Springfield’s Mil-Spec

By R.K. Campbell

An old axiom is “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” ‘KISS’ works for me although I admit it took some time to sink in. At least I am not alone in reaching this maturity level after considerable time and expense. I began carrying a stock 1911 some forty years ago and after flirtations with various grades of custom handguns and factory high end products, I have come full circuit and now carry either Series 70 or Mil-Spec handguns on a daily basis. Since each is utterly reliable and will cut one ragged hole in the target at 7 yards I think I am on the right track. From vehicles to rifles to handguns, the simpler service grade options are usually best choice. Mil-Spec is the gun that wins the fight. While you may spend as much as you wish on a 1911 handgun, most of us simply do not need that degree of refinement. The fixed sight Mil-Spec pistols with finger tight barrel bushings work correctly if they have not been tinkered with. For most of us a fifteen hundred dollar 1911 is a waste of money in the holster. Unless you are tied to a handgun with a certain amount of savoir faire, the Mil-Spec 1911 will do quite well.

The 1911 has saved the lives of many good men over the last one hundred years. It is forty ounces of authority in the hand. The Springfield slide feels right when it is cycled, and the well fitted safety, slide lock and trigger action inspire confidence. John Moses Browning understood the riddle of steel like few others and the 1911 pistol is still viable after over one hundred years in action – and still at the top of the heap. That is amazing! The pistol doesn’t make a duffer into a marksman and the 1911 doesn’t suffer fools. The same may be said of the Glock and other handguns. But if you are willing to master the 1911 no handgun will serve you better.

The Springfield Mil-Spec, in my opinion, is among the best service pistols available. This handgun is all business. There is no plastic outside of the grip panels, the firearm and slide are forged, and the pistol is built for longevity and combat ability. It isn’t a target pistol so the mainspring is arched, not flat, and the trigger is short, not long. This insures that the pistol is fast into action and controllable in rapid fire. The Springfield Mil-Spec is an improved 1911 A1 handgun. The improvements may seem minor, but they are important. The original 1911A1 sights have been called embryonic and or abysmal. While precise when properly lined up, they are difficult to rapidly acquire in speed drills. The flash sight picture that is so important in high speed personal defense is severely limited with GI sights. The Mil-Spec sights address this shortcoming well. The sights are high profile and meet the needs of most shooters. Some of the other improvements are less visible but discernable to the trained eye. The usual GI pistol was looser than modern commercial pistols. Some rattled when shook. That was OK because the barrel bushing and the barrel lugs were fitted tightly enough for acceptable accuracy. The Springfield is Mil-Spec is tighter than a GI gun but the barrel bushing is only finger tight. The Mil-Spec pistol doesn’t rattle when shook and there is very little lateral play in the slide.

Another shortcoming of the original 1911 was the trigger action. While the trigger action was sometimes smooth enough and did not give trouble in long term use, it was heavy. A trigger compression of seven pounds isn’t unusual. The Springfield Mil-Spec tested for this evaluation broke at a very clean 4.75 pounds. This trigger is manageable by a trained shooter and allows better precision shooting. Another Springfield Mil-Spec pistol examined during this evaluation has been in use for ten years. The trigger has settled into a very crisp and reliable 4.5 pounds. This is an aid in rapid fire accuracy and absolute accuracy as well. Accuracy standards for the 1911A1 military issue pistol called for a five inch group at 25 yards and a ten inch group at 50 yards. My research and period testing confirms that some lots of ammunition were more accurate than others, and some GI pistols will do a bit better than this standard. But very few will prove as accurate as the modern Springfield Mil-Spec pistols. The test pistol’s good trigger action and the pistol’s sights add up to superior accuracy potential. The fit of the barrel, barrel bushing and lugs are excellent. The safety indents in a positive manner. Overall the pistol seems high quality. The finish is a dull or matte blue that is all business and should prove at least as durable as Parkerizing.

Unlike many late model 1911 handguns, the Springfield does not use a firing pin block or drop safety. The Springfield incorporates a heavy duty firing pin spring and lightweight firing pin in order to provide a drop safe handgun. Since the Series 80 firing pin block adds four parts to the pistol this is deemed a plus for simplicity. The Springfield’s feed ramp is properly designed for use of modern wide nose hollow point ammunition. The feed ramp features the requisite 1/32 inch gap between the two halves of the feed ramp. This insures good feed reliability as long as the ammunition is properly manufactured. An overall length of 1.250 is ideal for proper feeding in the 1911 action. Shorter cartridges are problematical. Even with a lightweight bullet of 185 grains, the proper overall length is vital to proper feeding. Finally the plastic stocks are well checkered and serviceable if not attractive. Some runs of the Mil-Spec feature nicely checkered wooden grip panels with superior adhesion. The latest rendition is a ‘pistol pac’ with both types of grips, a range holster and magazine carrier. The width of the grip panel is important for the grip and to properly center the pistol in the hand and bring the sights into the proper index. While the plastic grips are adequate, many of us will replace these stocks at the first opportunity.

The pistol has no full length guide rod to complicate disassembly. This simplicity allows an instant press check to be certain the pistol is loaded. The Mil-Spec is easily cleaned and maintained. There are a number of recommendations for best longevity and reliability. The recoil spring should be changed every 3,500 rounds. The magazines should be inspected periodically and discarded when worn or when the magazine spring has lost an inch of its free length.

The pistol has proven reliable with a diverse selection of ammunition; however, the 1911 is best served with ammunition with an overall length of 1.250 inches and a rounded ogive. Inexpensive lead bullet or steel case ammunition is fine for practice. The service load should be proofed for reliability. The Mil-Spec service load is the Black Hills 230 grain jacketed hollow point. This loading has delivered good accuracy and exhibits what I believe is the ideal balance of expansion and penetration. Black Hills Ammunition also manufactures a high velocity 185 grain +P load using a modern all copper hollow point. This loading is flat shooting and highly accurate. While there is nothing wrong with 230 grain Hardball based on wound ballistics – big hole in, bigger hole coming out – the modern expanding bullet does offer greater public safety and is often match grade accurate.

In overall accuracy the Mil-Spec is more accurate than most GI guns and at least comparable to most of the Springfield Loaded Model handguns I have tested.


When carrying the pistol, a good balance of retention and speed is desirable. A relatively compact holster that offers these traits is not common. The KT (kt-mech.com) Gunfighter is a capable Kydex holster. The holster is impervious to oil, perspiration and solvent. It is thin enough for comfort and concealment but keeps the pistol held securely for a rapid presentation. This holster is also supplied with a belt loop for standard on-belt carry, however, we prefer the advantages of inside the waistband carry. The handgun is concealed beneath a light covering garment and speed is good for those that practice.

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911 A1

Caliber: .45 ACP
Capacity: 7+1
Barrel Length: 5 inches
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Weight: 38 ounces
Sights: GI Style, fixed
Sight radius: 6.25 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on May 30, 2014


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