Anyone who knows anything about the custom/semi-custom tactical 1911 pistol field knows how hugely competitive it is out there. That’s one of the reasons why the Phoenix-like rise of Nighthawk Custom over approx. the last year and half is so intriguing. Considering the speed and surprise Nighthawk Custom has exhibited in establishing its presence in the market, it’s only appropriate that the company’s hawk-and-moon logo emulates the F-117A attack aircraft pilot’s patch.
The specific models that DefenseReview is most interested in are the Nighthawk GRP (no rail) and GRP Recon (MIL-STD-1913 rail) pistols. "GRP" stands for "Global Response Pistol". These are purpose-built, no-nonsense .45-caliber (.45 ACP) Governnment model (5" barrel) tactical/carry guns (1911 pistols) designed primarily for military Special Operations (SPECOPS) Direct Action missions involving CQB/CQC (Close Quarters Battle/Close Quarters Combat). "It fills a niche, we had some requests from some gentlemen from some quiet-type military units (tier one units) and they wanted…
something that was basically black, had a lanyard [loop], and was built strong so that it wouldn’t break down in the field, and that’s kind of what we went with on this," Craig Gholson, General Manager of Nighthawk Custom, told DefenseReview. Nighthawk’s master pistolsmith Ron Phillips added, "Of course, we’re acquainted with some of the guys like Ken Hackathorn and different people in other unmentionable places [including military operators] that really do use their pistols to work with, and um, ya’ know kinda’ tried to put together a package that was rough, rugged, and very dependable–rough, rugged, and reliable–and that had all of the features that a working gun needs, without having too much junk on it [i.e. nothing extraneous]."
The Global Response Pistol’s (GRP) hidden lanyard loop is just one of the features Phillips is talking about. "The hidden lanyard loop is one of the really neat little frills that it’s got on it, and you can either like it or love it. If you don’t like it, it’s no big deal. It’s there, [but] it’s not obtrusive. The way Alex Zimmerman has designed that, it’s perfect. It’s simple things like that that make a difference," Phillips said.
All Nighthawk 1911s come with a proprietary slide stop that’s machined from hammer-forged steel to Nighthawk’s specs. According to gunwriter Duane Thomas, the Nighthawk slide stop features a scalloped tab and protrudes farther from the side of the gun than "typical" slide stops, simultaneously providing more purchase on the part when dropping the slide and negating the the possibility the slide stop popping up under recoil and locking the action open with rounds still in the magazine, like typical "heavier-than-stock-weight extended slide stops" are prone to do.
One of the grip options is perhaps also worth mentioning, since they were chosen with the military Spec-Operator in mind. They’re called Gator Back Grips, and they’re made by VZ Grips. Gator Back Grips are made from linen micarta, the same material used by a lot of custom knife makers for the knife scales/handles. “It has a lot of ridges in it. That’s why it’s called "Gator Back". So, even with Nomex gloves, you grab ahold of it, you get a good solid hold. You’re not going to accidentally lose your weapon because the grip’s slippery. It’s [GRP pistol] just an all-around working gun. That’s what we designed it for," Gholson said.
Then there’s the GRP’s standard finish/coating. Nighthawk calls it Perma Kote. It’s ceramic-based, as opposed to the less expensive (and less durable) polymer-based finishes/coatings that most other makers use. Perma Kote will actually last 3 times longer than a polymer based finish, and it’s also quicker to apply (saving time) since it’s applied directly to the steel in the white, as opposed to having to apply it over parkerizing, which is necessary for polymer finishes. But now, Nighthawk is offering an even more durable gun finish/coating called Black Diamond, which is currently only available through Nighthawk’s largest dealer, The Scottsdale Gun Club (SGC), which is, to DefRev’s knowledge, currently the nicest and most prestigious indoor gun range in the country.
