February 09, 2021
By Payton Miller
When the “Great 1911 Boom” really got underway—back in the early 1970s, as I recall—custom enhancements started flying around so fast they were tough to keep track of. But mixed in with all the ejection port enlarging, exotic sight arrangements, full-length guide rods, stippling, fish-scaling, and squared-off trigger guards, there eventually emerged a return to something refreshingly close to minimalism. This philosophy was encapsulated ultimately by Jeff Cooper. Basically, it boiled down to this: What was really needed to help Browning’s great pistol reach its full potential was (1) easier-to-acquire sights, (2) a ramp job to facilitate the use of non-hardball ammo, and (3) a decent trigger.
Nighthawk Custom has long been crafting high-end 1911s, all of which elegantly address these elemental concerns. And now the company offers an aftermarket remedy to No. 3: a very slick drop-in unit that makes it possible to address the “decent trigger” issue without resorting to the ministrations of a knowledgeable gunsmith.
In trying out Nighthawk’s DTS (Drop-In Trigger System), I was lucky in having access to my gunsmith pal Thomas Mackie’s inventory of 1911s. He’s done trigger jobs on 1911s before, but he’s getting old and crabby. Even so, he was rightly impressed with the Nighthawk kit.
Although the company claims only “minor gunsmithing skills” are required to install the trigger, Thomas was by no means insulted. He particularly liked the fact that no stoning othe sear or hammer surface is required with the Nighthawk DTS.
The DTS is what the company refers to as an “all-in-one unit” and replaces your 1911’s existing hammer, hammerstrut, sear, disconnector, and sear spring. The original sear pin and hammer pin remain. A single-leg grip safety spring, which replaces the existing three-legged sear spring, is included. The system, according to Nighthawk, is “designed to perform reliably round after round for an unmatched service life.”
The DTS’s internal components are CNC machined 416 stainless steel. Conveniently, you have your choice of a stainless or a black nitride hammer.
The only instance in which installation time was pushed past Nighthawk’s 10-minutes-to-install claim was when we had to swap out the beavertail safety on an old 1911. The old pre-’70 style unit had a “hump” that interfered with installation of the DTS. The guns we put it into included a 1921-vintage commercial 1911 (original pull weight was 6 pounds), a SIG 1911 (original pull weight was 3 pounds), a Smith & Wesson 1911 (original pull weight was 4 pounds), and a bargain-priced Norinco 1911 (original pull weight was 3 pounds). Yes, you read that correctly.
The Nighthawk DTS broke right at 3 pounds, and it was far crisper and, well, “shorter” than even the best triggers on our production guns. There’s more to a great trigger than mere poundage.
The DTS kit runs just a hair under $300. Not inexpensive, but considerably less than a full-blown custom trigger job requiring a lengthy wait. Is it worth it? Well, I’d say yes if your 1911 has a creepy, rough trigger regardless of pull weight or if your 1911 has a trigger that’s simply too heavy. In fact, I can recall darned few production 1911s that the DTS wouldn’t help in terms of intrinsic accuracy.
There are relatively few 1911s out there—aside from high-end custom guns owned by true believers—that are going to have out-of-the-box trigger pulls as good as what you’re going to realize with the DTS. Because of all the elements of a handgun—any handgun—you need to interface successfully with, the trigger is the final, critical one.
As far as the production/custom gun question goes, Nighthawk says, “This Drop-In Trigger System is not used in our custom 1911 handguns. The DTS unit is meant to be utilized as an upgrade to production handguns.”
Taking a Range Break
There’s really no way to get a feel for an improved trigger except by a trip to the range. The most dramatic benefit was to that old 1921 Colt commercial model. Using Winchester 230-grain FMJ ammo, Thomas and I tried our hand at a bit of old-school one-handed shooting at 50 feet. There I discovered that what I’d assumed had previously been a leftward bias in those tiny little “period-correct” sights had, in fact, simply been a product of canting the gun while fighting the original 6-pound trigger.
True, the gun still shot a touch high, but to a degree I could certainly live with. This is not uncommon. A vastly improved trigger may not always bring the groups in line, but sometimes it does. While it’s true that correct technique will cure you of canting the gun, it’s also equally true that a good trigger makes proper technique a far more attainable goal.
I shot that re-triggered old Colt side by side with Thomas’s pet SIG 1911 with its original trigger. The groups were a touch tighter with the SIG, undoubtedly due to its better sights. Several shooters shot both guns, and all preferred the trigger of the DTS-improved Colt.
I can easily say that if you have a production 1911, the Nighthawk DTS may represent a big step in making it shoot better.