Les Baer Information Page

(Revised on April 17, 2014)

This page is an attempt to provide what I hope is useful information about Les Baer (LB), his company, his guns, and his customer service.  The information on this page is based on my first hand experience with a Les Baer Premier II and with Les Baer's customer service.

If you are thinking of buying a gun from Les Baer then I recommend you read this article and use the links to read what others have to say about their experience with Les Baer guns. If you are left-handed you might find the section on the Les Baer ambidexterous safety to be helpful.  

Here’s what you’ll find on this page. 

My Experience With 1911s

I'm not a 1911 novice. The 1911 is my favorite handgun. I bought my first 1911 in 1978 and immediately installed a Swenson ambidextrous safety (I'm left-handed) and a Bar-sto match barrel in it. I've lost count of the number of rounds I've shot through that gun in practice, in training and in IPSC matches, but it certainly numbers in the many thousands.  I've completed two pistol courses with Chuck Taylor's American Small Arms Academy and one with Ray Chapman and his Academy of Practical Shooting.  All three courses were in the mid-1980's.

I bought my second 1911 (a Colt Gold cup) in 1980 and my third 1911 in 1981 (a Colt Lightweight commander for my wife). I installed ambidextrous safeties in those guns, too. I bought a Colt Officers Model in 1985 but soon sold it because it didn't shoot well for me. I've shot many other 1911s over the years. I know how poor a factory trigger pull can be and I know how good a 1911 trigger pull can be when set up by a competent gunsmith.

My Experience With a Les Baer Premier II

In 2012 I was bitten by the bug to buy a premium 1911 pistol.  I did some research and read a lot of articles (both online and in the many gun magazines that I subscribe to). It didn’t take long to notice that Les Baer’s pistols are held in high regard by many people who write about guns and by many of his customers. The Cabelas that I shop at was willing to special order from Les which meant I could use my Cabelas Club points to pay for the gun. So, I special ordered a Les Baer Premier II from Cabelas in June of 2012.

I received my Premier II in December of 2012. Right out of the box, I noticed that my Premier II's trigger pull seemed heavy for a premium 1911 and had a lot of creep. The trigger pull was consistently more than 4.5 pounds but the creep was inconsistent from shot to shot. About 50% of the time the creep was barely noticeable but the rest of the time the creep was very disconcerting. Since I posted this article I've been accused of not knowing the difference between trigger creep and take-up.  I know the difference. Trigger creep is the perceptible movement of the trigger after take-up has been removed but before the sear has been released. Take-up is the movement of the trigger against the three-leaf spring before the rear of the trigger bar makes contact with the sear.  Take-up is normal in a 1911 and is typically the same from shot to shot. As long as it is consistent take-up is not a concern for most shooters but creep is definitely a concern. IMO, any amount of trigger creep is unacceptable in a premium 1911.

The Les Baer Ambidextrous Safety

Something else I noticed right away was that the safety required a lot of force to engage and the right side safety lever was very slim and didn't provide much of a surface to push up against when engaging the safety with the thumb of my left-hand.  I’m left handed so the function of the ambidextrous safety is important to me.  The combination of the heavy force required to move the safety up and the slim right-side lever meant that I couldn’t engage the safety using only my left hand. That made the gun unsuitable for me for any kind of action or self-defense shooting.

I called LB about the safety and talked to Les himself.  Apparently, Les often talks directly with his customers and I commend him for that practice.  Les told me that the stiffness should improve with use and that if it didn’t improve enough I could return the gun to him and they’d reduce the force required.  (Note: after a year of use the stiffness has not improved.) Les also suggested that I just use my right hand to engage the safety.  Although using two hands to hold the gun and work the safety might be ok for plinking or bulls-eye competition, it would not work for any kind of serious action competition, and it might not be workable in a self-defense scenario. In a self defense situation your right-hand may be holding on to a child or a bag or your right-hand could be injured.

Gun Tests magazine article on Les Baer semi-autos said that Les uses a narrow right-side safety lever in order to reduce the chance that the safety will break.  I find this odd and admit that I don’t understand why this would be an issue if the ambidextrous safety is of good quality.  I’ve had an authentic Swenson ambidextrous safety on my primary 1911 since 1978. Between shooting and dry firing that Swenson safety has been operated with great force probably in excess of 50,000 times. On Swenson-style safeties the downward motion of the right side lever is stopped by the bottom of a recess cut in the right grip panel.  If the safety is properly installed the grip panel takes the brunt of the force, not the tongue and groove that join the left and right safety shafts.  However, since writing this article I've learned that poor quality ambidextrous safeties are known to have breakage problems.

