When you go to its website and look at the prices for Nighthawk Custom pistols, you generally scoff and doubt that any pistol could be worth that much money. However, one tour of the factory and you soon realize they may just be a bargain.
The Berryville, AR, company maintains a keen awareness of the price of its products and thereby views every customer’s expectation for excellence as completely reasonable and justified. There is no such thing as “good enough.”
Premium Materials, Premium People
The 1911 pistols begin as oversize blocks of steel, even the small parts. They are machined down and then taken to final size by hand by the gunsmith. I use the singular advisedly. The Nighthawk creed is “One gun, one gunsmith.” That means that the gun you purchase is the work of one man and required an average of 14 man-hours. Although his work is checked time and again throughout the build, the smith is solely responsible for the gun he produces. He even stamps the pistol with his initials. Praise (or blame) can’t get lost among faceless workers on an assembly line.
To be among the company’s pistolsmiths, you need to be among the very best in the field. This is not mere Nighthawk hype. Eight of the company’s smiths have been accepted by the American Pistolsmiths Guild, meaning they have submitted two pistols they have designed and built on their own time, and their work has been deemed excellent by a panel of experts. Some of the submitted guns have, in fact, been so good they were added to the product line as new models.
Despite the skills of its smiths, the company’s oversight remains keen and vigilant. A completed gun is disassembled and inspected, then inspected again after the finish work. If it repeatedly passes inspection, it is sent in a parts-segregated case (to avoid scratches) for reassembly and the installation of sights. Guess what happens then. Yup, another inspection. Then it is sent to Sales, where it is photographed and the sales order completed.
And that’s just the final phase of the build. For example, the company makes 46 different barrels in house, starting from barrel blanks.
Owner Mark Stone isn’t just a businessman or firearms aficionado. The self-made man, who owns several companies, may best be described as an excellence enthusiast. His friendly, folksy manner belies a singularity of vision when it comes to doing things right. He knows guns, he knows people and he knows himself. A repeated theme is that he focuses on his strengths, but has the humility and savvy to allow others to focus on theirs.
Like his pistols, the factory itself is tweaked for the utmost performance. For example, a gun was tracked through the factory during the build process and it was discovered that it traveled 1 mile. By moving machines around for better access by all and changing the route a pistol followed, guns now travel a mere quarter mile. The new process is 25 percent faster, yet yields even higher-quality guns. By the way, a Nigthawk Custom pistol carries a lifetime warranty; not the lifetime of the owner, but rather the lifetime of the gun.
Nighthawk Custom performs work on other brands of 1911, too. While there, I saw a work order for a pistol built by another 1911 company. The work order was higher than the original purchase price of the gun so, again, maybe the Nighthawk purchase prices aren’t unreasonable.
The company also reworks Remington Model 870 shotguns. Further, it’s an importer of world-renowned Korth revolvers and super-premium Cosmi SRL semi-automatic Italian shotguns.
After seeing how it’s built, I came to the conclusion that, among products I’ve long regarded as aspirational, a Nighthawk Custom pistol may be the most practical. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a Maserati or even a 21-foot bass boat. Moreover, it’s something I’d carry every day and be willing to bet my life on. Looked at that way, it’s a pretty fair deal.