First Look: The Nighthawk Custom Carry

Nighthawk Custom Carry

I told you guys several months ago that I would be replacing the M&P Shield that I was, at the time, carrying. I also told you I’d give a look at the gun I was considering as a replacement. Today I will come through on that and give you a quick look at the Nighthawk Custom Carry 1911. Before I get into the specifics of the gun, let me explain why I chose to the give the old super-centenarian a go.

Old Dog, Old Tricks

Aviators acknowledge a concept known as Primacy of Learning. This concept posits that the a pilot’s first air frame will ingrain habits that will last forever. A pilot in a second (or third, or fourth) aircraft will reach for the place the radio sat in his first platform, or steal mistaken glances at where the altimeter tape “should” be – even years later. A friend, pilot, and fellow RevolverGuy explained this to me. We had been talking about a similar phenomenon I observe in relation to the 1911. Every time I pick up a pistol – any pistol – my right thumb extends high in preparation to lower onto the comfortable curvature of an extended 1911 thumb safety.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

I had almost zero experience with handguns when I joined the military. My time in the “big Marine Corps” did precious little to correct this. It wasn’t until I attended a 10-week close quarters battle course with my Force Reconnaissance platoon that I really got acquainted with pistols. Over the remainder of my career I spent hundreds of hours on the range under expert instruction and supervision, and probably fired in excess of 100,000 .45 ACP rounds. There was a pervasive competitive vibe between individuals and teams, and inviduals were constantly being evaluated. There was also the pressure of failure: failing a weekly pistol qual meant you had to wear an empty holster in the shoot house that week. Failing the course meant you probably didn’t deploy.

All of this training was done with the MEU(SOC) .45 – a M1911A1 that was hand-built by the Marine Corps’ Precision Weapons Shop. Because I carried a 1911 at work, I also carried a 1911 in my personal life. I believe that because this was my first real experience with any handgun, and because it was so intense, it impacted me more deeply than it otherwise might have. It created some deep grooves in me that have never gone away. Though I can shoot well with just about anything, nothing feels quite as good to my hand as the slender grip frame of the old 1911.

Contraindications

There are some reasons I have resisted the 1911 ever since leaving the military. It’s certainly not a perfect platform. The 1911 is a notoriously finicky eater. The first question you are likely to get if you show up to a shooting class with a 1911 is, “is that thing gonna run?” Though I’ve been lucky and have had the privilege to run incredibly reliable 1911s, I’ve also owned and shot plenty that didn’t run. You can buy a Glock or M&P and virtually guarantee it will work. You can’t do the same with a 1911.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

Two factors that exacerbate the reliability problem are size and caliber. The 1911’s reliability becomes more of a crap-shoot when it is scaled down to smaller commander and officer versions. Reliability becomes an even more iffy proposition when chambered in a scaled-down cartridge (i.e. 9mm). Since I can’t carry a full-size gun and I am pretty insistent on carrying a gun chambered in 9mm, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Don’t get me wrong – plenty of manufacturers make compact 1911s, and plenty make them in 9mm. But the 1911 community can be very polarized, and determining what is and isn’t a “good” gun by reading reviews can be tough. So, I bit the proverbial bullet and ordered a Nighthawk Custom Carry, assuming that a custom, hand-built gun would have the best possible chances of being reliable.

Nighthawk Custom Carry: Frame

The Nighthawk Custom Carry starts with a custom, aluminum Officer-length frame. In addition to being shorter than a standard 1911 frame, this particular frame has been thinned. This shorter grip makes concealing the gun easy; the Nighthawk’s 4.99″ height is not even 1/2″ longer than the Shield I’ve been carrying. The thinned frontstrap is checkered at 25 lines per inch. The grips are thin, “frag pattern” G-10 that feel great in the hand but don’t rub you raw when carried directly against the skin. The left grip panel has a deep relief just behind the magazine release.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The aluminum mainspring housing is also checkered at 25 LPI. Though you can’t “bobtail” an officer frame, the butt of the mainspring housing is smoothly rounded. This is a typical of the entire gun; sharp edges are very few and far between.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The Nighthawk Custom Carry accommodates a single stack, eight-round magazine. The gun shipped with two magazines, and I ordered a few more. So far I’ve had no magazine-related malfunctions and am pleased with their performance.

