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The 2017 West Point Barbecue Gun July 2017
Dan Martinez  

After graduating from “Hogwarts on the Hudson”, Sam had about a month off before he had to show up at Fort Benning in Georgia to begin his Armor officer’s course.

A couple of days after coming home on leave, he called his brother Ben and I into the family room to give us a gift. “A gift? What for?” He said it was for Father’s Day and for Ben’s “half-birthday”. Huh?

As Ben and I together started slicing open the wrapping paper, the box was revealed to be the type that ten 500-count reams of 8½ x 11 office paper comes in. We lifted off the lid and saw that inside were two blue plastic Colt pistol boxes.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” It took only a moment to realize what the gift was. Sam and I had talked previously that we owed it to ourselves to get a couple of the West Point class pistols when he graduated, but in the last year, we had not discussed it again.

The problem was that they are a bit expensive - $1,250 each. After presenting the pistols to Ben and I, he ran off to the other room and came back with another one, “And I got one too!” Holy cow! Three consecutively serial-numbered 2017 West Point class pistols!

Cadets aren’t paid that much, but for Sam, the investment was worth it. It had to be now or never. Most cadets are not brought up as shootists, so too many let the opportunity pass them by. Later in their Army careers, some graduates have expressed deep regret that they didn’t buy a class pistol when they had the chance.

The class pistol is sponsored by the West Point Pistol Team. The pistols are a fund-raising source for the team. The Pistol Team is a cadet club that:

“trains team members in firearm safety and advanced marksmanship skills in order to compete in intercollegiate pistol matches. Collegiate pistol matches use national and international pistol courses of fire to compete. The Pistol team competes against traditional rivals: Naval Academy, Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, Royal Military College of Canada and the top civilian colleges in the country. The Pistol Team also trains and competes in Conventional Pistol and Service Pistol courses of fire using accurized Army .45 and 9mm pistols at the National Pistol Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio each year.”

As a matter of fact, the West Point Pistol Team took first place (team aggregate) in the 2017 National Intercollegiate Pistol Championship sponsored by the NRA and held at Fort Benning in March.

Each year, the graduating class is offered the opportunity to purchase the class pistols. The pistols are personalized for the graduating class with engravings of the class motto and the class crest. In their freshman year, each incoming class selects a committee to come up with the class crest and motto. The motto for the Class of 2017 is “So others may dream”.

Three consecutively serial-numbered
2017 West Point class pistols.

For 2017, two versions of the class pistol were offered. Both are Colt 1911s. “Pistol A” is richly polished and blued with gold plated highlights in the engraved scenes, and gold plated slide stop, magazine button, barrel bushing, safety lever, grip screws, and hammer.

Our pistols are “Pistol B,” which are stainless steel with no gold highlights, but the engravings are blackened to set them off from the stainless background. Both pistols have the same engraved scenes and filigree. This is how the web order page for the West Point class pistols describes them:

“Engraved on the right side of the slide is the Military Academy Crest superimposed over a ribbon with the words United States Military Academy on the ribbon. At the rear of the slide is the Roman Numeral 17. On the left side of the slide is a scene from Trophy Point and the Class motto on a ribbon. At the rear of the slide is the helmet of Pallas Athena - Greek goddess of wisdom. The Class crest and crossed officer and cadet sabers are engraved on top of the slide. The grips are checkered rosewood with the Colt Rampant Stallion logo.”

Other than the engraving and upgraded grips, the pistols are pretty much standard production Colt 1991 Series pistols in .45 ACP. Colt 1991 pistols are basic 1911s but with the enhancements of taller white dot sights and a lowered ejection port compared to the original G.I. design. They also have flat mainspring housings, rather than the arched design of the M1911A1. The one other customization in the West Point pistols over standard production is the skeletonized trigger.

When Sam and I discussed getting the class pistols, we both agreed that the stainless version was the way to go. While the blued version is certainly a lot flashier, it is not a gun that you would want to shoot much, or at all. Actual use of the gun would certainly degrade the gold plating. Having been brought up in the culture of marksmanship, Sam agreed that our guns would have to be shooters.

