Browning's Classic Improved

By Todd Burgreen

The Dan Wesson Silverback 1911 10mm Defies the Purists

What comes to mind if someone mentions a 1911 specialized for defense, law enforcement or even military applications? I bet most would first consider a classic single stack 1911 chambered in .45ACP. An ergonomic, instinctive-pointing, hard-hitting handgun is a premium when having to react decisively to a threat. These were John Browning’s guiding principles in creating the 1911 to begin with. The 1911’s inherent qualities have caused many manufacturers to jump on the 1911 bandwagon over the years by offering their versions. Most attention seems to be on “improving” the 1911 platform by modifying its components via full length guide rods, match barrels, match trigger, bushingless bull barrels, etc. Questioning the standard approach is not always the easiest path to follow. Dan Wesson (DW) has approached the 1911 from a different angle, which involves more than just tweaking/modifying components.

Dan Wesson’s quest to improve the 1911 for personal defense, sporting, tactical or law enforcement applications focuses on caliber enhancement combined with impeccable quality. The DW Silverback 1911 is chambered in 10mm Auto. (A .45ACP model is also available.) Before the howls of protest reach a crescendo, allow some elaboration. Yes, the association between the .45ACP cartridge and the 1911 platform is seamless. Many may forget that Browning is not only creator of what many feel is the ideal handgun in the form of the 1911, but also the designer of the .45ACP cartridge. In ballistics circles, the .45ACP has just as loyal a following as the 1911—it is considered to deliver the ideal combination of terminal ballistics and controllability. However, by the early 1970s even leading 1911 proponents started considering other alternative caliber choices beyond 9mm and 38 Super for the 1911, tactically speaking.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper is often associated with the early development of the 10mm Auto cartridge. As with most calibers, numerous .40 caliber pistol wildcats were created before the 10mm Auto design as we know it was solidified for use in the ill-fated Bren Ten handgun. The 10mm Auto was designed to be a pistol cartridge for semi-automatic handguns with better ballistics—flatter trajectory and higher velocity—than the .45ACP and thus capable of greater terminal performance. Cooper’s original concept was boosted to higher velocities by Norma and introduced in 1983 for use in the Bren Ten. The 10mm Auto offered magnum revolver power associated with .357 Magnum and .41 Magnum in a rimless semi-automatic cartridge. While the Bren Ten’s demise is well documented, Colt fortunately introduced their Delta Elite in 10mm Auto in 1987. The FBI also lent ancillary support to the 10mm Auto by standardizing it for agent use in 1989; thus, the 10mm Auto was saved from a fate similar to that of the Bren Ten. While our focus is on the 10mm Auto as featured in the DW Titan, the 10mm Auto story must be finished by stating that the .40 S&W eventually emerged and succeeded as a pre-eminent personal defense and law enforcement cartridge. In short, no pun intended, the .40 S&W is a 10mm Auto with reduced length and power. The .40 S&W case is 3 millimeters shorter than the 10mm Auto’s 25-millimeter-long case. All of this came about as a result of the recoil of the full-powered 10mm Auto causing consternation among certain FBI agents.

In the stainless-steel Silverback model, Dan Wesson has turned its attention to creating a nuanced version of the classic full-size Government Model 1911. While offering shorter, more compact 1911s in this age of concealed carry, the full-size DW Silverback attracts attention with its all-business, two-tone air. The DW Silverback measures a total of 8.8 inches long and 5.5 inches high. The Silverback weighs 2.4 pounds thanks to its use of stainless steel in its frame and slide. For those familiar with other Dan Wesson products, the Silverback is built to the same tolerances and finish levels as their flagship Valor model.

The Dan Wesson Silverback is equipped with features more common on full-blown custom 1911s costing much more. The parts used on today’s Dan Wesson 1911s are key to their performance level. Ed Brown makes the beavertail grip safety and mainspring housing. The in-house DW Thumb Safety is not an ambidextrous design, which makes it convenient for anyone desiring to install the popular Crimson Trace Laser Grips. The stainless barrel and bushing are match-grade parts made by Dan Wesson, as are the tool steel ignition parts and slide stop. The springs are by Wolff. The Silverback’s frame and slide are built from forged 416-type stainless run through Dan Wesson’s state-of-the-art CNC machines before being sent to the polishing department to be de-burred. The barrel, frame and slide are hand-fitted along with blending the parts together. One striking aspect is the polishing of the throat and feed ramp, which is also done by hand. Next, they stake the plunger tube, pin the ejector and thoroughly clean the gun before sending it to the assembly department. Dan Wesson does not use any drop-in parts on its 1911s, which is one reason they are so accurate and reliable.

