The Carolina Arms Group 1911

Firepower, Elegance, Refinement

Will Dabbs MD
Photos: Sarah Dabbs

Timex makes superb timepieces. Their watches are built in a variety of plants in a variety of countries from quality materials using state of the art automated processes. They are sold in blister packs at Wal-Mart and at one point one in three watches in America was a Timex. Their wristwatches do a fine job of keeping time.

Rolex watches are built in a single high-security facility in Switzerland under conditions of almost diagnosably compulsive quality control. They smelt their own gold, process their own gems, and pressure test every single dive watch in a pressurized water tank. Many to most of their manufacturing processes are still done by hand and a single Rolex watch requires a full year to produce. Their wristwatches also do a fine job of keeping time.

Both company’s machines will reliably inform you that you are late for a dinner date with your bride. I myself proudly wore a Timex watch for years. So did the guy who picked up my garbage. A Rolex, however, is seldom to be found gracing the wrist of the common man.

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The Carolina Arms Group Trenton 1911 pistol is a refined combat
tool for the discriminating gunman. Hand built and meticulously
crafted, the CAG Trenton is top-end defensive firepower.

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The aggressively sculpted and indestructible synthetic grips
offer proper purchase without abrading your skin unduly.

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The chain link treatment to the frontstrap and flat mainspring housing
is imprinted with a ball end mill and then hand sanded until perfect.
The resulting surface is coarse enough for proper purchase without
being so abrasive that is tears up your hand at high round counts.

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The front sight on the CAG Trenton incorporates a fiber optic insert.
The rear sight is no snag and low profile with ridges to help cut down glare.

A Nation of Gunmen

It is at least theoretically possible to carry a gun for protection in all 50 states. As a nation, we have grown justifiably weary of walking defenseless in the face of criminals and terrorists and have finally begun to exercise our Second Amendment rights as the founders intended. In short, we Americans are becoming a nation of gunmen.

American industry has responded with verve and churns out plastic defensive handguns in a variety of calibers, configurations, actions, and hues. They are reliable, powerful, and relatively cheap. Additionally, even a century after its introduction, factories produce scads of Information Age versions of the timeless 1911 in an effort at sating our apparently limitless appetites for the things. However, if you want to carry like you really mean it, there yet remains a certain 1911 pistol intended specifically for the gunman of distinction.

Carolina Arms Group (CAG) is a boutique arms maker. They make a single gun exceptionally well. The obvious starting point is John Moses Browning’s inimitable 1911.

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You can have any color you want as long as it is either silver or black.
Carolina Arms Group makes a single handgun very well.

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The conventional barrel bushing and full-length guide rod of the
CAG Trenton contribute to its outstanding accuracy potential.

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The fit and finish of the CAG Trenton 1911 is literally perfect.
The oversized beavertail grip safety is flawlessly executed.

Details

If you are savvy enough to be reading this, you are already familiar with the basic characteristics of the 1911 pistol. I’ll spare you the rehash. CAG’s interpretation of this storied classic is rendered in a single proven chassis. They will indeed build you a shortened Commander in either .45 ACP or 9mm if you ask them to. However, their forte is the standard 5″ government model. You get to pick whether the gun is left bare or blackened but otherwise there are no good or better grades. Best is the only thing that leaves their facility.

Hand-filed, stone-lapped, meticulously fitted and test-fired, the Carolina Arms Group Trenton 1911 is crafted one gun at a time in their Mooresville, N.C. factory. Slides and frames are perfectly interfaced and triggers are individually tuned. The front strap and flat mainspring housing are dimpled for proper purchase when sweaty or rushed in a manner the company calls chain linking. This process involves a geometric milling using a specific ball end mill. These surfaces are then carefully sanded in the manner of a shoeshine to remove any residual roughness. The end result is a surface that is easy to grab and retain without abrading your skin unduly at high round counts.

The safety and slide release are extended and tuned. The ejection port sports the obligatory lowering and flare. Sights are no-snag and include a fiber optic insert up front. Triggers are expectedly crisp, adjustable, and perfect. The beavertail grip safety is a proprietary design and a bit wider than normal.

There is not a lot of superfluous fluff on CAG guns. Rails are handy for certain applications but this is a traditional gun designed for traditional use and subsequently eschews them. The gun is uncluttered such that it slides in and out of a holster without a fuss.

With the exception of the grips, sights, and fire controls (hammer, trigger, disconnector, and sear), every other component of the weapon is produced in the Carolinas. Cylinder & Slide provides the fire controls to their recognized level of mechanical perfection. CAG has five full time gunsmiths on staff to produce their guns. The goal is for each smith to produce a single gun each day. Sometimes they don’t quite get there. These weapons are hand-built in the truest sense of the term and produced, like Rolex watches, at their own deliberate pace.

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The rear sight is no snag and drift adjustable for windage.

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We ran the Carolina Arms Group Trenton 1911 with everything we
could find. Whether the ammo was high-end defensive loads, cheap
steel cased blasting ammo, bulk training ball, or old funky reloads,
the CAG Trenton ate everything we fed it without a hiccup.

Taking Her Out for a Spin

There were no surprises on the range. We expected a superb performance and the CAG Trenton 1911 delivered. While all steel-framed guns should be shot a lot before they are carried, 500 rounds is a good starting point, the Trenton never hiccupped while we transformed a whole pile of ammo into noise.

