Nighthawk Hot Rods the Browning Hi-Power – Review – SHOT Show 2016

Hi-Power Platform’s Common Complaints

The Browning Hi-Power has always had more than its fair share of issues. For starters, the stock trigger is absolutely atrocious. The short tang on the back strap, coupled with the long-spur hammer, make this a gun that truly bites that hand that feeds it. Let’s not forget about the magazine disconnect, which is not only annoying, but also contributes to the awfulness of the trigger. I particularly dislike the Hi-Power’s lack of an ambidextrous safety. The sights, although better than the original 1911, have never been adequate.

I’ve often asked myself, “How could the designer of such a great gun as the 1911 allow these shortcomings to make it through the design phase of his next gun?”

The Accidental Design Team

When John Browning began his efforts to design the Hi-Power at FN for the French military, the design patents for the Colt 1911 were still in force. In an effort to avoid infringing upon said patents, the Hi-Power was conceived as a striker-fired 16 round hammerless gun. Only after John Browning’s death, and the expiration of the Colt 1911 patents, did Dieudonné Saive shorten the magazine to 13 rounds and add an exposed hammer. Makes you wonder- if John Browning had lived see the Hi-Power through, would the world have ever needed a Glock?

Oh, Those French

The French military’s requirements for the arm they were looking for were as follows: a compact overall design, a capacity of at least 10 rounds, a magazine disconnect device, an external hammer, a positive safety, to be robust yet simple to disassemble and re-assemble, and to be capable of killing a man at 50 meters. With such a laundry list of requirements, I think it’s safe to say that the magazine safety can be blamed on the French.

Nighthawk Custom Makes a Good Gun Great

Nighthawk HiPower 19

Nighthawk starts all over from the ground up, cutting, welding and tuning.

Nighthawk HiPower 20

Short of starting from scratch, these are entirely-new guns.

Shawn Armstrong is the Director of Engineering (and all things cool and new) at Nighthawk Custom. As a shooter, Armstrong went in to the project determined to build a gun that not only overcame the Hi-Power’s shortcomings, but could be recognized as a great gun in its own right. The gun had to function well, and its form had to be consistent with Nighthawk Custom’s high standards.

Nighthawk HiPower 14

The guns start out as standard Hi-Powers.

Nighthawk HiPower 23

Before undergoing a complete transformation.

The most pressing problem to tackle with the Hi-Power platform was the hammer bite. This issue was resolved by designing a beavertail grip from the ground up, which allows the shooter to form a high grip on the gun without being punished for it. During the customization process, the frames were cut to accommodate the beavertail, and then welded back in, resulting in a sleek and elegant form without sacrificing functionality.

Nighthawk HiPower 8

The front gold bead sight is timeless yet modern.

Nighthawk HiPower 10

The rear sight has been upgraded, too, with a Heinie Straight Eight.

Next on the sculptor’s stand were the sights, which were always my most common complaint when it came to the Hi-Power. This problem was solved with a little help from Richard Heinie. Shawn and Richard settled on a straight eight mounted on the rear of the gun, with a real gold bead on the front post. This design resulted in a classic look, while gaining absolute functionality.

Nighthawk HiPower 21

The hammer being shaped and polished by hand.

Nighthawk HiPower 9

The single-action trigger has been brought up to it’s full potential and the magazine disconnect was discarded.

The last challenge, and perhaps the most important, was the trigger. This single-action gun often times had a pull that would remind the user more of a double-action automatic. The magazine safety was removed entirely, and the geometry and angles were worked over until the surfaces mated perfectly. This is led to a trigger pull worthy of the Nighthawk name.

Nighthawk HiPower 15

Finishing touches include these Nighthawk custom cocobolo grips.

Nighthawk HiPower 13

And the Nighthawk logo is tastefully engraved on the slide.

The final product is a work of true beauty. The front and back strap are stippled ever so subtly, allowing the wielder to establish a secure grip without feeling as if they’re about to donate blood. Cocobolo grips with the inlaid Nighthawk logo add to the custom look of the pistol. The top of the slide is stippled to reduce any glare that might flash from the top of the slide. If you’ve had any experience with the craftsmen at Nighthawk, it should go without saying that the rest of the parts are all hand-fitted. Alan, the gunsmith currently producing this model, will tell you that building this gun takes time and care. He is not interested in simply assembling a functioning gun- he is crafting an outstanding piece for each and every customer. This deliberate process is the only way to meet or exceed expectations consistently.

On the Range

I was actually given access to a pair of the new guns for testing purposes. The only difference I could find between the two was the finish- one was all black, and the other was a two-tone. Since I am somewhat fond of two-tone guns, I decided to use that one as my primary testbed. I’ve found that I can develop a reasonable expectation for a gun’s performance by dry-firing, and I fully expected great things from the range of motion the trigger offered while doing so. The Hi-Power can be somewhat finicky about ammunition, so I naturally decided to take a little bit of everything with me to the range, both for functionality and accuracy testing.

