|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 4 (Fall '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Heinie Tactical Carry|
Nighthawk Custom's Heinie Tactical Carry Pistol
Another Top-Notch Pistol Continues Nighthawk Custom's String
Reviewed by Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon, )
Once again, The M1911 Pistols Organization is fortunate enough to be among the first to test another new pistol from Nighthawk Custom. The master craftsmen at Nighthawk have developed an enviable reputation for being able to produce high quality pistols to very specific requirements. Because of this, and their willingness to work with demanding customers, Nighthawk Custom has found some of the best-known "names" in the shooting and gunsmithing world coming to them to provide production capacity for master pistolsmiths who cannot possibly produce enough pistols fast enough to satisfy the demand for their work. In the case of the 10-8 pistol we tested approximately six months ago, the master gunsmith behind the pistol was Hilton Yam. Now, Nighthawk Custom has done it again: None other than Richard Heinie has teamed up with Nighthawk to produce two models specified by Heinie with such a backlog that his own shop would have to have a waiting list several years long to satisfy. With Nighthawk's production capacity, prospective purchasers can now buy a Heinie-spec pistol without waiting for the arrival of the next ice age.
The two Heinie-spec pistols are the Personal Defense Pistol (PDP), a 4¼-inch Commander length pistol, and the Tactical Carry Pistol, which is a 5-inch Government-size 1911. The model we received for testing was the Tactical Carry.
Opening the box yielded no immediate surprises. The pistol comes in one of Nighthawk Custom's soft-sided, folding pistol cases. Inside we found the usual array of an instruction book, a safety lock, the obligatory child handgun safety act notice, a small zip-lock bag containing an Allen key to fit the hex screws attaching the grip panels to the pistol, a test target, and a spare magazine. And ... a spare extractor! (More on that later.)
The surprises began to unfold as we inspected the pistol itself. It is a 1911 and there's no mistaking it for anything other than a 1911, but the execution entails a number of subtle details that depart just slightly from the standard M1911/M1911A1 mold. Perhaps the most immediately obvious of these is the recoil spring plug. This pistol, as befits a pistol intended for use in the real world (as opposed to a dedicated range and/or competition pistol) utilizes a more or less standard recoil system with a standard guide rod and a front-loading recoil spring plug that is retained by the barrel bushing. However, where a standard recoil spring plug has a reverse flange around its perimeter and a raised center section, so that it can be inserted in any orientation, the Heinie Tactical Carry has a recoil spring plug that is flush right to the edges, all the way around except for a recessed indentation that is precisely formed to receive the exact shape of the barrel bushing flange. The exposed end of the plug is engraved with the 'H' that characterizes Heinie products. The barrel bushing is thicker than standard, with a neat carry bevel that appears perfectly in keeping with the utilitarian nature of the pistol. The pistol itself is finished in a matte black, with both the barrel bushing and recoil spring plug nicely done in stainless steel with a vertical brushed finish as a contrast. The bushing is such a tight fit to the plug that from some angles they appear to be a single, monolithic part. The muzzle itself does not extend beyond the barrel bushing but ends perfectly flush with it, and is finished off with a neat crown that mirrors the bevel on the outer edge of the bushing.
The slide is almost devoid of decoration. Both sides are smooth from the muzzle to the rear cocking serrations. (Mercifully, Heinie has had the wisdom to forego the current tendency to embellish the slide with front cocking serrations.) Behind the cocking serrations on each side of the slide is a subtle repeat of the Heinie 'H' logo. The forward portion of the slide is relieved, but not in the traditional M1911 contour. The relief cuts have a tight 90-degree radius aligned with the front of the receiver, and from there forward the line runs perfectly horizontal. Readers familiar with the slide cut referred to by Caspian Arms as a "Ball Cut" will know immediately what this slide looks like. The top of the slide has a flat, with fine ribs running the length of the pistol to reduce glare and reflection.
On the right side of the receiver, the end of the slide stop pin is cut off flush with the surface of the receiver and the receiver itself is relieved around the pin to provide a dished recess into which the pin can be pushed to start removal.
The sights are, as might be anticipated, Heinie Slant-Pro sights. One of only two options on this model is tritium inserts for the sights. Our test pistol was so equipped. The front sight has a single insert, which is typical; the rear sight, rather than having a pair of inserts flanking the notch, instead has a single insert directly beneath the notch. This arrangement is referred to as a "Straight Eight" layout. We'll say more about it later in our review. The base model is equipped with all black sights.
Our test pistol wore checkered cocobolo grips bearing the Heinie logo. The only other option for this pistol is to substitute Alumagrips for the cocobolo. The grips are attached using hex head screws. The bottom end of the grip frame has been truncated (chopped off, in fact), and replaced with a neat magazine well. The grip panels, rather then being cut square at the bottom to end against the magazine well, instead fit outside of it so that the lower end of the grip frame doesn't look nearly as much like a bludgeon as many contemporary race guns with huge, competition-oriented magazine wells seem to appear.
