|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 2 (Spring '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP|
Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP
"Nobody Does It Better"
A Gun Test by Steve Clark (Rio Vista Slim, )
The question is asked everyday. "What's the best pistol for self defense/concealed carry?"
There are as many answers as there are types of handguns and the people who carry them. Acknowledged experts, such as the late Col. Jeff Cooper, made it clear that only the Model of 1911 possessed most of the attributes desirable in a pistol which is to be used for self-defense. No gun is perfect, but the 1911 comes closer to achieving that perfection than any weapon produced during the last 100 years. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the old warhorse makes it something less than perfect for concealed carry for a large number of people. The Colonel realized this, and wrote volumes extolling the virtues of the smaller Commander version of the same pistol. The original Commander model utilized a 4.25 inch (107.95mm) barrel mated to a full size aluminum alloy frame. Concerns about the durability of that frame led to the introduction of the all steel Combat Commander several years later. Better sights, a consistently good trigger pull, and de-horning of the overall pistol are modifications that make the Commander a very good choice for a concealed carry gun. I carry a slightly modified Combat Commander, and until a few days ago, was satisfied that I had reached the best compromise of size, reliability, and power.
Then, Nighthawk Custom enlightened me!
Although newly introduced models from various manufacturers can always be counted on to generate interest and discussion on the M1911.ORG Forum, rarely have I seen excitement like Nighthawk Custom caused with the announcement of their new T3-UCP (Ultimate Carry Pistol). Members clamored for photographs of the new gun, and just as quickly, some were posted in the Nighthawk Forum. The M1911.ORG E-zine began preparations to be the first in any media to present a comprehensive test and evaluation of this unique pistol. Being first is a point of pride with the E-zine, but with an awesome responsibility to present fair and honest reviews of each gun tested. We realize that several months from now, the newsstand gun magazines will publish their own reviews.
The T3 is basically a Commander size slide mated to an Officer size steel frame. That combination is nothing new. Bringing the design concept for the NHC T3-UCP from drawing board to reality is the subject of this review.
The Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP was delivered to Great Guns in Burleson, Texas exactly one day after I was notified by Robin (at NHC) that the gun had been sent. The pistol was nestled inside Nighthawk's Pistol Rug, along with an extra magazine, owner's manual, a do's and don'ts posting, the test target, a fired cartridge casing, a hex wrench, and two coupons good for discounts on hearing protectors and six additional magazines.
From the very top of the pistol, the first notable feature is the use of Heine Slant-Pro Straight Eight sights with tritium inserts. A white outline is present on both the front sight and the small single dot under the notch on the rear sight. The face of the rear sight is serrated horizontally to reduce glare and both the front and rear sights are blended into the top of the slide. The area of the slide between the front and rear sights is serrated on its rounded surface. This feature also reduces glare when firing outside or under direct indoor lighting.
The black Perma-Koted slide has the Nighthawk emblem and the words "Nighthawk Custom" on the left side, while the right portion of the slide has "T3" in bold print ahead of the lowered and flared ejection port.
A crowned and beveled stainless steel Match Grade barrel is fitted flush with the stainless barrel bushing. Combined with the checkered stainless steel recoil spring plug, these "shiny" components provide a contrast to the rest of the blackened slide and frame assemblies. The rear of the slide is horizontally serrated, matching the serrations present on the rear sight.
Thirteen slanted cocking serrations are cut on either side of the rear of the slide. These provide a perfect platform for racking the slide, and are not so sharp as to cause any discomfort. There are no front cocking serrations to clutter up the appearance on the muzzle end of the gun. The entire slide assembly has been de-horned, and there are no sharp surfaces to harm skin, clothes, or holster leather.
The frame is likewise Perma-Koted in black. All sharp surfaces here have been blended in a manner similar to the slide. The frame of the T3 is what makes this pistol distinctly different from the Talon III, which is an offering from Nighthawk that has comparable slide and frame dimensions.
The serrated slide stop has an extended shelf for ease of operation. The pin is shortened to fit flush with the frame on the right side. The area around the slide stop pin is recessed and beveled for easier disassembly.
The single thumb/slide safety is also extended and serrated for more positive control. While a bit stiff, I much prefer the positive engagement/disengagement of this type of safety, as opposed to more loosely fitted ones. The slightly extended magazine release is serrated, and as with the previously mentioned controls, functioned perfectly with each use.
The lightweight aluminum trigger is Perma-Koted black, vertically serrated, and equipped with an over-travel adjustment. Fresh from the Nighthawk Pistol Rug, this trigger consistently released the sear at four pounds, as measured with my RCBS Trigger Pull Gauge. A very small amount of take-up led to a crisp release, and very quick re-set. To ease some suspicious thoughts, I tested one of my own guns and its pull went off at 6.25 pounds of pressure. At any rate, the trigger is quite nice on the T3, and a digital electronic trigger gauge is on my short list of needed accessories.
The hammer is a black elongated Commander-style unit, with horizontal serrations along the top and back to ease cocking operations. The previously mentioned rear of the slide is perfectly fitted. The extractor is barely visible, and there is no protrusion of either the frame rails or ejector. While on the subject of well-fit internals and externals, it bears repeating that Nighthawk Custom uses NO metal-injected-moldings for the parts in any of their guns.
The front strap of the pistol has 25 lines-per-inch checkering from the recessed bottom of the frame to an area of finger relief, dished out just below the trigger guard. This checkering is comfortable, yet slip-free when grasping the handle of the pistol.
Aiding in this positive grip are the G-10 stocks, which are held in place by black hex head screws. The unique design of these stocks leaves me at a loss for words, other than to say that a non-shift grip can be maintained on the pistol, even during rapid fire drills.
The extended beavertail grip safety is reliable in disengagement due to the use of an extended palm swell above the mainspring housing.
The surface of the mainspring housing bears some discussion. Unlike most 1911 pistols, that surface is neither checkered nor serrated vertically. This housing is the first I have ever seen with horizontal serrations running its full length. According to the Nighthawk Custom web site, this feature provides protection against the snagging of silk or other fine fabric linings in suit coats. While I have indeed experienced minor snagging of lining material in the past, with other pistols, I was surprised at how well these horizontal serrations prevented that occurrence. The feel of the serrations is quite different from what I am use to, did not have a detrimental effect on my grip of the pistol.
Moving to the bottom of the frame, one of the most distinctive features of the T3 is the re-designed and configured magazine well. The hand-cut geometric angles on this mag well not only give it a most unusual appearance, but ease considerably the loading of magazines. Blended into the recessed bottom of the frame, this magazine well also adds enough length to the grip portion of the gun to actually allow the grip to be only one-eighth of an inch shorter than a full size 1911. Another benefit from this extended mag well is the use of 7 round magazines. There is talk that the folks at Nighthawk Custom are going to offer this new magazine well as an after-market item from their parts department.
(The provided magazines are produced for Nighthawk Custom by the ACT-MAG/PSI facility in Italy. These are colored black, have a 7 round capacity, and have a polymer floor plate that exactly matches the contours of the magazine well and the front of the frame.)
The all black surface of this pistol (with the exception of the barrel, bushing, and spring plug) makes for a very pleasing overall presentation. The aforementioned features provide a gun that is both functional and highly concealable.
If you know how to field strip a standard 1911-type pistol, there will be no surprises with the Nighthawk T3. