Les Baer’s Custom Carry Commanche

A Sublimely Superior 10mm
109

When my daughter was about 10, she conspired with her mom to buy “The perfect hammer for Daddy.” I was doing a lot of remodeling, and she evidently heard me complain about the ill-fitting, unbalanced hammer I was using. She and her mom came up with a svelte (can you call a hammer svelte?), light but powerful hammer with an ergonomic wooden handle truly a joy to use. It moved effortlessly in my hands, driving nails, nudging boards into place and resting easily in a ring on my tool belt.

That was over 20 years ago. I’m proud to say it still rides in my tool belt today. When something is right, when it fits the hand and does the job asked of it in a given situation — it tends to stick with you. When I pull that hammer out to do a job, we’re old friends, and it acts as if it already knows what to do. I’m along for the ride, is all.

This Les Baer Custom Carry Commanche is like my hammer in more ways than the fact it can deliver a serious blow when called upon to do so. There’s something about a Les Baer Custom 1911 allowing them to stand apart from most others. While taking advantage of modern machine technology to help produce the frames and slides, the pistols themselves are still built the same way guns were built in the 1930s. All the work is done by hand, from draw-filing and hand checkering to that final hand polish — everything is done by eye, touch, feel — and experience.

To pick up this Commanche is to pick up something familiar. It’s as if it’s waiting to do your bidding. Perhaps it’s all that personal attention in its history? It’s become used to the interaction and isn’t content unless it’s riding where it belongs — in your hand.

The Foundation

“I try to chase quality — in everything,” Les told me on the phone. “Whether it’s the classic cars I love from ’65 to ’70 or the guns we build today, it’s all about doing it the best we possibly can.

“Think about those old cars for a minute,” he continued. “Who would have thought in 1965 you’d be able to go into a dealer today and buy a car putting out 700 horsepower, would handle like a dream, be more reliable than anyone could imagine back then, and in proportion, cost the same? In those days, it had to be all-custom, one-off builds, nothing repeatable, really, every one was different. A custom 1911 in the late 1970s was like that; each one built one at a time from a base gun. We used to peen the rails, weld barrels and all that to get a final product. Today, we do the same thing but take advantage of modern methods, blended with hand work, to get the sort of repeatable quality I personally strive for in each gun. That repeatable quality was always a bit of a challenge in the old days!” laughed Les.

Les hung his gunsmithing part-time in about ’76. He was an accomplished machinist working for a big company but decided, about 1983, to give gunsmithing a try full-time. The shingle got hung and Les went to work.

Besides building PPC revolvers and custom 1911s, Les said he built lots of TC contenders and XP100s for the silhouette crowd.

“It was a big part of my growing business,” he explained. “It was hot in those days, and people kept breaking guns as they explored what was possible. We could get those XPs to shoot well under an inch at 100 yards, so we were kept busy building them. By then, I was starting to have employees and we also built custom sporting rifles using Remington 700 base guns.”

Then, around ’86, Les went to an IPSC match and started to compete. He realized he had stumbled onto something very special.

“Then I started doing comp guns from scratch,” he said. “I was still building them into the early ’90s, but then the comp market took a dive since everyone started to compete with 5″ guns in the different categories. But by then, I was on track starting to do what we do today, so I concentrated on building our own guns rather than building on customers’ guns.”

Les said he’d consider around 1994 as the start of the style and quality of the guns he offers today. During the past 28 years since, the Baer name has landed in the top tier of the custom 1911 market. Baer guns are known literally the world over for their reliability, accuracy, style and predictable consistency. There are special forces and certain police teams located the world over carrying Les Baer Custom guns.

The 10mm Commanche

Our test gun is a new offering from the Baer shop and offers a sort of distilled list of features and benefits Les has learned work well together. From the 4.25″ slide to the full-sized frame and adjustable sight, this combination of parts, carefully assembled by a dedicated team, has yielded the same result my “best hammer” offers — feeling right at home in your hand.

Based on their Custom Carry model, it’s built with the shorter Commanche slide and barrel. It’s also chambered for the steam-roller 10mm cartridge rather than .45 ACP or 9mm. The difference in performance is significant, but the handling and controllability remain about the same, and that surprised me.

