Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 1 (Winter '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Dominator

Nighthawk Custom Dominator

"Striving for Perfection in the 1911 Marketplace"

A Gun Test by Steve Clark (Rio Vista Slim, )

The first semi-automatic handgun that I ever fired was a Colt 1911A1 Government Model of military vintage. This happened many years ago, and at that time, Colt was pretty much the "only game in town," if you wanted a 1911-type pistol. The ensuing years have seen the popularity of the almost 100 year old warhorse grow to an astonishing level. Various gun manufacturers have added 1911s to their inventories, while brand new ventures have been successful based solely on their concepts of what a 1911 should be, in today's marketplace. Custom gun builders have answered the requests of the discerning 1911 buyer with an amazing array of pistols.

Nighthawk Custom is a relative new-comer to the world of custom built 1911s. The Nighthawk team, however, has vast experience in the art of making and assembling the components of a custom built 1911. The Talon-series of pistols established the benchmark for Nighthawk design and reliability. Superb customer service, both before and after the sale, insures that first-time customers will most likely be repeat customers. The gunsmiths at Nighthawk take pride in each gun that leaves their Berryville, Arkansas facility, and nowhere is this more evident than with the new Dominator that I received for testing and review.

While I have a rather extensive background with 1911-type pistols in general, my experience with 'high end' custom handguns is admittedly limited. However, any trepidation I had was quickly dispelled by store manager Bill Lamb's smile as I entered Great Guns in Burleson, Texas. He had not only received the new pistol, but the current issue of a gun industry magazine that featured the Dominator on its cover. Plus, Bill's daughter Haley had given the Dominator her personal 'seal of approval', earlier in the day. (Just to clarify this: The cover photo of that magazine was from Nighthawk's web site, and was an announcement of the new pistol. Other than information gleaned from the folks at Nighthawk, no other details were given. So M1911.ORG is the first publication to bring you a review of this pistol.)

The Pistol

This photo shows the left side of the Nighthawk Dominator.

The right side of the Nighthawk Dominator is shown in this photo.This photo shows the left side of the Nighthawk Dominator.

The NHC Dominator is a full size, 5 inch (127mm) barreled 1911, utilizing steel components throughout, with absolutely no MIM parts. The photographs show a two-tone pistol, with a de-horned black Perma-Koted slide hand fit to a similarly de-horned hard chromed frame.

The slide features a fully adjustable rear sight with white outlined yellow tritium inserts. The anti-snag rear blade is pyramid shaped, and is fully serrated horizontally for reduced glare. A serrated sighting plane leads to the dove-tailed front sight. This sight is equipped with a white outlined green tritium insert. The edges of the front sight are blended perfectly into the outline of the slide. Front and rear slanted cocking serrations bracket the Nighthawk Custom logo and name on the left side of the pistol, and the Dominator name on the right side.

The Match Grade barrel and bushing have been crowned and beveled at the muzzle. This is one of those aesthetic touches that distinguish a top-end pistol from the rest of the pack.

The rear of the slide reflects the craftsmanship that is evident in the hand-cut serrations. I had to point out the location of the rear of the extractor to one of Bill Lamb's customers, as he couldn't see it because of the excellent alignment of those serrations.

The hard chromed frame shows the attention to detail that the master gunsmiths at Nighthawk Custom are known for. Both the mainspring housing and the front strap are checkered at 25 lines per inch. Close-up photography of both areas of the gun attests to fine detail work.

Mainspring housing.

Front strap.

Further examination of the frame shows the upswept beavertail grip safety (with memory swell) and the cocobolo laser engraved stocks (w/ Nighthawk Custom logo). This photo also shows the hand checkering on the mainspring housing and front strap from a side angle.

One of the first things that I do with a test pistol is to try the trigger. The Dominator trigger has just the barest of take-up before a crisp, 4 pound release (1.81 kilograms). Although the trigger has an adjustable over-travel screw, no adjustment was necessary. This photograph also shows the serrated and extended magazine release button. (The discoloration that appears to be a scratch is merely unburned powder residue.)

The single left hand thumb/slide safety engages quite positively, and due to its serrated face, disengages easily when preparing to fire the weapon.

Close-up photograph showing the extended shelf of the thumb/slide safety.

The previously mentioned adjustable rear sight is mounted in a Bo-Mar sight cut. It blends perfectly with the rest of the top of the slide, and the adjustment screws are easily accessible. Further examination of this photo shows the fine detail of the rear cocking serrations.

