Photos by Mark Fingar
If I had to describe Dan Wesson 1911s, it would be as the most perennially underappreciated, best-value-for-the-price semicustom 1911s on the market.
In my opinion, the difference between a Dan Wesson 1911 and a custom 1911 isn’t fit or quality, it is that Dan Wesson isn’t known as a “custom” 1911 shop. However, many of the “custom” 1911 houses these days are producing their guns assembly-line style, as opposed to one gun being brought to life by the hands of a single master craftsman. So, maybe the only thing that’s different between a Dan Wesson and a modern “custom” 1911 is the high price?
Every Dan Wesson 1911 I’ve tested over the past decade has been the equal in accuracy, fit, function and looks to custom 1911s, while costing half to two-thirds less. Their new Specialist Distressed is no exception.
The Specialist line is a family of 1911 pistols available in full-size or Commander models, 9mm or .45 ACP, with several different finishes. The pistol I received for testing is a full-size Specialist chambered in .45 ACP featuring Dan Wesson’s Distressed finish.
Let’s talk about the finish first because it looks just as good in person as it does in the photos, and it’s the first thing people notice about this gun.
The people at my FFL are veterans of the industry and see a lot of firearms. They are familiar with Dan Wesson 1911s, which means they have a favorable opinion of them. Their reaction upon seeing the Specialist Distressed was the same as mine — namely, that it is the best-looking “distressed” finish that any of us had ever seen.
To be honest, the Specialist Distressed looks a lot like the blued 1911 that I carried for about a decade, except the bare metal where the bluing was worn off kept wanting to rust. The Specialist Distressed starts off with a stainless steel slide and frame, though, so unlike my much-battered 1911, it won’t be rusting.
On top of the stainless steel frame and slide, Dan Wesson has applied their Duty finish, which is ferritic nitrocarburizing, known in other places by proprietary names such as Melonite. It is the Duty finish that has been worn away in just the right way.
Dan Wesson states that the Distressed version has a “hand weathered” frame and slide, and doing the work by hand is the only way you could get a gun that looks this beautifully used — except the pistol functions perfectly and is brand-new. It looks like it’s been riding around in a leather holster for a few years, only without the accompanying dings and divots in the steel and grips you’d usually see.
I understand the allure of battle-worn and distressed finishes, except they usually look artificial and cheesy. The finish on the Specialist Distressed, unlike so many others, looks natural. The finish has been distressed right where the gun’s finish would be worn away by a hand and a holster, and it is the same price as the standard Specialist with the black Duty finish, so they don’t charge you for the distressed look.
This Specialist Distressed is the full-size model, which sports the same Government model dimensions that have been around since, oh, 1911. There’s the 5-inch barrel with the original swinging link, 5½-inch overall height for the pistol, but the overall length has been stretched to 8¾ inches with the addition of the beautifully blended beavertail grip safety. While all of the other Specialist models are available in 9mm or .45 ACP, at the moment the Specialist Distressed is only available in .45 ACP.
The barrel bushing is a match stainless steel model, but you won’t need a bushing wrench to remove it as it is only finger tight. The end of the barrel is slightly flared to mate perfectly with the bushing. Slide-to-frame-to-barrel fit is excellent, with no play. Slide travel is smooth.
Designed with the needs of law enforcement in mind, the Specialist Distressed features many state-of-the-art tactical touches. For example, the AmeriGlo night sights on this model are well-thought-out. The front sight has a standard green tritium insert with a white ring around it.
The tactical rear sight has a serrated face to reduce glare, and below the notch is another tritium insert, but the lamp on this one is amber to make sure the two are never confused in low light. The tritium insert on the rear sight does not have a colored ring around it to draw your eye away from the ever-important front sight. The front of the rear sight has a nice ledge — Dan Wesson states it has an “abrupt” front face — so you can rack the slide one-handed on a hard surface if you need to.
The top of the slide features a Clark-style serrated rib, and the front of the slide has a ball-end mill cut that blends perfectly with the rearward-angling cut of the frame at the rail. The tactical rail on the pistol is a MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail for mounting lights and/or lasers. That rail is a bit substantial, so as a result, the empty weight of the Specialist Distressed is 42.3 ounces. That weight helps keep recoil down when shooting .45s, and I’m guessing the 9mm version of this pistol is a pussycat.
Speaking of the 9mm version, it ships with two 10-round magazines. This .45 ACP version is supplied with two stainless eight-round magazines. To help with smooth magazine insertion, the Specialist Distressed is equipped with a nicely contoured magazine well that is blended to mate with the beveled magwell opening in the frame.
The provided Dan Wesson magazines have polymer basepads that assist in seating a magazine, especially at speed. Old-school flush seven- and eight-round magazines will still work in the Specialist Distressed, but you’ll have to press them in with the tip of a finger as they’ll sit up inside that oversized magwell.
