Nighthawk Custom’s 1911 Drop-In Trigger System

An innovative Drop-in Trigger System.

Since 1911 pistols have been around for over 100 years, it’s not very often that an accessory or new part comes along that makes you say “Wow” or “It’s about time,” but that was exactly my response to the Nighthawk DTS.

The Nighthawk Custom Drop-in Trigger System (DTS) allows anyone with reasonable working knowledge of the 1911 pistol’s internal assembly to upgrade to a clean, smooth, reliable, relatively lightweight trigger in little time at all. 

The DTS takes the most critical components of a 1911 trigger mechanism and puts them in a single housing module. So now the hammer, hammer strut, sear, disconnector, and sear spring are all contained in a single matched assembly and held in precise alignment by the housing.

American Trigger Company did a similar upgrade for the AR-15 platform decades ago, and now that style trigger is the industry standard. So why did it take so long for the DTS to make its debut?

Loose pins and tolerances no longer impact hammer sear alignment.

Tennessee gunsmith Mark Dye began the development of the DTS back in 2007. He wanted to devise a more consistent and easier to install trigger system for the iconic 1911 platform. After extensive work, the final product was completed and Mark applied for a patent on the design in 2008 and received it in 2011. After running prototypes in competition for several years it was time to find a manufacturer.

That’s when he hit the biggest obstacle of the project, he couldn’t find anyone to license, manufacture, and market the design. Finding the right partner to bring the DTS to market proved harder to accomplish than getting all the precisely aligned parts functioning properly in such a small package and ensuring the reliability and consistency of an improved trigger. 

The project had a few ups and downs with deals that looked promising but ultimately fell through and it actually got put on hold for several years. Mark discovered there was extremely limited experience with licensing intellectual property within the firearms industry.

However, persistence and good fortune brought Mark together with Nighthawk Custom. There he found that the capabilities and chemistry worked between them, and Nighthawk was excited about the possibilities. Nighthawk has always been known for high quality 1911’s and has the capability to accurately produce the precision 416 stainless steel parts. Additionally, they appreciate the value of Mark’s unique product.

Nighthawk Custom invested significant time and resources in perfecting the manufacturing process to ensure that the production DTS would meet expectations.

A detailed look at the machining, finish and beveling.

The DTS design offers value on several levels. First and foremost is that a shooter with an intermediate level of pistol knowledge and experience can now confidently upgrade to a high-quality trigger on his own production pistol.

The greatest advantage of this is that you don’t have to send your pistol off to a gunsmith and then wait for it to be returned, which often can take weeks and sometimes even months. Some gunsmiths are faster and more reliable than others, but if you can do it yourself, all the uncertainty is removed.

Another advantage is that the DTS allows dropping identical triggers into multiple guns. This would be extremely difficult if not impossible if you were stoning and fitting hammers and sears by hand. This system allows you to have the same feel and weight trigger pull between primary and back-up guns.

The sear surface is smooth and clean.


Hammer Finish           Stainless or Black Nitride

Application                  1911/ 2011 style pistols

Pull Weight                 3 1/2 – 3 3/4 lbs

Material                      416 Stainless Steel

MSRP                          $299.99

Trigger assembly fits smoothly into the frame.


Installing the DTS is very simple and straightforward. Verify the pistol is unloaded then disassemble your pistol as normal, removing everything down to the hammer, sear, and disconnector. Then simply insert the DTS, rocking it in from the rear so that the disconnector projects up through the disconnector hole in the frame. 

Then re-assemble as you normally would. If there are any questions on installation refer to the excellent DTS install video Nighthawk Custom has done here.

Now we’ve arrived at the point of my biggest initial concern about the DTS system, the thumb safety. Most 1911 thumb safeties are hand-fitted to the sear of each gun, so it is doubtful that the previously installed thumb safety will work perfectly with the DTS without fitting or modification.

There are three possibilities, One, the thumb safety fits and works perfectly, possible, but unfortunately doubtful. Two, the thumb safety still has excess material and would require additional fitting (removal) to be installed and block the sear from movement. Three, the safety already has too much material removed to block sear movement and will need to be replaced and fitted.

Limited space availability in the frame made the design work challenging.

However, Nighthawk with their years of experience foresaw this issue as well. So, they made the DTS sear with a little more material in that area where it meets the safety. This means that the majority of thumb safeties out there will need to have a small amount of material removed in fitting to make it match the DTS sear, minimizing the possibility of needing to get a new safety – smart move folks. 

The additional good news is that if fitting is required, Nighthawk has a fantastic, very detailed video on properly fitting a 1911 manual thumb safety on their website, check it out here.

Regardless of the path needed on the thumb safety, be sure to perform all the 1911 safety checks as detailed on the installation video. Mark Dye is also the Gunsmithing Instructor at a Community College in NC and does an excellent job explaining this process.

Internal spring ensures greater consistency than standard finger sear spring.


Installation of the DTS in my pistol was extremely simple and it went right in without any issues, though my thumb safety did require a small amount of additional fitting as expected. The installed trigger pull weight averaged right at a nice 3 ¾ lbs, as advertised. 

