Ithaca Gun Company 1911

Returning to the Fold

Reviewed by Harwood Loomis for M1911,ORG

Nearly seven decades ago, the United States found itself an active participant in a bit of international unpleasantries otherwise known as World War 2. One of the truisms about fighting wars on a large scale and on multiple fronts is that you need guns … lots and lots of guns. The standard, military issue sidearms for the United States Army, Marines, and Navy had been the M1911 (and M1911A1) since … well, since 1911. However, the United States had not purchased any significant numbers of M1911A1 pistols since the year 1924, when 10,000 pistols were purchased from Colt.

When the United States found itself immersed in World War 2, fighting one well-equipped and determined enemy in Europe and another well-equipped and determined enemy in the Pacific, it needed to procure a lot of weapons, quickly. Other than some M1911 models procured during World War 1 from Springfield Armory (the original, government Springfield Armory) and from Remington UMC, Colt had been the sole source for M1911s and M1911A1s. As production ramped up quickly to support the war effort, it became evident that Colt alone could not supply enough M1911A1 pistols to meet the need. The government responded by issuing contracts to several other companies to manufacture the M1911A1 pistol.

Among the companies asked to produce the venerable M1911A1 was the equally venerable Ithaca Gun Company. In fact, the Ithaca Gun Company was founded in 1883 and significantly pre-dated the design and adoption of the M1911 pistol. Further, although the Ithaca Gun Company was a maker of sporting shotguns rather than military handguns, they were unique among the several additional M1911A1 contractors recruited by the United States in that they were the only company among the “new guys” with any experience whatsoever manufacturing firearms. An interesting historical footnote is that Ithaca had its own relationship with John M. Browning, who had designed for them a pump-action shotgun adopted in 1937 as the Model 37.

An Ithaca M1911A1, issued to the U.S. Navy. Photo courtesy of John Holbrook

Between 1943 and 1945 the Ithaca Gun Company produced approximately 335,467 M1911A1 pistols. When the war ended, Ithaca reverted to producing high quality sporting shotguns and never ventured into the commercial handgun market.

Until 2010. Despite constant criticism that the M1911/M1911A1 is an outdated, outmoded anachronism of a handgun, there is probably no other single model or type of handgun in history that has had as many sold, or that has been produced by as many different companies. The marketplace appears immune to the critics’ opinions, because while the 1911 is being written off by the self-styled experts, more and more companies are entering production of 1911 pistols. Although 2010 saw the exit of one well-respected brand (from the 1911 market and from the firearms market overall), at least four new makers of 1911s have joined the hunt.

And one of the “new” makers of 1911 pistols is none other than the Ithaca Gun Company. Ithaca has gone through a series of name changes in the years since the end of World War 2, but as of 2007 the company is once again known as the Ithaca Gun Company. Seeking to expand their product line, Ithaca decided to enter the commercial handgun market by introducing a line of 1911 handguns. These are not and will not be reproductions of the World War 2 M1911A1. The new Ithaca 1911 is a modern (as modern as can be found with a 1911) rendition of a high-end, commercial 1911.

An Ithaca M1911A1, issued to the U.S. Navy. Photo courtesy of John Holbrook

The new Ithaca 1911 – A thoroughly modern rendition, not a warmed-over reproduction

Looking it Over

The new Ithaca 1911 is a full-size pistol with a 5-inch barrel and slide. In setting out to join the already crowded field of 1911 manufacturers, the Ithaca Gun Company set the bar for themselves quite high. Their goal was not to compete in the entry level market, but to create a high-quality 1911 pistol that would reflect Ithaca’s long heritage of manufacturing fine firearms. The new pistol includes just about all the features most buyers of high-end 1911s seem to want:

  • Lowered and flared ejection port
  • Checkered front strap (20 lpi, truncated)
  • Front cocking treatment (front and rear slide treatment is truncated 20 lpi checkering rather than serrations)
  • Full-length guide rod
  • White-dot sights
  • Flattened, serrated slide top surface
  • Lightened, “combat” hammer
  • Beavertail grip safety with palm swell
  • Light-weight aluminum trigger with over-travel screw
  • Extended, ambidextrous thumb safety
  • Extended slide stop paddle
  • Billet 4140 CNC machined frame & slide
  • Precision ground slide to frame fit
  • Custom sear & hammer
  • Rail areas treated for increased wear and lubricity
  • Custom fitted barrel bushing

Each and every one of these features is executed to extremely high standards of craftsmanship and finish.

