November 30, 2020
Although I have been a 1911 guy since 1982, when got my first one, I don’t carry one much. Typically, I carry a 12–15-shot 9mm pistol, and for the past 13 years, my main carry gun has been a Beretta Px4 Sub-compact (and I don’t carry it just because I did the marketing launch for it at Beretta when I worked there, it’s just a great pistol). Before that, I carried either a Smith & Wesson model 669, 6909, or 6944 (I have a thing for S&W 2nd and 3rd generation pistols, especially compacts). I like double/single-action pistols for CCW and liked them as a duty gun when I was a deputy sheriff (even though I got stuck with the double-action-only 6944 for uniform duty, and it wasn’t really that bad). However, there are times I like to pack a nice full-size .45ACP “rock thrower” — it reminds me of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when “men were men,” and when I was shooting in pistol competitions at The American Range in North Jackson, Ohio.
Anyway, what surged my interest in packing a 1911 again was a series of articles that appeared at AmmoLand.com by Dean Weingarten. Dean has done extensive research on handgun defense against black bears, grizzlies and even polar bears. The results of his continuing research seem to be dozens of articles (I hope he puts all of these into a book one day). The bottom line in all of the stories I have read is that bear spray is a joke and that you need a firearm if confronted by an aggressive bear.
In Ohio, where I live, we haven’t had significant numbers of bears for at least 125 years, but they are moving back in from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. My knowledge of bears was minimal, but things changed less than two years ago when a neighbor of mine, a few hundred yards away through the trees and hills, saw an adult black bear carry a 50-pound bag of bird seed off of his porch and away into the woods. About a month later, two black bears were spotted a few exits down the freeway from me, and one was hit and killed. I’m on 25 acres of mostly woods, hills, and hollows surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods, so these incidences were a little concerning.
Again, I didn’t know much about bears and was always told that black bears would run away from a campsite if you smacked two cooking pots or pans together — much of Weingarten’s research proves otherwise. Black bear attacks are on a sharp rise. I also spoke with Firearms News Hunting Editor, Rikk Rambo, who killed a lot of grizzlies and black bears in his home state of Alaska. Rikk stated that he would not go less than a .44 Magnum handgun for bear defense, and having been attacked by grizzlies more than once, he would be concerned about using any semi-auto pistol. His point is that you may only have one shot to get off before the bear is on top of you, and no matter how reliable your semi-auto pistol is, or how good you are at shooting it, one mistake or malfunction may be your last — revolvers are simple and function every time.
Well, like I said, bears in Ohio are still a rarity for the time being, but I do travel to Pennsylvania and West Virginia and plan on spending time in their woods. So, should I pack a .44 Magnum revolver that I won’t shoot much otherwise? That would mean buying one, since I haven’t owned one in 30 years. If I carried a six-shooter for big four-legged predators, I would still want a magazine-fed semi-auto, capable of shooting at least ten rounds without reloading, for the two-legged ones. I’ve carried two guns at the same time many times before but didn’t really like the idea.
Last year, I was sent a Wildey “Death Wish” Survivor pistol in .45 Winchester Magnum to test. That’s like eight shots of 1,900 foot pounds of energy each (compared to the .44 Magnum at about 1,500 maximum of energy). A real hand cannon! Although it’s one of the coolest (and one of the most powerful) handguns ever produced, at four pounds it’s too big for hip carry, and I’m six feet, two inches tall, weigh about 220 pounds and am a former weight lifter. I did rig a chest holster for it, which worked out very well and was balanced and comfortable, but I didn’t shell out the couple of grand for one (although if I had the extra cash to buy one, I would — it’s my inner Charles Bronson coming out). As a self-defense pistol, it is a bit too unorthodox, but it would make double tapping absolutely unnecessary.
