Browning Hi Power or 1911 for Defense?
It's not unusual to find fans of the single-action automatic at this crossroad somewhere down the shooting trail. Folks who are wedded to one or the other of these classic designs wouldn't change …and that's fine. There are some for whom it presents a "dilemma". Note that I did not say a serious dilemma. That doesn't mean that it's not worthy of discussion.
I'll present some long-term observations on carrying and defensive use of these two pistols.
Reliability: Contrary to the experiences cited by some, the 1911 and Hi Power are both capable of extreme reliability. The designs are time proven to be grand. Unfortunately, execution frequently is not. Every manufacturer will have a gun slip by quality control and results in a dissatisfied customer. Out of the box, it's been my observation that the Hi Power runs more reliably than the 1911. In other words, if we get 100 new Hi Power's and the same number of 1911 pistols, I believe a greater number of the Hi Powers will operate reliably.
That said, it often doesn't take much to turn a jamming 1911 into a paragon of virtue. Either pistol can run without stuttering when set up correctly. It is not true that hundreds of dollars are required to make the 1911 operate correctly. These guns often run fine right out of the box and when they don't the fix may cost nothing or but a few bucks. Fans often spend great amounts having their 1911's customized, but this is to obtain precisely what they want and not necessarily to make the gun "work."
If you have had reliability problems with either pistol and just cannot fully trust that design again, go with the one you trust. Faith in one's equipment is an overlooked quantity in my opinion.
Caliber: If you are absolutely convinced that 9mm is just not enough for self-defense, Hi Power options are limited to forty-caliber unless you opt for a .357 SIG conversion. Obviously you can with .40, 10mm, or .45 ACP in the 1911 pattern pistol. I purposely omitted .38 Super on the caliber discussion, as it offers no more than 9mm +P in most factory loads. That's sad as it's capable of considerably more. (There is a detailed article on 9mm vs. 38 Super via this link: http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/38SuperTo9mm.htm for those interested.)
If you are confident in 9mm power levels and prefer the 1911 platform, the pistol can be had in either 9mm or .38 Super. (Ammunition for the latter will be considerably more expensive.)
Size: As can be seen on the home page of this site, the Hi Power is smaller than the 5" 1911, being about the same as the Commander. Weight is less unless one goes with an aluminum alloy frame 1911 or one of the 3" compacts. I do not care for the compact versions of the 1911 that are smaller than the Commander. This is probably a minority opinion as the little guns are quite popular. Options for compact Hi Power's are extremely limited. FM offers the "Detective" and some gunsmiths will convert a full-size into one for a hefty fee. Frankly, I don't see the point as the butt on the standard Hi Power is not all that difficult to conceal and the gun's handle is usually the hard part to hide. Folks using the cut-down Hi Powers are well advised to replace the recoil springs every few hundred rounds. It seems that these things go through recoil springs far more quickly than the regular size Hi Powers.
Tangentially related to "size" is thickness. The Hi Power slide is thinner than the 1911, but the grip is thicker. Using an IWB holster for either gun, I find either easy to conceal under a loose fitting shirt, jacket or sports coat. I do find the 1911 more comfortable when pressed against my side. The Hi Power magazine floor plate is not flush and the rear corners are at 90 degrees and sharp. This may not be a problem for you, but it has been a minor one for me over the years. Using an OWB holster, no such inconvenience has been noticed. I find spare 1911 single-stack magazines more comfortable in concealed carry also.
This 9mm Hi Power has been very lightly customized and can make a very satisfactory "carry gun" if desired.
Safety: Probably the two "safety" concerns most discussed in Hi Power/1911 comparisons is the lack of the grip safety and seemingly less positive thumb safety engagement on the Hi Power. The classic Hi Powers with the small thumb safety are not a concern, but on some people using some IWB holsters, it is possible to inadvertently wipe the larger thumb safeties into the "off" position. In a proper holster, the trigger is covered so the gun is almost certainly not going to be fired inadvertently but this can be disconcerting. I have not noticed it happening nearly so much in OWB holsters.
The Hi Power and 1911 thumb safeties are tensioned in exactly opposite ways:
· A spring-loaded plunger on the 1911 fits into a detent on the 1911 safety with tension being applied from the frame-mounted plunger tube to the safety.
