By David Higginbotham
When Remington announced its intentions to begin remaking 1911s in the centennial year of the venerable platform, no one was terribly surprised. 2011 was arguably a better year for 1911s than the original model year. Everyone was making them. The surge brought new energy to the single action, and shooters were willing to test out the cocked-and-locked philosophy. Yet most of the new pistols on the market were oddly incomplete. If you wanted to carry one for defensive purposes, you needed to make some minor changes. The one stand-out for me, the one anniversary year 1911 that felt completely thought out, is the Remington R1 Carry.
Is it just another 1911?
Of course it is. That isn’t a mystery. The R1 only functions in single action, and it is built from steel and wood. The R1 Carry is a five-inch 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. The steel magazines will hold seven rounds. It weighs in at over two pounds.
Yet the gun comes with the typical upgrades that most people who carry contemporary 1911s expect. It has a skeletonized trigger and an even more skeletonized hammer. The grip safety has a large protrusion at its base and has been aggressively checkered. That same texture is on the mainspring housing and the front strap, which are checkered with 25 lines per inch.
Above the blued carbon steel frame, the slide has much more functional lines than many 1911s. The hard sharp edges that define some of these guns have been buffed off. This makes the gun less likely to catch or snag on clothing when it’s being drawn from concealment. Even the slide serrations have been knocked back just a bit. They provide enough purchase to allow for easy clearing of jams or miss-feeds, but they’re oddly easy to hold onto.
Many of the controls on the R1 are ambidextrous. The thumb safety is ambidextrous and the magazine drop can be reversed for left-handed shooters. This has a certain appeal to about 10% of the population. Even though the gun will eject to the right, it is easier for lefties to use without having to pony up for a custom gun.
On top of the slide, the typical 1911 sights have been replaced by Novack sights. The front sight is a Trijicon with a tritium insert that makes it glow. The rear is a flat black sight with an almost pyramid-shaped hump. In low-light situations, the sights are really impressive. In true darkness, the front glows even brighter. While the sights aren’t refined enough for really accurate target shooting, they are good for fast target acquisition. Even the weight of the steel frame and slide eat up some of the recoil energy from the .45 ACP.
All of these elements come together to make for an effective carry gun. It is a familiar enough story, obviously. Yet the Remington R1 Carry brings it together in a way that proves the platform is still viable. It proves that the 1911 is still relevant.
Carrying the R1 Carry
The first pistol I ever shot was a 1911 A1, and I’ve been an ardent fan ever since. I approach the gun with a quiet reverence. The design speaks to me. Beyond the admiration I have for John Moses’s original masterpiece, though, is an odd nostalgia for a past I didn’t personally experience. As much as I respect the 1911, I don’t often carry one. I love my late father’s Model A Ford, but I’m not going to drive it to the grocery store. Why would I carry an antique for personal defense?
That’s one of the strangest aspects of the 1911. The stock configuration 1911 feels antiquated. I’m not saying it is ineffective, it simply feels like 2.5 pounds of history in your hand. I co-own a 1913 Colt that I bought with a friend (back when neither of us could afford even half of the gun we both still fight over). That gun shoots like a champion. It looks and smells like 1913. I assume it smells like 1913. I wasn’t there. It smells good, though, just like the old A Model. And like my father’s Ford, the old Colt is irreplaceable.
The R1 Carry doesn’t feel like an antique. The pistol has more in common with much more expensive 1911s, guns that almost never resemble their historic ancestors. When you work on the grip safety and update the sights, the gun becomes more reliably functional. When you buff out a slide and checker the front strap, it becomes easier to use. Once all of the potential pitfalls have been addressed, there’s no reason in the world not to carry one.
Except for the single action thing. This is a philosophical argument that will keep shooters dickering forever. I know some highly intelligent shooters who want their guns to fire when the trigger is pulled, even if the hammer isn’t cocked. There are a lot of people who won’t carry a gun with any external safety, much less two. Others want more ammunition. The seven rounds in a 1911 magazine seem pitiful when compared to the capacity of some double-stack pistols that are really close to the same size.