There is always a Desert Eagle at about half the cost; it is about the same weight and similar size large footprint as the Wildey, but not as powerful. I like them, and even had one 30 years ago, but it’s still too big. I looked back at my love for 1911s, which have always felt good on my three o’clock. Was there an answer? I could load my Ruger SR1911, which is the last 1911 I bought, with .45 +P ammo and that would give me about 450 foot pounds of energy as compared to the typical 350 or so foot pounds of energy of common 230-grain .45 ACP loads. That’s still way behind the weakest .44 Magnum load at around 740 foot pounds. Some .45 ACP loads from the premium “power brands” like Underwood, Cor-Bon, or Buffalo Bore can squeeze out around 500 foot pounds of energy, but still way behind Dirty Harry’s favorite cartridge. Then there is .45 Super at around 700 foot pounds for its strongest load — right in the range of upper-end 10mm loads. Now we are getting somewhere. If I wanted to stop there, then maybe just go with a 15-shot 10mm like the Springfield XD-M. The Ruger SR1911 can easily handle +P ammo and I would suspect it can handle the .45 Super. If not, that would only take a stronger recoil spring to make it “super.” However, in my head I hear Mr. Scotty shouting to Captain Kirk: “But Captain, I need more power!”
Then, I remembered .460 Rowland. I’m not only getting somewhere, I am there. The .460 Rowland was developed by Johnny Rowland for use in handguns that fire .45 ACP, but with modifications. These modifications, which include a special barrel, stronger recoil springs, and a muzzle brake (with a real job, not just to look cool), are necessary because the .460 Rowland has a muzzle energy of up to 1,019 foot pounds out of a five-inch barrel! The shell case has been thickened (similar to the way the .45 Super case is) because the case pressure is 40,000 psi as compared to the SAAMI maximum 21,000 psi of standard 230 ball ammo. The case has also been lengthened by 1/16 of an inch, but this is not because the .460 has a larger bullet, or because it needs more room for powder, it was added to prevent someone from loading a .460 Rowland cartridge in a standard .45 ACP-chambered pistol — the results would be catastrophic. Regarding powder for instance, a 185-grain bullet topping off a .460 Rowland case would require 11.1 grains of Unique powder. Compare that to the same bullet in a .45 ACP case with seven grains of Unique — big difference. The bullet is also seated further down into the case so that there are no feeding issues, and so that standard .45 ACP magazines can be used.
Did I get my Ruger SR1911 converted or convert another 1911? The conversions are done through Johnny Rowland’s company in Tulsa, Oklahoma (460Rowland.com) and there are only certain 1911 models with strong enough frames to handle the .460 — the Ruger SR1911 is on the list. My only hesitation now was that to fire standard .45 ACP, I would have to change out the recoil spring if the .460 conversion were installed. Not a big deal of course, but something I would not want to do in the field, but possibly +P ammo would run just fine in the pistol conversion. I decided to wait for now since the bear threat is not common, but the .460 did spark some interest in handgun hunting. Growing up reading Bob Milek (the pioneer of handgun hunting) articles in Guns & Ammo magazine back in the late 1970s and 1980s, I have always liked handgun hunting, and that’s when another idea popped into my head.
I met the owner of Mech-Tech Systems at the Soldier of Fortune Convention in 2001. Mech-Tech produced a drop-in, carbine conversion for 1911 pistols back then, and I was interested in them. The idea of carrying a 1911 and also having a carbine conversion in a backpack got the survivalist in me excited. In addition to the 1911, Mech-Tech now makes the drop-in conversions in multiple versions and for the Springfield XD, XD-M, and many Glock models (See Scot Loveland’s article on the Glock 10mm conversion in Firearms News, issue 27, 2017).
Mech-Tech now offers a .460 Rowland conversion! This would be a great way to test the performance of the cartridge without having to go through the pistol conversion first. I contacted Mech-Tech and they sent out The Classic model. Basically, these conversions feature stainless-steel 16-inch barrels, Picatinney rails almost wherever you would like them, a tubular receiver, a large charging handle, a heavy bolt and blowback recoil system, a synthetic forend (standard), and a mount to attach AR-15 buffer tubes for any AR-type stock (an M4 stock comes standard). There is also an option for a telescopic wire stock or fixed stock. No sights come with the conversion.
