This article, "'Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry" appeared originally as a Gun Locker review in the September 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
There’s no question that the 1911 pistol has transcended the handgun, which was originally nothing more than a close-quarters firearm intended to be wielded with one hand. For some time, but more so today than ever before, 1911 pistols have also become works of art. From a practical standpoint, these mechanical sculptures carved from steel will save your life no better than a polymer pistol, but sometimes it’s about more than function. The new Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry is an example of an intersection of function and art.
Based on a steel-frame, Commander-size 1911, the Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry weighs in at about 40 ounces unloaded. By modern carry-pistol standards this is a bit heavy. However, every sharp edge on the pistol, with the exception of the sights, has been given a bevel to prevent snagging on clothing or abrasion of the hands during manipulation. As for the rear sight, it is a Heinie Ledge Straight Eight, with a single tritium dot at the bottom of the .126-inch wide square notch. The front sight is a square, .116-inch wide post with a single tritium dot.
Somewhat unusually for a 1911 in this price range is the lack of fine checkering. Instead, Nighthawk took a different approach. For starters the frontstrap has been cut with three flats, all measuring about one-third of an inch, and the center flat has a very fine stippled or textured finish that extends out along the bottom of the trigger guard. The mainspring housing has been treated similarly. This geometrical modification to the frame, in conjunction with the tapered and tri-cut flat grips gives the Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry a unique feel in hand. Amazingly, the grip feels substantially thinner than your common 1911, but its actual width at its widest point is nearly identical.
Nighthawk carries this tri-cut theme to the slide. The top flat is just slightly wider than the flat on the frontstrap of the grip and it, too, receives the same textured treatment. To the sides of this flat top, the slide is cut at an angle giving the pistol a unique and distinctive look. At the rear of the slide are five deep and wide grasping groves to help with slide manipulation. Two more grooves are located on each side about an inch back from the front of the slide, but a portion of the inside of these grooves is cut all the way through. These slots, while not really shaving much weight or providing any real contribution to the function or operation of the pistol, definitely look cool.
A feature of note is the lack of a barrel bushing. The Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry uses a bushingless barrel, which locks up—through meticulous fitting—to the inner dimensions of the front of the slide. Additionally, slide operation occurs with the guidance of a full-length guide rod. Though many believe a guide rod is an unnecessary and weight-adding feature, others feel it assists with the reliability of the 1911 platform.
For the most part, the rest of the pistol is pure 1911, but with a few notable artistic and functionally important deviations. The butt of the grip has been slightly rounded to prevent the catching of the jacket or coat during concealed carry. The beveled magazine release and the bottom of the curved slide stop have been textured just like the frontstrap and top of the slide. At the juncture of the trigger guard, the frontstrap is cut higher than normal to facilitate a better grip. And, the pistol is fitted with a flat-faced Nighthawk trigger with a textured surface. It is adjustable for overtravel.
The Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry was tested with 300 rounds of ammunition. This test included precision shooting from a sandbag rest at 15 yards and the execution of a variety of shooting drills. There were no stoppages. As you would expect, a 40-ounce 9 mm is very comfortable to shoot, the weight mitigating the felt recoil of even +P rounds quite well. This made follow-up shots during the various shooting drills come fast and with notable precision. From concealment it was easy to put five shots into a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards, in less than 5 seconds. In fact, that average time for 10 runs through this drill was 3.58 seconds. From the bench, the pistol shot as you would expect one in this price range to perform.
Some will argue there is no justification for a $4,500 pistol. From a pure defensive handgun point of view, they are probably correct. But, the Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry is not just a defensive handgun. It is, quite undeniably, a work of art and it earned the Nighthawk Custom gunsmith who designed it entry into the American Pistolsmiths Guild. When you pick this pistol up, it is pure comfort in the hand, and everyone who held it expressed as much. When you cycle the slide you feel the Swiss-watch-like precision with which it has been assembled. And, when you shoot this pistol you hit what you aim at.
Every gun person should have at least one exquisite handgun and the Nighthawk Custom Tri-Cut Carry qualifies. Every American citizen should have at least one handgun they can trust their life to. The Tri-Cut Carry easily meets that requirement, too. It’s undeniably fine enough to wear to any tuxedo affair, and rugged and reliable enough to take to combat. The world is full of pistols that meet one or the other of these requirements; there are not so many that meet both. At the end of the day, if that’s the kind of handgun you desire, then you’re going to have to pay for it.