Nighthawk T4: http://www.nighthawkcustom.com/t4
Buy One: /nighthawk t4
The very first pistol I ever shot was a Colt 1911. I’m pretty sure it was WWII era A1. I was a senior in high school at the time, and had one magazine worth of .45 ACP and a target about 25 yards away. If you had asked me before I shot it what I thought of the gun, I’d have told you it was the greatest gun ever, and that I was about to put seven rounds in a hole the size of a dime.
I didn’t. I shot the old pistol and felt let down. Not only did I miss with most of the shots, but I had a hard time holding the thing. And the controls were impossible to reach. I should say that I was much smaller than I am now, but still–I’d expected the experience to cement my life-long love of the 1911.
I didn’t shoot another one for 15 years. In that time, I shot everything else I could get my hands on, but I’d all but given up on the old single action. When I finally came back, I looked at the gun as an artifact. I thought about the 1911 the same way I thought of the 1873 Colt, or the Mauser C96. Fascinating, yes, but more of a footnote than a firearm I’d carry every day.
You can probably guess that those opinions have changed. Big time. There were a number of guns that influenced this–1911s from venerable companies that all make hard working 1911s. Yet it is the upper tier of single actions that really has my mind spinning. And I’ve added another company to my list of must-own-guns. Nighthawk Custom. If there was ever a gun company that refused to let the 1911 become a footnote, it is Nighthawk Custom.
On with the review…
Sometimes companies send us guns to review. They just show up magically. Other times, we make requests that get filled (sooner or later). Nighthawk doesn’t have pistols earmarked for review writers to take out and beat up. We tend to keep them too long, and push them to their limits. Still, I went up to the Nighthawk shop to see first hand how the guns were made–hoping that I might get my hands on a gun for an afternoon. Alas, no. I spent the better part of a day talking to the smiths at Nighthawk, and got my hands on some really good Arkansas barbeque, but the never-ending rain kept us from shooting.
Imagine my surprise when a friend handed me his T4 a couple of weeks later. He was carrying it at the time, so he pulled off his belt, dropped the mag and unloaded the gun. He passed me the gun knowing full well what I was going to do with it. I remember the look on his face. It was a kind of knowing confidence.
The Nighthawk T4 Talon
- Height: 4.99″
- Width: 1.32″
- Length: 7.4″
- Weight: 34.3 oz.
- 3.8″ Barrel Length
- Stainless Steel Frame Standard
- Black Nitride Finish
- Tritium Dot Front Night Sight
- Heinie Slant Pro Straight Eight Rear Night Sight
- Bull Barrel
- Single-Side Safety
- 9mm only
I usually pay good attention to my guns. This being a Nighthawk, a gun from a company that specializes in 1911s, I assumed it was a .45. I drove home, loaded up all of my gear, grabbed every flavor of .45 ACP I had on the shelf, and headed to the range. I hadn’t even removed the gun from its holster yet to see that it was obviously a T4. And after slogging through the mud and getting everything set up, I put the gun on and dropped the mag. I did a double take. Not a .45.
So it’s a 9mm. That would make sense, as the T4 is gun designed around the 9mm round. Everything about the gun is built with the challenges of the 9mm in mind. And with the extremely wide variety of 9mm available, that’s saying something. There are a huge number of variations.
With no 9mm on hand, and a bunch of .45 ACP that I couldn’t shoot, I took the gun home and decided I’d do it right. Research. I needed to do a bit of it.
Part of what makes the T4 distinct is the barrel length. Nighthawk experimented with various shorter barrel lengths before committing to the 3.8″ length. They found that to be the sweet spot. Short enough to conceal, long enough to provide consistent performance.
The recoil is managed by a modified Bob Marvel Everlast Recoil System. The big distinction is a flat spring. Round springs stack as they are compressed, which mean that the force needed to compress the spring increases as it is compressed. The flat springs compress more evenly and consistently. They’ve used the design in other guns, and it is supposed to cut down on felt recoil and improve split times. Any attempt to describe the system’s effectiveness would be completely subjective on my part. I will say that there’s no abusive snap, and that it is indeed fast. The real benefit is the life of the spring, which Nighthawk estimates at 15,000 rounds or more.
The frame has been thinned, too, though only by a fraction of an inch. It does feel slightly less bulky than a .45 ACP. It is almost as if the gun feels scaled down. The grips add to this sensation. They’ve been thinned, too, though they still maintain an aggressive texture and slightly rounded profile.
