Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 1 (Summer '06) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom 10-8 .45 ACP Pistol

Nighthawk Custom 10-8 .45ACP pistol

Reviewed by Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon, )

Just three weeks and a couple of days ago I received notice from Nighthawk Custom that they were sending one of their newest offerings, the “10-8” model, to M1911.ORG for testing. Sure enough, a couple of days later I received a call from the FFL at the range where we conduct our testing that the pistol had arrived. This is a man who has been a gun dealer for 20 or 25 years. He has seen a lot of guns, and he is not easily impressed. He told me over the telephone that the Nighthawk was one of the nicest guns he had ever seen. Naturally, that just whetted my curiosity, so I beamed myself up to the range just as quickly as I could. (There was no time to dawdle with this one, anyway, because we had promised Nighthawk that we would send it back to them in two weeks. There would be no living with this pistol for several weeks or months as some of the magazine gun writers go. This was going to be as intensive a test as we could cram into two short weeks.)

When I arrived at the range, the owner went into his safe and took out a package, which he laid on the counter in front of me. To my surprise, there was no blow-molded plastic case such as many pistols come in today. Instead, there was a very nice quality, compact Cordura nylon gun case. Although it zips around three sides and folds flat, it isn’t a “gun rug” – there are compartments inside, and a smooth lining rather than a fleece or flocked liner. One of the small pockets held a spare magazine, and behind that was a larger pocket holding a test target, an instruction book, and the obligatory safety folder about not leaving guns unsecured where children can find them. Curiously, however, there was no lock.

The gun case with contents.

There was a smaller zipped pouch on the outside of the bag, and inside that I found a pair of hex wrenches, a fired cartridge case (for guns sold in jurisdictions that require a fired case for “ballistic fingerprinting”), and an adapter for the light rail. More on that later.

Naturally, when fondling a new pistol for the first time the first thing anyone usually does is to cycle the action a few times to get a sense of how smooth it feels. I was no exception … but the pistol was. I don’t own any very high-end pistols but I do own a couple of pistols with respectable pedigrees, and I spent some time fitting the slide to the frame when I built my experimental “let’s see what we can do with a parts kit” pistol. None of this prepared me for the utter smoothness I experienced when I racked the slide on the Nighthawk Custom 10-8. There was no sense of tightness, binding, grittiness, … In short, nothing at all except extremely smooth movement. The trigger, likewise, felt very light and broke cleanly. I’ll have more to say about that below.

Inspecting the pistol, it appeared flawless. The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 model includes the narrow Dawson Light Speed rail. When I first looked at the pistol, I couldn’t believe that the rail was attached with screws. The three screws are clearly there, all right, plainly visible on the bottom surface of the rail. But I couldn’t see any evidence of a joint where the rail mates with the underside of the receiver. Even given that the finish must be applied after the rail has been fitted, the level of craftsmanship displayed in how the rail is attached is remarkable.

The rail is so well-fitted the joint is invisible.

Underside of the rail, showing the three set screws.

And this high level of craftsmanship extends even to the hidden details. After field stripping the Nighthawk Custom 10-8, I looked at the bottom surface of the recoil spring tunnel. And I looked again, then turned the frame to get a different angle and looked yet a third time. It appears that the inside of this part of the receiver must be machined, or at least cleaned up, after the light rail has been attached, because the ends of the three screws are ground almost flush with the surface of the frame and are nearly invisible. Because my digital camera uses auto-focus, I had a lot of difficulty trying to obtain a good photo of this. I hope the photo included here conveys the appearance accurately. I had to look very closely to see that there actually are screws. My initial impression was that this wasn’t a Dawson rail but a look-alike that was manufactured integral with the frame.

Speaking of the frame, in keeping with the price point and intended quality of this pistol, both the frame and slide are forged rather than investment cast. And Nighthawk informed us that they use no MIM parts in this pistol. All small parts are either forgings or machined from tool steel.

The screws holding the rail are almost invisible inside the receiver.

Some of the credit for this feat of legerdemain may go to Nighthawk’s finish, which they call Perma-Kote. To quote from Nighthawk’s web site (rather than try to paraphrase what they have already neatly summarized):

It’s a ceramic based finish that sets the standard in the firearms business. Tested for over 5,000 hours under salt water immersion, as well as 5,000 hours under salt water spray at 40psi, it stayed rust free and still the best looking finish on the market, even after that kind of exposure. We don’t pre-treat the guns by Parkerizing them to turn the metal black so you can’t see it wearing off. Perma Kote™ is applied directly to the prepared metal and it stands on its own just fine. We’ll put it up against any polymer finish on the market.

