Chris Costa is a well-known instructor who is perhaps most famous for his work with Magpul Dynamics (now called Magpul Core). He has earned a strong following, and his name appears on some superb fighting 1911s from Nighthawk Custom. I tested the 5-inch-barreled Costa Recon here, but you’ll also find Costa’s name emblazoned on the side of a more compact model, too.
The .45 ACP Model 1911 has been a symbol of American battlefield prowess since the eponymous year of its introduction. Though the U.S. military officially replaced it with the 9mm Beretta M9 in the mid-1980s for mainstream service, the iconic .45 has remained in use with the Army’s Delta Force, the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Unit and Special Operations Command, and the official military pistol teams. The general consensus is that, in the “hardball” FMJ configuration that remains standard military issue, the 230-grain .45 ACP slug is a more reliable and consistent “man-stopper” than the 124-grain 9mm. Though modern hollow-point ammunition—as used by America’s police officers and armed citizens—has considerably narrowed the gap between these two chamberings, the .45 ACP remains the choice of such elite units as LAPD SWAT.
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Why the relatively ancient 1911 design? John Moses Browning’s brainchild was imbued with fine ergonomics long before the term came into popular use. The low bore axis allows good control of the powerful .45 ACP round and quick recovery on target for follow-up shots in trained hands. The short, relatively easy trigger pull for every shot, first to last, is preferred by many over DA/SA autoloaders, and the trigger break is generally cleaner than what is found on most striker-fired pistols. “Cocked and locked” carry also provides an element of safety to the shooter. That is, if an opponent momentarily gains control of the on-safe 1911, studies show he may be stymied for an average of some 17 seconds before he “finds the lever that turns the gun on.” This has been known to save numerous good guys in the past.
The Nighthawk Costa Recon isn’t just an ordinary 1911, though. It’s got several upgrades, including a dust-cover Picatinny rail for mounting lights and lasers. The concept of mounting a light on a pistol migrated from SWAT teams to K9 handlers who, in high-risk situations, have to control a pistol, a light source and the animal’s lead with only two hands. Today, a huge percentage of regular patrol officers and even some plainclothes personnel carry pistols mounting lights, and this setup is very popular now for home defense, too.
Add to this the build quality that has made Nighthawk Custom famous. I’ve toured the company’s facility and can confirm that each gun is built primarily by a single highly trained and highly skilled pistolsmith. On our test Costa pistol, the fitting is exceptional. The slide is so well mated to the frame that racking the slide feels like glass on glass; at the risk of cliché, it is silky smooth. As for the frame, G10 grip panels combine with expertly checkered front- and backstraps to give users an absolutely solid hold, even with wet or gloved hands.
The ambidextrous safety is “sized right”—it’s neither a competitor’s bulky “gas pedal,” nor an old-style lever that’s too small. The safety works perfectly, clicking on and off positively using either hand with just the right amount of resistance. The grip safety is also expertly installed, and on our test sample, it worked even with a high-thumb grasp.
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Our test specimen came with a Trijicon HD sight up front and a Jardine’s Custom Tactical Hook rear sight. The latter is named after its shape, which allows an injured user with only one hand to place the front face of the rear sight against a belt or holster to rack the slide.
This pistol has its own distinctive style. The top of the slide is flat, and the corners are beveled for an angular look. Finally, the extruded portion of the slide stop on the right side is flush with the frame, preventing it from being inadvertently pushed inward by a straight trigger finger on the frame, which is a most worthwhile feature.
I usually get my test guns straight from the manufacturer, but in this case, since Nighthawk no longer offers this specific model after a two-year production run, I borrowed the test sample from my old friend John Strayer. (The Costa’s twin can be found in Nighthawk’s catalog today as the War Hawk Recon. Its MSRP is $3,995, and it is identical to our test gun except for a fiber-optic front sight, though tritium is available as an option.)
John has been focusing on 1911s in competition for the last few years in events like the Single Stack Challenge, and he has amassed quite a collection of highly functional, purpose-built, high-end 1911s. Having been very happy with his several other Nighthawks, he bought this one for the rail feature and intended it originally as a dedicated home-defense pistol with a light attached. However, he found he liked it so much it became one of his regular carry guns as well.
Along his path with the 1911, John found he could reload faster “southpaw style,” using his trigger finger instead of his thumb to eject the magazine. This way he didn’t have to shift the pistol in his hand to dump the depleted magazine. Being right-handed, he installed a starboard-side magazine release from Mitchell Custom Guns (bulletworks.com). Other than that, the pistol is absolutely stock as it came from Nighthawk.
On The Firing Line
As is usual with Nighthawk pistols, the Costa Recon came with a sweet trigger pull. The solid, medium-length trigger, with its anti-backlash adjustment, allows an average-sized male hand to place the distal joint of the index finger on the trigger, revolver style, to afford more leverage in rapid fire.
According to my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge from Brownells, the pull weight measured 4.04 pounds. This just barely makes the 4-pound minimum established by the National Rifle Association for Distinguished and President’s 100 competitions with 1911s, and in general, it’s seen as the minimum trigger pull weight suitable for a 1911 that is intended for what some call “serious social purposes.”
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Why is this important? Trigger pull weight has been an issue in both criminal and civil courts. An unmeritorious, politically driven criminal case for manslaughter (or an equally unmeritorious, greed-driven plaintiff’s case alleging wrongful death) can be based on a theory that the shooter fired by accident. Where does this come from? Lawyers know that justifiable use of deadly force is a powerful defense, but there is no such thing as a justifiable accident. Moreover, if plaintiffs are looking for deep pockets and realize most armed citizens don’t have seven-figure pools of liquid assets they can seize to satisfy a court judgment, they’ll look for something like homeowner’s liability insurance if you shot a home invader. Such policies don’t pay off on “willful torts,” or deliberate acts that harmed others; they only pay off on negligence, such as an unintentional shooting. Thus, a “hair trigger”—one with a pull lighter than industry specs—plays right into their hands.
I saved a bunch on ammunition in testing this pistol’s reliability because John had done it for me. In lots of matches (including the IDPA Mid-Winter Championships a year or two ago), he has run over 5,000 rounds through this particular pistol—factory FMJs and JHPs, remanufactured ball ammo, handloads—without a single malfunction.
Of course, a pistol with a champagne price deserves to be fed champagne ammunition, at least sometimes. Nosler’s match-grade ammunition is pricy but worth it. To that end, Nosler’s Match 185-grain JHPs delivered a 1.6-inch, five-shot group at 25 yards.
The most popular .45 ACP bullet weight is 230 grains, and FMJs are the most common practice rounds available. To present that in this test, I used Federal’s low-priced American Eagle rounds, which turned in a best five-shot group measuring 1.3 inches. Champagne performance with beer-priced ammo? Definitely. It goes without saying that I was happy with the way this Nighthawk 1911 performed. But the pistol shot distinctly high for me, requiring a deep 6 o’clock hold. The takeaway: A gun sighted in for one person may not shoot to the same point of aim/point of impact for someone else.
In the end, I was very impressed with the Nighthawk Costa Recon 1911, and I’m sure the company’s current rendition, the War Hawk Recon, is just as reliable and accurate. I’d like to send a big thanks to IDPA Five-Gun Master John Strayer, owner of the Pro Arms Gun Shop in Live Oak, Florida, for lending me his test pistol.
For more information, visit nighthawkcustom.com or call 877-268-4867.