I concede that I've been strongly pre-occupied with the handgun over the decades of my adulthood. In this series of blogs, I have commented on a working life as a handgun-armed combat Marine and deputy sheriff, followed by a longer time as a writer for various gun magazines. It has been my great good fortune to make hundreds of range trips and to fire hundreds of thousands of handgun cartridges. This has led to the experiences I've reported and the opinions I have formed. If there is anything I know for certain, it is how much more there is to learn. I'll keep at it as long as they'll allow it, but this edition of "By the Decade" is the last until we run another 10 years off the clock.
In the first installments of the series, I first saw the 1911A1 pistol as a favorite in the sense that it was the pistol I was issued per the mandates of the USMC Table of Organization and Equipment. I used others as competitive tools throughout the 60s. In the 70s, I was a peace officer and carried a S&W Combat Magnum with issued .38 Spl. ammunition. In several kinds of competition in that time, I worked with various other K Frame S&Ws. More time rolled by and I broadened my horizons to include many other makes and models of handguns, including most varieties of the big-bore revolvers. As a decade gun, S&W's .41 Mag. seemed to make the most sense to me. Later, when assignments as a magazine writer had me shooting a new high-capacity semi-automatic darned near every month, I came to favor the “P” series SIGs greatly. And when the trend went toward polymer frame, DAO high-capacity pistols, I wrote about and came to respect virtually all of them. It also happened that the gun's superior ergonomics caused me to pick the Springfield XD as a favorite.
In the 20-teens, we saw a great deal of innovation and new ideas in the field of polymer high caps with DAO triggers. We even saw several discontinued, only to be replaced by newer and better models from the same maker. After much fussing and fuming about what we really needed for a service weapon, the U.S. military began replacing its aging Beretta M9s with what I think is a better pistol in the SIG P320 series. At the same time, Smith & Wesson continued to refine its M&P family to the point where they were able to sell them in the millions. My favorite in that series is the Shield in .45 ACP—probably the most compact light .45 ACP auto ever offered. It was in the 2010s that we saw a new revolver introduced by Kimber. Now available in several variations, the Kimber K6 gained almost instant popularity because of the gun's thoroughly modern action—which was as smooth as yesteryear's. We are close to the end of a decade of innovation and for which I have to select a favorite. I 'm going to cheat and pick two guns
I made the pilgrimage to Gunsite the first time some 26 years ago and have repeated the trip on multiple occasions since. A week-long pistol course (250 or 350) is a fine way to evaluate a handgun. I can't always make this happen but I like doing it. My first course was fired with a full-sized Colt 1911 pistol in .45 caliber. This experience had a profound effect on me, as I was somewhat of a traditionalist when it came to gun handling and suspicious of this “cocked-and-locked” stuff. Actually doing it convinced me that this was the way to go. As was the case with thousands of other shooters, the Modern Technique of the Pistol was the basis for my defensive pistolcraft and the 1911 service pistol was the means of implementing it.
Colt developed and first produced John Browning's masterpiece 1911 pistol. It was the gun I used so heavily in my military service and gunsmith-ed versions thereof are the current favorite. If I needed to carry a defensive pistol all the time, I would use one of the lightweight Commanders versions. A bit shorter and a lot lighter, the Commander is one of those oh-so-rare compromises that just seem to sing. I have worked with the Commander so much more than the heavier, longer Government Model that I would probably choose the lighter gun if I had cause to suspect trouble. A Novak-customized Commander always goes along on my motor trips. This is my top choice for a defensive handgun. And, although there are many advantages to this particular model, there is a single overweening reason why it's my favorite. Compared to all other choices, I am overwhelmingly more familiar with the way this gun feels and functions—and that suggests that I would use it with greater confidence. I just plain like it. But as much as I might prefer to have a .45 Commander in my hand in a sudden shooting emergency, it is not likely to be on my person to use. Simply stated, it's too big and too heavy to be carried without fail. It was Sheriff Jim Wilson who coined the term “Always Gun,” and this isn't mine.
Within a few months of the time I started work as a deputy sheriff (1969), I bought a S&W Model 60 in .38 Spl., the first stainless steel handgun. My knifemaker friend Ed Henry bobbed off the hammer spur for me and I had a very cool little hideout that I used daily for a year or so. Then I found an original Model 42 S&W and that started something. This little gun was one of the first so-called “hammerless” revolvers in S&W's J-frame series. Enclosed hammer might have been a better term, but “hammerless” dated to the Frontier era and that spells rugged in many minds. Any of the long series is a great choice for its lack of sharp edges and corners. In the years since then, Smith & Wesson discontinued the model, brought it back and then modified the concept with lighter and stronger alloys. I got one of the very first Model 340PD revolvers, a pocketable 5-shot .357 Mag. weighing just under one pound—loaded. I've carried it every day since. It kicks like hell. I don't care. This is a defensive tool.
My favorite guns are the S&W Model 340PD and the Colt Lightweight Commander for this and probably any other decade.
By the Decade: Wiley Clapp's Favorite Handgun—The 1960s
By the Decade: Wiley Clapp's Favorite Handgun—The 1970s
By the Decade: Wiley Clapp's Favorite Handgun—The 1980s
By the Decade: Wiley Clapp's Favorite Handgun—The 1990s
By the Decade: Wiley Clapp's Favorite Handgun—The 2000s
Video: ARTV—Colt Lightweight Commander Pistol Review