One of the most visually striking elements of the pistol is the cut at the front of the slide. This cut removes a bit of mass, but also makes a great place to grab the gun for a fast slide rack.
Inside, the heavy barrel has been profiled carefully shaped for a perfect lock up. The barrel has a deep crown, which protects the rifling from the abuse sustained by a gun meant to be carried everyday.
1911s are hard to review. Even the bottom of the barrel imports shoot incredibly well these days. And in the Nighthawk Custom price range, you know full well the gun is going to shoot straight. So I wasn’t terribly surprised to see that this one could perform. 9mm 1911s are a complicated breed of single actions, but even with the lowest power, the T4 performed. And it ate everything I had on hand.
Accuracy is spot on. As you can see in the images above, you can run it fast and put down a viscous and exsanguinating group, or slow it down and call your shots. Nothing at all to complain about there.
Did I just imply that there might be something I would want to complain about? I’m not sure complain is the right word. A lot of Nighthawks are custom orders, which negates a lot of complaints. If it were my carry pistol, I might change up the rear sight. I like the Heine sight, a lot, when I’m shooting, but I’ve grown so accustomed to brighter dots on the rear. In order to get the accuracy I wanted with the T4 from holster draws, I had to process the rear sight for a split second longer than I would have liked.
That’s all a familiarity issue. In the course of a normal review, I like to carry a gun as long as is feasible. I shoot it as much as I can, on multiple range trips. I’m not going to pretend that I did that with this T4, precisely because it didn’t belong to me and it doesn’t belong to a faceless corporation. After a month with the T4, I gave it back. And while I was happy to give up the responsibility that comes with carrying around a friend’s gun, I was sad to see the T4 go. I’d grown a bit attached to it.
So what about the Nighthawk price-tag?
I can’t win when I get to this part of the review. There are many of you who are still reading this who are just about to jump into the comments section below and blast the hell out of me, and Nighthawk, and whoever else you can name for making a gun that has an MSRP of $3,395. Go right ahead. They’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it, too. And I get it. These guns are expensive.
All I ask is that you keep it in perspective. The price of a Nighthawk isn’t arbitrary. If this were cheese, they’d call it artisanal. If it were beer, it would be the ultimate craft micro-brew. Wine. Cigars. Whiskey. Our world is full of consumables that many people pay for without hesitating. But when you buy a Nighthawk, you have a gun that will last forever (with proper care). And it isn’t going to depreciate significantly, if at all. So why would anyone complain?
Maybe it is because there are guns capable of delivering the 9mm projectiles just as effectively, and at much lower price points. There are plastic guns that shoot just fine, and you can buy at least six of them, maybe more, for the price of one Nighthawk. That, though, is missing the point.
I keep trying for the perfect metaphor do describe the philosophy that justifies the price. Cars come to mind. You can buy a cheap used car off Craigslist, or you can go to a dealer and drop more than I paid for my house. Both will get you to the grocery store. One is certainly built to a higher level of perfection, and with more attention to detail.
And that’s what you’re paying for with the T4. Not only do you get design sophistication, you also get a level of craftsmanship that sets these 1911s apart from the others. Each gun is built by one smith. The smith signs his work, too. This isn’t a pompous declaration of artistic status, but a mark of ownership. The smith owns his work. And if the gun ever has a single issue, anything, it goes back to the man who built it.
As for the build itself, it was amazing to watch. The guns are built from the best parts possible. All of the controls are machined. There are no metal injection molded parts. And everything is hand fitted. It is a mesmerizing process. When I was up at the shop, I stood and watched a smith fitting a frame to a slide. I’ve always been a bit impatient with hand tools, and watching a smith take short strokes with a file, test the fit, take another stroke, test the fit, hit it with sand paper, test the fit… all while holding an intelligent conversation? It was both oddly hypnotic and awe inspiring at the same time.
So you are paying for the parts, and the design of the gun, and the attention to detail that makes a Nighthawk a Nighthawk. And you are paying for one artisan who works with his hands to craft your gun. And he isn’t being driven by quotas, but by the finished product he produces. Because he signs his name to the gun, he knows full well he’ll answer for any eventual defects.
As for me, I’m sold. Not literally, as I can’t afford one. Not yet. At the beginning of this piece, I droned on about how I had erroneously thought of the 1911 as a footnote. I’m a long way from that viewpoint now. A very long way. The Nighthawk guns I’ve seen in the last few months have all been viable carry guns. These aren’t decoration pieces. They’re not precious. They’re hard working pistols that are meant to be carried every day. And I’d have no qualms about trusting my life and the lives of those I love to the T4.