The next critical dimension is the cartridge OAL itself. Too short or too long and you’ll have problems. The issues that so many people ascribed to the 1911’s failure to feed hollowpoints came from the old Speer 200 grain JHP “Flying ashtray” in the 80s…but it wasn’t the size of the cavity that caused the problems after the barrel ramps were opened up. It was the length of the round that did it. It was too short.

Cartridge OAL should be 1.220-1.240 for hollow points and 1.250-1.260 for bardball, though many hardball rounds exceeded that by as much as .015 inch. Nominal spec for .38 Super ball is 1.280, so it’ll work if it’s a little longer than the 1.260 inch ideal. I’ve also seen the 2nd design Hornady XTP 200-grain hollowpoints work well when loaded to 1.210 inch in pistols with proper feed and barrel ramp dimensions, but I’ve noticed that Hornady loads them to about 1.230 in their commercial ammunition. So, you handloaders who have a little trouble with your hollowpoints, try adding another .010 inch to the OAL. You may see the problem disappear.

Now we’ve come to the magazine. So few truly understand John Browning’s magazine and how it correctly offers the round to the chamber…and how many of the present magazines don’t.

It’s said that the magazine is responsible for fully 90% of all feed related malfunctions. but that’s an overstatement. I’d estimate it at about half, though the magazine is usually the first suspect without a close examination of the gun.

A proper magazine works within the controlled feed boundaries and doesn’t affect the final release of the cartridge until it’s actually under the extractor…or at least as close as it can get so as to minimize the time and distance that the cartridge isn’t under the control of both at the instant of release. In other words, the magazine and the extractor’s influence should overlap, with the magazine not relinquishing the round until the extractor has it. Anything else leaves the round with the opportunity to escape.

Modern magazines with parallel feed lips and an early, abrupt release point…called “timed” release…offer too much opportunity for escape, and many do just that. Instead of being controlled all the way into the chamber, they get knocked ahead of the slide, causing the extractor claw to snap over the rim…and if the angle on the extractor isn’t exactly to sopec…it can bring it all to a screeching halt.

For those that do successfully effect the push feed/snapover, the reward is an extractor that loses tension frequently and can and usually does cause the claw to break. If the magazine does its job properly…and the extractor deflection is as it should be…the extractor should be able to go 50,000 rounds and beyond before needing attention beyond periodic cleaning.

A proper magazine provides a slow, late release that places the rim of the case under or very nearly under the extractor claw at the moment of final release. It does this by allowing the rear of the cartridge to rise as it moves forward…and it does that by way of tapered feed lips that gradually spread from rear to front. This can be seen in the old GI “Hardball” magazines, and with the “Hybrid” magazines that Colt designed in the early 80s that combine the gradual taper with the timed, abrupt release point with comes a little later than most of the new offerings.

Along with the proper magazine, the design comes the little pip on top of the follower that is eliminated with so many newer designs. Here is a perfect example of the belief that they’ve outsmarted Mose. That little bump has an important job, and it’s an example of a Browning redundancy. It keeps the last round in the magazine during the recoil cycle when the magazine spring tension is at a minimum and the slide smacks the frame, trying to jerk the pistol out from under the cartridge. If anyone has ever had the slide lock with a live round lying loose in the port…Here’s yer sign. Likewise, if you’ve ever found live rounds among the empty brass on the ground. Look to your magazine for the answer to that mystery. Or, if you’ve noticed small, “D” shaped dings on the rear of your rims, with a small burr on the edge…the gun is push feeding, and usually on the last round. A weak spring can make it happen more often, maybe on the last two rounds.

Other things that can allow the round to escape are the bump being too small or in the wrong place, and the tension of the spring itself.

As it relates to hollowpoint malfunction…most hollowpoint ammunition is of the +P variety. +P means the recoil is more lively. The harder the frame hits the slide, the more likely it is to cause the last round to escape the magazine. Sometimes it only takes a little. And there you have another shooter blaming hollowpoint ammunition for a feed failure that is actually the fault of poor magazine design.

And an oversprung slide makes it even more likely. The original spec was about 14 pounds at full compression, and 13.5 at full slide travel…not the 16 that so many experts insist on.

Finally, a proper .45 magazine is 7 round capacity with the original stamped follower…with the speed bump and 13 spring coils. With that follower, when it’s at the last round, there are three spring coils against the rear leg of the follower. One in the top corner…one in the middle…and one near the bottom. The follower can’t nose dive and it provides support to the cartridge as it enters the chamber.

Something to ponder on. No, really. Ponder it.

The 1911 pistol was designed by a genius, and it was ultimately going to end up on the killing fields in faraway places, where one extra round could easily be the difference between life and death for some poor widow’s son. Does anyone really believe that the fact that the magazine would physically accommodate 8 rounds with a little modification to the spring and follower somehow escaped his notice? Or has anyone considered that if he could have made it work with bet your life reliability with 8 rounds…he would have?

