Texas lawmen have always looked for ways to even the odds. Back in the 1840’s, Ranger Captain John Coffee “Jack” Hays was the first frontier lawman to use Colt revolvers in battle, earning the Colt Paterson and every Colt revolver thereafter a place in the hearts of Texas lawmen. It is no surprise, then, that as each new Colt pistol came along it found its way into the hands of the Rangers, and for the better part of four decades, the Colt Single Action Army was the most commonly carried revolver, whether chambered in .44-40, .45 Colt or even the slightly lighter .38-40 and .38 Colt calibers. The SAA was also the preferred sidearm of the U.S. military from 1873 until nearly the end of the century.
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By the time the Model 1911 was introduced, Colt semi-automatic pistols were already familiar to Texas Rangers, who had been carrying the .32 ACP and .380 ACP Models 1903 and 1908 almost since their introduction. Many continued to use them as backups well into the 1950s.
While the small Colt Pocket Hammerless models were primarily used as backups for the traditional Colt Peacemakers, a few lawmen had already tried their hand at a Colt .45 ACP semi-automatic with the short-lived Model 1905, which, though failing to meet up to Ordnance Department expectations as a military sidearm, had certainly exceeded all expectations for the civilian marketplace.
Cataloged as the “Model 1905 .45 Automatic Pistol” this was a major step in the evolution of designs leading to the Model 1911. The first .45-caliber semi-auto produced by Colt used a rimless smokeless cartridge designed by John M. Browning, who also designed the gun. The 1905 was intended to bring back the potent .45-caliber cartridge to the U.S. military, which had retired the SAA in 1892, supplementing it with a series of .38-caliber double-action revolvers chambered in .38 Long Colt, .38 S&W and .38 Special, but nothing with the punch of an old SAA .45.
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Unfortunately, as a military sidearm the 1905 left a lot to be desired in its handling and durability for combat use. The Ordnance Department sent Browning and Colt back to the drawing board for a revised version that would add an automatic safety, engineered by Colt designers Carl Ehbets and George Tansley. The second version, circa 1907, was also equipped with a spur-type hammer rather than a rounded hammer, fitted with a lanyard loop, and had modifications made to the ejector and ejection port. This was still not enough to please the military board. Browning changed from the double-link barrel locking system to a single-link design (that would later be used in the 1911) and made a significant alteration to the grip design and angle in 1910, which he stated would improve handling. All of the various changes between 1907 and 1910 were leading up to the gun that would finally be approved and become the “Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911.”
On March 29, 1911, U.S. Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson accepted the Colt Model 1911 for issue to the military with an initial order of 31,344 pistols from the Ordnance Department. This left very few examples to find their way into the hands of civilians or lawmen until around 1915, the year Texas Ranger Edwin DuBose started packing a Model 1911 in a custom-made western holster. The Former Texas Rangers Foundation believes that DuBose was the very first to carry the Colt automatic pistol. But he was certainly not the last!
From a frontier lawman’s point of view, one could fan off six rounds from a Single Action Army just as quickly as a man pulling the trigger on a 1911, but when it came to reloading, the new Colt semi-auto left the Peacemaker in the dust.
The original Model 1911 remained the standard U.S. military sidearm until the improved Model 1911A1 was introduced in 1924. It was distinguished by a shorter trigger, a larger grip safety and most notably an arched, knurled mainspring housing that fit the palm swell of the shooter’s hand. This is the gun that Auto-Ordnance has duplicated with the 1911BKO.
The 1911BKO is a reproduction of the GI 1911A1, including a frame-mounted lanyard loop, and features a matte black, Parkerized-type (WWII) military finish on the frame, barrel and slide. The slide is made from carbon steel, with the sear and disconnector machined from solid bar stock. The 1911BKO also has low-profile sights, with a slightly ramped and serrated front blade and a dovetailed, drift-adjustable rear. Auto-Ordnance has also stamped “MODEL 1911A1 U.S. Army” on the left side of the slide, which was standard for Army purchases until 1937, though these stampings generally appeared on the right side.
