If you stack the one-gunsmith made Nighthawk Custom T4 against the production Springfield Armory Range Officer Compact, how do things shake out?
What Are The Highpoints Of Each 1911:
- The T4 is a high-quality gun built by one gunsmith.
- Front strap is cut higher and contoured for a high grip to aid in fast recoil recovery.
- Rear sight is a Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium night sight with a tritium front sight.
- Range Officer Compat features a 4-inch, stainless, match-grade, fully supported bull barrel.
- The pistol's sights are fiber-optic front and low-profile combat rear.
- Its rigger and hammer are skeletonized, and the trigger is backlash adjustable.
Like a million other subjects for discussion, the question of what makes the best pistol for personal defense will never be resolved—and for good reason. We all have different lifestyles; but if we were all the same, there would be only one universal defensive pistol—and, I suppose, one each of all other categories of products.
The Nighthawk Custom T4
I recently reviewed a truly exceptional defensive pistol that only a few people will choose to carry: Nighthawk’s T4. However, if there’s a group of gun enthusiasts who appreciate this level of craftsmanship geared for everyday use, it’s the readers of Gun Digest.
It’s a high-quality gun built by one gunsmith (who stamps his initials on the gun before it leaves the factory) and is built on the officer-sized frame with a 3.8-inch match-grade bull barrel. This makes it more compact but only sacrifices one round of capacity. There are cuts to reduce weight, the frame is thinned, and the G10 grips are thinner than normal for better concealability.
Also available in 9mm, my test gun was a .45 ACP. Everything about this gun spells “custom build.” With 25-lines-per-inch checkering on the front and back straps, aggressive G10 grip panels and coarse cocking serrations, there will be no problems with the T4’s grip. There’s a substantial beavertail that’s melted for comfort, as well as the thumb safety, and every surface is dehorned and shaped for smoothness and comfort.
The front strap is cut higher and contoured for a high grip to aid in fast recoil recovery. The rear sight is a Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro Tritium night sight with a tritium front sight. The trigger is adjustable for backlash and skeletonized, as is the hammer. The T4 comes in a very nice soft case, along with two magazines and a sample target signed by the builder.
As one would expect, the T4 is accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot. However, a lot of guns are accurate, reliable and a pleasure to shoot. I suspect that a lot of people would choose a Nighthawk Customs T4 … except for one issue: It has an MSRP of $3,499.
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I live in central North Carolina, where we have mild winters and hot summers. I live an active lifestyle, wear shorts and a light shirt in summer and am frequently in public. When I did the original review, Galco’s Mike Barham was kind enough to send me a Galco Concealable Belt Holster. I carried the T4 in this holster for a couple of weeks. The melted edges and thin profile made it easy enough to conceal under an untucked shirt (although I’m normally a tucked-in kind of guy.)
As noted above, it’s a pleasure to shoot a firearm that has great sights, as well as a trigger that would satisfy the most picky trigger finger. Functioning was 100 percent as expected, and it was far more accurate than I’m capable of achieving. At 15 yards in slow, aimed fire, it shot ragged holes. Controlled pairs and doubletaps were easily manageable, partly as a result of the T4’s 34-ounce weight and partly because of the well-tuned Everlast flat spring recoil system.
The Nighthawk Customs T4 is as good as the gun-making art gets. Fit, finish, materials choices, sights and magazines are the best the world has to offer. There are zero shortcomings.
The Springfield Range Officer Compact
I shoot a lot of different guns, and I’m amazed at just how many excellent guns are available today. It’s harder now to buy a bad gun than it is to purchase a good one. Modern technology and design methods have created a wonderland of excellent firearms at very reasonable prices.
Springfield Armory’s Range Officer Compact is just such a gun. It is also an officer-sized 1911 with an officer-sized frame. It features a 4-inch, stainless, match-grade, fully supported bull barrel. It also has a flat wire recoil spring on a full-length guide rod, along with a forged alloy frame and a carbon-steel forged slide. The Range Officer’s sights are fiber-optic front and low-profile combat rear. The trigger and hammer are skeletonized, and the trigger is backlash adjustable.
The Range Officer comes in a hard case with a holster, magazine pouch, loader and two six-round magazines. It’s accurate, reliable and fun to shoot. The MSRP is $924; the gun shop price is well under one-fourth the price of the Nighthawk Custom T4.
In thinking about this article, I pulled my Range Officer Compact out of the safe. I did a review on this gun a few years back—and wound up sending Springfield a check instead of sending back the gun.
As a writer, I’ve tested almost every gun in Springfield’s lineup—from a Super Match M1A to the diminutive 911 subcompact. In testing, I’ve never experienced a single malfunction from all those guns. My go-to production-class pistol is a well-worn XDm 9. Thousands of rounds have gone through it—with zero malfunctions, except for two bad rounds.
I tested the Range Officer and the Nighthawk in the same session and discovered noticeable differences.
While the Range Officer has a good trigger, the Nighthawk has an exceptionally good trigger. Racking the slide on the Nighthawk impresses one with extreme high-tolerance fit. The Heinie Straight Eight Slant Pro rear sight on the Nighthawk enhances the ability to cycle the gun easily with one hand and provides a good sight picture in any light. I have no doubt the Nighthawk is more accurate, although few shooters have the skill level to exploit that accuracy.
So, the question is, Why spend four times as much money for a gun that has similar features and, for all intents and purposes, performs the same functions?
To use an old cliché, “Pride of ownership is what separates us from animals.” It’s the same reason some people wear a Timex watch and some wear a Rolex. No one who wears a Timex watch smiles with satisfaction when he straps it on his wrist. No one ever tells the story of how their grandpa passed his Timex watch down.
Both guns are excellent defensive pistols. Both perform well and will do the job we hope we never need to use them for. It’s your money, it’s your holster, it’s your choice. Isn’t it nice that we get to choose?
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2019 Shooter Guide of Gun Digest the Magazine.