45 Comp Kits: Storm Lake Machineâ€™s Unit Is A Best Buy
In the early days of IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) competition, where power, accuracy, and speed of target engagement were equal elements rewarded by the scoring format, the .45 ACP in the familiar 1911 Colt-type pistol reigned supreme for many years. The basic 1911 evolved into a highly modified, but uncompensated, .45 Government Model typified by the Clark Pin Gun design, which featured a simple muzzle weight. The gunâ€™s transformation into the fully compensated 1911 began when J. Michael Plaxco introduced the first compensator, consisting of a muzzle weight with a single expansion chamber and vertical porting to reduce recoil and muzzle lift. Even with these changes, however, the .38 Super began to dominate Unlimited or Open Class competitions in l987. The advent of supported chambers and heavier walled +P brass enabled shooters to safely handle high-performance loadings, and compensated .38 Supers offered greater reductions in muzzle lift because they operate at much greater pressures. Soon thereafter, the stalwart .45 was no longer the top dog in IPSC.
Though this still holds true, observant shooters still see many .45s on the line at local and regional IPSC matches. The bulk of these guns compete in the Limited or Stock classes, but many recreational-level shooters who want to sample Open Class competition still choose the century-old .45 ACP. The reason for this is simple: It is easy to load to major power factor without pushing maximum pressures. This results in long brass and barrel life, a high degree of accuracy with less expensive lead bullets, more latitude in producing safe loads on progressive reloading presses, and the additional benefit of using common bullets, brass, and powders.
With current .45 compensator kits available from a number of aftermarket sources, the recreational shooter can also turn his stock 1911 .45 into a base-level compensated, optic-sighted Open Class pistol or controllable bowling-pin gun without permanently altering the frame to accommodate a ramped .38 Super barrel. He can then change from its compensated form back to â€œstockâ€ for use as a defensive carry pistol or Limited Class competition piece by simply removing the optical sight and mount and replacing the standard barrel and bushing.
Because they offer shooters enhanced shooting performance in value-packed form, we decided to test three â€œdrop-inâ€ compensator kitsâ€”one each from Wilson Combat, Ed Brown Products, and Storm Lake Machine. We wanted to see what they offered in accuracy, speed, recoil control, and convenience when applied to the 1911-format pistol in the popular .45 ACP cartridge. Hereâ€™s what we found:
Accu-Comp Dot Tracker Kit
One of the early combat masters on the IPSC circuit was Bill Wilson of Berryville, Arkansas. Early on, he saw an expanding field of accessories for the 1911-type pistol and soon set aside his career as a watchmaker to become a gunsmith. He began offering his own line of competition accessories for the 1911, including one of the earliest match barrel/compensator kits for the .45. Over the years he has revised his product to keep pace with current technology and currently offers the Accu-Comp Dot Tracker, a match barrel with three-port compensator, in kit form. The compensator was designed with the help of Jerry Barnhart to eliminate bounce and tracking problems he was experiencing with previous designs.
At $298.95 the unit comes packaged with a pre-threaded match barrel and matching bushing, compensator, front sight, split-bushing wrench, and a tube of Loc-Tite 271 to secure the compensator to the barrel. Missing is a barrel link and pin. Examination of the barrel and parts showed excellent finish on the stainless-steel barrel and blued compensator unit. The compensator has a brushed gloss finish on its sides and the top is bead-blasted to a matte finish. It is also dovetailed to accept the enclosed cross-dovetail Patridge front sight. If used with iron sights, this arrangement adds some practical accuracy by extending the sight radius by half an inch.
The direction sheet included with the Wilson unit states that the company accepts no liability for improper use or installation of the product and recommends installation by â€œa competent pistolsmith familiar with the 1911-style auto barrel fitting.â€
The reason for these instructions soon became obvious. As we tried to slide the barrel into the slide of our test guns, it was obvious that this kit would require fitting in all the critical areas and would not be a simple drop-in. On the plus side, this results in a perfect match-quality fit if properly performed, unlike some units that give no better fit than a factory barrel. On the negative side, if the consumer is not intimately familiar with barrel fitting, it will best be performed by a good IPSC pistolsmith and will add an additional $75 to $100.
In this case, we could not test the unit until it was fitted. This process included removing material from the outside diameter of the bushing, sides of the slide-stop lugs, locking recesses, and the hood area of the barrel. The result was a pistol that locked and unlocked smoothly and precisely. Fitting the pistol at prevailing gunsmithing rates drove the package price to $373.95, and for that money, we had a pistol that could be expected to give consistent accuracy.
Storm Lake Machine
Tri-Port .45 Comp Kit
The Storm Lake Machine Tri-Port .45 Comp Kit sells for $205.50 and includes a match-grade barrel complete with link, link pin, barrel bushing, and a three-port compensator of very similar design to the Wilson. The barrel is of stainless steel and has very crisp rifling that should work extremely well with lead bullets. The compensator is blued carbon steel and is finished like the Wilson with brushed finish on its sides and a matte finish on top to prevent glare. The compensator has no provision for installation of a front sight.
Though it is said to be a drop-in unit, the Tri-Port Comp comes with no instructions other than the following: â€œHave a competent pistolsmith install this unit.â€¦â€ There is also a liability disclaimer for improper use and installation.
The Tri-Port unit did, however, slide into place in our test pistols without any fitting and gave a good fit that was free of play at the bushing, lugs, and hood. Retracting the slide gave a distinct hesitation on unlocking. Though this might not be a problem after a break-in period, it does indicate a tight tolerance that can affect reliable cycling and accuracy. We felt that it was best to examine the fit and correct this hesitation before proceeding with live-fire testing.
Our examination showed the hesitation was caused by excess material on the left side of the barrel hood. We corrected the problem by removing .010 inch of metal with a flat file. This should not be considered a deficiency in the product design; instead, it is a trade-off. To make a unit accurate, it must have a tight fit at the critical areas that mate the barrel to the slide and frame. It may also be expected to â€œfitâ€ a range of products from Colt, Caspian, Springfield Armory, Safari Arms, Auto-Ordnance, AMT, and Norinco with varying manufacturing tolerances. To achieve a good mating of parts with a drop-in fit (or a minimum of gunsmith fitting), it is better to have too much material to allow fitting rather than to sacrifice accuracy with a sloppy fit. With its moderate price and high quality, we were very interested to see how the Storm Lake Tri-Port would perform in live-fire testing.