Over the years, I’ve found two kinds of people in the firearm world: those who like Model 1911s and those who have never fired a good 1911. There are a number of 1911 manufacturers whose products are excellent right out of the box. There are also custom pistolsmiths who really can take the Model 1911 platform a leap above production guns—custom gun-makers such as Nighthawk Custom of Berryville, Arkansas.
Nighthawk Custom shot from the gate in 2003 with what empowers every successful custom shop—professional, experienced gunsmiths. Thirteen years later, nothing has changed. I can say this because a number of firearms wearing Nighthawk Custom’s eagle logo have passed through my hands. Every one chugged right along during testing, and no doubt are still chugging away.
In 2012, Nighthawk Custom began using only fully machined parts in its pistols. This provides increased durability and improved quality. It also gives Nighthawk bragging rights when compared to shops not using solely machined parts. These parts join Nighthawk’s frames and slides, which are also machined from solid forgings in the Berryville plant.
New products are the lifeblood of firearm companies, including custom shops. Nighthawk has met this admirably with a bevy of new ideas over the years and through collaborations with a number of knowledgeable folks: Richard Heinie, Bob Marvel, Chris Costa and Advanced Armament Corporation. The fact that renowned pistol smith Richard Heinie allows Nighthawk to manufacture models associated with him speaks volumes. Along the way, Nighthawk Custom also added custom shotguns and custom leather, and began distributing Keith Murr’s top-shelf knives.
One of Nighthawk’s latest offerings is its Shadow Hawk, a 5-inch-barreled, 9mm 1911 that can be upgraded to wear a compact red-dot sight. Why 9mm? Increased capacity, availability of ammo, cost of ammo, ease of shooting and lack of recoil. The Shadow Hawk will also be available as a Commander-sized frame and a Government Recon model without a compact red-dot sight.
The use of red-dot sights on pistols is not new, it harkens back to early USPSA competitors who mounted Aimpoints and others on their pistols. Quick and accurate, those pistols had two negative attributes: increased weight and increased bulk, both preventing carrying them concealed. Today competitors still use red-dot sights for the same advantages.
Many concealed carriers are moving toward red-dots riding their slides—compact red-dots. Concealed carriers choose red-dots for the same reason competitors have—speed and accuracy—two things you can never have too much of during a highly fluid, armed confrontation. Unlike USPSA Star Wars pistols, with compact red-dots, these pistols can be as easily concealed as those not wearing optics. Armed confrontations are in a state of continual flux and seldom, if ever, lend themselves to “standing and delivering.” In this maelstrom, seeing iron sights may become difficult given the eye’s tendency to focus on the threat. Red-dot sights with little, if any, parallax are seen much easier.
The Nighthawk Shadow Hawk has been upgraded with a 1.2-ounce, RM06 Trijicon RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) sight. When I asked Nighthawk’s Mark Stone about the pistol’s origins, he said the “Nighthawk Shadow Hawk is basically the pistol Steve Fisher and Magpul Dynamics requested when we built their training pistols. Even after leaving Magpul to start Sentinel Concepts, Steve provided a lot of input on the Shadow Hawk. Steve worked with Trijicon and we demonstrated their new RMR 1911 mount on the Shadow Hawk.”
With an RMR, the slide becomes the Shadow Hawk’s defining feature, with a traditional smooth top, wide, slanted cocking serrations fore and aft, and a flared and lowered ejection port. Trijicon suppressor sights are dovetailed into the slide; the front pushing from the side and the back sight sliding in from the rear, leaving it ever so slightly protruding from the slide. Across the back of the slide’s rear, and across the back of the rear suppressor sight, are 40-lpi horizontal serrations. The slide houses a black, nitride-treated, stainless steel barrel marked “NHC 9mm NM” with a countersunk target muzzle. The National Match barrel is mated perfectly to a beveled stainless steel bushing for a tight lockup when in battery. Beneath that is a smooth spring plug.