· The Hi Power safety has a spring-loaded plunger within the safety itself. The frame has a dimple at both the "on" and "off" positions.
More positive thumb safety engagement can be had on the Hi Power. The slide detents can be made a tiny bit deeper and reshaped or one can use a safety from Cylinder & Slide. The detent is more pointed than that on the factory version.
If you really prefer having the additional grip safety, the 1911 is the only choice between the two guns. There is no such conversion made for the Hi Power.
The thumb safety on the Hi Power contains the plunger and spring that tensions the safety either "on" or "off." In the frame "ledge" immediately in front of the thumb safety are the two detents in which the plunger rides. In most instances this is not as positive an arrangement as the 1911 thumb safety. Most report that disengaging the Hi Power safety is more "mushy" than with the 1911. The Hi Power safety blocks sear movement.
The 1911 incorporates two external safeties. The thumb safety blocks the sear while the grip safety blocks rearward movement of the trigger until depressed. The tension for the 1911 safety is via a spring within the plunger tube that is attached to the frame just above the grip and forward of the safety.
Depending on the particular version of either pistol, there may or may not be an internal firing pin safety present.
Accuracy: In the vast majority of instances, either design is capable of greater intrinsic accuracy than the shooter, particularly under the stress of a life-or-death deadly force scenario. Either pistol will usually be capable of dropping their shots at least into a 3" circle at 25 yards. For more on "Hi Power Accuracy", here is a link that might be of interest: http://www.hipowersandhandguns.com/Accuracy.htm
Either gun can be accurized, but in most cases, this is simply not necessary. Match barrels are available and can be fitted by competent hands for a tighter shooting gun. Done correctly, this does not reduce reliability.
More aftermarket match barrels and accuracy work is done on the 1911 than the Hi Power. Most agree that when taken to the extreme, the 1911 can be made more mechanically accurate than the Hi Power.
The 1911 pattern pistol has been refined over decades and is capable of extremely fine accuracy. It can have far more than we can use in a terror-filled life or death situation when adrenaline is flowing and we realize that we will be dead or injured in the next few seconds unless we prevail. Where the Hi Power has a non-removable barrel bushing, the 1911 often comes with a loose one. These can be replaced with fitted bushings. Used in conjunction with a fitted match barrel and a slide that is mated to the frame, the 1911 will almost always have greater mechanical accuracy than the Hi Power. How much can actually be used is another question.
If concerns about either gun's potential accuracy are a problem, dismiss it. Either is has more than enough.
This group was fired with a 1911 .45 ACP at fifty yards. Most shots would be covered with a grown man's clenched fist.
Trigger Pull: Conventional wisdom has it that the defensive pistol's trigger pull should be no lighter than about 4.5 pounds. I agree and have no problem with slightly heavier trigger pulls for such purposes. Either design can be adjusted by a competent pistolsmith to clean-breaking pulls in this range.
There is one area in which the 1911 trigger is clearly superior to the Hi Power: reset. The Hi Power trigger simply cannot be made to reset in as short a distance, as can the 1911; it just ain't in the design geometry.
In slow-fire one will never notice the difference. In rapid-fire where at least a "flash sight picture" is obtained (as in shooting "controlled pairs"), the same holds true. The problem shows up with really quick 1911 shooters doing "double taps" or "hammers". In this shooting, one sight picture is obtained and the second shot is fired from muscle memory. Practiced shooters can fire extremely fast this way and the good ones can get pretty darned good "practical accuracy." When these folks try it with a Hi Power, they frequently do not release the trigger quite far enough and don't fire the second shot. I've observed this numerous times but only with really fast 1911 fans. This is not saying that extremely fast and accurate shooting cannot be done with the Hi Power, only that the required reset is slightly longer.
Magazine Capacity: Here the 9mm wins when compared to the "normal" single-stack 1911 magazine. The Hi Power's double-stack magazine simply holds more ammunition and is compact compared to many of the "high capacity" 9mm pistols. Even the forty-caliber version holds ten shots compared to the 1911's 7 or 8 in .45 ACP. Extended 1911 magazines are available, but I've experienced varying levels of reliability with them and they're a bit hard to conceal for me if carried in the pistol. I prefer 7-round .45 1911 magazines as these work in all my 1911 pistols. The 8-round magazines work in many of them.