The Silverback is the only stainless dual-tone 1911 in the Dan Wesson line. The stainless-steel slide and frame provide protection against the wear to which a carry handgun is susceptible. Adding to this durability is Dan Wesson’s Duty black nitride finish on the frame. The stainless slide with polished flats features adjustable target style tritium sights, a serrated top rib and ball cuts on the dust cover. G10 full-thickness grips are not only practical, but add to the Silverback’s aesthetics. A full-length guide rod is NOT employed in the Silverback, but rather a plug bushing and spring as designed by Browning. This will warm the heart of many 1911 purists who deride the use of full-length guide rods in a 1911 as a solution to a problem that does not exist with the 1911; not to mention the full-length guide rod contributes to “over tightness” in the 1911 design that may cause finicky behavior in the reliability department. The DW Silverback typifies why the 1911 is still as popular as ever.

Dan Wesson currently delivers the Silverback with two eight-round-capacity magazines. Kudos should be given to Dan Wesson for supplying two magazines versus only one compared to some other 1911 manufacturers. Adjustable target style tritium sights compliment the Silverback package. The front and rear sights contain contrasting color vials for easier orientation when aiming in dark conditions. A white ring on the front post assists in concentrating on the front sight in daylight. The sights are designed in a way that allows for fast target acquisition while still allowing for precise shot placement as the situation demands or as target distance increases.

Further attention to detail is evident in the adjustable serrated trigger used with the Silverback. Trigger pull measured at just under 3 pounds. The 5-inch match barrel has an integral ramp. The ramped barrel has come to be accepted as a reliability enhancement for 1911s chambered in non-.45ACP cartridges. The 25LPI stippling pattern on the front and back strap and serrations on the slide’s rear guarantee a solid grip in the event of slippery hands as well as increased purchase for recoil management. Aesthetically pleasing, yet functional, the DW G10 grips further help you hold onto the Silverback for faster follow-up shots and recoil control. The Dan Wesson Silverback is a sharp-looking pistol exuding understated confidence, with “Silverback” inscribed on the left side of the slide in a low-profile script. The Silverback is proof positive that a weapon can look good and still function as designed.

Federal, Hornady and Buffalo Bore 10mm Auto ammunition was accessed for use in the DW Silverback. The recently introduced Federal Premium 180-grain Vital Shok Trophy Bonded 10mm Auto is a full-power 10mm Auto load that shows the cartridge’s potential. The bullet used with the Federal load is based on the proven Trophy Bonded Bear Claw rifle bullet and features a jacket with a formed inner profile that controls expansion to ensure deep penetration. Users must be aware that many 10mm Auto loads are watered down to resemble .40 S&W velocities. Not the case with the Federal load. The load features a 180-grain bullet that leaves the muzzle at 1,275 feet per second compared to the usual 1,030 feet per second of many manufacturer offerings. The Federal load delivers 650 foot-pounds of energy which puts it roughly between the .357 Magnum and .41 Magnum for comparison purposes. This kind of power offers great flexibility for the user in terms of use in personal defense or hunting of medium-sized game.

Buffalo Bore is a prime source of true 10mm Auto ammunition, offering several bullet types ranging from hard cast, JHC, to FMJ-FN. The Buffalo Bore hard cast loads are an excellent option for anyone contemplating using the 10mm Auto for hunting. Buffalo Bore Ammunition entered the market with the intent of offering individuals who do not reload access to more specialized ammunition. Buffalo Bore has made its name with “heavy” +P+ loads in numerous calibers. Buffalo Bore stresses quality control with its custom manufactured ammunition. Sundles randomly tests ammunition for pressures and fires his ammunition in firearms; not just specialized test rigs. This process is followed by listing the velocities for specific Buffalo Bore ammunition from actual production weapons. You can rest assured that any listed velocity on a Buffalo Bore box of ammunition is realistic and achievable in your weapon. Another Buffalo Bore character trait is the use of hard cast lead flat-nose bullets. Sundles is a believer in the effectiveness of a large frontal meplat area of the bullet wreaking havoc with its target. All of this goes back to Elmer Keith’s and John Taylor’s theories about large and relatively slow-moving bullets and their resultant effect on large game. The large frontal meplat of a hard cast bullet creates a hydraulic wave when entering an animal, pushing everything out of its way and causing considerable wound expansion, while its solid construction is unstoppable thanks to weight retention. If you are not satisfied with standard factory loadings and want more velocity, penetration and knock-down power, then Buffalo Bore should definitely be checked out.

