The 1911 design has been around a very long time and continues to be one of the most popular among all handguns currently produced. It just seems to fit most people’s hands and, partially because of the single-action trigger system, is easy to shoot accurately. In contrast to the age of the 1911, Nighthawk Custom of Berryville, Arkansas, is a youngster. But the company is refining the 1911 design in ways that must appeal to many shooters, because demand for its products is strong. And it’s no surprise—the guns are well made. A recent addition to Nighthawk’s catalog is the T4, which is available with a steel or aluminum frame. I received the steel-framed T4 for testing. Yes, it is another 1911, but it’s different in several ways from the .45-caliber, slab-sided companion that many shooters know and love.

“With its all-steel construction, slim grip and 9mm loads, the gun was very comfortable to shoot. All the controls worked just like they are expected to on a Nighthawk—that is, flawlessly.”

The Nighthawk T4 is made for self-defense and is meant to be carried every day. It’s not a lightweight gun—it has a comforting 37 ounces of heft—but that weight helps to absorb the recoil of the 9mm cartridges it fires. Now, for all of you who don’t think a defensive handgun chambered in anything less than .40 caliber is worth considering, you may be surprised that some seasoned law enforcement officers—ones that are real gunfighters who have defended their lives with a handgun—are switching from larger-caliber guns to 9mm. One of the reasons for that is the quality of self-defense ammunition that is now available for 9mm. The days when all you could get were full metal jacket or run-of-the-mill hollow-point projectiles that were of marginal value are over. Today, after much scientific analysis and first-class engineering, quality 9mm handgun bullets expand reliably and penetrate far enough to cause real fight-stopping damage to bad guys. And because 9mm cartridges are smaller, more rounds can be carried on board, a feature that could save a life by lessening the chance that a reload will be necessary in the middle of a gunfight. Another characteristic of the 9mm compared to a .45 ACP or .40 S&W round is that it recoils less, making it easier to get back on target for a quick follow-up shot. Multiple hits are often needed to make a bad guy decide to stop trying to kill you. That’s why quick follow-up shots are so important.

But back to the gun. The T4 is smaller than the standard 1911, and that makes it easier to carry discreetly. The barrel length is only 3.8 inches long, which is shorter than the 5-inch standard length or even the 4.25-inch length of a Commander-size gun. But the grip still extends about 2.25 inches below the triggerguard so all three fingers of most users have something to hold onto. That also means the gun’s magazine will hold eight rounds. With one in the chamber, that’s nine rounds. While that’s fewer than the number provided by a double-stack gun, it is still more than most small pistols hold, and it’s slim, making it less likely to create a bulge under clothing, which can give away the fact that you’re carrying a gun. Thin is in—or at least it is popular for carry these days. While most 1911s have a grip width of around 1.25 inches, the 4’s width is about 0.1 inches thinner. That’s due to the Micarta, thin-profile Alien grips that are made by VZ Grips. They have an aggressive texture for a very good, slip-resistant surface, but are not so rough to be uncomfortable to hold for extended shooting sessions. The mainspring housing is flat, both lengthwise and from side to side, which contributes to making the grip frame about 0.1 inches less in size than a standard 1911’s when measured from front to back. Those smaller dimensions don’t sound like much, but they are very noticeable when the gun is held. Most people seem to like the feel and find that it makes holding onto the gun under recoil easier.

The mainspring housing has very well executed, fine horizontal serrations, and the frontstrap is nicely checkered for slippage resistance. If you clamp your hand down on this gun, it wants to stay in place. The grip safety on the T4 is a beavertail design with a memory bump to help make sure it is fully depressed when a high thumb hold is applied. And the grip safety, like all the other major parts of this gun, is machined from a solid billet. No cast or metal-injection-molded parts are used. As always, Nighthawk really is focused on quality. The extended thumb safety worked fine and has a wide ledge for easy manipulation. The Nighthawk slide catch, however, is a bit different than many of its competitors’ because of its slightly wider ledge, which makes it easier to activate. And the end of the slide catch shaft, which is normally rounded and protrudes from the right side of the gun, is flat on the T4. It looks nice. Another difference from other slide catches is a small groove that engages the spring-loaded plunger pin. It makes it possible to push the stop straight in during assembly instead of at an angle. This little modification reduces the possibility that the frame will be scratched when the slide stop is installed. It’s a small modification, but a pretty good one, and it makes assembly just a bit easier.

The magazine release is checkered and extends a bit farther out from the side of the frame than a standard release. That makes activation more positive. When pressed, the Wilson Combat stainless steel magazines with steel baseplates dropped freely from the beveled magazine well—just like they are supposed to. The magazines have polymer followers and a polymer spacer along the rear to position the shorter 9mm cartridges correctly for feeding. They worked just fine. Nighthawk has installed a skeletonized aluminum trigger that on the test gun was adjusted to break at just less than 4 pounds after a little bit of take-up. There was some overtravel, but its reset was distinct. It’s a nice trigger. The hammer is skeletonized with serrations in case the user wants to cock the hammer manually. The T4’s slide is a bit different. The overall length of the gun is 7.38 inches, and the slide is 6.25 inches long, so this is not an Officer- or Commander-sized gun. Whatever you want to call it, the size makes it easier than a full-size gun to carry. The slide is heavily serrated on the sides near the rear to provide a good grip for cycling, and the ejection port is lowered and flared. But for about the first 0.75 inches up front, the slide is narrowed by about 0.1 inches, creating a ledge to get a grip on the slide for a press check if that’s the way the shooter prefers to see if there is a round in the chamber. It also looks good and aids in reholstering. The frame and slide are finished with extremely hard and durable black salt-bath nitride.

Atop the slide reside Heinie Slant Pro Straight Eight sights that are filled with tritium to make them glow in the dark. Some people really like these sights because, to align them, the dot in the front is placed above the dot in the rear, sort of like a figure eight. They find it faster to align than the traditional three-dot arrangement. In any case, the sights are drift adjustable, and the rear is held in place with a setscrew. The backside of the rear sight is also serrated to reduce the possibility of glare, which can affect the ability of the shooter to get a good sight picture through the square notch.

The T4’s 3.8-inch-long barrel has no bushing. Where many of these types of barrels have a symmetrical cone at the front to lock up with the front of the slide when the gun is in battery, the T4’s barrel has a full bull profile. Nighthawk says the profile reduces barrel vibration during the firing cycle because the bottom of the barrel remains in contact with the slide. The front of the barrel is cut flush with the front of the slide, and the crown is recessed nicely to prevent accuracy-robbing damage. The gun is equipped with a Bob Marvel Everlast Recoil System that has been modified to fit the T4 and is designed to reduce felt recoil. It has a flat, coiled recoil spring that should last at least 15,000 rounds.

After a fairly long break-in period, the T4 fed flawlessly, with no malfunctions after that of any kind. The test gun was built to very tight tolerances, so lockup was solid. This makes the gun very accurate but also requires more rounds to complete the break-in procedure. With its all-steel construction, slim grip and 9mm loads, the gun was very comfortable to shoot. All the controls worked just like they are expected to on a Nighthawk—that is, flawlessly. It was easy to get back on target for fast follow-up shots, and in tactical drills the gun was a natural. This is an accurate gun, too. From a rest, I was able to get groups of less than 1 inch at 15 yards, Combat Handguns’ prescribed test range for a gun of this size. However, the 15-yard test target that accompanied the gun showed a group of 0.04 inches. My eyes are too old wring the best from this gun. For discreet self-defense carry, or for a gun that is just fun to shoot, this one should be on the buyer’s short list.

For more information on the Nighthawk T4 9mm, visit or call 877-268-4867

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