By Dr. Martin D. Topper
In the January issue of this magazine, editor Steve Quinlan announced a drawing in which Gun World and Dan Wesson’s parent company CZ-USA will award a Dan Wesson Valor M1911 .45 automatic to the winner. Steve asked me to evaluate the gun, so I called Jason Morton at CZ and he promptly sent a Valor finished in matte stainless to the Florida Gun Exchange.
When the winner is announced, the Exchange will send this high-end handgun to the recipient’s FFL, along with a test target fired by myself and a signed copy of this article.
WHAT MAKES A VALOR
Dan Wesson’s Valor is an all-steel .45 ACP caliber 1911 with a 5-inch barrel. It is a duty pistol with many highly-desirable tactical features.
These include a high-ride beavertail grip safety with a memory bump, Heinie Straight Eight 1911 Ledge night sights, an extended tactical extractor, a lowered and flared ejection port, a forged frame with well-executed 25 LPI checkering on the frontstrap, a 25 LPI checkered mainspring housing, Slim Line VZ grips, a long trigger that’s adjustable for overtravel, an extended slide stop lever, a manual safety with an extended lever and a beveled magazine well.
The Valor comes in two basic colors, matte stainless ($1594) and a matte black ceramic Duty coating ($1913). Even though the Valor is primarily intended as a defensive pistol it has tight tolerances, a match-grade barrel, and a 4-pound trigger. These features enhance its accuracy. Even though it’s designed for personal defense, the Valor would be right at home in the IDPA’s Custom Defensive Pistol Division.
Before leaving the Exchange, I checked the slide’s operation, tested the sear engagement, ensured that the safeties were working and looked over the exterior of the Valor. The gun showed no defects. The actions of the slide, safeties, hammer and trigger were all very smooth, and the grip safety and mainspring housing both fit cleanly into the back of its frame.
Several well-regarded companies such as Ed Brown, Evolution Gun Works, Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Heinie Specialty Products and Grieder Precision supply the parts for this pistol. When a company chooses to contract for various parts, there’s always a possibility that the parts may be within specifications but that the tolerances may accumulate and make the gun too tight or too loose.
Loose guns tend to be inaccurate and tight ones sometimes display functioning issues when they are new, but these usually go away as the gun breaks in. Fitting on the Valor was tight as it is on many high-end 1911s.
It came from the factory sparingly lubricated with a light oil, and I would avoid using anything other than an oil similar to the one used by the factory. Using grease and even medium-weight oils can cause a build-up of powder residue or dust on a tightly fitted gun and reduce reliability.
I put the pistol on my workbench at home and disassembled it for a thorough examination. The gun was so nicely made that I photographed it immediately.
The Valor’s lines were straight, flat surfaces were true and smooth, corners were square and all curved surfaces were evenly radiused. There were no tool marks or burrs anywhere on the gun. The upper and lower feed ramps were especially well contoured and the upper and lower locking lugs fit nicely in the slide and frame. Given this pistol’s overall quality, it was little wonder that the pistol locked and unlocked smoothly when the slide was cycled.
I also checked extractor tension. A fired case slipped easily under the extractor and was held flush against the breachface. After the Valor was re-assembled, I checked the sight alignment and the trigger pull.
The sights were vertically true, well-centered and presented a clear sight picture with the Straight Eight Night Sights in perfect vertical alignment.
Another sign of quality manufacturing and fitting was the consistency of the trigger pull. There was only .1 pound of variation in several measurements. Altogether, it was a well-made piece.
No matter how well a personal defense pistol is made, it must shoot well and function reliably to fulfill its intended purpose. Reliability is especially relevant with a tightly-fitted custom pistol like the Valor.
Defensive semi-autos must run when they are dirty, and a gun that’s too tightly fitted can fill with powder residue and fail to cycle. A personal protection pistol also has to cycle with all types of ammunition. Black Hills, COR-BON, Speer and Winchester were kind enough to provide ammunition for testing, and this gave me eight loads with a variety of bullet weights and configurations for testing.
The shooting test involved five stages: accuracy from the bench, velocity measurement, terminal performance, bullseye competition and tactical drills. Altogether I put about 250 rounds through the Valor.
