If you search the used revolver sections in enough gun stores, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a gem before an excited gun collector or target shooter has the chance to snatch it up. The gem we’re talking about isn't your typical Colt Python or Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum, but instead the Dan Wesson series of revolvers. These high-quality American-made revolvers were the product of 1960s innovations that made them stand out in the revolver world to this day. Their unique story, legendary accuracy, and quality were no accident.
Daniel Wesson II was originally a long-time employee of Smith & Wesson, where he ran the quality control area and ensured that everything leaving the factory was up to the highest possible standards. In this position, he was also involved in research and design for other projects. While doing this, he happened upon a principle designed by a man named Karl Lewis.
Lewis was an accomplished designer who had worked for many of the big-name manufacturers like Colt and Browning, among others. He was already responsible for firearms ranging from the break open M79 grenade launcher to Colt’s well-known Trooper revolver. He came up with an extremely durable and easy-to-use system to change out barrels on handguns.
Lewis initially developed his modular system during his time at Browning and perfected it while working at High Standard on their target model handguns. Lewis’ innovative design incorporated an outer sleeve in which the barrel acted as a liner contained in an outer shroud. This over shroud then had a retaining nut at the front end. The barrel was first screwed into the frame, then the nut tightened to fully lock it down. This served to properly tighten the barrel onto the firearm and preserve accuracy by supporting the barrel at both ends. He also moved the cylinder latch up to the crane instead of on the frame to increase locking strength. Taking a page from his successful design for the Colt Trooper, he opted to go with a coiled mainspring instead of a flat mainspring. This meant that the spring could be contained in a small protruding extension at the back of the frame instead of the large grip area which allowed for a much larger variety of grip sizes and shapes on the revolvers to suit different tastes and hand sizes.
Wesson left Smith & Wesson in 1968 and began pursuing Lewis until they entered into a manufacturing agreement. With his future staked on the unique design, Wesson set up a company to produce and market the gun. To better attract customers to the unique feature of the new gun, Wesson decided to offer special barrel sets as an option for purchase. The factory set contained either a single barrel or any combination of barrels with multiple lengths. The barrels were available initially in several lengths ranging from 2.5-inch snub nose all the way up to 8-inch target barrels.
The gun proved a hit with target shooters immediately but faced pushback from the general buying public for its exposed muzzle nut and odd flange on the barrel shroud. However, sales were still good enough to warrant more models being produced. One could get these handguns with either fixed or adjustable rear sights, and replace the grips and barrel for easier usage. Consumers were still hesitant, so Lewis and Wesson went back to the drawing board for their Dan Wesson Model 14 and Model 15. After some quick redesigning, they removed the flanges and recessed the muzzle nut, giving it a more standard appearance. The fact that the new model names were very close to existing names used by Smith & Wesson for their wildly popular duty revolvers probably didn’t hurt either. After these sales took off, the ease with which one could convert a target gun to a carry or duty gun proved to be the biggest selling point.
Different calibers were introduced during production including 22 Long Rifle and a large-frame .44 Magnum hunting and silhouette target gun - again, all with interchangeable barrel length and sight options. Consumers liked them for their decent prices, extremely rugged construction, and innovative features. Dan Wesson’s company was one of the first to offer barrel porting as a factory option in a big bore revolver. This made their M44 the lightest recoiling .44 Magnum in production at the time.
The company struggled after the death of founder Dan Wesson in 1978, but it continued to introduce new models and calibers occasionally until it finally went bankrupt in 1990. The revolvers would go in and out of production since then, being taken over by various outside interests and reintroduced as commemorative or special order revolvers. Those who were not lucky enough to get the full barrel set, or who are just missing some, have been known to spend large amounts of money to obtain their rare missing barrels. Used examples that surface in the market are frequently snapped up at a premium, along with any other parts that turn up.
Today, Dan Wesson company is still around under the name Wesson Company, as a subsidiary of CZ-USA. Their product focus is on a line of 1911 style automatic pistols. Unfortunately, Wesson's Model 15 is not a part of the lineup at this point. It has been out of production since 2005. There is still quite a demand for it among shooters, so perhaps we may again one day see new production Wesson Model 15s on the market.
If you are searching for extra barrels or parts for your Dan Wesson firearm, check out our selection of Dan Wesson gun parts. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, check back frequently because we’re always adding to our inventory.