After many years of carrying the 1911 Government Model .45, I find that the weight on my back is beginning to drag. It isn’t the handgun, but a number of difficulties, fights for my life including a fall from a porch of some four feet with 400 pounds of felons intertwined with me, car wrecks, and climbs in ancient artifacts of architecture have been a strain on the lumbar. Just the same, when the time came, the 1911 sounded loud and clear and did its job like no other I wish to consider.
The 1911 .45 is my handgun, and the one that I will carry. There are modern choices using space age alloys that allow me to carry the 1911 in comfort. Recoil is greater with these lightweight handguns, as there is seldom a free lunch, only tradeoffs. But thank God, I am not yet troubled by pain in the wrist and hands, and I am able to handle .45 ACP recoil in the hands.
The .45 ACP has a push rather than a rap in my perception and the 1911s low bore axis and well-shaped grip helps to an extent with recoil. If you carry a lightweight .45, prepare for a greater investment in time and ammunition to master the piece. With that in mind, I looked for the best combination of features, accuracy, and excellence of manufacture.
The sky wasn’t the limit; the price must be reasonable for the quality. I am not one who kept the same handgun for 40 years. If I did, I would be using rattling wrecks. I fire my handguns and fire them a lot. I have constantly upgraded my 1911s as better types became available. One of those types is the Dan Wesson Guardian.
The Guardian is what is referred to as a Commander-type pistol. The Guardian features a 4.25-inch barrel and a full-length grip frame. This isn’t a compromise. Instead, it is ideal for concealed carry. The full-size grip allows fast handling. The sight radius is shorter than the 5-inch barrel Government Model, but excellent shooting may be done with the handgun by those that practice.
Shorter handguns require a bull barrel and dispense with the barrel bushing. I prefer the original type, and by keeping the barrel length at 4.25 inches, we can retain the barrel bushing. The handgun is superbly finished. The dark blue—practically black—finish is evenly applied and flawless. There are no tool marks inside or out. The finish is non reflective.
The trigger features an over travel adjustment. Mine is sealed in place. The trigger breaks at a very clean 5.0 pounds with little take up and no trace of creep or over travel. The pistol features a very tight fit in the slide lock safety with a positive indent. This is the first thing I check on a 1911, before I press the trigger. If the fit is sloppy, the pistol isn’t considered for personal use.
The ejection port is scalloped for more efficient unloading of a chambered round and for positive ejection. The slide release is a re-design of the John Browning-type and works well in speed loads. The steel hammer is skeletonized. The grip safety is the popular beavertail type. This type of safety lowers the bore axis slightly and aids in recoil control.
The speed bump aids those who have a problem addressing the grip safety. When you use the thumb-forward grip, there are times when the palm may be raised off the grip safety, and this safety addresses that concern. This grip safety is ideal for most users. When depressed, the grip safety releases its hold on the trigger about half way into the grip safety’s travel, properly operating and offering a degree of safety as it springs back into position and locks the trigger when released.
The fit of the barrel, barrel bushing and locking lugs is custom grade, as it should be on this high-end pistol. The Guardian also features a reverse crown—a nice feature. A beneficial step is the dehorning and smoothing of all sharp edges. The pistol features low-profile sights with tritium inserts. The Guardian pistol is simply ideal for concealed carry in every way.
The final advantage is the bobtail mainspring housing. This mainspring housing neatly chops away the square edge most likely to print on covering garments when the pistol is worn concealed. The bottom edge of the gripstrap is radiused. This treatment balances the good handling of the arched mainspring housing or the ease with which a beavertail safety may be fitted to the flat mainspring housing. It is one of the best features of the Guardian.
The grips are well turned out with a smooth area that allows rapid adjustment of the grip, while the checkered areas provide good adhesion. The front strap is tastefully checkered at 25 lines per square inch. This checkering does more to keep the grip steady than checkered grips and makes for an ideal gripping surface. In this type of handgun, you are paying for fit and close tolerances. This type of fitting ensures less eccentric wear as the pistol returns to battery in the same manner time after time. The handgun is supplied with two magazines.
Before heading to the range, I spent time dry firing and acclimating to the trigger and sights. I loaded a range bag with a good mix of ammunition. The Guardian was lubricated along the bearing surfaces, barrel hood, barrel bushing, and cocking block. Ammunition included handloads with the Magnus Bullets 200-grain SWC and a couple using the 185-grain Hornady XTP.
A big help was the Butler Creek single-column magazine loader. I have a loader for my high-capacity handguns and also the AR-15, and they are a real time saver. Initial firing results were good. Over 150 handloads were fired during the acclimation stage without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire, or eject.
Recoil was modest with my handloads and practical accuracy was good. One of the reasons I favor the .45 ACP is that its wound potential is based more on diameter than velocity. The .45 ACP operates at modest pressure. I used three loads that I have been impressed by and have fired extensively. These are the SIG Elite in 185-, 200-, and 230-grain bullet weight.
The SIG V Crown hollow point is well designed and offers good to excellent bullet expansion. The balance of expansion and penetration is what matters in an expanding bullet loading. However, these loads generate more recoil than my handloads.
|Accuracy Five-Shot Groups at 25 yards|
|Magnus 200-grain SWC/Titegroup Powder||835 fps||2.0 inches|
|Hornady 185-grain XTP/WW231 Powder||820 fps||1.5 inches|
|Hornady 185-grain XTP/Titegroup Powder||900 fps||2.0 inches|
|SIG Sauer V Crown 185-grain JHP||980 fps||2.25 inches|
|SIG Sauer V Crown 200-grain JHP||960 fps||1.75 inches|
|SIG Sauer V Crown 230-grain JHP||865 fps||2.3 inches|
The 230-grain JHP recoiled the most, while the 200-grain load felt the same, but was faster, and the 185-grain load kicked less. Since each is reliable and the 185-grain V Crown offers good wound ballistics, I felt that it is a viable choice in this lightweight carry gun. Marksmanship and shot placement mean the most and the SIG Elite 185-grain V Crown load is a good choice.
Firing off hand, first shot hit probability is as good as any steel frame .45, and the pistol is perhaps a bit faster to clear leather for the first shot hit. Control after the first shot isn’t as good as the heavier handguns. The pistol is controllable with the proper technique; it simply takes more time to recover.
The first shot is most important in a personal defense situation. In competition, speed and control for a long string of shots is important. The Dan Wesson is built to save your life. As for absolute accuracy, firing the piece from a Bullshooters pistol rest was interesting. While this type of accuracy may not be needed in personal defense, it just might be if you need to fire across a parking lot at a felon that is firing from behind cover, or if you have an active shooter at longer range.
The pistol delivered excellent accuracy. I fired several five-shot groups at a long 25 yards. The results are shown below for an average of two 5-shot groups. The Dan Wesson Guardian is an exceptional handgun and good enough to ride with.
What is your opinion of light versus heavy frames for shooting or self-defense? Which size 1911 do you carry? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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