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Personal Defense 1911s Handguns

Nighthawk T4 Review

by Tom Marshall   |  October 2nd, 2013 2

What defines a premium 1911? For some, it’s masterful engraving and 24-karat accents. Functional shooters may measure it in group size and mean rounds between failures. But 1911 aficionados seem to have one thing in common: We know excellence when we see it. And I saw it when I peeled back the zipper on Nighthawk Custom T4’s green-padded case.

It would be tempting to describe the pistol in relation to the features it shares with previous Nighthawk models. But the T4 is a unique entity. Based on the Officer-size frame, it doesn’t quite match original Officer specs. Barrel length is 3.8 inches, and the frame has been thinned out. The latter feature allows more grip purchase for smaller hands and a flatter presentation against the body for concealed carry. I don’t have big hands, and I find the thin frame noticeably more comfortable. The T4 comes standard with VZ Alien grips made of G10 canvas Micarta. The ramped National Match barrel is flush-cut to the frame and nicely crowned. There’s a small window cut at the chamber end to serve as a loaded-chamber indicator.

I should mention now that the T4 is a 9mm. Before you cry blasphemy over a 1911 being so chambered, consider that the 9mm chambering gives you an extra round in the mag, significantly more manageable recoil out of a short barrel than a .45 ACP and a few less ounces hanging on your hip. Shot-to-shot recovery was faster than any compact .45 I’ve ever laid hands on. And because modern duty ammunition has significantly tightened the gap between calibers as far as stopping power goes, I won’t get involved in the caliber wars here.

The rear cocking serrations are a little wider than original spec and allow a quick, positive grip without grating your fingers. There are no front cocking serrations, just a pair of simple, yet elegant recess cuts that are reminiscent of the Browning Hi Power. The other thing I appreciate is that the slide flats don’t pull double duty as billboards. The Nighthawk brand on the T4 is quietly positioned on each rear corner, and “T4” is discreetly marked on the right front corner.

Sights are Heinie Straight-Eight tritium. The frame on my sample was steel, though aluminum is available as an option. Where aluminum saves weight, steel keeps the center of gravity down and, relatively speaking, offers a longer service life. The frontstrap is checkered and the mainspring housing horizontally serrated. The memory-bump safety has three vertical, shallow accent cuts. The slide-stop lever is flush with the frame, which is gently recessed around it. One small detail I found myself coming back to is that, instead of the standard kidney cuts behind the trigger, the frame is gradually blended so it slopes gently from just forward of the grip panel all the way to the trigger. While purely cosmetic, it was flawlessly executed. A stock 1911 can be an artist’s canvas. Nighthawk uses it to express not just their technical skill but also a sense of subtle grace that radiates off this pistol end-to-end. The thumb safety is of extended, single-side variety. It, along with all the other small parts, is fully CNC machined from solid bar stock.

The T4 is also equipped with what Nighthawk calls the “Everlast Recoil System,” a collaborative effort with gunsmith Bob Marvel. This system had to be modified to fit in the T4’s smaller frame, but the result is a full-length guide rod with a flat wire recoil spring. The Everlast is rated for a minimum of 15,000 rounds. Nighthawk also claims that this system results in more manageable recoil, but between the Everlast, the steel frame and the 9mm chambering, it’s hard to give one component all the credit for this gun’s short, smooth slide stroke. The entire pistol, save the barrel and trigger, is coated in black PermaKote, which leaves the surface silky to the touch and shows no wear from repeated holsterings.

By a stroke of luck, I received my test sample a few days before heading up to Gunsite in central Arizona. The course was five days long, and I fired a total of 700 rounds. On day two, somewhere around the 300-round mark, I ran a bore snake down the barrel twice and put a drop of MilTec on the slide rails. Aside from that, I performed zero maintenance on the pistol.

