

I think I do. Are there things I would change? Of course! This is a T&E gun sent to us by Christensen. We didn’t specify design details. I’m not a fan of the shape of the rear sight. That’s something I’d change from the start. And I’ve said it before: I’m not a two-tone gun guy. I do love the bronze, though, and I wouldn’t have thought I would.

Perhaps I’ll start a Kickstarter campaign. As you might imagine, these aren’t cheap. They start around $3,000. The price can go up as you add on more custom options. The Christensen guns are available in more stores than I would have imagined, or you can order the exact specifications you want. If you want to buy one now, or want to check out prices for options, click the big red Buy-One-Now on the top of this page.

Who needs a Christensen? Who wouldn’t want one. The materials in this gun are designed to last. They will certainly outlast you. You could, theoretically, put tens of thousands of rounds through one and test their durability. It is possible to destroy one, I’m sure, even through legitimate use. But realistically…

This is a gun that will outlast you. It will outlast almost every other 1911 in existence. With proper care, this gun will continue to run for hundreds of years. What Christensen has engineered, what they’ve built, goes beyond the heirloom quality we expect from guns like this. That said, it isn’t an heirloom yet. Not when its on your hip. And when your grandson’s grandson says “This is the gun my great-whoever carried…”–well you see what I’m getting at. It will mean so much more than the safe-queen you bought and never carried. This is a work-horse.

The Christensen's case--a great way to carry to and from the range.

The Christensen’s case–a great way to carry to and from the range.

The latches twist down and hold secure.

The latches twist down and hold secure.

Winchester's 3 Gun .45 ACP. Even the flat nosed bullets feed well.

Winchester’s 3 Gun .45 ACP. Even the flat nosed bullets feed well.

The Win 3G runs well enough, but speeds are slow.

The Win 3G runs well enough, but speeds are slow.

Check-Mate.

Check-Mate.

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The clean lines on the Storm Lake. The barrel fit very tightly in the frame, so tightly that getting them apart took some ingenuity.

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The barrel of the Christensen will show wear with use. Honest wear.

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The attention to detail is what sets guns in this class apart. You know you are actually paying for craftsmanship when you tear down a gun and see how even the most modest parts have been hand fitted.

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The thin profile of the barrel helps reduce the weight of an already light gun.

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More internal (and external) parts.

Trigger pull is just over 3.5 pounds. Hard to see in the photo becasue I botched the focus.

Trigger pull is just over 3.5 pounds. Hard to see in the photo becasue I botched the focus.

The VZ10 grips are subtle in texture and appearance.

The VZ10 grips are subtle in texture and appearance.

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The frame has a section of ramp built right in.

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The extended slide drop is great for those

Titanium. It allows for the slim lines while sacrificing no strength.

Titanium. It allows for the slim lines while sacrificing no strength.

 

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Adirondack Will January 16, 2015, 4:57 pm

    My dad was a 25 year vet of the USA: 1928–53. He served in hot conflicts in Panama, the Philippines and China all prior to WW-II, WW-II in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, and during the Korean Conflict. He was a non-com his whole career– refused a field promotion in Italy. Here are the ranks from his day: private, PFC, corporal, buck sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class and master sergeant. (Staff sergeant was also called Tech Sergeant in some job categories, I think). He retired as a master sergeant, which in WW-II was the top of the sergeant ranks. Interestingly he was busted to buck sergeant twice prior to WW-II because in those days when you transferred to a new post your rank did not go with you. In both cases, he soon got his previous higher rank back. He was a machine gunner until he got too old and they made him a training sergeant toward the end of WW-II.

    I would take that Ti 1911 in a heartbeat– except I am saving my pennies for a new Wilson. I have shot lots of 1911’s including genuine WW-II service guns. The Wilson Combat, followed by Kimber, followed by the Colt commander, followed by Rock Island, followed by Springfield Arms is how I rank the ones I have shot in terms of smoothness of action and “fun factor.” None of those were bad guns; but the bottom ones were not in the same category as the better ones. A really good 1911 is a joy; a low-end gun is rough, hard on my old hands and just no fun at all. The 1911 is my second favorite handgun after my SA colt 45’s. Having said that, if I had to pick up a gun out of 6″ of muddy water and have to have it work, I would take the glock every time.
    Will

  • Lopaka Kanaka January 13, 2015, 7:27 pm

    For the price of $3000 on one 1911, I could buy six 1911 A-1 45 ACP, 38 Super, 9 MM, or 10 MM from Rock Island Armory @ $459 per 1911 A-1. They will not shoot 1 inch, but even at 2 or 3 inch they are right on target where you want it to be hitting and will cause a lot of damage. I buy my 1911 A-1 for what I can do with it down range and do not buy it for the looks. I have 5 1911 A-1 right now, 460 Rowland 5 1/2 stainless steel barrel, 6 inch long slide stainless steel 45 Super, 6 inch ported stainless
    steel match grade 45 barrel, 38 Super 5 inch compensated barrel. I have 2 Springfield Armory stainless, 2 Rock Island Armory Carbon steel, and a Colt Carbon steel. All of my 1911 A-1 get a regular shooting as much as time permit me to go to the range.

  • Lt. Donn January 13, 2015, 12:04 pm

    Buy a 375 dollar police trade-in Glock-19, and use the extra savings to attend a good shooting school…I am really getting tired of these 1911’s that “start” at 3,000…I mean really??

    • JimiHemi January 13, 2015, 2:13 pm

      Lt. Donn;
      I kinda-sorta hafta agree with your sentiment!
      Two of our regular shooter’s group own Ruger 1911’s they bought for <$600. and had the trigger jobs worked to 2 lb. and 3.5 lb respectively. The 2 lb. is scary but the 3.5 job is very nice.

  • John Accornero January 13, 2015, 11:49 am

    I would like to see a head-to-head match up with the Cabot 1911. Do you know of anyone who wrote and article about the two guns?

  • older timer January 12, 2015, 9:49 pm

    Love the 1911.. as most do. Shot my first one in 19521.

    OK, I was 7 years old. :-> My Air Force officer father was OOD on a SAC base and part of the drill was that duty .45. He once took my brother and I behind our house that had a lot of territory behind it and taught us how to shoot it. I remember him telling us how they needed them in Korea “but you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it”. In the woods it was all I could do to not fall over. Many years later I was USN training to a 2nd tour in VN and weapons training at Camp Pendleton. Among the wide variety of guns we trained with was the good old .45. To my amazement I could shoot that weapon quite accurately! I can thank that USMC “Gunny” for helping me get it right..and LOVE that gun..

    Now I have to wonder.. WHY don’t I own one now?? Hummmm [no good answer but a lot of thinking.] I think I need to look for a well used but loved and maybe before I am too far on the extreme other end of the age spectrum to use it.

  • Tonesvette January 12, 2015, 4:57 pm

    Love the 1911’s. Smith makes a Pro Series sub compact that is only 26 oz. Great carry piece and smoooth as butter.

  • peter January 12, 2015, 2:33 pm

    The Georgia Detonics company, not the current name only one in Illinois, made three full Titanium 1911’s, a compact, a commander and a full size, they only made three due to the cost of the material and cutting tools needed, I think they are in the collection of the Aerospace Company owner in North Carolina. They were beautiful, shot fantastic and were built by the smith Peter Dunn.

  • DOUGLAS M. HENRY January 12, 2015, 11:51 am

    I AM AN AVID SHOOTER A GUN BUFF .I ALSO REPAIR GUNS. AS AN X ARMY ENGINEER MECHANIC I KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT DESIGNS AND STRENTH CHARACTERICS . BELIEVE ME THIS IS THE MEANEST LOOKING 45 ACP I EVER SAW. I LIKE THE LOS OF THE BRONZE COLORED ONE . IT SHOWS STRENGTH AND POWER.

  • Will Drider January 12, 2015, 11:49 am

    Outstanding, functional works of Art! A fine companion to there equally elegant AR platforms. Very good article. I appreciate it when firearms are tested at correct distances too. A few lines on the manipulation, smoothness/positive operation of controls would have been nice. Any mim parts in that high dollar rascal?
    When the 1911first arrived, it had a greater capacity then most of the revolvers at the time. There are a heck of a lot of CCW’s being sold that hold less rounds then the 1911. Capacity can be augmented by additional magazines. Shot placement and energy dissipation into the threat are the key.

