The Houston test team recently had the opportunity to shoot heirloom-quality pistols from Nighthawk Custom and Masterpiece Arms. Our first test piece was the Nighthawk Custom TRS (Tactical Ready Series) in 9mm with a Commander-length (4.25-inch) slide and barrel. Base price on the pistol was $4399. Extras such as the Blackout treatment on the trigger, barrel, plug, and bushing, along with a sight upgrade to allow for the easy mounting of a red dot, brought total to a smooth $4900. By the way, you’re not going to find this pistol laying around at a discount house. Expect to order your custom piece directly from Nighthawk Custom, and we were pleased to see completion only 8 to 12 weeks out. The competition in this test was provided by a Masterpiece Arms DS9 Commander with many of the same types of features. Price on the DS9 was about $3150 decked out. As of this writing, lead time on the MPA was also 8 to 12 weeks.
Mark Stone formed Nighthawk Custom in 2004 using a cadre of experienced, talented gunsmiths from, primarily, Wilson Combat. Both organizations have done well in the intervening years, and both produce pistols well worth consideration, especially for those with means. Nighthawk offers a wide selection of top-tier 1911s along with some very nice revolvers and shotguns. They use a production method that’s summed up in the phrase “one gun, one gunsmith,” and all of the parts (except the alloy grip frame on our model) used on their 1911s are fully machined from 416 billet steel. They are intentionally made oversized so that each of the 46 pieces must be hand-fitted to that pistol by the gunsmith. That single ‘smith is assigned to that pistol, “owning” it through the entire production process and being responsible for the finished product. The results of that methodology on our test handgun were certainly impressive.
First opened in 2000 and purchased by Phil Cashin in 2008, Masterpiece Arms (MPA) has grown into one of the giants of the Precision Rifle Series and National Rifle League. Their chassis system is currently the most commonly selected unit by precision rifle competitors. We reviewed their MPA BA MPR Pro rifle in our April 2020 edition and declared it a Gun Tests Rifle of the Year in 2021. They have more recently directed some of their attention to the action pistol sports, particularly the USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association). Somewhat similar in concept to PRS, USPSA pushes shooters to have gear that is accurate, fast, and dependable if they hope to be competitive. MPA jumped into this market in a big way with their DS-series pistols designed primarily for Open and Limited divisions. There is even a pistol tailor-made for IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association with slightly different rules and different gear). Many of the same features that make a firearm a good choice for competition also make them eminently suitable for home or self-defense. We secured one of their DS9 Commander series, which is not specifically designed for competition, to see how it would hold up in our tests.
We used two different red dots to get the most out of these pistols. The first was the well-known Trijicon RMR ($540, MidwayUSA.com). The second was a Swampfox Optics Justice model ($240, SwampfoxOptics.com), which has also graced our pages before with great results. One of their other products saved our bacon. When we went to mount the Justice optic on the MPA, the screws were the right pitch but not the right length if we wanted to include to protective cover. Swampfox also offers a variety of replacement screws in the Ultimate Red Dot Screw Pack, $20, that solved the problem perfectly and we proceeded with our tests.
We did our shooting at American Shooting Centers in Houston. We tested for accuracy at 15 yards by shooting multiple five-shot groups from a well-sandbagged Caldwell Pistolero shooting rest assisted by a Mini DRC Fortune Cookie from Wiebad.com. We measured velocities with a LabRadar device using four different types of ammunition. First was 115-grain full-metal-jacket Remington Range ammo, along with Winchester White Box 115-grain FMJs. We included our standard match reload in the form of 147-grain FMJ bullets from Precision Delta, powered by Hodgdon Tite Group powder and CCI small pistol primers. Then we added in some Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P self-defense jacketed hollow points. Here’s what we found:
Gun Tests Grade: A
Our TRS pistol arrived in a well-padded, fully functional pistol case festooned with the Nighthawk Custom logo. The insert was custom fitted for our pistol. The case included two 17-round magazines, all the appropriate literature, including an impressive sight-in target, required tools, and the original rear sight that had been removed to make way for the optics mount. We chose to have a Trijicon RMR sight installed for the tests, and we were very pleased with our selection.
|Action Type||Semi-auto single action, hammer-fired|
|Overall Length||7.75 in.|
|Overall Height, w/o Red Dot||6.0 in.|
|Overall Height, w/ Red Dot||6.8 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.44 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||2.3 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||2.8 lbs.|
|Slide Material||Stainless steel|
|Slide Retraction Effort||15.4 lbs.|
|Receiver Material||Stainless-steel frame, alloy grip|
|Front Strap Height||3.0 in.|
|Back Strap Height||3.25 in.|
|Barrel Length||4.25 in.|
|Grip Thickness (Maximum)||1.246 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.5 in.|
|Rear Sight||Fixed rear blade|
|Front Sight||Gold bead on black blade in dovetail|
|Sight Radius||4.0 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||2.9 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||3.1 in.|
|Safeties||Grip and thumb|
|Warranty||1 year limited|
We opened the box to find a pistol beautifully blackened on every surface except the gold front sight bead. The monolithic slide is mated to a frame that sports a full-length dust cover. The effect is to add more weight to the muzzle, reducing recoil a bit. The dust cover is machined as a Picatinny rail with a single, transverse slot. Nighthawk does not use grasping grooves on the TRS; they mill in “dimples” fore and aft on the slide, the dimensions of which match the same cuts made on the alloy grip frame for traction there, as well. The muzzle has been carefully crowned and countersunk.
