Review: Nighthawk Custom Border Special 1911

posted on April 2, 2018

Even though factory standard—across the counter—options for the 1911 are at an all-time high, the demand for exquisitely crafted variations on John Browning’s greatest creation continues to grow. There remains a segment of the shooting populace who want the very best handgun money can buy. This is why Nighthawk Custom remains in business.  The company caters to those who prefer perfected pistols. One of Nighthawk’s newest is the Border Special 1911.

A Commander-size 1911 with a match grade, stainless steel barrel, the Nighthawk Custom Border Special is chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Its barrel hood (the section of the barrel/chamber visible through the ejection port) has been fluted to add a bit of flare and the muzzle crown is shallow and deep, blending seamlessly with the barrel bushing and a smooth recoil-spring plunger.

Serrations along the top of the slide provide a classy touch, while also lessening glare and making it easier to pick up the sights.

The pistol’s slide has standard rear cocking serrations, and the top is serrated between the rear and front sight with 11 finely executed lines. Its front sight is a dovetailed, matte-black blade measuring .12-inch wide, and fitted with a 2 mm gold bead. Opposite, the rear aperture is a Heinie Black Slant Pro, with a 3.16 mm notch. Though not as visible as tritium sights in low light, you’ll be surprised how well the gold bead stands out in most conditions. The rear notch is wide enough to provide light on either side of the front blade, making alignment fast and easy.

The Border Special’s forged-steel frame is fitted with a grip safety that features an extended tang that has been perfectly fitted to the frame. The process of installing and blending a grip safety that merges with the frame so well you cannot discern the junction by feel is but one mark of a talented 1911 pistolsmith. Nighthawk must have a room full of these folks because every Nighthawk pistol is built by one man—one gun, one gunsmith—and I’ve yet to handle one where the grip safety-to-frame fit was not superb.

(l.) A beavertail helps shooters grip the pistol high for maximum control. (ctr.) Scallop texturing along the frontstrap and mainspring housing provides welcome purchase. (r.) The lightweight, solid trigger is tuned to be light and crisp, and can be adjusted for overtravel.

One feature you might be surprised to see missing on a pistol in this price range is checkering. As long as I can remember, checkering on the frontstrap and mainspring housing has been a mark of the full-custom 1911. For the Border Special, Nighthawk chose to scallop the frontstrap. The execution of this scalloping is impeccably attractive and the grip enhancement it provides seemed both less and more aggressive than checkering. I’d rate its feel as something between 20- and 30-lpi checkering generally found on 1911s.

The scalloping on the mainspring housing is a bit different. It is the same pattern, though a bit muted. Not only is this a subtle touch, it is an excellent idea. If you take a five-day pistol course, like the Gunsite Academy 250 pistol class, by the third day sharp checkering on the mainspring housing will wear on your hand, and you’ll be wearing a glove or moleskin for the rest of the class. In addition to the smart scalloping on the mainspring housing, Nighthawk went a step further. The housing and grip are bobbed with what the company refers to as its concealed-carry cut. This cut or bobbing allows the bottom of the frame to join perfectly with the midcarpal and intercarpal joints of the hand. Its not just there for looks; it’s a very ergonomic feature that allows the pistol to better fit your fist. I found it allowed me to shift the pistol less in my hand to actuate the Border Special’s magazine release.

(l.) Longitudinal flutes along the barrel hood mitigate the buildup of debris. (ctr.) A wide rear notch distributes ample light on each side of the front sight. (r.) The addition of a gold bead in the front-sight post fosters quick acquisition.

Regarding the Border Special’s “bang switch,” it is lightweight, solid aluminum and short, and a proprietary Nighthawk design. On my Timney trigger scale it broke consistently at 3.6 pounds, with about a tenth of an inch of take-up. There was no creep and the reset was positive and audible, though I felt it could have had a bit more return to provide a tad more-tactile reset.

Other features of note include fine-line serrations on the rear of the slide, an ultra-high-cut frontstrap to allow a higher, more-comfortable grip, an extended thumb safety and a pair of extremely attractive cocobolo checkered grips with the Nighthawk logo, which contrast nicely with the Elite Midnight Cerakote finish. This is a good-looking pistol, but it might get overlooked because it seems a bit plain.

But plain is as it’s supposed to be. Retired Texas sheriff and fellow Shooting Illustrated contributor Jim Wilson collaborated with Nighthawk on the Border Special and he specifically wanted a pistol that had everything you need and nothing you don’t. In the end, the real justification of a pistol should be that it works every time you pull the trigger, that it’s configured to hit anything you shoot at, and comfortable to carry and run. I managed to confirm all those things on the range.

At 15 yards, the Border Special performed exceptionally well during more-tactical, self-defense drills. I fired 250 rounds through the pistol and experienced only two stoppages; two of the 250-grain Atomic subsonic loads failed to fully chamber during weak-hand drills.

The Border Special (like any Nighthawk) is not just any pistol. It’s a pistol backed by enviable customer service and a pistol you can pass down through several generations. I’d really like to have one, but I’d like a 9 mm. Fortunately, Nighthawk offers that option. After all, it is a truly custom pistol.


RCBS Chargemaster Supreme
RCBS Chargemaster Supreme

High-Tech Handloading

I now keep all my ammunition-creation data on a computer. Sure, I’ll make notes when working up a new load or tweaking an existing one, but ultimately my data is stored digitally. Since my loading room is only steps from my computer, the transition from written to digital data has been easy for me. Now that I’m using the handloading app from RCBS, it’s even easier, and it also makes recreating my favorite loads when I’m at the loading bench more convenient.

First Look: 1791 Gunleather Holsters for S&W CSX Pistols

New holsters for the nifty little pistol from Smith & Wesson.

First Look: XS Night Sights for SA XD OSP and Tisas PX-9

Two new front and rear sight sets featuring some of XS Sights most popular designs.

Concealed-Carry Contemplations

You took a concealed-carry class from a well-known instructor who visited your local range recently. You learned a lot—especially that there was a lot yet to learn—over the two days of the course.

What We Plan For

Sheriff Jim reminds us that wishing and hopeful thinking should not be part of your self-defense plan.

First Look: GiantMouse ACE Nazca Knives

A folding knife with south of the border style.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.