  • JAMES FIESER January 12, 2015, 11:46 am

    I’m not at all ashamed of being called an ‘old timer’, because it was 1958 when I was first introduced to this venerable old hand cannon. Before the USMC I had ‘some’ experience with firearms; a wide range of long guns but only 22 caliber pistols – nothing big at all. The first time I fired a 1911 (at the boot camp range of course) I fell in love with the power. Later, when I was issued my own (a Remington), I fell deeper still – it actually shot where I wanted it to. I fired expert immediately and on occasion over the years even achieved a perfect qualification score. It seems that I had somehow been issued a uniquely tight, smooth, incredibly accurate sidearm. Unfortunately it stayed in the marines when I left.
    Now, over the intervening years, I have owned several; but only one at a time. Several – because I kept trying to match the unique, magical accuracy of that first handful of whup-a**s. That’s mainly because I’ve never had the ability of willingness to spend $1000 or more for a ‘pretty’ high-end pistol. They may well BE more accurate, but at what cost? That said, my present hip-companion is a $450 Chinese made Norinco modified to a 3½ lb. trigger pull. Now, happily, I can finally shoot like I remember from yesteryear. I may not be able to fit into that uniform any more, but I’d take my former self on in a match again now anytime.
    ‘Pretty’ guns are for hanging on the wall and bragging about. Accurate, rugged, dependable guns are for those who use them.

  • harvey January 12, 2015, 11:37 am

    I like this pistol and I am a big fan of the 1911 and own several. Still my favorite is my 100% stainless steel, no MIM parts, Victory Arms MPW. Even the springs are 100% stainless steel. It is a work of art, designed by an real Engineer and built by the Famous Gunsmith Chuck McGough. I paid 1500.00 for it and have over 30,000 rounds fired thru it with not a single problem.

  • Todd January 12, 2015, 11:19 am

    Titanium is way too expensive and the minimal weight saving does not justify it’s use. My $700 1911 is 2 oz. heavier!, that extra $2300 would make my wallet a lot heavier though. the author must have hands the size of an 8 year old, if he thinks a single stack is ” A Monster” I have small hands and was very surprised how little of a difference there is between single and double stacked 1911’s. I wasn’t even looking at double stack 1911 guns because my hands are small, until I got to hold one, hardly noticeable.
    this is nothing more than a good looking mantle piece one rich guy who can’t shoot will show another rich guy after being shown his wilson combat to win the ” mine cost more than yours” game.. only needing a weekly dusting by the maid to keep clean. it would be better if it came with a mahogany stand that angles the barrel straight up so you can show off that $5000 solid gold suppressor you added.
    And does it seem funny to anyone else that a $3000 gun has the same grips you get with a $500 Rock Island gun? where’s the diamond encrusted gold laced grips this mantle piece is made for?

    • Will Drider January 12, 2015, 2:11 pm

      Mantal piece, maybe. We see alot of $2000 and up 1911s in the market. There a a lot of used (shot) ones there too. They are well beyond my practical price range. I don’t need that level of “Art” in my holster or a 1911 that will last several lifetimes since I only have one. However, I can still appreciate the functionality and beauty of what it is. We would not have read the review if something didn’t catch our eye. Don’t we go to the gun show to oohh and aahhh all the goods? Same thing here. Not impressed, move down the line. Wether it sits on a mantal, in a safe or in a holster does not change what it is. Not all firearms fill there basic purpose, fewer are ever bloodied. Doesn’t hurt to look at a pretty woman, tho commitment costs. The Fat Cat may have a few of those too! LOL

  • please email me a price for this 45, i am interested in purchasing one? DO YOU SELL THEM OR DO I HAVE TO FIND MY OWN STORE OR PAWN SHOP? THE GUN YOU REVIEWED IS A NEW OR USED GUN? PLEASE GET BACK TO ME ASAP? I AM A ELDERLY GUN COLLECTOR WHO HAS BEEN ROBBED AND MY HOUSE BROKEN INTO SO I AM GOING TO APPLY FOR A PERMIT TO CARE IT? AROUND WITH ME THANKS ALOT FOR YOUR TIME?