The lowered and flared ejection port, and the serrated flattop slide

Checkered front strap

Front cocking treatment (20 lpi checkering)

Rear cocking treatment (20 lip checkering)

Sights are white dot, “combat” style sights. The front sight is dovetailed, not staked.

Lightweight aluminum trigger

The Ithaca uses a barrel bushing rather than a bull barrel setup, but the barrel bushing flange is not in the standard pattern. It is shaped to echo the profile of the front of the slide, yet (cleverly) it doesn’t try to match it all around, eliminating much of the potential for an unsightly mismatch.

Custom barrel bushing flange

And the clever folks at Ithaca even provided an anodized aluminum bushing wrench made to fit their special bushing flange. And the opposite end is shaped to fit a standard bushing flange. (For what it’s worth, while the barrel bushing fit smoothly and snugly, we did not need the bushing wrench to field strip the pistol.)

The provided barrel bushing wrench, to fit the proprietary bushing shape

Both the thumb safety and the slide stop use extended paddles. In an interesting nod to historical “flavor,” the base portion of the thumb safety pad is not the typical “teardrop” style but appears to have been modeled after the military M1911A1 style, with the extended paddle added.

Extended thumb safety and slide stop

Right side safety

The grip panels are very nicely executed half-checkered wood, customized with the iconic “Ithaca” name in script

The Ithaca 1911 was executed by master craftsmen, using custom touches and flourishes usually found only on full-custom firearms. Notably, all the checkering is well-cut at 20 lines-per-inch, but then they took the additional step of just barely flattening the tips of the pyramids, eliminating the “cheese grater” effect that makes me dislike checkering so intensely. The flattened checkering offers a secure grip where it’s needed, but doesn’t flay the skin off your hand while shooting or while cleaning the pistol.

Beyond that, an incredible number of surfaces on this pistol are jeweled. (For those readers who are more attuned to hot rods than expensive firearms, think “engine turning.”) This includes both the barrel and the full-length guide rod (the entire lengths of both), the flats of the hammer, and the entire side surfaces of both magazines.

The magazines, by the way, are not cheap, “no name” units. They are Wilson Combat ETM magazines, with polymer followers and removable polymer base pads.

Even the case in which the pistol arrived bespeaks quality. No cardboard or blow-molded plastic here. The Ithaca arrived in a beautiful, fitted, fabric covered and felt-lined gun case. The lock is a luggage-quality, polished brass sliding lock. The magazines and the bushing wrench reside in a fitted compartment with a felt-covered lid. The only word that seems to fit is “exquisite.” This is a gun case that would be suitable for the finest firearm, in any drawing room or smoking lounge of an earlier period in history.

The Ithaca 1911 breaks down for cleaning in the normal fashion. Although it uses a one-piece full-length guide rod, the tip is recessed just enough to allow the recoil spring plug to be depressed and turned in the standard manner so the barrel bushing can be turned to facilitate removal of the recoil spring plug.

How does it Shoot?

When the Ithaca arrived in the shop at the range, the crew were awestruck. I started hearing comments about how beautiful the gun was days before I was able to get to the range and see it for myself. Naturally, the range owner and his staff wanted to see what it was like to shoot such a pistol, and I had to resort to threats of no more Big Macs or donuts if they shot it and got any of the jewelling scratched up before I could take photographs. (As it turned out, thanks to a camera malfunction I had to re-shoot several of the photos, after I had turned the hounds loose to try it out. It is a tribute to how well fitted and timed the pistol is that after several people had put 200 or 300 rounds through it, there wasn’t a mark on the barrel hood!)

