By Dave Anderson, GUNS Magazine
Nighthawk Custom makes some of the finest 1911’s on the planet and there are models to suit most any needs. Nighthawk can modify packages to suit specific requirements; if you prefer, and don’t mind waiting, they can build a 1911 exactly to your order.
Since its introduction in 2011, the Falcon has been one of the most popular models. A few Commander-length models were made on special order. They proved so well liked they have been added to the regular lineup.
One of the more interesting handgun developments has been the seemingly insatiable demand for premium quality, hand-fitted 1911 pistols. Just as interesting is the fact that such high-end pistols are even available. It wasn’t always so.
When I began shooting practical pistol matches back in the late 1970’s, if you wanted features such as a beavertail grip safety, extended thumb safety, beveled mag well or better sights and trigger, custom work was the only option. It was both expensive and time-consuming. I remember the months it took to get even basic work done.
Pistolsmiths in those days didn’t start work until you shipped them a Colt, Springfield Armory or Caspian frame/slide and specified the work you wanted done.
The first US Nationals I ever competed in was in 1985. Among the guys in my squad were Richard Heinie and Les Baer. Also competing were Bill Wilson and Ed Brown and I enjoyed meeting them all. It was darn near 30 years ago.
Over the years, several 1-man shops evolved into the custom shops we know today. One objective was to increase production while maintaining quality standards. Bill Wilson was one of the first to train additional pistolsmiths and build guns on spec rather than to specific orders.
In 1986 I bought a Wilson .38 Super built on a Colt Series 70, at the time a state-of-the-art racegun. It cost $1,875, a lot of money now and a lot more then, but at least it meant no waiting!
A second goal was to have complete control. Being dependent on others for parts is a tricky business. To make up an example, if your supplier of grip safeties starts cutting corners on fit and finish, customers will blame you, not the supplier.
Even when quality stays high, parts can just disappear. No one made a better adjustable rear sight than the Bo-Mar BMCS. For decades it set the standard of excellence. Then Bob Korzeniewski died in 2006, his son Norbert was killed in an accident the following year and the supply of BMCS sights ended.
How a shop or company could make their own high-quality parts was the question, and modern CNC machine tools were the answer. The top custom shops might buy a few outside components such as grips and grip screws, but for the most part they make everything in-house, beginning with the slide and frame.
Nighthawk Custom was founded in 2003 and quickly established a reputation for high quality and superlative customer service. By 2003 supplies of quality parts were much better than it had been 20 years earlier. Still, Nighthawk wanted the certainty of supply and the quality that comes from making their own parts. Today, virtually all their components are made in-house, machined from steel billets.
The Nighthawk Custom Falcon Commander has a long match trigger tuned to a crisp 3.25-pound pull, extended, checkered mag release button, extended manual safety; the frontstrap is checkered at 30 lpi. Grip panels are G10 with a golf-ball dimpled pattern and are available in several colors.
The Falcon Commander uses a conventional barrel bushing and recoil
spring plug. Detailing and parts fit is exceptional—note the
smooth muzzle crown, parts fit and finish.
CNC machines are capable of incredible precision, but they aren’t magic. Actually, if you ever see these machines in action they kind of are magic. It is amazing to watch the machines turn a part just so, make a cut, put the cutting tool away and select another, turn the part and make another cut.
But just as with lathes and milling machines, they are no better than the people who operate them. When parts come from the machines they are made to very precise dimensions. But the custom work isn’t over; in fact, it hasn’t even really begun.
I sometimes hear people say a real custom 1911 must be built by one pistolsmith, not by a committee. With Nighthawk Custom that is what you get. In fact, strictly speaking, “Nighthawk” does not build each completed pistol at all. Each gun is hand built by an individual with the skill and patience of a trained pistolsmith, the esthetic taste of an artist and the uncompromising high standards of a master craftsman.
Although one person builds it, the whole crew at Nighthawk Custom stands behind it. Even if the craftsman who built your pistol retires or moves on, as long as the company exists you’ll be able to get service. It kind of reminds me of the great British gunmakers of the 19th century. James Purdey has been gone a long time, but the company still provides service for the guns he made.
The gunsmith fits the match barrel, fits slide to frame, adjusts and hones the trigger and fits sights, grip and thumb safety, mag release and the mag chute. He bevels sharp edges, tunes, fits, polishes, hones, checkers and serrates.
At the range, he tests for accuracy and function. When he is certain the pistol meets his high standards and those of Nighthawk Custom, he stamps his initials and the date in the frame, beneath the grip panels. The test target provided with each pistol shows the name of the one who built it.
A close-up of the rear of the slide shows some of the detailing. The rear of the slide is serrated at 40 lpi to match the rear sight. Note how the serrations on the head of extractor match the slide serrations. Note also the superb slide-to-frame fit.
The rear sight is the Heinie Ledge model with a single Trijicon tritium dot beneath the sight notch. The rear cocking serrations consist of eight ball-end cuts matching the three cuts on top of the slide. The shelf of the ambi safety is big enough for sure functioning, but not so oversized that it might be pushed off by the holster or clothes.
The Falcon is a strikingly handsome pistol. A distinctive feature is cuts at the front of the slide, similar to the Browning Hi-Power and the CZ-75. On top of the slide are three ball-radius cuts, making a nice match for the eight ball-radius cuts used for cocking serrations.
This Falcon earns its “Commander” designation by having a 4.25-inch barrel and corresponding slide (as with the original Colt Commander of the 1950’s) instead of the 4-inch barrel used on some other Nighthawk models. A side benefit is to make it legal for importation to Canada, which requires a minimum barrel length of 4.14 inches.
I noticed the Canadian distributor of Nighthawk (www.wanstallsonline.com) shows several Nighthawk Customs available. Just an observation, it seems in countries with restrictive laws (like much of Europe), high-end guns are in demand. Shooters seem to think if they can’t have a lot of guns, those they have may as well be good ones.
The mainspring housing and magazine chute are in one piece, beautifully machined from a single block of steel. The base of the housing is smoothly rounded so as not to irritate the hand or wear holes in your clothes if it’s carried concealed. Both handsome and practical, the magazine chute makes for fast and consistent reloads.
Next, sights and specs