Sig GSR 1911: Out-of-the-Box Reliability and Accuracy
Photos & Story
by Scott Smith
In 2003, Sig Arms got into the 1911 in a big way with the introduction of the Sig GSR. The Internet was buzzing for weeks, and still is. The retail interest in the Sig GSR 1911 is so heavy, Sig is having a tough time meeting the demand.
For Sig Arms the GSR is a radical change from the traditional double-action pistols that made Sig's P series semi-autos so popular with law enforcement and the military. Sig's pistols also have a following in IDPA and USPSA action pistol shooting because they are utterly reliable.
So what is the great appeal of the Sig Arms 1911? Well, first off it is a 1911. Law enforcement seems to be wanting a 1911 for SWAT, ERT, and now departments are issuing or authorizing officers to carry this tried and true firearm design. This trend follows several lackluster performances of handguns in major shootouts; including the Miami and North Hollywood debacles to name two of the best known.
Both of these highlighted the failures of the 9mm projectile on assailants that were committed to their cause (the intent here is not to belittle the 9mm). With these actions and others came the troops' desire to have a larger caliber projectile, built on a tried and true platform.
In the world of action pistol shooting, the 1911 is the preferred platform. The 1911 has won more local, state, national, and world titles than I care to count. It has been chambered in calibers from 9mm, .38 Super, .40 S&W, several variations of 9mm, and of course .45 ACP.
The box stock 1911 has been transformed into a high speed competition pistol by adding multi-port compensators, red dot sights, and ultra light trigger jobs. All of these accessories and modifications that can be done are part of the appeal to the 1911.
The Sig 1911 is not designed as a competition pistol, but I am sure it will meet the action pistol shooter's needs. The GSR is a 1911 built for carry, be it on duty or for personal protection.
It has many of the features that shooters have come to expect on production 1911s: good sights; a decent trigger; beavertail grip safety, and the basics of a good carry pistol that would make Jeff Cooper proud. Add to that a Picatinny rail to add a tactical light and you have a 1911 that will fit most users' needs.
So to answer the question of why would Sig Arms want to develop a 1911? Why not? The pistol design has a huge following in the civilian world for personal protection and competition. With the contracts awarded by the FBI, LAPD, and departments like Tacoma, WA, PD, it is apparent that law enforcement wants and trusts the 1911.
Not wanting to step into a new arena with only the knowledge and experience from their traditional double-action pistols, Sig went out and found someone that knows 1911s from the ground up.
To head up Sig Arms adventure into 1911s, Matt McLearn became part of the Sig Arms team. McLearn is well known in the world of action pistol shooting and holds many USPSA and IPSC titles. He has been known to build some of the finest custom 1911s available. Does that mean he is a tactical operator? No, but he knows how to build 1911s that run flawlessly and that's what he was hired to do.
Sig Arms entered the 1911 wars with its entry, the GSR (Granite Series Rail). The pistol was named for its most obvious feature, the integral light rail, and for New Hampshire's (the home of Sig USA) nickname-the Granite State. Light rails are becoming a required feature on any firearm for duty, and the GSR was built from the ground up to accept your choice of lights.
The next feature that the user notices is the pistol itself, or should I say the color; stainless grey, unless you have the black stainless. Yes, this is a stainless pistol, not an alloy with stainless steel slide. While the alloy is lighter, stainless steel increases the durability of the handgun and adds a few ounces to the overall weight. This added weight is a good thing in that it reduces recoil, and shot-to-shot recovery is quicker.
Stainless is corrosion resistant when compared to blued steel, and in a firearm that sees all the elements, this is a good thing. Just because the GSR is stainless does not mean you do not need to give it some basic preventive maintenance, care, and service. This pistol needs to be wiped off and cleaned after it has been used heavily, but it won't rust should you get caught in a monsoon.
To ensure the fit and finish, Sig Arms uses a cast stainless steel frame and a forged stainless steel slide. The frame is cast to cut down on the required machining to finish the pistol. With the pounding the slide takes, it is forged, since forgings are somewhat stronger than a casting. For what it's worth, IPSC pistols have been built on cast frames for years and endure thousands of rounds; yes, cast frames can take the abuse.
Unlike the competition in the 1911 wars, the GSR slide and frame are hand-lapped to ensure a tight fit that moves with ball bearing-like smoothness. This might seem like a little thing, but lapping each slide to its frame helps to increase the GSR's reliability.
By lapping (applying a gritty paste to the rails of the slide and moving the slide against the frame) the slide to frame, any minor imperfections are removed from the rails of the slide and frame and drag reduced during the cycling of the slide. Overkill on a production firearm, maybe, but this is to be a duty arm or for personal protection, and the closer one can get to 100% reliability, the better.
With McLearn heading the development team for Sig, all of the parts had to be up to the designer's specifications. The safeties, hammer, sear, the slide, frame and trigger, were all speced out and vendors contracted to manufacture them. These important parts are supplied by manufacturers like Caspian, Wilson, EMC, EGW, and Grieder.
These manufacturers are known for their parts and quality, so why not use them. No sense reinventing the 1911 parts wheel. All parts are made to meet Sig's specifications and designs.
An area of great debate in 1911s over the last few years is the use of Metal Injection Molded (MIM) parts. Sig Arms does not use any MIM parts in the GSR 1911. All parts are tool steel and are machined to Sig's specifications. This should ensure the parts last for years to come.
Another feature that stands out on the GSR is the external extractor. Granted the Browning designed one-piece internal extractor works fine, but Sig is attempting to eliminate what is perceived to be a weakness in the 1911. One of the great advantages of the external extractor is it is less prone to chipping or breaking the hook.
