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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Again this was a quick string, off hand, at 20 feet.

Second was the Remington:

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I got a much tighter group with these defensive rounds.

Third was the Winchester:

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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.

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Specifications: Dan Wesson Guardian

Caliber: .45 ACP as reviewed. (also available in 9mm and .38 super)
Capacity: 8+1
Barrel Length: 4.2″
Overall Length: 8″
Height: 5.50″
Width: 1.45″
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.

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41 Responses to Gun Review: Dan Wesson Guardian

  1. I’m always interested in what people find accurate. Even given that the shooting was done standing without a rest, I would consider 3″ groups at under 7 yards to be mediocre accuracy.

    • Primarily because I don’t blame it on the gun, rather on me. I am sure if I used a rest they would be on top of each other. Or I could have hand picked the best of twenty targets but didn’t. I went to the range and did three in quick succession.

    • Dude! I have the distinct conviction that you would find my offhand group with the finest pistol ever made to be mediocre! The reviewer is comparing the group with other groups which *he* has shot, not with what *you* could shoot. Relative size, IOW, I suspect yours would be tighter, and I’m almost positive mine would be twice as big. If I were convinced that gun would let me shoot 3″ groups offhand with a variety of ammo, I’d own one by tomorrow.

    • For a 1600 1911, I would have expected the center of that completely punched out at 7 yards. I knocked out the 10 and 9 rings at 25 with a bare bones Springfield I rented and had never shot before.

    • I consider myself a poor shot, and my time between range sessions is often measured in months or years, but then I see the targets of those around me when at the range. No exaggeration, its common that the shooters around me are shooting 18 to 25 inch groups at 3 to 5 yards and they aren’t just blasting away. It boggles the mind. Frightening, in fact.

      • Because accuracy is more than just the ability of a gun vice clamped on a bench rest to cluster rounds tightly together. It’s the complete package of shooting the gun, and if different features make it difficult for the user to interface with the gun, then it’s not a truly accurate firearm. This is assuming the shooter is competent.

        • Preposterous. The measure of a gun’s accuracy is it’s mechanical accuracy. Nothing more. It is not a subjective impression of it’s fitness for purpose.

        • no, accuracy IS ONLY the ‘mechanical’ accuracy of the firearm. being able to shoot the gun accurately has to do with the shooter, not the gun. if YOU cannot shoot an otherwise ‘mechanically accurate’ gun, then it’s not an issue with the gun, it’s an issue with the shooter, who should train more with that gun. otherwise you might as well not even discuss accuracy at all. it’s a mechanical trait, since we are reviewing a mechanical object.
          like saying with respect to acceleration, that a car accelerates from 0-100 mph in 4 seconds. but since i suck at driving a stick shift, i can only do it in 9 seconds. therefore the car is not quick. preposterous. it might not be quick for YOU, but that’s because you are not a competent driver. don’t blame the car.

        • Practical accuracy is an end to end process. Revolvers are much more accurate than automatics when fired from a rest. But when you factor in the trigger and recoil automatics outshoot revolvers. However the most important factor is the shooter. No gun, no matter how inherently accurate can be more accurate than the guy pulling the trigger.

    • Yep. It’s not terribly accurate given the price. Not much better than a Kimber or Sig and a lot more money. I bought one of these some months ago as I was hoping to get near Wilson accuracy at roughly half the price. You get what you pay for.

      Bottom line, I now own a Wilson and just recently unloaded my DW.

  2. “you can shoot a man in the thumb at fifty yards with a .45 and it will knock him on his ass!” LOL

    • No more than one would mean “VW Veyron” or “VW Aventador” (for those who don’t know, a Bugatti and Lamborghini respectively).
      CZ, the world’s largest firearms manufacturer, bought Dan Wesson and has kept their high-quality semi-custom business model in place. The lower end 1911 (it lacks the fancy doodads and has less hand finishing) they make in the DW plant sells under the CZ moniker.
      But then again, what’s wrong with CZ? They make some of the best guns you can buy.

      • Unless I missed something, that CZ 1911 was discontinued; I haven’t seen it in this year’s catalog.

      • CZ did not buy Dan Wesson, CZ-USA did. May seem like a nitpick but they are not the same thing at all and Czech CZUB has zero say in what goes on at DW. CZ-USA doesn’t meddle in DW’s affairs – DW has their own engineers, customer service, warranty, etc (and CZ-USA has zero machinery or production capabilities that I know of other than technically owning DW’s) – but CZ-USA does handle DW’s marketing and distribution.

