May 01, 2020
By Layne Simpson
Nighthawk Custom was founded in 2003 and is located in Berryville, Arkansas. The company’s specialty is building top-quality Model 1911 pistols from the best materials available. Some companies employ a group of craftsmen with different specialties. One fits the barrel and slide, another is the trigger guy, another applies the checkering, and yet another is responsible for applying the finish. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that method, and some of those companies turn out excellent guns. Even so, it is done a bit differently at Nighthawk Custom. When an order is received, it is assigned to a single gunsmith who will be responsible for the building of the entire gun from start to finish. The new Fire Hawk pistol I shot was built by Justin Farnan, and like all gunsmiths at Nighthawk Custom, he is exceptionally good at what he does. It is an example of the level of excellence to which John Browning’s grand old design can be taken.
While the Fire Hawk was designed for personal-defense use, shooting it reminded me of many fun days of competing with compensated Model 1911 pistols. Its full-profile compensator is a single-chamber, single-port design, and it is 1.110 inches long. Due to a shortened slide and barrel, overall length of the gun is the same as a standard 5.0-inch 1911 with no compensator. The Fire Hawk slide is 6.25 inches long versus 7.38 inches for a 5.0-inch-barreled gun and 6.75 inches for a Commander-length pistol. The slide is only 1/8 inch longer than the Officer’s ACP slide, so it would be fairly accurate to describe the Fire Hawk as a compensated Officer’s ACP upper on a frame with the grip length of the standard 5.0-inch-barreled gun. A lowered and flared ejection port along with a slightly extended ejector ensure reliable ejection of spent cases.
The National Match-grade, no-bushing barrel measures 4.13 inches long and is stainless steel. It has a heavy contour with a muzzle diameter of 0.693 inch. Rifling pitch is 1:16 inches. The gun uses a Commander-length recoil spring, and whereas 18 pounds is the standard weight for a Commander in .45 ACP, the spring in the Fire Hawk is a bit lighter due to the compensator. The full-length recoil spring guide is stainless steel.
The Fire Hawk is offered in 9mm Luger and .45 ACP. I chose the .45 ACP because it is the cartridge I prefer in a Model 1911 pistol. The stainless-steel frame, slide, and compensator have a black nitride finish. I found the coarse, forward-angled grooves at the rear of the slide to be quite easy on the hand. Extremely fine striations on the rear of the sight and on the heel of the slide eliminate glare when shooting on bright, sunlit days.
The windage-adjustable Heinie Ledge rear sight is dovetailed to the slide. That sight usually has a single retention screw, but the one on the Fire Hawk I shot had two. Center the 0.120-inch-thick blade at the front in the 0.125-inch-wide notch at the rear and you will see just the right amount of daylight on both sides for excellent accuracy and quick acquisition. When shooting the pistol offhand out to 25 yards and from the prone position at 50 yards, I especially liked the precision of the 0.080-inch gold-colored bead centered in the front sight. The sight is dovetailed to the top of the compensator, making sight radius 6.07 inches, only about half an inch shy of a standard 5.0-inch-barreled gun. Tritium rear and fiber-optic front sights are available at extra cost.
A frontstrap extending into the terminus of the grip and frame combined with a high-sweep beavertail safety is ideal for the thumb-on-safety-tab, high-hold grip handgunners like me prefer on a Model 1911 pistol. Perfectly executed 24-lines-per-inch checkering on the surface of the frontstrap and 28-lines-per-inch checkering on the mainspring housing offer a secure yet comfortable grip when shooting the heaviest of loads. The magazine release is also checkered.
Old-fashioned people, which includes me, still prefer checkered wooden grip panels, but I could live happily ever after with the synthetic VZ Agent 1 grips and their modern surface treatment. A magazine well funnel with heavily beveled edges is an integral part of the mainspring housing, and it ensures a fumble-free reload. Unlike the huge funnels commonly seen on competition guns, the one on the Fire Hawk increases grip length by only 0.250 inch, and it hardly makes the gun less suitable for concealed carry beneath light clothing. The bumper pad on the eight-round magazine is also quite thin, but since it also increases grip length a bit, I would carry it for a reload and holster the gun with the magazine wearing no pad.