After I talked to Les, I worked the safety on and off hundreds of times while watching TV for a week or so.  The safety smoothed up some but the force never changed much.  I’m quite capable of removing the safety plunger spring from the plunger tube, clipping off a few coils, and stretching the spring to its original length, but didn't want to do that.  The force required to put the safety on wouldn’t be an issue if the right side was wider so that my thumb had more lever to push against. So, I dealt with the too-narrow right-side safety by purchasing a Wilson High Ride Ambidextrous Safety (p/n 423B). The right side of the Wilson safety is much wider than LB’s and was a drop-in replacement for the right side of the LB safety.  The Wilson safety’s color is slightly different from Les Baer’s and the shapes don't match perfectly, but I think the Wilson looks okay. More important, it works much better for me.  

These two pictures of my Premier II show the difference between the Les Baer right side safety lever and the Wilson right-side safety lever on my Premier II.

My Premier II with a Les Baer Right-Side Safety LeverMy Premier II With a Wilson Right-Side Safety Lever
Premier II with Les Baer ambidextrous safety.                                Premier II with Les Baer left side + Wilson right side lever.

I wish Les would offer a wide right-side lever as an option to us lefties who want one.  It makes no sense to me that someone would think that a wide left-side lever is good but a wide right-side lever is bad.  The narrow right-side safety is all the more puzzling to me since Les is left-handed.  

Due to the ammo shortage in 2013 it took me almost all year to shoot the 600 rounds that Les requires to break-in his guns.  During that year the trigger pull did not improve.  Even worse, the gun was unreliable. The slide failed to go into battery completely about one shot out of ten.  The slide would go into battery enough to fire, but not enough to allow you to engage the safety.  I had to push the slide forward about 1/64" before I could engage the safety.

Because of these two defects the gun continued to be unsuitable for self-defense or any kind of action-oriented competition.

After shooting approximately 800 rounds through the gun, I returned my Premier II to Les Baer to have it fixed (I can't call it warranty work because Les doesn't offer a written warranty on his guns) in late January 2014. Unlike many companies in the shooting industry, Les does not pay return shipping for defective guns so I paid the $60 FedEx shipping fee. The gun came back in early February after a little more than a week.  Les replaced the barrel link and worked on the trigger pull. The gun is now reliable and the trigger pull is great. I'm quite happy with the gun now. It is accurate, reliable, and a pleasure to shoot. My thanks to Les and company for fixing the issues quickly and correctly.  

Now that I’ve had a Les Baer pistol for a while and know what his return policy is I probably won't buy another gun from him.  I’m more likely to buy a top-of-the-line 1911 from Springfield Armory, Kimber, or the S&W Performance Shop.

Out of the Box Reliability -- Maybe, Maybe Not

You may be one of the lucky ones whose LB gun is reliable out of box. Apparently, many of his guns are. But, after spending hours searching the internet and reading about other peoples’ experiences I’ve noticed that many shooters received LB guns that are not reliable out of box. Fortunately, some, if not most, of the unreliable guns become reliable after they are broken in, but some do not become reliable. One of the problems with the way LB builds his guns is that you may have to put 500-600 rounds (or more) of expensive ammunition through the gun before it becomes obvious that it has a problem that an extended break-in period isn’t going to go fix, and then you will have to send the gun back to LB for repair. And, then you will have to pay for shipping. Shipping a handgun via Fed Express cost about $60 at the time I sent my Premier II to Les.

Note that I do not have an issue with the idea that a new gun needs to be broken in before it is 100% reliable.  My issues are with the number of rounds required to break-in the gun, the idea that it’s ok to ship a new premium 1911 with a creepy trigger pull, and then requiring your customers to pay return shipping to fix a gun that was defective out of the box.

Les Baer Related Links

If you are considering buy a Les Baer gun I recommend that you read the articles at the links below.