According to Mark Hanish, SGC’s Purchasing and Sales Director, Black Diamond is only approx. 2 microns thick, but it exhibits an extraordinary degree of scratch resistance/durability. “I’ve got an exclusive with Nighthawk on the new model of the GRP which has a custom finish on here that we found, and it’s a finish [Black Diamond] that you can’t cut with a knife. Yeah, they’re self-lubricating, they run smooth as heck, and they sent a slide out that had it on it, and I sat here and hacked on the thing with my knife, and you can’t get through it. So, the finish that’s on this gun, you can take your knife out and cut on it, and all you’re doing is depositing knife on the gun. You can take some steel wool and clean it off. It looks brand new. You can’t hurt it. It’s unbelievable,” Hanish said. Both Perma Kote and Black Diamond are rust/corrosion-resistant and self-lubricating, so the Nighthawk Custom 1911’s require minimal additional lubrication.
Ultimately, though, the guns have to run (i.e. be reliable). Reliability is hands-down the single most important aspect for a carry/operational/tactical gun like the GRP/GRP Recon, and all the cool whiz-bang features in the world make absolutely no difference whatsoever if the gun doesn’t go “bang” every time. All reports that Defense Review has received so far about Nighthawk Custom 1911 pistols, including the GRP line, is that they run like Timex watches. Mark Hanish reports that all of The Scottsdale Gun Club’s (SGC) Nighthawk Custom range guns (rental guns) have proven to be eminently reliable, and have exhibited no problems of any kind. SGC has a Nighthawk Enforcer model (precursor to the GRP line) that “easily has 50,000 rounds through it” over the last year without any reported malfunctions. “And I know that one got abused”, Hanish said. “It just keeps on chuggin’ along.” This particular Nighthawk Enforcer has been rented close to 400 times and is regularly used by students for SGC’s tactical shooting classes, in addition to just range rental. During one of these classes, a student will shoot 500-1000 rounds through this gun. And, Mr. Hanish told us that a GRP that they just got in right after Christmas (2005) already has at least 1,000 rounds through it with zero malfunctions, so far. That said, the SGC range Nighthawk pistols are fed Magtech .45 ACP 230-grain ball ammunition, only, which Hanish describes as “unbelievably good” ammo. “We go through millions and millions of [Magtech] rounds per year, and it’s flawless. It’s actually made in Brasil at a brand new state-of-the art plant. They [Magtech Ammunition] have phenomenal quality control”, Hanish told DefenseReview. Hanish also told us that SGC’s customers who have purchased Nighthawk Custom 1911 pistols have put a variety of factory hollowpoint .45 ACP loads through their guns, including, but not limited to, Federal Hydra-Shok 230-grain., Remington Golden Saber 230gr., Winchester SXT 230gr, and Hornady TAP 230gr., without any reported malfunctions (that Hanish or SGC has ever heard about).
Part of the 1911 reliability equation is solved by using high-quality magazines, and Nighthawk Custom doesn’t skimp here, either. All Nighthawk pistols are supplied with two blued-steel 8-round mags made by OEM manufacturer ACT-Mag (headquartered in Italy), along with a certificate allowing the customer to purchase six additional magazines for $99.95. ACT-Mag 8-round mags are the same overall length of a standard single-stack mag tube, but uses an extra-length tube, rather than an extra-length base plate. This provides for a half-inch longer mag tube, which relieves mag-spring tension and pressure on the rounds inside, thus (reportedly) enhancing magazine reliability, and thus weapon reliability.
Mr. Hanish has actually very graciously offered to do a high-round-count abuse test on the GRP line of pistols involving a mud, sand, and dirt (dry earth particulate) in order to try to ascertain how they perform under hard use/adverse conditions, and Defense Review is going to take him up on that offer. And, of course, it goes without saying that we’re also going to try to get a Nighthawk GRP Recon 1911 pistol in-house as soon as possible, so we can perform our own high-round-count T&E.
