Reader Jason Bayne writes:
I was given the opportunity to spend some time with a brand new Vigil Commander in 9mm, Dan Wesson’s new entry-level 1911 pistol. The Vigil is currently available in both 9mm and 45 ACP in four configurations; full-size government with a 5” barrel, a full-size government with a 5” threaded barrel, a commander with a 4.25” barrel, and a CCO (the commander 4.25” barrel on a shorter officers frame).
All Vigil pistols have an aluminum frame with a hard black anodized finish, and a stainless steel slide finished with Dan Wesson’s “duty finish” (black nitride).
The Vigil Commander 9mm I tested was unfired and brand new in the box when I got it. The preservative/oil that is normally on all new Dan Wesson pistols had already been wiped off. Upon disassembly before firing the Vigil, I noticed the rails and barrel had already been properly lubricated.
The normal break-in procedure as outlined in the manual instructs the owner to clean and lube the pistol every 50 rounds for the first 500 rounds. My plan was to run 350 rounds through the new Vigil, but I wasn’t going to be able to break it down and clean it every 50 rounds.
Instead I added a little extra lube to the rails and the hood of the barrel before I started shooting. I also decided that during the course of shooting the 350 rounds, I would lock back the slide every 50 rounds or so and reach in through the ejection port to wipe off the feed ramp and whatever else I could reach with a cotton patch, and also put a drop of oil on the hood of the barrel.
When I disassembled the Vigil to lube it, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the Vigil is to my daily carry gun, the recently discontinued Dan Wesson Valkyrie commander 9mm. I’m a big Valkyrie fan, owning three of them in 9mm, two commanders and one CCO.
With the exception of a few parts and several cosmetic differences, the Vigil appears to be basically the same gun as the Valkyrie. That’s impressive given the Valkyrie’s MSRP is (was) over $2000 and the Vigil’s is just under $1300. A quick look on Gunbroker tells me a new Vigil can be had for about $1000 to $1150 right now depending on model.
The Vigil seemed so similar to my Valkyrie, I felt compelled to take out the Valkyrie I was wearing on my hip to see just exactly what the differences were between the two pistols. Here are the differences I noted:
- The Vigil doesn’t have the ball end mill cuts and carry cuts found on the muzzle end of the Valkyrie slide. Other than providing a place to grip when press-checking your pistol, these cuts are largely considered cosmetic.
- While the Vigil has a different looking (skeletonized) trigger, the trigger pull is the same excellent and clean 3.5 to 4 lb pull that all my Valkyries have. The Vigil’s trigger is free of creep, breaks crisply and has the same super short reset. The trigger on the Vigil is so eager to reset, after firing a shot the trigger virtually leaps forward to reset on its own just like the Valkyrie’s. I simply can’t tell the difference between the two trigger pulls.
- The Vigil has what appears to be a less expensive grip safety without a memory bump.
- The slide stop hole isn’t recessed on the Vigil, but it is on the Valkyrie.
- The sights are the same, but the Vigil lacks the Valkyrie’s tritium lamp on the back sight, only the front is tritium on the Vigil.
- The Vigil has a different hammer than the Valkyrie. I think both look great.
- The Vigil has standard thickness 1911 wood grips and the Valkyrie has thin G10 Grips. I generally prefer the thin grips on 1911 pistols, but while I was shooting the Vigil I found I really liked the factory wood grips. The pebble textured sections offer plenty of grip without being abrasive. If it were my gun, I would probably keep the factory grips on it.
All the other parts on the Vigil appear to be the same as the more expensive Valkyrie, including 1) a stainless 9mm match barrel with a reversed crown that’s cut flush with the thick stainless flange, 2) a black hard anodized aluminum frame, 3) a stainless steel duty finished slide, 4) thumb safety, 5) slide stop, and 6) two Dan Wesson branded Checkmate 9mm magazines. Further, the machine work inside the slide and frame is as perfect and meticulous on the Vigil as they are on the more expensive Valkyrie.
The Vigil also came fit just as tight as all of my higher-end Dan Wesson pistols. That includes the slide-to-frame fit, barrel to bushing fit, and the fitting together of all parts in general. It’s the typical outstanding fit and finish I’ve come to expect from Dan Wesson 1911 pistols.
