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Dan Wesson Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander review
Dan Wesson Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander
Made for concealed carry
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG
Although I have been vaguely aware of the Dan Wesson name for a number of years, I have always thought of the company in connection with revolvers, and perhaps especially their “switch barrel” revolver kits such as the set owned by a friend and occasional shooting partner in another state. Dan Wesson has also been offering 1911 pistols for some years, and the company was purchased by CZ-USA a few years ago. And I have noticed a moderate amount of “buzz” … not quite a cult-like following, but perhaps close … about a Dan Wesson model known to D-W aficionados as the “CBOB,” which is (or was, as I believe the model popularly known as the “CBOB” has been discontinued) a Commander-sized 1911 pistol with the lower aft corner of the grip frame and mainspring housing chopped off, or “bobbed.” Thus, the Commander Classic Bobtail became the “CBOB.”
Dan Wesson revamped their line-up not too long ago. The CBOB was replaced by the VBOB, and the natives were restless. It seems they liked the CBOB, and weren’t happy to see it replaced by a pistol of the same size but in a different series of pistol. Whether in response to customer comments after the discontinuation of the CBOB or simply a natural evolution of the product line, in the Bobtail Commander portion of their web site Dan Wesson now lists the Guardian, which is a bobbed, Commander-size 1911 chambered for 9mm Parabellum. The company recently sent us a new Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander for evaluation. Regrettably, the Guardian arrived while we were in the middle of testing two other pistols and we felt we could not do any of them justice by trying to evaluate three pistols simultaneously. Thus, the D-W Guardian was set aside for a couple of weeks while we completed testing of the pistols ahead of it in the queue. Now we can tell you about the Dan Wesson Guardian (or should we nickname this one the “GBOB”?).
This model is not to be confused with the recently-introduced Dan Wesson CCO Bobtail, which is built using a Commander-length slide mated to an Officers ACP-sized frame, with the bottom of the mainspring housing and grip frame not so much “bobbed” as gently rounded. The Guardian is a true Commander-size pistol, with a 4-1/4-inch barrel (D-W’s specifications say 4.3 inches) on a full-size receiver. The lower aftermost corner of the grip frame and mainspring housing have been significantly chamfered, or “bobbed.” This is not an unusual treatment, but it is one I had not until now actually seen and handled “up close and personal.” In the interest of full disclosure, being the Luddite that I am I was fully prepared to not like it, simply because it isn’t “original.”
I was wrong.
I expected that the straight portion of the backstrap that remained above the chamfer would be too short and that the heel of my hand would be unsupported. That proved not to be the case. My hands are, as men’s hands go, fairly ordinary … neither huge nor tiny. I found that the Guardian nestled comfortably into a one-handed grip and that, contrary to my apprehensions, I did not feel that the heel of my hand was hanging off the pistol in outer space. I did notice, however, that although comfortable, the pistol sat in a one-handed hold at a slightly different angle (rotationally, as viewed from behind the pistol) than a 1911 with an unmodified grip frame. This in no way affected accuracy when shooting groups from a rest on the bench, but I felt that it did affect point of impact vs. point of aim when firing quick double and triple taps from a standing position.
However, I hasten to point out that the difference between a straight MSH and an arched MSH affects point of impact by at least as much, which is why any 1911 that I might carry has a straight MSH, even if it arrived wearing an arched MSH. I confess to owning an old Colt Combat Commander and an Argentinean Sistema M1927 that still have their original, arched mainspring housings, but I have no intention of ever carrying those pistols and thus originality prevails over ergonomics, but only in those limited instances.
The DW Guardian 9mm arrived in a blow molded plastic clamshell case, bearing the Dan Wesson name on the outside and a standard label identifying the contents as a Guardian 9mm Black Bobtail.
Inside, we found the pistol itself, along with a fairly usual array of accessories, including two magazines, an owner’s manual, a cable lock, and a manila envelope containing a fired cartridge case (for those jurisdictions where such is required). The interior of the case is hard plastic, molded to the shape of the items that go in each recess.
The pistol itself is what I refer to as a “true” Commander size. The original Commander pistol had a 4¼” barrel and slide. Many 1911 pistols in this intermediate size range today come with 4” barrels, and it seems to have become somewhat commonplace to lump all mid-size 1911s under the general category of “Commander.” However, since the 4¼” pistols typically (like the original Commander) use a conventional barrel bushing and recoil spring plug whereas the 4” pistol typically use a tapered cone barrel with a reverse recoil spring plug, completely aside from the question of whether the term “Commander” should apply to any pistol other than a Colt, they simply aren’t the same animal. Other than Colt themselves, Dan Wesson is one of a very few 1911 manufacturers who produce mid-size pistols in the original, 4¼” length and use the standard recoil spring plug and short recoil spring guide rod.