Les adds Rolo adjustable night sights, and I think that’s a critical part of this build. What you have is a powerful, easy-to-carry personal arm able to do multiple jobs, from defense to hunting to competition and more. Each job may require a different load, so you can dial the sights in for that light plinker recipe you reload, or the heavy Buffalo Bore bear or pig load. Taking advantage of the gilt-edged accuracy of this gun just makes sense.

A Les Baer National Match frame and slide (rear serrations only, thank you very much), stainless bushing, National Match barrel with supported chamber, Baer tactical ambi-safety, Baer “Speed Trigger” set to 4 lbs. and Baer deluxe hammer and sear help to build this dependable gun.
On a practical side, a beveled mag well, polished feed ramp and throated barrel, tuned extractor, Baer extended ejector, Baer checkered slide stop, lowered and flared ejection port and 30 LPI checkered front strap (checkered by hand, I might add) flesh out the Commanche. Each feature builds on the past as Les learned what works the best — period.

Final touches are the rounded corners to make carrying friendly, Baer premium checkered grips, flat serrated mainspring housing and two Baer premium 10mm magazines with base pads. All of this is blended by hand and results in a gun tuned to perfection, with virtually total reliability. I honestly can’t recall the last time any Baer auto I tested had any malfunction of any kind. No, really. I own a very early Thunder Ranch Special (a 5″ gun), and it shoots 4″ groups at 100 yards with iron sights. It’s gone to shooting schools many times over the years, loaned to students or carried by me. It has at least 20,000 rounds through it and I’ve never had a single issue — with anything.

Shooting

The Commanche is sheer delight to shoot. Since it’s not polymer or aluminum, the bit of extra weight helps to fend off the snappy recoil of the 10mm. It honestly feels little more than a hot .45 ACP and I found it easy to shoot long strings of 50 or 100 rounds with no trouble at all. There was no bite, no faltering and no issues at all except for an unerring ability to shoot tiny groups at every range I tried it at.

Today’s ammo makers are supplying a wide range of 10mm loads, from light plinking loads to heavy 180s at 1,350 fps in various bullet configurations, including hard cast lead. I put five loads through this gun and all shot outstanding groups.

I ran the ammo over a chronograph and grouped them. The 180 Federal Trophy Bonded JSP clocked 1,220 fps, the SIG V-Crown 180 JHP did 1,184 fps, the hot DoubleTap 125 Barnes TAC-XP slammed 1,458 fps, and the interesting Buffalo Bore hard cast 180 delivered an impressive 1,358 fps. I’d call the BB load prime material for game.

Buffalo Bore also delivered the best group, with a solid 0.75″ at 25 yards. Les sent a “no name” branded 180-grain FMG FP load with the gun he uses in test-firing and much to my surprise, it delivered 1.3″ at 25 yards — for 10 shots! I had one “flyer,” and if I didn’t count it, those 10 shots would have landed into one ragged hole of just at 1″, with iron sights, a semi-blind shooter (me), all at 25 yards. That’s marvelous accuracy and it’s always a bit of an indulgence to have a gun shoot like that in your hands.

For fun, I plinked at a steel torso target I keep at 80 yards here. I got the range using the unmarked load, then landed five consecutive shots into the head area of the target. That group was in the 6″ range, but please keep in mind I have old eyes. I suspect scoped (which I’ll do later), this gun would do sub-3″ groups at 100 easily. I’ve done it before with Baer guns and am confident this one shoots like a rifle too. Simply splendid performance. It really does make you look good.

A Final Thought

Full MSRP for this gun is $3,390 with all the fixings. Our test sample is hard chromed — which I think looks swell — adding $300 to the total. Now listen, you can’t build a custom 1911 for $3,300, and at this price, remember the Commanche is a custom 1911. But you get the benefit of decades of experience, savvy craftsmen and the ability to incorporate parts and techniques proven in the real world for years. Les knows what works and how to make an accurate 1911. Take advantage of that.

For more info, visit LesBaer.com

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner May/June 2023 Issue Now!