What is it?
The Heinie Tactical Carry Pistol is not an inexpensive pistol, yet on the outside it doesn't appear to offer much in the way of "bells and whistles." This pistol clearly isn't a toy box, a showplace for every new-fangled, must-have, "tactical" gizmo known to mankind. It isn't a race gun. It doesn't have adjustable sights, so it isn't a bullseye target pistol. What is it, then?
This question is perhaps best answered directly from Nighthawk Custom's own description of the pistol, taken from their web site:
This pistol's mission apparently is to be carried, by individuals who recognize and demand the ultimate in both craftsmanship and reliability. The name itself says that the pistol is for "tactical carry," and the execution shows it. Rather than take a run-of-the-mill pistol and attempt to make it "tactical" (or "tacticool"?) by dressing it up with gadgets (usually of dubious tactical benefit), Heinie and Nighthawk Custom have produced a pistol that embodies what "tactical" is really about: quality, and reliability. Gadgets are of zero tactical value if the pistol on which they are installed isn't 100 percent reliable and sufficiently accurate to hit the intended target. This pistol claims to be a pistol that "walks the talk," as it were. Although we didn't have the luxury of carrying the pistol for an extended period of time, the results of our range testing may help answer the question of how well the pistol lives up to its mission statement.
Under the hood
Every aspect of this pistol appeared to have been worked on. While nothing as drastic as "melting" has been performed, all sharp edges on this pistol have been carefully dehorned so there isn't a single sharp edge to be found. The rear surfaces of the rear sight and the slide have been serrated to reduce glare. The serrations extend across the end of the extractor and, with admirable foresight, Nighthawk includes in the package a spare extractor, already serrated to match the slide. It is attention to details such as this that differentiate a truly exceptional pistol from just a "very good" one.
The barrel itself is sourced from Heinie and is (of course) "match grade." The barrel is stainless steel. I don't know why, but this surprised me. Old biases die hard, I suppose, and although I own pistols with stainless steel barrels, I have always been somewhat of the opinion that carbon steel barrels are somehow "better" for the purpose. Looking at the range results this barrel turned in, though, it is difficult to imagine how a different barrel could be better.
Mechanically, this pistol is very smooth. There is no discernable "slop" in the fit of the slide to the receiver, or the barrel bushing to the slide, or the barrel to the bushing. Cycling the slide by hand feels absolutely smooth, with no movement other than straight fore and aft, no notchiness, and no grittiness whatsoever. Cycling the slide by hand did, however, feel slightly heavier than normal, especially for such a smooth-operating pistol. Curious, I fired off an e-mail to Nighthawk Custom asking what the recoil spring rate is. The answer came back almost immediately: 17 pounds. There was no explanation offered for this, nor had I requested one. Since the pistol is built to Richard Heinie's specifications, I can only assume that this is what he recommends, and I am not about to dispute his specification. I will simply note that the "standard" for a Government model 1911 is for a 16-pound recoil spring.
The magazines are manufactured by ACT in Italy, and feature a unique steel follower with a skirted front that virtually eliminates any possibility of the follower doing a nosedive under the last round.
How does it shoot?
As is our protocol at M1911.ORG pistol with barrels 4¼ inch and longer are fired for accuracy at a distance of 75 feet, while shorter pistols (on the theory that they are probably more suited and selected for self defense carry rather than long-range accuracy) are tested at a distance of 25 feet. The lighting at an interior range usually cannot compare with outdoor, natural daylight. Accordingly, while I give you my word that I worked hard to deliver the accuracy I feel this pistol is capable of, my results were not what I had hoped for or expected. I will not make the usual statement I see in printed magazines following a report of truly horrendous groups fired outdoors, to the effect that the gun is "obviously" capable of doing better except for ... (fill in the excuse of your choice). The results below are what I was able to obtain. They were fired indoors, from a rest, and I feel that I gave it my best effort. The shooter is over 60 years old and wears glasses for reading but not for driving. I shoot wearing plain shooting glasses, not prescription eyewear. With those as the operational parameters, here are the results:
I was surprised to see that both Sellier & Bellot FMJ and Speer Gold Dot outperformed the lead semi-wadcutters, especially as Craig at Nighthawk had specifically suggested that I shoot some wadcutter ammo because it would really make the pistol shine. My lead semi-wadcutter ammunition, though, was not hand-loaded. It was commercially bought, remanufactured ammunition. It was also the first box of a new batch from UltraMax, and I think I am going to have to watch this batch closely. Their lead semi-wadcutter ammo usually feeds flawlessly through any 1911 I put it in, but in this test the only stoppage I experienced came from a round of the UltraMax. The round simply wouldn't chamber. I set it aside and continued my accuracy testing with a replacement round, but upon closer examination after I was finished with my formal accuracy testing I could clearly see that the case wasn't properly crimped. In fact, with the action held open I couldn't manually push the round into the chamber.
