July 20, 2020
There are advantages, good things, about being old. The Zombies were recently inducted into the Rock ‘n roll hall of fame. I remember when they were new. I remember when gasoline was less than a dollar a gallon, and Democrats weren’t trying to out-crazy each other. I remember when the Walkman revolutionized personal music, when disco was king, and when the 10mm debuted.
When the 10mm cartridge debuted, I had been shooting IPSC for a few years (The USPSA had not yet been formed. I’m a USPSA Plank Owner.) I was learning gunsmithing, and how to lose gracefully at IPSC from Dan McDonald. He was a superb 1911 craftsman, wicked fast shooter, and he managed to score a Bren Ten. And miracle of miracles, it even came with a magazine. The future truly had arrived.
Now, I had been shooting for a while by then, and had even dabbled for a season in Handgun Metallic Silhouette in the early days, using an eight-inch S&W M-57. So, I was not unfamiliar with recoil. Holy frak Batman, the Bren Ten had recoil. And muzzle blast. And on the indoor range we were shooting in, flash. It was so ferocious, I don’t think the small group of us even finished the box of ammo. It was that un-fun.
The Norma ammo was supposed to be a 200-grain bullet at 1,200 fps. Much later I had a chance to chronograph that load (back in 1983, chronographs were expensive, and few and far between, so it was a while before I had data) and found it to be over 1,300 fps. I suspect the Bren Ten was rather under-sprung for the factory ammo it was being fed.
The 10mm came about from experimenting encouraged by Jeff Cooper. Back in the early 1970s, he had Whit Collins and others modify a Browning Hi Power to accept bullets from the .38-40. Those bullets, despite the “.38” in the cartridge name, were actually .400" in diameter. Using cut-off .30 Remington rifle brass, they managed to boost the 180s up to 1,100 fps before the cases would give out.
A noble endeavor for a cartridge named the .40 G&A, but even in the mid 1970’s the advantages were deemed to be marginal. The Hi Power magazine would hold ten rounds of .40 G&A, not enough more than the seven of the 1911 to be worth the conversion expense. (Within a few years, 1911 magazines could be had that held 8 rounds of .45 ACP.) And the power of that experimental .40 was easily within the reach of .45 ACP+P loads.
A later version, the .40 G&A Magnum, used the bottom end of .224 Weatherby rifle brass. (The .30 Remington brass was rare, the .224 Weatherby brass was both rare and expensive.) With the stronger brass, the .40 G&A Magnum was able to boost a 180-grain bullet to over 1,200 fps without brass destruction.
But, the cartridge at the time that was still sucking all the oxygen out of the room was the .44 Magnum. Inspector Callahan had made it famous in 1971, and even a decade and more later people were willing to pay a bump over listed retail to get one of those.
Jeff Cooper discovered the CZ75. If there is a self-loading pistol with a sexier “grip appeal” than the Hi-Power with the right grips, it is the CZ75. Cooper loved its ergonomics, and advocated for a big-bore version of it. That’s how the Bren Ten saga got started. (And that story is for another time.)
Alas, once the Bren Ten project got to the point of needing ammo, Norma did to the 10mm, to the horror of Cooper, what Remington had done to the .44 Magnum, to the horror of Elmer Keith. And after the .44, Remington did it again to the .41 Magnum, to the horror of Skeeter Skelton. Basically, they cranked it up to 11. (Nod if you get the reference. Thank you.)
Even when dialed back a bit by the American ammunition companies, with 180s at an actual 1,100 fps, the 10mm was a handful. That’s right at the threshold of a good bowling pin load, and not something every shooter looks forward to.
When the FBI announced that the 10mm was going to be the new cartridge for the Bureau, I wish I had been able to find a line in Vegas on the odds. Because I knew it wasn’t going to happen, no-way, no-how, nuh-uh. There was not a chance in the world that the Bureau was going to get entire offices full of lawyers, accountants and white-collar-bunko criminal investigators to pass any kind of actual qualification course, firing full-power 10mm ammo. A passing score, firing 180s at even 1,100 fps? Nope, never gonna happen.
Faced with ferocious recoil, the FBI did not act like Billy Idol, and ask for more, more, more, they kept going back to the ammo companies, asking for less and less. (meanwhile, asking for, get this, an airweight version of the M1076, for easier carrying.)
And in due time, the .40 S&W appeared, sporting a 180-grain bullet at a blistering 950 fps. Yawn. Soon after that time, I acquired a 10mm, actually, I won it at the Second Chance Combat Shoot, a stainless Colt Delta. Still have it, and still really like the 10mm.