The frame has a smooth frontstrap, a knurled mainspring housing, a 1911A1-style grip safety and a small thumb safety like the original Colt models. The brown, checkered grips are made of plastic, which, though not overly attractive, are correct for the WWII era. It wouldn’t cost much to upgrade to Colt-style wood grips.
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Following 1911 specifications, the .45 ACP has a 5-inch barrel, an overall length of 8.5 inches, an unloaded weight of 39 ounces and a seven-round magazine. In most every respect, this pistol looks and handles like an early military-style Colt. While a little caught up in the WWI- and WWII-era designs, the 1911BKO looks like a model from 1924, and both the matte black finish and plastic grips are part of the gun’s price point. Retailing for $588 (within $30 of most comparably styled foreign-made 1911s), the 1911BKO is made in the U.S.A. in Worchester, Massachusetts, by Auto-Ordnance, a division of Kahr Arms.
When the 1911 hit the civilian and law enforcement markets in the early 1900s, there were no holster patterns available for it other than military styles. Some owners improvised by altering the U.S. Model 1912 holster (manufactured for the military by Rock Island Arsenal from 1911 to 1916), others turned to local saddlers to make up something that fit, while a few of the larger established holster-makers started designing rigs to holster the blocky shape of the new semi-automatic Colt. Cartridge belts were a bit of a problem, too, as the .45 ACP was a rimless cartridge and the loops didn’t work well. Of course, with a 1911 one could always pocket a couple of extra magazines.
For the Western style of holster, modifications had already been made to accommodate European-built semi-automatics as far back as the 1890s. In Packing Iron, author Richard C. Rattenbury has a picture of a circa-1915 holster made for a 1911 by R.T. Frazier Saddlery of Pueblo, Colorado. The holster was contoured to the 1911’s shape with a deeply recurved throat profile for the triggerguard and a snap-closure safety strap crossing over the hammer. The holster was secured to the skirt by a single riveted loop, handsomely decorated with a trio of ornamental slotted conchos and leather laces tied in double-bleed knots. The holster and skirt were also decorated by nickel-silver spots. It was this original R.T. Frazier design that inspired the Garcia Brothers at 45 Maker to create the nearly identical rig that I used with the Auto-Ordnance 1911BKO. The belt is fitted with dual magazine pouches, and both the holster and belt are finished in an antiqued, oil-based brown stain.
If you are going to test a period-inspired handgun, you need period ammunition, thus, hardball rounds. To test the Auto-Ordnance 1911BKO, I used Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJs and Remington 230-grain FMJs.
According to my Lyman trigger pull gauge, the trigger pull on my test 1911BKO averaged 8.31 pounds. This is 3 pounds heavier than my original Colt Model 1911’s trigger, but given that the Auto-Ordnance is new out of the box and my Colt is, well, long out of the box, the action is well broken in. My other blued 1911A1 has an average trigger pull of 6.1 pounds, so the Auto-Ordnance is still a little on the heavy side but well within acceptable limits.
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I set my target up on a Law Enforcement Targets Range Pro target stand at a measured distance of 25 yards, and I fired all of the test shots from a semi-rested position. The Federal American Eagle ammo clocked 835 fps through the traps of my ProChrono chronograph, and the Remington hardball rounds flew at 840 fps. The best five-round group measured 3 inches using the Federal ammo, with the best three rounds clustering into 1.2 inches. There were no failures to fire or jams. Although the trigger pull is a tad heavy, it is very crisp with a clean break.
Overall, the Auto-Ordnance is a very solid and easy-to-handle .45 with moderate slide resistance when chambering the first round or clearing the gun. The early GI-style thumb safety and slide release are also excellent. Bottom line: For the money, this is as good as a by-the-book Government Model can be.
• Caliber: .45 ACP
• Barrel: 5 inches
• OA Length: 81⁄2 inches
• Weight: 39 ounces (empty)
• Grips: Checkered plastic
• Finish: Parkerized
• Sights: Front blade, adjustable rear
• Action: Single-action
• Capacity: 7+1
• MSRP: $588
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