After testing five high-end 1911 handguns in the July 2020 issue, we got four more guns to conduct an even greater and more demanding test of steel. The 1911 handgun has continued in service, even at the top of the heap, in competition and service use long after other mechanical designs have been out of service or relegated to the museum. A low bore axis, straight-to-the-rear trigger compression, a grip that fits most hands well, and a design that lends itself well to customization has the potential to suit every shooter. Among expensive 1911 handguns, the primary difference in the pistols isn’t the number of features, although self-luminous sights and extended controls have a bearing on price. Rather, the reason they are so expensive is the quality of machine work and manufacture. The trigger compression, barrel fit, and frame-to-slide fit are usually as good as human hands can make them, and the cosmetics are almost always top notch. Such guns will almost always be able to outshoot their owners, and their operation is flawlessly reliable.
All of the pistols tested are 5-inch-barrel steel-frame 1911 handguns. This means they are not difficult to control with full-power ammunition. Our contestants were:
- The Dan Wesson Specialist 01802 45 ACP, $1732. We found a Specialist “on sale” for $1575 and moved too late to obtain it, and we also located a few for $2020. It seems $1700 is about average. Our test gun cost us a bit more than the Springfield and a thousand dollars less than the Wilson Combat and Les Baer, on average. While the Dan Wesson may be a “production” pistol, unless the pistol is modified one at a time by a custom pistolsmith, most high-end 1911 handguns are products of a certain package or formula, so its factory SKU didn’t put us off one bit. The Dan Wesson Specialist is the heaviest 1911 tested at 43 ounces unloaded — just three ounces less than a 6-inch-barrel 357 Magnum Python.
- The Les Baer 572 Hemi 45 ACP, $2853. This pistol is named after Les Baer’s drag car. It is a distinctive pistol with a chrome finish, black grips, and black Dupont S coated controls. Some of the raters were left cold by the color scheme, others were very enthusiastic, it is that type of pistol. The pistol features both standard and forward cocking serrations. They are nicely machined with a finer pattern than the other handguns.
- The Springfield Armory 1911 TRP PC9107L18 45 ACP, $1648. We found this pistol listed for $1299 at several outlets, but also saw it as out of stock. The Tactical Response Pistol is a factory-production 1911 turned out by the Springfield custom shop. You cannot upgrade a Loaded Model by gunsmithing it into a TRP; the TRP is a tighter gun. The frame is fitted to the slide, and the result is a very tight pistol — it seemed as tight as the Wilson Combat or Dan Wesson pistols.
- The Wilson Combat Close Quarters Battle 45 ACP, $2865. The Close Quarters Battle is the flagship combat pistol offered by Wilson Combat. The CQB is manufactured using the same parts you might order to build your own Wilson Combat pistol, save the parts fitted in house by Wilson Combat gunsmiths. A trademark of the CQB is excellent barrel fitting. The barrel-to-slide and bushing fit are tight, and the barrel crown is well done. This pistol’s steel frame and slide have an Armor Tuff coating that is evenly applied and seems durable, we thought.
These are four different handguns with different downrange performance, but the bottom line connecting them is reliability. To check for this, we fired the 80 rounds of ammunition on the combat course, mixing up the lot with mostly practice loads, 40 rounds of Black Hills Ammunition 200-grain LSWCs, 20 rounds of Fiocchi 230-grain FMJs, and 20 rounds of a handload consisting of the Hornady 230-grain XTPs over enough Titegroup powder for 855 fps.
Among the guns, the Les Baer 572 Hemi is primarily designed for extreme accuracy. The Wilson Combat CQB is a formidable defensive firearm. The Dan Wesson Specialist is for service use. The Springfield Tactical Response pistol is intended to offer excellent performance, but it isn’t as expensive as the Springfield Professional, which is an FBI SWAT pistol, and it was deemed a good match on the lower end of high-end prices.
Gun Test Grade: A
The Specialist was designed for tactical use. There are no forward cocking serrations. It does have an ambidextrous safety. There is no full-length guide rod (FLGR), which may be a plus. However, one rater noted that an FLGR-equipped slide is more rigid and will not go out of battery if braced against an object. The pistol features a light rail, the only gun in this test with one. The stainless steel is nicely polished. The pistol features a skeletonized hammer and the only solid trigger of the test. Most raters felt a solid trigger is best for service and personal-defense use because stuff can’t get into the trigger body and block the trigger’s movement. Trigger action breaks at a smooth 5.5 pounds. Fitting of the barrel, barrel bushing, locking lugs and link is good and tight. There is no lateral play in the slide.