Nighthawk Custom Carry: Controls

The trigger on the Nighthawk Custom Carry is a short, solid variant. Though this part is typically uncoated stainless, I opted to have the trigger (and barrel) blacked out with the same Nitride finish that covers the rest of the gun. This trigger is the tightest fitting 1911 trigger I have ever seen. There is zero play whatsoever in its fitment. The trigger pull is extremely crisp, as one would expect. Unfortunately I have yet to be able to put a trigger pull gauge on it.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

I opted to have an ambidextrous safety added to this gun. I don’t know that this is strictly necessary, but I do enough weak-hand-only shooting to make it desirable. Operation of the safety is extremely positive with good tactile feedback. The shape of the lever is really what sets this one apart; I’ve owned a number of 1911s, and some ambi safeties have a tendency to pinch the web of my firing hand between the safety and the grip panel. This one is as good as any I’ve ever seen.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The slide release is also enlarged, but not overly so, and is gently curved. As shown in a previous photo, its pin is cut flush with the frame, and sits in a beveled hole. This touch is both good looking, and prevents a malfunction I’ve seen a couple of times: accidentally pushing the pin (and the slide stop) out enough to interfere with the gun’s operation.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The grip safety/beavertail is absolutely astounding. When depressed, the grip safety mates perfectly with the frame to form a single, rounded surface. Again, the fitment is absolutely astounding, and a thing of beauty. It absolutely lives up to what one expects of a company with the motto, “one gun, one gunsmith.”

Nighthawk Custom Carry

Nighthawk Custom Carry: Barrel & Slide

The barrel on this model is a custom length from Nighthawk. Standard commander-length barrels are 4.25″ and most officer models come with a barrel around 3.5″. The Nighthawk Custom Carry deviates from convention by splitting the difference with a 3.8″ bull barrel. This additional length doesn’t really make the gun harder to carry, but it does contribute to a more balanced overall appearance. The barrel is fluted, as is the barrel hood, and is semi-crowned to sit flush with the slide. The barrel is mated to a full-length guide rod and Nighthawk’s proprietary “bow tie” plug.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The slide on this gun features coarse rear cocking serrations. Though not offered as a catalog option, Nighthawk was also willing to customize my gun by adding forward cocking serrations, as well. The long flats of the slide are completely naked, which I really appreciate. The only branding on the gun (other than the manufacturer, listed in the normal 1911 location above the right grip panel) is two subdued Nighthawk logos behind the rear cocking serrations. The slide-to-frame fit on this gun is absolutely phenomenal! The slide feels like it is moving on ball bearings. Lock up is extremely tight – shaking the gun as hard as I can it makes no noise whatsoever. This is in stark contrast to many 1911s I’ve owned, which rattled like boxes of spare parts.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The sights on the Nighthawk Custom Carry are Heinie Straight-Eights. I greatly prefer this arrangement over the more typical 3-dot style, and really like the Heinies. The one minor change I requested here was the “ledge” style rear sight rather than the smooth, ramped rear which is standard on this model.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

Shooting the Nighthawk Custom Carry

I ordered this gun many moons ago and have only had it about a month. Make no mistake – I wasted no time getting it to the range.  So far I have put 750 rounds through this firearm. Seven hundred of those have been S&B 124-grain ball, and 50 have been Federal HST 124-grain +P. These first several range sessions have been conducted primarily in the interest of ascertaining the Nighthawk Custom Carry’s reliability.

I have had two malfunctions with the gun, and both occurred within the first 80 rounds, and within 15 rounds of each other. Both were failures to return completely to battery. I imagine these malfunctions are a result of the gun’s tight tolerances. Since they haven’t recurred I’m [mostly] comfortable with this, but will be more so after another few hundred more rounds, so the testing continues.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

Accuracy with this gun is, well, better than me. I am consistently able to keep a full magazine within the 7-ring (the black circle) of a NRA bullseye target at 25 yards. I’m working hard to make myself worthy of this gun’s accuracy potential.

Recoil with the Nighthawk Custom Carry is, as expected, extremely manageable. At 26 ounces he gun is heavier than my Shield by about five ounces. The larger grip surface, checkered frontstrap and mainspring housing,  and the G-10 grips provide ample purchase. Overall I am very happy with the gun’s range performance.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

Carrying the Nighthawk Custom Carry

When adopting any new handgun, finding a holster can be a chore. Since I’m not carrying one of the predominant plastic handguns that get carried these days, my choices were slightly more limited. The first holster I ordered after reading many reviews was the G-Code Incog Eclipse. I purchased this rig sight unseen and regretted it. For me, the Incog Eclipse offered two carry modes:

  • Painful to even contemplate and printing only somewhat badly, or
  • Slightly comfortable (assuming I don’t need to sit down or walk anywhere) and printing  as if I have a 2×4 under my shirt

Obviously the G-Code was unsustainable. The next holster I purchased was a massive winner, though. At the urging of my AcrossThePeak co-host, Mr. Rich Brown, I purchased a holster from Precision Holsters. I purchased their “Ultra Appendix” model using the American Warrior Show’s 10% discount code, “seekAWS”.

