Colt M1991 Government Model .45 Auto

By Chuck Hawks and Rocky Hays

Colt M1991
Illustration courtesy of Colt's Mfg. Co., Inc.

This is the modern equivalent of the famous Colt M1911 Government Model pistol, designed by John Browning and developed by Colt, that saw the United States through two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. It is one of the most recognizable service pistols in the world.

The Colt Series 80, M1991 Government Model incorporates a few modern improvements compared to the original M1911 Government Model pistol. Among the most noticeable of these are an extended tang on the grip safety to help prevent hammer "bite" and improved Patridge-type sights for faster, more accurate aiming. The ejection port has been slightly enlarged for more reliable function.

Otherwise, this pistol looks much like the old fashioned military veteran. Its overall Parkerized finish and checkered black plastic grips reinforce this utilitarian image. Even its model nomenclature, M1991, evokes its military heritage, and is only one digit different than the Colt WW1 original (M1911). The M1991 even has the straight rear grip line of the original 1911 model. Sargent Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964), who used a M1911 to good effect during the Argonne-Meuse offensive while winning the Medal of Honor in WW I, would have recognized this pistol instantly.

Like other modern Colt M1911 pistols, the M1991 has several safety devices. The slide lock safety is user operated, the others are automatic.

There is a conventional frame-mounted manual safety at the left rear of the frame that locks the slide and sear when engaged. Push this slide lock safety up for "safe" and down for "fire."

There is also a spring loaded, pivoted grip safety located on the upper rear part of the grip frame. This is automatically engaged any time the pistol is not properly held by the shooting hand and prevents rearward travel of the trigger. Grasping the pistol firmly depresses the grip safety, releasing it.

There is a safety stop (quarter cock) position on the hammer, designed to catch the hammer should it slip from under the thumb while being cocked. It also guards against accidental discharge in case of a broken primary sear notch. Note that this is not a hammer safety notch and that the hammer can be dropped from this position by simply pulling the trigger.

There is a disconnector that prevents a round being fired before the barrel and slide are locked. This device disconnects the sear until the barrel and slide are fully forward.

Last, there is an automatic firing pin lock. This blocks the firing pin to prevent accidental discharge unless the trigger is pulled fully to the rear. This "drop safety" is found on most modern autoloading pistols, but not on early M1911's or Series 70 Colts.

This pistol is not equipped with a magazine safety. It can be fired with the magazine removed from the pistol.

The most important safety is between the shooter's ears. Make sure this device is engaged and fully operational before operating any firearm. And keep your finger off of the trigger until the pistol is aligned, downrange, with the target.

The main controls on the M1991 pistol are the trigger (forward of upper grip), the slide lock safety (at left rear of slide), the hammer (at rear of slide), magazine catch button (at lower left rear of trigger guard), and the slide stop/takedown lever (left side of frame above trigger). All of these operate in the conventional, expected manner. Actually, the controls on most other single action autoloading pistols have been copied from the Colt Government Model.

When the magazine catch is depressed, the magazine will drop free of the gun. To reload, place a cartridge on the magazine follower with the base just forward of the retaining lips. Press each cartridge down into the magazine and back until the rim of the case is against the flat rear edge of the magazine. Repeat until the magazine is filled (7 rounds). Do not strike the base of the magazine to drive it into the pistol. Doing so can damage the magazine floor plate. Just push the magazine firmly home until you hear the magazine catch "click" into place.

This is a single action pistol, meaning that the hammer must be manually cocked before the trigger can be pulled to fire the first shot. The hammer cannot be cocked by pulling on the trigger (trigger cocking or "double action").

Each time the pistol is discharged by pulling the trigger, the hammer will be automatically re-cocked and the chamber reloaded by the movement of the slide. The slide stays open after the last shot is fired.

Here are the basic specifications of the Colt M1991 pistol:

  • Caliber - .45 ACP.
  • Barrel length- 5".
  • Finish - Parkerized.
  • Magazine capacity - 7 cartridges.
  • Sights - Fixed square notch rear; fixed ramped blade front.
  • Height - 5 3/8".
  • Width - 1 1/4".
  • Overall length - 8 1/2".
  • Weight - 39 ounces.
  • Accessories - Colt plastic carrying case, two magazines, instructions and warrantee cards.
  • 2005 MSRP - $699.

Despite its dull Parkerized finish, the M1991 is fundamentally a very high quality pistol. The major components, including the slide and grip frame, are forged and machined from steel. In fact, aside from the composite grip components (both side panels and the rear grip frame insert), all parts are made from steel. I don't think that there are any aluminum or other substitute parts in the whole gun. The durable magazine is heavy gauge sheet steel, and Colt magazine springs have an excellent reputation for retaining their temper under long term compression.

