By Scott Smith
Firearms come and firearms go, and with that go changes in attitude. Many years ago, if you would have told me that I would brag about having a Les Baer Thunder Ranch over several of the factory custom 1911’s out there I would have called you crazy. Well I came across a deal on a used TR a couple years ago and have been giving it a serious road test ever since.
The LB Thunder Ranch Special started life as an out of the box blued TR. After a brief once over my personal tastes and likes came up with a few changes; the thin stocks that are spec’d out by Clint just did not feel right, and the front sight would glare out in bright or hazy sunlight since it is not serrated. The other thing, again a personal preference, an arched mainspring housings and mag wells – after all most magazines have mag pads so its not a conceal ability issue; I know the true traditionalist/martial artist will argue the need for mag wells or mag pads. Trust me, it’s not for my blinding sub one minute reloads that but pure vanity for the mag well. Fortunately, Brownell’s can solve all three problems with a phone call or a secure internet order.
So after the TR arrived with very little use, it was given a lot of scrutiny under the magnifying because there had to be something other than the previously mentioned items to complain about. Okay, the bluing was even, the 30 lpi checkering on the front strap was perfect save for a few dinged up diamonds from my regimental ring (US Army 75th Inf. Ranger). It has a crisp 5lb. trigger, no sharp edges, front and rear cocking serrations, nice extended safety and beavertail. Not bad, and for the $1100 I paid and a NIB MSRP of $1620 today, it’s a good deal.
After its thorough inspection, the only fault I found was that the pistol was very tight, to the point a GI press check could not be done. Well rumor has it that this does lead to a very accurate, but unreliable 1911. I had to check that theory. So it was off to the range with the TR and several boxes of ammo, including several reloads with various bullet designs. Yes the TR was tight, but it did not fail to shoot or cycle; and it was not magazine or ammunition sensitive, important points for a carry piece. After a couple more trips to the range and about two thousand rounds the pistol was loose enough to do a press check with no loss of accuracy. FWIW, offhand the pistol averages under 2.25” for eight rounds – more than good enough.
Okay, so what about the changes? Nothing major was done. Ahrends Green Diamond Stocks and hex head screws replaced the TR thin stocks. The 18lpi checkering makes these a great choice to aid in grip as did the new mainspring housing. The mainspring housing was replaced with an old Wilson AMSH/mag well that was in the parts box and is 20lpi. Trust me, the semi- modified TR does not move when fired.
For those aging eyes and since this is a carry/occasional IDPA pistol, I installed XS Sights, the 24/7 version. These are standard dot with a tritium front dot and rear tritium vertical bar for all weather/lighting conditions visibility. The XS 24/7’s are fast and accurate, at least they work well for me and a number of my shooting buds at distances out to 20+meters. Hits on 8” steel plates are no sweat and groups still ran around 2.25 – 3” at the same 20 meters. The bonus points of the sights are that they are fast.
After many trips to the range and being carried for many moons, the TR needed refinished, since it looked more like steel in the white than nicely blued. This was very easily accomplished thanks to KG Products and Gun Kote. Reader’s Digest version was just simply strip the remaining bluing, brush the frame/slide with fine steel wool, prep with alcohol to remove any oil, spray and bake. Total home refinish time was about two hours. Since the Gun Kote is applied with an airbrush the TR Logo and TRS engraving shows through on the slide. The finish has now been on the TR for two years and the only real wear is at the muzzle and leading edge of the ejection port from holster wear.
Overall the TR is well worth the money that is asked for it. It shoots well, the workmanship is excellent, and accuracy is more than what many shooters are capable of. Since it is a package pistol some things may not be exactly to your liking, but they are easily worked on at home by you or your local gun smith. The Les Baer Thunder Ranch Special is an unconditional buy.