During the past several years Nighthawk Custom of Berryville, Arkansas, has developed into the nation’s leading small producer of highly-refined custom Model 1911s. I say “small,” because Nighthawk—by intention—does not come close to rivaling the volume output of today’s other brand-name “custom-manufacture” Model 1911 producers. And I say “highly-refined,” because Nighthawk continues to produce Model 1911s in the manner of the great custom makers in the “Golden Age” of custom pistolsmiths during the 1980s and 1990s: built by individual craftsmen, one at a time, on customer order, to the customer’s specifications. At the same time, Nighthawk does offer a catalog of basic Model 1911 variations, which can either be ordered as-specified, or featured to individual customer tastes.
THE HEINIE CONNECTION
One of the primary ingredients in Nighthawk’s success has been its association over the past five years with Richard Heinie. Heinie is one of the most respected names in the Model 1911 community. Yet Heinie’s guns also remain something of a mystery; largely because there are so few of them. During his peak, he seldom turned out more than a dozen personally-crafted pistols a year, for a total of perhaps only 500 over his entire career. Heinie pistols are seldom seen on the used gun market. Those who have them don’t sell them.
As Heinie moved into his sixties, he determined it was time to stop accepting further work. He already had enough orders on tap to keep him occupied for more than another decade. He would finish those, if he could, but would accept no more.
Then in 2006, at PASA Park in Barry, Ill., he encountered Nighthawk Custom pistols for the first time, and had an opportunity to try them and discuss them with Nighthawk’s owners. They invited him to visit their facility. Impressed by what he saw at the shop, he asked if Nighthawk would be interested in building some of his signature pistol packages, under his supervision, and using his techniques. Nighthawk leapt at the chance.
The first two Nighthawk Richard Heinie Models were his classic Commander-format PDP Personal Defense Package and full-size Tactical Carry model. Their immediate success provided Heinie the opportunity to develop some long-imagined new configurations as well, for which he had not previously had time: a compact 9mm Model 1911 Lady Hawk for smaller-handed shooters and concealed carry, and a heavy-barrel 10mm Long Slide Model 1911 for hunting. They are among Nighthawk’s newest products, and new variations of both are coming out this year.
THE COMPACT LADY HAWK
Both Heinie and Nighthawk Custom had long been receiving inquiries from potential customers requesting a Model 1911 pistol with as thin a grip as possible, often in 9mm chambering, to improve concealability, provide better grasp for small-handed shooters, and offer less recoil than a .45 ACP for the less experienced. The result was the Commander-dimension Lady Hawk (which, Nighthawk hastens to point out, is available either with or without the “Lady Hawk” logo for those guys who do not need to try to persuade their wives that they’re actually buying the gun for her).
The key to the Lady Hawk’s unique feel is the circumference of the grip. Working with Nighthawk’s engineers, Heinie was able to reduce the standard M1911 grip frame’s thickness, and shorten its length as much as possible without reducing its strength. This, combined with the use of super-thin Alumagrip grip panels, results in an overall circumference below the grip safety and triggerguard that is 0.313 inches less than a standard Model 1911. That may not sound like much. But the difference in feel is remarkable. Small-handed shooters have zero problem wrapping their full grasp around it.
The original version Lady Hawk was offered in 9mm, but .40 S&W and .45 ACP chamberings were soon added by popular demand. The original Lady Hawks were also all issued with forged steel Perma Kote finish frames, because their weight added to the controllability of the gun, particularly for the recoil-sensitive shooters who had originally requested such a pistol. As of 2011, however, the Lady Hawk series is also being offered with aluminum frames, and also in natural-finish all stainless steel versions (for a $200 over the $3,095 base price). Also new this year is the Compact Lady Hawk, which utilizes a shorter “Officer’s Model” frame with one round less magazine capacity, for additional concealability.
All Lady Hawk versions still retain the 4.25-inch Commander-length slide, although the actual length of the match-grade barrel is actually 4.125 inches, because the muzzle is cut flush with the barrel bushing and given a tapered target-type crown. Other standard features include Heinie’s signature scalloped front strap and mainspring housing, Heinie Slant-Pro Straight Eight Night Sights, with a hand-serrated rear slide face to match the rear of the sights. The hammer and sear are Heinie’s tool steel specification, and the skeletonized hammer spur is cupped by the beavertail safety when cocked. The magazine well is contoured, and the magazine release button is Heinie’s extended tactical version. The Lady Hawks are available with choice of Tactical single-side manual safety or ambidextrous safeties. Standard finish is Perma Kote Titanium Blue with hard-chromed controls.
