In 2008 and again in 2009, I had the chance to shoot two variations of the Nighthawk Custom T3, the company’s “Ultimate Concealed Carry Pistol.” What makes it ultimate — even for lovers of the 1911—is that it’s a cross between the subcompact, Officer’s-size 1911 and the mid-size, Commander-type 1911. All steel with G10 grips, the first Nighthawk T3 I shot was black all over (including the aluminum trigger), except for the barrel and bushing. The Nighthawk T3 I was able to shoot in 2009 was made from stainless steel. I found that these pint-sized, Browning-design guns felt distinctly different from the conventionally framed 1911, though there was only a 0.12-inch difference in width. I had to acclimate myself to the Nighthawk T3s, and that doesn’t normally happen when I handle Government- and Commander-sized guns.

The T3 is popular, and it’s chiefly due to the still-growing concealed carry market. But Nighthawk Custom didn’t rest on its laurels. Part of making a gun fit the user’s hand is the length and circumference of the weapon’s gripping portion. So Nighthawk Custom thinned the original T3 design.

Covert 1911?

The idea of a more concealment-friendly 1911-type pistol is hardly new. In the years following World War II, the military tried to identify a service sidearm that was more user-friendly than the Government Model 1911. The design was old, and many pistols were fitted so loosely that they’d run with boulders and logs caught inside, so Government 1911s were seen as inaccurate—tightening them up made them unreliable in battlefield conditions. Rumor had it that the 1911 was incapable of clustering hits on a washtub at 15 feet and that the .45 ACP cartridge was so powerful that, while it could knock down an attacker from a graze across a fingernail, it could knock down the shooter as well with its recoil. No one could be taught to shoot it.

Forget that pistols of the Government pattern routinely won matches at the national level. And disregard that many people—from law enforcement officers to soldiers—routinely carried such guns into battle in the nastiest conditions on Earth. Never mind that Colonel Rex Applegate and his kind would bring people up to speed on his close-range combat shooting in one hour with the old warhorse pistol. Not to mention that the 1911 was the signature weapon of the Modern Technique of the Pistol as documented by Colonel Jeff Cooper.

In time, the Government Model 1911’s barrel and slide were shortened and its frame was made of aluminum, resulting in the Commander. Colt followed this in the 1970s by making this model with a steel frame and calling it the “Combat Commander,” one of the most balanced 1911-format pistols in history. The Commander’s slide and barrel are a little shorter and therefore a little lighter, creating a noticeable difference between its recoil stroke and the Government Model 1911’s.

Nighthawk Custom’s contribution was to take that smallest of reliable 1911 formats, the Commander, and marry it to the shorter, Officer’s-size frame. You lose a cartridge in total capacity, taking us back to the original 1911’s seven-round magazine, but gain in concealment due to the length of the pistol’s butt, the hardest part to conceal. In the T3 Thin, Nighthawk Custom has trimmed the frame’s gripping surface and improved the T3’s ergonomics for a better feel. What’s not to like?

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