Some of you may need to sit down for this... after a quarter century carrying a 1911, I have transitioned to a 5" barreled M&P in .40. Here's what led me to this emotionally difficult switch.
First was the bear thing. I see a lot of bears (11 this year) and don't generally regard them as dangerous at all. However, the first couple of bears I saw this spring got me to thinking. For the first bear, I hadn't seen one yet and was getting antsy so I started doing a lot of following sign off trail to try to run into one. I finally saw one -- at 15 yards in dark timber. It had been bedded down and I'm pretty sure it didn't have any more idea about me than I did about it until we were right on top of each other. It was a young bear and, true to form, took off in the opposite direction. The second bear was a big for the area boar. Although he was polite, he also let me know that he wasn't at all concerned about my presence and wasn't to be pushed at. I suddenly got to thinking about what if the bear I walked up on in the timber was the boar instead of a young bear? And also the law of big numbers -- black bears aren't a threat in general, but if - like I do - you run across a lot of them, you might eventually run into the circumstance where one *is* a problem. So, I got to thinking about one of the new L-frame .44 magnums that S&W came out with. I reached out to a guy who is quietly one of the most skillful and knowledgeable pistoleros I know, as well as having a very direct access into the world of S&W. My intent was to get a read on how manageable that particular pistol was. Long story short, he talked me out of the idea of a .44 and steered me in the direction of using the right ammo in my 1911. He also made a side comment that had no relevance to me at the time -- "most of the guys I know who truly understand terminal ballistics carry .40 S&W for bear". Just to sanity check things, Scot and I also drug out our .41 magnums including his full weight 4" barreled one and shot them side by side with semi-autos. That reality check quickly vanquished any thought I had of a big bore wheel gun being a good idea. Scot turned around and sold his .41 at a nice profit. So, 1911 it still was.
Fast forward a couple of months, and I'm doing my every couple of years shakedown of my backpacking load which includes weighing everything individually. I realized that my 1911 plus 2 spare mags represented a pretty fair amount of trail weight. Dropping one of the spare mags saved me 8oz. But I realized it was still a lot of weight relative to other options so I started looking at polymer pistols again. I had a brief dalliance with a G19 I've had forever and remembered that, although I shoot them just fine, I don't like Glocks. After 25 years of 1911 grip angle, the G angle will always be wrong for me. And I still like a thumb safety. Plus there was the issue of whatever I carry on the trail needs to be pretty much the same grip and trigger feel as whatever I'm carrying in town. With the 1911, they were one in the same gun which is ideal. I was looking at various ways to have a lighter backcountry gun that would match my 1911 which I still planned to carry in town.
Nearly a decade ago, I almost switched over to an M&P with thumb safety because in a lot of ways it's a modernized 1911. I've always liked the idea of them and found them easier to shoot well (at least in 9mm) than 1911s. But like all polymer guns, they don't have the same history and soul as a 1911. And when I'm training as often as I should I can shoot a 1911 as well as anything and better than most. Due to personal circumstances, I don't have time to train often enough right now and haven't for a year and I knew my pistol skills had slipped a bit. One morning, as a way of checking out the M&P again, I had Scot bring along his 5" barreled M&P in 9mm. First I shot my 1911. My shooting was so far from the accuracy standard that LAV held us to that I was wondering if I should even be carrying right now. Then I tried the M&P which I hadn't shot in probably 8 years. I quickly built a group to accuracy standard (horizontal fist sized at 10 yards) at roughly twice the cadence and round count of my 1911 shooting.
There was no way to argue with that so I strapped on the M&P that morning, knowing I could shoot it well if I needed to. And sadly put my 1911 in the safe. Performance matters.
Then I remembered the comment about terminal performance of the .40 and started looking hard at that caliber for the backcountry. I'd shot a pistol chambered in .40 before and found the recoil harder to manage than .45 acp. Since I'd always thought of .45 as a more "powerful" round than .40, I had never seen any point at all in even considering the gimmicky niche .40. But what the .40 really is is a 10mm short that can be shot out of the compact and light 9mm framed guns. Ironically, the .40 "bear load" (doubletap 200 grain hardcast) shot out of a 5" barrel is fairly close to the .41 magnum standard loadings (although not close at all to the .41 bear loads). I looked at weights and realized that I could save an additional 8oz off of my backcountry carry pistol by carrying an M&P in .40. That represented a full pound of weight savings from where I'd started (part of which was reducing the amount of ammo I was carrying by 8 rounds).
I purchased one of the M&P 5" thumb safety guns in .40 with the idea that I'd carry and train with 9mm M&P and then carry an identical .40 in the backcountry. When I started shaking it out, I was astonished to find it had much more manageable recoil than .45 acp 1911. Closer in recoil to 147grn 9mm than it is to 230grn .45 acp. So manageable (and so consistently accurate for me) that there wasn't much downside to carrying the .40 in the backcountry AND in town. My pistolero friend verified that the M&P particularly is one of the softest shooting .40s made. Scot has tried a couple of others in .40 and not found anything else that doesn't have a sharp and difficult recoil impulse.
So, I'm back to one pistol for everything. I did put one of the solid apex triggers in (although none of the apex internals -- the 2.0 has a very nice trigger pull out of the box). My 1911s are in the safe and I miss carrying one very much. I keep trying to invent reasons to carry the 1911 again, perhaps in some different variant (like 9mm CCO because it is very concealable). But I keep coming back to the practicality and performance of what I'm doing now. My heart isn't in it, but my head sure is. To satisfy my heart a bit and try to balance things out, I drastically upgraded my daily carry knife to something with a great history and soul to it. But that's the subject of a different post...