In my experience, it’s heads above the fit and finish on the Colt, Kimber, and Springfield 1911 pistols I currently own or have owned in the past. There is simply no comparing the fit and finish of a Dan Wesson Vigil to similarly priced 1911 pistols from the manufacturers named above.
You also can’t compare the quality of the parts used to build the pistols. Kimber and Springfield make extensive use of MIM parts in their 1911 pistols. Colt even uses four MIM parts in their 1911 offerings. Dan Wesson, on the other hand, uses zero MIM parts in their 1911 pistols not a single one in the entry-level Vigil. Most of the parts are forged and tooled steel, and from what I understand many of the parts are made in-house.
Because of the quality of Dan Wesson parts, you would do much better to compare any Dan Wesson to more expensive semi-custom 1911 pistols made by Wilson Combat, Nighthawk, and Ed Brown. Some of those guns cost two to three times as much as the higher-end Dan Wessons and four times as much the Vigil, a difference I find hard to justify given Dan Wesson’s level of quality.
All of this got me thinking, if Dan Wesson has managed to offer a 1911 pistol that approaches the quality of semi-custom pistols like a Wilson or Nighthawk at near Colt, Kimber, and Springfield prices, they’ve pulled off a major coup in the 1911 world. And if the Vigil is as accurate as my higher-end Valkyrie, handles as well, and shoots as softly, that would spell trouble for those other brands.
So, is it time for those other 1911 makers to close up shop? Before pronouncing that, let’s take a look how the Vigil handles and shoots.
I tested it with a reasonable selection of different manufacturers’ cartridges, bullet types and weights. I Included in my selection one of my favorite 9mm carry loads, 147gr Federal HST.
I also brought along my favorite 1911 range magazine for the test, a Wilson Combat 10 round ETS magazine. I have fired thousands of rounds through this particular magazine without a hitch and wanted to use it for this test.
A quick note about the groups below. While it may appear the groups below are consistently lower than the bullseye, that was entirely the result of the targets hanging higher than normal. My favorite local indoor range in South Florida — and possibly the best gun store ever — Delray Shooting Center just renovated their range. As a result, the targets hung a bit higher than usual. For me to aim at the now higher bullseyes on my small homemade targets felt unnatural. So I simply let the bullseye sit above the front sight higher than usual so I could aim more naturally, and not at a consistent upward angle for 350 rounds.
As I slowly shot my way through the first magazine of American Eagle 124gr FMJ, I noted how much the Vigil felt like my soft-shooting Valkyrie.
I ran 100 rounds of the American Eagle 124 gr ammo through the Vigil without incident. It functioned flawlessly.
When I finished the first 100 rounds, I put a cloth patch on the tip of my pinky and stuck it inside the ejection port, wiped down the feed ramp and whatever else I could reach. I then closed the slide, put a drop of FP10 oil on the hood of the barrel, worked the slide a half dozen times and moved onto the brown box Remington UMC 115gr ammo.
As I worked my way through the 100 rounds of Remington UMC 115gr, I decided to see if the Vigil handled as well as my Valkyrie when shooting rapid fire drills. I’d fire a round, let the front sight drop back down on the target and quickly pull the trigger again, then repeat until empty. It usually takes me just under four seconds to do this with a fully-loaded nine-round mag in my Valkyrie, and the result is always about a 3″ group.
The Vigil performed identically to my Valkyrie in rapid fire. It’s so soft-shooting gun that the sights don’t come off target much at all after firing a round. That’s exactly what you want in a defensive firearm; the ability to put as many rounds on target as quickly and as accurately as possible.
I find my polymer double and single stack 9mm carry guns like my GLOCK 19 tend to bounce around quite a bit after each shot. I couldn’t possibly put nine rounds in a three-inch group in under four seconds with any of them. Though my GLOCK 19 is only a few ounces lighter than the Vigil, it exhibits much more recoil and the trigger takes forever to reset.
Both factors have a huge impact on the size of my rapid-fire groups. The lack of recoil exhibited by the Vigil and its quick-resetting trigger makes it much easier for the shooter to put fast and accurate fire on a target. The soft-shooting Vigil does exactly that.