To install the conversion, simply remove your slide assembly from your 1911 frame, pull the bolt back on the Mech-Tech and line it up with the circular cutout within the charging handle’s slot on the left side of the receiver. At this time, you can push the bolt handle in and the bolt will lock back. Then, line up the rails on your 1911 pistol frame with the bottom of the Mech-Tech receiver’s rails, and slide forward. Once you line up the “slide stop hook” on the Mech-Tech with the slide stop hole on your 1911 frame, you can insert the slide stop. The slide stop will not hold the bolt open, and now it’s only use is to secure the Mech-Tech to the pistol’s frame. Mech-Tech states that the only safeties that will operate with their conversion are the standard, and shorter, GI-type 1911 safeties. My Ruger SR1911 has an extended safety, so I could not engage it by pushing upward, as it was hitting the tubular-shaped receiver. Although the now “1911 carbine” will shoot just fine without it, I did not like the idea of not having a working safety. I ended up bending my safety downward about three or four degrees, and that did the trick. (Even after reassembling my SR1911 back into a pistol, this simple modification worked just fine, so I left it this way.)
This system will also work with double-stacked-magazine 1911s, but there is one modification you may have to do depending on the design of your 1911 barrel. If your pistol uses the “old style” barrel with feed ramp which does not extend past the diameter of the outside chamber, you will need what Mech-Tech calls a “Parablock.” This part was named after the innovator of double-stacked 1911s, which was Para Ordnance. Other 1911s use an extended ramped barrel, and if yours does you will need to spend $23.95 for this adapter. NOTE: compact and double-action-only 1911-type pistols will not work with the Mech-Tech conversion.
Now, to the range! I contacted a few companies for .460 Rowland ammunition, but Buffalo Bore was the only company to respond, and they did so in a big way. I received 60 rounds of 185 JHP, 60 rounds of 230-grain JHP, 60 rounds of 230-grain flat-nosed FMJ, and 60 rounds of 255-grain flat-nosed hard cast. That may not sound like a lot, but consider that Buffalo Bore packs .460 Rowland in 20-round boxes with each load costing $42.76 per box — that’s $2.14 per round! You may be thinking, “Why would anyone consider this round for a SHTF gun? There’s no affordable way to stockpile it.” The answer is “options.” Remember, the Mech-Tech upper can also fire standard .45 ACP — save the .460 Rowland for the big stuff like bear defense or deer hunting. What other gun can you triple the muzzle energy with no modifications and just by swapping out ammunition? (And without blowing it up?)
I did some function tests and did experience one split case on the 185-grain .460 load, so I contacted Buffalo Bore and Mech-Tech to see if this was a common occurrence — it was not. The case split in half — if only I had a broken shell extractor for .45ACP! I was able to remove the case, and later continued my testing with more of the same load — no malfunctions. I have to say that the large charging handle is quite comfortable to charge the now-rifle. It is reciprocating, so you need to keep everything clear of its travel. I then loaded up a couple of my Chip McCormick 10-round magazines with Federal Syntech 230-grain TSJ, which stands for “Total Synthetic Jacket.” This is a polymer jacket which eliminates lead and copper fouling of barrels. This ammo ran great, and I was pinging my 12"x20" ShootSteel.com target at 50 yards over and over. Very relieved that this gun functions with both .460 Rowland and .45 ACP, as Mech-Tech said it would, I prepared for my accuracy tests. Recoil is not bad at all due in part to the huge bolt and very large buffer. I would like to mention that the Aimpoint Micro H-2 is a great optic for this carbine, especially for informal plinking. (You may have noticed that I mounted the optic, with the throw lever and tensioning nut, on the right side instead of the traditional left side of the firearm. I did this to keep them away from my hands when charging the carbine.)