Nighthawk Custom Carry

This all-Kydex holster keeps the butt of the gun tucked in and is extremely comfortable. I have been carrying steadily for two weeks with this holster and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The other carry factor that the 1911 brings to the table (at least for me) are the various manual safeties. The thumb and grip safeties, and the ability to control the hammer help alleviate my nervousness about reholstering in the appendix position. Expect to hear more about this soon in an Off Topic Tuesday post.

Cost

I know this topic will come up, so I’ll go ahead and address it. Yes, I know that I could have purchased x number of [insert firearm model here]s for the price of the Nighthawk Custom Carry. However, I ask you to consider the following: In my life I have purchased an engagement ring. That ring set me back over two times what this pistol cost. Not one person said I shouldn’t have bought it. No one told my fiance she could be perfectly engaged with a $500 ring. No one pointed out how many Glock 19s I could have bought instead. But guess what I have to show for that engagement ring now? Guess who got to sell it and financially benefited from it (hint: it wasn’t me!)? Consider this my “engagement ring” to myself!

Nighthawk Custom Carry

The Bottom Line

Do you need a custom firearm to be extremely well defended? Absolutely not. Is the 1911 the definitive, end-all/be-all firearm? Nope. But for a guy with a ton of 1911 experience, I am extremely pleased with the Nighthawk Custom Carry. Having a 1911 – any 1911 – back in the stable is like having an old friend back, and this one is, well, amazing. If I’m being honest, I was worried a custom gun wouldn’t live up to the hype. I was concerned that I would have an incredibly exacting eye and it would find something to be unhappy with. So far it hasn’t.

27 thoughts on “First Look: The Nighthawk Custom Carry”

  1. Justin – I myself am a dedicated revolver guy. But. Yes, I have toyed with the idea of allowing myself to own maybe one or two semi autos during the remainder of my time here on Earth. That said, I am a bit concerned about your words on 1911’s and reliability. It is something I have heard before from some pretty credible people…Grant Cunningham IIRC to name just one. What is your opinion on a full-size 1911 in .38 Super? I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be my primary carry gun, but all the same I’d like it to be able to serve in the role if needed. Are there any reliability problems particular to .38 Super???

    1. Brian,

      The problem the 9mm presents for the 1911 is in the overall length of the cartridge. It’s shorter than .45 ACP so there are some feed geometry issues when you put the shorter round in the longer action. Ten millimeter and .38 Super should both function well as both are the same length (or close to it) as the .45 ACP
      Hope that helps!

      Justin

    2. For my .45 Springfield mil-spec, the opposite of a target gun, I was advised to replace the recoil spring every 5k rounds, and get my gunsmith to do a deep clean every 3 years. No problems since I began to live by those cheap rules.

      And the thing just looks cool, a masterpiece of Modernist style.

  2. That is a SWEET 1911, Justin. Aesthetically, I much prefer the low-key, ‘all go, no show’ approach to versus over-the-top, glitzy versions. And it’s hard to beat a good 1911 trigger. I’m mostly carrying a Sig P938 for concealed carry these days (IWB, w/ Fed 124 gr HST), and have to agree that being able to control the hammer when holstering is something I really like. I too owned a Shield 2.0 for a while, but try as I might, I just keep gravitating back to all-metal handguns.

    1. Hammer,

      Thanks, buddy – good to hear from you! Much appreciate the feedback. I’m function-over-form for sure, and am not much impressed by glitz, either! I’m a big fan of the P938. I’ve never owned one (though a friend does, and I’ve shot it a bit) but I owned a P238 and loved that little gun. It ran better than a lot of full size 1911s from big-name companies!

      Justin

  3. Interesting. There is a certain appeal to the idea of an engagement ring to yourself. I don’t think anyone should criticize you for the price, especially if (after the break in) this thing is reliable. I know I wish I could afford one! What do you use to lubricate the slide/frame rails?

    1. Riley,
      NHC included a bottle of lubricant called “Gibbs Brand Lubricant” which they recommend using in the literature that came with the gun. I will use that until it’s gone, then probably switch to good, old-fashioned CLP.
      Re: the cost thing…I guess I’m a little critical of myself on that score. Though I didn’t put myself in a bad way to get this (I have no debt whatsoever and want to keep it that way) it certainly isn’t a sound financial decision!

      1. Not sure I agree that it’s not a sound financial decision- again, if it’s a reliable weapon and keeps you safe, you really can’t go wrong. I like it much better than the plastic thingies and if authorized I would absolutely carry 1911! I did for my previous agency with no qualms whatsoever.