The previously mentioned adjustable rear sight is mounted in a Bo-Mar sight cut. It blends perfectly with the rest of the top of the slide, and the adjustment screws are easily accessible. Further examination of this photo shows the fine detail of the rear cocking serrations.

At the Range

The owner's manual that accompanies the Nighthawk Custom Dominator states that prior to shipment, the pistol is test fired a minimum of 75 rounds. The test target is included with each pistol.

After test firing the pistol, Nighthawk cleans and re-lubricates the weapon for shipment. The manual states that 500 rounds should be fired through the gun before the first cleaning. Therefore, I dispensed with my usual test pistol protocol, and proceeded directly to my home range to begin accuracy and chronograph testing.

The day was crystal clear, with the temperature at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). A light northerly breeze was blowing at 5 miles per hour (8.04 kilometers per hour). Humidity was at a comfortable 51%. These weather conditions are necessarily given, as most hand loaders know that extreme variations in temperature and humidity can affect the outcome of chronographic readings.

The Nighthawk manual also states that their guns undergo a wide variety of tests, prior to shipping. However, Speer products, hand loads, ammunition made with aluminum or steel cases, and Mag Tech ammo are not guaranteed to perform reliably in Nighthawk handguns. Mind you, NHC advises that you are welcome to shoot what you want through their pistols (assuming correct caliber, etc.), they merely point out that they don't guarantee reliable operation with those types of ammunition. Although I did test Speer 230 gr. GDHP ammunition in the Dominator (without incident), I decided to forego the use of Wolf 230 gr. FMJ ammo.

I normally start a shooting session with a new gun by firing at short range, to get a feel for the pistol, and to see if any problems might be present.

FBI B-27 target engaged at 21 feet (7 yards, 6.4 meters). Sixteen rounds of Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ were fired, from a two-handed modified Weaver stance.

All accuracy testing was done from a distance of 25 yards (22.86 meters) from a sand-bagged rest. Each group of ammunition was fired in 5 round strings (with no throw-away shots), and the best group, out of three strings fired, was used in the attached table. Chronograph results were obtained from firing 20 round strings, in order to obtain a more accurate standard deviation figure.

Ammo donated by:

The accuracy of the NHC Dominator is astonishing. Perhaps it was a combination of the perfect weather and my unusually calm demeanor, but I felt as if I couldn't miss. The sights were regulated correctly for most of the loads that I was firing, so there was no need to adjust the rear sight. Minor variations in bullet strike were expected.

During this range test, 100 rounds of Winchester 230 gr. FMJ ammunition were fired. Armscor Precision 230 gr. FMJ ammo accounted for an additional 150 rounds expended. Two 50 round boxes of Federal American Eagle 230 gr. FMJ cartridges were shot at various times during the test. Finally, 40 cartridges apiece of the Taurus, Speer, Hornady, and Federal Hydra-Shok ammunition were shot during this evaluation.

To round out the shooting test, I mixed and matched several different magazines, each one full of the various brands tested, along with 40 rounds of one of my favorite defensive loads. The Federal 165 gr. Expanding Full Metal Jacket cartridge has always performed well in my personal guns. Because of this fact, I fired 40 rounds of this brand in fading twilight, in order to see how well the tritium inserts performed with the adjustable sights. I fired at a B-27 target with an eight inch Shoot-N-C pasted over the X-ring. Discharging the pistol, while moving, I shot at ranges from a few feet to about 20 yards. The excellent trigger of the NHC Dominator remained at a constant 4 pounds for the duration of the tests. The results on the target were quite gratifying.

Target engaged at twilight, 09 March 2007.

There were no malfunctions of any kind during my range test of the Nighthawk Custom Dominator.

*Since the Dominator is equipped with a standard length guide rod and conventional recoil spring plug, no special instructions or procedures are necessary for field stripping this model. While apart for cleaning, I did want to photograph the relative positions between the barrel and the feed ramp. Although the barrel is propped up in this position, one can still appreciate the skill that goes into mating the barrel with the slide and frame.


The Dominator comes in a Nighthawk Custom Pistol Rug. This handsome accessory has zippered access to the main compartment, which also contains two large pockets on either side, as well as eight magazine compartments. The pistol was equipped with two 8 round ACT-MAG/ PSI black magazines. Both of these have extended polymer base pads, and both functioned as intended during the test. In addition, one of the larger interior pockets holds the test target from Nighthawk, while the other pocket stores the owner's manual and accompanying paperwork. Finally, there is a large outer pocket, suitable for the storage of a couple of boxes of ammo.