Of course, there is the RMR, recessed about 0.25 inches into the slide top and riding Trijicon’s new 1911 mount. The forged aluminum RM06 is a zero-magnification, LED red-dot sight. It has a 3.25-MOA dot that’s effective in close-quarters and precision shooting, and runs for over four years at setting 4. The RM06 adjusts for windage, elevation and dot brightness. Battle proven, the rugged Trijicon RMR system is an excellent choice for quick targeting.
A frame sporting an equipment rail supports my sample Shadow Hawk’s slide, making it a member of Nighthawk’s “Recon” family. There are a number of traits in Nighthawk’s Shadow Hawk found in other pistols from this custom shop. A narrow, extended thumb safety, a perfectly fitted, enhanced beavertail grip safety, 30-lpi checkering on the frontstrap, a bobbed slide stop shaft with beveled exit hole, a one-piece mainspring housing/magazine well machined from a 2.5-inch block of tool steel with 20-lpi checkering on the mainspring housing, a rounded butt, an extremely high undercut triggerguard, a skeletonized tool steel hammer and all the machined steel internal parts. The magazine well is aggressively funneled for hard-to-miss reloads.
The rounded butt aids in concealment and definitely provides improved feel. Durable, effective and attractive Nighthawk-branded Alien G10 grips are secured to the frame with hex screws. The pistol receives Nighthawk’s good-looking black nitride finish, standard on all its black pistols. Nitride salt finish can provide a durable finish and penetrate metal about 0.04 inches, elevating hardness. Not usually found on Nighthawks is the new straight, vertically serrated, solid trigger with no overtravel adjustment and a black Cerakote finish. The trigger broke crisply at just over 4 pounds, but it felt more like 3 pounds. Why a flat-faced trigger? It’s the leverage principle: No matter where you put your finger, you still have the same amount of leverage required. It looks pretty wild, too!
Having worked with Trijicon RMR-equipped pistols before, I’ve learned several things. While counterintuitive, the learning curve when transitioning from iron sights to compact red-dots is much less with a good set of iron sights. Find the sights and then catch the red dot until finding the dot alone is quicker and more natural. Trijicon-RMR-equipped Shadow Hawk pistols wear excellent, easy-to-see iron sights.
Another thing to consider is having the sights’ tritium vials a different color than the optic’s dot. During a confrontation, having four red-dots in play will make things unnecessarily difficult. This isn’t a problem with the Shadow Hawk—the vials are green and the Trijicon RMR is red.
A full-sized, all-steel 1911 chambered for the 9mm has several positives from the get-go. Among them are the low recoil of the 9mm cartridge and a weight around 42 ounces that enhances the cartridge’s inherent lack of recoil, speeding up follow-up shots.
The only surprise I had at the range was just how good the Shadow Hawk made me shoot. Quick target acquisition was obvious from the start. None of the ammo I fed this pistol could make it choke, and all the defensive loads I fed it clustered into nice tight groups, with none going over 1 inch.
The Shadow Hawk and RMR gave me the confidence to ding some small steel plates at over 50 yards while standing. Not just a fast-shooting pretty face, the Shadow Hawk is capable of excellent accuracy. In fact, it is capable of anything you could ask of a defensive pistol.
There was never a doubt that the Nighthawk Shadow Hawk would be a great performer. The pistol displayed all the attributes I’ve come to expect from Nighthawk Custom’s pistols: quality, reliability, durability, accuracy and a great appearance. Add to that the inclusion of a quick-targeting, compact red-dot sight in the Trijicon RMR.
I still remember a non-Nighthawk pistolsmith telling me that burying a compact red-dot sight into the slide of a Model 1911-style pistol was impossible. Well, it appears he was wrong! Nighthawk has done just that—and with its usual flare and style.
But who would want or need such a pistol? Quite a few people. Anyone who appreciates Nighthawk Custom’s work should be standing in line. Those who enjoy the latest, cutting-edge technology in firearms should also have their checkbooks out. Concealed carriers who prefer to use Model 1911s—and who want a concealable handgun offering enhanced capabilities and lifesaving properties— should run, not walk, to Nighthawk Custom in Berryville, Arkansas.