    2. I’ve become a big fan of the Gibbs cleaner on my NH T3. I started out using it only on this pistol but switched to using it for all. It’s a little steep to order more cans (check Amazon) but I’m pleased with it. For the rails, a little bit of “gun butter” from a needle oiler.

  4. “The gun shipped with two magazines, and I ordered a few more.”
    I guess you can call 20 “a few,” but I think my wife would be unhappy if I tried that trick.

    Like you, I started with a 1911 (though not nearly as nice). That said, I’ve missed or forgotten the safety a couple times during practice draws. That still gives me a success rate approaching 100%, but I’m just not comfortable enough with that situation to carry the 1911 seriously. Switching to revolvers was oddly like coming home. Despite the 1911 not being the perfect carry choice for me, I’d hate to be without one just because of the coolness factor, so I definitely understand your satisfaction with having one in the safe again.

  5. My absolute favorite part of this review is when you said you bought “a few more” magazines. After helping to fill all of those, I think I might have described the collection differently. ; ^ )

    I’ve always appreciated JMB’s masterpiece, but never considered myself a “1911 Guy.” I’ve got a few around, but they have never been my go-to and have spent the majority of their days in the safe.

    Having said that, handling this gun made me think I’ve been doing it all wrong for decades. This pistol morphs function, purpose, and art into an irresistible combination. It’s an incredible choice, and I know it will serve you well.

    I think there’s something special about the 1911–and especially a standout example like this one–that has a particular appeal to a RevolverGuy. In a world of stampings, MIM, and injection-moulding, there’s an irresistable draw to a pistol that requires forging, filing, and hand-fitting. The plastic fantastics are efficient tools, and I appreciate them, but a great 1911 has a soul . . . which is probably why RevolverGuys are so attracted to them.

    Enjoy that new pistol and thanks for sharing it with us!

    1. You’ll be glad to know (y)our work didn’t go in vain – I emptied them all this morning. I’m just sorry you didn’t get stick around to help me with that part of it!

      I agree with you about the appeal of a tool that someone actually made by hand. I’m attracted to artisans of nearly any stripe – people that do a thing until they perfect it. We encounter so little of that old-world craftsmanship in our day-to-day that something like this really shines.

  6. For a while I have thought about getting a premium 1911 in 9mm. So thank tou for rhis treat!

    I am talking .45 here, but I found that with the right round my 1911 does not act up. I then set the OAL of my reloads to that length and am done.

    I prefer all steel guns, which is one reason a 1911 keeps my revolvers company.

  7. Whenever I see someone singing the praise of the M1911 pattern, I think of what I heard Ken Hackathorn say many many moons ago . . . He referred to the 1911 as “The Worlds Finest Close Quarters Sidearm”… and, “King of feedway stoppages.”

    Having said that, I bought a second hand Colt made .45 M1911A1 in ‘never-never-land’ from someone rotating back to civilization back in the late 1960s. It also had been tuned up so it could feed empty cases from the magazine into the chamber. It ran to perfection back then (and there), and only when the recoil spring begins to age will it let me know by feed stoppages (yes, I still have Old Ugly).

    My wife has a full size Springfield M1911A1 in 9m/m that I built up for her when IDPA started up. I probably have less than a G-note in that pistol. I also long ago stopped counting the rounds that have been put through it, also, without any glitches. Both guns survived the ‘2005 fire sale’ and are still running strong. Overall, the 9m/m seems to run easier in the M1911A1 platform than its barge sized cousin.

    Point is that 1911s are fine pistols if you want either a Camaro, Mustang or even a souped up VW/Audi (it’s called a Lamborghini) that runs on gunpowder. But if I were to have to pick any gun at random and have to stake my life on it running — it sure as heck would NOT be a M1911A1.

    1. “… if I were to have to pick any gun at random and have to stake my life on it running — it sure as heck would NOT be a M1911A1.”
      You and me both!

      Each gun is very much an individual! I’ve owned only two Kimbers in my life, and though they have one of the most polarized reputations in the industry, both of mine cycled everything I wanted to run through them. On the other hand, I’ve owned two Springfields (an “Operator” and a “Loaded 1911”) and neither of those guns would run with anything.

      Toward the end of my military time I got the privilege of running a platoon through their “pre-shoot”, which was two weeks on the flat range to prep them for the CQB package. I told them then – this is an enthusiast’s gun. You have to get to know YOUR GUN as an individual. You can take any M4 or G19 off the rack and it’ll work, but you need to develop a relationship with the MEU(SOC) .45!

