In 2003, a group of talented gunsmiths struck out on their own and opened a new business dedicated to custom 1911 pistols. Since that time, Nighthawk Custom has not only become respected in the industry, but its pistols have become some of the most sought-after 1911s on the market today. The company’s passion for John Browning’s masterpiece is now reflected in over 20 different models of the timeless design.
One of Nighthawk’s strengths is the partnerships it has with other respected people in the industry. To quote an old parable, “You are known by the company you keep.” One of those partnerships started several years ago with legendary pistolsmith Richard Heinie. The Heinie Signature Series of pistols now includes five different models, including a full-size Commander and compact models. There is even a long-slide 1911 in 10mm.
Nighthawk Custom has also partnered with Chris Costa for a Costa Signature Series of pistols. Chris Costa is the founder and president of Costa Ludus, a training and consulting company located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. However, Costa also served for 12 years with the U.S. Coast Guard and was involved in counter-narcotics operations in multiple countries. Afterward, he worked in the private sector, where he conducted security assessments and operations.
When the Costa Compact arrived, I unzipped the green embroidered pistol case and found a matte black 1911 that was all business.
The foundation for every Nighthawk pistol is a frame and slide forging that is machined at the company’s facility in Berryville, Arkansas. This allows Nighthawk to control quality and ensures that slides and frames are held to exacting tolerances. The frame and slide are fitted and hand-lapped for a glass-on-glass feeling. This process is time consuming and requires the touch of an experienced gunsmith; there are no shortcuts. Like the full-size Costa Government Model, the Costa Compact is an all-steel gun. As with other Nighthawk compact models, the Costa Compact is based on an Officer’s Model frame that is paired with a Commander-length slide. The Commander-length slide allows for the use of a 4.25-inch barrel and a conventional barrel bushing.
As with all Nighthawk pistols, the Costa Compact is built the old-fashioned way, by hand fitting precision-made parts using old-fashioned files and sanding sticks. All internal parts are made to Nighthawk’s specifications using quality tool steel. For those who are concerned about such things, there are no MIM parts in any Nighthawk pistol. Our test pistol was equipped with a single-side, extended thumb safety and a low-profile slide stop. An ambidextrous thumb safety is available upon request.
The solid aluminum match trigger is of medium length and is precisely fitted to the internal parts. The trigger broke cleanly at 3.9 pounds with no overtravel. The high-cut frontstrap, now standard on all Nighthawk pistols, has been checkered at 25 lpi. A ball cut at the top of the pattern serves as an attractive border.
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The Costa Compact is equipped with Nighthawk’s one-piece, fully machined mainspring housing and magazine well that are designed in-house. The unit is machined from a 2-inch block of tool steel and is designed with a rounded heel for comfort and to aid in concealed carry. All edges of the magazine well have been hand-beveled and expertly blended to the frame. The mainspring housing has been cleanly checkered with a 20-lpi pattern. As expected, the beavertail grip safety is precisely fitted and, when depressed, blends perfectly with the frame. A speed bump ensures positive engagement, especially for those who shoot with a high thumb grip.
G10 stocks from VZ Grips feature a ridge-and-diamond pattern that provides for a positive purchase without being overly aggressive. Careful examination revealed that the ridge pattern on the leading and trailing edges is stepped up to the center of the stocks, and each ridge provides an additional gripping surface. The black/green color pattern was attractive and offset the matte black Melonite finish of the pistol.
The slide treatments are a departure from other Nighthawk models and give the Costa models a unique appearance. The top edge of the slide has been faceted and narrowed. This draws the eye to the sights and also provides a somewhat expanded view downrange. The top of the slide has been serrated in an arrow-point pattern that is both aesthetically pleasing and serves to reduce glare on the top of the slide. Wide cocking serrations have been machined at both the rear and the front of the slide for a positive purchase during cycling and when conducting a press check. Another nice feature is the heavy bevel that has been applied to the bottom edge of the slide.
As with many current Nighthawk models, the Costa Compact features Richard Heinie’s SlantPro rear sight. The front sight is a dovetailed blade that is set up with a red fiber-optic light pipe. Tritium inserts for both the front and rear sights are available as an option. The design of the Slant Pro provides a broad sight profile that is blended with the rear of the slide. The rear of the slide has 40-lpi serrations to reduce glare.
Finally, the Costa Compact features Nighthawk’s Everlast Recoil System. Developed with Bob Marvel, the Everlast System uses a flat wire recoil spring that is matched with a specially designed guide rod and plug. The company information states that the system will handle a minimum of 15,000 rounds before changing the recoil spring becomes necessary. In addition, the new system changes the felt recoil impulse by providing a more consistent resistance that does not stack like traditional springs.
I tend to prefer a lighter bullet for the Commander and smaller Government models. As such, we tested the Costa Compact with ASYM Precision’s Solid Defense X +P that is loaded with a 185-grain Barnes’ TSX solid copper bullet. We also tested Hornady’s Critical Defense 185-grain load and Critical Duty 220-grain +P load. On the range we started with 100 rounds or so of generic 230-grain FMJ (full metal jacket) ammo.
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Accuracy testing was done standing, off-hand, from 15 yards. I will readily admit that the Costa Compact, like all Nighthawk pistols, is capable of greater accuracy than I can shoot. Even so, I managed several sub-2-inch groups, discounting called flyers. The Critical Duty load produced a horizontal spread of 2.55 inches while the softer-shooting Critical Defense produced a group that measured 1.45 inches. The group from the ASYM load measured 1.91 inches.
I carried the Costa Compact on several occasions in a Galco V-Hawk IWB (inside-the-waistband) holster. The V-Hawk is one of the most comfortable and stable IWB rigs I have ever used. I appreciated the shorter butt of the Costa Compact, especially when I was concealing it under a loose shirt.
Nighthawk is currently experiencing tremendous growth as more customers discover the value of buying a custom pistol. The company is continually working to improve production schedules and deliveries. While making these improvements, it is ensuring that quality and attention to detail do not suffer. Unlike in some shops, a Nighthawk 1911 is built from start to finish by a single pistolsmith. The exception is the coating process. The pistolsmith stamps his initials on the frame (under the stocks) and claims permanent “ownership” of that particular pistol.
The custom 1911 market has never been stronger. If you haven’t taken a look at Nighthawk’s products lately, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
For more information, visit http://www.nighthawkcustom.com or call 870-268-4867.
This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of COMBAT HANDGUNS. Subscription is available in print and digital editions below.