My initial reaction to the NHC Dominator was positive, overall. I admit that I had some misgivings about the 25 line per inch checkering on the front strap. While holding the pistol for the first time, at Great Guns, I commented on the "bite" that I was feeling from that checkering. When the shooting tests commenced, I had a pair of gloves on stand-by, but they were not needed. The combination of the front strap and mainspring housing checkering provides a firm, unchanging grip on the pistol which aided me in follow-up shots and accuracy. Over 500 rounds of mostly 230 gr. ball ammunition didn't leave a mark anywhere on either hand.

The sights came from Nighthawk regulated perfectly to the ammunition that I was using. Those sights are easily picked up and quite visible in daylight or dark. Had the need arisen for me to use the adjustments on the rear sight, that chore would have been quickly accomplished.

Shooting from early morning until after dark, I had the opportunity to put the non-glare features of the pistol to a variety of lighting tests. I never lost the sights due to glare, and even with a slight coating of powder residue, the tritium inserts glowed reassuringly as the light faded.

After slightly over 500 rounds of various loads from several manufacturers, the pistol cleaned up quickly. The hard chrome frame and black Perma-Kote slide displayed no tool marks whatsoever. Disassembly and reassembly were effortless, in that the components are so well-fit at Nighthawk's facility.

It goes without saying that the hard chrome finish of the frame withstood my brief test. The Perma-Kote slide appears, as well, to have handled the rigors of an extended range test over a short period of time. In fact, the only part of the pistol that showed any signs of wear was the spring plug. There is a slight mark on the rear of that part, which is hidden from view when the gun is assembled.

Aesthetically speaking, the Nighthawk Custom Dominator has all of the features that I appreciate in a quality 1911. The only thing that I wish was different is the presence of front cocking serrations. While admittedly a rather small "nit" to pick, I have my preferences, and I like my pistols unadorned toward the front of the slide.

The suggested retail price of the Dominator is $2,775.00 U.S. dollars. Admittedly, that's quite a tidy sum. Bill Lamb and I were discussing the relative costs of things, when I picked the pistol up. Taking into account the quality of the materials used, the hand fitting, and the work of master gunsmiths that bring it all together, then that sum is a reasonable one, in our opinion.

The Nighthawk Custom Dominator is the finest 1911 that I have ever shot. Its accuracy is phenomenal, rivaling the best that I was ever able to achieve with tuned revolvers and the sharper eyes of my youth. It feels better in my hand than any 1911 I have owned or shot. It is balanced perfectly, and comes to point naturally and effortlessly. I cannot recommend it enough.


I would like to thank all the fine folks at Nighthawk Custom for providing us with this exceptional pistol. Craig got this test on the right track by contacting John, who passed the ball to me. Particular thanks go to Robin, who spoke with me by phone, and kept me up to speed by e-mail. I appreciate all of you, and I'm grateful for your assistance.

Once again, I am indebted to Ivan Walcott at Advanced Tactical Firearms for his donation of the fine Armscor Precision ammunition used during this test. This is great ammo, Ivan, and I am "beating the drum" for you, every chance that I get. Thanks again.

Additionally, the Hornady Mfg. Co. deserves recognition for the donation of their +P 200 gr. TAP ammunition. This ammo represents a great stride forward in the development of jacketed hollow point cartridges, and I am most appreciative for the opportunity to utilize it in my tests.

Charles Hardy and the great folks at Competitive Edge Dynamics are deserving of my thanks, as well. When "someone" shot my diffuser screen, they got the replacement parts out to me in record time. Thank you, CED!

Last, but far from least, is my friend Bill Lamb. Without Bill's assistance (and the help from his lovely daughter, Haley) I would be unable to get the guns to do these tests. Great Guns is an outstanding store, and it is because of wonderful folks like Bill and Haley. My sincere thanks go out to both of you.

You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this 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


Armscor Ammo

Advanced Tactical Firearms
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060

Phone: 775-537-1444
Fax: 775-537-1446
Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com

Hornady Ammo

Hornady Mfg. Co
P.O. Box 1848,
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848

Phone: 1-800-338-3220
Fax: (1) 308-382-5761

Email: webmaster@hornady.comm
Web site: http://www.hornady.com


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

Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 1 (Winter '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Dominator