The FBI inability to handle recoil began the 10mm wandering in the wilderness. If you went with full-power ammo, you have more than you needed (unless it wasn’t) and you still didn’t have the capacity of the 9mm and .40 pistols. And if you throttled it back, what you had was a .40 without the magazine capacity, Oh, you could opt for the Glock 20, but that pistol has a butt big enough to make a rap stars eyes glow.
But through all that time, hunters persisted. Because the 10mm makes a cracking good hunting round. And to that end, Dan Wesson makes a cracking good hunting pistol, the Kodiak.
If you are not in the circle of 1911 cognoscenti, you might be surprised to learn that Dan Wesson is considered the sleeper 1911 brand by many of the in crowd. In that, you get the kind of build, fit and detail you can expect from a custom pistolsmith, but at normal, real working-man prices. And you can get them now, not years in the future, which is the schedule most of the high-end ‘smiths I know have. You can have a vanilla-plain Dan Wesson, or you can have one with some bells and whistles. This is about one of them with more than a few bells and whistles.
The Kodiak starts, as all Dan Wesson 1911s do, with forged parts, starting with the slide and frame. Once the two have been machined to the fitting stage, they get hand-fitted, slide to frame and then barrel to the mated slide and frame. That trio then stays together all the way to your hands.
The Kodiak is another blast from the past, a longslide 1911. That particular idea came to us from the bullseye crowd, in particular Jim Clark, Sr. A successful bullseye competitor (records as long as your arm) he was also a first-rate 1911 builder. One day in a surplus store, he happened to notice a steel drum full of de-milled 1911 slides. He bought them for their weight in steel, and proceeded to learn how, and then produce, longslide 1911s. He’d clean up the ends of the stub and the old slide, and then weld them into creating a longer slide, then fit a longer barrel, and viola, you had a 1911 with a 6" barrel and slide to match.
I don’t know how long they lasted in bullseye, or if they offered an actual advantage. (Sweeney’s Competition Rule #7: If you think it offers an advantage, it probably does.) I do know that the longslide idea lasted not quite two seasons of IPSC competition. Longer sight radius, check, Lessened recoil due to weight and cyclic mass, maybe check. Slower to track from target to target, ooops. When the IPSC shooting pace accelerated from the brisk to manic to turbo, and then to warp-speed, longslide pistols fell out of favor. The miserable excuse for a human being, but really good actor James Caan used a longslide in Thief (a pistol built by James Hoag) and that really kicked things off. Looking cool is one thing, winning matches is another, and competition shooters can be fickle.
But that is not what we are doing here, because no-one shoots a full-power 10mm pistol at warp-speed. If you can, then you can make your name in competition, so get cracking.
Back to the Kodiak.
Once the slide, frame and barrel have been fitted, then the builder gets to work. The slide gets machined for sights. The front is a transverse dovetail that will have a fiber-optic blade installed. The green one in the Kodiak that arrived provided a bright green dot in sunlight, and a lesser, but still highly visible green dot in overcast or shade. The result, for those looking to shoot quickly at close range, is a setup that shoots almost as fast as a red-dot optic. If you don’t like green, then there are many colors to choose from, and a fiber optic tube is easy to change. You don’t even have to move the sight blade.
The rear gets machined to the Bo-Mar pattern, and a Dan Wesson logo’d adjustable rear sight gets fitted. The ejection port is lowered and scalloped in the initial machining, so it doesn’t have to be modified later by a gunsmith. One of the first gunsmithing milling machine operations I learned was how to set up a slide in the mill vise and then machine the ejection port lower. No need here, nor has there been for a couple of decades now.
The lowered ejection port allows your empties to not only eject with 100% function, but to take the trip without being dented, dinged, creased or mangled. This is important in the 10mm both because the empties can be hurled with great force, and they are not as common as other calibers. You’ll want your brass back, for later loading.
The rear of the slide gets five rectangular slots for use as cocking serrations, and thankfully Dan Wesson did not opt for forward serrations. If you want those, you’re on your own.
Inside, the Dan Wesson match barrel has been fitted to the slide without a barrel bushing. The front of the barrel is machined with a coned front end, and the external diameter of the cone matches the inner diameter of the slide. As the slide goes forward, it cams the barrel up, and just as the rear is up and locking the front is nestled in a tight fit at the muzzle. A tight fit without the extra parts and dimensional headaches of a separate bushing.
