Monday, June 23, 2008

Which Grip Safety for the 1911-Pattern Pistol?

"Which is the Best 1911 Grip Safety, GI or Beavertail?"

This is a question that is discussed repeatedly on various shooting forums and the answers usually fall into those listed below:

Answer 1: The standard GI grip safety is the best. If it weren't, John Browning wouldn't have put it on the gun in the first place.

Answer 2: The beavertail is best. It allows for a higher hold on the gun and more control in rapid fire.

Answer 3: The beavertail prevents hammer bite and I find it more comfortable.

Answer 4: People do it just for looks.

Usually these are the "standard" answers but are often followed with discussions concerning whether the beavertail grip safety is more appropriately called a duck tail safety due to the way that most turn up at the end.

The first answer is fairly common and one that turns a lot of people off, none more than myself.

The truth of the matter is that John Browning did change the grip safety from the near Commander-like design to what is now commonly called the "traditional" or "GI grip safety." With the greatest respect for John M. Browning, that does not necessarily have to mean that he had achieved perfection in this component of the 1911 pattern pistol. Answer 1's "pontification factor" not only doesn't help the person asking the question, but possibly keeps him from asking any others, and that's a pity in my view. I pretty much ignore folks giving this "high" caliber advice.

Answer 2 is true in that a slightly higher grip is allowed on the pistol. Others may very well be able to decrease split times and gain increased accurate rapid-fire ability with the gun, but I'm just not one of them. Sometimes I've been faster with the GI grip safety and other times, the wide grip safety. For me, the addition of a wide grip safety does not significantly or consistently allow me to accurately shoot any faster than the standard GI. Perhaps it would were I shooting extremely hot .45 ACP ammunition. On that possibility, I cannot say because I've not tried it, but with ball equivalent loads, no differences for me. I suspect that some people might think that it does; I did too until I saw the timer's results on more than one occasion. That there was no improvement in my particular case doesn't have to automatically translate into there being none for others. I do not have enough wisdom to speak for all people. I mention only what has been true in my case.

The third answer is true for me as well and is the reason that the bulk of my 1911 pattern pistols are fitted with wide grip safeties, usually from Ed Brown.

When a person answers similarly on the forums, he is usually told that he's "not holding the gun correctly". I guess that could be true enough in some instances, but after shooting for over thirty years and being a certified police firearm instructor, tactical team handgun trainer, CHL instructor, and taught in my earlier years by some champion shooters, I think I know pretty much how to grip a 1911 pistol. I strongly suspect that the majority of people holding the 1911 are probably doing so correctly…or very close.

I find the wide "duck tail" grip safety to be the most comfortable. That's why I spent the time to fit them to two Caspian 1911's "built" at home. For me, a gun that is comfortable to shoot in both long individual sessions as well as for the long term is highly desirable. The wide grip safety just "works" for me. Some are fortunate enough not to get bitten by the original GI hammer/grip safety combination. Good for them! That does not mean that the same is true for everyone else. It damned sure isn't for me!

Here is why I use the wide grip safety by choice: It keeps me from bleeding. It is that simple. I have fleshy hands and get nipped by the spur hammer that almost always accompanies the GI grip safety. Depending upon the specific grip safety's edges, it too can abrade the skin between my thumb and trigger finger. I have friends who do not suffer this problem and one who can shoot hundreds of rounds through his Commander with its original short GI grip safety with nary a problem. That's great for them, but to assume that since it works for some, it should work for all is simply incorrect. It definitely does not work for me.

For me, the wide grip safety is the best approach to a 1911-pattern pistol that I can shoot lots w/o my hand looking like it was gnawed on by a rabid pirahna.

I have found that by bobbing the hammer spur and rounding the bottom edges of the traditional grip safety, I can shoot roughly 200 to 250 full-power shots without problems, but not quite as comfortably as with the wide grip safety.

The spur hammer on this Springfield Armory Mil-Spec has been bobbed slightly and recontoured to help eliminate hammer bite. The grip safety's lower edges have been radiused to prevent hand abrasions as well. For me, this set up is good for 150 to about 200 full-power shots before my hand starts getting a hole chewed in it.

I do not know how true Answer 4 might or might not be. Some people very well could prefer the "look" of the wide grip safety. In this regard, I have no preference, but opine that if a person prefers the beavertail/duck tail "look" and has the money or talent to get one fitted to his gun, have at it. For me, that possible aspect is a non-issue with regard to functionality or "shootability" of the pistol.

Currently I have one 1911 set up with the GI grip safety and spur hammer and the pistol is shot frequently. It is a Springfield Mil-Spec. Trigger specialist, Teddy Jacobson, replaced and upgraded certain internals as well as the hammer for a better trigger pull and I changed the stocks, but otherwise, the gun is stock. I wanted one gun that was set up pretty much in the style of the "old timey" 1911 pistols. It is not as comfortable for me as one equipped with a wide grip safety, but it is comfortable enough that I can shoot it a couple of hundred rounds per session without problems. Were it my only 1911, it would have the wide grip safety.

It might be worth mentioning that some folks report success in eliminating abrasions from hammer bite and cutting from the grip safety by bobbing the hammer and then shortening the grip safety tang. In this configuration it is flush with the rear of the frame, sort of making the rear like that of the Browning Hi Power. I have not tried this approach and cannot speak to it from first-hand experience as I have only shot one such modified 1911. (It did work fine for me the one time I shot the gun, but I only fired a couple of magazines of ammunition so I do not know how it would be long term.)

If you are considering a 1911 or wondering if you "need" the wide grip safety, I submit that you already know the answer. If the gun's biting you each session and you're tired of it, then you do need the wide grip safety. You can try bobbing the hammer spur about 1/8" and reshaping the bottom of the spur as well as "melting" the edges of the safety itself and that might do the trick. If not, I think you'll enjoy your shooting more with a wide grip safety. I cannot speak for others but I bet most folks shoot better when their pistol doesn't mimic a piranha in a feeding frenzy on the web of the shooting hand.

Ask yourself this question when making a decision on grip safeties or other similar "basic" custom touches:

Who does this gun have to please?

If it is you, go with what works for you.