  • Randall Elkins January 12, 2015, 7:22 am

    If I weren’t on a fixed income, I would have one ASAP. I have yet to hold and feel and experience this work of art, but as an artist and visual teacher/life long visual student, I sure can admire it. Kudos to Christensen and to you sir. I am envious of your experience with this fine weapon.

  • woody mcclendon January 12, 2015, 6:23 am

    i know that there a million auto 45 that are prettier than mine and have a lot more features. and cost a lot more. my 45 would look pitiful upside all those new 45s with all their outrageous features and etc.

    however, I have shot thousands of rounds thru mine without one glich of any kind and all kinds of rounds.. I bought it in a pawn shop in downtown okla city in 1960. it is a Colt automatic 45. it would be considered by experts to be in good to fine shape externally, maybe a little better.( I have replaced a few internal parts,but very few, barrel, spring ,etc ) anyway that is pretty good for a 54 yr old gun of any kind. the best part is that I paid $ 35.00 for it I bought it because I was a Sgt First Class E-6 , tank commander in the Ok Nat Guard for 8 yrs and I got tired of being turned down every night for it not being clean enough. so I just bought my own and threw it in my foot locker every night and holstered it every morning without having to stand in line every night to meet inspection.
    anyway I will bet my life on mine, any of you experts willing to bet yours on your newer 45. anyway I am sure your 45 is an excellent pistol and the price seems fair, good luck.

    • Dave Kristensen January 12, 2015, 8:16 am

      Mr. McClendon. Thank you for your service to our country. Interestingly enough I retired from the regular army at pay grade E-7, the last I looked an E-6 is a Staff Sergeant and an E-7 is a Sergeant First Class, you seem to have taken a pretty good knock on the head? Making SFC in 8 years is also quite interesting…

      • James Anderson January 12, 2015, 9:15 am

        Dave in 1960 the rank structure was entirely different than today. Private was E1, PFC E2, Cpl E3 and Sergeant E4. and so on. Sergeant Majors were E7. And to mess it all up The E system denotes pay scale not rank.

        • Ron Davis January 12, 2015, 11:28 am

          When I left the USN in 1982 I was planning to re-up for a specific Job Classification. The E-7 Chief Detail person in D.C. decided he wanted the 2 year school and 6 years stationed in Perth Australia so he cut orders for himself. My Captain worked hard on getting me to Re-up and he made mention of this to the Adm 7th Fleet. I was called in to the Adm’s office and he was ticked too. He pulled a few strings and offered me Thule Greenland with the same billet which I promptly turned down as I was married. The Adm decided that if the Chief wanted to take a E-5 billet that he would be paid as an E-5 not an E-7 until a billet opened up at that duty station which only had one E-7.

          • OdinVonTogan January 12, 2015, 6:58 pm

            Commander.HomelandAuthority.SniperTeamWolfen.SeekFindErase.GetReady.HellsComin

        • Ted Ramsey January 12, 2015, 12:27 pm

          I got out of the Army in ’62 and then E1 was the grade that you got when you first entered and went to basic training. E2 you were still a ‘slick sleeve’ but pay grade was upgraded. When you made E3 you were a PFC and another pay grade upgrade. E4 was a Corporal or SPC4.

        • Geo Haralsson January 12, 2015, 12:50 pm

          In 1960 a cpl and a Spec 4 were E4 and probably always since Custer.

    • James Poole January 12, 2015, 8:35 am

      That’s a great little anecdote. I enjoy hearing the oldtimer’s (no offense) stories about their 1911s. The first time I saw and fired a 1911 it was like meeting a movie star. The iconic pistol is uniquely American and first forged in a time when precision craftsmanship was the rule of the day.

      • Libra8 January 12, 2015, 11:37 am

        I qualified with a 1911 for the National Guard as a tanker in 1981. Who knows how many thousands of rounds were through it. I missed my first 2 targets. Checked the sights and noticed that the rear sight was shifted to the right. I changed my sight picture and didn’t miss another target. Qualified expert and fell in love with the 1911.

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