The Dan Wesson Guardian is an alloy-framed rendition of the Commander-size 1911 pistol, weighing in at just 29 ounces. It is attractively finished in a matte black ceramic coating, the specific of which Dan Wesson regards as proprietary information. Under the hood, we observed no stray machining marks anywhere; the pistol was very well crafted, and the slide fit tight to the receiver with no perceptible vertical or lateral slop, but smooth throughout the full range of slide travel. We’ll look at the details below, but what sets the Guardian off from other Commander-size pistols is the bobtailed grip frame. Chamfering the lower rear corner of the grip frame eliminates the portion of the receiver that is the most difficult to conceal when the pistol is carried under clothing. Although Dan Wesson didn’t originate the bobtail treatment, they have used it extensively in their 1911 lineup, and the Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander is a logical successor to the Classic Bobtail Commander, and a stablemate to the Valor Series Bobtail Commander (a.k.a. “V-Bob”).
Subtle details abound on the Guardian Bobtail. For example, the trigger is NOT a “lightened” aluminum shoe unit. The amount of weight saved by drilling three small holes in an already very small piece of aluminum is negligible, but the holes create three places for dirt and lint to collect, with the potential to interfere with trigger movement. Serious “operators” prefer a solid trigger shoe, and that’s what the Guardian Bobtail has.
The ejection port, of course, is lowered and flared. The photographs of the right side of the pistol make it appear that the slide stop pin is cut short with a flat tip that sits flush with the plane of the receiver, with the receiver slightly beveled. In fact, that's not what happens, but the slide stop pin is not exactly standard 1911, either. Most slide stop pins have the end rounded where the pin protrudes through the side of the frame. The Dan Wesson slide stop pin ends with a flat surface that has the outer perimeter beveled for insertion. It's a novel treatment that we haven't encountered before.
The slide stop itself is not checkered in the traditional style but, although not an extended version, is of the simplified “shelf” design that seems to be gaining in popularity among 1911 manufacturers. The thumb safety, on the other hand, does have an extension to assist in operation as well as to provide a place to rest the right thumb for those shooters who utilize a parallel thumb grip. The thumb safety is not, however, an ambidextrous unit.
The grip safety is a beavertail style with a “memory groove” type palm swell at the base, either an Ed Brown product or a clone of the Ed Brown unit. The beavertail is well fitted to the receiver.
The sights are Trijicon® brand night sights, with the rear being a low-profile wedge type and the front being set in a dovetail. The dovetailed front sight is nicely blended to the arch of the top of the slide.
The barrel bushing is a thick-flange type, which we have been informed (but have not verified) is sourced from EGW. The outer corner is treated with a carry bevel. The recoil spring plug is machined to mate properly with the thicker flange of the barrel bushing. The muzzle is finished essentially flat, with a slight bevel to the outer circumference and a slight crown at the bore. The muzzle, barrel bushing and recoil spring plug are left bright, to contrast with the matte black of the remainder of the pistol.
Under the hood, the barrel uses an integral feed ramp, as is common especially with alloy frames and with 9mm pistols. The integral feed ramp both protects against the possibility of damage to a softer alloy ramp, as well as providing better case head support for the high pressure 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
The two supplied magazines are of Check-Mate manufacture and feature the proprietary Check-Mate patented skirted followers. The skirt at the front of the follower is intended to alleviate the tendency of the follower to tip forward at the top of its travel, which can cause the last round to nose dive into the ramp rather than feeding smoothly. From what we have seen comparing magazines with the Check-Mate follower to other types and brands of magazines … they work.
The front strap is, as seems to be de rigueur for all but entry level 1911s these days, checkered. I do not like any texturing treatment on the front strap of my pistols, but I am admittedly a member of a small minority in this opinion. The checkering on the Guardian is well executed and wasn't so sharp that I felt my hands were being shredded while shooting, as has been the case with some other pistols.
The grips are Hogue "Shadow" grips, executed with a partially solid and partially stippled pattern that includes a circle with the Dan Wesson logo in the center of each panel. While I am typically not a fan of most "fancy" grips, I like these very much. I was a bit surprised, however, to see that the grips are held in place with hex head screws. This is clearly done for appearance, and there is no question that the hex head screws set off nicely the beauty of the grip panels themselves, but with so many other details and features of the pistol squarely aimed at practicality for concealed carry, it was a bit of a surprise to see such non-tactical screws used to secure the grips.
Lastly, of course, is the signature bobtailed grip frame and mainspring housing.
Getting Down to Business
We fired the Dan Wesson Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander at Chris’ Indoor Shooting range in Guilford, Connecticut. Once again, Chris’ was hospitable enough to work with us to find a time when he could close down the entire left side of the range to make it available for our testing. We went to the range on a weekday afternoon and found that it’s a great relief not to have a “hand cannon” going off on either side while shooting off a rest and trying to obtain the best possible results in order to be fair to the pistol.