To keep your hands on the gun when shooting, you’ve got some great grips as well as some very nice checkering. First, the grips — the black laminate G10 grip panels made by VZ Grips for Dan Wesson are very aggressive. The rear half of the grips have an angled grooving, and the front half of the grips have a sharp-edged pocking that I’ve termed “tactical golf ball” texture. The grips are held in place by Allen-head screws.
The frontstrap of the frame and the mainspring housing feature 25 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering. All checkering these days is done by machine, which means it will be slightly less sharp than old-school hand checkering but also costs less. Twenty-five lpi is a good balance between “cheese-grater” 20 lpi and “maybe not quite aggressive enough” 30-lpi checkering.
The manufacturer states that this pistol sports an undercut triggerguard, and that’s my only bone of contention with this pistol. The frame is cut higher than on an old-school GI model, but the triggerguard is not actually undercut, it is just cut straight back. However, for an actual undercut triggerguard, where the line from the triggerguard doesn’t go straight back to the frame but rather curves upward before hitting the front strap, you’re probably going to have to buy a dedicated competition pistol made by small shops you’ve likely never heard of, which will cost you a lot more than the Specialist Distressed.
The thumb safety on this pistol is a bilateral model with oversized levers. It has positive clicks up and down. The slide release also seems to be a nonstandard design and is just a hair larger than the GI model. It has more of a flat shelf than the angled, checkered surface found on standard slide releases, and I like it. It does not stick out any farther than the grip panels but is very easy to use.
On the right side of the frame you’ll notice that the slide-stop pin does not protrude from the frame as it does on a standard GI gun; instead, it is slightly recessed. This is so if you want to install laser grips on your pistol, where the laser is usually positioned at the top of the right grip and aiming down the frame, the tip of the slide-stop pin is no longer in the way of the laser beam.
The hammer on the Specialist Distressed is a rounded Commander-style hammer, which allows it to nestle snugly inside the beavertail grip safety. I’m guessing most people these days would hardly recognize the original spur hammer of the 1911. On the opposite end of the fire control group is a solid, extended trigger, which has a 1980s look to it.
There is no internal firing pin safety on this pistol, as God and John Moses Browning intended; in 1911 slang, it has a “Series ’70” trigger system. Everything else being equal, a Series ’70 trigger system will provide the lightest and crispest trigger pull of any 1911, and the 1911 already has the trigger pull against which all other pistols are measured.
I put a lot of rounds downrange before I measured the trigger pull weight on my sample, and I guessed that it came in about 3¾ pounds. Imagine my surprise when my scale showed the trigger pull to be 4½ pounds. The trigger pull was so crisp and the reset so short and sweet that the pull weight felt substantially lighter than it was.
The first magazine of ammunition was shot offhand at a target 10 yards away, and every round went exactly where the front sight indicated. This is a 2-inch gun, I said to myself at the time — and if you look at the 25-yard accuracy results, you’ll see that I was right.
As you might have guessed, the appearance of the Specialist Distressed made me a bit nostalgic for my old single-stack carry gun. When I carried that gun, my carry ammo was Federal Hydra-Shok, so it seems serendipitous that the first ammo I put through this gun was a Practice and Defend combo pack from Federal. It included 100 rounds of 230-grain full-metal jacket (FMJ) practice ammo and 20 rounds of Federal’s legendary 230-grain Hydra-Shok defensive ammo.
For years, I worshipped at the altar of the 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge; looking at the big cavity on the Hydra-Shok, it’s easy to remember why. Those jacketed hollowpoints (JHPs) and every type of ammo I tried ran flawlessly through the Specialist Distressed.
Dan Wesson states that the Specialist line is designed for the needs of law enforcement, and the Specialist is in use or authorized by several police departments, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Every old guy is required to complain, “The modern generation has it easy,” but when it comes to 1911s from the factory that are reliable with JHPs, it’s true. But it’s not the reliability of the Specialist Distressed that makes it stand out; it’s the custom-grade fit, the accuracy and the distressed finish that distinguishes this 1911 from the rest.
Dan Wesson 1911 Specialist Distressed Specs
- Type: Hammer fired, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: .45 ACP
- Capacity: 8+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 5 in.
- Overall Length: 8.75 in.
- Height: 5.5 in.
- Width: 1.45 in.
- Weight: 42.3 oz. (no magazine)
- Finish: Distressed Duty
- Safeties: Grip, thumb
- Sights: AmeriGlo night sights
- Trigger: 4.5 lbs. (tested); single action
- Accessories: Two 8-rd. magazines, lockable hard case
- MSRP: $2,012
- Manufacturer: Dan Wesson, danwessonfirearms.com