By Jim G.
Chicken & waffles. Sour cream & onion. Peanut butter and chocolate. Two separate and seemingly incompatible entities that inexplicably complement one another, yet don’t appeal to everyone. CZ-USA’s Dan Wesson Elite Carry Officer (ECO) is a concealed carry weapon with a match-grade barrel and a venerable .45 ACP platform chambered in 9mm parabellum. An intriguing combination, but will this seemingly delicious defensive dish leave you with indigestion? . . .
The ECO’s set of standard features reads like a shopping list for an IPSC world competitor or a Navy SEAL: Trijicon tritium night sights, match grade barrel, micarta grips, nitrate finish and super-fine frame checkering – to name a few. Just by reading the features you can hazard a guess that this is going to be one expensive little package.
The aforementioned Trijicon sights are awesome; they’re sharp and bright even during twilight. The Micarta grips, however, aren’t necessarily for everyone. I found them stylish and extremely functional, but not terribly comfortable. Wait, what is Micarta, you ask?
Micarta is basically a glue- or resin-impregnated linen that’s stupid strong and fairly expensive. Think of it as an ultra rigid but not fragile polymer. Using it for grips makes perfect sense since it won’t damage easily and will maintain its sharp edges, which aids in weapon retention.
The ECO has a smooth, light trigger and the pistol rests comfortably in the user’s hands. It has an extended beaver-tail and a relatively low bore axis when utilizing the thumb safety as a rest. The magazine release is easy to manipulate (so long as you’re right-handed) and the weapon points like a natural extension of your hand. It’s a 1911 for God’s sake…if nothing else it’s going to feel “right” in your hand.
If you don’t believe in Murphy’s law, you will likely think that the match grade bull-barrel the ECO sports is a great idea – a carry gun with world-class accuracy; what could possibly go wrong?
As with all fields of engineering, there’s just no free lunch. In order to achieve fantastic accuracy, the ECO must be made to very exacting standards. Everything in the pistol must function in a perfect flawless symphony of lead, fire, and metal. That means the margin of error is very narrow, making the pistol easier to jam then most. For the cost and time you’ll spend cleaning, it can make you want to toss the whole band right into the orchestra pit.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened during my time with the beautiful ECO. After taking her out of the box, I cleaned, oiled, and took her on a trip to the range. It was an impeccable performer for the first 100 rounds using standard ammo. Then it began to fail, meaning rounds wouldn’t enter battery. I could jam it in there with a slap from my palm, but that got old fast, so I performed a field cleaning and for the next 100 rounds (still standard ammo) it ran fine again.
I decided to run an El Presidente drill without retention and dropped one of the magazines into the sand. I blew the sand out of the magazine and wiped it down with an oiled cloth before loading it up with ammo again and returning to the El Presidente. Sadly, the pistol failed on the second magazine.
I thought maybe the ECO was meant to be used with higher-powered ammo such as +P. And I was right…for the first 150 rounds. Once I passed that threshold, the ECO’s reliability plummeted to 88% with +P and 65% with standard ammo.
Lest you think I simply grabbed crappy ammo off the local WallyWorld shelf and went to blasting, I used four varieties of ammo; Tula, Aguila, Winchester NATO +P and Hornady TAP +P. I put a total of 650 rounds though the pistol. (250 rounds of Aquila, 120 rounds of Tula 9mm, 200 rounds of Winchester NATO +P and 80 rounds of Hornady TAP +P). All targets were shot at 10 yards:
While some may argue that a thousand is a proper break-in period, a gun from the custom shop should already be broken in and run like greased lightning for all the cash involved.
Speaking of grease, you’ll apparently be doing a lot of cleaning to keep the ECO up and running. Thankfully it won’t be terribly difficult. The ECO is taken down like any other 1911 platform pistol with the exception of one small extra step performed to free the recoil assembly from the frame. Use either a trimmed paper-clip or the special tool DW includes with the gun to stick into a small hole in the guide rod when the slide is pulled fully rearward.
That takes the pressure off the gun and allows you to slide the now-compressed recoil spring assembly back through the frame. If you have fat fingers or poor eyesight, this can get tricky. But fear not; like all motor-functions, with time and practice it gets easier.
Conclusion: The Dan Wesson ECO is an excellent pistol in terms of accuracy, ergonomics, fit and finish. But a carry pistol needs to be 100% flawless or it’s just a very expensive hammer.
Weight: 1.56 lbs.
Overall Length: 7.25 in.
Barrel Length: 3.5 in.
Height: 5.0 in.
Width: 1.45 in.
Sights: Fixed night sights
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * * * *
The Dan Wesson ECO’s accuracy is legendary and not just for a carry gun. The ECO’s Match Grade barrel lets the user squeeze every last inch out of the it’s diminutive 3.5 inch barrel
Ergonomics * * * * *
As is the case with most of JMB’s creations, the 1911 — even in officer’s size — feels like a natural extension of the shooter’s hand.
Reliability * *
The ECO ran nearly 100% when properly lubed and cleaned…for a while. After a hundred or so rounds the ECO would fail to enter battery approx 75% of the time. Maybe acceptable in a match grade competition semi-auto, but definitely not in a carry weapon.
Customize this * * * *
With custom grips, sights, magazines, and lasers available for officer-sized 1911’s the only limit you’ll run into is your imagination.
Overall * * *
If the ECO ran without issue it would be my current carry piece and it would have earned a solid 5-star rating. As it stands, the ECO is an expensive way to learn that cost is not necessarily the same as value.