Installation, even with a small amount of thumb safety modification took less than 30 minutes. The Nighthawk Custom trigger system was very consistent and seemed practically fool-proof. This system is so simple and fast to install; definitely the best way to upgrade a production gun trigger system.

A trigger’s feel is at least as important as the weight of the trigger pull, and the DTS feels good. It has a little take-up, then pulls cleanly with no creep or roughness, and breaks smoothly. Nighthawk says a couple of hundred rounds are usually needed to settle in the DTS and then it will be at its long term pull weight.

A slight variation in trigger pull weight will occur from gun to gun based on the strength of the mainspring. I typically run an 18# mainspring in my pistols but a stronger spring may add additional friction and could slightly increase trigger pull.

Increased sear/ hammer alignment is ensured by housing compared to pins.

Removing the requirement to stone sears and worry about parts, quality provides additional value to the Nighthawk Custom Drop-in Trigger System. The elimination of two of the three fingers on the sear spring and the subsequent elimination of adjustments to those springs makes the DTS a much simpler system.

Single grip safety spring finger is a much simpler alternative to standard spring.

The DTS is not an inexpensive 1911 trigger system, but it is a quality trigger job. I’ve done my share of trigger jobs over the years on 1911/ 2011 pistols while competing in IPSC/ USPSA/ 3-Gun, and I learned early on that you need to use high-quality parts to get great results that will last thousands of rounds. Nighthawk and Mark have test units that are still going strong with over 25 thousand rounds on them.

My standard high-quality parts list for doing a trigger job costs about $190 by the time the parts get to the door. Then I still have to do the stoning and tweaking on springs to get the desired results. The primary parts of the DTS are machined from bar stock 416 stainless steel; definitely not cast parts containing imperfections where quality is in question.

For those not able to do an old-style trigger job themselves, they could expect a gunsmith to use similar parts and then also charge the appropriate labor costs, in addition to shipping costs and the time away from using their pistol. With all that being said, the cost of the DTS becomes a great alternative.

Highly modified hammer strut is required to fit and function between internals.


This is a product whose time has come. The fit and finish of the Nighthawk Custom DTS was exceptional. The support provided by the videos on the website is fantastic and will make even a newer owner feel comfortable installing the DTS. The trigger system was easy to install, and the pull weight was right on target as advertised.

The DTS is a great alternative for upgrading a 1911 trigger without having to rely upon a gunsmith. With the exception of the thumb safety fitting requirements, which is also needed if installing a standard sear and hammer, it is a drop-in solution.

Fit, function, quality, and support were all top-notch and the Nighthawk Custom Drop-in Trigger System was everything it was said to be. So why did we have to wait so long for this product to be developed? It was no simple task, but Mark and Nighthawk Custom made it happen and I think it’s here to stay.

For more information on Nighthawk products check here

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About the author: Jeff Cramblit is a world-class competitive shooter having won medals at both the 2012 IPSC World Shotgun Championship in Hungary and more recently the 2017 IPSC World Rifle Championship in Russia. He is passionate about shooting sports and the outdoors. He has followed that passion for over 30 years, hunting and competing in practical pistol, 3gun, precision rifle and sporting clays matches. Jeff is intimately familiar with the shooting industry – competitor, instructor, RO, range master, match director. Among his training credits include NRA Instructor, AR-15 armorer, FBI Rifle Instructor, and Officer Low Light Survival Instructor. As a sponsored shooter, Jeff has represented notable industry names such as: Benelli, 5.11 Tactical, Bushnell, Blackhawk, DoubleStar, and Hornady. He has been featured on several of Outdoor Channel’s Shooting Gallery episodes and on a Downrange TV series. Jeff’s current endeavors cover a broad spectrum and he can be found anywhere from local matches helping and encouraging new shooters as they develop their own love of the sport, to the dove field with his friends, a charity sporting clays shoot, backpack hunting public land in Montana, or the winners podium of a major championship.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • DaveGinOly May 25, 2020, 4:22 pm

    “Mark discovered there was extremely limited experience with licensing intellectual property within the firearms industry.”

    I thought the next paragraph was going to say “Mark then spent the next several years getting his JD, and is now a practicing patent attorney specializing in work for the firearms industry.”

    • Ray May 27, 2020, 6:49 am

      Ya – like didn’t John Browning license about all of his designs to manufacturers? Dozens of them. Guess that is extremely limited

      • Mark Dye June 10, 2020, 4:40 pm

        I’m certainly no John Browning. If I were, maybe companies would have been beating down my door. My relative inexperience brokering such deals no doubt contributed as well. In my defense, it has been 100+ years since Browning was doing his licensing deals. Gun companies have a much different business model now.

  • doubletee2 May 25, 2020, 3:34 pm

    Is 18# main spring the same as 18# recoil spring? Great article, thanks.

  • vbirddogs May 25, 2020, 10:12 am

    Maybe some day they’ll come out with a “Competition” model that has a 2lb trigger pull!!!! HINT, HINT!!!

  • Mike Allen May 25, 2020, 7:56 am

    Well done Mark! I’m glad to see that your drop in trigger pack is finally taking off.

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