A tribute to the 1911A1 — Springfield Armory’s Mil-Spec

The 1911 is older than all of us. Much, much older. Yet the venerable over-built single-stack with laughable capacity still continues to enthrall gun nuts who will go to war over the platform’s relevance. And the Springfield Armory Mil-Spec is where many of them get their start.

The Mil-Spec line are all full-size, 5" 1911s in .45 ACP.
The Mil-Spec line are all full-size, 5″ 1911s in .45 ACP.

For me, it started with history. I own some guns that are nothing but tools. But I also have a modest collection of historical pieces. Not one of them has any collector’s value, though, because I don’t own a single gun that I can’t shoot. And that’s really what makes Springfield one of my absolute favorite gun makers.

The stainless barrel on the Springfield Armory Mil-Spec is paired with a stainless barrel bushing--another deviation from the historical 1911A1s.
The stainless barrel on the Mil-Spec is paired with a stainless barrel bushing—another deviation from the historical 1911A1s.

The basic 1911

Any attempt to truly catalog the variations in the 1911 platform would need to be in book form, and not an article. The problem with books, though, is that they tend to take a long time to write, and updates are complicated. The way that the 1911 continues to evolve (as it has again with the Prodigy) means the updates to a definitive book would be damn-near impossible to make.

muzzle flash on Springfield 1911A1
The Mil-Spec is my 15-year-old’s favorite handgun, and the Mil-Spec bridges that gap between Hollywood, history, Call-of-duty, and the range.

For the purposes of brevity, I’ll consider the Mil-Spec up against a couple of 1911 benchmarks—the simple 1911, the 1911A1, and then some of the more widely accepted post 1911A1 updates.

3-dot sights on 1911A1
Unlike many early 1911s, the Mil-Spec has 3-dot sights that are far easier to pick up in low light.

I could do almost all of this comparison in Springfield Armory’s catalog. This crew knows their single actions. I’ve yet to run any of their custom guns, but I’ve shot most of what’s in their production catalog and have nothing but respect.

And that catalog, now, opens with the Mil-Spec line. They used to make a G.I. model that was even a bit more affordable, but this is the starting point for their 1911s and for anyone who is looking for an American-made military homage.

Springfield 1911A1 front blade sight with white dot
The front sight is not the typical width of a traditional blade, but it has the extra dot.

It looks like an A1

The Mil-Spec is parkerized. The gun has checkered wooden (or wood composite) grips. The sights, while not true hump-and-bumps, are inspired by the old military-sized sights.

And like a 1911A1, the Mil-Spec has an arched mainspring housing that is lined for a bit of extra grip. The front strap is not checkered.

The Mil-Spec mainspring housing has an arc, like the 1911A1, and it adds some texture to the grip.
The mainspring housing has an arc, like the 1911A1, and it adds some texture to the grip.

If you want to get technical, neither the cocobolo grips nor the wood composite ones are true-to-form. The A1 did away with the old double-diamond checkered grips, but that likely was a move that was phased out slowly. Either way, they weren’t cocobolo, and they didn’t have Springfield’s crossed-cannon logo, either.

The composite wood grips on the Mil-Spec add character and look more like the grips on an A1.
The composite wood grips on the Mil-Spec add character and look more like the grips on an A1.

And the Mil-Spec’s sights are three-dot sights. They’re basic, but they’re steel. And they’re a lot faster than the old A1 sights, for sure.

The upgrades like this, as well as a cut on the ejection port that helps with ejection—aren’t 100% historically accurate. If you want a bog-standard 1911A1, this isn’t it. But that wasn’t what Springfield was going for. This is, after all, an homage.

The Mil-Spec has a typically narrow single-stack mag well. Mag changes take some aim and precision.
The Mil-Spec has a typically narrow single-stack mag well. Mag changes take some aim and precision.

Instead, the Mil-Spec (at least in its parkerized version) is close enough. It is mostly historically accurate. If you are looking for a way to experience history—to feel what it would have been like—this is a great way to do it.

But it isn’t just a showpiece for a living history museum. This is a fully functional, reliable, and affordable way to get into an American-made 1911, too.

The Mil-Spec models come with either one or two 7 round magazines. You will want more. Many more.
The Mil-Spec models come with either one or two 7-round magazines. That’s not enough for a 1911. You will want more. Many more.

Mil-Spec variants

There are four of these on the books now. The two CA compliant versions have the cocobolo grips and come with two seven-round mags. One of these is stainless.

Markings on the Mil-Spec are minimal. The left side has the name, but not much else.
Markings on the Mil-Spec are minimal. The left side has the name, but not much else.

The other two have a more interesting name. These are the “Defend Your Legacy Series 1911 Mil-Spec Handgun” models. Again, one is parkerized and one is stainless. These come with simple checkered grips (more in line with those of an A1, though they’re made of the aforementioned “wood composite”). They ship with just one mag.

As I’m currently writing for a company that specializes in making magazines affordable and readily available, I feel compelled to point out that one is not enough. This is a 1911, after all, and the 1911 is a platform that only performs as well as its magazine. Springfield’s mags are solid, but there are so many other options.

The steel sights on the Mil-Spec are held by standard dovetails, which might make adding many of the aftermarket sights a job for a gunsmith.
The steel sights on the Mil-Spec are held by standard dovetails, which might make adding many of the aftermarket sights a job for a gunsmith.

Pricing begins at $709 and runs up to $898.

Shooting the Mil-Spec

In many respects, the Mil-Spec shoots like a solid 1911. It is heavy, but so are all 1911s. The grip is large, but not larger than any other 1911. You may have to stretch to reach some of the controls, just like you would on the rest of this platform.

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911 A1 Note the slightly enlarged grip-safety nub. It is hardly a beaver tail, but it cuts down on some of the hammer bite.
Note the slightly enlarged grip-safety nub. It is hardly a beaver tail, but it cuts down on some of the hammer bite. Also, the slide serrations on the 1911A1 are vertical. These are canted forward slightly.

The addition of the three-dot sights makes accuracy more efficient. The gun has a match-grade barrel. Like many 1911s, the Mil-Spec will test your skills. The gun is as good as you are.

Cocobolo has a tight grain and is a dense, oily wood. That doesn’t make it a bad choice for grips, but it lacks some of the tooth of walnut. And there’s no texture on the front strap. This will make you work on your grip. The wood composite grips, though, feel really close to the originals.

The Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911A1 puts up solid accuracy. I shot the steel once from 25 yards (the low shot) then used that as a point of aim for the next three. I'm slightly high/left, but not a bad group.
The Mil-Spec puts up solid accuracy. I shot the steel once from 25 yards (the low shot) then used that as a point of aim for the next three. I’m slightly high/left, but not a bad group.

If you really are looking for something more, Springfield makes many 1911s with aggressive checkering and upgrades grip materials that will stick to skin like Velcro. But that wasn’t part of the classic design.

Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911A1  match-grade barrel
The match-grade barrels on these are solid upgrades over most of the other entry-level 1911s. This gun performs well out of the box.
David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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