Accuracy testing was done in two stages. The first stage involved firing three five-shot groups with each of the eight loads at a distance of 15 yards. To steady the pistol, I used an MTM Front Rifle Rest. In the second stage, I took the most accurate load and fired one 10-shot bench rest group at a distance of 50 yards.
At 15 yards, all of the loads fired average groups that were under 4 inches. Three of the loads averaged under 3 inches. The most accurate load was the COR-BON 230 grain +P JHP. Its average 15 yard group was 2.75 inches.
My experience with this load is that it has generally been very accurate in .45 ACP pistols and revolvers. One important finding from the 15 yard accuracy test was that the Valor tended to shoot loads with different velocities and bullet weights to nearly the same point of aim.
The Valor has an under-cut trigger guard and high-swept beavertail grip safety. This places the hand quite high in relation to the axis of the bore. Not only does this enhance accuracy when point shooting, but it also produces less muzzle rotation (a.k.a. muzzle flip).
Generally speaking, increasing the distance between the axis of the bore and the hand increases the rotation of the muzzle upward during recoil. Guns with greater muzzle rotation are more likely to shoot bullets of different weights and velocities to different points of aim. Revolvers usually have larger bore axis-to-hand distances than semi-autos, and that’s why they more often shoot different loads to different points of aim than do auto-pistols.
I generally prefer adjustable sights on defensive revolvers, but the Valor did not need them. When it comes to self defense it’s nice to know that you don’t have to re-sight your gun if your favorite load is not available.
During the 15-yard accuracy test, I noticed that the pistol tended to shoot left. I dry fired the gun several times and found that I was pushing the sights a bit left, regardless of how I placed my index finger on the trigger.
I measured the width of the grips at 1.15 inches. The same measurement on my Rock River .45 auto with Crimson Trace laser grips is 1.26 inches. I shoot that gun very well, so I concluded that the grips were a bit small for my extra-large hands. These thin grips would be just right for a person with small to medium hands, but a person with rather large hands like myself might want to replace the thin grips with ones that are a bit thicker.
Since I’d begun the evaluation with thin grips, I decided to finish it that way. I was very careful about how I held the gun and slowly pressed the trigger when I shot the 50 yd. target. The result was a 6.85-inch group that was about 4.5 inches from the X at 10 o’ clock.
I used a Shooting Chrony chronograph to test velocity and calculated muzzle energy levels using Version 6 of Sierra’s Infinity ballistic software. Velocity and energy levels are listed in the accompanying table.
The load with the highest velocity and energy was COR-BON’s 165 grain +P Power Ball. It produced an average velocity of 1210 fps and an average muzzle energy of 536 ft./lbs. This load has a round plastic ball in its nose to promote smooth feeding. The ball also speeds up bullet expansion much like the plastic tip does on many hunting bullets made for rifles.
The load with the least velocity and energy was the Black Hills 230-grain XTP JHP, which produced 809 fps and 334 ft./lbs. This was a mild load and would be good for a person who wanted more stopping power than a 158-grain .38 Spl. +P and also desired relatively light recoil. Another light-kicking selection would be COR-BON’s 160 grain DPX.
Terminal Performance Evaluation
I evaluated terminal performance by firing one round of Power Ball and one each of the JHP loads into 3-gallon soft-plastic water jugs (two jugs used for every two shots). The 9-inch-wide jugs were placed one behind the other, providing a total test distance in water of 18 inches.
The loads with the most dramatic terminal performance were the +P loads from COR-BON. These loads had the highest muzzle energies and both of them split the front jug wide open, spraying copious amounts of water back at me.
Many of the non-+P loads also produced significant backsplash from the entry hole in the first jug, but the +Ps were the only ones to split the jugs open. Both +P loads also penetrated into the second jug.
The lighter 165-grain Power Ball went about 3 inches into the second jug and the 230 grain JHP was found at the back of the second jug. Both of these loads expanded well and shed most of their jackets in the second jug. The Power Ball expanded to .74-inch and the COR-BON 230-grain JHP expanded to .78-inch.
The load that expanded the most was the 160-grain DPX. Its six copper petals opened up to .83-inch. The slots between the petals reduce the DPX’s water resistance, and this allows it to shed its energy over a longer distance. Because of this, it to penetrated a full 18 inches despite its light weight and large expansion. All of the other JHPs expanded to at least .67-inch, except the Black Hills 185-grain XTP JHP. It expanded to .52-inch, and penetrated through both jugs.
