Maximize Your Options

by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, January 2009

Let’s say you have decided to jump in feet first and start shooting U.S.P.S.A. matches in the Limited Division. You have some money burning a hole in your pocket and want to buy a gun specifically set up for this division.  There are a bewildering number of options available and if you are going to be spending that kind of money you want to make the right decisions on setting up your equipment. I am going to walk you through the most common options and give you some guidance on what to expect from different setups so that you can make an informed decision.  For the sake of brevity, I am going to limit my discussion to what works in the Limited Division.  Although there are several platforms available (each with specific options unique to their setup), I will be focusing on the STI/SV platform because that is what I prefer to work on and that is what I think works best in the Limited division.

The ideal gun setup for any U.S.P.S.A. division is going to be whatever allows you to shoot the fastest and most accurately.  The highest number of points per second is your primary goal. However, any options and modifications that head you in that direction are only a good idea if the gun remains reliable.  Keep that in mind when you are trying to decide what is going to work the best for you.  No matter how fast and accurate you are able to shoot, it is going to be almost impossible to improve your scores enough to compensate for the negative impact of a jam or two during a match.

First let’s talk about the basic design of the gun.  For caliber I recommend only 40 S&W.  If you go 9mm or 38 super it scores minor.   In my opinion, this is too big a negative to overcome.  45 ACP is a little bit more viable but you will be limiting yourself somewhat in the area of magazine capacity.  For most people, handloaded optimal 40 cal loads are flatter shooting than the best 45 loads. 

Next you have to decide on the weight and balance of the gun.  A heavier gun or one that is balanced toward the front will shoot a little softer and absorb more of the recoil.  A lighter gun will index a little better.  I think the most important factor is how the gun points for you, not how much it weighs or how it balances or even how it acts during recoil.  Load the gun with a full magazine and see if it naturally points at the target for you – or if it comes up a little high or low on the target.  If the gun comes up a little high or low you are going to be fighting it every time you prep for a shot, recover from recoil, every time you draw, and every time you come into a position. You have several choices on how to change the weight and balance of the gun.  A long dust cover, bull barrel, or tungsten guide rod will all add weight to the gun and make it balance more toward the muzzle. A steel mainspring housing or magwell will add weight to the gun without affecting the balance much.  Different combinations of these components will each produce a different balance and feel.  The most common setup I see is a long dust cover with a bull barrel, plastic mainspring housing, and aluminum magwell.

Another design parameter to consider is slide lightening of some type.  A lighter slide means less reciprocating mass and quicker follow up shots, as well as a faster, flatter feel to the recoil impulse.  It also lightens the overall weight of the gun somewhat. The downside is added cost.

Beyond the overall design of the gun there are several other options you will want to consider:

Magwell – Almost everyone uses some type of magwell larger than the stock grip opening. The main advantage is that it makes it easier to do a mag change because the angle and position of the magazine going into the gun is not as critical with the magwell there. Some of the bigger magwells can actually help support your hand and give you a better grip on the gun.  Magwells also affect the overall weight of the gun.

Larger mag release button – This is an option that not everyone needs. If your hands are large enough to where you can hit the mag release button without readjusting your grip then you don’t need one.  Also many people will accidentally hit the larger button and drop magazines – not a good choice for these people.  I do, however, suggest that you at least get the drilled and tapped mag release so that you can try out different buttons and paddles to see what works best for you.

Full length Guide rod – We already talked about the tungsten guide rod, but you can go with a tungsten, steel, or even a hollow guide rod to adjust the balance and weight of the gun to suit your needs. The tungsten guide rod weighs about 1 ½ oz. more than the steel guide rod, which weighs about ¾ oz. more than the hollow guide rod.

Grip texturing – This option can give you a better grip on the gun especially when your hands are sweating during the hot summer months.  However, you don’t want the texture to be so severe that it literally locks your hand into place.  If necessary, you should be able to readjust your grip after the draw.

Grip safety functional or not – If you have a really high grip on the gun you may want to disable the grip safety or set it up so that it is deactivated sooner.  The thumb safety is the primary safety on the 1911 and deactivation of the grip safety is allowed under the rules.

Slide stop works or not – There are reasons to set your gun up either way you need to decide what is going to work best for you.  Check out http://www.brazoscustom.com/magart/0505.htm for an article on the pros and cons.

Springs – The mainspring weight and recoil spring weight will have an affect on how the gun performs for you.  This is something you can experiment with after you have broken in the gun and it is working well.  I would leave it set up as it comes from the builder until you are really familiar with the gun and how it performs for you.

Sights – You want an adjustable rear sight and then you have many options for the front sight. The variables here are the width of the front sight in relation to the rear notch, fiber optic vs. a plain front sight, and, if you go with a fiber optic, the diameter of the fiber optic rod.  Most people opt for a narrower fiber optic front sight with a 0.040” fiber insert.

Realize that some of these options can be added/removed later.  When you are deciding on the basic design of the gun you can also build in some flexibility with a little bit of planning.  If you are not sure about the weight or balance parameters you can leave yourself some options by mixing and matching three components – your dust cover, barrel type, and guide rod.  The weight difference between a long and short dust cover is very similar to the difference between a bull barrel and bushing barrel or the difference between a tungsten guide rod and a steel guide rod. The following chart categorizes the various combinations by weight from light to heavy:

Light to heavy à

Short dust cover

Bushing barrel

Steel guide rod

Long dust cover

Bushing barrel

Steel guide rod

Long dust cover

Bull barrel

Steel guide rod

Long dust cover

Bull barrel

Tungsten guide rod

 

Short dust cover

Bull barrel

Steel guide rod

Long dust cover

Bushing barrel

Tungsten guide rod

 

 

 

Short dust cover

Bushing barrel

Tungsten guide rod

Short dust cover

Bull barrel

Tungsten guide rod

 

 

The combination of components in each column weigh approximately the same and are about 1 ½ oz heavier than the previous column as you move to the right. Picking the right combination will let you have a little bit of flexibility to go up or down in weight and affect the balance.  If you are sensitive to recoil and have a hard time keeping the gun flat you may need to pick something towards the right side of the chart that is heavier and balanced towards the front a little more. If you have big beefy hands and control recoil well you might want to head towards the left side of the chart a little.

When it is all said and done if you are still a little confused pick a competent gunsmith familiar with U.S.P.S.A. shooting (preferably a competitor) and tell him how you want the gun to feel.  He can suggest the options that will get you there. Also, you could just go with a package that combines the most popular options.

 1911 parts at Brazos Custom