Consequently, I was the last to have a chance at live fire with the Ithaca. The other lads had all the fun – I’m the guy who has to shoot each pistol off a rest and try to wring as much accuracy as possible out of each gun. For anyone who thinks being a “gun writer” must be a fun gig, take it from me: It has its moments, but the accuracy portion of testing is NOT among them. Generally, while we usually have plenty of plinking ammo, we don’t usually have large quantities of some of the ammo we shoot. To make matters worse, in my case Chris’ range is an indoor, underground facility. Although the lighting consists of rows of floodlights at the 25-foot, 50-foot, and 75-foot lines, the level of illumination can never hope to equal that of natural sunlight outdoors. On the Friday I arrived to shoot the accuracy tests with the Ithaca, I was dismayed to discover that during the combat shoot the night before somebody had shot out nearly half the lights at the 75-foot line. Consequently, while I wasn’t exactly shooting by the Braille method … it was close to it.

I generally hate it when gun writers report abysmal accuracy and then state with complete certainty that the gun will do better. In this case, though, I think it is fair to say that. I don’t think my results were “abysmal,” but I do think that from a Ransom rest or in better lighting the results would have been even better. Nonetheless, the following are my results:

I am not a bullseye shooter and I have no real use for semi-wadcutter ammunition. Nonetheless, I recognize that some of our readers are bullseye shooters, and that bullseye shooters often shoot semi-wadcutter ammunition. The serious competitors undoubtedly load their own ammunition, and we are not prepared to start handloading batches of custom ammo for our testing. But a mail order/Internet sporting goods company I have dealt with usually sells Ultramax 200-grain lead semi-wadcutter (remanufactured) ammunition, and I try to keep a couple of boxes on hand specifically to assess its performance through test pistols.

In the case of the Ithaca, I was disappointed to find that my 200-gr LSWC ammunition simply would not feed ... at all. It didn't matter if I released the slide using the slide stop lever, "slingshotted" the slide and released it, or pulled the slide back and tried to "ride" it into battery. Regrettably, although it handled everything else we threw at it with zero problems, it simply would not feed the LSWC cartridges. The stoppages were not failures to return to battery; they were failures to feed. The cartridge never made it into the chamber.

As disappointing as this was to encounter, at least for me it would not affect my decision whether or not to buy an Ithaca 1911. The reason is practicality. The pistol handled everything else that several different shooters put through it on several different days, without a single hiccup. 200-grain lead semi-wadcutter is, in this writer's opinion, a "specialty" round. It isn't something that most people would keep around for use as a plinking round. It is primarily a bullseye round, and (to a lesser extent, to my understanding) a hunting round. The test pistol has fixed sights. Anyone setting up a 1911 for either serious bullseye competition or hunting would almost certainly have the rear sight changed to an adjustable sight, or possibly an "optical" sight (a red dot or reflex sight of some type). At the same time the sights were being changed, the gunsmith could tune the pistol to feed lead semi-wadcutter ammunition.

Once I had the accuracy portion of my testing out of the way, I was able to join the other gentlemen from the range staff in shooting for enjoyment, just to see how the Ithaca handled. And it handled very well indeed, as might be expected of a high quality, full-size 1911 pistol. In offhand shooting it fed smoothly and cycled reliably, with predictable recoil. The trigger pull when we opened the box was approximately 3-3/4 pounds with about 1/16-inch of initial take-up, followed by a very clean, crisp break with absolutely no detectable creep whatsoever. The pull weight did not change appreciably after shooting, which tells me that the sear and hammer were properly prepared and mated from the factory and didn't have to "wear in" before the trigger pull could stabilize.

Shooting freehand from 25 feet, using a two-handed grip, I shot at some round targets with an outer ring 7 inches in diameter. I found I was consistently able to keep all (or perhaps all but one) in the 7-inch ring firing moderately quickly, and more than half the rounds were clustered inside the 4-inch ring. The Ithaca was easy and comfortable to shoot rapidly, coming back on target smoothly and quickly.