    • Look at the Specialist.
      I managed to get one of those for under $1200 from Guns America last year.
      Magwell, ambi safety, accessory rail, Heinie Straight-8 sights. I might have added the full length guide rod. Short of some custom 1911 pistols from places like Atlas that I’ve shot, the Specialist is the best handgun I’ve ever shot.

    • I have one 1911 with a full length guide rod and it is a pain to field strip. It wasn’t apparent that I didn’t have it seated correctly and I started getting FTE and FTFs. If Browning wanted a full length guide rod he would have designed it that way. I don’t think it makes the pistol more accurate or reliable.

    • If you read the details about the gun on the Dan Wesson site, it explains that there is no backstrap checkering to make the gun smoother on the draw. And there is nothing wrong with a short guide rod. It makes disassembly and cleaning easier and quicker.

  3. Not sure why it’s ranked four stars for customization, as you can’t do that unless you’re willing to swap out parts that don’t come with the gun; in that sense it’s probably average for a 1911.

    Re the lack of checkering on the mainspring housing, I don’t know for certain but, on a guess, the idea is tohelp reduce abrasion and snagging on clothing when carrying concealed. But that’s a part you can maybe swap out if you want.

  4. “There is nothing as ubiquitous as the Model 1911”

    Even if that’s “as, not more not less” FAL apparently in roughly the same production numbers.

  5. I like no backstrap checkering on anything I carry – more likely my clothing will pass over it without getting hung up. Just my .02.

  6. I recently purchased a Dan Wesson 1911 and it does seem to require a bit of a break-in period. I only shoot 50rds per session and clean and lube afterwards, each time there is one or two failure to eject, sometimes the slide needs a little nudge to chamber the round. Only put 200 rounds through it so far, so hopefully the issues will go away after another 300.

      • My DW is a full size in 9mm. I also have a full size S&W performance center 1911 in 45acp and currently it has a slight edge in accuracy. Hopefully the DW will show it’s full potential after the break in period

  7. DW fanboy here. EDC is a V-Bob, and have thought about an aluminum-framed DW commander or CCO as a change-up, though my experiences with alloy-framed 1911s is mixed. Thanks for the review.

    (Commenting on some comments: My SS DWs needed a bit of breaking in, but have run 100% after 500 or so rounds with adequate lube. One, the 10mm, needed some tuning of the slide stop.)

  8. OK, let’s clear up some misconceptions:

    1. Very good accuracy in a 1911 would be a 2″- group at 25 yards from a rest. Exceptional accuracy for a semi-auto pistol is a five-shot group of 2″ at 50 yards. That’s what the S&W Model 52 used to be tested to achieve. The S&W 52 would also be expected to put “10 rounds in the 10″ at 50 yards, a target area of about 3.3”. The S&W Model 52 was the pistol of the USAMU for years in the 60’s and 70’s.

    2. Pistol accuracy is measured from the pistol being held in a Ransom Rest. Not shooting offhand, not shooting off sandbags, not handing it to a champion bullseye shooter. Ransom Rest:

    http://ransomrest.com/home/master-series-rest/

    3. A full length guide rod on a 1911 is a “solution in search of a problem.” Yes, I know all the supposed benefits of a full length guide rod. Want to know how many springs I’ve seen kink with a standard guide? None. I’ve fixed a bunch of 1911 issues for customers, and never has even one customer come to me with an issue that would be fixed with a full length guide rod.

    4. Once the CNC machine mills the parts to exacting tolerances (and might I say these tolerances can only be achieved with a machine,)…

    This will come as news to many gunsmiths, especially those who are old enough to remember match pistols from the “BC” (Before CNC) era of gun production. I regularly fit up parts with nothing more than files, polishing paper, lapping compound, measurement tools, a smoke lamp and a granite reference plate to tolerances tighter than the typical CNC machine can achieve. The TIR on most CNC spindles is 0.0002″, the typical repeatable positioning accuracy is 0.0002″, even if you can command the machine to 0.0001″. OK, if the manufacture is running a machine like a Kitamura MyCenter, now we’re talking a temperature-controlled machine that can position down to 78 millionths and repeat down to 39 millionths of an inch.

