An All American celebration marks 1911 pistol’s centennial
Photos & Report
by John Markwell
For most folks in these United States of America March 29, 2011 was just another day. For a few of us it was a date to be commemorated, as on that day 100 years ago John Moses Browning’s 45ACP Model of 1911 was adopted as the service sidearm of the US military. This pistol has been in continuous service with soldiers and civilians alike ever since. Even though the 9mm Beretta M9 has replaced the 1911 as the official service sidearm, the 1911 is still found in the holsters of many who serve our country in uniform. Those 1911 pattern pistols are now manufactured by more companies than at any time in the gun’s history and, over the years, they have been chambered for cartridges ranging from .50 to .17 caliber. The 1911 pistol is available in a mind-numbing variety of sizes and configurations and it continues to be one of the most popular handguns in America, if not the world.
On the Sunday following March 29, 2011 a select group of folks gathered at the Fort Harmar Rifle Club in Marietta, OH, to celebrate the centennial of the 1911’s adoption by the US military. This was an all American celebration with shooting, food, informal competition, and friendship being the order of the day. Activities were under the direction of noted small arms authority Ken Hackathorn. Most of the folks in attendance had long associations with John Browning’s 1911 and were bound to the pistol through many years of carrying, competing, or serving with this timeless artifact of the firearms world. There were quite a number of pistols on display and for those few who did not currently have a 1911 of their own (yes, there are folks who do not own a 1911) a few “loaners” were available.
The festivities began with a salute to the American Flag and, for historical reference, Hackathorn ran the group through the original manual of arms for the 1911 pistol. This included some good natured ribbing during the inspection phase.
The informal competition began with the entire group shooting some basic drills on the standards range. These exercises, shot on IDPA targets, progressed from single shots, to pairs, to head shots, to multiple targets, and included reloading drills as well as some shooting on the move. Following these basic drills the group was split into three squads which rotated through some other events, two of which were drawn from the history surrounding the 1911 pistol.
The El Presedente is an old test of skill that was popularized by Jeff Cooper and is still used by many to test proficiency with the handgun. The shooter starts loaded and holstered with his back to three targets which are ten yards down range. The targets are spaced three meters apart. Upon the signal to fire, the shooter turns, draws, and engages each target with two rounds, reloads and re-engages the targets again with two rounds each. This drill was modified slightly from its original form in that it was mandated that the pistol be loaded with only six rounds which forced the shooter to reload with the weapon at slide lock. The drill was timed and one second was added to the shooter’s raw time for every point down on the targets. As an example: a time of 15.78 seconds with three points down would equal a final score of 18.78. Historically, a good score on this drill is 10 seconds flat with zero points down. Many modern day competitors can best that.
The other really fun stage was the Alvin York drill designed by Hackathorn. The shooter started facing five steel targets at ranges from about 7 to 15 yards. For a handgun, the shooter had to use an original 1914 vintage 1911 in .45ACP. To add some authenticity and fun, the shooter wore a WWI steel helmet and started with a ’03A3 Springfield rifle held in the firing position. The pistol was on a table in front of the shooter, loaded with seven rounds, with the hammer down on an empty chamber (condition 3). On the start signal the shooter attempted to fire the rifle and, after opening the bolt, retrieved the 1911. After racking the slide to load the weapon, the shooter had seven rounds to engage the five steel targets from farthest to nearest as per York’s memoirs. The tiny WWI sights on this old pistol gave some folks considerable trouble, although most seemed to fair pretty well. Again, the score for this drill was one’s time. However, the penalty for leaving a steel target up was 10 points each! Needless to say missing was a serious deal. This stage proved to be great fun for all and provided a connection to past feats of heroism with the 1911 pistol. If you don’t know the story of Alvin York and his Medal of Honor feat, you need to look it up.
After the competition was over the food was served up. In keeping with the all-American theme of the day, Hackathorn served up hot dogs, with all the fixin’s, as the main course. There was also potato and pasta salad, soft drinks and, to top things off, there were so many apple pies (with ice cream) that 30-some folks couldn’t eat them all.
Before ending the day with some more shooting, the scores from all the pre-picnic exercises were added up. The winner of the day’s events was Rob Haught of Sistersville, WV. Besides bragging rights, Haught went home with a couple of boxes of vintage .45ACP ammunition donated by Dave Armstrong and a silver 50-cent piece donated by the author. Appropriately, the coin was dated 1911.
The day was wrapped up with a few more 1911 specific shooting drills and culminated with everyone shooting a slow fire group to empty their 1911s. Much socializing followed with many photos taken of people and guns. Slowly, folks dispersed, heading home after what will be remembered as a once-in-a-lifetime event for all who attended. It is obvious that all who were at this gathering will not get to celebrate the 1911’s 200th year of service. Assuming that 100 years from now our firearms rights are still intact, we’ll leave the 1911’s bicentennial celebration for a future generation as it will surely come to pass.
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