I bet you know where you stand on this matter. I can try to convince you that it is ok to carry a gun like the R1, because every aspect of the design feels intentionally designed for carry. I can tell you that cocked-and-locked is fast, especially when you learn to thumb the safety off as you draw, and lock that motion into muscle memory. The grip safety is a no-brainer. I’ve yet to draw a 1911 and not be able to fire it because of the position of my grip. I could even try to tell you that seven rounds, or eight (the R1 comes with both), may well be enough for almost any defensive gun use (at least in this country). But you know where you stand.
When we did finally pull the trigger on the R1, it shot a lot like a 1911. This is one of the harder aspects of reviewing 1911s and ARs both. You pull the trigger and they shoot. The five-inch barrel returns reliable accuracy. And the R1 met our expectations, completely. Accuracy was good. The results from 25 yards were solid.
Yet the R1 is not a target gun. It isn’t a race gun either, but we put it on steel. Five steel plates in the 10- to 12-inch range, at various distances, will test your defensive skills. Use a timer and draw from concealment. In this drill, the size and weight of the R1 are its only liabilities. It shoots exceptionally well. The sights finish off the very natural point motion that 1911 owners know so well. You throw the gun up, and even as you’re fully extending, the sights are lining up. When they meet, you hit the trigger and hold on. The gun bucks, and falls back on target. You don’t have to pull it back down—it rocks back into place perfectly.
I can get the R1 out of an OWB holster and onto the target in about 1.4 seconds. I’m still slightly faster with striker-fired polymer-framed guns, and I think it has to do with the weight, mainly, but 1.4 seconds, for me, is good. I’m not a competitive shooter, and I’m certainly not Speed Racer. From an IWB, concealed, I’m closer to 1.7 seconds.
The R1 handles well enough that I can move through steel challenge stages with fewer misses than I normally do when I’m trying to shoot fast with my typical concealed carry gun. With the stress of time removed, I can put down a two-inch group from 25 yards.
During this whole process, I had very few malfunctions with the R1. Some 1911s are picky about ammo, but the R1 even takes flat nosed FMJs. There was no carry ammo that it wouldn’t feed reliably. The only problem that we had, early, stemmed from the tight tolerances of the gun. On lighter loads, the slide would seem to hang up a bit when returning to battery. A quick assist kept it moving. Cleaning always helped. In the end, after a few range trips, the problem resolved. The gun broke in. While it hasn’t lost any of its tight feel, it doesn’t hang up any more (not even with underpowered hand-loads meant for banging steel).
Earlier, I implied that Remington’s attention to detail has really made this a stand-out. I don’t think I’ve successfully proven that yet in this review. Instead, it sounds like I’m saying that the R1 is just a more modern version of a gun that most shooters love but have judged to be irrelevant for daily carry. And maybe that’s true, but consider this fine point. Look at the grips. 1911 grips are often textured like rasps. Even the old wooden grips had checkering up their entire length. This one, though, doesn’t. The old grips were made of walnut or some other pedestrian hardwood. These are cocobolo, which is harder and has more interesting grain texture. The portion of the grip near the safety, where your thumb might benefit from added mobility, is smooth. Nothing to slow down the movement to the safety. Below that, where your fingers and palm do most of the work, is a textured wooden grip. That’s what makes this whole design stand out. Every detail that I can think of has been addressed.
Now you’ll want to know what this attention to detail will cost. MSRP on these is $1,299. They sold incredibly well the first year out. They’re still selling briskly, but you’re more likely to see one sit at your local FFL for a while before it moves. That sitting brings the retail price down closer to $1, 149. Remington is even offering to throw in 200 rounds of .45 ACP to sweeten the deal.
The gun is now available in at least 13 variations. Commander length, stainless, with the wooden grips or the G10, as a historic homage or a modernized gun that, despite the platform’s age, continues to be relevant. The Remington 1911s are a welcome addition to an already crowded field. The R1 Carry is holding its own in that mid-range production model 1911 field, and, if you’re not sold on the single action, it is a good reason to reconsider cocked-and-locked.