The recoil spring, since there isn’t a bushing, is made instead as a reverse plug. When you reassemble, you have to insert the recoil spring plug from the breech end of the slide, not the muzzle and then hold it in place while you install the slide onto the frame. Once you get the feel for it, it is easy to do.
The longer barrel and slide promises to add velocity to any load, the sight radius makes aiming easier, and the heavier slide should dampen felt recoil. The barrel length addition depends on the powder used in the load fired, and some will show only small increases. Others will show useful boosts. The benefit of the greater slide mass is a yes-and-no proposition. The extra weight will put a damper on recoil, but the extra mass bottoming out in the frame can offset that, causing extra muzzle rise. It all depends on how you perceive recoil.
The frame has very useful additions to the basic 1911 design. First of all is the accessory rail. You can mount a light or laser there, although you had better check with the DNR of where you are hunting to determine if that is kosher or not. Even if they aren’t, the extra mass here is good. It may only be a few ounces, but it is underneath the bore, and forward of your hands. Those are the places you want extra weight.
The trigger is a long, solid but lightweight trigger, fitted to the Dan Wesson lock parts for a clean, crisp trigger pull. In testing, I had no complaints at all with the trigger pull, and found it very useful for punching groups. The thumb safety is an ambidextrous design. I usually find ambi safeties to be something of a bother. My grip on a pistol, developed back in the Neolithic era, has my hand so high and hard on the gun that most ambi safeties get in the way. Or rather, my knuckle gets in the way of the right-hand safety paddle. Not so with the Dan Wesson Kodiak, the safety clears my knuckle well enough that I didn’t even notice it at first.
In taking the Kodiak apart, I noticed the slide stop is marked with a large “10”. Good going, Dan Wesson. The 1911, in order to work correctly (i.e., flawlessly) it has to have the appropriate slide stop installed. The .45, 10mm and 9mm//.38 super each need a very slightly different slide stop. Some builders just use a .45 stop, which works most of the time, mostly well. And some use a .45 stop, and modify it a bit so it works better. In my experience, longslides can be particularly fussy in this regard. Dan Wesson clearly goes the extra step, and marks the slide stop so there’s no confusion.
Back of the slide stop and safety is an Ed Brown pattern grip safety, complete with a speed bump on the bottom. That bump is to ensure that your hand fully disengages the grip safety when you get a firing grip on the pistol. Below the grip safety, the frame has checkering on the frontstrap, and a flat mainspring housing with a checkered surface. The frontstrap is checkered, a very clean and precise checkering job, and the top of the frontstrap has been lifted and given a tighter radius than the traditional government model. This also lets your hand get higher on the frame, and the checkering means you won’t have the Kodiak slipping in recoil.
Completing the grip ensemble are a set of G10 grips with a particularly aggressive non-slip pattern on them. They are held on via allen-head screws.
On the bottom of the frame, Dan Wesson has elected to install a magazine funnel, so if you do need to speed-reload, you have every chance to get it right.
In its lockable plastic storage case, each Kodiak comes with a pair of eight-round 10mm magazines, owner’s manual, and lock.
The finish on the Kodiak sent is their “Tri-Tone” finish. The slide is done in a matte gray finish, a kinda metallic battleship gray. The frame is black, while the thumb safety, magazine catch and slide stop are given a bronze finish. If that is too flashy for you, you can have the Kodiak in black slide and frame with bronze safety, mag catch and slide stop.
Since it is a Dan Wesson, there was no point in checking slide to frame and barrel fit, but I couldn’t help myself. So, I vainly attempted to find play, slop or wriggle in the fit of any of them. Nope, none.
The 10mm has a wide variety of ammo options, with a power spread wider than almost any other cartridge, perhaps with the exception of the .38 Special. The whole point of the Kodiak is as a hunting pistol, or a bear defense pistol. (We’ll set aside the debate about whether a pistol is “enough” gun in case of a bear problem. Personally, my idea of “enough” requires either Brenneke 12 ga slugs or a rifle caliber that starts .375 or greater. But those won’t fit into a holster.)
I found that I was perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about finding the upper-level 10mm loads for bear use. Even with the recoil mitigation of a heavier slide, and heavier pistol, the recoil of the top-end loads were….brisk. When the “light” loads are in the high end of bowling pin loads, and the stoutest ones are hard on the heels of the fabled .44 Magnum, you’ve got a handful when you press the trigger. Now, when hunting, or being hunted, felt recoil becomes much less of a thing. But you have to practice to get good, and practice when you are shooting ammo with a Power Factor between 250 and 275 quickly becomes work.
