|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Vickers Tactical Pistol|
Nighthawk Custom Vickers Tactical .45ACP pistol
Reviewed by Steve Shields (Wichaka, )
A month or so ago, John the beloved "El Comandante" of the M1911.ORG (The M1911 Pistols Organization) called me out of the blue and asked if I was interested in evaluating and writing an article on a new model that Nighthawk Custom would be putting out. I was honest; I don't get to play with $3,000 guns much - well ok never. I told him I would evaluate it as I would anything else, not playing any favorites just because they advertise on the forum. I had heard of Nighthawk, and who formed the company but have never had a chance to fire any of their pistols.
Let me state something from the start, I don't own any high end 1911's, but have shot many from some of the top custom makers of our time, along with some of the high end production stuff, from Wilson, Baer, Brown etc. So I was very interested in what Nighthawk had to offer.
The next call I got was from none other than Ron Phillips himself, telling me the gun was on the way, the brand new Nighthawk Custom Vickers Tactical and to give Larry Vickers a call to discuss the pistol with him. In talking with Larry, he told me why the gun was set up a certain way, which I will get into later, and if I had any questions or problems during the testing procedure to call either him or Ron.
When the Vickers Tactical arrived to me, most of the guys in my department saw the box with Nighthawk Custom on it, and were drooling before the box got out of the hand of the UPS driver. It came out of the box in a nice looking small range type bag, with the Nighthawk logo on it. Open it up, and it has many pockets for magazines etc.
The bag was full of other things as well.
First is the bag of information about the grips. Inside there's information and instructions about the grips on the gun, which happen to be made by Gunner Grips. They come sharp, but there's sandpaper included to soften the edges and points to your liking. As you notice the grips on this model are green, but there is a choice of other colors. They are an ok fit to the mag well, but then the mag well on the Vickers Tactical is pretty unique, as you will soon see.
The gun comes with two 8 round magazines made by ACT for Nighthawk. They seem to be of good quality. Springs show good pressure, and the base pad looks to be somewhat functional. However, if you have a jam while using an ACT magazine that requires you to strip the magazine out, it would be a bit tough as there's not much to grab onto, because the magazine well pretty much engulfs the base pad. The part I really like is the way they come apart. By removing the base pad, all the parts come out the bottom - this makes for easy cleaning.
During the testing phase, the magazines worked 100%. We didn't experience even one problem.
The next item in the Vickers Tactical bag was an extra extractor, which happens to be tuned, fitted, and serrated on the end to match the serrations on the back of the slide. It's a nice touch, and a good decision on including a useful, added extra to the already nice package.
There's the all-important Nighthawk Custom owners manual, special instructions sheet, an offer to save some money on purchasing extra ACT magazines, a brochure about youth gun safety, and last but certainly not least - the famed test target.
I can tell what you're saying right about now; "Come on, let's get on with it and see the gun!" Ok, let's take a look;
I'm a guy who wants a gun to be reliable first and good looking second. I like a gun to be plain, yet very functional for which it is made for - combat shooting. The Vickers Tactical is all of the above. Nothing flashy, all business with a few frills added in.
When I got the gun I called Ron and talked to him about what I could do with the gun, as to testing. He told me the gun was sold, but short of running it over with a semi, to have at it.
All my guns are duty type guns, meaning they will see a holster or two, be carried in all types of weather, under all types of conditions - and I expect them all to go bang every time. I have a few friends that have some high-end custom 1911's. They keep them in a safe, put them in a range bag to transport to the range, shoot, then back home to clean, and back in the safe. I do not treat mine that way; they are all used but not abused. I conducted the test of the Vickers Tactical the same way I treat my own guns. So be assured, during the test of this gun, it was indeed used - but nowhere near abused.
We also discussed the coating, which Nighthawk calls "Perma Kote." It's a ceramic-based coating that is very tough. I had the gun in two types of holsters during the testing phase, one leather and the other a kydex type ... not a mark was left - 'nary a blemish.
Nighthawk's web site explains it best;
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.
After running 700+ rounds through the gun, the magwell showed some signs of the finish coming off, and some marks were forming around the ejection port as well. But to be fair, that'll happen with almost any gun in those areas. I'm still sold on the finish!
As you can see from the first look, the Vickers Tactical is a very plain looking 1911, for me anyway. I like the finish very much, as it's not too shiny or dull. It even looks durable. All the edges are lightly melted, but not over done as I have seen on other 1911's. I like the sharpness taken off a gun, but no more. This one is done exactly how I like mine. You can still see the classic 1911 lines.
The slide racks like buttering bread, very smooth. It felt a bit snug, but there was no grittiness or any binding felt, just an extremely nice action.
I'm not a fan of front cocking serrations, but these are the best I've seen in awhile. One of my production 1911's came with them standard from the factory, and they are excessively sharp. When practicing malfunction drills with mine, the fingers can become tender in a hurry. But not with the Vickers Tactical; they are lightly done with still enough grip to get any function done in a hurry, without any trauma to the fingers. I practiced some malfunction drills for about 30 minutes with the Vickers Tactical and my fingers were still good to go, with no tenderness felt.
