When I was 13, I had a paper route. Its only purpose was to make money for purchasing guns and ammunition. I’d ride my bike to deliver the daily news and every weekend down to Ray’s Bait Shop, the local gun emporium. That’s where my imagination wandered between issues of Guns & Ammo magazine. I read each one cover to cover, stuffed them under my bed and read them some more.
I wanted to handle, shoot and hunt with all the guns contained in those pages and figured the best way was to write for the magazine — grand aspirations for a young boy for sure. Though I didn’t know it then, about 15 years later and roughly 100 miles from where I grew up, another boy had similar ambitions.
Years later, in 2005, Eric Poole and I met, and a few years after that, during an African safari, we compared childhood dreams, vowed one day to make them a reality and discussed how we’d return the magazine to the grandness we’d consumed as youngsters. Less than a year later, Eric became the editor of Guns & Ammo and made me a part of the team. Our dreams realized, the work began.
Eric soon suggested that there should be a Guns & Ammo signature pistol. We agreed that it had to be a 1911 and Nighthawk Custom should build it. I insisted that it be a 1911 that Col. Jeff Cooper would have carried. After all, for most of the existence of Guns & Ammo, his undying support of the 1911 was the cornerstone of the magazine. Cooper once wrote, “People who write about the ‘comeback of the 1911’ do not seem to be aware that it has never been away.”
I began dissecting Cooper’s works and talking with his acquaintances to formulate the G&A pistol’s configuration. The best sources were Sheriff Ken B. Campbell of Boone County, Illinois, and Gunsite Academy proprietor Buz Mills. “Keep it simple” was their guidance. Like Cooper once said, “The great 1911 .45 was a very nearly perfect artifact from the day of its birth, and this may be unique in the entire history of technology.”
As important as building a pistol Cooper would’ve carried was balancing Cooper’s notions with the modern 1911 and what some call “Gun Culture 2.0.” Today’s 1911 user expects things Cooper would not have. I think he’d understand. After all, he also wrote, “How nice it is that people’s tastes are so varied! If this were not true, all men would be doomed to pursue the same woman.”
Cooper mostly wrote about the 5-inch Government Model 1911, but in his later years he carried a Lightweight Commander. With the spiked interest in concealed carry, the Commander profile was the obvious choice for this project. After all, Cooper thought, “The essential element of a defensive handgun (apart from reliability) is convenient portability.” For shooter comfort and pistol longevity, it was also decided that a steel-frame Commander would be best and a much better choice for a 1,000-round course at Cooper’s Gunsite Academy.
The remaining parameters could be found in one of Cooper’s most quoted passages: “ … we have opined that all the 1911 really needs are a trigger that you can manage, sights that you can see and a dehorn job. In addition, one might propose a deactivated grip safety[!], a lanyard loop, a bobbed hammer and press-fitted stock screw sockets. One thing the original pistol does not need is a recoil-spring guide … .”
It was also determined that the pistol must be able to be completely disassembled without the use of tools. This meant that the barrel bushing had to be fitted so it could be removed by hand, and the grip screws had to be slotted so they could be removed with the edge of the sear spring. There would be no senseless forward cocking serrations, because your hand has no business being that close to the muzzle of a loaded pistol. In the interest of no sharp edges and useless embellishments, there would be no checkering or top and rear slide serrations.
We went with a short trigger because all of Cooper’s 1911s Eric and I have handled had one, and a short trigger is agreeable with a wide range of shooters. Continuing the notion of shooter and carry compatibility, a smooth, flat mainspring housing was used to eliminate palm bite and prevent the chewing up of covering garments. The grip safety was left alone for obvious reasons, but Nighthawk tastefully machined a lanyard loop into the bottom of the mainspring housing.
Some of the most debated elements of any fighting pistol are the sights. The Commander carried by Cooper during his later years was fitted with tritium sights featuring a large visible dot up front. We wanted something just as pronounced but with a more conventional sight picture, so we selected the high-profile Trijicon HD sights, which have a wide, .145-inch front blade and a rear sight with a deep, wide (.170 inch) U-notch. The front sight also has a tritium insert surrounded by a large and (appropriate) Guns & Ammo orange circle. This rear sight is robust with a horizontally lined, flat-black face and two miniscule green-tritium inserts.
Serious Cooper disciples will likely reel with contempt at these three-dot sights. But one thing’s for sure: If you cannot see these sights, you’re probably approaching legal blindness. These represent the 21st century approach to handgun sights, and those who’d argue that Cooper would not have used them cannot argue that they are not consistent with his advice. They are, without question, “sights that you can see.”
They proved their efficiency on the range. During several drills, such as the Cooper-conceived El Presidente, Eric and I turned in some of our best times and scores with this pistol equipped with Trijicon HD sights. That big, bold, orange front sight certainly draws your eyes; you don’t have to look for it. Additionally, the pronounced ledge on the rear sight makes one-handed cycling simple with the aid of your belt or boot.
Looking at the Colonel’s 1911s, it was apparent that his idea of visual enhancements was limited to the installation of fancier-than-factory grips. We went with Nighthawk’s black Alumagrips with the Nighthawk logo over a moon knowing that many of us would personalize this feature as Cooper often did. These contrast nicely with the Sniper Gray Cerakote finish and exposed stainless engraving on the rest of the pistol.
Other than the extensive beveling of every sharp edge, the only other metalwork considered was the stippling of the frontstrap. Nighthawk expertly obliged; this new stippling pattern Nighthawk has developed feels like textured rubber, and it does a good job of increasing the purchase your hand can get on the pistol.
Guns & Ammo’s Signature pistol shoots like we’d expect of one custom made with 100 percent machined parts. I pushed 500 rounds through it using a wide variety of munitions, ranging from 165-grain Federal Guard Dog to 255-grain DoubleTap Hardcast loads. The pistol ate it all without a bobble. It also put them all to point of aim at 10 yards while standing and into itty-bitty groups. The slide functioned with the smoothness of a wonderful singing voice, the trigger broke like a teenage girl’s heart, and in the hand, the pistol felt like clasping the hand of your best friend.
I’ve written before that the perfect 1911 does not exist. This is not because a 1911 cannot be made to perform to perfection; Nighthawk Custom proves that’s possible every day. It’s because the 1911 is such an iconic and customized handgun that everyone has a notion of a slight or major alteration needed to make the pistol perfect. They can have it, too, which is one reason the 1911 was, is and will remain the foremost fighting pistol.
However, no one knew the 1911 like Jeff Cooper, and one built to his specifications should be, by any account, perfect. Is the Nighthawk Guns & Ammo Signature 1911 the perfect 1911? It’s as close to perfect as we’ve seen. Would Cooper have carried it? No one knows; Cooper never had the chance to see one like this, as he passed away in 2006. As Cooper admirers, Gunsite graduates and, maybe more important, affiliates of the modern gun culture, Eric and I would both carry it.
As indicated by markings under the slide, Nighthawk is only offering 100 of these pistols through its more than 400 preferred dealers. It will be donating 5 percent of the sale price to Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA.) Every Guns & Ammo Signature Nighthawk will be delivered with a serialized Letter of Authenticity signed by Nighthawk Custom CEO Mark Stone and Guns & Ammo Editor Eric R. Poole. It’s destined to be collectible and has already proven to be a tackdriving work of art.