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The fightin' .50 GI: for those who only use a .45 because a 50 isn't available

Article Publication Date: September 2005
Article Author: John Taffir
Article Source: GUNS Magazin

.50 GI - Overview

The .50 GI pistol cartridge was developed by Vic Tibbets and Alex Zimmermann of Guncrafter Industries. The .50GI was introduced at the 2004 SHOT Show which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada alongside the Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1 (a variation of the M1911). The round has a rebated rim that is the same diameter as that of the .45 ACP. This allows the larger cartridge to be chambered in an existing .45 ACP firearm by simply switching the barrel, rather than a full upper replacement.

An old preacher friend of mine used to drive around Texas with his Bible, naturally, and also a .45 Model 1911. Someone who did not understand Bibles and guns are not mutually exclusive asked, "Why in the world do you carry that .45?" The wise old preacher never missed a beat and replied, "Because they don't make a .50!" They didn't then, but they certainly do now, and if my old friend was still roaming around in his pickup, I would just wager that .45 would be replaced by the latest 1911-style semiautomatic, the Guncrafter Industries .50 GI.

Big-bore sixguns have been my passion for nearly half a century. In all that time the only easily packable big-bore semiautomatic has been the basic 1911.45 ACP and some of the double actions offered by Ruger and Smith & Wesson. Now, for the first time, I find I can have a truly bigger bore semiautomatic, with a hole in the end of the barrel that looks big enough for my old tomcat to live in,and have it be no larger, weigh no more and recoil no more than a standard .45 ACP Model of 1911. Think it can't be done? Read on!

No Magnum Here

The .50 GI is not in the Magnum class and works at the same pressures as the .45 ACE The cartridge uses the same rim size as the .45 ACP and a .45 shell holder can be used for reloading. This new brass is made by Starline and is ever so slightly shorter than a standard .45 ACE It is very strong brass, but should not be approached with a Magnum reloading attitude.

The "GI" in .50 GI has two meanings, the obvious connection to the government-issued 1911, which has served more than adequately in every American involved war since 1917, as well as being the initials for Guncrafter Industries. Alex Zimmerman is the president of Guncrafter Industries, and along with Victor Tibbetts is responsible for every Model 1 .50 GI that leaves the factory. Both are Master Gunsmiths with Zimmerman's background being that of a mechanical engineer, while Tibbetts came from Tibbetts Classic Customs where he specialized in high-end 1911 pistols. Zimmerman is no stranger to sixguns as he has won seven consecutive IDPA National Stock Revolver Championships. (Maybe it takes a real sixgunner to build a classic 1911 ?)

The Model 1, as the .50 GI is named, is a basic 1911 with external dimensions the same as a standard 1911. Although the .50 GI is the same size externally, the .50 top end will not fit on a standard 1911 frame as other modifications have been made to accept the .50 GI barrel and slide. However, it is possible to go the other direction as a .45 ACP conversion unit is available for the .50 GI frame.

According to Guncrafter Industries, the .50 GI weighs an easy packin' 40 ounces, and the trigger pull is rated at four pounds. I found the Model 1 weighed 40'A ounces and the RCBS trigger-pull scale reads 4 1/4 pounds. The trigger is creep free. The 5" match-grade barrel has a 1:18 twist and is matched up with a heavy-duty stainless steel seven-round magazine. Heinie Slant Pro Tritium sights are very easy to see, even with my seasoned eyes, and a secure feeling is afforded by olive-drab checkered aluminum grip panels mated with 20 LPI checkering on the front and back straps. An extended Tactical Thumb Safety is standard equipment as well as a beveled magazine well. In keeping with its heritage, the .50 GI has a Parkerized finish.

It Really Shoots

Zimmerman said I would find the .50 GI "very accurate" and he was definitely correct. All of the factory loads shot well, and one of my handloads using the factory 300-grain flatnose over seven grains of Hodgdon's Universal gave a muzzle velocity of 837 fps with five shots cutting one ragged hole at 20 yards off an Outer's Pistol Perch. I'll settle for that any day from an iron-sighted sixgun or semiauto. Guncrafler advertises the .50 GI as a "standard-sized 1911 with increased knockdown power." The accompanying chart not only shows a comparison of muzzle energies between the .50 GI and the .45 ACE but also shows the TKO (Taylor Knockout rating) for factory loads. The TKO is simply a system of rating big-bore cartridges that takes into account bullet diameter, which muzzle energy does not, The numbers mean nothing except 18.8 is much higher on the scale than 11.6.

Recoil? Nah!

What about recoil? Shooting a 40-ounce, .50-caliber pistol is not something normally approached lightly, however the felt recoil was much less than I expected. The factory 300-grain loads at 700 fps can best be described as very soft shooting with minimum recoil, while the top end 875 fps loads are on the same level as .45 ACP Ps when it comes to actual felt recoil. In shooting a 10mm 1911, I find the twisting torque of the recoil to be more punishing to my wrist than the straight back recoil of some of the bigger .50 caliber sixguns.

The .50 GI in a 1911 is much more pleasant to shoot than a 10ram 1911

Seat-Of-The-Pants - Over the past 25 years, I've been on the ground floor when it comes to reloading sixgun cartridges such as the .475 and .500 Linebaughs; the SuperMags and the .500 S&W Magnum, as well as the semiauto .460 Rowland, and the 9ram and 10ram Winchester Magnums. In every case I had nothing much more to work with except experience and common sense, as very little--if any--reloading information was published prior to my experiments. I expected to approach the .50 GI in much the same way until help came in the form of the QuickLOAD Internal Ballistic Program.

