By Daniel T. McElrath, Shooting Illustrated
The Dan Wesson Guardian 1911 had a considerable advantage going into this review: the CCO configuration (Commander-length slide, lightweight Officer-size frame) is my favorite for 1911-based, concealed-carry pistols. The grip, not the barrel, is the most difficult part of a semi-automatic to conceal. A 4.25-inch barrel seems the ideal compromise between concealability, balance, quick handling, enhanced sight radius and good velocity. Also, it allows the preservation of John Browning’s original system and internal geometry. All that was required of Dan Wesson was to execute the concept well.
Coming out of the hard case, it appears the company did. The Dan Wesson Guardian is undeniably handsome, with a smooth, blemish-free, matte-blue finish covering its thoroughly dehorned surfaces. The finish results in zero glare, obviating grooves or stippling on the topstrap and stippling or checkering on the rear of the slide.
All the contemporary 1911 enhancements are present, including a high-sweep beavertail grip safety with raised pad and recessed trigger slot; lowered and flared ejection port; extended thumb safety; lightweight, match-grade trigger and speed hammer. Add to those features Trijicon snag-free, three-dot, tritium night sights and it’s immediately apparent that this is a premium self-defense pistol.
There are a couple of other things going for the Dan Wesson Guardian that make it particularly desirable. One is the bobbed mainspring housing. Such was popularized by Ed Brown and is now coming into vogue. It is simply the radiused bottom edge of the backstrap, the part most likely to print beneath a concealing garment. Equally appreciated are the grip panels. A graceful sweep of stippling at the front edge gives way to the Dan Wesson logo and smooth, nicely figured wood on the flat surface and trailing edge. While this looks merely stylish, it is amazingly functional. When you reach for the holstered pistol, your hand slides smoothly into a firing grip. As your fingers close around the grip frame, they gain purchase and control from the stippling combined with fine checkering on the frontstrap.
The gun tested was chambered in .38 Super, though it is also available in 9 mm and .45 ACP. Why .38 Super? The cartridge gained popularity with IPSC shooters as its longer case (relative to the 9 mm) allowed it to be handloaded to make “major” power factor. It’s always been an accurate, flat-shooting round of good power, but was a little esoteric and hard to find, particularly with the expanding bullets desired for self-defense. That changed when SIG Sauer chose to load it in its premium V-Crown line. Now, in a single-stack self-defense pistol, the question may be “Why not .38 Super?”
On the hip, the Dan Wesson Guardian carries well, better than ultra-compact 1911s. This is due to the greater bearing surface the longer slide affords to holsters. Though it’s counterintuitive, a 4.25-inch slide is more stable in a holster, keeping the grip tight to the side, thus making the gun more concealable.
The Guardian doesn’t feel good in the hand—it feels great. The high-cut frame, traditional grip angle, single-stack circumference, slight muzzle heaviness, rear smoothness/front texturing and full-finger accommodation combine to make perhaps the best-fitting 1911 I’ve handled. Only those hands at the most extreme ends of the size spectrum might find it otherwise. The controls are all within easy reach and function smoothly and distinctly, without any play nor any stiffness.
The manual-of-arms, including field stripping, is blessedly familiar. The included bushing wrench is the only tool required to break down the pistol into its major components, though you’ll need an allen wrench to take off the grip panels.
After thoroughly lubricating the pistol, we headed for the range. The Dan Wesson Guardian ran at 100 percent with all six brands of ammunition tested. Felt recoil was not appreciably greater than that of a hot 9 mm load, despite the lightweight frame. Muzzle rise, however, was steep. Accuracy was quite good, aided, no doubt, by the clean, crisp 4.5-pound trigger. As is often the case with semi-automatics, the Guardian evinced a tendency to throw one flier per string, opening up some otherwise excellent groups.
The Dan Wesson Guardian does not come equipped with ledge-style sights, which are just now becoming a trend in tactical pistols. The significance of that is it was the only quibble I could raise, and even it is pretty dubious given the presence of the excellent Trijicons. This pistol is set up and functioned out of the box as well as any concealed-carry 1911 I’ve examined. It carries well, feels terrific, fires reliably and accurately, has a familiar manual-of-arms and is easy to maintain. Less important, but also noteworthy, it looks darn good. Lastly, the .38 Super provides more punch than a 9 mm, yet allows more firepower than a single-stack .45 ACP. The chambering is just rare enough to distinguish the owner without being so novel that you can’t find or afford ammunition.