Nighthawk Custom "Fire Hawk" 45 ACP 1911 Pistol

by Boge Quinn

September 28th, 2021

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Standard Nighthawk Fire Hawk (photo courtesy Nighthawk Custom).







Single port expansion compensator.



Black G10 grips with Nighthawk Custom medallions.






Ambidextrous thumb safety.



Upswept Beavertail Grip Safety.





"GUNBLAST.COM" inscription on slide.



Gold bead front sight (top), Heinie Ledge rear sight (bottom).



Nighthawk Custom's "Recon Rail".



Ultra Hi-Cut front strap.



Front strap is checkered at 30 LPI.



One-piece checkered mainspring housing / magazine well.











Nighthawk Custom, located in Berryville, Arkansas, USA, are the makers of some of the finest custom 1911 pistols available today. We have handled and shot Nighthawk's pistols at various trade shows and writers' events in the past, and we have previously tested their Falcon, Thunder Ranch Combat Special, and Bob Marvel pistols; the quality and attention to detail exhibited across their entire product line has been consistently impressive. When I had the opportunity to order a Nighthawk for myself, deciding on the features I wanted on such a top-of-the-market pistol was a difficult, yet pleasant, task. I have always wanted a compensated "race gun", so I settled on the Nighthawk Custom Fire Hawk as the starting point for my own custom 1911.

As their company name implies, Nighthawk Custom is just that: a custom pistol shop, where one's desires are limited only by one's imagination and/or one's budget. A vast array of options, from finishes to accessories to sights, etc. is available. Nighthawk Custom has a slogan which they take very seriously: "One Gun, One Gunsmith"; this means that each pistol is custom-crafted one at a time by one of Nighthawk Custom's Master Gunsmiths. One gun maker builds and fits each pistol from start to finish, making each pistol a unique creation which bears the pride and reputation of its maker, and the provided test target gives the name of that maker.

Once I settled upon the Fire Hawk as my desired model, I decided to opt for an all-stainless pistol instead of the standard black nitride finish, and the aesthetic touches flowed from that point. I thought that the contrast of black on stainless would be pleasing to the eye, so I opted for blackened parts and controls: the sights, barrel, hammer, trigger, grip safety, thumb safety, slide stop, and magazine release are finished in black, and contrast very nicely with the satin stainless of the frame, slide, compensator, and one-piece mainspring housing / magazine well. The grips are lightly-textured black G10 composite with Nighthawk medallions, contrasting nicely with the stainless frame; the port side grip panel is relieved for ease of operating the magazine release, which also creates a very comfortable thumb rest without adding to the thickness of the grip.

The Fire Hawk is available chambered in 9mm or 45 ACP - there is no 10mm option available at this time - so I opted for the classic 45 ACP, as God and John Browning intended.

The frame features a generous and graceful "A1 Cut" for the trigger, and an Ultra Hi-Cut front strap, which allows the pistol to rest a bit lower in the hand, making recoil and muzzle flip a bit easier to control. I opted for what Nighthawk calls their "Recon Rail" underneath the frame forward of the trigger guard; while I do not typically mount weapon lights and such on my pistols, I really like the Recon Rail, and decided it was worth an extra $100 to have that option in the future. The Recon Rail differs from other rails I have seen in that is low-profile and unobtrusive, while maintaining Picatinny compatibility. The Recon Rail is basically a squared-off dust cover with slots milled into it; thus, the rail is not an added-on part, but is integral with the frame. Nighthawk Custom's Recon Rail is more attractive in appearance than any rail system I have ever seen, and it will even allow the pistol to fit into many (but not all) standard 1911 holsters without an accessory installed.

The Fire Hawk features a custom-tuned extractor, 38 Super sized stainless steel firing pin, and Series 70 action. All slide corners are de-horned, as is the lowered and flared ejection port, for ease and comfort in handling and carrying. The front and rear of the slide have coarse, angled serrations, making the slide easy and quick to grasp, and the slide's sides feature a very attractive French border along the top edge. This French Border continues over the single expansion port compensator, making the lines of the compensator flow beautifully with the slide. The compensator itself adds no length compared to a standard GI 1911 slide, making the Fire Hawk's overall length actually fractionally shorter than the GI-spec 1911 due to the Fire Hawk's lack of a barrel bushing. The compensator is 1-1/16" long, and the slide's length is reduced by that amount to keep the pistol's overall length to a nominal and manageable 8-1/2"; this makes the Fire Hawk equally at-home as a competition or personal-defense pistol. The expansion port is designed to redirect excess muzzle gases upward and forward, counteracting recoil forces quite effectively; the design and dimensions of the expansion chamber contribute to this, with the rearward-facing wall being slightly tapered towards the top. The reduction in the length (and, therefore, the weight) of the reciprocating slide reduces the slide's inertia by a noticeable amount, thus further reducing felt recoil and muzzle flip; at the same time, the bull barrel and Commander-length spring and reverse plug maintains the standard stroke of a 5-inch 1911 for reliability. It is a very well-designed and superbly-executed system.