I noticed many things right off. First it didn't have a full-length guide rod. Larry mentioned that he believes true combat guns should be set up this way in case they need to be stripped in the field. Good point. I couldn't agree more.
The next significant feature are the serrations on the topside of the slide. This is an extra touch that's not necessary, but it gives the pistol a very nice professional look. They are cut very precisely, and set the gun off nicely.
To match the top of the slide, Nighthawk Customs added the same treatment to the rear of the slide. Again, it's a nice touch, but not necessary. The lines are clean and crisp. Notice that the end of the extractor matches perfectly with the rest of the serrations.
Also notice in the above photo the fit of the slide to the frame. There is no slop there. In fact, with just the slide on the bare frame, I was unable to detect any movement. I had two other people check for slop, and neither could feel anything.
You'll notice there's a red dot on the slide to tell you when the gun is in the firing mode or safety off. I think this needs to go, no on second thought.....this really needs to go! The Vickers Tactical is a combat fighting pistol not a cap gun, we all know when the gun is ready to fire. If someone hasn't figured that out by now, me thinks they should stay with cap guns.
Here are some photos showing the detail of the fit and finish of the grip safety, hammer, sear, and slide stop pins.
As you'll notice, the Vickers Tactical has night sights from none other than Novak. I have Novak sights on most of my 1911's, so am quite familiar with the product, and the sight picture they offer. Novak now offers a wide notch version for the rear sight, and I have been very impressed with the improved sight picture that option offers. I believe the wide notch Novak should be added to the list of options for this gun.
Now for the one of the best things about this gun - the fit of the bushing to that remarkable recessed barrel muzzle. It is a great bushing to barrel fit. When I first saw it, I had to look closely to find the seam where the barrel ends and the bushing starts. That's how close this fit it is.
I know that some people will claim that it's too tight for combat work. I disagree. I fit my bushings to .001" - and if you think that's a tight fit, using my dial calipers the Vickers Tactical measured 0.581" at the muzzle, and 0.5815" for the bushing. That, folks, is a very close tolerance fit! Yet it's fitted so smoothly that the bushing can be removed from the slide without a bushing wrench.
I also very much like their decision to go with a smooth faced recoil spring plug. This is another cosmetic feature, but it really completes the front end of this gun.
Looking at the frame you'll notice the integral plunger tube, the extended ejector, and the nice contour and melted edge of the thumb safety. There is attention to detail throughout this particular 1911 but, again, nothing seems to be over done.
The hammer has a unique look, which to me would take some getting used to.
The Vickers Tactical trigger is a solid type unit designed by Nighthawk Custom, with the adjustment hidden on the backside, so one won't be tempted to mess with it. I'm starting to lean toward solid triggers, because they have fewer places for dirt & grime to set up residence. The pull is crisp, as it should be, with no noticeable creep, breaking at 4 1/4lbs every time for 5 straight pulls.
You'll also notice the mag release button. It is slightly longer, or extended, for a sure and positive mag release. I have these on all my duty guns. Don't worry about accidental release of a mag when it's in a holster. I've yet to have that happen. It's not extended anywhere near where it could possibly interfere with a holster and release the magazine by accident
I have heard all sorts of comments about this style of slide stop. I happen to really like the shelf style slide stops. It gives the thumb something very positive to grip on to when dropping the slide, and they are very easy to find during mag changes. I use the support hand thumb to drop the slide, and find this method is a bit faster, as your support hand is already in position to fire.
The other best thing about Nighthawk Vickers Tactical is the magazine well. It's not an add on, it's built into the frame. This is a Caspian frame, and they offer a model to the general public that is very close to this one for your own build up. If I were to build a 1911 from the ground up, this is the frame I would choose for a combat fighting pistol. The magazine well is what I would call a perfect blend of function, without going over size. I just wish someone would make a set of grips that would flush fit with it.
The mainspring housing is pretty distinctive as well, from the lanyard loop to the fit which becomes part of the mag well. The checkering is very well done, without being overly aggressive. I prefer a 30 lpi checker job, as it won't leave a crosshatch pattern on your palm, which can make it a bit sore after an extended shooting session.
The rounded edge of the butt of the housing is a big plus in my book. Sometimes the sharp edge of the housing can dig into the heel of my hand; not so with the Vickers Tactical - it is nicely rolled.
The checkering on the grip strap matches that of the mag well - not overly aggressive, it gives a good balance of grip strength, yet won't grab onto your fingers. I find some checkering that is too aggressive, makes it hard to obtain that all-important initial grip right out of the holster because it tends to grab the fingers and not let them slide around the grip strap.
The barrel shows a very good throat job. It swallowed up everything I stuffed into it, including the old Speer "Flying Ash Trays" (200gr HP), and Cor-Bon's 185 gr HP that has a very flat nose to it.