Like any gun that has been around for a long time, there are preferred ways to operate a Colt M1911 type pistol. Following are some suggestions regarding basic handling procedures. Be forewarned that the very heavy springs supplied in the M1991 require that nearly all operations require considerable strength.

Unlike in the movies, soldiers and civilians alike need to save and protect their limited number of magazines so that they can be reloaded over and over. Don't let your magazine fall from the pistol onto the ground, Hollywood style. It will inevitably be damaged by such treatment. The condition of the magazine is crucial to the reliable functioning of the pistol.

To unload (clear) the pistol, first remove the magazine. The magazine may then be stuck in a pocket or held between the little and ring fingers of the hand gripping the pistol. If the pistol is cocked, you will need to release the slide lock safety. Then, hold the pistol across the body in the shooting hand. Keep it pointed in a safe direction and keep the trigger finger outside of the trigger guard and alongside the frame. Use the off hand to grasp the slide from above the pistol with the palm of the off hand over the ejection port and the thumb and forefinger grasping the serrated grooves at the rear of the slide. Now rotate the pistol 90 degrees so that its right side (and the ejection port) is down. You can then push forward on the pistol's grip with the shooting hand and rearward on the slide with the off hand. Pushing with both hands (instead of just pulling on the rear of the slide with the off hand) makes it easier to get the slide open, especially if the hammer is not cocked. And, if you do it right, the cartridge in the chamber will be ejected neatly into the palm of the off hand. Very professional looking.

To uncock the pistol, pinch the sides of the hammer with the thumb and forefinger of the off hand while holding the pistol normally with the shooting hand (thus depressing the grip safety). The off hand again comes across the top of the pistol (not at the hammer from behind), for better leverage. Pull the trigger to release the hammer, then release the trigger as you ease the hammer down gently. The hammer will wind up in the safety notch. Then pull the trigger a second time and ease the hammer the rest of the way down. Keep the pistol pointed in a safe direction at all times. This is the safest way to lower the hammer.

If the pistol is loaded and a cartridge is chambered with the hammer down (condition 2), the way to cock the hammer without disturbing the grip of the shooting hand is to use the thumb of the support hand. I cock a SA revolver the same way.

The trigger pull of the test pistol measured 6.25 pounds by my RCBS Premium pull gauge. There was also a little creep, but the biggest problem from the standpoint of accurate shooting was the excessive weight of pull. It is pretty hard to pull 6.25 pounds against a 2.4 pound pistol without moving it.

The shooting for this review was done by Guns and Shooting Online Gunsmith Consultant Rocky Hays and I at the Izaak Walton shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers covered bench rest shooting positions and distances of 25 to 200 yards.

With the M1991 we confined ourselves to shooting at 25 yards. We used Outers Score Keeper targets and fired 10 shot groups from a heavily padded wooden rest. The summer weather was hot and sunny with a high of about 80 degrees. Wind was not a factor.

Three types of .45 ACP ammunition were used. These were military 230 grain FMJ ball, Stars and Stripes factory loads using the 185 grain Hornady XTP-JHP bullet at a MV of about 1100 fps, and some of Rocky's handloads using 230 grain LRN cast bullets at about 800 fps.

There was not all that much difference in the accuracy of the various loads. This is a military type service pistol, not a target pistol. It is designed to take a lickin' and keep on kickin', not shoot tight groups on paper targets. Here are our shooting results:

  • 185 grain Stars and Stripes JHP factory load - Average 10 shot group = 5"
  • 230 grain Mil-spec FMJ - Average 10 shot group = 5.75"
  • 230 grain LRN handload - Average 10 shot group = 6"

These results are, in terms of group size, about what I've come to expect from an unmodified 1911 service pistol. The heavy trigger pull certainly did not help. All groups were nice and regular, well rounded, in shape. The bullets were not strung vertically or horizontally.

Everything hit about 5 to 6.5" high and to the left of the point of aim. The Stars and Stripes factory load had the least lateral error (about 1.5") and the military ball ammo had the most (about 3.5").

We tried to tap the rear sight laterally in its dovetail groove to correct for the windage error, but bent our brass punch in the attempt and gave up. Even the rear sight dovetail is Parkerized, making it really HARD to move. It didn't really matter; the groups were on the paper and could be measured. Were this my personal pistol, of course, I would have to break the rear sight loose to center the groups.

The Colt M1991 functioned perfectly with all types of ammunition, which cannot be said of many M1911 clones. Some of those modern clones of this famous Colt pistol will shoot tighter groups out of the box. But check them again after, say, 50 years of hard use before you conclude that they are better (or anywhere near as good) as a genuine Colt.

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Copyright 2005, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.