Premium 10mm Auto loads from Hornady were used, consisting of 155-grain XTP and 175-grain FlexLock Critical Duty. These Hornady loads were designed with personal defense in mind, with XTP and Critical Defense bullets loaded to 1150 to 1250 feet per second. The Critical Duty’s FlexLock bullets have a heavy jacket and a harder, high-antimony core designed to defeat barriers. The jackets are locked to the core via the same InterLock process the company uses on its centerfire rifle bullets. Hornady has also taken full advantage of recent advances in propellant technology and uses low-muzzle-flash powder in Critical Duty ammunition. The Hornady Critical Duty FlexLock bullet balances barrier penetration with proper expansion in the target for maximum effectiveness. Hornady Critical Duty passed all five of the FBI’s barrier criteria tests, giving at least 12 inches of penetration through glass, sheet metal, heavy clothing, drywall and plywood while still expanding to maximize the wound channel and not exiting the ballistic gel test medium. The FlexLock bullet nose prevents the hollowpoint from deforming or clogging when passing through barriers. The ogives of the Critical Duty bullets do not taper as much as those of other hollowpoint bullets, which improves feeding characteristics in autoloaders. The nickel-plated cases further exemplify attention to detail, limiting drag into or out of a weapon’s chamber and therefore reducing the chance of failure to feed or extract. Critical Duty, as the name implies, was designed with law enforcement in mind. However, security-conscious citizens would be remiss not to at least consider it as well.

The DW Silverback was tested at the range first by verifying sight zero and then firing several magazines rapidly at various steel man targets found in Echo Valley Training Center’s (EVTC) training bays. This quickly shows if any reliability issues exist. Further testing consisted of strings of fire against steel plate racks and popper targets at 7, 15 and 25 yards. The sights were zeroed out of the box for 25 yards using the classic six o’clock hold. The DW Silverback did not disappoint, regularly producing 3-inch groups at 25 yards when fired from standing unsupported positions. Dan Wesson quality manufacturing and fitting produces an accurate handgun. Bench testing could not be resisted after witnessing the unsupported accuracy results. Two-inch groups at 25 yards were not unusual. The advantages of the single-action trigger were quickly evident during the bench testing, where accuracy was the goal with its compact, minimal creep pull. Nearly 350 10mm Auto rounds were fired from the DW Silverback.

Much anticipation surrounded firing the DW Silverback in terms of recoil and muzzle blast. Range T&E took place at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). The Federal Vital Shok 180-grain Trophy Bonded 10mm Auto and Buffalo Bore loads were the stoutest, but in no way harsh or unmanageable. The ergonomics of the 1911 were appreciated for absorbing and mitigating felt recoil. The TacStrike steel targets were more obviously rocked with a definitive smack when hit with a 10mm Auto than they would have been with a typical handgun round. Recoil was not prohibitive with the DW Silverback, with accurate, rapid shots possible. An unscientific subjective comparison would have it placed in the .45ACP range when fired from an alloy frame 1911. All of the 10mm Auto loads tested had no issue penetrating a range vehicle windshield or car body. This is the type of performance and barrier penetration capability that the 10mm Auto was designed for.

It was decided to evaluate the Silverback using drills experienced during training at firearms schools such as Suarez International, Storm Mountain, Tactical Response and Pat McNamara’s TMACS. The natural pointability of the DW Silverback 1911 was confirmed, along with the speed with which it is ready for action. Drills included working around breaching facades, door entries and other CQB activities typified by experiences encountered in shoot house environments. The beavertail frame settles the weapon naturally into your hand and provides a point of reference when drawing the pistol from a holster. The Silverback proved very capable of firing rapid multiple shot strings thanks to short trigger pull and reset.

The inherent familiarity most have with the 1911 platform, not to mention its ergonomics, validates Dan Wesson’s decision to enhance it via caliber expansion. There are many situations in which the penetration and power of a 10mm Auto fired from a 1911 type weapon could be very advantageous. The ability to reliably engage targets out to 100 yards with great terminal effect cannot be under estimated. The 10mm Auto chambering in the DW Silverback is a sound combination, functionally speaking, while still allowing a user to indulge themselves by having something not so typical.


CZ-USA/Dan Wesson

Federal Premium Ammunition

Hornady Manufacturing

Buffalo Bore Ammunition

Echo Valley Training Center

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N7 (September 2017)
and was posted online on July 21, 2017


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