As it turned out, two days after the gifting, our club would be holding a Combo Silhouette match. We invented the Combo Silhouette match when dwindling participation in the CF Handgun Silhouette matches threatened the event with extinction. We added an Iron-Sight .22 Rifle class to our CF Handgun classes which had the desired effect of boosting participation enough to keep the match going.

All three of us showed up at the match sporting our new West Point pistols. During practice, I was the first one of us to put rounds downrange. I filled up one of the two magazines supplied with the gun to the full seven rounds. I took aim at the pigs at 50 yards and found that my initial shots were hitting high. I adjusted my aim and by the time I emptied the magazine, I had knocked down three of the steel swine. Not bad.

Freshly minted Lt. on leave fires his West Point Barbecue Gun

Sam would compete in one full 40-round stage with his, while Ben and I traded off between the 1911s and some revolvers for our stage in the CF Iron Sight Pistol class. We did not set any new club records that day, but we had a great time slinging lead with these fancied-up pistols.

Barbecue Gun?
Alright. No doubt that some of you remain perplexed by the title of this story. What the heck is a “Barbecue Gun”? How does “barbecue” have any relevance to these West Point class pistols?

Over the years of devouring the contents of gun magazines, I had been introduced to the term of “Barbecue Gun”, as a type of gun that someone would wear to social events where you might want to dress up a little, such as at a barbecue party. Apparently the term was originated by the Texas Rangers. Large barbecue parties are significant social events in Texas. In such events that were attended by Texas lawmen, the practice of showing up carrying your fanciest sidearm became a “thing”. Wilson Combat advertises a "Texas Barbecue Special” that they offer for sale. They describe the tradition and their gun thusly:

“The great state of Texas is well known for the fancy fighting firearms worn by members of the elite Texas Rangers. These fully dressed-up carry guns, often hand engraved, are almost always some version of a 1911 and are traditionally worn at special get-togethers and barbeques by gunmen across Texas. The Wilson Combat Texas BBQ Special is our unique version of this legendary classic--a pistol fancy enough for the most formal gathering but still built to deliver first class shooting performance on the range and on duty.

Three distinct coverage levels of special hand engraving from Master Engraver Wayne D’Angelo are offered on this model. These engraving patterns feature many of the hallmarks of a traditionally-engraved Texas BBQ gun with a host of cosmetic details that will make a strong impression on the most discriminating aficionado. Not just for Texans but for the Texan in us all, the Wilson Combat Texas BBQ Special will be a functional heirloom prized by generations for years to come.”

To the question of “What is a Barbecue Gun?”, others on the web have answered:

“Pretty gun, with good leather, borderline gaudy - meant for showing off; formalwear gun.”

“Redneck cocktail jewelry”

“A barbecue gun is a gun you open carry at an event you don't anticipate trouble (e.g. friends and family, fancy dinner, etc.). The gun is there mostly for show and bragging rights.”

“What it refers to is the fancy gun you wear to a big barbecue party, rather than the old worn utilitarian gun you wear every day.”

I think that you will agree that these stainless West Point class pistols fully qualify as barbecue guns; fancied up, but not too fancy to shoot. Before this, I never had any interest in fancy engraved pistols. What for? I guess that it took a special event and having a reason to commemorate that event for me to understand the allure of a cosmetically enhanced pistol.

Now that I own a barbecue gun, I will be looking for those special occasions where I can actually carry it. The funny thing is that in Texas, the tradition of the barbecue gun has historically been restricted to lawmen. Only since January 1st, 2016 could ordinary Texas citizens open carry. Even funnier, is that only Texas citizens with concealed carry licenses can open carry! Arizona is actually much more conducive to the barbecue gun tradition than Texas.

A couple of new club members have ruefully told me that since joining the club, they have been spending a lot more money on guns and ammo so that they could participate in our various events. I am sure that they will be happy to hear my next suggestion. I think that we should start promoting the barbecue gun tradition within our club. Maybe we should start holding our club meetings at the range featuring a cookout and a Barbecue Gun shooting match! Who is with me?

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