I started out at 25 yards with the Weaver 2.5–7X 28mm scope, set at seven power to see how tight this upper can shoot the .460. (I fired three five-shot groups for each ammunition type.) First up, Buffalo Bore’s 185-grain JHP. My best group was a little over an inch and a half, and the largest measured in at 1.87 inches. Without the flier, the best group measured in at 1.27 inches. Next in line was Buffalo Bore’s 230-grain FMJ flat-nosed round. Groups measured between 1.33 inches to 2.81 inches, with the best group without the flier measuring in at .66 of an inch. I really took my time with these, so there seemed to be a bit of inconsistency with this bullet weight, although more shooting with this load would need to be done to confirm that assumption. Still, good groups. At this point, I decided to hit some steel at the same distance (it was just too tempting) — .460 Rowland really wallops the target!
Third in line was Buffalo Bore’s 230-grain JHP. I was very eager to fire this round, as this weight and bullet type tends to be very accurate in .45 ACP loads. It sure was! My first group measured in at .85 of an inch, and the second most accurate group measured in at 1.10 inches. The best group size without the flier was .73 of an inch. Great load for this carbine, but I was about to drop off into an accuracy-testing black hole. Last in the Buffalo Bore line up was the 255 Hard Cast Flat Nose load. I had been thinking about this one since I got it. You see, after reading all of Dean Weingarten’s articles, as well as many lengthy conversations with Rikk Rambo, I had learned that hard cast bullets are what you really need to take down a very large predator like a grizzly. I have been shooting for 45 years and have no experience with hard cast loads — none. It was cheapo ammo for me for my machine-guns and MSRs, and hollow points for hunting and self-defense. “Hard cast? What would I ever need that for?” I now understand that it is essential to have your handgun loaded with hard cast bullets in order to crush bone and penetrate thick fat so that organ damage capable of taking down a large dangerous animal can occur. Anyway, I was eager to try it out, but I was about to notice that something was not right. My first five-shot group was around nine inches at 25 yards. I then thought to myself: “Well, I now have a broken scope reticle.” For a test, I then loaded up some 185-grain .460 and shot a group — it was nice and tight like the others. One last group of the 255-grain hard cast would confirm that this load just isn’t going to hit anything at 50 yards, unless it’s an adult elephant. I’m still not sure what the issue is. Possibly, the barrel’s twist rate and length are not good for this bullet weight or maybe the hard-cast composition is the issue.
Regarding 50 yards, I decided to shoot the most accurate .460 Rowland load at this distance and then at 100 yards, which was the Buffalo Bore 230-grain JHP. I also decided to swap out the Weaver scope and then mounted a Burris 4.4-14X 42mm Fullfield 30 scope (BurrisOptics.com). I was low on ammo, so I could only fire two groups for each distance. At 50 yards, my best group was a bit over two inches and the largest was 3.75. I then set up at 100 yards and my two groups were in the seven-inch range with the smallest group without the flier at 4.5 inches. Not great, but definitely accurate enough to take deer or defend yourself out to at least 75 yards. Possibly, some of the other loads would do better at 100 yards, but I was out of time and low on .460. I did do some research online regarding accuracy testing the Mech-Tech .460 conversion. There isn’t much information out there, but I did read that two other owners of this conversion had issues with “unexplained fliers” in five-shot groups they fired. I experienced the same thing, so that was another reason to include my groups measured without the fliers as well. A 4.5-inch group at 100 yards with a .45 caliber pistol cartridge is really not bad, and I’m sure that if I had 500 rounds of various .460 Rowland, to test many different bullet weights and powders, I could find a load that would do better.
Now for the.45 ACP loads. First up for .45 ACP at 25 yards was Winchester Defense 230-grain, Bonded Hollow Point. This load shot well with an average of 1.72 inches, and without the fliers the average was 1.09. Next was Federal Premium LE Tactical HST 230-grain +P JHP. This one shot very well with the best group at 1.12 inches. Last up was the new Federal Syntech 230-grain TSJ and it had an average of 1.7 inches. Rest assured, if you get the Mech-Tech upper in .460 Rowland, you can plink away with inexpensive .45 ACP ammo with no fear of malfunctions. The difference between shooting .45 ACP and .45 ACP +P is similar in comparing .45 +P and .460 Rowland, and when you go all the way back to .45 ACP, the decrease in power (when smacking steel) and perceived recoil is very noticeable.
