Gun Digest

Gun Review: Nighthawk Border Special 1911

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The Nighthawk Border Special 1911 does whatever you ask of it, and it does it well. It is designed by former peace officer Jim Wilson.

What to know about Nighthawk's Border Special 1911:

Not many shooters had ever heard of Nighthawk Custom when it began making 1911 pistols in 2004. Started by four individuals, more than a decade later it now employs about 65 people and specializes not only in custom 1911s, but also in fighting shotguns, and most recently in revolvers. It produced a few models of a freakishly accurate bolt-action rifle for a short while but discontinued that line, resulting in a sharp increase in the value of those previously purchased.

A striking, deep and smooth Cerakote Elite Midnight finish applied to the frame and slide promotes abrasion resistance, and highly polished double-diamond cocobolo grips with custom grip screws provide a solid gripping surface during recoil.

But Nighthawk has always made high-end 1911s, and one of the most recent additions to the line is the Border Special, which was designed by Jim Wilson, a retired peace officer with nearly 30 years of experience and who also served as the Sheriff of Crockett County, Texas. Wilson has lived in the Southwest border country for many years, where gunfights happen all too regularly. He’s also a well-known gun writer and has applied his accumulated knowledge and experience in selecting the features for the Border Special. His good taste and insight about what works shows in every feature of this gun.

Simple And Functional Elegance

The Border Special is a gun designed for carry and personal defense, so it was built on a Commander-size 1911 frame that has a standard-length grip — with a shorter slide and a 4.25-inch barrel instead of a 5-inch barrel. A little muzzle velocity is sacrificed, but the gun is easier to carry. Besides, the Border Special is chambered in .45 ACP, a cartridge with a good reputation for ending violent criminal behavior, even from the shorter 4.25-inch barrel.

A striking feature that’s immediately obvious when the Border Special is first seen is the beautiful, deep and smooth Cerakote Elite Midnight finish applied to the frame and slide. Traditional Cerakote is a thin film ceramic coating that’s extremely hard and corrosion resistant, but the Elite series of coatings is even harder, more abrasion resistant and has a low coefficient of friction that provides lubricity.

The rear sight is a Heinie Slant Pro Black, and up front Nighthawk installs its own gold bead front sight — complemented by glare-reducing serrations that run between the sights.

The highly polished double-diamond cocobolo grips with custom grip screws contrast nicely with the Cerakote and provide a good gripping surface to anchor the gun in the hand during recoil. Nighthawk has also applied what it calls a “concealed carry cut scallop” to the front strap and mainspring housing to enhance the grip. These scallops are not only good looking, they also provide a slip-resistant surface that doesn’t have the sharp edges associated with traditional checkering that can cut hands after repeated draws in a long training class.

In order to reduce telltale printing through a garment worn over the gun to carry it discreetly, Nighthawk bobbed the heel of the grip. Basically, the heel is lopped off, which requires a cut to the frame and the mainspring housing. Despite the loss of a little of the real estate at the back of the gun, it’s still a comfortable gun to shoot and provides plenty of gripping surface.

Trigger Technicalities

These days, most manufacturers install a long-reach trigger on 1911s, but the Border Special has a short trigger with an overtravel adjustment screw and serrations on the front. There was no discernible over-travel, and the trigger broke cleanly after just a bit of take-up. Reset was distinct for those who are overly concerned with this feature.

Many people are going to like the trigger because the finger doesn’t have to be extended as far as with the normally seen long trigger. It’s a subtle difference, but the shooter will find it easier to apply a steady, firm pressure. When the finger is not extended as far, leverage changes, and a heavy, steady pressure can be more easily applied, resulting in a smoother stroke and more trigger control. And shooters with shorter fingers will definitely appreciate it.

Subtle Details

The nicely checkered magazine release is a little longer than a stock release, but not so long as to be prone to accidental activation. The magazine well is slightly beveled to easily accept the two eight-round magazines supplied. The slide stop has a fairly wide shelf to make it easier to manipulate, and Nighthawk has added a special touch — a groove or notch cut into the back that contacts the plunger tube pin during assembly. The groove pushes the pin back into the plunger tube, allowing the stop to be pushed straight into the gun, reducing the possibility of scratching the frame. It makes assembly a bit easier and is a nice touch.

Although not visually obvious, the shooter’s trigger finger doesn’t have to be extended as far as with the normally seen long trigger, which changes leverage and results in a smoother stroke and more trigger control.

The thumb safety is also a bit wider than normal, making it easier to manipulate, and it worked positively during testing. The hammer is skeletonized, and the beavertail grip safety has the familiar palm swell to assure positive activation.

Up top, the slide has rear cocking serrations with the Nighthawk logo behind them on both sides of the slide. On the right side of the slide, the gun sports the words “BORDER SPECIAL” in front of the ejection port, but on request, Nighthawk will omit them. The ejection port is wide, flared and lowered, and there was no evidence of ejected brass contacting the slide on the test gun.

On the upper surface of the slide, Nighthawk has cut glare-reducing longitudinal serrations that run between the front and rear sights. The rear sight is a Heinie Slant Pro Black with a square notch and horizontal serrations on the backside. There are no dots on it. Up front, Nighthawk installs its own gold bead front sight. The front blade is all black except for a genuine gold dot that draws the eye, encouraging a front sight focus. Gold bead front sights have been around for a long time, but fell out of favor when white dots, fiber optics or night sights became popular. But the old-timers knew something about sights when they used a gold bead because it does not tarnish, is tough and reflects what little light there might be, making the front sight easier to see. Gold glitters.

The Border Special’s match barrel has a fluted hood that gives it a distinct look. The barrel and bushing fit tightly — but not so tightly that it degraded reliability of the test gun. The bushing fit snugly in the slide, but disassembly and turning the bushing were still possible without the aid of a bushing wrench. And the guide rod and spring plug are shortened for use in a Commander-size gun.

One-On-One Attention

All this attention to detail and hand fitting by one gunsmith — Nighthawk lets one gunsmith build each gun instead of having several gunsmiths work on a single gun — resulted in the test gun being very accurate, with some groups off the bench at 25 yards being less than 1 inch. The slightly extra weight of the all-steel frame compared to a lightweight aluminum frame sometimes found on Commander-size 1911s helped absorb felt recoil, making the Border Special pleasant to shoot and easy to get back on target quickly. Sheriff Jim Wilson obviously put a lot of thought into designing this gun, and it delivers.

Editor's Notes: This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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