Perma Kote™ also contains properties for self lubricity. It takes very little lubricant for your gun to run at peak performance if it has Perma Kote™ . We believe that the worst thing that you can do is let your gun run dry, so it is paramount for us to have a finish that would help to compensate for someone not using enough lubricant. The self lubricating properties on Perma Kote™ do just what they were intended to do.

Perhaps because I regard the Nighthawk logo as echoing my screen name on the M1911.ORG forum, I was mildly disappointed that the grip panels did not include the customary image of a hawk against a nighttime moon. Instead, the grip panels are inscribed with the model designation, “10-8.” The grip panels themselves are not checkered, but rather given a somewhat coarser treatment that I would describe as being a cross between checkering and a basket weave pattern. However you describe it, the appearance is unique, and the grips are comfortable to hold and to shoot. The grips are sourced from VZ Grips.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8, with tactical light and Diamondback grip panels.

The front sight of the Nighthawk Custom 10-8 is a Tritium night sight, set in a dovetail. I was surprised to find, though, that the rear sight was neither a night sight nor a white dot sight. Instead, it is a plain black, target-style sight with horizontal serrations on the rear face to reduce reflection and glare. In shooting, it became easy to focus on simply placing the glowing front sight on the target and achieve acceptable center-of-mass hits, but I found the mix of an illuminated front sight with a plain black rear sight to be unusual. The combination worked very well in the low light of the indoor range, but I did not have an opportunity to try it in total darkness. It turns out that the rear sight is a creation of pistolsmith Hilton Yam, and is machined from steel bar stock for durability under duty conditions.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 rear sight.

What is it?

By now you may be wondering what this pistol’s “mission statement” is, and where the model name “10-8” derives from. I wondered the same thing. There is a consortium of current and retired law enforcement officers that has named itself 10-8 Consulting. One of their self-appointed tasks is top quality training and equipment research for law enforcement. The pistol that is the subject of this review was developed by Nighthawk Custom in conjunction with the 10-8 Consulting, with the intention of creating a high quality 1911 platform pistol suited for arduous use as a duty weapon in law enforcement. “10-8” is a radio call code commonly indicating “in service” or “on duty,” hence it’s applicability to a pistol intended primarily to be a duty weapon.

Every detail of the Nighthawk Custom 10-8 appears to have been designed or adapted with the primary goal of building a superlative duty weapon. For example, unlike the current trend to use aluminum triggers that are lightened to the utmost possible extent by removing as much material as possible, the 10-8 uses a solid aluminum trigger with a vertically serrated face. No frills, no bells and no whistles. A duty weapon, after all, doesn’t require resets at the speed of light—it requires reliability. I was surprised to see no overtravel adjustment screw. When I tried out the action, there was no overtravel. How, I wondered, did they accomplish this minor miracle without using an overtravel screw?

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 trigger. Note the absence of an overtravel adjustment screw.

The answer, of course, is that in a way they didn’t. There is no overtravel screw, but there is a concealed overtravel stop stud, which is press fitted into the back of the trigger shoe and adjusted by filing to length. Once adjusted, it cannot be changed by the user (other than by filing it shorter), and it requires no field adjustment. This strikes me as an excellent compromise. Personally, although I have used triggers in some of my pistols that came with overtravel adjustment screws, I never install the screw. I have regarded it as one more thing to get out of adjustment. By designing a stop that can be fine-tuned at the factory but isn’t easily accessible for people to mess around with, Nighthawk Custom has accomplished the end of creating a very crisp trigger without the problems deriving from poorly adjusted overtravel screws.

In another nod toward law enforcement duty use, the Nighthawk Custom 10-8 pistol is equipped with a mainspring housing incorporating a lanyard loop. However, this is not the old WW1 style lanyard loop found on the original M1911 pistols produced for the military. This one is neatly integrated into the mainspring housing so that, when no lanyard is attached, nothing projects outside the standard profile of the pistol to gouge a hand or to catch on clothing or a holster at an inopportune moment. This mainspring housing looked very much like that on the Guncrafters GI 50, and a mainspring housing by Guncrafters that is offered in the Brownells catalog. And, in fact, this mainspring housing is sourced from Guncrafters.

The lanyard loop is neatly tucked away, out of the way until needed.

