Nighthawk's Ultra-Accurate Bolt Rifles

Nighthawk Custom is well known to Model 1911 pistol shooters. Now high-performance rifle shooters are going to have to get to know Nighthawk as well.

Over the past five years, Nighthawk Custom of Berryville, Arkansas, has established an impeccable reputation for producing premier-quality individually built Model 1911 semiauto pistols. Now it has moved into the rifle market with the introduction of two original series of bolt-action rifles: the Nighthawk Hunter series and the Nighthawk Tactical rifles.

Each Nighthawk Custom rifle is produced with the same individual attention to detail as has made Nighthawk's Model 1911 pistols such an overwhelming market success. Two things in particular stand out about these new products in comparison to nearly all other custom rifles presently on the market.


First, they are not merely tuned, modified, or accessorized versions of existing brand-name bolt-action-rifle model platforms but are instead built, fitted, and assembled from the ground up using core elements that are designed and fabricated by Nighthawk in its own facility, supplemented by individually chosen accessory and feature components drawn from some of the most highly regarded specialty product manufacturers in the firearms world. That is to say, the Nighthawk rifles are true custom-built rifles not customized versions of existing rifles.



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Nighthawk Custom Tactical:

Model: Tactical
Purpose:Tactical, long-range competition
Manufacturer: Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
877.268.4867
Action type: Bolt-action
Operation: Turn-bolt
Magazine type/ capacity:Detachable box/ five rounds
Receiver material:Steel
Caliber:.308 Winchester (as tested), .300 Win. Mag., 7 Rem. Mag.
Barrel length: 22 inches, #7.2 contour (as tested)
Rifling: Five grooves, 1:12 RH twist
Sights: None, Picatinny rail (as tested)
Metal Finish: Nighthawk Perma Kote
Safety: Jewell Triggers
Trigger type: Fully adjustable Jewell triggers
Pull weight: 11 oz. (as tested)
Stock material: Manners Composite MCS-T4A
Stock finish: Manners polyurethane enamel
Drop at heel: 1.5 in.
Drop at comb: 1.25 in.
Length of pull: 13.75 in.
Checkering: None
Pistol grip cap: None
Recoil pad: Black Pachmayr Decelerator
Sling studs/swivels: Three
Weight, empty: 11.5 lbs
Overall length: 41.75 in.
MSRP: $4,250 (bolt-on-rail base model)
$4,500 (integral-rail base model)

Second, the two Nighthawk rifle series are not merely different-featured versions of the same basic design. Instead, they are two entirely different products--from the basic receiver design out--with different design intent, purpose, and intended application. In our experience, they are both unsurpassed


in performance and accuracy by any other comparable products in the field.

The Hunter Series
The Nighthawk Hunter series was designed for the serious hunter who is looking for maximum accuracy for precision shot placement at any range and who wants a rifle that will last a lifetime and can be passed on to future generations of hunters in his family.


The Hunter begins with a receiver action that will fit into a Remington Model 700 footprint, offering the user a wide range of stock options and additional accessory capabilities. The material used in the Hunter actions is 4140 chrome-moly steel, which is well known for its use in applications requiring strength and durability. Stainless 416R steel actions will be introduced in the near future.

All machining is performed in the heat-treated state, which reduces material movement from stress and enables adherence to closer tolerances. Receiver and action components are machined using CNC turning centers, including wire EDM cuts for the raceways to ensure accuracy and consistency. The last operation is to machine the opening helix on the bolt handle, providing a cam action that works to ease the operation of opening and closing the bolt.

The bolt is helical fluted for reduced friction and debris channeling, and it is cut with a flat-end mill. The Hunter series receiver has an external, left-side-mounted bolt release on right-handed models. Left-handed models are available with the bolt release on the right side. The fire control has been engineered to give reduced bolt lift while ensuring good impact and locktime to the primer. For the trigger mechanism, Nighthawk uses only fully adjustable Jewell match-grade triggers and safeties on all its rifles. Tested in extreme temperatures of as much as 40 degrees below Fahrenheit, they do not fail. And they also allow you to set your preference for trigger pull.

The recoil lug is pinned and machined from ground stock with a 3-degree taper to ease removal from bedding. The action and chamber are fully supported. The action is pillar bedded and full-length glass bedded. Bedding extends approximately 1½ inches in front of the recoil lug.