Although we had not realized until the pistol arrived at the range that our sample Guardian was going to be a 9mm pistol, we had a reasonable assortment of 9mm ammunition left over from some previous testing. As is our standard protocol at M1911.ORG, we tested the Guardian Bobtail at a distance of 75 feet, since it is longer than a 4-inch barrel. Considering that the details of this pistol suggest very strongly that it is intended primarily as a concealed carry, self defense weapon, shooting at 75 feet was perhaps overkill. However, the accuracy we obtained speaks for itself, and to calculate the expected accuracy at a distance of 25 feet instead of 25 yards … simply divide the group sizes by a factor of three. The accuracy portion of our testing was fired over a bag rest from a seated position at the bench.
We found that the trigger pull weighed in at exactly 4 pounds over several pulls, as measured using an RCBS analog trigger pull scale.
The accuracy was exemplary, particularly taking into account that the 9mm Parabellum is not generally considered to be a tack driver cartridge under the best of circumstances. This was our first opportunity to shoot Wilson Combat’s new personal defense ammunition in the 9mm offering, and we were quite frankly blown away by its accuracy.
However … although we have seen other reports on the Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander that said it shot right to point of aim, it did not do so for us. In fact, at both 25 feet and 75 feet we found that all the ammunition we used impacted 2 to 4 inches above point of aim. We were trained to use a traditional 6 o’clock sight picture when we learned to shoot rifles as youngsters, but that only works for a known distance and a known, constant sized bullseye. For a self defense handgun we believe the only sight picture that makes any sense is to aim where you want the bullets to hit. For this test we were using paper targets with six targets printed per sheet, and bullseyes measuring 2⅞” in diameter. In order to keep the higher shots out of each group from creeping up into the target above the one we were shooting, we were forced to revert to using a 6 o’clock hold for this test. Since neither the front nor the rear sight is adjustable for elevation, if the test pistol is representative of production pistols we would have to replace the front sight with one offering a higher blade.
Other than a couple of failures to return to battery during the first few break-in magazines we fired, the pistol ran smoothly and reliably except for one type of ammunition. The Guardian 9mm did not like the Pow’R Ball polymer tip ammunition at all. We experienced multiple failures to feed with this ammunition. The only explanation that comes to mind is that the 9mm rounds are coming out of the magazine at an angle such that the polymer tip impacts low enough on the feed ramp that the relatively soft polymer nose “grabs” the ramp rather than the ogive of the bullet hitting the ramp higher up and sliding into the chamber. This simply demonstrates the wisdom of always testing your pistol with the ammunition you intend to carry before assuming that the latest gee-whiz supercalifragilisticexpialidocious round of the hour is going to be your “go to” ammunition for saving the world from pirates and terrorists. It may be the greatest ammo in the world in the other guy’s gun but, if it won’t feed in your pistol … it’s worthless.
One thing we noticed in shooting double and triple taps from a standing position was that, especially with the +P loadings, the light weight of the alloy frame allows for a bit of muzzle flip. The 9mm Parabellum is a high pressure cartridge, which results in a recoil pulse that is perhaps less overall than that of a comparable pistol in .45 Automatic, but shorter in duration and sharper. The muzzle flip is controllable, but would take a bit of adjustment to relearn rapid target reacquisition.
Having never even laid eyes on a Dan Wesson 1911 before the arrival of our test pistol, we had no idea what to expect. We were very impressed by the level of fit and finish exhibited by the Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander. Further, we have been given to understand that the fire control parts are all machined from tool steel rather than being MIM parts. Certainly, there are many pistols on the market that use MIM small parts and, for the vast majority, the MIM parts function just fine. Nonetheless, those who depend on their pistols for more than just range duty generally agree that they prefer not to trust their lives to MIM parts. With the obvious purpose of this pistol being concealed carry for self defense, the use of tool steel ignition parts is not only a logical choice, its virtually a customer demand. Kudos to Dan Wesson for giving the customer what the customer wants.
The inclusion of night sights as a standard feature is another very positive touch, and further evidence that the folks at Dan Wesson are serious about producing a pistol that is ready to go for self defense carry straight out of the box.
We found that the Guardian Bobtail fit perfectly in a holster intended for a Colt Commander, which should come as no surprise since the only part of the test pistol that isn’t built to standard Commander dimensions is the bobbed grip frame, and that doesn’t go in the holster. The difference in weight between the Guardian with its alloy frame and an all-steel Commander is perceptible. Particularly for smaller people and those who carry for extended periods, the elimination of a few ounces of weight makes for a much more comfortable carry. And in the 9mm chambering, there is another modest weight advantage comparing the weight of 10 rounds of 9mm ammunition to that of 9 rounds of .45 Automatic ammunition.
In summary, we enjoyed shooting the Dan Wesson Guardian 9mm Bobtail Commander very much. We are partial to the Commander size for 1911 pistols anyway, and this rendition of the lightweight Commander is well worth anyone’s consideration.
We would like to express our thanks to CZ-USA / Dan Wesson for making this pistol available to us for testing. We would also like to thank Wilson Combat and Cor-Bon for providing much of the ammunition used for the testing. And, as always, we are very grateful to Chris Dogolo and his staff at Chris' Indoor Shooting range in Guilford, Connecticut, for accommodating our testing activities so graciously.
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Last edited by John; 21st November 2010 at 12:00.
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