Group Gripper – One Part Equals Smaller Groups in your 1911
By Paul Mazan
Des Moines, Iowa – -(Ammoland.com)- Despite its advanced age the American shooting publics love affair with the 1911 pistol continues to burn as brightly as Romeo and Juliet’s.
The introduction of double action autos, double stack magazines, and polymer frames hasn’t substantially effected the venerable single stack, single action 1911; it just keeps rolling along. Each generation of shooters seems to relearn the same lessons the previous generation did.
They try the rest and then hear the siren song of the original.
What makes the 1911, at its 100th birthday, such a perennial favorite? Is there some magic in its design? What is in its makeup that mesmerizes generation after generation of shooters? It is by no means a beautiful pistol, nor is it a particularly natural pointer. It’s slab-sided, blunt nosed, and kicks entirely too much in its .45 ACP caliber for many. Yet, year after year, it stays on top of the heap in sales of guns and most of all in sales of accessories.
In truth, I think we love the .45 more for what it can be than what it is. Out of the box accuracy has been questionable enough that an entire industry has grown up around making it better. It is the business backbone of most handgun makers, Custom Pistolsmiths, parts manufacturers, parts sellers, gunsmiths and tinkers all over the nation. Open any catalog dealing with the shooting sports and you are bound to find accessories or parts for the 1911, most of them claiming to improve some function of the gun.
If money were no object, and it always is, we might all send off our favorite 1911 to a custom pistolsmith to turn it into the handgun of our dreams, and they would do it too. There is no shortage of Pistolsmiths that have made their reputation and living off of “old slab sides”.
Unfortunately, many of us have a hard enough time squirreling away the money to buy the pistol and a milti-thousand dollar trip to a custom gunsmith just isn’t in the cards for us. Does this mean we are stuck with a stock, out of the box pistol? No, not at all. One of the things that make the 1911 so popular is the ease of changing stock parts for custom parts. If you can disassemble the pistol and clean it you can modify it to look like a custom gun right on your kitchen table or workbench.
The question is, can you also make it shoot like one?
A trip through the Brownells catalog will provide the average gun owner with enough replacement custom parts to keep him busy and broke for years to come. From adjustable rear sights that fit the factory dovetail to Ambi safeties, Extended slide stops, replacement hammers, mag release buttons, and grip safeties and grips to drop in barrels, Bushings and full-length guide rods. You can buy the parts one at a time as you can afford them and upgrade your pistol over time or in bunches. That is the real allure of the 1911.
The small block Chevy of the pistol world it can be a plane Jane work gun or a real hotrod, the potential is endless.
So there you are a stock 1911 and relatively few dollars to invest in making it into a super accurate pistol. Is there any one thing you can do without the help of a gunsmith to substantially improve the guns performance. A new trigger will not improve your trigger pull by itself. A new sear might but it is in the interaction of the parts that the professional gunsmith works his magic and makes his living. So, if we are on a budget and can’t afford to pay a gunsmith to work his magic on our gun are there any drop-in parts that we can buy and simply install that will improve accuracy?
To answer that question we first must understand what a gunsmith does to make a 1911 shoot more accurately. Probably the most important thing to consider in shrinking the 1911’s groups is in the alignment of the barrel to the slide. After all the sights are on the slide and if the barrel comes to rest in a different location every time in relation to those sights, no amount of sight improvement, perfection of alignment by the shooter, or crisp light trigger pull will make it shoot to the same place. The gunsmiths answer to this predicament is to tighten the slide, precisely fit the barrel bushing and link, smooth out and lighten the trigger pull, and be sure that the barrel returns to the same place every time. That takes talent, training, and know how, something you and I probably don’t have, if we did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But, can some of those wonderful Gunsmithing catalogs offer us something we can install that will do that job for us? One product seemed to address the areas we are concerned with and I thought a little testing was in order.
Wilson Combat (2234 CR 719 Berryville AR 72616) makes a “Group Gripper” Guide rod and plug that has both a two piece full length guide rod to help in locating the slide as well as a spring loaded lever that engages a special link. The two parts work together to put upward pressure on the back of the barrel and force it up into the locking lugs. I found this little Gem in the Brownells Catalog under part number 965-203-001AD for around $50. This is a part that just might let the amateur achieve some of the fit that it takes a lot of hard Gunsmithing to get with standard or custom parts.
I started with my 1911 parts gun. It has a stock Colt Barrel and slide with the standard spring guide and solid bushing all on an Essex frame. This is very typical of the entry-level guns you might find at a local Gunshow. Nothing special here but all the potential every 1911 has that seems to draw us to them. I took the gun to the range along with a borrowed Ransom rest and an assortment of ammo. The first thing was to see what kind of accuracy this gun would deliver and then install the “Group Gripper” to see what effect this product might have on group size.
Using a Remington 185 Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint factory load and two handloads with 230 Grain Round Nose Lead bullets, one with 4 Grains of Bullseye and the other with 5.3 Grains of Unique I put the 1911 and various combinations of parts through their paces. Shooting was all done at 50 feet using a Ransom Rest. I started with the factory link and solid bushing and the groups with the Remington ammo ran from 2 to 3 inches with an average of 2.87 inches. The Bullseye load shot consistent 3” groups, and the Unique load was very inconsistent printing groups from 2.25 to over 4 inches.
Installing the Wilson Group Gripper I got some real surprises. The Remington Factory ammo groups shrank to an average of 1.5 inches, the Bullseye load printed into 2 inches and even the Unique load settled into 2.25 inches for an overall average of 1.91 inches for all targets. Several things became evident as I looked over the stack of targets. The Remington Factory load shot well printing groups from a best of 1.5 inches with the “Group Gripper” to 3 inches with the factory bushing and link. The average group with this ammo for all targets shot was 2.05 inches. The most finicky load was the Unique handload with the smallest group running 2.25 inches and the largest some ugly 4 inchers and an average for all targets of 2.98 inches. Bullseye was absolutely consistent shooting 2-3” groups over and over regardless of the combination of parts used.
So, what have we proved? Can we turn a stock gun into a tack driver with the simple addition of a couple of off the shelf parts? Unfortunately, no, we can’t make that 1911 shoot them all into one hole, but the addition of Wilson’s “Group Gripper” did improve the groups. From an average of 2.87 inches with the factory bushing and link to an average of 1.91 inches with nothing more than the installation of the “Group Gripper” while maintaining 100% reliability. That is a substantial improvement for an outlay of $50 and nothing more than the installation of a couple of parts. The fact that those parts can be installed by any shooter with normal hand tools and no training or special knowledge make it one of those sleepers that doesn’t get much press but actually work. Mine is staying in my gun, I think it’s one of the best investments in an accuracy improving product I’ve ever made.
No wonder so many folks love their 1911’s. With a Colt Factory Barrel, Stock Bushing and a “Group Gripper” my thrown together parts gun shot groups that averaged just less than 2 inches with complete reliability. I know the custom pistolsmiths out there would be embarrassed if any one of the guns that came out of their shop couldn’t shoot better than that by a wide margin.
But, for those of us that aren’t trained on the complexities of accurizing a 1911 and have house payments, car payments and a family to support on regular jobs, here is something we can afford that really makes a difference and, we can install it ourselves.
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