The internal box magazine holds four rounds, and the magazine floorplate operates in familiar Remington M700 fashion. The floorplate and trigger mechanism inletting in the stock is also precision bedded.

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Nighthawk Custom Hunter:

Model:Hunter
Purpose:Hunting
Manufacturer: Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
877.268.4867
Action type: Bolt-action
Operation: Turn-bolt
Magazine type/ capacity:Internal box/ four rounds
Receiver material:Steel
Caliber:.308 Winchester (other calibers by request)
Barrel length: 25 inches, #4 contour (other lengths and contours by request)
Rifling: Five grooves, 1:12 RH twist
Sights: None, receiver drilled and tappes for scope bases.
Metal Finish: Nighthawk Perma Kote
Safety: Jewell Triggers
Trigger type: Fully adjustable Jewell triggers
Pull weight: 14 oz. (as tested)
Stock material: Manners Composite MCS-T3
Stock finish: Manners polyurethane enamel
Drop at heel: 1.5 in.
Drop at comb: 1.25 in.
Length of pull: 13.5 in.
Checkering: None
Pistol grip cap: None
Recoil pad: Black Pachmayr Decelerator
Sling studs/swivels: Three
Weight, empty: 7.5 lbs
Overall length: 44.5 in.
MSRP: $3,895 (base model)

The Hunter's bottom-metal assembly features a Remington-style hinged magazine floorplate.

The front and rear receiver rings on the Hunter series actions are the same size, and the rear ring has the same contour as the front. The receiver is drilled and tapped with #8-40 threading to accept Kimber Model 8400 mounts. A bolt-on, one-piece Picatinny rail is also available, which allows different scopes fitted with a wide variety of standard cross-cut ring systems to be moved from rifle to rifle without re-indexing the ring positions. The benefit to hunters is that two different scopes--say a 1.5-6X dangerous-game scope and a 6-24X long-range scope--can be zeroed with appropriate different loads--say a heavy, penetrating bullet load for close-range heavy game and a light, expanding bullet load for long-range lighter game--on the same rifle and then switched as preferred without extensive re-zeroing.

Nighthawk uses Broughton barrels exclusively on the Hunter series, which carry the 5c trademark. The 5c signifies the barrel has been stress relieved five times. Each barrel incorporates canted-land rifling to reduce bore fouling. When compared to competitors' barrels of the same length and number of grooves, the 5c barrel delivers higher velocities--as much as 100 fps. Broughton rifle barrels are crafted from 416R crucible stainless steel; they are pulled-button-rifled, double stress relieved at the mill, and triple stress relieved in the Nighthawk shop.

Each barrel is hand-lapped for eight hours with a uniform land and groove diameter up to 0.0001 inch from breech to muzzle. Nighthawk guarantees its barrels aren't larger at the muzzle than at the breech. Each barrel is individually serial numbered. The barrel on our review Hunter series .308 Winchester rifle featured a 25-inch #4 contour barrel with 1:12 twist, fully freefloated.

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Nighthawk Custom Tactical Accuracy .308 Win. Zeiss Victory 6-24x 72mm

Powder
TypeGrs. Case Primer OAL (in.)Velocity (fps)Velocity Variation (fps)Standard Deviation (fps)100 -Yard Accuracy (in.)500 -Yard Accuracy (in.)
Hornady 155-gr. A-Max Varget 44.0 Lapua Fed. 210 2.841 2631 25 15 0.94 5.75
Sierra 155-gr. HPBT Varget 44.0 Lapua Fed. 210 2.812 2663 32 15 1.06 3.88
Hornady 168-gr. A-Max Varget 43.5 Fed. Fed. 210 2.880 2626 22 12 0.53 3.88
Sierra 168-gr. HPBT Varget 43.5 Fed. Fed. 210 2.810 2655 12 6 0.69 4.88
Sierra 175-gr. HPBT Varget 43.0 Fed. Fed. 210 2.800 2611 39 19 0.56 3.75
Hornady 155-gr. TAP Factory Load 2.795 2799 21 10 0.81 4.75
Federal Sierra 169-gr. HPBT Factory Load 2.797 2652 23 11 0.50 4.38
Hornady 168-gr. A-Max Factory Load 2.810 2677 28 14 0.28 3.13
Hornady 168-gr. BTHP-M Factory Load 2.810 2706 31 16 0.69 2.75
Federal Sierra 175-gr. HPBT Factory Load 2.797 2647 20 9 0.38 3.50
Average accuracy for all 5-shot groups: 0.64 4.06

The exterior of the barrel can be finished to the purchaser's specifications from rough turned to a polished finish. A variety of land and groove combinations for most twist rates are offered in all available Nighthawk calibers. Overall, Broughton 5c barrels are claimed to provide more velocity, longer barrel life, reduced bolt pressure, and extreme accuracy.