The accuracy of the Lady Hawk pistols is phenomenal. Nighthawk commonly guarantees one-inch accuracy at 25 yards with its full-size Model 1911s, which is a bit problematic with the shorter sight radius of a Commander-length gun. But even so, and even using a new Compact Lady Hawk in 9mm (which is not renowned for match-grade accuracy), I had no trouble averaging 1.66 inches overall from six varieties of commercial ammo at 25 yards. And that’s with open sights and my retirement-age eyes. (The fact that the trigger broke at three pounds with zero creep or overtravel might have had something to do with it.)
THE 10mm LONG SLIDE
The other recent addition to Nighthawk’s series of Richard Heinie Models is the 10mm Long Slide. Heinie is a passionate hunter—and is partial to hunting with a 1911. No surprise then, that he’s always been an enthusiast for the 10mm. As am I, because its velocity and energy approach the .41 Magnum when using full-power loads.
A couple years back, following some articles I had written and various G&A TV segments, I began to receive a surprising number of inquiries from readers and viewers inquiring whether there were any long-slide 10mm 1911s on the market, with features specifically oriented to hunters’ needs. I mentioned this to Heinie, who just happened to be in the process of having Nighthawk build a six-inch prototype for him, in camo finish for hunting.
His was equipped with a standard-contour frame, but most of the inquiries I had received were from landowners plagued with feral hogs who wanted a long-slide 10mm with an integral rail to mount a light or laser. A bolt-on equipment rail wasn’t advisable, because the forward weight of a laser/light combined with 10mm recoil would put too much stress on the thin front end of a standard frame.
So Heinie and I together persuaded the Nighthawk guys to build another 10mm Long Slide for me as well, using Nighthawk’s integral-rail Recon frame. It was finished by the fall of 2010, and I immediately equipped it with an Insight Technologies M6x integrated light/laser system and went off to Texas, where it whacked pigs with one-shot authority left and right. Didn’t take Nighthawk long to add it to their catalog of Richard Heinie Models.
The Nighthawk/Heinie 10mm Long Slide comes with forged steel frame, available either in standard configuration or with Recon-style integral rail ($100 upgrade charge). As cataloged, it is equipped with Nighthawk Custom’s own proprietary fully adjustable rear sight—which comes standard with a green tritium front sight, and a yellow two-dot rear. The edges of the sight are tapered to keep from snagging on your gear, so they are an excellent choice for hunters who need versatility in ammunition adjustment. The pistol also features a six-inch stainless steel Match Grade barrel and bushing, hand-fit slide and frame, and is smoothly finished throughout.
The slide has rear cocking serrations only, but a ball-radius cut along the slide’s extended front aides in support-hand cycling if needed. The front strap and mainspring housing feature 25 lpi checkering.
Other Nighthawk “standard” features include an extended tactical magazine release, a 10mm extended ejector, high-rise Beavertail grip safety, extra-power firing pin spring, forged fully-machined slide stop, Nighthawk Custom tool steel sear and hammer, and hex head grip screws and bushings. Either single-side or ambidextrous manual safety is available. Finish is available in any Perma Kote color or combination of slide/frame colors you want (camo finish is $350 extra). Base price is $3,295.95.
I had my own 10mm Long Slide built with Heinie’s Straight-Eight dovetail-adjustable “fixed” rear sight with a red fiber-optic front blade, because I anticipated using only one load: Hornady’s 180-grain XTP, which generates about 1,220 fps and 575 ft/lbs energy at the muzzle.
At 50 yards, it keeps five-round groups right at two inches with that same Hornady load, with open sights and my same aging eyes. It’s the hunting Model 1911 I’ve dreamed of ever since I shot my first whitetail with a Colt 10mm Delta Elite Government Model back in 1987.
No, you can’t get a Heinie Custom Model 1911 direct from Richard Heinie anymore. But Nighthawk Custom now offers his classic products. And under his gimlet-eyed scrutiny.