Frankly, I believe that under the vast majority of circumstances both guns hold sufficient ammo. It's been my observation that the first few shots are the most important ones and that we will run out of time before ammunition unless our "problem" is quickly "solved."
The 9mm Hi Power holds a total of 14 rounds with standard capacity13-shot magazines. Some are available holding 15, 17, or more shots.
Sights: A pretty fair crop of aftermarket fixed and adjustable sights exists for the Hi Power and the 1911. I see no advantage here. Sights intended for use primarily on 1911 pistols often work fine on the more petite Hi Power. There are plenty of choices available in plain black-on-black, or three-dot, and most are available with tritium inserts as night sights.
These Mk III Hi Powers have been fitted with Novak fixed sights. The same sight style can be had for 1911 pistols as well. I like the Novak sights but in truth do no better or worse with them on the Hi Power than with the factory fixed sights.
This Commander has a "melted" King-Tappen rear sight. Not as often seen as the Novak or Heine rear sights, I've found King-Tappen to be a very serviceable and have used them on Hi Powers as well. The one shown on this 1911 replaced the smaller GI-type rear sight.
Customization: Both designs lend themselves to "personalization" if desired. There will be more gunsmiths specializing in the 1911 custom work than for the Hi Power, but owners should have little problem finding a competent 'smith to work over the pistol of their choice. For defensive arms I have found that "less is better". What I'm suggesting is that we go with only that we need:
· Sights that are useable at speed and set up so that POA = POI at a desired distance
· Clean trigger at 4 1/2 to 5 pounds
· Acceptable accuracy (Usually nothing need be done here.)
· A gun that is comfortable to use (This may mean new grips or a wide grip safety tang on the 1911, etc. Grip straps may be checkered or stippled, or skateboard tape can be used if desired.)
For most of us factory guns in near stock condition will serve about as well as high-dollar custom guns. I like to keep my carry guns (1911 or Hi Power) relatively close to factory trim, having every feature I think I need and none that I don't. Over the long term, these have been the ones I've kept.
Conclusion: The Hi Power and the 1911 are THE choices for single-action defensive handguns. Both have legions of fans, but in the US the 1911 is still most popular. Make your decision on which one you shoot better or trust most. Don't go with the Hi Power strictly for magazine capacity unless you have a specific need; go with it because it fits you better or you can get quick, accurate hits with it more easily than the 1911. Likewise, if carrying cocked-and-locked presents a problem without a grip safety, the 1911 is the obvious choice. If a shooter simply doesn't trust anything less than .45, the decision is made by default for the 1911 pattern gun.
This magazine holds "only" 7 shots. I suggest that for most of us this will be more than enough. We will be able to deal with our adversary effectively or be out of time before ammunition runs out. The 9mm Hi Power does hold more shots between reloads, but is this a marked advantage in the real world? Sometimes, yes, but a majority of the time I don't believe it really matters.
For strictly self-defense, I prefer the 1911 in .45 ACP…but only by a very slight margin to the 9mm Hi Power. In my situation the extra shots available from the Hi Power are nice but not a major factor. I like the feel of the Hi Power and the way it shoots for me. The 9mm Hi Power remains my favorite all around, general purpose automatic. The 1911 is ever so slightly easier for me to conceal. I believe that when using the best 9mm ammunition, difference in terminal effect will be very slight if any compared to the .45 using most loads. I also believe that in its best loads, .45 ACP is more potent than the best 9mm loads. I do not believe that there is much difference at all and that it's probably not going to make any real difference on the street.
I do not see using the 1911 or the Hi Power as an "either-or" situation. I use both and appreciate these fine handguns for their abilities to deliver quick and accurate shots. Each has its weaknesses as well as its strengths. Each of us places different priorities on these and thus, our decisions will differ as to which is best. If possible try both and make your decision on what works best for you.
Either gun is capable of serving very, very well as a defensive pistol.