A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, January 30, 2009

To Shoot or not to Shoot

One of the dilemmas of owning a historical firearm is whether to shoot it. In the thread about my Colt "Black Army" M1911 at the 1911 Forum, I brought up shooting it. Click to enlargeThe responses ranged for cringing at the thought to allowing that risk was minor.

M1911s were not heat treated as 1911s commonly are today. They are know for cracking at the dust cover of the frame, and the ejection port and recoil tunnel of the slide. My M1911 has none of these issues. Once cracked, an all original M1911 becomes either a paperweight, or a mix master after the owner is forced to substitute parts.

I am thinking that the usual cracking occurs from stress fatigue as the parts batter each other. If I do shoot the pistol, it will be in conservative amounts with conservative ammuniton, and I will install a (Lord help me) recoil buffer.

I highly respect several of the members of the 1911 Forum who urge caution. Click to enlargeEven though this particular pistol is weathered on the outside, the gun is 100% original. Evidence inside the gun shows it has been shot very little in it's lifetime. As has been pointed out, losing that to regular shooting is a loss in and of itself that can't be replaced.

Perhaps I should just make my Colt WW1 Reproduction a shooter, and let the Colt "Black Army" rest. The WWI Repro has all the hardening of a modern shooter, and once it begins to show appreciable wear, I can send it in to Colt to have the flats polished and re-blued to more closely approximate the real deal.



Anonymous George said...

Hahaha! So it begins! I have inherited a number of old pistols that also would decrease in value drastically if a major part broke. But I hate the idea of owning something that cannot be used.

Now that you have started down the road of 'safe queen' you will probably sell it at some point to purchase actual shooters. And I wouldnt blame you. While I appreciate the zeal my father had in collecting firearms (Grandpa Nambu with shoulder stock, Artillery Luger with snail drum and loading tool, Early C96 Mausers with matching shoulder stocks) I would not seek out 'safe queens' on my own. If I purchase a firearm, it is for the purpose of enjoying it at the range.

God luck with this dilemma. It certainly is a tough call!

10:36 AM  
Anonymous pyrojake said...

I can support your decision however you make it. I know for myself, I would have to shoot it at least once!

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shooting the Colt repro sounds like the best option, especially since you already have several shooters. Who knows, you may end up liking it even more once it has some rounds down the tube and acquires a patina.

I'm curious though, how did the old M1911s and A1s get the reputation as such good and reliable shooters (compared to "modern" 1911s)? Was the old heat treating that inferior compared to modern techniques?

1:25 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Guns are made to be shot. Don't put thousands of +P rounds through it...but enjoy shooting your piece of history.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I like your plan - shoot the "replica" and let the original rest quietly in the safe.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Mr.Potato said...

It's a pleasure question. Both actions have to do with a hobby. If it pleasures you more to shoot the gun then go for it. If you get more pleasure from looking at it in a vitrine then store it and don't shoot it. When we die, who knows what fate awaits the things we treasure most...

2:42 PM  
Blogger Less said...

She's a nice old girl and probably has some stories to tell... I'd let her rest unless you really needed her.

FWIW: I've shot my luger once. She's put away now and I just beat the hell out of my tupperware.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Shoot a few magazine through it to satisfy your curiosity, then make your decision. I'd recommend turning the Colt repro 1911 into a shooter, and let this elderly parent rest quietly save for an occasional outing.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Steelghost said...

You might be able to cyrogenicly harden the frame, it should transform the Austenitic steel into Martensite. If I'm remembering my MSE201 correctly it is just phase shifting from a brittle steel type to a tougher type. After a quick read it is also showing some promise in the reduction of corrosion. Just hope this helps.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Old NFO said...

Hard choice, but ultimately it's up to you. Me personally, I'd shoot it.

4:26 PM  
Blogger nature223 said...

in my 1918 1911A1 it hasnt had issues,just install a shock buff pad on the recoil spring rod,I've shot many modern loads in mine..no issuses
also makes the recoil feel like a "THUD",rather then a "CLUNK".

4:33 PM  
Blogger Tam said...

Heh. Sucks, don't it? I feel your pain.