The Trenton is markedly more accurate than am I. This is not self-deprecation. With half a century under my belt I find myself solidly smitten with Presbyopia and a grizzled veteran of Lasik surgery. I can read 20/15 at distance but my near vision is simply shot. Focusing on the front sight is no longer a viable option. As such, my goal is no longer confluent clusters of holes. I strive to shoot quickly and keep all my rounds in a pie plate at typical engagement ranges. The Trenton shoots lots better than do I.

Running the gun is like taking a long walk with an old dear friend. The experience reminds you of all the reasons you began the relationship so many years ago in the first place. The gun doesn’t need interchangeable backstraps or soft polymer inserts. A1911 drops into the hand via that same benevolent voodoo as a Colt Single Action Army. Both guns look anatomically alien yet they ride in the palm with a degree of comfort that is otherwise inexplicable.

Recoil is unambiguous but not unpleasant. Magazines plummet freely, smoothly, and consistently. Dropping the slide on a fresh mag is like breathing, eating, or tying your shoes. Do it for a while and it no longer requires conscious thought. The trigger is crisp and tight but we would expect no less.

We shot everything we could scrounge through the CAG gun. Hollowpoints of various pedigrees, ball ammo nestled within cases both steel and brass, and even a few raw lead handloads for flavor—the CAG Trenton consumed all these rounds as enthusiastically as we Southern folk might eat fried chicken, collard greens, or grits. Though you really should run half a case or so through a steel-framed gun before declaring it street-ready, the CAG Trenton performed flawlessly from the start.

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Here are some typical 25-meter groups. The CAG Trenton is a refined
and accurate rendition of John Browning’s classic 1911 pistol.

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Whether it is the unconditional love of our farm dog, Dog, or the
uncompromising reliability of the Carolina Arms Group Trenton 1911,
some things are adequate to stake your life upon.

Epilogue

Mark McCoy, the head bottle washer at Carolina Arms Group, was himself the director of the quality department at a familiar large handgun manufacturer for several years after he retired from the Navy. During this time he realized he suffered from an incurable addiction to 1911 pistols. Determined to produce a product over which he had complete control, he started Carolina Arms Group with the intent of producing the finest custom 1911 pistols on the planet. Like a Rolex or a Ferrari, every single piece is tweaked, fitted, and perfected without much concern for what it costs.

On that subject, CAG guns are not cheap. While they won’t set you back as much as a genuine Rolex watch, they are in the same ballpark. This is not the gun you pick up on a whim from a pile of beater pistols at your local gun show. The CAG Trenton is the 1911 you aspire to own. If fate smiles upon you and you accumulate the assets in life to appreciate some of the finer things, this is the gun with which you treat yourself to commemorate that fact. In addition to world-class reliability, obsessive quality control, and optimized everything, the CAG Trenton brings along a certain pride of ownership not found with box store guns.

There is certainly a place in life for guns costing half or even a quarter of what one of these beauties might. I own and use such weapons literally every day. I enjoy their performance and stake my life on their reliability. I understand such guns and they understand me. However, as I get older I have come to appreciate the siren’s song of mechanical perfection.

It has been said that those who might disparage the possession of a Rolex watch have never actually owned a Rolex watch. That axiom applies in spades to the rarefied circles within which the Carolina Arms Group orbits. The CAG Trenton 1911 s a hand built piece of precision machinery that has been imbued with genuine love and intimacy from artisans wielding jeweler’s files. The heft is perfect and the action is silky smooth. For an unwashed backwoods redneck like me, running one is like taking a Ferrari out for a spin.

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7 thoughts on “The Carolina Arms Group 1911

  1. George Bill

    I have been around many folks who had Rolex Watches. I myself drove a Ferrari, at 26, ” I worked for it, started at $65 dollars a week, and was hand picked by someone who could spot talent to run his businesses.
    Point is, Rolex watches keep lousy time, my Partner has a “President “with the diamond Bezel, his wife has the same, and 3 other friends have Presidents, Mariners, and the stainless, less expensive watch. None of them keep time as well as my inexpensive, Samsung, digital watch, or my microwave.
    Also back in the 60’s I met a “bad man” who told me that he was from a poor family, and worked his way into a very high place in the bad things business, and he told me the story of his Rolex, it seems he always wanted one when he had nothing but a 10 dollar Timex, finally after getting it 20 years later, he said it had gone back 5 times and still wouldn’t keep time, so be careful what you dream about, my Ferrari was the biggest piece of crap I ever owned as a car.

    1. Larry Blackmon

      Yep, a nice looker, but my RIA Tac II runs just fine thank you. I shoot it and leave my Les Baer in the safe.

  2. plumbob

    I drove a Ferrari twice, it belonged to a friend who rented it to the movie studios. It was so loud inside that I couldn’t hear the radio. It was also one of the most uncomfortable rides I’ve been in, my Mazda Miata was more comfortable. However the Ferrari was one of the fastest cars I ever drove and cornered like it was on rails.
    I have a Colt Combat Commander and carried it for several yearsintil I read an article about a fellow who had to use his 1911 to defend himself and his wife. Even though no charges were filed against him his gun was confiscated and and several years later he still hasn’t got it back. I now carry one of the ubiquitous black guns in 45 ACP in case I find myself in similar circumstances.

  3. George H Hill

    And what does any of that have to do with a 1911 pistol? It’s just an example – a metaphor of quality.
    Having shot several Carolina Arms Group pistols – these are completely awesome handguns made by hand, with high attention to detail, with the highest quality of parts… Not even Wilson or Nighthawk are doing it like CAG is doing it anymore.
    So you pooping on the Metaphor used – it’s like you are pooping on the guns. And that’s just not right. If you’ve not fired a CAG 1911, then you really just don’t know what you are talking about here.

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