When you’re a father, you relish the proud moments that come with that title. You watch your kids graduate elementary school, learn to ride a bike and excel in sports. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many of those occasions. However, one of my most cherished memories will be my son’s graduation from my alma mater and his trouncing of the old hands on the pistol range.
When Sabastian (or “Bat” as we like to call him) was 13, I sent him to Gunsite for a three-day rifle and pistol tutorial. I’d worked with him extensively on marksmanship basics and firearms safety. However, there comes a time when teaching is best administered by an outside source. The dynamic relationship between parents and children, and even between parents, often gets in the way of learning. When he turned 16, I knew it was time for him to go to shooting school.
Jeff Cooper established the American Pistol Institute—now Gunsite Academy—at his Gunsite Ranch in Paulden, Arizona, in 1976. During the next 40 years, it became the bastion for civilian firearms training. The Gunsite 250 Pistol class has remained relatively unchanged during all that time. All over the world, this course is considered the premier foundation for defensive handgun training.
The curriculum is designed to take someone who has never fired a handgun and elevate him or her to the point where they’re confident that they could use a handgun to defend themselves. This is not a competitive shooting course. It’s not a course to teach you how to be a Delta Force operator or SWAT officer. It’s intended to ground you in the basics of the defensive pistol, improve your mindset and prepare you to win a fight for your life.
The intensive five-day training program starts with safety and progresses from there. You’ll learn to operate your handgun, how to properly present your handgun and how to hit what you shoot at. You’ll fire in excess of 1,000 rounds under the tutelage of some of the best and most experienced firearms instructors in the world.
You’ll work from the holster, shoot with both hands, shoot while moving, shoot in the dark, engage multiple targets, learn footwork, learn a fighting stance, learn to shoot under pressure and how to tactically negotiate structures in a hostile environment. You’ll also conduct various live-fire, threat-based scenarios where you must make shoot and no-shoot decisions. When all that is over, you’ll participate in a fast-paced, man-on-man shoot-off against your fellow students. If you win, you won’t get a fortune—just plenty of fame and bragging rights.
Nighthawk Browning Hi-Power
Just prior to Bat attending the Gunsite 250 Pistol class, I’d conducted a review of the new Browning Hi-Power from Nighthawk Custom. I’ve been a fan of the Hi-Power for ages and consider it one of the premier fighting pistols. Introduced in 1935, the Hi-Power was the first pistol to use a double-stack magazine. With that and its link-less barrel and pivoting trigger, it would serve as the basis for most of the modern defensive handguns of our time. In essence, the Hi-Power was a steel version of the Glock about 50 years before the Glock was ever conceived.
However, even though the Hi-Power has been used by more militaries than any other handgun, and even though the Hi-Power has fought in more wars than any other handgun, it is not perfect. Its primary detractor is the short tang that barely extends over the web of the hand. Another drawback is the Hi-Power’s unfriendly trigger, a byproduct of an integral safety that will not allow the pistol to fire unless a magazine is inserted.
Custom gunsmiths have been correcting these Hi-Power issues for many years. However, these customizations have been one-off propositions where you send them your Hi-Power and they fix it. In 2015, Nighthawk Custom worked a deal with Browning to buy Mark III Hi-Powers in bulk and work their magic on them. The result might be the best fighting pistol ever to accept a double-stack magazine.
The first thing Nighthawk does is address the tang by extending it a full inch. This eliminates any chance of hammer bite on the web of the hand and further enhances an already superb grip. This extension of steel is done so flawlessly it appears as if the pistol has simply grown into the form before you. You won’t find a joint, evidence of welding or any other indication that the frame was not cast with the extended tang. Placing the Nighthawk-modified Hi-Power in your hand feels so good it might just make your knees weak.
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Then, the same gunsmith who did that glorious work—at Nighthawk, every pistol is assigned a dedicated builder who works on that pistol from start to finish—applies a textured treatment to the front- and backstraps and underneath the triggerguard. This helps stabilize your grip without biting like checkering. It also looks amazingly elegant. Continuing with this elegance, the rear and top of the slide are textured, and a French border is applied.
A black Heinie SlantPro rear sight is then fitted to the slide along with a 0.125-inch-wide front sight post with a 14-karat gold bead. Unlike many modern sighting systems utilizing too narrow of a notch or a front sight that is too wide, there’s room to spare here. This makes for seriously fast targeting.
The gunsmith then removes the factory firing mechanism and installs a new steel hammer, an improved sear lever and a straighter trigger. He also does away with the magazine-disconnect safety. The result is a pivoting trigger that glides through its stroke as smoothly as tanning oil runs down the body of a Victoria’s Secret model. The trigger breaks crisply at about 4 pounds.
Other tweaks include a magazine release with 25-lpi serrations, a contoured magazine well, a crowned barrel, a tighter slide and frame fit, and rounded edges all around. The entire pistol—with the exception of the barrel—then receives a corrosion-resistant Cerakote finish in either all black or two-tone black and chrome. To round out all this wonderfulness, you can choose between checkered cocobolo grips or G10 grips, both with the Nighthawk logo.
I figured the Nighthawk Browning Hi-Power would be the perfect pistol for Bat to take to his class. Nighthawk loaned me one for several weeks, and we found it ate up Hornady American Gunner ammunition like a fat man at a Vegas buffet. With his Galco Avenger holster and magazine pouches, Bat was ready to go to school.
Bat ended up in a class with students of all ages, but he was the youngest. The next two youngest shooters dropped out before the course ended, and that left him with two handfuls of adults to share his experience with. They were all armed with modern semi-automatics, most of which were of the plastic variety. Bat was the youngest shooter in the class, and he was using the oldest handgun design.
I was at Gunsite while Bat was taking his class, but I wasn’t involved. This was partly because I was helping with the 2016 Scout Rile Conference and partly because I wanted the experience to be his and his alone. Every evening we discussed the course, and as I had done, he was experiencing highs and lows as the training progressed. On numerous occasions, he said he didn’t think he was at the head of the class.
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When the last day came, it was time for the shoot-off. Bat was apprehensive because he knew that I had won the shoot-off when I’d taken my Gunsite 250 course. I tried to ease the anxiety by telling him he’d graduated and to just have fun. In the shoot-off, two shooters each square off against two 8-inch steel plates at about 7 and 10 yards, with a split pepper popper between them. The object is to knock over both steel plates, conduct a speed reload and put your half of the pepper popper down first. You progress through the competition on a best three out of five elimination sequence.
The young man pulled it off, graduated as a Marksman and won the shoot-off. He and I both have our shoot-off sterling silver ravens and a certificate from the same institute of higher learning. Actually, we have a lot more. Bat is a more confident teenager; one who knows if he had to, he could use a handgun to protect himself and our family. As much as I travel, that is a comfort. Never underestimate what a well-trained young man can do with an old-style pistol like the Nighthawk Browning Hi-Power.
Barrel: 4.63 inches
Weight: 29 ounces (empty)
Grips: Cocobolo or G10
Sights: Gold beat front, Heinie SlantPro rear
For More Information
This article was originally published in “Combat Handguns” May/June 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.