The thumb safety is modestly extended for ease of operation. The extension isn’t a huge, holster-grabbing flag of a thing, just a minor extension beyond the traditional GI paddle. It’s another subtle touch, squarely aimed at making the 10-8 more user-friendly under duress.

The thumb safety is extended enough to be useful, not enough to get in the way.

Another detail touch that, in my estimation, demonstrates that reliability is paramount in this pistol is that it uses a conventional recoil spring guide rod and plug. No full-length guide rod, no captive spring setup, just a back-to-basics standard length guide rod with a normal recoil spring and a conventional recoil spring plug. I have never been convinced that full-length guide rods add any functional improvement to 1911s, they just look impressive in photos with the slide locked back and allow the manufacturers to sell what many buyers seem to want. But there’s usually no argument that they complicate field stripping the pistol. That’s not an issue with the Nighthawk Custom 10-8. It can be field stripped without tools. I know that it can, because I did it. The barrel bushing is a comfortably snug fit, but it can be turned without a bushing wrench. The ability to field strip and clean a weapon without having to carry around a box full of tools is a decided advantage in a duty weapon.

A welcome sight: A conventional barrel bushing and recoil spring plug.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 does not include an add-on magazine well or “mag chute,” but the edges of the magazine well in the grip frame are nicely beveled to facilitate magazine insertion during “tactical” reloads. The bevel is subtle, but very effective compared to the squared-off mag well edges on “standard” 1911 pistols.

The magazine well is subtly beveled for ease of insertion.

How does it shoot?

Testing was conducted at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut. This is an indoor, underground facility located in a suburb of New Haven and used by a number of area gun clubs and local police departments. The range offers distances up to 75 feet. The 10-8 being a full-size 1911, we conducted our accuracy testing at 75 feet, shooting from a bench using a rest (but not a Ransom rest). Velocity testing was conducted using a Competitive Edge Dynamics (CED) Millennium chronograph, set 15 feet from the muzzle.

Our test pistol was brand new, coming to us directly off the assembly line. Accordingly, before embarking on accuracy testing we ran a number of rounds through it for break-in. The break-in ammunition was a mix of Winchester USA 230-grain FMJ and Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ. We encountered zero malfunctions during break-in.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8, ready to be test fired (by us).

I returned to the range on another day to conduct velocity and accuracy testing. I intentionally did not clean the 10-8 between break-in and testing, as I felt this would provide a more realistic result that might more closely approximate normal usage of a defensive pistol. (I readily concede, however, that the type of person who would buy a Nighthawk is probably more likely than a majority of gun owners in general to ensure that his/her pistol is kept cleaned and properly lubricated, so my “normal ownership” scenario may be somewhat flawed in this case.)

The following table sets forth our results:

The results of the accuracy testing were a disappointment to me, but it is important to note that my disappointment lay with myself, and not with the Nighthawk pistol. Relating me shooting this pistol to the old proverb about not being able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, the Nighthawk Custom 10-8 is the silk purse, and your humble author is the sow’s ear. The test target that arrived with our pistol showed basically a one-hole group … and not even a very ragged one hole. Trying to achieve similar results was a humbling experience.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 with the factory test target.

Craig Gholson of Nighthawk informed us that the test target was a 3-shot group fired at a distance of 15 yards (approximately 14 meters) from a sandbag rest, using 200-grain semi-wadcutter ammunition. The “problem,” in fact, lies entirely with the very excellent Nighthawk trigger. After running the velocity tests, I first essayed some accuracy targets at a distance of 50 feet. My results improved with each magazine, but overall there is no other word to describe them than “dismal.” My very first group (at 50 feet, remember) was 5˝” – with no called fliers. Things got better after that, but in the brief time I had with the pistol I was never able to adapt to the trigger.

When I first shot the 10-8, I realized that the trigger was much lighter than what I am accustomed to. As I have written elsewhere, I regard any pistol I own as being primarily a self-defense pistol, and I set them up accordingly. Typically, I aim for a trigger pull of 4˝ pounds and if I get something around 5 pounds that breaks cleanly I don’t go nuts trying for that last half pound. Consequently, I am accustomed to shooting 1911s with 4˝ to 5 pound triggers. With the Nighthawk I continually felt that the gun was going off before it “should.” I guessed that the trigger must be about 3˝ pounds, and when I took it upstairs and measured it using an RCBS analog trigger pull scale, it consistently measured 31/4 pounds.