The hammer is the ever-familiar Commander style. The finger pad of the trigger is aluminum with a travel adjustment screw. Ten pulls with a Lyman digital gauge averaged 57.5 ounces (3.6 pounds) with a variation of 5 ounces. After the usual bit of take-up inherent in all Model 1911 pistols, the trigger broke crisply with no detectable overtravel.
The high-sweep grip safety with speedbump worked as it should, as did the extended thumb safety with its positive detents at the two positions. An ambidextrous thumb safety is offered, and regardless of whether you are right- or left-handed, take my advice and spend a bit more money for it. Should your strong hand become injured during a confrontation, an ambidextrous safety is easily disengaged with the weak hand.
The Fire Hawk is fully dehorned for no-snag draws from concealment. That along with the partially angled muzzle of the compensator makes for smooth and easy reholstering.
Slide-to-frame and barrel-to-slide fit are as precise as skilled human hands, sharp eyes, and patience can make them. Push downward on the barrel hood with all your might and you will feel zero movement. Pull upward on the slide and twist it left and right and you will feel the total absence of looseness.
Precision Is as Precision Does
Shooting five different loads in a handgun is usually a good indicator of its accuracy potential. If they are loaded with bullets of various nose profiles, reliability or lack of same will be revealed. The Fire Hawk was so much fun to shoot I did not stop squeezing the trigger until it had digested every .45 ACP factory load in my inventory.
With the gun resting on an MTM K-Zone rest, I squeezed off five-shot groups at Birchwood-Casey Precision Square targets placed at 25 yards. And after thoroughly cleaning and lubing the gun, I ran it through IPSC action-pistol stages with targets at distances ranging from 10 to 25 yards. I mostly shot while gripping the gun with both hands, but quite a few rounds were fired weak-hand-only and strong-hand-only. I finished up by dropping to the prone position and engaging IPSC targets at 50 yards.
One of the two magazines that came with the gun was ammo-sensitive, and when using it there were three failures to feed with Black Hills and HSM ammo loaded with 200-grain SWC lead-alloy bullets. There were also two nosedive stoppages with the Speer 230-grain Gold Dot load, which is quite short (1.20 inches) and has an extremely large nose cavity. Those loads fed without a hitch from the other magazine.
With all ammunition, the Fire Hawk shot about an inch below my 25-yard line of sight, and I was surprised to see 14 different loads shoot so close to the same point of impact. I assumed there would be considerable difference between the Black Hills 135-grain HoneyBadger and the seven 230-grain loads, but all bullets would have snuggled into a very small group. Nine of the 14 loads consistently shot inside 2 inches, and that speaks highly of Nighthawk Custom as well as the various ammunition manufacturers. I checked the effectiveness of the compensator by shooting some of the same loads in a non-compensated 5.0-inch-barreled Model 1911, and muzzle rise with the Fire Hawk appeared to be about 30 percent less.
The fit and finish of the Nighthawk Fire Hawk are so superior to the typical factory gun that you have to see it, feel it, and shoot it for yourself in order to fully appreciate it. The written word falls short.
Nighthawk Custom Fire Hawk SpecsManufacturer:
Nighthawk Custom, nighthawkcustom.comType:
.45 ACPMagazine Capacity:
4.13 in.Overall Length:
1.25 in. (0.92 in. slide)Height:
5.60 in.Weight, Empty:
VZ Agent 1 syntheticFinish:
Heinie Ledge rear, black blade/gold bead frontTrigger:
3.6-lb. pull (as tested)Safety:
Ambidextrous thumb safety, beavertail grip safetyMSRP:
Nighthawk Custom Fire Hawk Accuracy & Velocity