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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/