Friday, July 13, 2018

Guns: Dan Wesson Valor review - The Goldilocks 1911


When I was a poor college student, I mistakenly bought 1911-style handguns at a price point. I didn't understand that the M1911 design came from a pre-CNC, pre-MIM era, when laborious cutting and hand-fitting was required to hew guns out of steel and wood. Most manufacturers these days simply don't bother, which probably caused the hit-and-miss reliability in the cheapo Brazilian, Chinese, and Filipino pistols I was purchasing at the time.

I have a bit more sense now (and a bit more disposable income), so I wanted to give the 1911 another chance. Enter Dan Wesson's line of 1911s. They're three times as expensive as the overseas-produced guns I shot back in the day, but the Dan Wessons have a reputation as some of the best non-custom guns you can buy. And while you can easily spend two or three times what the average Dan Wesson costs on a custom 1911, the return on that investment is questionable.

I spied a DW Valor, a classic full-size Government .45 ACP in stainless steel, and took the plunge...

Fit, Finish, and Features

Dan Wesson claims that every part on their 1911s is "hand-fit, polished and blended." It certainly felt that way with the Valor. The slide was glass-on-glass smooth, and the barrel bushing was so tight that I initially need a bushing wrench to field strip the thing (it got easier with time).

The bead blasted finish on the gun was attractive, though not as fancy as the black "Duty" finish Dan Wesson applies to some of their pistols. Every major edge was slightly dehorned, including the rear of the slide and the front of the dustcover.

The Valor was packed to the gills with pretty much every 1911 feature you would want - slightly extended safety and slide stop, slim VZ G10 grips, 25 LPI checkered front and backstraps, extended beavertail, and tritium sights (Dan Wesson's clone of the Heinie "Straight Eight" style, with Trijicon inserts). None of the controls were ambidextrous, though, so lefties might want to look elsewhere.


The Valor was extremely tight out of the box, and needed a break-in period before it ran reliably. I experienced several failures to feed in the first few hundred rounds, mostly with JHP ammo. This was expected, per Dan Wesson's instruction manual:
Generally what you will see during this break-in process is failure to go into battery and or sluggish slide operation. This is normal for tightly fitted 1911’s and will begin to work itself out during the break-in process.

Obviously, I prefer pistols that do not need to be broken in (not everyone wants to blow 100 bucks on ammo just to get a gun to function right), but it's not a deal-breaker if the gun eventually flies right.

The 10-8 Extractor Test

The Valor seemed to be running fine after the break-in, but as a precaution, I performed the 10-8 Performance extractor test and a general course of fire designed to test reliability with hollowpoint ammo.

When the gun passed that test, I started shooting groups and carrying it. For testing purposes, I pitched the Dan Wesson-branded magazines and stuck to widely available, generally well-regarded 1911 mags - Wilson 47Ds, Colt and Wilson all steel 7-rounders, and Chip McCormick Power Mags.

Range Report

I try not to review any gun here on Shangrila Towers without putting it through at least a thousand rounds, but I went overboard with the Dan Wesson. It went through a couple years' worth of testing, including a three-day pistol course with Randy Cain (review forthcoming). 

In that time, the Valor exhibited all the virtues of the 1911 design - a very crisp trigger, excellent balance and "pointability," and easily-controlled muzzle flip. The gun was also reliable; it worked regardless if I was shooting one-handed or in awkward positions. But probably the biggest change from those old .45s in college was the Valor's laser-beam like accuracy with most loads:

Federal HST 230 gr., 20 yards -

Hornady Critical Defense 185 gr., 20 yards -

Blazer Brass 230 gr., 15 yards -

Winchester White Box 230 gr., 15 yards -

and even some mystery reloads from the gun range I shot at -

Concealed Carry Impressions

A full-size steel 1911 conceals better than you might think, thanks to the gun's slimness relative to the caliber, and its tendency to cant forward (which helps conceal the long grip and muzzle). You do still need good gunleather to support the weight - I can wholeheartedly recommend the Milt Sparks Summer Special and Mean Gene Leather's "Shooters" Belt for that purpose.


The Valor is certainly the best 1911 I've ever owned, but is it the best pistol? I'm not sure - setting aside the issue of .45 ACP versus other calibers, a GLOCK 30S holds two more rounds and weighs a full pound less, while a S&W M&P45 Shield holds almost as much ammo and is nearly small enough to ride inside a pocket.

I will say this: Dan Wesson makes a great gun for the money. If you're in the market for a well-made 1911 that hits the sweet spot between bargain barrel rattletrap and high-dollar custom, they should be at the top of your list.


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