Nighthawk offers Hunter series stocks from both Manners Composite and HS Precision. HS Precision stocks come in a wide variety of color combinations and are well known as being some of the best hunting stocks in the industry. Manners Composite stocks are made from 35 percent carbon fiber and 65 percent fiberglass, which reduce weight and add strength. The stock on our review Hunter series .308 was a Manners MCS-T3 with camo finish, a high comb, and three sling studs for simultaneous sling and field bipod use. The standard weight is 2.6 pounds but can be had as light as 2.2 pounds. The fore-end is 2.40 inches wide at the tip and will take straight-taper barrels up to 1.350 inches in diameter. It comes standard with a 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad installed at a length of pull of 13.5 inches. This stock has a high cheekpiece, ambidextrous palmswell, and a slightly longer grip than the MCS-T stock. The fore-end and palmswell have a light molded-in texture.

The metal finish on all Nighthawk rifles is the company's proprietary Perma Kote, a ceramic-based finish that is 100 percent rust proof. Multiple solid and camo patterns are available, including Black, Sniper Gray, Titanium Blue, Desert Tan, OD Green, and the new digital camouflage finish, which is made using a combination of different colors of Perma Kote. In addition to the metal parts, the stock, scope, rings, bases, etc., can be finished to match.

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Nighthawk Custom Hunter Accuracy .308 Win. Nikon Monarch 6-24x 750mm

Powder
TypeGrs. Case Primer OAL (in.)Velocity (fps)Velocity Variation (fps)Standard Deviation (fps)100 -Yard Accuracy (in.)500 -Yard Accuracy (in.)
Hornady 155-gr. A-Max Varget 44.0 Lapua Fed. 210 2.841 2660 27 14 1.38 5.75
Sierra 155-gr. HPBT Varget 44.0 Lapua Fed. 210 2.812 2696 30 15 1.19 2.88
Hornady 168-gr. A-Max Varget 43.5 Fed. Fed. 210 2.880 2673 20 10 0.63 4.13
Sierra 168-gr. HPBT Varget 43.5 Fed. Fed. 210 2.810 2681 14 4 0.88 2.13
Sierra 175-gr. HPBT Varget 43.0 Fed. Fed. 210 2.800 2635 47 24 0.88 3.25
Hornady 155-gr. TAP Factory Load 2.795 2833 23 12 0.69 3.25
Federal Sierra 169-gr. HPBT Factory Load 2.797 2687 21 10 0.88 3.13
Hornady 168-gr. A-Max Factory Load 2.810 2715 32 15 1.00 5.63
Hornady 168-gr. BTHP-M Factory Load 2.810 2706 31 16 0.69 2.75
Federal Sierra 175-gr. HPBT Factory Load 2.797 2693 22 11 0.38 1.88
Average accuracy for all 5-shot groups: 0.85 3.53

Actions on both Nighthawk Custom rifle models are pillar and fully glass-bedded.

When Nighthawk first began making 1911 pistols in 2003, it used the same polymer-based finish still used by most other 1911 manufacturers today. Unhappy with the sheen on such finishes--and the fact it made the Nighthawk guns look like everybody else's--Nighthawk came up with its own ceramic-based alternative. Perma Kote has withstood 5,000 hours of both saltwater immersion and saltwater spray at 40 psi. It also has a wear life three times the polymer finishes and a smooth, matte appearance.

The Nighthawk Hunter series will be available in a variety of standard and magnum chamberings, and rifle and scope combination packages using Leupold or NightForce scopes are offered as well. Break-in and sighting services are also available.

The Tactical Series
The other half of the new Nighthawk rifle family is made up of the Tactical series rifles, which are designed for the most demanding purposes of the sniper, tactical, and long-range competition shooting community. While they share most of the basic features and premium components of the Hunter series rifles, these are heavier-built guns, designed to take the hardest circumstances of repeated and continuous life-critical duty and operations use yet still deliver unsurpassed accuracy on demand under all conditions. Nighthawk Tactical rifles are offered with two receiver variations: one that takes a bolt-on Picatinny rail and one with an integral Picatinny rail.