Speaking of adverse conditions, when we spoke with Wiley Clapp, he mentioned that, ideally, he actually prefers that a “hard use” 1911 pistol (a gun intended for long-term, high-round-count military infantry-type use in adverse combat conditions) have a little bit “sloppier” slide-to-frame fit, in order to enhance reliable operation in combat envrironments. Mr. Clapp believes that a proper slide to barrel fit is usually enough to ensure adequate combat accuracy, provided the slide to frame fit isn’t overly loose. However, having said that, he was quick to add “I didn’t have any malfunctions with [them], though, in shooting all of those rounds through either one of them. So the point may, in the case of the Nighthawk at least, be moot, because they do work.” When I asked him if he would have any hesitation about carrying the Nighthawk GRP as a concealed carry gun for self protection, Mr. Clapp responded that he would have no hesitation whatsoever in that regard. He noted during our phone conversation that he currently has two Nighthawk Custom GRP 1911 pistols (GRP and GRP Recon) in his possession, and, as of our interview, had put approx. 300-400 rounds through each pistol with zero malfunctions.
Craig Gholson of Nighthawk Custom responded to Mr. Clapp’s statements by saying that customers who pay $2,000 and up for a custom 1911 tend to want a precision firearm that exhibits a correspondingly precise slide to frame fit. While speaking with Mr. Gholson, I mentioned that it’s custom pistolsmith Dave Lauck’s (D&L Sports, Inc.) philosophy that a properly-fitted 1911 pistol (accurized with precise tolerances) enhances reliability by operating more consistently and not letting foreign matter like sand, dirt, mud, etc. get into the action to cause problems, in the first place. Mr. Lauck has successfully put his custom tactical 1911 pistols through many adverse condition tests (mud, dirt, etc.) in order to prove his point. Mr. Gholson told me that Nighthawk Custom agreed with Mr. Lauck’s assessment and pistol-building philosophy regarding this reliability aspect, and that’s why Nighthawk Custom builds their guns that way (precise slide-to-frame fit with hand-fitting), as standard. However, Mr. Gholson was also quick to point out that Nighthawk can accommodate individuals like Mr. Clapp (those who share Mr. Clapp’s belief that hard-use combat guns should be a little looser) by manually loosening the slide-to-frame fit a little during the hand-fitting process as the gun is being built, if they require it. In other words, they can build the gun to spec for either philosophy. Both Mr. Gholson and Ron Phillips made it clear during our interview that combat-reliability is priority number one at Nighthawk Custom, and that it’s their goal to make their guns with what we here at DefRev like to call “death and taxes” reliability.
"We are technically the most advanced, state-of-the-art, and the world’s largest public indoor shooting facility." — Mark Hanish (on the Scottsdale Gun Club)
Considering The Scottsdale Gun Club’s (SGC) extensive experience with Nighthawk Custom 1911 pistols, I pressed Mr. Hanish to recall, if he could, any problems whatsoever with the guns. He had to take a solid minute to rack his brain, and then said, "They [Nighthawk Custom] got–and,it wasn’t even a Nighthawk problem–they got a couple of extractors through, from whomever they bought their extractors from–that were over heat-treated. So, they had a hook break off from two or three of the extractors. Nothing that a gunsmith could know or do. It was just an over-heat-treated part. So, as far as the company [Nighthawk] is concerned, they picked up the gun [we had] overnight, fitted a new one [extractor] in, and overnighted the gun back.”
The following are portions our first phone interview with Mark Hanish, Scottsdale Gun Club (SGC), accompanied by photos of the SGC Retail Showroom (shown at right), Titanium Lounge, and Tactical Shoot House:
DefenseReview (DefRev): What’s your experience so far with the Nighthawk GRP?
Mark Hanish: We’ve been selling tons of ‘em. It’s been a great gun. We just got one in as a range gun [rental gun] not too long ago, the GRP model, specifically. We’ve had their standard Enforcer [previous model that the GRP line has replaced] here for over a year now, and the thing has just run like a watch for over a year. We got onboard with them [Nighthawk Custom] right away, and we’re their largest dealer. We stock usually 50-60 pistols at a time, and they fly out of here like it’s nobody’s business.
DefRev: Why so fast? Why those guns?
Hanish: They’re just a great gun. I mean, when you pick it up, and you just see the workmanship on them, and the fit and the finish, and you just feel and rack the slide, they are just…every one of them’s hand built, and the attention to detail is phenomenal.