The farther we stray from Browning’s specifications, the more likely we are to have trouble.


10 thoughts on “1911 School, Feeding Part 3 of 3.”
  1. This stuff is great, but of little use. I’ve got two SA 1911’s in .45ACP. I have lightened recoil springs because I shoot mid-range loads. I’m not suggesting this information for those carrying for defense, LE or civilian. But one of these guns has about 100K and the other about 50K. I use Chip McCormick mags in 8 and 10 round configurations and if the guns are clean and lubed have zero failures of any kind with 200 grn. H&G SWC bullets.
    Point I’m trying to make is that it’s impossible to determine where the gun/magazine is losing control of the round, except from the symptom shown by the failure, So it’s a bit of a guessing game. If a mag (mine are all 10+ years old) fails you can change the spring, and/or the follower. Or bend the feed lips (1/4″ square hard steel rod with a slot cut in the end of it about 3/16′ deep works well) and if that does not solve the problem throw it out and buy a new top quality mag.

  2. Impossible to determine when the magazine loses control of the round?

    No. The magazine loses control of the round when it releases it. If it’s not under the extractor at that point, the pistol can lose control of the round…but the magazine has already relinquished control. That’s why I recommend magazines that don’t release the round until the rim has at least started under the extractor. That way, there’s no window of opportunity for it to get out of control.

  3. Ahhhh just another reason in the long list to hate the heavy finicky persnickety hyper-sensitive 1911. Time to buy another one!

  4. My ammo in .45, OAL inches:
    S&B JHP 1.135
    PPU JHP1.215
    Blazer FMJ 1.258
    Winchester FMJ 1.262

    I do not remember the last time I had a FTF with ball ammo. I do have the occasional FTF with the JHP, particularly the S & B. I notice that both JPHs fall outside the range specified in this article (1.220 to 1.240), and the S & B more than the PPU.

    I love it when there is something I can measure! Now, I have to find .45 rounds in JHP that fall in the OAL range specified, and see if using that eliminates my FTF altogether.

    This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder, now that I’ve been made aware of it, how did I not think to look that up myself before? There’s a gap to span. If the thing that spans the gap doesn’t span it properly, odds are against you getting across the span properly every single time, which is what’s required.

    Thanks for this!

  5. Good piece. Question: You mention the slide hitting the frame (secondary recoil impulse) causing the last round to launch from the magazine, and state that an oversprung slide makes the problem more likely, but you don’t explain why. I don’t doubt you are correct, but that seems counterintuitive. I would have thought an UNDERsprung slide would cause it to smack against the frame even harder, thus creating more potential for the cartridge to launch out of the magazine inertially, and conversely that a stronger recoil spring would slow the slide down and lessen the problem. Can you please explain why an oversprung slide would tend to make the problem worse rather than better?

  6. Hi,
    This message response is for John Travis if he still monitors here or Hunter Elliott if he has any insight. I have enjoyed reading anything 1911 related by John aka 1911 Tuner. I have a Colt Defender in .45acp which has been a little finicky after trying the common recommendations. I remember reading John Travis used to dread these guns coming across his bench till he found the secret thang on em’. Is that information available ? Even for a cost? Thank you in advance!

  7. Hi Hunter,
    The issue is a failure to feed Federal 230 grain Hydra Shocks and 230 grain Winchester Ranger T non +P hollow points. The bullet will get stuck on the barrel ramp before entering the chamber. It seems to happen more frequently on the last round in the magazine. Also this is happening before the round gets under or to the extractor. A variety of magazines have been tested. Wilson 6rd HD/+P magazines, The factory 7 round Colt mag that came with the gun, Tripp 7 round flush fit magazine, and Ed Brown 7 round flush fit magazines with the hybrid feed lips and dimpled followers. I have also tried the Tripp super 7 springs and followers. My most reliable magazines seem to be the stock Tripp Officer model magazine and the ED Brown Hybrid with the dimpled follower but the strong spring from Tripp in it. The barrel has been throated by Ned Christiansen in Michigan. Because he was busy and didn’t want me to send the whole gun he just got the slide assembly. I am running an EGW higher mag catch, EGW small radius firing pin stop, 24lb main spring, 21lb Wolf recoil springs on the stock Colt dual spring set up, With the barrel pushed back against the VIS and against the barrel bed looks like I have a .015-.020 gap. (Not the ideal .030″) The stock barrel ramp has not been touched in any way. Measuring the frames feed ramp angle off the frame rails used to zero with a dial indicator and sine plate I get 30.68 degrees. The barrel bed length seems to be at the minimum around .246-.248 range. My question for John is there any particular dimensions or things to look at on the short Defenders for feeding? Barrel bed height? Would I need a feed ramp insert to get more of a gap and angle closer to 31 degrees? Thank you in advance! John Kalist.

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