Preventing 1911 Hammer Follow

"Hammer Follow" is when the hammer falls simultaneously with the release of the slide when initially charging the 1911. When it occurs, unless special steps are taken, the gun will fire. (An important safety rule is to always keep the muzzle of the gun pointed in a safe direction.)

It may occur for several reasons, all of which should be attended to or at least addressed by a competent gunsmith after looking at your gun.

But there is something that can be done to avoid it in the first place and yet still find out that the gun needs attention. It is a procedure to follow when charging the weapon. It only takes a couple of repetitions to memorize the sequence of steps and it precludes any possibility of hammer follow while still letting you discover when it *would* have happened so you can have the gun attended to as needed.

The following procedure appears to be long and detailed but, in practice, it takes less than a second to do and ensures a better degree of safety.

Here is the procedure.

  1. Start with the gun unloaded, magazine out and slide locked back.
  2. Grasp the gun normally and with your trigger finger outside of the trigger guard.
  3. Depress the magazine release button and insert the magazine to full depth before releasing the buttom. This gentle insertion process avoids wear on the magazine catch.
  4. Assuming a right-handed shooter, use your left (non-shooting hand's) thumb to reach up under the rear of the slide and hold the hammer in the cocked position.
  5. Using the left (non-shooting) forefinger, release the slide by pressing down on the slide stop in the normal manner. The slide will rack forward above the thumb while it (the thumb) holds the hammer and prevents its fall.
  6. Continue holding the hammer with the thumb. (If the hammer would have "followed" the slide, the thumb is now the only thing keeping the gun from accidentally firing. In that case, you just prevented an accidental discharge!)
  7. Move the left fore-finger from the slide stop to directly in front of the hammer to preclude the hammer's striking of the firing pin in case it is off the sear (and would have "followed").
  8. Ease up the hammer with the left (non-shooting hand's) thumb and verify it stays in a cocked position.

There is a variant on this procedure that is sometimes recommended. It is claimed that the refinement prevents excess wear on the hammer/sear faces. However, there is also suspicion that the refinement has also led to some accidental discharges when the procedure was incorrectly followed and a "hammer follow" occurred. Opinions vary and you'll have to judge for yourself whether or not to add the refinement.

In this variant (refined) sequence, *after* holding the hammer with the off-thumb, move the trigger finger inside the guard and fully depress the trigger. (It is important to now note that the thumb holding the hammer is the *only* "device" preventing the gun from firing from this point forward. Hence, the debate on this procedure.)

Continue the previously described steps until after the slide has been released. At that point (with the hammer still being held by the non-shooting hand's thumb, release the trigger. Then finish the sequence as described.

The advantage of this refinement is that the hammer and sear are separated when the slide is allowed to rack forward and that impact does not "bounce" the hammer and sear faces against each other.

The disadvantage is, of course, if this more involved sequence is not followed correctly, the gun may fire. And even if it is done correctly and it is discovered that the hammer has "followed" (and been captured by the non-shooting hand's forefinger), the reason for the "follow" could be a defect in the gun or a defect in the shooter's procedure in following these steps. With the refinement, we're left in doubt about where the defect resides. We don't know if it's the gun or the shooter who is at fault.

Personally, pulling the trigger when I'm not ready to shoot just plain gives me the "heeby-jeebies." So, I follow the safety dictate that says the trigger finger should remain off the trigger (and outside the trigger guard) until ready to fire. If it is true this increases wear and tear on the sear/hammer contact surfaces and that I'll need another trigger job sooner, then so be it.

Finally, some say that the gun should be charged by pulling the slide back and allowing it to rack forward (rather than by using the slide stop to release it as has been described here). While I do not disagree with the advantages of this approach (primarily less wear and tear on the slide stop but also more "natural" feeding of the first round), with only two hands I haven't been able to work out a sequence that manually holds the hammer while ensuring a firm grasp of the gun while doing this.

So, again, I opt for the first procedure described above and accept the possibility of more wear and tear on the gun as the "cost" of safety.

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© Copyright 2005 by Ed Skinner
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Revised: 14 August 2007