It was a very pleasant surprise to find that the sights were perfectly regulated (for me), so that a 6:00 o'clock hold on a 3-inch bullseye (I used NRA B-2 50-foot pistol targets set out at 75 feet for the test targets) resulted in the groups generally being more or less centered on the bullseye, or at least clustered near its edge. In some informal rapid fire drills at 25 feet, aligning the sights on the 'X' resulted in obliterating the bullseye after about three magazines of mixed loads. If I ever decide to apply for a Rhode Island concealed carry license (which requires shooting a qualifying target at a distance of 75 feet), this would be the perfect pistol. Both Chris and Charlie at the range tried the Heinie, too, and they both liked it very much. Charlie said it makes him shoot better, and that it shoots better than his compensated, match 1911. As for Chris ...
I also found that (a bit to my surprise, I'll admit) I really like the Heinie Slant-Pro "Straight Eight" sights. When I previously tested a Nighthawk Custom 10-8 pistol, I came in for some criticism when I wrote that I did not particularly care for the sights on that pistol, which were a single white dot for the front and an all black rear sight. The argument in its favor was that it's easier to pick up one white dot than it is to try to align three. Perhaps — but I found it awkward and not especially accurate. In contrast, the Straight Eight setup, in which the front sight has a single (tritium) dot and the rear sight also has a single dot, centered just below the rear sight notch, is intuitive, very quick to pick up, and a joy to shoot. Just put the front dot over the rear dot and put the bullseye above the front dot. Three circles in a vertical row, and you're on target. It's simple, it's logical, and (best of all) it works.
Most of what I could write regarding the Nighthawk Custom Heinie Tactical Carry Pistol would be in large measure regurgitating what I wrote several months ago about the Nighthawk Custom 10-8 pistol. The TCP represents a very highly tuned rendition of what is fundamentally a Government model 1911 pistol ... with several refinements. The "fit and finish" of the pistol are impeccable, as is the function. After throwing several different brands and types of mass-produced ammunition at the pistol, it is notable that the only malfunction during the entire test period was a single round that was so badly out of spec that it was visible with the naked eye.
In short, the Nighthawk/Heinie TCP is what it claims to be: a pistol that is made to be carried on a daily basis. ... the ultimate government size carry gun. This is a pistol that no owner would ever need to explain or to apologize for carrying, and it is a pistol that (unlike many others in the marketplace) I believe could be trusted for self-defense carry and use right out of the box. In the author's opinion, that's the way every pistol should be but, sadly, often are not.
For all the accolades I could heap on this pistol, perhaps out of necessity to maintain my reputation as an unrepentant curmudgeon I must acknowledge that there were a few things I did not like about it. These were not issues of function or fit or finish, nor any problems with reliability. Rather, given the stated purpose of the pistol-to be a "tactical" carry pistol — I felt that some of the custom touches that render the pistol so special were actually out of place. (Perhaps "out of synch with the intended mission" is a better way to phrase it.) The recessed slide stop end is one example, albeit minor. It looks nice, but it also makes it incrementally more difficult to punch out the slide stop — especially if one has large, fat fingers.
While I applaud without reservation the choice of a conventional (short) recoil spring guide rod, I am not as enthusiastic about the custom-fitted recoil spring plug. Precisely because it is so carefully fitted, it must be aligned exactly correctly before the barrel bushing flange will seat. It is difficult enough to accomplish this at the workbench. It was orders of magnitude more difficult on the shooting bench, without access to a full array of tools, and I submit that it would be yet more difficult still in the field, in a "tactical" situation. Likewise the hex-head grip screws. They look great, but they require an Allen key to remove or to tighten.
One of the amazing things about John Moses Browning's original M1911 design is that the pistol was designed so that it could be disassembled using its own parts as tools. In a true tactical situation, that represents a tremendous tactical advantage. Every deviation from Browning's original design that renders the pistol more difficult to service under field conditions detracts from its appeal as a "tactical" weapon. This is the basis for my reservations about some of the details of this pistol. Fortunately, for those who might agree, standard grip screws and recoil spring plugs are readily available and can be installed on the pistol without disturbing any of the elements of exceptional craftsmanship that make this pistol such a joy to shoot. I'm certain that I'll hear the groans emanating from both the Nighthawk Custom and Heinie shops when this review hits the Internet but, in all honesty, I would replace the aforementioned parts with "standard" parts in the interest of being able to more easily work on the pistol any time, anywhere.
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|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 4 (Fall '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Heinie Tactical Carry|