Overall I really couldn't think of anything that was a major negative about this pistol, and only a couple of very minor items. The first of these is the serrations on the top and rear of the slide - these are really not necessary for a combat fighting pistol. The other is the rear Novak sight. There is nothing wrong with a Novak sight, but I wish they would offer a few options. Other than what it came with, I'd like to see them offer the option of a plain black rear, or a wide notch rear in either plain black or choice of night sight: 2 dot or bar across the bottom of the notch.
One other item worth mentioning is the lack of an ambidextrous manual safety. Touché' to Nighthawk and Larry Vickers for not putting one on this very fine pistol. I personally think ambi safeties are overrated, and not necessary for a combat pistol. With the very nice contoured and extended thumb safety on the Vickers Tactical, one can manipulate it very easy with the trigger finger of the left hand. Or, in a pinch, use your belt or some other object.
How it shoots
Two other members from our forum agreed to help me out with testing the Vickers Tactical - although I didn't exactly have to twist their arms to shoot it! We put 700+ rounds through it during two different shooting sessions, without a cleaning in between. Besides using the magazines supplied with the gun, which were ACT, we also used some stock Colt, Metalform 7- & 10-rounders, Metalform 7-rounders with the Wolff spring update, Wilson 47D's, Metalform magazine bodies with Wilson's 8 round conversions, and some unknown make of magazines that have given other guns problems, along with 10 different types of rounds. There was only one small hiccup to report. The 185gr Cor-Bon HP has quite a flat nose to it. The initial loading of the first round out of the magazine didn't want to chamber, but a slight push on the slide and it seated. After the initial first round, no other problems were experienced with the Cor-Bon.
The first session, forum member jazor and I went out and shot the Vickers Tactical until it was dark. We didn't use any bench rest, we shot from 7, 10, & 15 yards, with most of the rounds shot well after sundown. This pistol has one of the sweetest recoil actions I have ever felt. It has the standard radius firing pin stop, 17 lb recoil & 19 lb main springs, but this gun recoils straight, level and extremely easy ... meaning there's no felt sharpness to it. Even when we put +P ammunition through it, there was no felt torque in the hand, it stayed straight and true, as you'll see in the accompanying pictures.
The best group was shot by jazor. It was shot in almost total darkness. He lined up on the head portion of the target, and fired away. He didn't fire wildly, but a good, fast controlled cadence; about 2-3 shots per second.
It was shot with my IPSC load I use at competitions: 4.5grs of Bullseye with a 230gr. rnl bullet. He fired 8 rounds with one called flyer at 7 yards equaling a 1 1/2" group!
We both fired some groups at 10 yards, at near total darkness as well, with close to the same results. Again, not wildly firing but a good fast cadence - and this was +P ammo from Remington, Federal, Speer, and Winchester. The groups obtained really say something about the controllability of the Vickers Tactical. It wasn't as if we could see the target after each shot, and realign. It was fire, get blinded by the flash, fire, get blinded by the flash, and so on. Only a gun that recoils straight, true, and smooth will give you results like this. The pistol will come back on target on it's own, as if it's homing in on where it should point. That can be hard to do with +P rounds - but, as you can see, the performance of the Vickers Tactical was outstanding!
Again we shot groups from early evening into total darkness, ranging from 1 1/2" to 3 1/2" at 7, 10, & 15 yards. The gun never wavered through all the rounds shot, and the point of aim stayed true as well.
The second session was with forum member swampertwo. We again ran several different rounds through the Vickers Tactical at targets, then played with my dueling tree. Swamper' mentioned how nice the recoil was. He was able to obtain faster follow up shots, and plow down the dueling tree paddles in a very fast time. After spending an evening shooting with him, I can attest - he aint no slouch behind a trigger!
We ran a good mixture of ammo through the pistol, most of which is currently available on the market today. A few are not so available anymore, but I wanted to see how well the gun functioned with some of the more problem feeders of our day, most notably Speer's old tried and true 200gr Lawman aka "The Flying Ashtray", and Cor-Bon's 185gr flatpoint HP.
The others run through it were; Reminton's Golden Sabre, Federal's Tactical L.E., American Eagle ball, as well as their Hydra-Shok. Speer's Gold Dot, Winchesters SXT, and good old Winchester's white box ball ammo, or FMJ.
All were ran through our CED Millennium chrono and showed to be within range of the listed catalog ballistics information.
Nighthawk Custom's Vickers Tactical shows consistency throughout. From the attention to the detail of it's building, right out onto the target. There were no malfunctions during any of the testing and evaluation phases, and the extreme accuracy of this weapon is more than anyone could ask for in a combat fighting handgun.
Everything on this gun worked right out of the box (or, I guess more accurate would be to say - right out of the range bag). It did all things auto pistols are supposed to do but, unfortunately, in this day and age often they don't. If all Nighthawk's pistols are this good in detail and accuracy, the crew has a very good future in front of them.
I'll leave this article with one final thought: The detail in the Vickers Tactical has been designed for one purpose, to be a combat fighting weapon - period!
If you want to discuss or comment on this test, please use the following thread in our Forums Site:
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|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom Vickers Tactical Pistol|