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Nighthawk Custom Global Response Pistol: The Wiley Clapp Review

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This article, “The Nighthawk: Warhorse To Thoroughbred,” by Wiley Clapp, appeared originally in the February 2006 issue of American Rifleman. Today, Nighthawk Custom maintains production of its GRP 1911, “One Gun, One Gunsmith,” with upgrades added and chambering options such as 30 Super Carry and 9 mm Luger. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page and select American Rifleman as your member magazine.

Nighthawk Custom’s entry-level Global Response Pistols sculpt “old slabsides” into a stallion of rare breeding.

Nighthawk Custom’s entry-level Global Response Pistols sculpt “old slabsides” into a stallion of rare breeding.

With workmanship that appeared to equal the very best of high-end production guns, the M1911 pistol I turned over in my hands belied its utilitarian origins. Across the right side of this Government Model .45, a unique logo in bold military stencil style letters read “GRP”—for Global Response Pistol.

I received a pair of such guns for evaluation, and after several weeks of shooting, concluded that their quality and features warranted my most positive endorsement. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let’s cover some basics about this most-refined new M1911-style pistol: Nighthawk Custom’s GRP.

What Is Nighthawk Custom?

Nighthawk is a small firm in Berryville, Ark., whose sole purpose is producing a variety of high-quality M1911-style pistols. The “Custom” in the name is accurately descriptive in that the company can tailor its products with many available options on several distinct models to meet your specific needs. It is not custom in the sense of taking a customer’s gun and bringing it up to a higher level of performance with special work.

The company produces custom pistols to order, and the GRP was a pistol originally developed for a small military contract. It is now a catalog item, available for sale to the general public.

Although the company is not large, it is building significant quantities of pistols for discriminating users. It is able to build high-quality M1911s because of the level of experience of its pistolsmiths.

No Guts, No Glory

Nighthawk starts with precisely crafted receivers and slides that come out of its CNC machines close to perfect and require little in the way of fitting. The same is true of the smaller parts that make up the guns. There are no MIM parts in the company’s guns. Simply stated, the production of a Nighthawk pistol is the result of an experienced pistolsmith turned loose and given the best of components. I have evaluated two other Nighthawks—a Talon II and an Enforcer—and found them to be among the best of the vast array of M1911 .45s that I have had the privilege of shooting in the past year or so.

Note the crisply checkered 25-line-per-inch pattern on the flat mainspring housing and the recessed anchor point for a lanyard.

Note the crisply checkered 25-line-per-inch pattern on the flat mainspring housing and the recessed anchor point for a lanyard.

Although Nighthawk uses several different colors in the ceramic-based coating called Perma-Kote on other models, the GRPs are like Henry Ford’s Model T—any color you want, as long as it’s black. A very businesslike Government Model, the GRP has an even, flat-black coating on all surfaces except the trigger, barrel bushing and barrel. It is a full-size M1911 with a 5″ barrel. Depending on features, there are actually four variations of the basic pistol. The least pricey variant is a plain GRP with Gatorback grips. You can also have the gun with a Crimson Trace Lasergrip. Then there is the GRP Recon with an integral Picatinny rail and SureFire X200 light included. You can have a Recon with or without the Lasergrips.

All of the familiar contours are there, as well as some that have cropped up in the past few years, like a panel of cocking serrations on the front of the slide in addition to the rear. Another item is a beavertail grip safety made with a palm pad. This feature has become almost universal and is very important. If you shoot with thumbs up and forward in the modern style, the extra mass at the base of the grip safety ensures that you have pressed the safety far enough inward to clear the back of the trigger stirrup so the gun will fire. Flat mainspring housings and long triggers are the order of the day, so all GRPs have these two features. Interestingly enough, the full-length recoil spring guide rod that has assumed great popularity in the last few years (for no good reason, in my view) is absent from the GRP design. The gun has the old-style barrel bushing and plug.

There are many special touches on the pistol that add to its utility. Looking at the butt, the mainspring housing has a deep scallop with a steel pin mounted across the void. It is a hard point to snap a tactical retention device—i.e., a lanyard—into place. A new generation of American warriors has apparently discovered the wisdom of tying their sidearms to their persons, just as their fathers, grandfathers, etc., learned to do long ago. The mainspring housing of the pistol is crisply checkered in a 25-line-per-inch pattern, as is the frontstrap.

A Fully Modern Breed

Nighthawk Custom GRP specification table details technical data

If you elect to buy your GRP with the optional laser sight, it will be delivered with the hard rubber grips that house the power source, switches and the laser itself. Crimson Trace makes these for a variety of different guns, and the latest variation for the M1911 is particularly clean. The laser itself resides in a boss on the top edge of the right grip. There’s a CR2032 3-volt battery in a recess in each grip panel, along with the necessary wiring.

