POWERHOUSE SIXGUNS OF DAN WESSON.
In the golden age of silhouetting, the Dan Wesson sixgun was king. Most of us started with Rugers and Smith & Wessons, but as Dan Wesson listened to silhouette shooters and came forth with better sights and longer, heavier barrels, the silhouette crowd flocked to Dan Wesson products.
My first true silhouette sixgun was the Dan Wesson .357 Mag. with a heavy 10" barrel. It was incredibly accurate and was followed by other Dan Wesson silhouette sixguns in .44 Mag., .357 SuperMag, and the ill-fated .375 SuperMag. The .445 came along a mite too late for me to use much in silhouetting.
Dan Wesson's popularity with silhouette shooters was a good news/bad news proposition. As long as there were plenty of silhouette shooters, Dan Wesson had a waiting market, but once that market started to drop, Dan Wesson was in trouble.
The company was caught in squeeze between two factors, the general decline in silhouette shooting clubs across the country coupled with the emergence of the Freedom Arms Model 353 Silhouette Model chambered in .357 Mag. Many serious shooters who remained in the game took up the Freedom Arms revolver.
By the early 1990s, the company was struggling. It was not too long after that the Massachusetts factory closed its doors and the Dan Wesson revolver was no more. A lot of us sixgunners were saddened by this not only for the Wesson family personally but also for the demise of a truly innovative sixgun.
Now, Dan Wessons are being produced once again, not in Massachusetts but in New York. Using mostly new machinery, Bob Serva of Dan Wesson is turning out some beautiful sixguns.
Gone are the rough chambers. In fact, the cylinder chambers do not need to be polished, as they come from the chambering operation with a smooth finish. No more sticking cases in the cylinder!
The .44 Mag. Model 744 was a real shooter. Most loads were in the 1" category at 25 yards using iron sights. With scope in place, 1" 50-yard groups were also common using factory hunting loads, namely Black Hills 320 gr. Hard Cast and Garrett's 280 and 310 gr. Hard Cast Keith bulleted loads. Using the 8" Dan Wesson, Garrett's 310 gr. Keith load would put five shots in 2" at 100 yards. This is excellent performance from a .44 Mag. sixgun.
Dan Wesson is not only producing sixguns in the old standby .357 Mag. and .44 Mag. chamberings but also the .445 SuperMag and the .414 SuperMag. Only a very few .414s were originally produced before the factory shut its Massachusetts doors.
The Mark Of Wesson
Dan Wessons made their mark by being radically different from other sixguns. First produced in .357 Mag. in the 1970s, the original Dan Wesson was the first revolver to offer interchangeable barrels, grips and front sights. Dan Wesson grips are not the traditional design of two pieces of wood that bolt to the grip frame, but rather a one-piece style. In fact the grips fit over a stud and are bolted on from the bottom.
Dan Wesson's trademark is the interchangeable barrel system. This allows the shooter to use different length barrels on the same cylinder and frame, as well as providing exceptional accuracy. Instead of a traditional barrel tightly screwed into the frame, Dan Wessons have very skinny barrels that can be hand-tightened and removed using a small barrel wrench. The barrel is screwed into the frame until it bears against a feeler gauge of .002" to .006", depending upon the caliber. Then a heavy shroud is placed over the barrel and a hole in the back of the shroud matches with an aligning pin on the frame.
A barrel nut is then screwed on the muzzle end of the barrel and, using the special wrench provided with each gun, tightened against a recess in the front of the shroud. In addition, the Dan Wesson cylinder latch is located at the front of the cylinder rather than at the rear. This also contributes to the long-range accuracy that has become the reputation of the Wesson revolver.
The .414 SuperMag
The idea of longer revolver cartridges came from the late Elgin Gates in the 1970s. Gates dubbed the new cartridges SuperMags and they were set at 1.610" as the length, or about 3/10" longer than standard magnum cartridges. This, of course, required a new revolver with a longer frame and cylinder. At the time, Gates made up SuperMag cartridges in .357, .375, .44, .45, .50 and .60 caliber.
