January 03, 2011
I test a great many guns. Some are great; others are mediocre at best. But even the great ones rarely get me or the folks at my FFL excited. That's why I was so shocked to find the guys behind the counter at Houston's Fountain Firearms jabbering excitedly about my latest arrival, Dan Wesson's new Valor 1911.
I, too, fell in love with the Valor at first sight. Its matte-black appearance and gray Micarta grips were striking, and its slim-line grips made it feel great in the hand. I was most impressed with the superb fit and finish of the largely hand-fitted Valor, which was as tight as many custom guns costing much more.
The Valor starts life as a forged, 416 stainless-steel slide and frame. The frame has a beveled magazine well for speedier reloads and nicely executed 25-lines-per-inch checkering on the frontstrap and backstrap. The magazine release is slightly extended, as is the forged Greider slide stop. Neither is extended enough to be a tactical liability.
The trigger guard houses a solid, aluminum Greider trigger that is adjustable for overtravel. That combined with the carefully fitted match-grade, tool-steel hammer and sear give the pistol a crisp, clean trigger pull. My sample measured 4 pounds, 9 ounces.
As I mentioned earlier, the grips are gray, slim-line, linen Micarta, and they are made by VZ Grips. They have a fair amount of texture but are not abrasive. The slim grips feel good, and the color is an attractive complement to the matte-black pistol.
The Ed Brown beavertail grip safety is expertly blended; there are no uneven gaps between it and the frame. It has a raised bump to ensure activation in a hasty draw, and its top is recessed for the Commander-style hammer.
The Ed Brown thumb safety is my favorite; it is extended, but the shelf is fairly narrow. It is wide enough for those of us who ride the thumb safety to get a purchase but not so wide that it digs into your side or is inadvertently deactivated. It was fitted perfectly, and it engaged smoothly and positively.
The Valor's 5-inch slide is also a forged, stainless-steel part. It has no front cocking serrations, retaining that classic look and bar-of-soap feel I like so much. The ejection port is slightly flared. The barrel and bushing are Dan Wesson's own stainless, match-grade parts.
The dovetailed front sight has a green tritium insert with a white outline. The adjustable Novak rear sight has twin dots, one on each side of the notch, that glow white to prevent confusion in a high-stress situation.
The entire stainless-steel pistol is finished an attractive matte black that Dan Wesson calls "Duty Coat." The ceramic coating is extremely corrosion-resistant and much tougher than Teflon-based coatings. The color looks great against the gray grips.
After more thorough inspection, overall fit and finish were as good as I thought they were at first glance. There was no hint of a rattle, the barrel locked up nice and tight, and the controls worked smoothly and positively.
Truth be told, I was surprised at just how tight the pistol was. It obviously had a great deal of hand-fitting, which is something I would expect to find on a custom pistol costing a lot more.
Generally, the down side of such tight fitting is that it will often require a break-in period of 200 to 300 rounds before beginning to function properly. I had just 400 rounds of ammunition to run through the Valor, so I was hoping that wouldn't be the case.
One of the Valor's distinctive features is the 25-lines-per-inch checkering on the frontstrap and backstrap.
The adjustable Novak sights are as low profile and rugged as the fixed version, and likewise, the extended thumb safety is also low profile.
The beavertail grip safety was nicely fitted and was easy to engage thanks to the bump at its base.
At first, getting the bushing in and out required tools. After working it back and forth and firing a few hundred rounds of ammo through the gun, disassembly and assembly were easily accomplished without any tools.
The Valor Is All Business
I started my testing by firing a few magazines at 7 yards to make sure everything worked as it should. The Valor fed, fired, and ejected perfectly. The shots were tightly clustered and dead center but a bit low on the 3-inch Shoot-N-C target. Fortunately, the adjustable Novak sights allowed me to dial it in quickly.
When I moved back to 25 yards to check out the Valor's accuracy, I got some quick gratification. I started with Hornady's 185-grain XTP load, which promptly drilled a five-shot group that measured 0.95 inch. I thought it was luck, so I fired four more groups with the same load. The second group measured 0.93 inch, and the third measured 0.97 inch. The next two groups measured a little over an inch, but that load averaged an incredible 1.18 inches at 25 yards. That rivals the accuracy of the best pistols I've ever tested.
Clearly, I got a bit lucky stumbling on such a great load first, but Federal's 230-grain Hydra-Shok load averaged a hair over 1.50 inches. The other two loads, from Black Hills and Winchester, averaged more than 2 inches, but that's still pretty impressive.
A few days later, I conducted some reliability tests. My friends, James Jeffrey and Mike Ambrose, gave me a hand. They combined to fire about 120 rounds through the Valor.
Ambrose, a Vietnam-era U.S. Navy SEAL, loved it. He was particularly impressed with the Valor's trigger and accuracy. Jeffrey, who works for me full-time and is used to shooting my collection of high-end custom 1911s, held it in equally high regard.
I fired the last 160 rounds through the Valor. I really dug the crisp trigger, and I loved the feel of the slim grips combined with the frontstrap and backstrap checkering. They made the gun easy to hold securely, especially in rapid-fire drills, yet they weren't too abrasive.
Dan Wesson's first entry into the custom market is an incredible first effort. Heck, it's an incredible custom pistol, period. I think the Valor would be a great buy at any price, but with an MSRP of $1,577, it just might be the best buy on the custom 1911 market.
Greg fired this 0.93-inch, 25-yard, five-shot group with Hornady 185-grain factory ammo. It demonstrates the Valor's tackdriving accuracy. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Mike Ambrose was extremely impressed with the Valor's accuracy. Note that muzzle rise is a result of his soft, target-style grip.