Defrev: Are these customs or semi-customs?
Hanish: I’m not sure. I mean, you’re splitting hairs. The couple of gunsmiths there handmake every one of ‘em. So, most dealers will have one or two or three of them in stock to have there, and then they’ll order. So, if someone comes in and says, "ya’ know what, I’d like it in the Sniper Grey with this cut and that, or whatever, they’ll order it and they’ll make it right to that. For us, our volume’s so high, we can’t stay on top of ‘em if we were trying to order for people that come in. That’s why I stock so many of all the various models. So I’ve got them in their Talon line, in their Predator line, in their Talon I, II, III, and IVs. And I’ll have the same gun in different colors with different sight arrangements on ‘em, and so forth.
DefRev: Who’s holsters you goin’ with?
Hanish: We carry the Predator line of Kydex Holsters [Predator Holsters is run by Devon Kerbs.]. We have them make all the holsters [for guns with rail systems]. Make it with the rail, because the standard gun [no rail] will fit, but the rail guns have to fit. He’s one of the original Kydex guys, and we do just tons and tons of his holsters.
DefRev: Why step up to a $2,000 to $2,400 Nighthawk GRP from [an unnamed company's competing $1000 to $1,350 pistol(s)]?
Hanish: What I always used to tell people is that a [competing company's] pistol, something like that is made for the mass market. They’re mass-produced, and it is a perfect gun for the average shooter. They’re gonna’ buy it, put a couple hundred rounds through it every year. They’ll never get over 5,000 rounds in [the pistol's] lifetime. That gun will work fine. Something like a Nighthawk is a gun that you’ve got superior parts in it, hand fitted, and you’re gonna’ get a much longer service life out of it. Before we had Nighthawks, we carried STIs, and we carry hand-built Marvel [Bob Marvel/Marvel Custom Pistols] tactical STIs, where, I’ve shot those as a professional shooter for years–people ask me, ya’ know, why would I spend $2,000 for this vs. $1,000 for this, the same question you’re posing to me, now. I said, alright, for $1,000, you can have a good gun that will work for 5,000-10,000 rounds. For $2,000 [as in the case with the Nighthawks], here’s a fantastic gun that is much better in the beginning, and will last you 100,000 rounds.
DefRev: Now, does that hold true for the GRP?
Hanish: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, they are building that gun hand-built just like their other ones, and you can shoot the heck out of that thing. We’ve got one [the Enforcer, precursor to the GRP] in the rental cage that rents 4-5 times a day for the past year, and we haven’t had a problem. They got rid of the Enforcer, and went with the GRP. It’s [GRP] just a fighting handgun. They [Nighthawk] went with one that was a no frills, no nonsense fighting gun. As we’re sittin here, I just got, I think 15 of ‘em in today. I’ve got an exclusive with Nighthawk on the new model of the GRP which has a custom finish on here that we found, and it’s a finish that you can’t cut with a knife [called Black Diamond]. I’ve got 10 [GRPs] sittin’ here in my office [all with the exclusive Black Diamond finish]. We go through about 10 Nighthawks a week. I’ve got 25 [GRPs] in stock right now.
DefRev: How do you like the look of the [Black Diamond] finish:
Hanish: I like the look of it. I mean, I really like the look of it. It’s just a nice matte. It’s real close [to the Perma Kote in look], but it’s a little bit more subdued [less shiny than the Perma Kote], a little bit more grey. But, I mean, barely [more grey]. It’s less shiny, more matte. It’s just a great finish. It’s one of the better finishes I’ve seen. And, you know all the benefits of it, I’m sure.
DefRev: I understand that both coatings [Perma Kote and Black Diamond] are rust/corrosion-resistant and also self-lubricating.
Hanish: Yeah, they’re self-lubricating, they run smooth as heck, and they sent a slide out that had it on it, and I sat here and hacked on the thing with my knife, and you can’t get through it. So, the finish that’s on this gun, you can take your knife out and cut on it, and all you’re doing is depositing knife on the gun. You can take some steel wool and clean it off. It looks brand new. You can’t hurt it. It’s unbelievable.