Does the world really need yet another 1911 manufacturer in a crowded market? I don't pretend to know. The people at the Ithaca Gun Company apparently think so, and they have jumped into the pond with both feet. Their first offering is an incredibly well-executed, premium grade 1911 that would make any owner proud to display in his living room or gun cabinet, and it shoots just as well as it looks. While other companies new to the 1911 market have aimed their initial offerings at the lower end of the price scale, Ithaca chose to appeal to the opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, it is entirely possible that this pistol may be so nicely executed that it will create its own market.

Mike Farrell of Ithaca described their thinking in regard to this pistol as follows:

"The goal was to build/offer an out of the factory 1911 to meet or exceed the National Match standards. Most shooters looking for this level of a firearm will spend thousands of dollars not only acquiring the firearm but thousands more on having all the parts fitted/replaced by either a gunsmith or thru a factory custom shop. With our machining expertise that was our goal and not have to hand fit every part. It costs more to hold the tolerances of a part then to just open them up then hand fit them later. This model will be for the discerning buyer that appreciates a quality American made product."

But Ithaca is not counting on selling huge numbers of this model to justify their entry into the 1911 market. ("Re-entry" would not be quite the appropriate word, inasmuch as Ithaca never sold their WW2 M1911A1s on the commercial market.) This pistol is their initial offering, but they anticipate releasing at least one other model before the end of the year, with a target price point in the $900 - $1200 range. At $3,499 the test model would be out of this humble writer's price range, but if Ithaca can carry over the same build quality and component quality in a more competitively-priced model, I suspect they will find a long line of prospective buyers who can force themselves to make do without the jeweled barrel, guide rod and hammer and be satisfied to have an extremely well-made pistol that is manufactured completely in the United States.

Ithaca - Welcome back!


The M1911 Pistols Organization would like to thank Mike Farrel and the Ithaca Gun Company for allowing us the opportunity to review this beautiful pistol. It's going to be a struggle to put it back in the shipping box and return it to its home. However, we have been promised that we'll be given an opportunity to report on future models, so we'll look forward to that.

As always, we are indebted to Chris Dogolo and his crew (Mike, Charlie and Keith) at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range for their cooperation and assistance in encouraging our testing program. It's a wonderful thing to not have to be concerned about the weather when trying to evaluate a firearm within a relatively short time. And I can't think of another commercial range that (when not extremely busy, of course) will shut down an entire half of the range to make it available for our testing.

Especially in these times of scarce ammunition and rising prices, having enough ammunition to conduct a meaningful test is always a problem. We at M1911.ORG wish to extend our thanks to Sellier & Bellott and to the Federal Cartridge Company for providing some of the ammunition consumed in the evaluation of this pistol.

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Caliber: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45 Auto
Overall Length:. . . . . . . . . . 8.63" (219.2 mm)
Overall Height:. . . . . . . . . . 5.63" (143.0 mm) (w/ magazine)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.19” (131.8 mm) (w/o magazine)
Overall Width: . . . . . . . . . . 1.31" (33.3 mm)
Barrel Length: . . . . . . . . . . 5" (127.0 mm)
Sight Radius: . . . . . . . . . . . 6.50" (165.1mm)
Sights: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . White dot, Combat-style (non-adjustable)
Weight w/empty magazine: . . 40.0oz (1.14 kg)
Magazine Capacity: . . . . . . . 8 rounds
Grips: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Half-checkered, Walnut
Finish: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Blued (Polished flats, matted rounds)
MSRP: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $3,499


Ithaca Gun Company
420 North Warpole Street
Upper Sandusky, OH 43351

Telephone: 1-877-6ITHACA (1-877-648-4222)
Fax: 419-294-3230


Sellier & Bellot USA Incorporated
Shawnee Mission, KS 66207-0307

Tel: (800) 960-2422
Fax: (229) 723-8748

Web Site:

Federal Cartridge Company
900 Bob Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303

Tel: (763) 323-2300

Web Site:

Range Facilities:

Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437
Tel: 203-453-1570