It’s always the last one. “Uh, a touch high.” Sam cajoled. I’d seen the front sight creep up. That shot had wrecked the series.
“I’ll fire another.” Sandbags cradling the pistol, I crushed the trigger.
“Left, but better,” said Sam.
Indeed it was. Excluding the flyer, five bullets from Hill Country’s 10mm HCH Hunter 1911 had punched a 0.9-inch group. It was about as tight a knot as I’ve fired with an iron-sighted handgun at 25 yards.
After Sam drilled another cozy cluster of holes, we switched ammo and chewed up more paper. “How about we try the silhouettes? Off-hand?” They were 40 yards off, but I was feeling good about this 1911. My first three shots blew paint from the middle of the steel desperado, leaving a naked gray triangle less than 3 inches across the pock marks. I handed the pistol to Sam. “Your turn.” Why risk ruining the group with five shots?
I got to know Hill Country Rifles (HCR) years ago, after firing one of the company’s rifles. The re-stocked and “trued” Remington 700 in .270 Win shot groups that could be covered with a bottle cap. I’ve since followed the Texas firm’s evolving products and services. Two summers ago, the company loaned me a pistol, the first 1911 in its 19-year history. “You’ll like it,” said Matt Bettersworth, who runs the company with Dave Fuqua.
He was right. In fact, that .45 ranked among the best I’ve had in hand since I assembled my first 1911 from surplus parts decades ago. I’m sweet on the model, partly because it shows John Browning’s genius, has a stellar history in U.S. military service and still dominates (and defines) competitive events. But I also favor the 1911 because it fits my big hands and points naturally for me. The .45 ACP is what a pistol cartridge should be: hiccup-free in feeding, hard-hitting up close and manageable in recoil.
Ammo developments have had much to do with the sterling qualities of the cartridge. As the .223 Remington has benefited from ubiquity, so has the .45 ACP. How many superb loads would be available for the .222 Rem Mag, or the .38 Super, if those rounds had enjoyed such attention?
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But popularity has a price. The cycling, accuracy, and fit and finish of 1911s vary as widely as their origins and prices. Hill Country Rifles is mighty particular about its products, having built its reputation on first-cabin firearms. “We don’t manufacture to a price,” Matt reminded me. “We work to give customers the very best.” Unlike semi-custom shops that offer a limited range of options, HCR honors customer whims to small details. “We consult with him or her to determine shooting style, the firearm’s purpose and other things that affect profile, weight and dimensions. We guarantee accuracy with factory loads.”
Matt assured me that the care lavished on its rifles goes into its 1911s, now officially produced by Hill Country Handguns (HCH), a division of Hill Country Rifles. “We put Justin McMillan on that project. Nine years now at HCR, Justin previously served as chief gunsmith at STI. He’s shot 1911s since age 14 and was recruited by the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, where he built Beretta M9s as well as 1911s. His pistols have won gold at Camp Perry and the Sydney Olympics.” In January of 2016, Justin was voted into the elite American Custom Gunmakers Guild, which demands superior work of applicants.
“We use only U.S.-sourced forged parts in our pistols,” said Matt. “Instead of sending guns down a production line, we assign each pistol to two craftsmen. We surface grind each slide and frame to within 0.001 inches. Then we hand-lap with 800-grit abrasive. Cycling a slide, you’ll feel the close tolerances, the snug, even fit, the silent muscle of the spring—even if you grope for descriptive words. Taut but silky. Piston-like. Ball-bearing smooth. Squeak-free. Wobble-free. Clackless. There’s no wobble. It’s…well, perfect!” Matt pointed out that close mating of parts makes pistols more reliable “because there’s no place for grit to enter. Also, parts wear evenly. Increasing surface contact between the frame and slide increases longevity.”
Another step in building top-quality 1911s is the fitting and timing of the link that pulls the barrel out of battery. HCH gunsmiths are meticulous here—also with the fitting of fire-control components and match-grade KKM bull barrels.
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Added features and special treatments can enhance the looks, utility and value of a pistol. From an ambidextrous safety to machining on the backstrap and mainspring housing, to night sights, HCH attends details and offers options. As for the finish, “We do our own Cerakoting, case coloring and bluing,” Matt said. “We shape our own walnut and G10 grip panels. They cover more of the frame than standard panels for a better feel and more control.”
Each pistol passes rigorous function tests. Accuracy trials are conducted at 50 yards over a Ransom rest. The resulting targets are packed with each 1911 shipped.
The first HCH 1911 that came my way whetted my appetite for another. Before I’d even boxed up the .45 for its return trip to Texas, I’d asked Matt Bettersworth about the Hunter. “I’ve done little with the 10mm,” I explained. Matt replied that I didn’t need this excuse, that he’d ship one of the long-slide pistols pronto. And he did.
As I expected, the Hunter evidences the same care in manufacture as the Classic. Cerakoted in black, the steel is perfectly contoured and polished. The flats are flat, the squared-off triggerguard and bottom rail are beautifully machined. All edges are uniform and crisp, but not sharp. The same goes for slide serrations, fore and aft, and the 30-lines-per-inch serrations on the frontstrap and mainspring housing. The extended grip safety has the lower bump that ensures contact with the heel of my thumb and the hollow of my big palm. A loop-style hammer, nicely grooved, retracts as smoothly as the slide. Cycling to load the chamber is hitch-free on the Hunter. Even the magazine has fairytale feel. It slips home as if machined and mated to spring-loaded rollers.
Fitted with Novak front and rear night sights, the 8.5-inch slide affords a 7.5-inch sight radius. The Hunter is equipped with an ambidextrous safety, generously proportioned on each side. My test pistol was upgraded with smooth Turkish walnut grips, oversized like the standard G10s (the Hunter is also available with optional Crimson Trace LaserGrips, pre-ban elephant ivory or mammoth ivory grips). They leave half as much vertical flat frame exposed as do ordinary panels, and just a hairline at the bottom. In hand, the panels and frame become one. This pistol feels solid, its 50 ounces (empty) distributed to come on target quickly without effort. Its forward tilt, courtesy the husky 6-inch KKM barrel, is noticeable but not objectionable. Indeed, I found the heft and balance of the Hunter an asset while shooting over bags or off-hand.
The trigger breaks smoothly and consistently on the Hill Country Hunter, with little take-up, at just over four pounds. That’s if I cycle the slide. Thumbing the hammer gives me a pull of 5.25 pounds. I’m told such a disparity is normal, a function of how the 1911 disconnector works.
Yes, I did look for flaws. I found none. The pistol cycled the three types of ammunition I had on hand without fail. At a starting price of $4,295, this is not an inexpensive pistol. But there’s a market for top quality. Customers come to Hill Country “because our focus is on building the best! Comments from customers thrilled with their guns tell us we’re on the right track.” Clearly, Matt is convinced, too.
Hill Country Handguns currently offers four versions of the 1911. The 5-inch Classic introduced me to this series. The Carry, with a bobtail frame, comes with a 3.9-inch barrel in 9mm or a 4.1-inch barrel in .45 ACP. The .45 ACP or 10mm Hunter is available with a 5- or 6-inch barrel and an integral frame rail. The Eminence is a “fully loaded” 1911 with a case-colored frame, nitre blue accents and engraving. Hill Country handguns plans to make just 40 of these pistols in 2016 for “customers especially fond of 1911s.”
The HCH Hunter comes with two magazines in a foam-fitted aluminum case with piano hinges and twin locking latches.
For more information, call 830-609-3139 or visit http://www.hillcountryhandguns.com.