My recommendation is that when you receive your Dan Wesson Kodiak, you also get set up to reload your own ammo. You can begin your practice with ammunition that duplicates .45 ACP. Then step up to .45 ACP+P, and move on up as you get accustomed to the recoil.
If you start right in at the top end, you may find you have built bad habits from too much recoil too soon.
The 10mm loads, once I spent an afternoon getting accustomed to the recoil, were grand fun. I resisted the temptation to abuse the club’s falling plate rack, as I still remember when I was club President, and having to assist the welder in repairing the rack we had then when someone else so-abused it. Full-power 10mm ammo, on a handgun falling plate rack even at 25 yards, can make them bounce back upright. That isn’t good for them. Instead I worked over the rifle plates on the 100-yard range. Now, when you have a pistol that routinely shoots two-inch groups at 25 yards, a 10-inch plate at 100 is not very difficult to hit. As long as I did my part, the Kodiak rang the gong on every shot, and did so with great authority.
The Ingenious Gun Works sear/hammer set was a very useful aid in whacking plates. The light, crisp trigger pull made it a lot easier to get the shot off when the sights were right. But, as with all such improvements, you should practice to get used to the new normal.
Do you need a trigger this light, clean and crisp? No, not really. Will it, by itself, make you a better shooter? Again, no. But, it you have hit your own performance ceiling, or you want to start out with the best (as musicians are encouraged to do) then the ingenious sear/hammer set will go a long way towards upping your game. And if the trigger pull in your 1911 starts out at less than stellar, then jumping in to the Ingenious Gun Works upgrade is just common sense.
The slightly difficult part of a longslide is the carrying part. The extra inch of slide gets to be a bit much but on the bright side, Mr. Kodiak (bear or pistol) don’t really care if you are concealed or not. Go ahead, you’re out in the Alaska bush, carry it openly. It isn’t like the local fauna are going to be triggered by it and call the police.
At a listed $2,350 the Kodiak may seem a bit pricey. But, having priced a longslide back in the steam-driven past of IPSC shooting, I can tell you that you could not have started a longslide project back in 1980 unless you put down the modern equivalent of the Kodiak price as a down-payment. Adjusted for inflation, people would put down two grand as a deposit, and then spend that again on delivery. Yep, back in “the day,” people (some, not all) were willing to spend the modern equivalent of four grand, to have a longslide pistol. The Kodiak is not only top quality, it is a bargain.
That said, and as much as I love the Dan Wesson line, I’m going to have to send this one back. I already have a raft of 10mm pistols on the shelf. I got the longslide lust out of my system back when The Gipper was still in office. I’m probably not going to be going to Kodiak Island to see about tagging a Kodiak bear with a Kodiak pistol, and as much as I really, really like this pistol, someone else deserves to get out and tangle with an ursus arctos horribilis using it.
Let us know how you do, will you?
Oh, and the Zombies? They had three hits, and split up before the third one hit the charts, then worked for many years without the success they should have had. That dollar-a-gallon gasoline was when I was driving a Ford LTD II, an enormous boulevard cruiser that got 16 mpg on the highway. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $2.58 a gallon, so gas costs more now. But the car I drive now gets 30+ mpg on the highway, so that daily commute to and from the gun show would cost me $5.32 in 2019 dollars in the LTD II, but $3.20 in today’s car. And $1.75 if I drove my wife’s car.
The Walkman cost about $150 in 1979 (That’s almost $500 in 2019 cash) and used “cassettes.” These are/were tapes in a small case that held an hour’s worth of music, half on each “side.” I was working in radio then, so I made my own mix tapes (aka an Ipod playlist) and had a grand time. I still have it.
Disco now sounds pretty good, and even gets airtime on classic rock stations. Pretty much everything that was en vogue back then is now a historical curiosity.
Meanwhile, the 10mm is better than ever.
Dan Wesson Kodiak 1911 Specs
- Type: Recoil operated semi-automatic
- Caliber: 10mm
- Capacity: 8+1
- Barrel: 6 in.
- Overall length: 9.7 in.
- Height: 5.8 in.
- Width: 1.5 in.
- Weight: 47 oz.
- Finish: Black w/ bronze controls, or tri-tone
- Sights: Fiber optic front, adjustable rear
- Trigger: 4.5 lbs., single stage
- Price: $2,349
- Manufacturer: Dan Wesson; (607) 336-1174; DanWessonFirearms.com
Dan Wesson Kodiak 1911 Accuracy Data