Shooting the National Match and Its Successors
Way back in the Fifties, Jeff Cooper said that all the Government Model really needed was a lighter, crisper trigger; throating to feed high efficiency ammo; and more visible sights. Given that hardball was about all you could buy over the counter for a .45 auto before WWII and the NM fed it just fine, the National Match pistol had anticipated the Colonel’s needs and delivered them amply when Jeff was a youngster. It is a formula that has stood the test of time.
Some say that the Gold Cup generation of National Match pistols raised the bar with its slanted slide grooves and flat top slide.
Whether these truly enhance performance is an unresolved debate, but I for one just like them esthetically. The original National Match is so rare and precious today that virtually no one actually carries or shoots one anymore. If they did, they would fit them with beavertail grip safeties and perhaps larger-profile thumb safeties (maybe even ambidextrous), and throat them for JHP ammo.
The last person I knew who carried an original National Match “for real” and used it as such was Bill Allard. Bill was the partner of the NYPD Stakeout Squad’s famous Jim Cirillo, and the only man on that high-risk unit who killed more armed opponents in gunfights than Cirillo. Allard’s favorite pistol – used in more than one of those shootings – was an original Colt National Match .45 with high fixed sights, a gun he had special permission to carry on duty. He has since retired his pet National Match to the gun safe, and now, in retirement, carries a Kimber .45 auto daily.
In an early Gold Cup with the lighter slide, I’d be sparing with hardball and would use no +P ammo at all. With light loads, use a light spring; with heavy loads, use a heavy spring. The 1957 concept of one spring for both helped lead to the Gold Cup getting that reputation for fragility. With a lighter spring, the slide comes back harder and hammers the frame proportionally more.
Do not expect 1-inch groups at 25 yards or 2-inch groups at 50 unless the gun has been accurized or you’ve paid extra for a top-line Les Baer or Rock River pistol. That degree of accuracy never seems to have been present in the original National Match, and as Waite noted was not present with ball ammo in the Gold Cup. (Even the short-lived Gold Cup factory-chambered for the .38 Special wadcutter cartridge was disappointing in its accuracy, according to most testers.) My own National Match cracks the 1-inch/25 yard mark, but only because it was accurized by the USAF Marksmanship Training Unit at Lackland AFB. In conventional configuration 1911 pistols in the National Match mold made more recently (as opposed to long-slide or compensated target guns), only my custom Colts by Morris, Lauck, et. al. will deliver that magic inch.
The one exception is my Springfield TRP Operator, whose heavy extended frame with flashlight rail alters the 1911 silhouette unforgivably for the purist. It will do an inch on the nose for five shots at 25 yards with Federal Gold Medal 185 grain Match softball. The rest will do in the neighborhood of two inches at 25. For practical purposes, that’s a good neighborhood, and about where the original National Match and Gold Cup dwelt with service hardball ammo. The finest “boutique .45s” from semi-custom houses such as Ed Brown’s and Bill Wilson’s will deliver an inch at 25 yards with the best ammo, too.
This article is an excerpt from Massad Ayoob’s Greatest Handguns of the World. Click Here to get your copy.