I started out with 115 grain bullets and worked my way up to 147 grain bullets, and the gun operated flawlessly with every round I fed to it. I did notice that the gun delivered the best accuracy when firing a longer bullet. This was surprising, as in my experience most 9mm guns prefer a lighter bullet for accuracy.

Nighthawk HiPower 17

Nighthawk also builds two-tone custom Hi-Power pistols.

Nighthawk HiPower 6

They blend classic style with contemporary features.

The all-metal construction, aided by the elegant but functional beavertail grip, produced a soft shooting experience no matter how hot of a round the gun was firing. Love your polymer pistols as much as you want, but they can all get a little bit whippy when their fed the hot stuff. Throughout all testing with all rounds, the Hi-Power remained steady and soft-shooting.

As previously-mentioned, this gun is equipped with Heinie sights with a gold bead up front. The simplicity of this sighting system really appeals to me- the gold is easy to pick up visually, and the black sites are easy to align quickly.

Nighthawk HiPower 4

Magazines ejected with gusto.

Nighthawk HiPower 3

Standard capacity is 13+1 with aftermarket 15-round flush magazines available.

One of the most noticeable tricks that Nighthawk pulled was removing the magazine safety, but leaving the spring-assisted eject on the magazines. I think this gun could launch a magazine into the next county if I angled it correctly! But seriously, when performing an emergency reload, the very last thing you want is to be forced to strip the empty magazine from the gun because it stuck on release. Rest assured, that’s one scenario you won’t find yourself in when you carry the Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power.

Nighthawk HiPower 18

Performance at the range was good and the steel frame really soaks up the recoil when shooting hotter loads.

Nighthawk HiPower 16

The brass bead Straight Eight combination is fast and very natural to use.

Final Thoughts

I’ve always been a fan of the Browning Hi-Power platform. Actually, I should re-phrase that: I’ve always wanted to be the owner of the Browning Hi-Power platform. I have tried to make this a reality many times, only to sell the gun I’d acquired after it bit my hand for the umpteenth time. I’ve played around with many beautiful custom Hi-Power builds over the years, but I’ve always harbored a reluctance to buy a gun and send it off, hoping that it comes back in a custom form that meets my expectations. I’m happy to report that Nighthawk has solved that problem for me. When you buy the Nighthawk Customer Hi-Power, you get the finished product to begin with, without all the guesswork and stress over whether the investment will pay off. All the benefits of a custom build with none of the hassle.

Find out more at Nighthawk Custom: http://www.nighthawkcustom.com/

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • rob July 10, 2016, 3:27 am

    surprised that Novak isnt upset since they have been building this EXACT Hi Power model for years and years! Guess it doesnt matter much if they didnt take steps to protect the design in some way or if it was even possible. Kinda funny though how i read Hodoway’s Shot Show review on it and not a mention about the first company to actually build this model this way-NOVAK! LOL!

    Ill buy one of the NH versions for sure to compare to my full house Novak custom Hi Power with full beavertail, etc. Sure they will be nice as my other NH pistols have been! Strange the way business goes though??? LOL!

  • nagmashdriver April 6, 2016, 10:44 am

    Save yourself $2600 like I did and purchase a used Kareen MK III. It aint fancy but with new springs, sights and trigger work it will do the same thing as Nighthawk but without the snobby price.

  • Terry Minton February 9, 2016, 11:19 pm

    I have collected and owned browning high powers for over 30 years. I have broke parts from abusing the guns. The new MkIII’s are the toughest. Keep the springs changed and most of you will never wear it out. They are still my favorite pistol nothing fits the hand like a High Power. A 1911 is second
    Thanks

  • mars January 19, 2016, 2:18 pm

    Cylinder and Slide Shop did much of this years some years past…once had reason to share travel and work with a fella…used two Hi-Powers and carried 2 spare mags.. “just to empty the ammo box “….most times in his overcoat pockets which had leather stuff pouches as lining in them…..both pistols shot into 2 inches at 25 yards and usually 5 inches at 50 yards….he got one in Kileen Texas just before movement orders came down…got the other from ” a co-operating source ” while trading some rations and blankets and ” jerry cans of gasoline ” during some bad days…

  • Jim Davidson January 18, 2016, 8:43 pm

    Been wanting a custom High Power for some time now and one of these will be it- Nighthawk makes good guns better.

  • Kurt Feltenberger January 18, 2016, 7:39 pm

    Nothing new here except a nosebleed price. The Mk.II Hi-Power that’s been out since the mid 1980s introduced ambidextrous safety levers and they’re on every Mk. III, which is what I assume Nighthawk is using as the basis for this gun. So really, nothing new there and it’s a pretty questionable marketing tactic to claim that they’re adding something to the gun that it already had.

    I’ve yet to handle a Hi-Power with an extended beaver tail that still pointed as well as one without one. YMMV.

