1911 reliability

I have several 1911s, but one of the better ones is my Colt 1911 XSE Rail Gun.  This is a reliable 1911, it’s on Hilton Yam’s recommended list of 1911s for duty use.  But like we’ve said about modern 1911s, even it can be kind of finicky.  I managed this weekend to hit a perfect storm of issues to get my 1911 to have two failure to feed malfunctions during a USPSA match at Kitsap RRC near Bremerton.

To set the table, the night before the match I had tested all my mags and the ammo I’d be using at West Coast Armory Indoor Range in Bellevue.  I was also using a new grease on the gun, which at the indoor range in 68 degree weather during a 400 round practice session worked just fine.  The ammo I was using was Remington 185 grain semi-wadcutter FMJ, which is loaded pretty light, meaning lower slide velocity.  However, indoors at WCA it worked just fine.

Fast forward to KRRC the next day, where I have two failures to feed with my gun.  I then took the same gun and mags to an indoor range and shot the same rounds after the match…and it worked just fine.  Via process of elimination, I can only conclude that the issues were due entirely to the following perfect storm of conditions:

  • Colt weather makes the grease not as viscous as it should be
  • Fewer rounds don’t allow the gun to heat up
  • Semi-wadcutter bullet shape
  • Low slide velocity

Add all those together and you will get the occasional failure to feed – in this case I had two on one stage, which was maddening since it cost me a stage win.

I’m not knocking the Colt.  I’m not knocking 1911s.  What I am saying is that it’s important to test your gear in different conditions.  It didn’t occur to me while standing on a heated indoor range with a hot gun that the grease I was using would perform differently at 40 degrees with a cold gun; it certainly didn’t occur to me that the lower slide velocity from the semi-wadcutter rounds coupled with the cold temps would cause the gun to fail.

That’s what you sign up for when you use 1911s though – the guns do weird things, and you often need to know exactly what your gun is going to do under all sorts of different circumstances; not just under ideal conditions on a nice range.  It’s worth noting that there was a guy in my squad running a 9mm with some really, really light loads and using the same grease as I was using – he had zero issues with his Sig P226 X5.  Again, I’m not knocking the 1911 platform, because I do love it, but rather illustrating that there are lots of things going on with a 1911 that often wouldn’t be an issue with another platform.


  1. I’ve been running my S&W 1911 to see how reliable it is, bought it used at a gunshow so unknown round count, I’ve cleaned it twice in 850 rounds and had 2 failures to feed, which I felt were both my fault due to a slightly relaxed grip, a bump to the slide put it in battery and continued. I’ve been using a silcone teflon spray for lube, and it seems to work well in cold weather, as the only way my range gets warm is called summer

  2. Grease is for bearings and M1As. Maybe it’s because I live in a desert, but I’m even getting away from oils too. During the day grease & oils attract dust, and the sudden swings in temp (below freezing at night in the high desert) changes viscosity. I wouldn’t do that to a Glock, much less a 1911. Sure, you might get away with it, but why bother when there are alternatives that work as a surface treatment (Militec-1) or that still provide lubrication after applying and wiping down? (FP-10 or Weaponshield.) I’m all for sticking with the classics, but lubrication technology has made significant advances, and given the real practical advantages, I see no reason not to grab it. A small bottle of any modern lube goes a long way and will run you just a few bucks more than plain old grease or oil.

  3. SWC .45s can choke a lot of pistols.

    My G30 hated ’em in most weights and configurations, and I’ve never seen them work reliably in a ramped-barrel 1911.

    The fact that they’re usually seated over mouse-fart powder charges doesn’t help anything, either.

    1. Yeah, that’s a big reason why i’m not crying from the rooftops that “MY 1911 IS UNRELIABLE”. Semi-wadcutters loaded at mouse-fart pressure plus cold weather is a pretty reasonable “that’s why my gun didn’t work” equation. The same rounds at 70 degrees work fine, and hardball at 30 degrees runs in the gun. Not too worried about it.

  4. I live in Alaska, so this is a fairly consistent issue for me.

    Graphite lube works. Adding a bit of militech to your grease is a decent temporary solution.

  5. On the other hand, I had the opposite experience at the pistol class I attended the weekend before last. It took about 500 rounds to finally start to get the occasional failure to lock back on an empty mag. The guy shooting a Sig P226 was having problems all day long with it (I’m pretty sure he was using the slide lock as a thumb rest).

    The newer guns only work nearly flawlessly when you use them correctly.

    Also, I have to say that SWCs worked like a champ in mine that weekend. Over 1000 rounds, and not a single failure to feed. I don’t know if it was because I stick with a middle of the road charge (5.2g min, 5.9g max. I had 5.4g) or that I just found a sweet spot on COL on my rounds (1.255″) for my gun.

    It definitely makes up for the 3 or 4 FTFs I had in my first IDPA match with some FP rounds I had made up. The previous 400 rounds worked fine at the range. Get to the match and I had so many FTFs the first stage that I emptied my magazines and loaded them with some factory FMJs to finish up.

