It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was referring to Nighthawk Custom as one of the “new crop of 1911 gunsmiths.”

After all, the company only began producing such desirable, well-made 1911s in 2004. Then, not too long ago, I realized over a decade had passed, and Nighthawk was still kicking out high-quality firearms. Quite a few of the “new crop” of custom shops had fallen by the wayside during the interim.

One reason Nighthawk Custom survived was that it continued to design and offer new 1911 pistols, and added shotguns, Browning Hi-Powers, leather holsters, knives and Korth revolvers to its product lineup. During this time, Nighthawk persisted in not allowing anything but stellar-quality products to leave the shop.

This quality control has contributed to several well-known pistol builders collaborating with Nighthawk. Despite their many individual and collective years working on pistols and collecting accolades, they allow their names to appear on pistols built by Nighthawk.

Today’s Nighthawks are the product of the company’s fully machined parts combined with the “One Gun, One Gunsmith” philosophy. The same gunsmith works on the pistol from start to finish, hand-fitting the oversized, fully machined parts. Squeezing quality from all of this should be no surprise.

Tri Cut Carry

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry barrel
Relief cuts expose the stainless steel barrel.

Every year in January, Nighthawk brings forth new firearms intended to be the stars of the upcoming year. Eight new 1911s were unveiled for 2017, and they’re all beautiful, with perfect lines, flawless finishes and slide-to-frame fits that’ll remind you of ice skating. But one pistol jumped out at me: the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry in 9mm.

According to Nighthawk, the Tri Cut Carry was designed by one of the company’s gunsmiths as part of his “successful application to the American Pistolsmiths Guild.” It took a second glance to realize what I was seeing. There were angles where angles had no business being—perfectly executed angles, of course, but angles! All I could think of was how the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry would feel in my hand.

Once I had the sight of all those angles washed from my brain, I began examining the pistol for other noteworthy touches, and there were plenty. The Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry uses a Commander-style slide mated to a Commander-style frame with a very high-cut frontstrap. This pairs with a new beavertail grip safety with a slightly taller and wider pad to drive the hand higher. Attractive black, tri-cut aluminum grip panels blend well with the pistol’s angular motif.

The slide has five coarse rear cocking serrations on each side. You’ll also notice four lightening cuts toward the front of the slide—two on each side—that expose portions of the highly polished stainless steel barrel and drop a bit of weight. The exposed barrel, which is a match-grade, 4.25-inch tube with a recessed crown, adds to the Tri Cut Carry’s striking appearance. Riding beneath the barrel is a full-length stainless steel guide rod with a bowtie plug and a Nighthawk/Bob Marvel Everlast recoil system.

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry slide top
The top of the slide features subtle stippling to help reduce glare, yet it won’t snag on any clothing.

The Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry features a tritium front sight and a Heinie Ledge Straight Eight rear sight. Spanning the distance between them, the slide is milled flat with no horizontal serrations. That’s right, no serrations. Instead, the top has the same hand-applied stippling found on other surfaces. Stippling is one customizing feature where a gunsmith can beat on a very expensive handgun with approval. Results vary from very mild to “tiger tooth,” which lives up to its name. The stippling on the Tri Cut Carry is closer to mild, but it’s still very effective.

Like the angles, stippling is a theme throughout the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry, and it has a definite place on fighting handguns. Unlike checkering, non-tiger-tooth stippling will never snag on clothing or wear holes through clothing while offering a locking grip wherever it is used.

A popular reason for stippling hard-use handguns is durable cosmetics. Attractive checkering pyramids can get broken, dented or dinged. With stippling, who will notice? Of course, on a true hard-use pistol, who the heck would care?

On the underside of the triggerguard, the stippling aids in resisting any potential twisting during recoil. On the frontstrap and round-butt mainspring housing, stippling is on the flats left by the angles. Also, the round-butt mainspring housing feels better than a traditional unit and eliminates a snagging point for concealment. I’d like to add one of these to every 1911 I own.

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry mag well
The mag well is expertly beveled, and the thin aluminum grip panels contribute to the Tri-Cut Carry’s slim profile.

The magazine release is ever so slightly (0.06 inches) higher profile than a standard unit. The top is slightly angled with more stippling to help secure the thumb during a rapid magazine change. Stippling also covers the bottom of the curved slide release lever, just where the thumb impacts to lock the slide open. Adjustable for overtravel, the striking-looking, flat-faced trigger is stippled for a consistent feel no matter where the finger is placed.

