Dan Wesson is a name not generally associated with 1911 style pistols. For most of us who have been a firearms enthusiast for decades we know Dan Wesson for their interchangeable barrel revolvers. They were famous on the silhouette ranges of the 1970s-1980s. In 1996 Dan Wesson was bought by New York Corp and moved to a new manufacturing facility in Norwich NY. There they began to produce 1911 clones of good quality and came on my radar.
You see I am a true 1911 owner-operator if you will. Being left handed and coming of age in the 1970s, I always had to modify a 1911 to meet my shooting needs. While ambidextrous pistols are the norm in 2016 they were not back in my day. I could operate the mag release and slide stop with my index finger on the left hand and with the addition of a ambidextrous thumb safety I was set to go. I learned the 1911 platform and have never looked back I currently own seventeen 1911 platform pistols and have just finished building a 1911 in 10MM and one in 45ACP.
Back to my Dan Wesson story. The 1911 platform was more popular than at any time in history. In my earlier years we purchased a 1911 from either Colt or Springfield and striped them to the frame and slide and fit aftermarket parts until we got the configuration we wanted for bullseye, target or combat. The new Dan Wesson was making pistols with the most popular modifications already done. These were Beavertail grip safety, beveled mag well, full length guide rods, better sights and triggers. The Beavertail grip safety is the single biggest improvement to the 1911s in the last century. It takes considerable skill with metal working tools to fit a new high ride beavertail grip safety to a 1911 frame. It is by no means a drop in part and so out of reach for the parts changer or hobbyist. I am not sure who first came up the idea but Ed Brown made it famous with his superb Memory Grove Grip Safety and in my opinion it is still the best one made. While building good 1911’s Dan Wesson fell on hard times during the great recession, CZ USA bought the company from New York Corp in 2005. CZ as a company has been in the firearms business since 1936 in Eastern Europe. They are famous for their rifles and shotguns along with the CZ 75/85 pistols known around the world. CZ-USA was incorporated in the US in 1991 and began importing CZ firearms exclusively in 1996. CZ-USA owns Dan Wesson not CZ of Eastern Europe.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2015 and I was looking for a specific 1911. I was looking for a true Commander sized gun in 9MM with a light weight bobtailed grip frame. Of course this was for my wife. Also this was a configuration that I did not have. As I searched the internet the only one that I found that fit that criteria was a Dan Wesson Guardian. As I did more research I realized that I needed to see and handle a Guardian. After inquiring at several gun shops and looking at gun shows I had yet to see a Guardian much less handle one. Let’s go back a little to my first encounter with a CZ-USA Dan Wesson 1911. A friend of mine who was a CZ rep came to my ranch to gopher hunt one spring and just coming from a show brought along a Dan Wesson Bobtail all stainless steel commander in 45ACP. Knowing of my history with 1911s he asked if I could repair it since the firing pin had been cut off to render it inoperable for the show. I did have a Ed Brown firing pin for the Dan Wesson and after installing it of course it must be test fired. My youngest son and I put it thru its paces and the more we shot it the more we liked it. That was my first experience with a Bobtail grip and I liked the way it felt and shot. I also like the fact that it prints less while carrying concealed. At that time Dan Wesson was using all Ed Brown small parts in their production guns. The fit and finish was very good the gun was a winner and I tried to trade for it there on the spot to no avail. So my first experience with a CZ-USA Dan Wesson was very good. I had looked at them off and on for about 4 years since my encounter with the show pistol. Now I was on a mission to find the one I described earlier.
My oldest son and I were at a open house event for Point Blank Range in Matthews North Carolina, which sponsors my son in his competitive shooting. Also present was a CZ rep from Atlanta GA. In the club room we began to chat and I indicated my desire to find a Dan Wesson Guardian. He said they were in short supply due to their popularity, as I agreed since I had not even seen one. The following Monday he called, said he had found one and that Point Blank Range could forward it to my FFL in Montana.
Upon opening the box I was impressed! My first reaction was this is a custom gun. The finish is beautiful as only a 1911 can be. The grips stood out and added to the appearance of the pistol. The feel was all familiar 1911 with the Bobtail adding to the pleasure of holding just what I had imagined it to be. Of course I had to take it apart and see if it was a true 1911 commander.
I was looking for a true Commander size 1911 not a version there of. I do not like the 4″ versions, nor the cone barrel version, nor the reverse plug recoil guide rod which needs a bent paper clip to disassemble. I am a firm believer in the Commander that Colt designed. John Browning only designed the full sized version. If it is a true series 70 commander then aftermarket parts are easy to obtain. Ed Brown and others make all the small parts. If parts are easy to find then repairs or modifications are also easy to make.
I did have to fit and install a ambidextrous thumb safety from Ed Brown. I used the new machined version that uses the hammer pin for the right side retainer which matched the Guardian. The Dan Wesson Guardian is a true Series 70 Commander. So we are off to a good start. In this case, a concealed carry pistol, I did want a light weight frame. Some wonder if the 8 ozs it saves is worth it? In short, yes. If you carry a lot then every ounce matters. I find that a light weight commander and a leather holster offset by a spare magazine and flashlight in a leather carrier on the off side makes for a nice balanced load, with a proper belt of course. If you are worried about wearing out the frame on a LW model, don’t. Now that I have disassembled and reassembled the Guardian I am still impressed, the inside was very good. The trigger pull measured 4 1/4 lb consist over 10 repetitions which is about perfect for a good 1911.
It was time to shoot it. I always put 4 drops of oil on a 1911 before shooting. One on each frame rail, one on the barrel where it contacts the barrel bushing, and one on the barrel locking lugs. I worked the slide a few times and dry fired it and all was in good order. The slide to frame fit is perfect, not too tight and no perceptible play. I started with some cheap 115 gr. ball ammo and loaded the factory mag with 9 rounds and shot an IDPA target, all in the A zone. I really like my wife’s pistol. Loaded up another mag full with the same results, no failure to feed or fire. Then I loaded up a mag full of Hornady’s Critical Duty +P and now we were talking, again all A zone hits. I was shooting at 10 yards with a combat stance and at a rapid pace. Here came the wife to try out her new gun, loaded back the 115 ball ammo and she was off and shooting. She too had success hitting the target. She likes the Bobtail and slim grips. Modern striker fired pistols often offer interchangeable grips. 1911’s have been doing this for a hundred years now, you can get grips to fit your hand just like modern pistols isn’t that amazing.
The Dan Wesson is a winner by any standard. It is a well made gun at a competitive price. All internal parts are now manufactured by Dan Wesson, all are machined from bar stock steel. The night sights and attention to detail exhibit the quality that was just a few years ago reserved to custom guns and now you can get it in the Dan Wesson Guardian at factory prices. I know some people might complain they are too expensive but you are getting a quality firearm and I say, one worth the money. Someone once said “The price will long be forgotten while the quality will always be with you”. I was showing the Guardian to someone the other day and my wife pipes up to say it was her gun! I could not be happier, she has a gun that I like to shoot.
Guest article written by Henry Glenn.
Point Blank Range – Local gun shop to Charlotte, NC that keeps a great selection of 1911 style pistols.
Gun Pro – Online retailer of Dan Wesson and other great firearms.