The Hornady XTP bullets have relatively small hollowpoints and are designed to penetrate more deeply than many other commercial JHPs. Winchester’s SXT bullet also penetrated through the second jug and was found in newsprint placed behind the jugs to catch bullets that penetrate through-and-through. The SXT and the new PDX-1 bonded bullet that replaced it are deep penetrators and generally shoot through both jugs when I test them.
None of the tested loads stopped in the first jug. The results of the accuracy, energy and terminal performance tests indicated very good overall performance.
Shooting the Valor in Bullseye competition and tactical drills produced some interesting results. I only shot three of the Bullseye match’s nine stages with the Valor, as I had a second gun that I wanted to test at the same match.
On all three stages, the Valor consistently placed shots to the left due to the small grips. Each stage contained two five-shot strings, and the 10-shot group produced in each stage was between 4 and 6 inches wide, and its center was about 4 inches left of the X at between 7 and 8 o’ clock.
The five tactical drills all involved moving off the X and drawing from the holster. At 1 and 3 yards, the drills were point-shot while moving. At 7, 10 and 15 yards, I stopped to aim fire after I moved off the X and drew. I fired all shots as rapidly as I could pull the trigger.
The five drills were as follows: two-shot strings using a one-handed hip retention position from the 1-yard line, two-shot strings fired two-handed from the 3-yard line, three-shot body armor drills from the 7-yard line, five single head shots from the 10-yard line and two-shot strings aimed at the body from the 15-yard line. I used Winchester 230-grain SXT and Black Hills 230-grain XTP loads in these drills.
I loaded a couple of the magazines by alternating both brands of ammo just to see if that would make the gun malfunction, and the Valor was loaded to its full nine-round capacity before each drill. The gun fed, fired, extracted and ejected with perfect reliability. On one or two occasions, the slide did not remain open after the last shot was fired.
When I examined both magazines, I found quite a bit of fouling on the inside of the magazine lips and the followers. These areas need to be cleaned regularly. Magazines often cause a gun to not go to slide lock. With my own guns, I usually try several types of magazines to see which ones the gun prefers.
With regard to accuracy, groups shot during the drills were generally well-centered. Evidently, I’d practiced with the gun enough to compensate for the thin grips by the time I got around to the tactical drills.
A DEFINITE WIN-WIN
The Dan Wesson Valor proved to be a very accurate and well-made 1911. It points naturally, has an excellent trigger and comes equipped with a good set of night sights. All of its safeties and operating controls are well-proportioned, easy to use and positive in their functioning. The Valor is a pleasure to shoot and definitely worth its asking price. The person who wins will clearly be getting a very nice pistol.
Thanks to Peggy Topper, the Florida Gun Exchange and the Flagler Gun Club for help with the development of this article. Thanks also to CZ for providing the Valor and to Black Hills, COR-BON, Speer and Winchester for providing ammunition.
Black Hills Ammunition
Crimson Trace Grips
Flagler Gun Club
Florida Gun Exchange
Sierra Ballistic Software
|Load||Muzzle Velocity||Ext. Spread||Muzzle Energy||15 yd.Â Â Â e. Â Â Group||Expan-sion||Pene-tration|
|COR-BON 160 grain DPX||1111 fps||36 fps||438 ft./lbs.||3.43||.83″||18″|
|COR-BON 165 grainÂ Power Ball+P||1210 fps||78 fps||536 ft./lbs.||3.95”||.74″||12″|
|Speer 185 grain Gold Dot||978 fps||24 fps||392 ft./lbs.||2.86”||.71″||15″|
|Black Hills 185grain XTP||943 fps||24 fps||365 ft./lbs.||3.24”||.52″||18+”|
|Black Hills 230 grain XTP||809 fps||18 fps||334 ft./lbs.||3.28”||.67″||15″|
|Black Hills 230 grain FMJ||876 fps||53 fps||391 ft./lbs.||2.99”|
|COR-BON 230 grain JHP+P||989 fps||99 fps||499 ft./lbs.||2.75”||.78″||18″|
|Winchester 230 grain SXT||868 fps||42 fps||384 ft./lbs.||3.31”||.67″||18+”|