DefRev: Why get a Nighthawk vs. any other [custom 1911] out there right now? Let’s say you were gonna’ buy a [custom single-stack 1911], yourself, I’m guessing you’d go with the Nighthawk, yourself?
Hanish: Oh, absolutely.
DefRev: What is it that separates Nighthawk. What makes you say “wow, these guns are just…” if they’re special, somehow, how are they special?
Hanish: Just they’re attention to detail, and their commitment to excellence. It is a fantastically put-together firearm that functions flawlessly right from the get-go. And, everything they do, and every detail, it’s just…everything’s fit perfect, and they run phenomenally. They’re truly built as a save-your-ass fighting gun.
DefRev: Have there been any problems that have come up, or recurring problems?
Hanish: No. We haven’t had [any problems, recurring or otherwise]. We’ve got one customer that has 17 [Nighthawks]. We’ve got another custom that’s got 20 of these [Nighthawk pistols]. We’ve got customers [like that] that have collections of them [in the various models and specs].
DefRev: You just haven’t heard of any problems with these things?
Hanish: No, I mean, not at all. I’m sittin’ here rollin’…I don’t want to bull#$! you, I’m tryin’ to go back through…
Author’s Note: Considering The Scottsdale Gun Club’s (SGC) extensive experience with Nighthawk Custom 1911s, I pressed Mr. Hanish to recall any problems whatsoever with the guns. He had to take approx. one minute to rack his brain, and could only come up with the following example:
Hanish: They got–and it wasn’t even a Nighthawk problem–they got a couple of extractors through from whomever they bought their extractors from that were over heat-treated. So, they had a hook break off from like two or three of the extractors. I mean, no big deal. Nothing that a gunsmith could know or do [about it]. It was just an over-heat-treated part. So, as far as the company [Nighthawk] is concerned, they picked up the gun overnight, fitted a new one [extractor] in, and overnighted the gun back.
DefRev: How many of these things [Nighthawk pistols] have you sold, ballpark?
Hanish: At least 100, [probably closer to] 150.
DefRev: They’re [Nighthawk pistols] are just flyin’ out?
Hanish: Oh, yeah. They just fly out of here.
DefRev: On average, how many do you sell a week, these days?
DefRev: Is that your best seller, in terms of 1911s?
Hanish: Yes, for a 1911. Now, that’s ramped up over the course of the past year. When they started out, we had a couple of ‘em. We sold one, and then two, and then now…I’ve got a whole case with 50 [Nighthawk pistols] in there. They just keep on goin’.
DefRev: And you’re their [Nighthawk Custom's] biggest dealer?
DefRev: Your case has 50 of ‘em in there?
Hanish: Yeah, that’s a hundred grand in guns sittin’ right there. [Understand that] we get approached by everybody. All the names you’ve heard call us and say, hey, carry our guns. And, we won’t do it. I don’t want to pollute the market that we have here. And, frankly, being a shooter for many, many years, I’ve seen and I know the true reputations of a lot of those companies, and I don’t want to deal with them. And, I don’t want to deal with the problems that they’ve had.
DefRev: In other words, your experience with Nighthawk, so far, just business-wise, has been very good?
Hanish: Yeah, above and beyond what I could have expected out of a gun company. You’re in this industry. You know how most of these custom guns and everything else, a lot of times it’s a hell of a lot of write up–a lot of show, and not a lot of go. And, [then you have] these things [Nighthawk 1911 pistols], they just crank them out, and every one of ‘em comes with a test target, and they all shoot a ragged hole [Nighthawk Custom gurantees 1" at 25 yards]. They’re just…I mean, they’re great.
DefRev: How many rounds does your GRP range gun have through it, would you say?
Hanish: That thing’s been rented twelve times already. I mean, it’s probably got 1,000 rounds through it.
DefRev: And, just like the others? No problems, no malfunctions on the range? Just doin’ well?
Hanish: Not a single one, or I’d have heard about it.
DefRev: They watch for ya’?
Hanish: Oh, yeah.
DefRev: They see how the guns are doin’?