I really like this conversion and wanted to make the whole unit more compact, whether it was mounted to the pistol or not. I think that the wire stock assembly offered is a good one, and that it would make a lot smaller footprint, but I like having full-size AR-type stocks for shooting. I then got out my folding stock adapter parts from StormWerkz.com, which are adapters for buffer-tube stock assemblies and consist of a stock-folding mechanism ($55), and an AR thread receiver block ($28). There were a couple of modifications I had to make to get this to work with the Mech-Tech, one of which was to shorten the bolt which retains the large buffer as it stuck too far out of the back of the receiver — only about 3/16 of an inch had to be removed. I then had to replace the two retainer bolts, which attach the stock mechanism to the AR thread receiver block, with hex-head bolts about twice as long. The adapter adds about an inch and a quarter to the length of pull. The only thing that you need to be cautious about is firing with the stock folded. Be sure that the reciprocating bolt will not hit the stock’s butt plate when the bolt is in the rearward position. The stock it came with had about a half an inch to spare, but only when it was fully collapsed.
Since the buffer tube is not being utilized in the recoil system, I decided to make use of that space for some survival supplies, sort of like a micro survival kit. Although not all of the items I chose would fit in the tube at the same time, many would. Remember, water and heat are most important during emergencies, both should be at the top of your list. The following items fit in the tube: mini-butane lighter, mini-fishing kit, zip ties, strike anywhere matches, mini flashlight, G.I.-type can opener, water purification straw filter, and some safety pins. To have on hand for preparedness/survival such as trunk carry, bug-out pack carry, etc., this carbine conversion would be legal in most states, but if you are in CA, NY, or MA (and maybe CT), it appears that it would be illegal as this would convert into a semi-auto, magazine-fed carbine which would have a vertical grip. For other restrictive states, like NJ and MD, it should be just fine with a non-threaded barrel and non-collapsing stock, but check with a firearms lawyer before you do anything.
The other legal issue with the Mech-Tech conversion is that you don’t have one regarding pistol-to-rifle conversions. Many pistol-to-rifle conversions contain a separate stock and barrel to convert a pistol into a rifle, and these can get you into legal jeopardy if you have all of the parts in the same place at the same time. While it is legal to convert a pistol to a rifle and then back to its original handgun form, it is illegal to convert a rifle into a pistol (with or without a stock) without proper federal approval. Technically, if you have a stock which will readily attach to the mainspring housing of your 1911 pistol in your possession, the BATFE can charge you with intent to manufacture an unregistered short-barreled rifle, and you would be charged with “constructive possession.” While the Founders of this nation would have a problem with the unconstitutionality of the National Firearms Act of 1934, as well as the “future crime” concept of “constructive possession,” nevertheless, our government can come after you anyway, even if you also have the 16-inch barrel. With the Mech-Tech carbine conversion, the stock is attached to the upper receiver of this rifle which also has a mounted barrel — the stock cannot be installed on your 1911 separately, so you are legally safe here.
Mech-Tech Carbine Conversion Unit — .460 Rowland
Now I have a carbine which can defend against a bear attack, take small or medium-sized deer to 75 yards, and defend myself against armed bad guys in a SHTF situation. The 16-inch barrel brings the muzzle energy of some .460 Rowland loads to about 1,200–1,300 foot pounds, so this is a great enhancement to any 1911 pistol carried for SHTF defense or short-range hunting. I can load several magazines with .45 ACP, of one flavor or another, and have a couple loaded with the powerful .460 Rowland if dinner shows up (or one of those really bad guys) - a few reliable 15- or 20-round 1911 magazines would be great additions too. Either way, I am ready for almost anything within 100 yards. Check out Mech-Tech Systems for more information.
Mech-Tech Carbine Conversion Unit — .45 ACP
Mech-Tech 1911 Carbine Conversion Unit in .460 Rowland & .45 ACP Specs