I don’t know what Dan Wesson does to these lightweight aluminum-framed guns, but all my aluminum Dan Wesson 1911 pistols shoot softer than my all-steel 9mm government 1911 Colts, Kimbers, and Springfields. Not just a little softer, but noticeably so.
I’ve even tried to swap out parts on my Colts and Kimbers to get them to shoot as soft as my Dan Wesson Commanders, all to no avail. While the recoil has softened up a little by installing different recoil springs and mainsprings and switching to a non-radiused firing pin stop, they still don’t shoot as soft as the aluminum-framed Vigil. After many months of trying to figure this out, I just consider this phenomena one of the mysteries of the universe. I don’t fight it anymore, I just accept it.
In the end all of the good attributes exhibited by the Vigil are meaningless if it isn’t reliable with modern hollow point ammo. Depending on the length of the barrel of my carry gun, I either carry Federal HST 124gr or 147gr. Though I usually carry 124gr HST in 4.25” barrels or shorter, I opted to run the 147 gr HST for this test because I wanted to include a 147gr bullet in my selection. The HST ran it flawlessly.
One of the things I love about the Vigil, even when you are running ammo that you know is on the hotter side, like the Federal HST and the Winchester NATO 124gr, you can’t tell it’s hotter when shooting it through the Vigil. The Vigil exhibits the same soft recoil with hotter rounds as it does with the milder loads. I know when I switch from shooting the mild Remington UMC 115gr to the hotter Federal HST 147gr in my GLOCK 19, it’s very clear that you’ve changed ammo. Make the same switch with the Vigil, and it’s not noticeable.
After shooting 345 rounds through the Vigil without a single incident, I closed my range session the way I always do. I loaded my last five rounds and moved the target as far down range as possible at my local indoor range which is just over 18 yards.
The Vigil at Distance
The group I fired is pictured below. I was more than happy with the result. I’ll take a two-inch five-shot group at 18 yards all day long and twice on Sundays.
I’m clearly a Dan Wesson fan. I’m even more impressed with the Vigil given its considerably lower price point. If I didn’t already own three Valkyries, I’d immediately buy a 9mm Vigil commander and a 9mm Vigil CCO and not think twice about the Valkyries. It’s basically the same exact gun with a few minor differences which are mostly cosmetic.
Am I a Dan Wesson fan? You betcha. I won’t apologize for being a fan of a brand that makes high quality firearms that are an incredible value. But I own more GLOCK, CZ and FN pistols than I do Dan Wessons and I think they are great guns as well.
Simply put, I’m a fan of well-made, durable and reliable firearms that represent a good value. I don’t pledge blind loyalty to any one brand. I’ve been shooting, buying, and selling guns for 30 years and there are lots of amazing guns out there. Why would I limit myself to one maker?
In my mind if you take any shooter and let them try any of the $800 to $900 entry-level Colt, Kimber, or Springfield models and then let them try a comparably-sized Dan Wesson Vigil at $100 to $200 more, I’m certain they’ll see the difference. The Vigil is that much better in every respect and represents a real bargain in the 1911 world. It deserves to rub shoulders with the more expensive semi-custom brands.
Specifications: Dan Wesson Vigil Commander 9mm 1911
Magazine Capacity: 9 rounds
Frame Material: Forged aluminum
Overall Length: 7.9 in
Barrel Length: 4.25 in
Width: 1.45 in
Weight: 30.5 oz
Trigger Mech: Single action
Front Sight: Fixed night sight
Rear Sight: Tactical night sight
Ratings: (out of five stars):
Style * * * *
It’s a 1911. That means classic, iconic style, but still a typical 1911.
Build Quality * * * * *
Absolutely top notch. It doesn’t get much better than this, especially in an affordable production pistol.
Concealability * * * * 1/2
It’s a thin, 1911 frame single stack. While it isn’t light, it’s one of best-concealing carry pistols made.
Accuracy * * * * *
You’d need a race gun to get better accuracy. The Vigil provides excellent accuracy in a defensive carry gun.
Customize This * * * * *
Like most 1911s, it’s virtually plug and play. Just about any 1911 part can be swapped out. There are thousands of options out there.
Overall: * * * * 1/2
This is an extremely impressive 9mm carry gun with excellent fit and finish at an accessible price. It doesn’t get much better than this.