Hanish: Oh, yeah. ‘Cause I’m the director of sales here, so if anything like that has happened with our…especially with Nighthawks–‘cause they’re kind of my baby–they let me know.
DefRev: So, you just haven’t seen any malfunctions out on the range with them?
Hanish: Haven’t had a problem with them at all, and [the Enforcer we’ve had] got abused.
Mr. Hanish: We are technically the most advanced, state-of-the-art, and the world’s largest public indoor shooting facility. It’s open to the public. We also have private memberships available. Anybody and everybody can come in and shoot. We’ve got memberships that start at $24.95 a month, and you can shoot all you want, so it works out real well. People can pay $15 to shoot for an hour, or they can pay $25-$30 dollars and shoot all they want. We actually have The Titanium Lounge, which requires an iris scan [eye scan that maps the vesicular pattern of the iris] for clearance to get into it. It’s a private lounge, private shooting lane bay, showers, and locker rooms, and that membership is $7,500 [buy in] and then $200 per month. They just come in, shoot, they’ll hang out, play pool [etc.] There’s 60-inch wide-screen tv in there. [According to Mr. Hanish, the median income in Scottdale, AZ within a three-mile radius around the Scottsdale Gun Club is $120,000 per year.]
Defense Review also interviewed IPSC Quadrupal Grand Master and 3-Gun National Tactical Champion shooter Taran Butler about the Nighthawk Custom pistols. “I’d say they’re in the top five best single stacks in the world, from what I’ve seen. Butler noted that the fit, finish, and accuracy on the Nighthawk guns are all top notch, and added [excerpted], "The gun is great. It has everything anyone would need on a single-stack. By the way, they’re using an Aftec extractor now, which is really great. It’s a $65 extractor, and just one more example of their [Nighhawk's] ‘no compromise’ philosophy. It [use of an Aftec extractor] links up with the quality of their fit and finish–like Black Diamond–on the guns. The Aftec is one of the best extractors on the market. The only changes I would make [on the Nighthawk guns] would be to go with an Infinity machined beavertail and thumb safety [single-sided and/or ambi-safety]. They’ve got tons of them over there at the Scottsdale Gun Club. Mark Hanish, he’s the big representative of them. He sells them like mad. This [SGC] is the most amazing gun range you’ve ever seen. It’s incredible."
In a follow-up conversation with Craig Gholson of Nighthawk Custom, Gholson informed us that Nighthawk is currently developing a new high-ride beavertail safety in-house for their pistols that allows for a higher hold on the gun (and thus a lower bore axis).
Click here to view Nighthawk Custom’s info sheet on the GRP and GRP Recon 1911 pistols. All Nighthawk pistols come standard with a traditional half-length guide rod (as opposed to full-length guide rod) and one-piece bushing set-up, although a full-length guide rod setup is available upon request.
If you’d like to learn more about Nighthawk Custom 1911 pistols, or purchase one (or several), you can contact Nighthawk Custom by phone at 870-423-4867, or toll-free at 877-268-4867. You can fax them at 870-423-4230. Ask for Craig Gholson. Mr. Gholson can be reached at ext. 222, or directly via email at email@example.com. Standard GRP pistol packages are available from $2,095 to $2,395, depending on how they’re spec’d out. Nighthawk guarantees delivery to your dealer within 6-weeks of your order for standard pistol packages. One-off/unique custom packages that deviate from the standard config packages may cost more, and take more time to receive. Active military personnel receive a 10% discount on all guns and a 20% discount on all parts and accessories.
All Nighthawk pistols come standard with a traditional half-length guide rod (as opposed to full-length guide rod) and one-piece bushing setup, but a full-length guide rod setup is availale upon request.
If you’d like to purchase The Scottdale Gun Club’s (SGC) exclusive model Nighthawk GRP or GRP Recon .45 pistol with super-tough Black Diamond gun coating/finish, you can contact them by phone at 480-348-1111, or by fax at 480-348-1113. Ask for Mark Hanish. You can contact Mark directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This (Black Diamond) option brings an additonal cost of $225 to the standard gun price.