Review: Dan Wesson Specialist 1911 — A Love Affair

Hunter Elliott shooting the Dan Wesson Special through recoil

Nothing earth-shattering, but they just reintroduced and updated Dan Wesson Specialist chambered in .45 Auto recently walked into my life. Well, truthfully it rode in on a truck, but semantics and all. I am a dyed-in-the-wool, hard-headed, and somewhat unreasonable 1911 guy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy other platforms almost as well, looking at you CZ, but my first choice is always the 1911-style pistol. Whether you agree with me or not, that is just fine. What else could we argue about on a gun blog?

Since the Dan Wesson Specialist review was completed, it quickly became my favorite — so much so that I bought it after the review. However, not all love is destined to be eternal. I wondered, Once the new wore off, would the pistol be regulated to some dark corner of my strongbox? Fortunately, my affinity for that pistol was not a flash in the pan, if you will allow me a tired cliche. As I carried and trained with the gun, my endearment grew deeper. I do feel it is “1911 evolved.”

Dan Wesson Specialist on green camo web gear with a KA-Bar knife
The Specialist met or exceeded the author’s expectations, although he was not a fan of the forward cocking serrations and flared magwell.

1911 Evolved

While the manual of arms is the same as any other 1911, the enhancements are what sets the Dan Wesson Specialist apart from the crowd. Truly, reliability is the heart and soul of a pistol. Without that, nothing else matters.

Throughout the initial review, and the couple of thousand rounds afterward, the pistol did not exhibit any sort of an issue, even with a myriad of ammunition and magazines being used. That being said, the magazine you select has as much, or maybe more, to do with reliability than the ammo. So, quality magazines and SAAMI spec ammunition are paramount. With all-steel parts, I was confident of the longevity of the pistol over time and abuse.

Speaking of magazines, the Specialist incorporates a magazine well. One disadvantage to a magazine well is you need to use magazines with extended base pads. Even with the extended base pad, it’s about flush with the magazine well on the Specialist. With a standard magazine base pad, it is recessed. When you drive the mag home in the Specialist, you may need to use your thumb to ensure the magazine is fully seated.

Dan Wesson ships the pistol and two eight-round magazines with extended base pads. I am not a huge fan of extended magazine wells on a pistol. However, considering they aid you in funneling that fresh magazine into the gun and help with a speedy reload, I get why it was included with this pistol. If you loathe it, a simple mainspring housing swap deletes the mag well.

Tactical night sights top the slide, allowing for a rapid flash sight picture by stacking the front sight’s white dot over the white dot in the serrated rear sight for daytime shooting.  For night, the front night sight illuminates green while the rear dot glows yellow, allowing you to easily differentiate the front and rear in low and no-light situations.

Night sights on the Dan Wesson Specialist .45 ACP 1911 handgun
The Dan Wesson Specialist features night sights with white rings for daytime use and a yellow/green combination for low-light conditions.

Another design benefit of the sights are the serrations on the rear of the sight that reduce or eliminate glare when shooting in hard light. The rear sight is drift adjustable via a set screw. With the rear sight incorporating a ledge, the pistol can be racked one-handed using a belt, tactical vest, jeans pocket, or table, for example.

The Duty finish and internals have held up ideally, considering I’ve treated this pistol as a tool, not a safe queen. The VZ Grips G10 plates were very aggressive, allowing a firm purchase on the pistol. Coupled with the front strap and mainspring housing checkered (25 lines per inch), and deep beavertail, it was easy to lock this pistol up.

I’ve heard some shooters have complained about just how aggressive the G10 stocks were. For a fighting pistol like this, you may be sweating, bleeding, grappling, or wearing gloves. In cases such as these, aggressive grips are warranted. Swapping grip plates is straightforward if you prefer something ‘less belligerent.’

Rear controls and grip safety on the Dan Wesson Specialist 1911 .45 ACP handgun
The Specialist is chock full of features including backstrap checkering and grip safety with palm swell, and ambi thumb safety.

An ambidextrous thumb safety is not imperative for a range gun — in my opinion. However, it is a welcome upgrade for a fighting handgun. The same could be said for the accessory rail machined into the dust cover. A defensive handgun having the ability to secure a light can provide an advantage if the situation goes off the rails while the moon is out. A deep beavertail with palm swell is well fit to the receiver, allowing for a positive grip safety disengagement.

