(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By John Eliyas
There is nothing as ubiquitous as the Model 1911. Love them or hate them, you have to admit this weapon has obtained mythological qualities over the past 100+ years. The 1911’s uniquely simple engineering has proven itself over and over again to generations of users.
I was first introduced to the Colt 1911 A1 by my father. “Janko,” he said (that’s Slovak for John), “you can shoot a man in the thumb at fifty yards with a .45 and it will knock him on his ass!”
He had earned his Army Marksmanship Badge at the Expert level in pistol, submachine gun and grenade. (How does that work with grenade? I always thought if you were just close it was good.) He stood before me with his chrome plated 1911, right arm out, left arm akimbo, drilling a target that seemed to be a mile away. I tried this myself, the powerful recoil in a twelve year olds hand; the round struck nothing but the hillside behind the target. Thus began my love affair with the 1911.
Years later I qualified with the 1911 myself, using the venerable Weaver stance. For years I carried a 92F before purchasing my own 1911; a Rock Island Officers. Eventually my father gave me his 1911. It rattled a little bit from the loose tolerances, but had never failed my father through two wars (though I think he relied more on his grease gun.) It is the same yet very different from the 1911 that I now carry: the Dan Wesson Guardian.
By now we all know there are various levels of workmanship it takes to produce a 1911. So many manufactures now produce their own version of the pistol with various degrees of success. From Remington to SIG SAUER, Ruger to Colt the axiom still holds water: You get what you pay for.
If you are looking to purchase a 1911, know that you will either be looking at a production gun, a semi-custom (e.g. Dan Wesson), or a custom (e.g. Bill Wilson). The difference is in tolerances. The production guns tend to have more play, this effects accuracy. The hand-fitted 1911’s, like Les Baer and Bill Wilson are extremely accurate but often require a break in period to loosen up. Dan Wesson 1911’s fall in the Goldilocks zone, they require very little break-in, if any, and are very accurate.
Dan Wesson uses CNC and finishes by hand. This lowers the price point while providing essentially the best of both worlds when it comes to fit and finish. Slide to frame fit is tight, with little play in the fitment. Yet, this 1911 cycles smooth as glass and has no problem digesting various ammo (more on that later.)
The Dan Wesson Guardian is a Bobtail Commander. Made for concealed carry, it offers a lower profile than the standard mainspring housing; ergo it doesn’t print.
The Guardian comes in a nice plastic case, complete with two Czech-mate 8 round magazines, lubricant and a bushing wrench. The latter I found unnecessary, however many complain the bushing is too tight to remove by hand, though I have never had this problem. Two-tone Hogue grips adorn the frame; as you can see, I replaced them with the Esmeralda Gaboon Ebony grips. The Guardian presents as a very clean gun: no forward serrations, no massive lettering on the slide to denote the maker. It possesses a minimalist aesthetic that is very appealing.
The fitment is excellent, what you would expect from a hand-fitted custom gun. Once the CNC machine mills the parts to exacting tolerances (and might I say these tolerances can only be achieved with a machine,) Dan Wesson then hand fits them. The slide-to-frame fit is tight, yet smooth as glass. From the Tritium night sights to the match grade barrel, from the tight beaver tail assembly to the snappy safety, you can tell special care is taken when these guns are made.
Of course, the slide is forged stainless while the frame is anodized aluminum all coated in the proprietary Duty Finish. This finish hardens the steel during the application process. It is scratch and scuff resistant.
The grips have 25 LPI checkering on the front-strap, however, and this is what bothered me, no checkering on the bobtail back-strap. Why? This is the one thing I cannot fathom. Just for the sake of extra grippiness one would think they would be on the mainspring housing. Other 1911’s in the Dan Wesson line have this feature; the Valor comes to mind. It seems counter-intuitive, and because of it the Guardian lost a star.
The trigger on this Guardian breaks at four pounds. There is no discernable creep and it breaks very cleanly. It is adjustable, so if you feel that there is any over-travel you can modify accordingly.
So, by now you’re asking, how does it shoot? Well, it’s a damn fine shooter.
Most defensive gun uses occur at less than 20 feet. I placed my targets at 20 feet and tested three types of ammunition at this distance, off hand. I shot a full eight round magazine for each target.
First was the Winchester FMJ:
Again this was a quick string, off hand, at 20 feet.
Second was the Remington:
I got a much tighter group with these defensive rounds.
Third was the Winchester:
Yeah, I know. Not much difference. But the Remington Ultimate Defense has the tightest group.
The magazines fed without an issue. Bear in mind I cycled over 500 rounds through this 1911 before this review. The manual suggests a break-in period of shooting 50 rounds then cleaning, noting there may be a failure to feed. I didn’t do this. It wasn’t necessary. Not with my Guardian. This little gem performed flawlessly; eating everything I fed it without issue including some wad cutter I had lying around. And, it’s fun to shoot, the balance is incredible and the recoil is very manageable. It fits in your hand like it was meant to be there.
In conclusion, the Dan Wesson Guardian is a fine weapon. It approaches hand-fitted quality without the price-point. At half the price of a Bill Wilson it should not be dismissed. It is very fun to shoot at the range, but more importantly I trust my life with it. The Guardian is designed for concealed carry; you see this in the care of construction, the materials and fitment of them. The only custom 1911 I have shot is a Les Baer, and from my limited exposure the Guardian stacks up well against it. It also looks great in a G-code Incog.
Specifications: Dan Wesson Guardian
Caliber: .45 ACP as reviewed. (also available in 9mm and .38 super)
Barrel Length: 4.2″
Overall Length: 8″
Weight: 28.5 oz
Sights: Trijicon night sights
Grips: Hogue stippled shadow grips (replaced with Esmeralda Gaboon Ebony)
MSRP: $1616 (actual street price varies but mine was purchased new for $1380)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
Pretty dead to nuts accurate. For a Commander size pistol you can begin to tell where the hand finishing comes into play.
Ergonomics: * * * *
1911’s have always been about feeling right in the hand, though I have noticed my Sig C3 seems sharper or more angular to the palm. The webbing between the thumb and the forefinger cradle the beavertail on the Guardian like a bottle of 18 year old Balvenie. What lost the star was the lack of checkering on the back-strap. I think adding this feature would enhance retention.
Reliability: * * * * *
Right out of the box, with a quick cleaning, this 1911 is a tack driver. Obviously I ignored the manual and skipped the break in period, I mean…who reads the manual, right?
Trigger: * * * * *
Like a 7-Up commercial from the 70’s: crisp, clean and refreshing.
Customization: * * * *
No rail, no forward serrations. It does have nice night sights. This is your basic 1911.
Overall: * * * * *
The Dan Wesson Guardian gets a five-star rating from me. These 1911’s fall right in the Goldilocks zone. CNC tolerances to hand finishing, and for a semi-custom an outstanding price point, this Commander size 1911 cannot be beat.