Nighthawk Custom for … Gun Leather?
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis
In the comparatively few years they have been in business under their own name and roof, Nighthawk Custom has built an excellent reputation for high quality firearms and good customer relations. The people behind the company also appear to have some business “smarts,” and to be aware of what’s happening in their market. One of the things that seems to be happening in the 1911 universe is that some of the best-known and most highly respected 1911 makers have expanded their product lines to include other “tactical” stuff—from tear gas dispensers to AR-15 platform rifles and carbines, and to gun leather.
Not to be outpaced by the market, Nighthawk Custom recently introduced its own line of gun leather. In keeping with the quality of Nighthawk Custom’s firearms, their gun leather is (like their guns) made on their own premises, and of exceptionally high quality. And, also like their firearms, their gun leather incorporates a few interesting features.
Nighthawk recently sent to the M1911 Pistols Organization a gun leather ensemble consisting of an outside-of-waistband (OWB) pancake holster, a matching double magazine pouch, and a belt on which to wear/carry the above. All were rendered in black leather and, because they had not too long before sent us the prototype El Comandante Commander-size pistol, they sent the holster to fit a Commander. Magazine holders are of the open-top variety.
So, aside from the age-old dispute over whether horsehide or cowhide is better for gun leather, what could possibly be new and exciting about (yawn) yet another holster from yet another vendor? After all, there must be about 73 million people and companies out there who all sell “the ultimate” gun leather for 1911s. Just open up any Sportsmans Guide “Shooters” catalog.
Where do I begin?
It is perhaps axiomatic that any system is only as good as its base platform. For holsters, the gun belt is the base platform. Virtually any holster can haul around your hawgleg pretty well, and some of them may even do a fair job of protecting the gun and possibly even look half decent in the bargain. The better ones tend to hold onto your pistol fairly snugly, which is a good thing … unless at that critical time when you need the gun RIGHT NOW! The holster shifts around, the gun binds up, and your Quick Draw McGraw imitation turns into Molasses Mike, with unpleasant results. In good gun leather, the belt should not only carry the weight of the holster and firearm (and magazines), but also hold it securely in position when you draw. If you have to fumble to draw the firearm when you need it, you might as well leave it in the dresser drawer.
I have, for a good number of years, worn what I consider to be a good quality, leather “garrison” belt. It is 1-1/2 inches wide, fairly thick leather, and after many years of wear it still retains its shape and support. I had always been of the opinion that I had a very good belt.
I was sadly mistaken.
I have not done any hobby leather work for a great many years, so I know just enough about leather to get myself in trouble. In general, leather is typically specified by weight, in ounces per square foot, rather than by thickness. Since the relationship between weight and thickness is affected by the density of a particular specimen, the best any expression of that relationship can be is approximate. What does this mean for us? Obviously, leather is somewhat less than rigid and a micrometer is perhaps not the ideal tool for measuring leather goods, but trying to weigh a leather belt and then subtract the weight of the buckle, add in the weight for the holes, figure out the surface area, and translate all that into a weight per square foot is not especially practicable. My digital micrometer (not caliper) has a ratchet on the handle to assure that the anvil is always tightened to the same pressure when measuring, so I used it to measure the thickness of my garrison belt and the Nighthawk Custom gun belt.
My “heavy duty” garrison belt measured 0.150” in thickness. That’s a shade less than 10/64 of an inch. The Nighthawk belt is made up of two plies, sewn together. It measured 0.270” in thickness, which is a tiny bit less than 18/64 of an inch.
Nighthawk belt on left, “garrison” belt on right
A source for raw leather stock lists leather with a thickness of 8/64 to 9/64 of an inch as “8 – 9 ounce” leather, and says that this grade is recommended for holsters and belts. In general terms, what this tells us is that, not only is the Nighthawk gun belt a two-ply belt as compared to a typical, single ply belt, but also that the Nighthawk belt uses two plies that are EACH nearly equal to the weight/thickness of a “heavy duty” single ply garrison belt. In fact, Nighthawk’s specifications for the gun belts call for two plies of 7/8 ounce cowhide.
The stitching holding the two plies together is tight, straight and regular. The edges of the belt are well finished, cut or buffed after sewing, and the edges polished and sealed. Overall, it is an extremely well-executed belt. More importantly for the task at hand, the Nighthawk belt is flexible enough to wrap around your waist, but transverse to the length of the belt it is very stiff. The belt absolutely resists twisting, the result being that the holster is held rock steady in place while drawing the pistol from the holster. That is critical; holding the holster steady in position while drawing is the single most important thing a gun belt has to do.