The Specialist’s trigger left little to be desired. Breaking clean at 4.75 pounds, the Specialist’s trigger features just enough take-up to prep the trigger, combined with minimal overtravel to facilitate correct follow-through. The overtravel can be adjusted, but I elected to leave it as set as it came from the factory.

The 2020 Specialist includes a few features I usually do not care for, such as the magazine well and forward cocking serrations. Still, with such a purpose-built fighting pistol, I can appreciate why those features and others were included.

Three-Shot Groups From 25 Yards Using a Rest

Accuracy was exemplary, as was usability. 

Performance table for .45 ACP ammunition
Regardless of the load, the Specialist enjoyed a steady diet of ammunition ranging from 185 to 230-grain ammunition.


The Specialist is a prime example of the constant refinement of the defensive handgun platform. As far as triggers and ergonomics, the 1911-style pistols set the standard. In the 1911 world, Dan Wesson has helped to separate the wheat from the chaff. While aesthetics is often considered when buying a handgun, what’s under the hood is far greater in importance.

Please bear in mind this is my opinion. I understand many will not agree. However, one must consider that most modern semi-automatic handguns owe their roots to John Moses Browning (JMB). The locked-breech, short-recoil operation with the tilting barrel and front slide removal came from Browning.

The sliding breechblock was designed and implemented by JMB in 1898, and it appeared on his M1900. The recoil spring under the barrel, double camming surfaces on the lower barrel lug, and receiver-mounted slide release are used to raise and lower the barrel. The double-column/single-feed position magazine is also a design of JMB.

Dan Wesson 1911 on a paper target with a box of Doubletap ammunition
The Specialist proved plenty accurate in testing with range ammunition and full power loads.

So, the next time you see fit to disparage that fella going on about his 1911-style pistol, look at your own autoloader and know that without John Browning and his 1911, you may have been carrying a Luger offspring, and no one wants that. 

What do you think of the Dan Wesson Specialist? Do you prefer your 1911 with a rail or without? Let us know in the comments.

  • Hunter Elliott shooting the Dan Wesson Specialist with a TruGlo weapons light attached
  • Rear controls and grip safety on the Dan Wesson Specialist 1911 .45 ACP handgun
  • Night sights on the Dan Wesson Specialist .45 ACP 1911 handgun
  • Performance table for .45 ACP ammunition
  • Dan Wesson 1911 on a paper target with a box of Doubletap ammunition
  • Hunter Elliott shooting the Dan Wesson Special through recoil
  • Dan Wesson Specialist on green camo web gear with a KA-Bar knife
  • Dan Wesson specialist stripped down to its individual parts for inspection
  • Dan Wesson Specialist with aggressive G10 grip plates
  • Woman shooting the Dan Wesson Specialist in the forest
  • Springfield TRP 1911-A1 pistol
  • Ambi safety on the Dan Wesson Specialist pistol
  • Dan Wesson Specialist 1911 .45 ACP handgun with a magazine using an extended base plate inserted
  • Dan Wesson Specialist 1911 .45 ACP handgun with a flush mount magazine inserted
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. I own and carry a Colt defender 1911 and a backup Colt mustang xsp 911.
    They run quite well. The Defender is in 9 and the mustang in 380.
    I’ve shot some top shelf 1911’s and mine can run neck and neck.
    Let’s face it, the trigger is the unifier here. No striker fire gun can match it.
    I’ve noticed Tisas and RIA on here that would not suggest to anyone.
    Materials are better than in the past so even cheaply made mass produced or refurbs will run for a long time but again, if you’ve never shot a six thousand dollar Gucci or even a series 70 Colt then you’ll be happy with a cheapo firing at all.
    I must admit I’m leaning towards the 2011’s like the Springfield Arms prodigy or the new Dan Wesson models.
    Something great about a 1911 in my hand and the feel of it as I’m shuffling through rounds, it’s something uniquely special.
    There is a new dog in the pen and I can’t remember the model but they run 6,000$ grand and take six months to get it.
    Kinda like buying an AMG Mercedes and waiting on them to hand build the engine. You’ll have to wait but it’s so worth it when you open up that package.

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