A full-length recoil-spring guide rod is used, the style of which requires a takedown pin (which is provided) be used for disassembly. As always, remove the magazine and check the chamber 27 times to make sure that it is empty. Lock the slide to the rear, exposing the hole drilled into the guide rod. Insert the takedown pin, pull back on the slide to ease the tension on the slide release, and push out the release from right to left. The slide can then be eased forward, allowing the guide rod and the barrel to be removed. As we performed the disassembly, we noticed the fit of the slide to the chassis. Drum roll here for cliches, but it truly felt like the slide was rolling on ball bearings as we slid it back and forth. When we went to remove the slide, we could feel the resistance as the slide moved tightly on the chassis. But smoothly move it did. We always check the fit of the barrel to the slide and hood, looking for any possible movement. There was none on the Nighthawk. Barrel lockup was tight.
The attention to detail on the slide and frame was obvious in other places. A number of parts end at the back of the slide — ejector, extractor, firing-pin block, grip safety, and, in the case of our TRS, the optics mount. Everything was fitted perfectly, with the flats on each part ending in exactly the same plane. The optics mount was equally as impressive. A flat for the adapter was milled into the top of the slide. Because 1911 slides tend to be very slim, the mount Nighthawk provided flared upward and outward to create a shelf the width of the Trijicon RMR. Appearance and execution were very good. The Nighthawk optics mount also provides a full-height backup iron sight integral to the mount and located immediately in front of the optic. The front sight was mounted in a dovetail, pinned to the slide and properly radiused to the top of the slide. Don’t forget the gold bead on the front sight, making it very easy to pick up visually. The grip safety has the appropriate memory bump, allowing those with less than huge hands to properly disengage the safety. The thumb safety was left side only. We would have voted for an ambidextrous version.
The alloy grip module may be a double-wide, but it didn’t feel like it. By our measurements, the Nighthawk had a trigger span of 3.1 inches versus the 3.0-inch span of a vintage 70 Series Colt Government model. Those, of course, are single-stack pistols. The grip circumference of the Nighthawk, 5.5 inches, was only 0.2 inch more than the Colt at 5.3 inches. The width of the Nighthawk’s grips was even .01 inch less than the Colt. Then Nighthawk added in a squared-off trigger guard (Why? We don’t know, but some folks like them), a smooth, extended magazine release, a flat-faced trigger and a great magwell that is functional while barely larger in width than the grips themselves.
Average size for multiple five-shot groups across four different kinds of ammunition was a mere 1.14 inches at 15 yards. The Nighthawk showed a slight preference for Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P ammo, posting a 0.88-inch five-shot average, with a small group of 0.73 inches. We have mentioned that the Houston test group has some experienced shooters. There was once a day where some of those shooters could record 0.16 splits for two shots in the “A” zone at 7 yards and even the occasional 0.15. Those days are past, and they are very pleased with runs which hit the low 20s — as in 0.21- or 0.22-second split times between shots. Shooting the Nighthawk, our splits were in the low 20s, and we even hit the occasional 0.19-second mark. Please keep in mind that the times listed are not just how fast we could press the trigger, but how fast we could shoot and hit the smallish targets. All testifies that the Nighthawk Custom TRS is not only accurate but very controllable as well.
Our Team Said: Fit, finish, and function of the TRS were outstanding, and the Nighthawk pistol was one of the most accurate handguns our Houston test team has handled.
Drill Data (5x5x5)Process: Fire five shots from low ready at a 5-inch circle placed at 5 yards. Numbers are averages for two repetitions.
|Pistol||Time to First Shot (seconds)||Split Average (seconds)||Total Time (seconds)|
Drill Data (5x8x7)Process: Fire five shots from low ready at an 8-inch circle at 7 yards. Numbers are averages for three repetitions.
|Pistol||Time to First Shot (seconds)||Split Average (seconds)||Total Time (seconds)|
All testing was done at American Shooting Centers (AmericanShootingCenters.com) in Houston. We fired multiple five-shot groups at 15 yards. All shots for group were done from a well-sandbagged Caldwell Pistol Rest from MidwayUSA (517357, $28) and aided by a mini-DRC Fortune Cookie bag from Wiebad.com ($65, #MINIFC). We measured velocities with a LabRadar device (MyLabRadar.com, $559).
|Remington Range 115-grain FMJ||Nighthawk Custom Tactical Ready Series||Masterpiece Arms DS9 Commander|
|Average Velocity||1115 fps||1124 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||318 ft.-lbs.||323 ft.-lbs.|
|Average Group||1.34 in.||1.13 in.|
|Best Group||1.20 in.||1.08 in.|
|Winchester 115-grain FMJ||Nighthawk Custom Tactical Ready Series||Masterpiece Arms DS9 Commander|
|Average Velocity||1137 fps||1179 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||330 ft.-lbs.||355 ft.-lbs.|
|Average Group||1.14 in.||1.15 in.|
|Best Group||1.11 in.||0.99 in.|
|Precision Delta 147-grain FMJ||Nighthawk Custom Tactical Ready Series||Masterpiece Arms DS9 Commander|
|Average Velocity||866 fps||952 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||244 ft.-lbs.||296 ft.-lbs.|
|Average Group||1.21 in.||1.19 in.|
|Best Group||1.13 in.||0.83 in.|
|Speer Gold Dot 124-grain +P||Nighthawk Custom Tactical Ready Series||Masterpiece Arms DS9 Commander|
|Average Velocity||1160 fps||1166 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||371 ft.-lbs.||374 ft.-lbs.|
|Average Group||0.88 in.||0.85 in.|
|Best Group||0.73 in.||0.70 in.|