1.     Les Baer’s Web Site
2.     1911 Forum on Les Baer
3.     Les Baer Premier II 15,000 Round Report
4.     Epic 30,000 Round Range Report
5.     Shooting Times Article on Premier II .38 Super
6.     Gun Tests Article on Les Baer Semi Autos (In this article from January 0f 2005, Gun Tests Magazine gave three Les Baer semi-autos good reviews. They awarded the Premier II a “Best Buy”)
7.     Comparison of Les Baer quality with the quality of his competion
8.     More LB Owners with a Creepy Trigger Like Mine
9.   Comparison of LB pistols with Nighthawk pistols
10.  General discussion of quality of LB’s pistols
11.  Iowa Better Business Bureau page on Les Baer
12.  Generally good comments about LB pistols
13.  Good and bad experience with LB pistols
14.  More good and bad experience with LB pistols
15.  LB break-in period
16.  The FBI 1911 Contract

Customer Service Links

Opinions about the quality of Les Baer parts and customer service from Les Baer are all over the map. Below are links to a sampling of posts about Les Baer customer support.

Links About Good Customer Service

1.      Discussion of, and praise for, LB customer service from several owners
2.      Praise for LB customer service
3.      Praise for the way LB fixed a defective rifle
4.      Praise for the way LB handled a defective pistol
5.      Praise for the way LB handled several defects in one of his pistols, including a broken sear

Links About Bad Customer Service

1.      Dean Speir's Opinion of Les Baer
2.      List of issues with LB pistols and poor customer service
3.      Complaint that LB’s service isn’t commensurate with price of gun
4.      Bad experience with LB service over a defective rifle

The Les Baer Break-In Period

Some people say that Les Baer guns should not be cleaned during the break-in period.  My Premier II did not come with instructions saying not to clean the gun during the break in period.  

Someone on this page says they called Les Baer and he said there is no such policy against cleaning during the break-in period. Here's a quote from the page:

I wondered about this too, so I called LB a few months ago, and asked him about the 'no clean' break-in procedure. He said there is no such recommended procedure, and that you should clean your Les Baer "just like you would any other 1911" during break-in.”

On the same web page, another shooter posted this quotation from instructions they received with their Les Baer Concept III:

Do to the tight tolerances between the slide and frame please DO NOT remove the lubricant that is evident on the pistol. Normal break-in period for your custom is approximatly 200-300 rounds, with the lubricant left on the gun. After break in-in period, use a top quality lubricant such as Molecular Metal Conditioners, synthetic blended metal conditioner, break-free clp,etc....

Apparently some people interpreted the instructions as meaning they shouldn’t clean the gun.

On another page, someone quoted old instructions from Les Baer that did say not to clean the gun.

"Take the gun out shoot it 500 time and to not clean it. Add CLP to keep it wet.  If it is a 1.5 gun shoot it 1000 times. Do not call me if the gun is malfunctioning unless you have hit the recommended round count with Federal ball. If you do I will cuss you out and hang up!!"  (These words were attributed to Les.  I do not know for a fact that Les said them.)

Return Shipping Fees

Any company can ship a gun or another product with problems.  What distinguishes the company is what they do when they're notified about the problem.  Here are the shooting industry manufacturers and gunsmiths that I’ve returned guns (or other equipment) to for warranty work. 
  1. Colt (a defective Colt Officer's model)
  2. Hill Country Rifles(The bolt handle hit the ocular lens)
  3. Kahr Arms (a defective PM9)
  4. Sako (a Sako 85 that wouldn't shoot accurately)
  5. Smith and Wesson (two defective guns, a .44 Mountain Gun and a 340SC)
  6. Taurus (a model 94 with a defective doubleaction trigger pull)
  7. Crimson Trace (four defective laser grips--one for a S&W 340SC and three grips for a Kimber Solo)
  8. RCBS (two defective Rockchucker Supremes)
Each of the companies on the list above paid return shipping. (In some cases they paid the shipping fee up front, in others they reimbursed me after they received the product and verified that it was defective.)  I still buy products from these companies and recommend them to other shooters because I like the way they stood behind their product.

Conclusion

If you read this entire article it won’t surprise you that I’m not a fan of Les Baer's return policy.  Nor do I think it's appropriate to sell a premium 1911 with a creepy trigger pull.  I understand that you might not agree with my position that customers shouldn’t have to pay an expensive (around $60) return shipping fee to have a defective $2,000 gun fixed.  That’s okay. I think it's fair to say that most of Les Baer's customers are very happy with their guns. If you buy a Les Baer gun I hope you get a good one and enjoy it for a long time. Good shooting to you!

Al Margheim