    1. Over a chrony, the RemMatch loads I was using had a velocity variation from 750 FPS to 890 FPS. Not exactly awe inspiring in terms of consistency. I think for now I’m going to stick with the .45 ACP from BVAC. Sure, it’s a 190 PF, but it works!

      1. That’s the nice part with reloads. Very consistent loads, once you find powders that feed well in your setup.

        Unique was not one of those powders, at least not with my 550B.

  6. Just for completeness, I’ll add to the list in the middle of your article something like:
    – Cold weather makes the rounds/powder less powerfull

    I think it’s not about 1911 reliability, it’s about firing guns in harsh conditions. You can experience similar problems also with Glocks (I do:), if ‘proper’ mix of gun/temperature/grip/lubrication/load is present on the range…

    1. Really really cold weather will teach somebody with a striker-fired gun why they were supposed to keep that striker channel clean and dry. You get some congealed FP-10 and powder sludge in there at sub-freezing temperatures, and it’s light-strike city, especially with harder primers, like S&B.

  7. I’ve been using Mobil 1 oil for all my gun lubracation needs and have found it to be great stuff. Never a problem with hig or low temprature or gum-up. Of course I only use ball ammo in my 1911s.

  8. Similar situation, but mine was a dirty gun + weak ammo + offhand shooting. I went out the week before and fired over 500 rounds, and didn’t clean it. I was shooting 200 gr truncated cones over about 4.5 gr of 231. At the match, we had to shoot a string with only our off-hand, and almost all of them were FTEs… Lesson learned.

  9. What a crock. I’m not sure who this Ms. Caleb is, but clearly she’s never fired a real gun in her life. Looks like anyone can start herself a blog and call herself an expert. I’ll just bet Miss Caleb is a homo-glock-lover who gets all her 1911 experience with airsoft or something.

    No 1911 has ever failed – never once – in 100 years. I know, ’cause I’ve always wanted a 1911 and even though I don’t have one now I’ve seen one once and maybe it was from a distance but it looked plenty reliable to me.

    Beisde, my neighbor graduated highschool with me and he’s a multiple tour Viet Nam Marine SEAL green beret, and he used a 1911 storming the Normandy Beach on Iwo Jima fighting the Iraquis in the Chosin Reservoir during the Battle of the Bulge. His 1911 never failed him once, and I trust him implicitly.

    How dare anyone besmirch the wonderful reputation of such a fantastic piece of machinery.

    Go back to your knitting, little lady.

    1. “Beisde, my neighbor graduated highschool with me and he’s a multiple tour Viet Nam Marine SEAL green beret, and he used a 1911 storming the Normandy Beach on Iwo Jima fighting the Iraquis in the Chosin Reservoir during the Battle of the Bulge. His 1911 never failed him once, and I trust him implicitly.”


      You first say he served in Nam, then say he was in WW2? (Normandy Beach is not in Iwo Jima, and neither were at the site of the Battle of the Buldge, We also were not fighting Iraqis, or Iroquois, not sure which you meant, in WW2 nor Nam)

      And unless your neighbor is about 90 years old he couldn’t have been in WW2. Nam would make him about 60 something.

      And yes, they do “fail”, if your definition of Fail is a stoppage of firing, catastrophic failure (think blowup) if extremely rare but as with anything using an explosive action to function it can happen too.

      That said I carry a slightly modified 1911A1 almost every day and depend on it to work if needed.

      Also since I live in a colder climate and have had guns fail due to extreme cold (think -15 F) I never use anything heavier than oil on mine, perhaps shooting competition with 100’s of rounds being fired in a day I would consider it, but for hunting and protection use with occasional 100-200 rd target shooting thrown in I’ll stick with just light oiling.
      It might be a little more wear but I know it won’t gum up the gun in cold weather.

      1. Don’t you be back-talkin’ ’bout my neighbor. At 118 years he’s the oldest enlisted man in the Army Air Force SAS on his third tour in the ‘stan now. He’s seen every engagement since Mexico in ’16 with old Black Jack and hain’t missed a one since. Probably be a five-star general by now if he could keep from drinkin’ and hittin on the officer’s wives.

        He enlisted in 1910 by lying about his age (hey, he was a big dude) and is known throughout the SpecOps community as the only active soldier to pre-date the 1911 who is still using one. And it has never, ever failed him. Not once. You obviously just don’t shoot enough.

        Serously? Check this out http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2011/02/who-knew.html and follow the trail. It’s pretty funny stuff. Since the newbs kept referring to Tam as ‘he’ and ‘him’ I figured to do the 180 and call Caleb ‘Ms.” and ‘she’.

        There’s a reason I’m at the end of my career (13 more months, baby!) as an LEO/armorer/instructor: I obviously suck as a comedian.

          1. BTW on the serious side, thank you very much for your excellent, objective review of the Colt rail gun. Very much appreciated.

  10. Zermoid, you’ve been trolled.

    I used Lubriplate that day on the range with 9mm ammo at around 130-135pf, and it worked great. Only problems I had were due to a magazine and my inability to aim properly while going fast 😀

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