The first custom 1911 I owned was tested at a Clint Smith class at Thunder Ranch Texas. It was a team tactics class and the pistol was a Springfield Armory customized by Bill Wilson before he created Wilson Combat.
A good friend sold it to me just for the class and it remains one of my favorite training experiences. It began a relationship with both the 1911 pistol and Thunder Ranch that continued for years.
Even after a couple decades or more, much of my doctrine for both the 1911 and its application stem from a base provided by Clint Smith and his staff. My current custom 1911 pistols remain similar to those Clint used and had built to his standards. He was also the first person I ever saw using very high dollar 1911s during his classes no matter the conditions. The look on students faces as he performed battlefield pickup drills in the rain with his then $6,000 hand engraved Les Baer was both priceless and educational.
Not all custom 1911s are artwork; many remain fighting tools. My recent test of the Erathr3 1911 built by Heirloom Precision is a perfect example of the same philosophy.
The Humble Beginning of Erathr3
Erathr3 is not some large corporate manufacturer building firearms in the thousands. Sheri Johnson and Sterling Becklin started Erathr3 in 2013 and it remains a small operation. Leaving Noveske after 9 years, Johnson is anything but new to the firearms industry. Looking to get back to the “garage days,” she teamed with former Noveske president Becklin to reach this new market — one less interested in a tactical edge, yet still in need of high quality products.
Meeting Johnson and Becklin served as an introduction to some of the most fun I have had on the range in a long time. Both are engaging, friendly, enthusiastic and great to be around. Neither of them takes themselves too seriously — the makings for a great few days.
The firearms is clearly in need of new ideas, and these guys are pushing that envelope. Not everyone is preparing for Armageddon, the zombie apocalypse or government collapse. Most people just want to have a good time with guns, and this event was a perfect example of that idea.
When I met with Becklin, he took me aside and shared his limited production 1911 pistol customized by Heirloom Precision. Not only was it impressively finished, it was built for work, and Clint Smith’s influence was immediately evident. Sterling asked me to really put it to the test so I obliged.
Jason Burton, the owner of Heirloom Precision, is one of the most highly sought after 1911 builders today. His work is renowned, which would explaining his current wait time measured in years. For many, a Burton build is the result of a lifetime of saving for a one-of-kind pistol. Each of his pistols are handcrafted to your specifications using the base gun of your choice. Such was the case with the Erathr3 1911.
As a staff instructor at Thunder Ranch Jason has been working with Clint Smith for years. It was while working an event involving Erathr3 this pistol was conceived. Sitting around the fire tossing ideas around resulted in a collaborative project based on Burton’s as well as Becklin and Johnson’s long-time experience with Smith. The result is a limited production pistol mirroring the specifications of Clint Smith’s personal rail gun built in 2013.
Becklin starts with a Springfield Armory slide and railed frame. Hand fit, the result is a smooth action with no unnecessary movement. The front strap is high cut and hand checkered at 30 LPI. A matching 30 LPI mainspring housing includes a lanyard loop. Beveling the magwell insures positive magazine exchanges while the extended beavertail safety insures a solid grip.
A Colt Commercial style thumb safety sits on the strong side. The short length solid aluminum trigger breaks cleanly and precisely at 4 pounds. Everything on the frame is smooth, evenly matched and hand formed for a perfect fit. Internals are tool steel and expertly tuned.
The top of the slide is flattened and serrated, and incorporates a Kart National Match .45 ACP barrel using a standard barrel bushing and guide rod. Serrations cover the rear of the slide including the extractor.
Perfectly matched, the extractor all but disappears into the slide. Serrations on the slide stop use a three-point curved arrow pattern facilitating solid operation and a subtle but striking look. Sharp edges are removed and each part is expertly contoured for a completely smooth pistol.
French bordering the top of the slide adds to the sleek and custom look. The front sight is matched and pinned to the slide and uses a tritium insert and serrations. The rear is modified for one-handed operations, serrated, black only, with a square notch. The entire pistol is coated in Ionbond, maybe the most durable and longest lasting gun finish available today.
In keeping with Smith’s philosophy and Becklin’s request, this pistol was checked for function with Federal 230 grain HST ammunition and placed in my Milt Sparks Nexus holster for every day carry. Used while testing other guns, it was fired every time I hit the range for several days. It remained my primary EDC handgun for a trip to Gunsite to work a 250 pistol class as well as a media event at the JL Bar Ranch in Texas. It only made it back into the safe after final testing using some of Browning’s new BPT ammunition.
Accuracy with this pistol was excellent, cutting one large hole from off hand at 7 yards. It opened up to a cluster performing the same drills at 10 and 15 yards. Moving to 25 yards using the FJ as a rest, it fired the 230 grain Federal HSTs into a tad over an inch. It was no less accurate with anything else for that matter. You kind of expect that from a hand built 1911, but it is not always the case. This pistol is as accurate as you can make a 1911 outside a purpose-built target weapon.
Function was flawless with both the personal defense and practice ammunition. Used as a secondary weapon during some rifle tests it worked well using one hand along with some less than conventional positions. Working from the FJ it was smooth to the draw and easy to maneuver around the truck. It inserted easily and drew smoothly from the Milt Sparks Nexus. This IWB holster holds my personal carry piece, has for years and the Erathr3 1911 felt right at home.
Becklin asked me to “rough it up,” so I tried, at least as much as I am willing to rough up and $8,500 pistol. Ionbond DLC is incredibly hard and durable, so Kydex, even during dusty and dirty days, did not seem to phase it. After completing all the testing it cleaned up like new.
Custom 1911s are certainly not for everyone, especially limited editions like the Erathr3. Most are not going to have $8,500 to spend on a pistol, but many do. In fact at last check all but two of these are pre-sold and the word has barely made it out.
Despite what many say there is a strong and growing market for hand built pistols, and the 1911 remains the best platform for this kind of work in a semi-auto. Wait times for most well-known Smiths is at least a year — as many as three.
Eratrh3’s 1911 is expertly built but remains a usable and practical fighting handgun. Everything about it fits into a philosophy revolving around use not storage. I can picture Clint Smith, or Sterling Becklin working this pistol hard in the rain, sun, snow or any other condition.
Erathr3 is a young company with new ideas that has tapped into the up-and-coming gun culture. At the same time they have the insight to listen to icons in the training industry like Smith and others. Its all about innovation but with a focus on the ability to use what they build. If this 1911 is any indication they are on the right track, so make sure you give them a solid look.
Overall Length 8.7 Inches
Barrel Length 5.0 inches
Width 1.28 Inches
Weight 39 ounces
Sights Custom rear / tritium front
Grips Erathr3 Custom
Magazine Capacity 8 rounds +1 (accepts all 1911 Full Size 45ACP magazines)
Caliber 45 ACP
Retail Price $8495.00
Speer Gold Dot 230 Grains 915 FPS 1.50”
Hornady HAP (steel) 230 Grain 877 FPS 1.48 “
Winchester Ranger SXT 230 Grains 900 FPS 1.38”
Federal HST Tactical 230 Grain 894 FPS 1.15
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by Pro Chrony Digital chronograph. Accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups at 25 yards.