That proved I was pretty good at guesstimating the actual pull weight of the trigger, but it didn’t help my shooting. What did help was simply to shoot more … and some more after that. We were under a very tight time constraint to return the test pistol to Nighthawk Custom, so taking the time to shoot several hundred “familiarization” rounds to adjust my muscle memory to the lighter-than-normal (for me) trigger simply wasn’t an option. I moved the targets out to 25 yards, took a deep breath, and tried my level best to simply focus on basics: let the breath halfway out, relax, FOCUS on the front sight, and allow the gun to shoot itself. Eventually I was able to get some groups that I thought were realistic for the pistol, with the best group being the last one I shot before running out of the ammunition I had brought with me. The best group of all was 13/4” and, surprisingly, was fired with Winchester USA (‘white box”) 230-grain FMJ ammunition … which is not usually noted for being especially accurate.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 with our best group of the day.

I asked Nighthawk if this trigger was typical for them, and why such a light trigger had been utilized on what is clearly intended as a duty weapon. Typically, police departments specify trigger pulls of 5 or 6 pounds, and some departments want as high as 10 pounds. Craig Gholson answered that, although all other aspects of the pistol were closely specified by Hilton Yam and the 10-8 Consortium, a trigger pull weight was not specified and so Nighthawk builds the pistol to their normal standard, which is a 3- to 4-pound trigger. However, purchasers can specify any trigger weight they want and Nighthawk will build their pistol accordingly.

During the accuracy testing, just as during break-in, the pistol was 100 percent reliable. There was not a single bobble of any kind. Even the lead semi-wadcutters fed and shot reliably. All testing was conducted using the magazines supplied with the pistol.

And the magazines themselves deserve special mention. Traditional, “standard” 1911 magazines have the witness holes staggered, and they aren’t numbered in any way. Naturally, once a person spends a lot of time with 1911s I suppose he/she eventually takes the time to count rounds and see how many rounds the witness holes actually correspond to. This is not necessary with the Nighthawk magazines. The witness holes neatly line up in a single vertical column, and—wonder of wonders!—they are numbered. No more guessing if the first hole represents one or two or three rounds left. This isn’t a quantum leap of any sort, but simply the kind of basic, down-to-earth, common sense departure from the norm that shows Nighthawk has truly thought about every aspect of their guns, and gone the extra mile (or meter) to make their pistols as user-friendly and as functional as possible. One of the world’s most famous architects wrote a great many years ago that “God is in the details.” Here is an example. If Nighthawk puts this much attention into just their magazines, when they could buy off-the-shelf magazines from one of the several “name brand” magazine manufacturers, how much extra attention and care must they have devoted to the pistol itself?


The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 is a superbly constructed, full-size 1911 pistol that arrives from the factory with a built-in light rail. The Dawson rail, being smaller than the Weaver/Picatinny rails on pistols such as the Caspian Recon Rail and the SIG Granite State Rail, has a better chance of fitting some standard 1911 holsters, although it won’t fit closely-molded leather or Kydex rigs. It accepts the industry standard Surefire X200 tactical lights using the included adapter.

The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 showing the Surefire X200 attached.

In the comparatively brief time the company has been in existence, Nighthawk Custom has developed a reputation for producing some of the finest 1911 platform pistols available. If our test pistol is representative of what the company is producing, their reputation is earned. The Nighthawk Custom 10-8 is without a doubt the smoothest 1911 pistol this writer has ever had the pleasure of shooting.

In closing, I should mention that Competitive Edge Dynamics (CED) has generously made available to The M1911 Pistols Organization one of their shooting chronometers. Because the test facility is underground and illuminated only with strips of artificial light, the chrono will not function using the available light. CED has also provided a supplemental infra-red light source to address that problem. It was most interesting to see how closely the various ammunition selections compared to their advertised velocities.

If you want to discuss or comment on this test, please use the following thread in our Forums Site:




Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, Arkansas 72616

Phone: (Toll Free) 877.268.4867

E-Mail: info@nighthawkcustom.com
Web site: http://www.nighthawkcustom.com

MSRP: $2,495.00


Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
P.O. Box 486,
Orefield, PA 18069-0486

Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Phone: (1) 610-366-9752
Fax: (1) 610-366-9680

Email: info@CEDhk.com
Web site: http://www.CEDhk.com

Shooting Facility

Chris Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437

Phone: (203) 453-1570

Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 1 (Summer '06) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom 10-8 .45 ACP Pistol