The 5-inch Match bull barrel needs no bushing to fit to the slide, and rides over a full-length guide rod. Stripping the Fire Hawk uses the same procedure as the non-compensated Bob Marvel pistol, so for more detailed information on that, I will refer the reader to that article. The system is quick and easy to disassemble and reassemble, as long as you follow instructions.

Specifications - Nighthawk Custom "Fire Hawk" 45 ACP 1911 Pistol

Caliber 9mm / 45 ACP
Finish Black Nitride
Overall Height 5.6 Inches
Overall Length 8.47 Inches
Overall Width 1.30 Inches
Slide Width 0.92 Inch
Grip Width Regular - 1.3 Inches
Weight, Empty 44.2 Ounces
Barrel Length 5 Inches
Sight Radius 6.07 Inches
Rear Sight Heinie Ledge, Drift Adjustable
Front Sight Gold Bead, Drift Adjustable
Trigger Medium Length, Solid, Curved & Serrated Face, Overtravel Adjustable
Trigger Pull, As Tested 2 Pounds, 1.9 Ounces
Thumb Safety Single - Right-Hand Only
Grip Safety Upswept Beavertail with "Memory Bump"
Light Rail NO RAIL
Magazine Capacity 8 Rounds
Magazines Supplied 2
Price (as of September 2021) $4,199.00

The Fire Hawk is an awesome pistol in its standard configuration, but there were a few options I requested to tailor the pistol to my preferences; this is easily done, as Nighthawk is a custom shop, and they are dedicated to building your dream pistol. 

I have already discussed the finish options I chose, as well as the addition of the Recon Rail. In addition to these, I opted to have the front strap checkered at 30 LPI (Lines Per Inch); along with the Fire Hawk's checkered mainspring housing / mag well, this front strap checkering really helps me in keeping a firm grip on the pistol under recoil, and is well worth the modest upcharge. Coupled with the superb upswept beavertail grip safety, which incorporates a "memory bump" that actually WORKS for me (most memory bumps will not allow me to properly ride the thumb safety with my right thumb while reliably activating the grip safety), the result is a pistol that just feels right and solid in the hand.

Perhaps because I was raised with an older brother / mentor who was a Southpaw, I have always liked an ambidextrous thumb safety on a 1911 pistol. Though I am right-handed, and I have never encountered a circumstance which required me to keep shooting with my right hand disabled, I appreciate the function and the symmetry of an ambi safety, so I ordered one on my Fire Hawk. This safety is beautifully machined from tool steel, extended, serrated, nicely finished, and clicks on and off very positively.

The sights on the standard Fire Hawk are excellent, consisting of a gold bead front sight and a Heinie Ledge rear sight. Both front and rear sights are dovetail-mounted, and drift-adjustable for windage. The Heinie Ledge rear sight is slanted on its back surface, which is nicely serrated to defeat light glare; the rear sight also has a vertical ledge milled into its top surface, which is designed to aid in racking the slide against a corner or table should the need arise. The gold bead front sight is quick and easy to acquire, and is mounted on the compensator, which does not reciprocate with the slide, so picking-up the front sight for follow-up shots is very quick. As wonderful as these sights are, many shooters are opting for a mini optical sight these days, and Nighthawk Custom has recently developed the slickest solution I have ever seen for mounting a mini-optic: the Interchangeable Optic System (IOS). The IOS is an ingenious system, which is almost invisible unless an optical sight is mounted: the top rear of the slide behind the ejection port, including the rear sight, is removable by loosening a captive Allen screw and drifting out a single pin (using the Allen wrench provided for the screw). This portion of the slide then slides off to the rear of the pistol and is replaced by an IOS plate on which the optic of choice is mounted; the slide and the IOS plates have a tapered mortise milled into them, which assures perfect centering and no loss of zero when the plates are changed. The whole process is so easy that even I can do it, and takes only seconds. IOS plates are currently available to fit the Trijicon RMR, Trijicon SRO, Shield RMSc, and Vortex Viper, as well as other sights that use compatible screw patterns to any of these optics. The IOS is a $350 option, with the IOS plate of choice an additional $149.95; the IOS plate also incorporates an integral cowitness rear sight, which is a very nice touch. The IOS is the best optics-mounting system I have ever seen, is available on all new Nighthawk Custom builds, and can be retrofit to any 1911 pistol, whether from Nighthawk Custom or other 1911 manufacturers.