The extractor hook is most prone to break when the operator drops a cartridge into the chamber to load the pistol instead of feeding the rounds from the magazine. The external extractor moves on its hinge pin and is tensioned by a spring, and this increases the life span of the extractor.
Since the GSR is a 1911, it has a thumb and grip safety, making it one of the safest pistols on the market. To increase the pistol's safety, a Series 80-style firing pin safety is used. This safety keeps the firing pin from moving until the trigger is pressed. This will help eliminate a negligent discharge if the pistol is dropped. In states like Maryland and California, some sort of firing pin safety is required for sale, even to an agency. In the eyes of attorneys, there are no such things as too many safeties or too safe of a firearm.
Another eye-catching feature of the GSR is the grip. Sig opted to use textured polymer grip panels on the GSR instead of the traditional checkered wood grip panels. During testing while wearing flight gloves, the pistol did not slide or shift position, so the pebbling must do the trick.
Besides that, the grips look different. For a duty pistol I would add a few cents worth of anti-skid tape to the front strap of the frame to increase the user's purchase on the grip. Anti-skid tape will also continue the lines of the grip panels.
Keeping with the functionality and utilitarian features of the GSR, Sig Arms chose Novak sights to top off the GSR's slide. Novak sights give the operator a clear sight picture under most conditions and are virtually indestructible. They are also virtually snag free, for a smooth draw from a duty or concealment holster.
The Sig GSR has the heritage of the Sig name. It uses quality parts, has been tweaked by a world class shooter, and looks good. But how does it shoot? The GSR ran flawlessly throughout our test and evaluation (T&E). Over 300 rounds were fired during the initial T&E range session. By the time the formal T&E was done over 1,000 rounds were put through the Sig GSR. Bullet designs were flat point, hollowpoint, and full metal jacket; not a bobble, wobble, or jam.
To test the Sig GSR, several duty loads were used. The ammunition used included: Speer 230-grain Gold Dot HPs; Triton Quik-Shok 230-grain HPs; Federal 230-grain Hydra Shoks; Remington 230-grain Gold Sabers; Federal 230-grain FMJ; International Cartridge 155-grain Sinterfire Frangible ammo; Hornady 185-grain XTPs; Black Hills 230-grain JHPs; Cor-Bon 165 Pow'Rball; MagTech 230-grain JHPs and FMJs, and American Eagle 230 FMJs. These loads cover most of the ammunition styles out there for duty, personal protection and training.
Initially the shooting was just to see that the GSR ran and where the sights were regulated. It was found the sights were dead on at 15 yards; all is good there. A couple of magazines loaded with mixed rounds were run through the GSR, and no misfeeds, or jams were encountered. Lack of malfunctions is a good thing for any pistol. Trigger was crisp, smooth and consistent, just like a 1911 should be. This pistol shoots okay.
Shooting the GSR
Now that we determined the GSR shoots, it was time to really shoot it. Joe DelSole (a patrol officer for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, PA, and fellow IDPA shooter) and I started with some doubles at 7 yards, accuracy work at 15-20 yards, work from the holster; pretty much what the end user is going to do. The GSR never missed a beat throughout the test session.
When it came down to accuracy the GSR was capable of shooting better than DelSole or I could shoot it; no thanks to mother nature. Groups at 15 yards hovered at 2.25 inches for eight rounds. In most cases, five of those rounds slid in under .75-inch. I am certain if the temperatures had not hovered around 12 degrees, the GSR would be capable of 8-shot groups that would come in under 1-inch. That said, the Sig GSR is one very accurate pistol.
The GSR was not cleaned before, during or after any of the half dozen range sessions. I wanted to see if the sludge of hard use would slow it down, and it did not. I know there are those who clean their blasters after every range session, but there are those who don't. That's why the pistol was not cleaned until the formal T&E was completed.
Cleaning the GSR after all of the range sessions were over, was easy. This is after all a 1911. Make sure it is clear and empty, remove the magazine, remove the plug and bushing, retract slide to the take down slot, pull out slide stop, remove the slide, and barrel.
Clean and Lube
Unlike some 1911s I have shot and owned, a bushing wrench is not needed to disassemble the GSR. Clean and lube with your favorite solvent and oil and reverse the take down process. For any help taking the GSR apart, follow the instructions or any takedown manual for a 1911. This being a 1911, it is an easy pistol to work on, and manuals abound on taking care of one-a 1911 that is.
Over the last decade or so, I have been very lucky to own, shoot, and test several 1911s. The Sig Arms GSR, is one of the finest I have had the privilege to shoot. Out-of-the-box it is reliable and accurate. The only change I would like Sig to make is to use Novak Siglite Sights, and install an ambidextrous safety. Other than that, the GSR is a nearly perfect out-of-the-box pistol. For purely personal preference and looks, I would fit a Smith and Alexander arched mainspring housing/mag well.
If I worked for an agency that authorized a 1911, or is looking to allow the department, the Sig Arms GSR would be at the top of the list. Since I am no longer in law enforcement, I would not hesitate to carry the Sig Arms GSR.
For those of you who are IDPA shooters, a ruling on its application in IDPA will be needed before you plunk down your hard-earned green backs and make this your new CDP blaster. I am fairly certain it will be USPSA legal for Limited and Limited 10 as soon as the required number of pistols are sold. For more information, contact: Sig Arms, 18 Industrial Dr., Dept. GWK, Exeter, NH 03833; phone: 603-772-2302; on-line: www.sigarms.com.