      And I pretty much stand by that today!

  8. Good review of the gun, thanks.

    But I found it a bit frustrating: you allude to it’s cost several times, and to related issues— and I’m sure we’d all agree that quality never comes cheap, you get what you pay for, how much is your life worth, etc.— and I kept waiting for you to divulge exactly what it did cost you, or at least a hint as to what ballpark we were talking about: $1000? $2000? $3000? $4000?

    But even in the sections entitled ‘Cost’ and ‘The Bottom Line’— bottom line, you left us hanging! With no hint as to what that sweet thing cost….

    My southern granny always told me it wasn’t polite to talk about money; so I apologize if my question is out of bounds. But the article would read a lot better to me if I knew what you were talking about, when you kept mentioning it’s price.

    1. You can find the base price in the link below. I added a handful of custom touches (ambi safety, blackout option on trigger/barrel/bushing, and forward cocking serrations) which added just a bit to that price. However, NHC offers a 10% discount for LE, mil, and vets, so the price stayed right around the list price. The mags added a bit more, but NHC also offers 20% off all accessories at time of purchase, so…how could I say no?

      https://www.nighthawkcustom.com/pistols/1911s-compact/nighthawk-carry-plus

  9. Speaking of 1911’s, I’ve never owned one…YET…but is there a way to fix the grip safety so that it is continually locked in the “fire” position?

    1. Brian, it was popular in some circles–50+ years ago–to pin the grip safety in a down position, but it’s NOT a recommended practice today. Back when all we had were GI parts, some people pinned the grip safety because their hand or grip didn’t reliably hold it down when they grasped the pistol, but modern improvements make it unnecessary and ill-advised. New grip safeties, beavertails, thumb safeties, trigger guard undercuts and grip tang mods have changed the GI gun so that most anybody can reliably push the grip safety down when they grip the pistol. Those who still have difficulty either need a new grip or a different style of pistol. Deactivating a safety on a pistol is not a wise move in today’s environment, so if you can’t get a properly outfitted 1911 to work for you, you’re better off going to a new platform.

    2. Brian,
      I won’t retread everything Mike said but the grip safety is a huge value-add to the 1911. It’s very light/easy to activate. In fact, there’s no way to have a good firing grip and NOT depress the grip safety (with a modern, bumped beavertail model).
      I would strongly discourage pinning it because I like the added mechanical safety and for liability reasons.
      Justin

  10. I’ve recently wrestled with the same concept you mentioned, regarding Primacy of Learning. My initial handgun experiences were with double action revolvers. Later, I tried semi-autos of many different makes and models. More recently, I’ve focused hard for about 3 years on Glocks. I was determined to gain a level of proficiency with Glocks equal to the level of proficiency I have with revolvers.

    After many thousands of rounds through Glocks, in classes, competitions, and range time, last weekend I took my trusty GP100 to the range together with a Glock to compare and see what I’ve learned.

    What I learned is, I can shoot Glocks well when I focus hard, make sure I have just the right grip, place my finger just right on the trigger, and squeeze the trigger just right. However, even though I’ve not fired it in a long time, I shot my GP100 equally as well (as far as accuracy and speed, that is, through the first 6 shots), but it was without any effort and regardless of conscious thought.

    I’m starting to believe that each of us has a particular type of handgun that works best for us and will always be the best one for us. Probably due to the Primacy of Learning as you mentioned. The important thing is to find that type, and just go with it. Seems like yours is the 1911, and I think that’s fantastic.

  11. I agree with your pilot analogy with all my heart. I have found that under stress I will revert to my early training and because of this I won’t carry a single action pistol. My heart tells me they’re great with their crisp trigger. My brain tells me I’ll be there in a gun fight with a gun that won’t go bang because I’ve failed to remove the safety under stress. I started in law enforcement with a double action revolver. These were replaced by Sig Sauer double action pistols. Every gun was a draw and shoot setup and the action of a safety removal was never part of my training regiment. I don’t think it possible to relearn something so ingrained this far into my life. I own some nice 1911 based guns but don’t carry them.

    1. Amen, Jack. You described my experience as well. Started on DA revolvers, and when I later went to autos, they all had DA triggers. A manual safety has never been part of my habit pattern, so my 1911s are reserved for occasional play, but never defense. It would take more concentrated effort than I can afford to build a new set of habits that would be durable under stress, so none of my serious guns will require me to disengage a manual safety lever prior to shooting.

  12. Absolutely beautiful firearm. Old school mixed with some modern amenities.

    However, repeat after me….

    Detective Special Detective Special Detective Special Detective Special…..

    Enjoy! Please report back as you break it in.

    Jim

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