    Hand fitting with a smoke lamp and abrasives can get you down to a tenth or less. It just takes time, and skilled time costs money.

    5. Let’s talk about accuracy – what is accuracy?

    Accuracy is repeatability. Lots of people conflate or confuse accuracy and precision. They’re two very different mathematical ideas.

    Precision is how tightly you can describe a measurement or observation. In a gun, let’s say you have a 40X March benchrest scope on a hunting rifle. You take your rifle on to the range at 100 yards. You not only see your target card in glorious detail, you can see a fly taking a crap on your target. With a 40X magnification scope, you could probably see a .223 hole in a target at 300+ yards, if the conditions are OK (ie, low heat shimmer).

    What you have here is a very high level of precision – you can resolve individual holes in the target, you can even see a fly land on your target at 100 yards. If we want a different example, let’s say you have a measurement instrument (eg, a set of digital calipers), and thanks to the magic of digital electronics, you might have precision down to 0.0001″.

    Now let’s talk about accuracy. Accuracy is how well you can repeat your shots. With your hideously expensive, but very nice, March scope, let’s say you send a round downrange. You can see your hole at 100 yards from a .223 round without a spotting scope. Your oh-so-wonderful scope allows you to see exactly where you put your first shot.

    Now you want to shoot for a group – so you lay the crosshairs over your first round’s hole. You send the next one downrange… and it lands to the right and slightly up by about 1.5″. You can see quite clearly the first hole in your target, and now you can see the second hole in the target.

    How accurate is your rifle at this point? Not all that much. You send down four more rounds while laying the crosshairs on your first bullet’s hole. You look at the group – eh, about 2″ for the most extreme spread, center-to-center. That’s mediocre accuracy. But man oh man, you’ve got precision coming out your ears – accuracy, not as much.

    Accuracy is how well you can repeat something. Let’s go back to the set of digital calipers – they resolve or have precision down to 0.0001″. What’s the accuracy of that measurement instrument? About the same as for any other set of calipers – +/- about 0.002″ – and order of magnitude worse than the precision.

    Same deal with a gun – if it can’t lay the rounds in one on top of the other, even when you can see exactly where the bullets are going, you’ve got an inaccurate gun with great sights.

    When I’m shooting my Anschuetz rifle with match ammo, at 50 feet, if I can’t put every bullet in the center ring on an indoor offhand target, it’s my fault, and never anything but my fault. The rifle, sights and ammo are of such accuracy, that there’s no excuse on my part – even tho I cannot see the center ring in the aperture sights at 50 feet.

  9. Is it the camera angle in the picture, or is the rear sight drifted way over to the left? Thanks. My dad has a DW Guardian and likes it enough he gave away his S&W 1911 to a lucky son.

    • No that’s the camera angle. I was using my iPhone for the pictures and for some reason I couldn’t get it lined up on the rear to front sight.

  10. I have a DW Pointman 9 and there is a 9mm Guardian that’s tempting me badly at my LGS.
    I have fondled it many times and it feels great.
    If it’s anything at all like the Pointman, it should be a nice pistol.

  11. Hi,

    I really like the Esmerelda grips that you have on your Guardian! However, they look as though they are thicker than those that came on my Guardian. Are your Esmerelda grips regular grips? If so, did you change out the slim bushings as well as the screws?

    Thanks in advance,
    David

    • Yes they are thicker, but the holes were counter sunk you I could use the existing bushings and screws. (I did strip one though and need to replace it.) The grips are nice! I have big hands so they work well.

  12. Own a Valor and I love it …… One of the best guns I own . Have no idea what these other comments are about . Guns are personal though. If I had the chance to buy another Dan Wesson I would …. With out hesitation…

  13. Not sure what you are all getting wrapped around an axle about. Read the other reviews on this site. The guy is not a skilled shooter. Don’t blame the pistol. I have two DWs including a Guardian and they both shoot a 2″ group from a rest at 25 yards.

    As far as “losing a star” due to lack of checkered backstrap, once again it’s amateur hour here. The pistol is marketed as a concealed carry gun. Smooth backstrap is actually a desirable feature in a concealed carry piece. Any experienced concealed carrier will tell you that a sharp checkered backstrap will tend to catch on clothing – wearing out your clothes and slowing your draw from concealment. It also prevents you from quickly adjusting a hasty grip.

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