True to its intent, the pistol has been nicely—but not excessively—dehorned for carrying comfort, reducing the possibility of snagging on clothing during the draw and printing while carrying. The angled and stippled parts complement the dehorning.

Finishing up the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry’s exterior is a Nighthawk single-sided thumb safety and a recessed slide-stop pinhole. There is additional beveling on the frame around the hole and pin end. Not only is this eye-catching, but the shortened pin won’t block a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips. The pistol’s black nitride finish penetrates all of the metal to provide improved wear protection.

Inside, you’ll find the precisely machined interior parts found inside every Nighthawk 1911, including the carbon or stainless steel sear, hammer, springs, links, etc. Of course, the assembly of these parts determines the quality of the final pistol—and the folks at Nighthawk definitely know how to do that. Finally, the Tri Cut Carry is fed by two shiny, 10-round, stainless steel McCormick magazines; one has a bumper pad and the other does not.

Range Performance

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry gun test
The Tri-Cut Carry’s ergonomics and 9mm chambering result in light recoil and fast follow-up shots.

According to Nighthawk, the machined angles gracing the Tri Cut Carry 9mm make the grip slimmer. It felt like they were correct from my pre-range examination, and I knew from experience that the stippling would enhance its handling characteristics. Dry firing seemed to prove the stippled trigger’s enhanced tactile quality. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction!

I was also looking forward to the lighter recoil of this 9mm compared to a traditional .45 ACP. Today, many consider the 9mm chambering equivalent to the popular .45 ACP in terms of effectiveness for a social altercation. In fact, 9mm 1911s are popping up everywhere. The performance of today’s ammunition has reached levels no one would have believed even 25 years ago. The 9mm is as effective as other previously admired chamberings. Compared to .45 ACP or .40 S&W pistols, 9mms usually hold more ammunition—a plus in a world where villains frequently travel in packs—and lighter recoil means the pistol is easier to handle.

The Tri Cut Carry’s angles and stippling provided an excellent grip, even with higher-pressure loads. The grip’s trimness was similar to a standard 1911 wearing thin grips. The flat-faced trigger met all expectations and felt really good and consistent. Of course, this meant the Tri Cut Carry shot like it was fitted with laser sights, making even me look good.

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry target

Using my Caldwell rest, I averaged 25-yard groups in the 1.01- to 1.14-inch range. I’ve shot some groups that were better and worse before—it just depends on which way the wind blows. But I’d expect many shooters would be able to outshoot me if they used the Tri Cut Carry.

During standard exercises at the range, the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry proved quick to draw and transition between targets. Repeat shots snapped off rapidly and hit where aimed thanks to the 9mm’s high-visibility sights and light recoil. I stretched my efforts out to 50 yards on steel, scoring in the 90-percent range off-hand.

Once it starts, a gunfight is usually decided by rapidly deploying a firearm and quickly punching as many holes in the opposition as possible in the best places to stimulate rapid blood loss. Nighthawk’s Tri Cut Carry can definitely handle such a situation.

During the standard exercises, I used a holster and magazine pouch from Nighthawk’s handmade leather line. It would be hard to find leatherwork better than on the close-fitting, pancake-style Quick Reaction holster and double magazine pouch, which are built with the “same quality and craftsmanship that are found in each Nighthawk firearm.”

Making The Grade

Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry left profile

I didn’t experience any problems during my range outings, as expected with a 1911 wearing the Nighthawk Custom name. I liked the way the Tri Cut Carry performed during slow, aimed fire as well as rapid-fire strings, even when moving from point to point.

Having extra rounds in a pistol you carry provides quite a positive feeling. At no point did I feel under-gunned, and if you are a 1911 fan who plans to make the 9mm transition, give the Nighthawk Tri Cut Carry a close look. It offers eye-catching looks, reliability, plenty of firepower and 1911 handling characteristics.

Caliber: 9mm

Barrel: 4.25 inches

OA Length: 7.85 inches

Weight: 34.7 ounces (empty)

Grips: Aluminum

Sights:  Tritium front, Heinie Ledge Straight Eight rear

Action: SA

Finish: Black nitride

Capacity: 10+1

MSRP: $4,495

For more information, visit

Up Next

Hogue Just Released Its New X1-Microflip EDC Pocket Knife

The Hogue X1-Microflip features a 2.75-inch drop point blade along with a button lock...