It's a comfort to know you could shoot it if you wanted to, though. Like, I could take that absolutely mint 3.5" 27-2 out and shoot it any ol' time I wanted.... which has thus far helped maintain my self control.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Barfinigate said...

If it means anything to ya, I have a 1918 black army, 1913 early production & 1943 Remington Rand. Shoot them with lite hand loads & the only damage I've had was the web of my hand between thumb & index finger, ouch!

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Scott Gahimer said...

I think you grasp the facts of the situation well.

IMO, any original M1911 or A1 is collectible to someone. Each pistol probably represents the best example some will ever own.
This pistol may not be good enough condition for you to appreciate it as a collectible and choose to preserve it.

If that's the case, then I'd recommend you sell it to someone who does appreciate it and will preserve it...for the sake of the pistol.

Then go out and find yourself a really nice original piece that you will appreciate to put back, admire and preserve. The temptation to shoot a nice pistol is far less than one well-worn. Don't try to mix "collecting historical arms" with "shooting collectible arms". It doesn't work.

Some are simply fascinated with idea of shooting an old military pistol. The truth is, they all shoot basically the same. While on active duty, I fired literally thousands of rounds in 45s as an Army MP and while instructing at the MP School 30+ years ago.

If you decide you want a military pistol to shoot, find yourself one that has been permanently altered, such as a commercially refinished mismatch. Buy it cheap and shoot it all you want. If something breaks, find a non-original replacement part, install it and keep shooting. That's the cost of shooting, and acceptable IMO.

Preserve the originals. There are too many shooters out there looking for good homes to create another one, while pissing away condition and possibly originality, should something fail on your original pistol.

I hope this helps.

Also, see:

Best regards,

7:40 PM  
Blogger Mark Horning said...

I would shoot it myself.

I would replace the recoil spring with a modern one from Wolff. I would use standard pressure ammunition. I would also shoot it sparingly. But...

I would shoot it.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous John in MA said...

Occasional outings with reasonable ammo will not hurt that gun.

Shoot it!

8:55 PM  
Anonymous panhandle said...

Shoot it Xav, you know you want to. Shoot them both. Shoot the dog out of that reproduction. Shoot the original when you need an extra little smile.

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoot. Even if it's just a magazine a year. There's something cool about actually shooting historical weapons, not just looking at them.

1:28 AM  
Blogger fishbio said...


You pose the classic question-to shoot or not to shoot a firearm with historical significance.

It seems to me that when we are honored to possess a piece, albeit only for a just a fraction of its lifetime, that there is an obligation to use it for its' intended purpose, be it shooting, hunting, self defense, or just to admire.

In this way, the present owner reconnects to those before them, and leaves a legacy to those who follow..

As always, the choice is yours...

7:55 AM  
Anonymous -gary said...

Shoot it. It's a gun, not a piece of art. If it does crack or break, then it becomes a piece of art. Nice to look at, but serves no practical value.

If you are afraid to shoot it for fear that something might happen, it has already lost it's practical value anyway.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous ronald617 said...

I have a mix master on a "Black Army" frame from 1918. It is a aresnal rebuild war vet bring back. As a police officer, I carry it daily as my duty gun. If it was good enough to protect the good old USA, it's good enough to protect my weathered old hide.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

at least test fire it!!!

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would at least test fire it!

11:35 PM  
Blogger tom said...

I've bought minty N.I.B. guns to shoot or hack up into relatives of what they once were when I haven't been able to find un-minty N.I.B. guns to hack up into what I wanted. I'm not a museum. If I can't shoot them they get boring to look at. Plenty of people have enough minty stuff locked away in safes and museums that I don't care if people call me a heathen for doing it.

Only times I've owned a firearm and not fired it has been in cases of them being mechanically wallhangers or I didn't have ammunition available yet. 19th century or last week's manufacture, I look at them all the same on that. What good is a firearm you can't shoot? I hang dead animal parts on the wall for stuff for visitors to look at related to firearms.

My threepence

5:53 PM  
Blogger tom said...

I might add, when I go out to the blues and bluegrass jam sessions, I go with a 1935 Gibson L-1, not a Collings reproduction that doesn't sound as good. No sense in owning things if you can't use them...

Regards and happy shooting.

5:55 PM  
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7:49 PM  

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