|Action Type||single action, short recoil-operated locked breech|
|Overall Length||8.6 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.25 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||43.0 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||48.0 oz.|
|Slide Material||Forged steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||18.0 lbs.|
|Front Strap Height||2.6 in.|
|Back Strap Height||3.2 in.|
|Barrel Length||5.0 in.|
|Grip Thickness Maximum||1.25 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.2 in.|
|Rear Sight||Fixed drift adjustable|
|Front Sight||Dovetailed post with tritium insert|
|Sight Radius||6.4 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||5.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.8 in.|
|Safeties||Slide lock, grip|
The G10 grips offer good purchase, and the left-side panel is cut out to allow rapid manipulation of the magazine lock. The safety is well fitted. It isn’t as tight on the upsweep as the TRP, but it is very close and plenty rigid for service use. The beavertail grip safety is well designed. There is an undercut behind the trigger guard to lower the bore axis. Two eight-round bumper-pad magazines are supplied in the lockable hard case.
We rated the Specialist’s sights best of the test for service and personal defense, not target use. The Ameriglo sights feature a front dot surrounded by a white ring. The front sight glows green. The rear face of the rear sight is serrated to reduce glare. The single rear dot is amber to avoid confusion and offer contrast. The rear sight offers the familiar ledge or wedge type design that offers a good fulcrum for racking the slide. We don’t know how sure racking the slide actually is, but if the slide is on lock back and you are able to execute a one-hand reload, there is much utility in wedging the rear sight against a boot heel to drop the slide. The slide features a serrated top rib. This is a classy look the other pistols lack. The front of the slide features a ball end mill cut that makes for attractive blending.
On the grip, front strap checkering is well done, and the magazine well is a good touch. A word on the VZ G10 grips — most advertisements for the Specialist show black grips, but our new-in-the-box pistol features brown grips. The rear of the grips are angled with a different groove than the front half of the grips. The front of the grips has a honeycomb pattern and offers good purchase. We like this grip design and thought it was the best of the test. The slide lock isn’t quite a GI type, but neither is it enlarged. The slide-stop pin is flattened so as not to protrude on the right side. The last pistols tested with this feature were the Nighthawk and Guncrafter models in July 2020, considerably more expensive than the Dan Wesson Specialist.
In common with the other pistols, there is no firing-pin block or drop safety. The pistol instead relies on an extra-strength firing-pin spring, and in the case of the Springfield, a 38 Super-sized firing pin.
The Dan Wesson was a pleasant handgun to fire in combat shooting. The Dan Wesson ranked closest to the Wilson Combat in combat drills. The pistol handles quickly, and magazine changes are rapid. In bench accuracy, the Specialist is more accurate than most 1911 handguns. It was more accurate than the TRP by a margin, but behind the Wilson Combat and Les Baer. This doesn’t often happen, but the pistols’ ranking in accuracy was in line with their ranking by price.
Our Team Said: The Dan Wesson is a good performer with no drawbacks.
45 ACP Range DataAll groups were fired at 25 yards from a benchrest position using a MTM Caseguard K Zone pistol rest. We used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony to measure velocity. The first screen of the chronograph was 10 feet from the muzzle.
|Black Hills 230-grain JHP||Les Baer Hemi 572||Wilson Combat CQB||Dan Wesson Specialist||Springfield TRP|
|Average Velocity||870 fps||855 fps||861 fps||863 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||387 ft.-lbs.||373 ft.-lbs.||379 ft.-lbs.||380 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||0.9 in.||1.5 in.||1.8 in.||2.0 in.|
|Average Group||1.5 in.||1.9 in.||2.3 in.||2.6 in.|
|Fiocchi 230-grain JHP||Les Baer Hemi 572||Wilson Combat CQB||Dan Wesson Specialist||Springfield TRP|
|Average Velocity||842 fps||853 fps||839 fps||840 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||362 ft.-lbs.||372 ft.-lbs.||359 ft.-lbs.||360 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.2 in.||2.3 in.||2.4 in.||2.7 in.|
|Average Group||2.6 in.||2.6 in.||2.8 in.||3.0 in.|
|Handload Hornady 185-grain XTP||Les Baer Hemi 572||Wilson Combat CQB||Dan Wesson Specialist||Springfield TRP|
|Average Velocity||1125 fps||1160 fps||1140 fps||1137 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||520 ft.-lbs.||553 ft.-lbs.||534 ft.-lbs.||531 ft.-lbs.|
|Small group||1.3 in.||1.4 in.||1.9 in.||1.7 in.|
|Average Group||1.6 in.||1.8 in.||2.2 in.||2.0 in.|