The QuickLOAD is a good reason for every reloader to have a computer. By plugging in the cartridge case, bullet, powder, charge weight, and barrel length, and then clicking on "Apply and Calculate" one has instant access to a chart and table showing many things including muzzle velocity and pressure in psi. It does not list every caliber, powder nor every jacketed bullet, but it comes very close, and it does list the .50 GI as well as two suitable bullets of 300 and 325 grains. By plugging in the factory .50 GI, I found the full-house 300 at 875 fps to be rated under 15,000 psi. I used this fact to plug-in loads I wanted to try using both the 300-grain GI factory bullets as well as the Speer 325-grain JHP designed for the .50 Action Express. All loads listed with this article are well under 15,000 psi except the earlier mentioned one-hole shooting load that comes in at 15,611 psi and the 325 Speer over 6.0 grains of Universal for 773 fps and 16,213 psi.

How close are the QuickLOAD figures to actual results? It predicted the 300-grain 1bullet over 7.0 grains of Universal would clock out at 842 fps and the 325 Speer over 6.0 grains of the same powder would do 781 fps. Actual figures turned out to be 837 fps and 773 fps respectively clocked over the ProChrono. When one considers differences in weather, powder lots, primers, and chronographs, this is exceptional accuracy. In the past I've always recommended every reloader should have at least three reloading manuals and check them against each other. The three-legged stool has now become a four-legged chair with the addition of QuickLOAD.

Reloading The .50 GI

I had four bullets for reloading the .50 GI, three factory bullets from Guncrafter, the 240-grain LSWC, 275 JHP, and the 300 FN, as well as Speer's 325 JHP. Rounds were assembled at approximately 1.250" OAL and checked to make sure they would fit the magazine. The Speer 325 is very wide-bodied and loads need to be checked carefully for feeding through the magazine before assembling a large amount. For powders, I used Alliant's Unique and Blue Dot, Hodgdon's TiteGroup, HP38, and Universal, and Accurate Arms No. 5. Cartridge cases are from Starline all primed with Federal 150 Large Pistol primers, and all loads were assembled with Lee .50 GI dies.

I earlier mentioned the accuracy of the 300-grain flatnose over 7.0 grains of Universal. Right behind this load is the Speer 325 grain JHP over 5.0 grains of TiteGroup or 9.0 grains of Blue Dot for an easy shooting 645 fps and 1" groups. A 325-grain bullet at 645 fps should be a dandy self-defense load. It shoots gently and accurately with a TKO rating of 15.

A Quality Pistol

While I was shooting the Model 1 GI another GI arrived on the scene, a returned veteran of the Iraq War. He asked if he could shoot the Model 1 and I was more than happy to oblige him. As he was popping small rocks and sticks at 35 yards he exclaimed, "Now this is one quality pistol!" I have to agree with him. There is absolutely no play between the slide and frame and no rattling noise coming from loose parts when vigorously shaken. The front of the slide locks in against the tapered barrel, and when the slide is manually moved rearward, it is possible to detect when the slide and barrel release from each other. I found it remarkable that the .50 GI performed flawlessly with every bullet shape from the 240-grain LSWC up to the 325 Speer and also operated with loads as light as 525 fps up to the fastest load of 922 fps.

Price-wise the .50 GI Model 1 is not cheap. Standard retail price with two magazines and packed in a Cordura case is $2,875. When compared to custom-built .45 ACP 1911s, this price is certainly not out of line and every .50 GI is in fact custom-built. Conversion units to .45 ACP are a very reasonable $365, and looking at it another way, for a total of $3,240, one has two custom-built 1911s. Reloading dies are offered by Guncrafter Industries at $75 for a four-die set, ammunition is $14.25 for 20 rounds, and Starline brass is a reasonably priced $33 per 100 cases. When one considers the expense involved in bringing a radical new pistol such as the Model 1 to fruition, none of these prices are out of line.

So what is the .50 GI good for? Self-defense? Most assuredly! Hunting? The Model 1 loaded with 300-grain bullets at 875 to 900 fps should make a Perfect Packin' Pig Pistol. A great added bonus is holes made by the .50 caliber in a target show up easily without resorting to binoculars. But probably the most important reason for the .50 GI's existence is it is simply highly enjoyable to shoot. Isn't that what it's all about?

In addition to the standard equipped Model 1 tested, shooters have a choice of adjustable sights, ambidextrous safety, and a hard-chrome finish. The Model 1 also can be ordered as a .45 and the .50 GI upper added later. The .45 Model 1 uses the same diameter barrel--3/4"--as the .50GI, resulting in a bull-barreled, easy shootin' .45. The .45 magazines are also of the same 410 stainless steel and constructed as heavy as the .50 GI's. A foolish man once said, "You cannot teach an old dog new tricks." He was wrong. This old dog has learned two new tricks, the enjoyment of shooting a .50 caliber 1911 and the convenience of an internal ballistic program. I haven't even begun to use the QuickTARGET external ballistic program that comes with QuickLOAD (707/747-0897, I predict very enjoyable days ahead.


Alex Zimmermann (CEO)
171 Madison 1510
Huntsville, AR 72740

Your Ammunition Resource - Last Updated - Nov 24, 2010 - 'The Fightin' .50GI

Document Keywords:.50 GI, .50, .50 Guncrafter Industries, Alex Zimmermann, Guncrafter Industries Model No. 1, .50 GI Conversion, Guncrafter Industries Model No.2

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