On the lower rear side of the left panel, a sliding switch energizes the circuit when it is moved upward. Turning on the laser is easy. When the shooter tightens his grip on the gun, he compresses a switch in the wraparound bridge between the two grip panels. The red laser beam comes on and shines along the right side of the gun, just below the level of the slide. A couple of set screws in the laser permit the user to adjust the beam to coincide with the strike of the bullet at a given distance. Lasergrip-equipped GRPs are zeroed at the Nighthawk factory.

If you choose a GRP Recon model, it will be slightly heavier, due to the thicker, flat-bottomed light rail machined into the dust cover. With or without Lasergrips, GRP Recon models will come with a SureFire X200 weapon light. This unit is a very compact white light, powered by a pair of 3-volt lithium batteries. It snaps securely into place on the GRP’s rail, but can be quickly removed if the need arises. Aside from its extremely powerful beam of light and rugged construction, the X200 excels in its arrangement and switching options.

At the rear of the light, there is a switch with activation paddles extending out from each side of the trigger guard. Press up or down on either side for constant light. But press forward on either side and the X200 will deliver light as long as you maintain pressure—a so-called momentary switch. This adapts to many techniques. My preference is to manipulate the light switch with the thumb of my support (left) side hand.

The GRP pistols from Nighthawk are the first to use Wayne Novak’s Extreme Duty rear sights. This sight has the same profile as the Novak LoMount, which has become the industry standard in recent years. The Novak Extreme Duty differs from the familiar LoMount in that it is elevation-adjustable. Matched up with a Novak front sight, this slick design combination gets a gun’s bullet strike centered up on target to match the eye and hold of any shooter.

What You Can Expect?

All GRP variants come with two eight-round magazines made by ACT-Mag in Italy. During the past couple of years, these excellent magazines have grown widely popular. Available with the Novak marque, they are also standard equipment from Smith & Wesson and SiGARMS.

The least-expensive version of the GRP carries a suggested retail price that runs just over the two-grand mark. But so do many other high-end M1911 models from other makers. For that kind of money, you have the right to expect some special attention in the production of your gun. Happily enough, the GRP comes with more than a little in the way of custom touches. Take the trigger, for example. In my opinion, the essence of a good M1911 trigger is in its crisp release rather than its weight. I have fired G.I. match pistols with triggers that would measure over 5 lbs. of pull-weight, but were easy to shoot accurately because there was no take-up or slack in the trigger movement before it released. Both sample GRPs let go at 4 lbs., and there was no discernible creep.

There was also considerable evidence that the barrel has been hand-fitted to the slide. That means the barrel was fitted to the bushing, as well as to the hood and the upper and lower lugs. Proper fitting of an M1911 barrel means that the barrel consistently returns to exactly the same position in the slide as the pistol cycles and returns to battery. It is a procedure best accomplished by craftsmen who understand the subtleties of the grand old gun, and clearly, Nighthawk’s crew does.

The end result of the hands-on effort of fine pistolsmiths is a hand-fitted gun made from superior components. The Nighthawks are not delicate firearms suited solely for competitions where the cleaning bench is never far away. The GRP, the model I wrung out for this evaluation, was developed for the rough arenas of this troubled planet where young Americans are fighting our enemies. The Nighthawk pistols will run dirty, and GRPs come from the factory with a ceramic-based Perma-Kote finish that holds up very well.

The Proof Is On the Paper

You have to shoot a firearm to make positive statements about its performance, so I took the pair of Nighthawks to the range on several occasions. Initially, all of my shooting was hand held in primarily fast combat drills—hammers, dedicated pairs and Mozambiques.

Both pistols are all-steel, full-size five-inchers, and that means they posses a certain amount of weight. The GRP Recon model weighs over 43 ozs. because of that heavy rail. Nothing is as beneficial to recovery from recoil as muzzle-forward weight. Light guns may be easy to swing from target to target, but when it comes to driving one shot atop the other, the heavier pistol is the way to go. Several sessions with the two GRPs tell me that they are reliable, easy-handling pistols.

Nighthawk Custom accuracy and ballistic testing data specifications technical ammo guns 25 yards testing

Then the day came when I took the pair out for an accuracy session in the Ransom Rest. On earlier occasions, I had seen some spectacular shooting from two other Nighthawks, so I was eager to see what these two would do. Using the American Rifleman protocol of five consecutive, five-shot groups, I worked my way through four different commercial loads with each gun. I also clocked everything with an Oehler 35P chronograph. The results are in adjacent tables.

The standard GRP produced an average group size of 1.33″ at 25 yards, while the Recon Model edged its stablemate just a little with 1.15″. The single smallest group with the latter pistol was a spectacular 0.66″.

I factored in the results for the other two Nighthawks that I had fired previously and derived an overall average group size of 1.26″ for all four Nighthawk pistols.

One thing seems certain. These pistols are probably more accurate than most shooters can hold them.

For that and all the aforementioned reasons, I commend them to you most highly.

Article by WILEY CLAPP

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