The Tactical receiver with integral rail is a complete redesign of the Hunter series concept. It sports a much larger recoil lug and an altogether beefier frame. These models are built using the sniper community's preferred Surgeon actions. Like Nighthawk's own actions, Surgeon actions are machined from a solid billet of steel, except Surgeon uses 4340 instead of 4140. The bolt is a one-piece design and is machined from a solid billet of 4140. The trigger guard and magazine well are a single piece, also glass bedded for a clean, tight fit. The magazine release is extended for easy access. The magazine is a single-latch type, making release and replacement smooth and simple. The detachable Accuracy International box magazine holds five rounds; 10-round magazines are available.

Because of the design, the Nighthawk/Surgeon action will not fit into any readily-available stocks, so Nighthawk developed a proprietary stock with Manners Composite that's constructed of 35 percent aircraft-grade carbon fiber and 65 percent fiberglass in multiple layers. In external design, the integral-rail Tactical stock is a Manners Composite MCS-T4A with an adjustable cheekpiece comb, thumbhook, three sling studs, and Terry Cross hardware. The stock is fitted with a fixed, 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, but it can also be ordered with an optional butt spacer system and a Decelerator pad. The standard weight for the T4A stock is 4.2 pounds. The fore-end is about 2.50 inches wide and will take barrels up to 1.350 inches in diameter.

The sides and bottom of the fore-end and the bottom of the butt behind the thumbhook are parallel with the bore. This allows the stock to ride very straight and true when shooting from bags.

The fore-end of the stock is only textured on the back half. The strength of this stock is impressive. Manners laid one without any action installed on top of two pieces of steel and parked a full-size truck on top of it. It didn't break, and it barely bowed.

The integral-rail Tactical rifle uses a Surgeon action, flat-milled for stability in the stock. Nighthawk rifles feature fully adjustable Jewell triggers. The Tactical rifle features an oversize bolt handle, a detachable box magazine, and an extended magazine-release lever. The stock has fully bedded inletting for the magazine/trigger assembly.

The second Tactical model action with the bolt-on, full-length-crosscut mount rail utilizes the Nighthawk Hunter action as its starting point and has the same 4140 chrome-moly steel monoblock receiver machined from a single piece of steel. It has all the technical features, bedding qualities, and features of the Hunter series already described along with the addition of a Picatinny rail with a choice of zero or 20 MOA built in. It is a little less expensive than the more massive integral-rail receiver version, but it is specc'ed to the same accuracy performance standard. Both Tactical actions share the same bolt and helix fluting, are cut with a flat-end mill, and feature an oversized bolt handle.

Both Tactical rifles also feature Broughton 5c barrels. Our review sample integral-rail Tactical model featured a 22-inch, hand-lapped Broughton stainless #7.2 contour, fully freefloated. It measures 0.984 at the muzzle, and the bore has a 1:12 twist.

As with the Hunter series, the metal finish on the Tactical rifles is Nighthawk Custom's Perma Kote. Stock finish is Manners polyurethane enamel. Barrel, receiver, rings, scope mounts, and the like can be finished to match. Camo, military ARPAT, and DigiCam are also available. Scope and rifle combo packages are available, providing you prefer either a NightForce or Leupold tactical scope.

Unparalleled Performance
The range and field performances of both the Nighthawk Hunter series rifle and the Tactical rifle that Shooting Times received were truly impressive. We received early samples of .308 Winchester versions of both in the early summer of 2008 and were able to subject them to several months of extensive work at the PASA Park range facilities, both with commercial ammunition and an extensive list of handloads.

We fired dozens of groups with each, both at 100 and 500 yards. The chart shows the cream of the crop and speaks for itself. But consider this: 500-yard, overall five-shot averages were well under 1 minute of angle for all loads combined with both rifles--the Hunter series model and the Tactical model--factory loads and handloads combined. Individual 500-yard, five-shot groups were under 2 inches with factory ammo from a hunting-format rifle. Impressive is not quite enough of a word.

Nighthawk Custom made an unexpected splash in the world of Model 1911 pistols when it first appeared on the scene just a few years ago. Now the world of high-performance rifles is clearly going to have to make room for Nighthawk as well.

One-hole, five-shot groups at 100 yards were typical from the review sample Hunter series sporter rifle. Half-MOA, five-shot groups at 500 yards with commercial ammunition were not uncommon from the sample Tactical rifle.

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