Short and Sweet

As short open guns have started to show up more and more at matches and in the promotional advertising of gunsmiths, I thought an article on the theory behind the short gun was in order. My own quest for the short open gun started in 1999 in response to the lowering of the power factor.  I was not the first to shorten the venerable 1911 – that has been going on almost since Browning first developed the 5-inch gun.  I just wanted to maximize performance for the lower power factor.

First, let’s go into a little theory of what we are trying to accomplish with a short open gun. To me, the ideal open gun should handle and balance like a limited gun while retaining the flat shooting characteristics of the open gun. In 1999, a state of the art open gun had a bull barrel and long multi-port comp.  It weighed in at around 46 ounces on an STI/SV frame, making it about 8 ounces heavier than current limited guns and very nose heavy. To get back more towards a limited gun, we had to lose some weight and length.  To complicate matters even more, at the lower power factor we would lose some compensation. The new design had to solve the problem of shooting flat at the lower power factor. To summarize, what we want to head towards is a lighter gun that will index better, have a neutral balance (over your middle finger), and still shoot flat at the lower power factor.

To meet these requirements, this the gun needed the following design changes:

It’s one thing to have a design in mind, yet quite another to actually build a gun that meets the design specifications while functioning with maximum performance.

To solve the problems presented by the design, the first gun I built used a commander slide on a government model frame, cone comp, and lightened slide.  The total weight was 40 ounces.  Although this gun was fast, a commander slide on a government frame decreased the amount of time the next round had to come up in the magazine by about 30%. I was concerned that the shorter stroke would make the gun very finicky with regard to magazine tuning.  However, the gun was fast and handled so well that I knew I was on the right track. 

The next gun was based on a 5-inch slide that was cut back to almost commander length.  This had the benefit of the normal government model stroke but was still almost as short as the commander slide. For this gun, I decided to make a custom guide rod plug and guide rod so that I could use a commander spring instead of the government model spring. The commander spring is lighter and shorter.  It loads up quicker and lets off quicker producing a perceived quick, soft recoil impulse. This gun handled just as well as the first gun but it still needed something else.  It was the type of gun that a GM could handle but it would give a B shooter fits.  It was better than anything I had shot so far but it did not shoot as flat as I wanted…back to the drawing board. 

The next generation came as a result of working with Adam Popplewell. He liked the way the gun handled but wanted something flatter and suggested barrel porting.  I dislike the hybrid porting and the large barrel ports in other guns I have shot because they slap you in the face and produce a flat shooting but very harsh type of recoil.  When you drill large holes in the barrel, you bleed off a lot of pressure and the gun shoots flat.  However, the compensator doesn’t work as well.  You get a flat shooting gun but the recoil has to go somewhere -- it goes straight into your hand. I wanted a gun that would shoot flat and soft. My solution is a porting system (“Poppleholes”) comprised of several smaller holes that flatten out the muzzle flip without bleeding a lot of pressure.  The velocity drop after the holes were drilled was only 20 feet per second. I combined this with a compensator that had one less port since we were working with less gas volume. This results in a pistol that shoots flat and soft but balances and handles like a limited gun. 

I originally designed this gun for myself and other GM and Master class shooters, but once others began to test fire the final product it proved to be just the ticket for B and C class shooters too.  I can recount several notable success stories of A and B class shooters who picked the gun up and shot scores 1-2 classes higher than their current classification. The feedback I get from people test firing the gun at matches is that the gun handles better on the move, indexes quicker, shoots flat and soft, and the dot is easier to find because the gun handles and points like a limited gun.

What’s up next when it comes to the perfect open gun? That’s anybody’s guess. But for now, the short gun seems to be the best set-up for the present set of rules we have in open.