    All in all, while this pegs the “cool” meter at first glance, there’s nothing here that $1000 and a trip to Robar can’t do as well or better as an unproven, but skilled, company like Nighthawk.

  • TPSnodgrass January 18, 2016, 6:48 pm

    My MarkIII does just fine, is my duty/EDC and I only changed out the original hammer, springs and the safety for a C&S ambi safety, hammer, and Wolff Springs. No hammer bite at all, not even close, still exceptionally accurate with my preferred +P ammunition, all for a WHOLE lot less than the very “pretty” Night Hawk version. I could easily get TWO new MarkIII pistols, still do the minor mods and have a whole lot left over for more ammo. I’m sure NIght Hawk makes stellar pistols, but they are way out of the price I choose to pay.(Yes, I can afford them, I choose NOT to.)
    Just how I choose to go is all. Good article, and very good looking pistols from Night Hawk.

  • Dave Hicks January 18, 2016, 2:41 pm

    Hi-Power short comings ? I never had any issues with my Browning Hi-Power bought new in 1969, fixed sights,never a jam and hit what I pointed at.

  • william bryant January 18, 2016, 11:52 am

    I have a hi-power that I installed a argitine detective model upper which is 1″ shorter then reg slide w/3 dot sights, removed the mag disconnect, use ramline 15 rd & argentine 17 rd mags and have had no problems with the weapon which is my everyday carry

  • Stuart January 18, 2016, 11:03 am

    Nighthawk fixed all the “flaws” of JMB design

  • Roland Torres January 18, 2016, 10:31 am

    While not much is new about the Nighthawk product it is another option for those who are fans of Mr. Browning’s Hi-Power like I and many others are.

    It would have been nice to see it compete with a C&S, Yost or my favorite and one I carry 24/7 is my Novak HiPower special. My Novaks is a superior product.

  • LarryC January 18, 2016, 9:15 am

    None of this is new. The Mark III Hi-Power has ambidextrous safeties and the people at Cylinder & Slide, have had a replacement trigger that does away with the magazine safety. That C&S safety has been available for at least a decade and a half. And adding a beavrtail to a HP is nothing new. So what is the big deal here?

    • LarryC January 19, 2016, 6:29 pm

      Sorry, I meant to say that the C&S trigger (not safety) has been available for something like (at least) a decade and a half.

  • An10nee January 18, 2016, 8:50 am

    $2895.00 looks to be the starting price

  • Cw myers January 18, 2016, 8:22 am

    What is the price of the yost clone?

  • Retired Navy Spook January 18, 2016, 7:54 am

    Best handgun I ever owned was a Hi-Power manufactured in Belgium in the late 60’s, I bought it used around 1977 for $150 and put a couple thousand rounds through it before I sold it in 1991 (a regrettable decision). It was my EDC for over a decade, and it NEVER had a hiccup on any kind of ammo. It NEVER bit my hand, and consistently shot 3-4″ groups off -hand at 25 yards with factory fixed iron sights. Just an all around great shooting firearm.

  • Joseph Beard January 18, 2016, 4:50 am

    Rumor has it that the standard 9mm Hi-Power was a bit weak when shooting modern +P ammo and the best fix for this was to purchase a .40 cal pistol and install a 9mm conversion barrel. The .40 cal barrel and slide have three locking lugs instead of two that are on the 9mm pistol. Does the Blackhawk have two or three locking lugs?

    • Gary Pursell January 18, 2016, 7:43 am

      When you look at the Hi Powers Mag Well if you see striations as this one has it is the new and improver frame.

      • Cw myers January 18, 2016, 8:30 am

        Striations ? This has stippling

      • LarryC January 19, 2016, 6:35 pm

        I had hoped that when Browning (or FN) came out with the Mar III (I think it was the mark 3) that was offered in both 9mm and .40 S&W, that the 9mm would have been beefed up enough to handle +P and +P+ ammo, but the man who owns Cylinder & Slide, said that it could not. I cannot remember his name right now, but I did e-mail him and ask, because I had one. They are pricey, but I really have to have another Browning Hi-Power. Letting go of mine was one of my biggest mistakes.

  • DMD January 18, 2016, 3:45 am

    Please send me full info on ordering one of your new BHPs??? Any hard chrome available?? Have a great SHOT Show. Sorry I missed it this year!! Tnx. DMD

  • Dave Hamilton January 18, 2016, 3:29 am

    Did I miss the price or are you just saving us all from sticker shock?

    • Pops45 January 18, 2016, 12:14 pm

      Sticker shock lol. I’m sure it’s an awesome gun, but there are a lot of guns they will protect you just as well for $2000 less. But in its defense, I buy some guns because they are put together so well they are works of art. And it’s nice that a work of art still functions well.

    • Bob Anderson January 18, 2016, 1:22 pm

      Nothing from Nighthawk is cheap

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