Build Sheet - "Fire Hawk" 45 ACP 1911 Pistol As-Tested

Description Price
Fire Hawk, Gov., 45 ACP

One-Piece MSH/Magwell, Checkered

Wide Rear Cocking Serrations

Heinie Ledge Rear Sight / Gold Bead Front Sight

Checkered Front Strap

Rear of Slide Serrated

Comp Barrel

Medallion Grips and Stainless Grip Screws

***IOS Stainless Steel Slide and Frame,
everything else Black Nitride including all small parts EXCEPT for Magwell

Custom Block Lettering-LASER      GUNBLAST.COM 
on slide in front of Ejection Port - PROTO Font
Checker Front Strap 30 Lines per Inch $100.00
Sight Upgrade, IOS (Interchangeable Optic System): Includes Nighthawk IOS Base Plate, Novak Sight Cut, Standard Rear Sight / Front Sight $350.00
Ambi Safety Upgrade, Fully Machined Tool Steel $120.00
Recon Rail Upgrade $100.00
IOS Plate, Trijicon RMR, Iron Sight Forward of Optic $149.95
TOTAL PRICE, As Tested $5.168.95

I chose my favorite mini-optic for mounting onto my Fire Hawk using the Interchangeable Optic Syetem: Trijicon's RM08G RMR Dual-Illuminated Reflex Sight. The Trijicon is always on, never needs batteries, and has proven to be tough and dependable in the most punishing environments on Earth. The RM08G's reticle is a 12.9-MOA green triangle, which I prefer to sight-in with the top of the triangle as the aiming point for precision; for "up close and personal" situations, the entire reticle can be centered upon the target, making the RM08G's reticle useful for both close-shooting and precision-shooting applications. The reticle is lit by Tritium in low-light conditions, and the reticle's brightness is automatically augmented in bright-light conditions by fiber-optics. There are no adjustments to be made, and no buttons to fool with.

The Fire Hawk proved to be an absolute joy to shoot. As shown by both the included test target and by my own informal shooting, this pistol is capable of one-hole accuracy, and felt recoil is noticeably reduced as compared to my other 1911 pistols. I have had the pistol here for a few months now, and have run a wide variety of ammo types through it, from good ol' GI 230-grain "Ball" loads to lightweight lead-free hollowpoint and frangible loads. The Fire Hawk has gobbled up everything I have put through it with only one malfunction: the very first round of GI-surplus Ball I tried failed to chamber. Admittedly, that old GI stuff I had lying about was pretty filthy, so I certainly don't blame the pistol for that. A single drop of the included Gibbs lubricant on each frame rail rendered any further bobbles history, even with the old, corroded GI ammo. It is vitally important, either in a match pistol or (especially) in a defensive pistol, that the pistol goes "BANG!" 100 percent of the time, and I have 100 percent trust in my Nighthawk Fire Hawk to reliably and accurately get the job done.

The Fire Hawk is no larger than a standard 1911 pistol, and is thus equally at-home in competitive and defensive situations. Therefore, I wanted gun leather that could be pressed into either service, bearing in mind that, at my age and weight, I am more likely to be carrying the pistol concealed on the street than openly while ducking and rolling behind and under plywood barricades. As I often do, I turned to my good friend Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters in Prescott, AZ for a solution, and he suggested his CID Slide Leather Concealment Holster, customized for use of an optic. The CID Slide is a minimalist belt-slide design, with an exposed muzzle, covered trigger guard, and exposed grip. The CID Slide is comfortable to wear for long periods, and is available with Rob's "Inside Out" straps for inside-the-waistband (IWB) carry. The CID Slide is made from quality leather, and sells for a starting price of only $50.00, with exotic leathers available at extra cost. For carrying extra magazines, I have been using Simply Rugged's "Dual Defender" Mag Pouch for many years; the double-magazine design is made from quality leather, snaps to the belt, is available to fit many different magazine designs, and also sells for a starting price of $50.00. Simply Rugged makes some of the finest and most cost-effective holsters available, and I highly recommend them. 

The Night Hawk Custom Fire Hawk 1911 certainly isn't cheap, but as my brother Jeff used to say, "The Best Never Is". While it is true that there are perfectly serviceable 1911s on the market at one-fourth (or less) of the Fire Hawk's cost, it is just as true that one can easily spend a lot more money for a pistol that is not as good. The Nighthawk pistols are custom-crafted by Master gunsmiths, one at a time, to the customer's order, which is the very definition of "custom". Try pricing other custom builds, and you will quickly see the value built into each Nighthawk Custom pistol.

Nighthawk Custom:

Buy Ammo Online at Lucky Gunner:

Double Tap Ammo:

Federal Premium Ammo:

Armscor Ammo:

Lehigh Defense Ammo:

Trijicon RM08g Reflex Sight

Simply Rugged Holsters:
Simply Rugged CID Slide Holster
Simply Rugged Dual Defender Mag Pouch

Boge Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.





My Nighthawk Custom Fire Hawk was hand-fit by Master gunsmith Austin Lehr.





Nighthawk's Interchangeable Optic System (IOS) is quick and easy to use, and allows sights to be changed without loss of zero.



IOS plate includes Allen wrenches for IOS plate installation and optic installation, and an extra IOS plate pin.




Trijicon RM08G Dual-Illuminated Reflex sight.




CID Slide holster from Simply Rugged Holsters.



Simply Rugged Holsters Dual Defender mag pouch.



Some of the ammo used for testing.



Fire Hawk includes two Nighthawk Custom 8-round magazines.