Nighthawk Custom sent us a sample of their Companion model holster, in cowhide. The OWB holster is a fairly conventional design, with a slight forward (“FBI”) rake that both helps allow the muzzle to clear the holster faster when drawn and also tips the butt of the pistol up slightly, which helps with concealment. The Nighthawk holster is a moderately high ride holster to allow it to be concealed under a short jacket or vest, but it is not so high as to be top-heavy and feel like the holster wants to tip over and spill the gun onto the ground. I have encountered a few holsters like that, and they were immediately relegated to the bottom of the “don’t need this” box in the attic. There is, however, one feature that sets the Nighthawk holster aside from any other OWB holster I have encountered.
Most OWB holsters are made up of two pieces of leather, sewn together and molded (“boned”) to sandwich the pistol between the two layers of leather. Usually, the back section of leather is larger than the front, and incorporates two slots through which the belt is threaded. The belt is exposed where it enters one slot and where it exits on the opposite side. I don’t know if the idea is unique to Nighthawk Custom Leather, but I have not seen it ever before: on the Nighthawk holster, the front piece of leather covers the entire back piece, concealing the belt slots and creating a sort of mini-belt tunnel through which to thread the belt. The result is both aesthetic and functional. It looks very neat and finished, and it also extends the supported length of the holster along the belt. The combination results in a holster that rides rock solid on the two-ply Nighthawk Custom belt.
With many molded ("boned") leather holsters, the holster is too tight for easy insertion or drawing of the firearm when first received. The Nighthawk holster we received was no exception. It required a moderate amount of force to push the pistol all the way in. We resorted to the customary way of dealing with this: put the pistol in a plastic baggy and then insert it into the holster. In this case, it took a week to stretch the holster out enough to allow for moderately normal holstering and drawing. During that time, we left the pistol (and baggy) in the holster 24/7, and several times a day went through the motions of drawing the pistol and reinserting it into the holster. We wore out two sandwich bags, but we ended up with a comfortable fit.
Like the gun belt, the leatherwork on the Companion holster is impeccable. The leather is heavy, smooth, and tightly “boned” to the shape of the pistol. There are no scars or imperfections in the leather. Stitching is straight, uniform, and tight. In this reviewer’s estimation, it’s a top quality holster.
Nighthawk offers other holster designs aside from the OWB Companion. Other models include the IWB Stealth; the Belt Slide (a version of the ubiquitous Yaqui Slide design); the Centurion, an OWB model designed primarily for practical shooting competition use and rendered in a vertical configuration rather than canted in order to enhance the draw and presentation; the F-117, an interesting model of OWB holster using snaps and loops (that appear more like IWB loops) to allow for mounting and removing the holster without removing the belt; the Raptor, which can be worn as a small-of-back (SOB) holster or as a cross-draw; the IWB (which is exactly what it says it is); and the Aristocrat, an interesting IWB variant that utilizes an aluminum stiffener to help keep the holster in alignment when worn.
The cowhide holsters are made from 8/10 ounce “premium” cowhide. (I quoted “Premium” because I had to. In my estimation Nighthawk’s leather is of premium grade, but when did anyone ever see a manufacturer advertise their product as being made of “genuine scrap grade leather”?)
The Magazine Carrier
Nighthawk rounded out the sample “rig” they sent us with an open-top, double magazine carrier. This is also executed in black cowhide leather. They offer magazine carriers in both belt slide and snap-on versions. The one we received is a belt slide style. The only options are color, and a choice of single or double pouch. The pouches on the double carrier we received are nicely shaped and retain the magazines firmly, despite being rather low-cut. Like the holster and the gun belt, the quality of the leather and the workmanship was excellent.
In addition to cowhide, Nighthawk also offers many of their leather products in Sharkskin; U.S. Domestic Alligator; Ostrich; Elephant; Sting-Ray; and Badger. In short, if you can’t find a combination of holster design and material that you don’t like … it may well not exist. (Unless, of course, you want horsehide.)
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1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
Tel: (877) 268-4867 (Toll-free)
Web site: http://www.nighthawktactical.com/custom_leather.html
- Belt: 7/8 ounce Premium Cowhide
- Holster: 8/10 ounce Premium Cowhide