The SuperMag was first produced in the 1980s through the combined efforts of Gates and Dan Wesson. Revolvers were produced in .357, .375 and 445 SuperMag chamberings over several years, with a very few being made in .414 SuperMag before the plant shut down in the early 1990s.
The .414, as the .357 and the .445 SuperMag, is simply a stretched version of an existing Magnum chambering. The .357 and .445 came from the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag., while the .414 is the big brother of the .41 Mag.
The SuperMag cartridges significantly increase case capacity. For example, in the .357 SuperMag, 200 gr. bullets can be safely driven at speeds of 30 to 40 percent over the same weight bullet in a .357 Mag.
My .414 revolver came with three barrels and shrouds in 4, 6" and 8" lengths and two sets of Hogue grips. The Pistol Pack also. contains the barrel wrench and feeler gauge for changing barrels quickly and precisely. Dan Wesson still offers interchangeable front sights and several options are packed in with the frame, barrels and shrouds in the Pistol Pack.
Factory loads provided with the .414 SuperMag consist of a 170 gr. JHP for hunting and a 220 gr. FMJ for silhouetting. Both are loaded fairly mildly with the 170 gr. clocking out at 1,572 fps and the 220 gr. going 1,358 fps, both from the 8" barrel. Handloads can improve performance dramatically, with the 170 gr. at over 1,700 fps and the 220 gr. over 1,450 fps.
My best handload turned out to be Sierra's 210 gr. JHP over 26.0 grs. of VV N110 for 1,550 fps and a 7/8" five-shot group at 25 yards, using iron sights. With cast bullets I went immediately to Cast Performance Bullet Company's 255 gr. gas checked LBT ballet over 26.0 grains of H110 for over 1,600 fps. This combination should give excellent performance on big game.
The .460 Rowland
Dan Wesson is also offering their big sixgun in a new chambering, the .460 Rowland. This new cartridge, originally designed for a semi-automatic, is a lengthened and beefed up .45 ACP case. The brass, from Starline, is head stamped "460 Rowland" and is 1/16" longer than the .45 ACP.
Factory loads for the .460 Rowland, all clocked in a 1911, were a 185 gr. JHP at 1,550 fps, a 200 gr. JHP at 1,450 fps, and a 230 gr. JHP at 1,340 fps. Johnny Rowland, designer of the cartridge, told me that the Dan Wesson chambered in .460 Rowland would use full moon clips and with bullets seated out would yield much higher muzzle velocities. He proved to be correct.
My Dan Wesson .460 Rowland, a stainless steel Model 7460, has an 8" barrel with a heavy shroud. Sights are standard Dan Wesson with a black adjustable rear sight and a black front post sight. The twist of the barrel is 1:18 3/4".
The double action, which would probably only be utilized when the auxiliary 4" barrel is installed, is smooth and easy to operate, while the single action pull is also very smooth and set at 3 1/4 lbs. Hogue's MonoGrips, a pebble-grained, finger groove rubber grip, aid immensely in reducing felt recoil.
This sixgun handles four different cartridges. In addition to the .460 Rowland, the chambers will also accept the .45 ACP, the .45 Auto Rim, and the .45 Winchester Magnum. All except the Auto Rim require moon clips for their use, be it one-third, half, or fall-moon style. Full moon clips will not accept Winchester's .45 Win, brass, but will work fine with Starline brass.
Accuracy with the .45 ACP and the .45 Auto Rim is nothing to get excited about. It is adequate, but I would reserve their use only for emergencies. The big cylinder of the Dan Wesson large-framed sixguns requires bullets from the relatively stubby little cases to jump quite a bit going from cylinder to barrel. Accuracy suffers in the trip.
Rowland supplies factory loads for the .460 Rowland in both semi-auto style and with the bullets seated out for use in a sixgun.
I've been shooting Dan Wessons since the early days of silhouetting going through the long-barreled .357 Mag., .44 Mag., .357 SuperMag, and .375 SuperMag. The .414 SuperMag and the .460 Rowland are welcome additions to the Dan Wesson battery of big bore sixguns.