Conditions were as hot and dusty as you might expect in June. A consistent breeze kept the outside of the pistol coated in a fine, dusty powder. The finish held up, and there was no grittiness in the trigger or slide. The only malfunctions I experienced were failures to feed, which were fixed by disassembling the magazines and cleaning them out with a dry toothbrush. After that, there were no reliability issues. I admit that 700 rounds hardly qualify as an endurance test. However, it’s widely established that the 1911 platform requires a more dedicated user than most polymer production pistols. Furthermore, the pistol you plan to stake your life on should receive due care and attention, whatever it is. For me, a week of running around the high desert with the T4 strapped to my hip gave me full confidence in its ability to go bang when I need it to.

Throughout the course, I shot paper and steel from three to 10 yards, presenting dozens of times a day from an X-Concealment Kydex OWB holster. We shot hammers, failure drills, nonstandard response drills and a series of man-on-man steel drills. There were several runs through Gunsite’s outdoor simulators that took the distances out to 20-plus yards.

The T4’s recoil impulse feels more like a push than a flip. Shot-to-shot recovery was faster than I’m used to with this barrel length. I typically find that the front sight tends to wobble a little more with the shorter sight radius. Aluminum- and polymer-frame guns, no matter how well balanced, always come out a little top-heavy. The steel frame keeps weight in the hand instead of over the top of it. The impact on front sight shift (or lack thereof) is very noticeable to me. The trade-off is that this gun is no lightweight. Picking it up makes you think about the solid bar of steel it started out as. I had to cinch my gun belt a little tighter to keep my pants up, and I certainly never forgot I was carrying it. Carrying a gun should be comforting, if not necessarily comfortable, so, in my opinion, the gain in weight is well worth the gains in accuracy and recoil management.

The trigger has zero grit, creep or stacking. There’s maybe 1/16th of an inch of smooth takeup before the break, but there’s no overtravel. Trigger reset is crisp, almost instantaneous. Without having access to a proper gauge, I would estimate the pull weight to be between 3½ and four pounds. If it’s any more than that, the well-honed trigger has certainly managed to fool me.

One of the women in my class suffered from nerve damage in her wrists and forearms. Because of this, she was shooting a .38 revolver, as she could not manipulate the slide on any of her husband’s high-end 1911s. I put the T4 in her hands, and she ran it like a pro. She smiled like she’d just found $50 in her pocket, and she said it was the easiest semiauto she could remember operating. Despite the significant heft and heavy-duty recoil spring, moving parts on the T4 all seem to glide in their movement. When you shoot it, it’s hard to picture the amount of spring pressure and metal-to-metal contact that actually occurs with every round fired.

Before I had a chance to group the gun on paper, I had to ship it back to the “G&A” offices, where SIP Editor Eric Poole was able to fill in the blanks. Eric was able to get two separate loads to group under 1.4 inches at 25 yards. Furthermore, his average group size across all four loads was less than 21/2 inches. The T4 not only produced excellent groups, it produced them consistently.

The T4 is an obvious progression in the Nighthawk line. And it is the shortest model in that line to date. It takes visual cues from the Falcon, the thinned-out frame of the LadyHawk and the Everlast recoil system from the company’s Bob Marvel and Costa models.

If there’s a downside to be had, it’s cost. The T4 is listed on Nighthawk’s website at $3,500, swiftly placing it beyond the grasp of the average consumer. But for the true connoisseurs of Browning’s legendary design, the Nighthawk Custom T4 is both cutting edge and timeless.

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  • Charles Cloninger

    Wish I had known the cost at the beginning of the article and not after accumulating so much useless information. I want to buy a weapon not a museum piece.

  • cmblake6

    If I could afford a set of grips for a Nighthawk, I’d be a happy camper. It is a someday dream to own one, as they are the penultimate of the 1911. Cabot makes a fine piece, but they are similarly expensive. Now, 9mm. For length, frame size, so on, why not .38 Super or 9×23? If it’s not gonna be a .45, by God it should be equivalent!

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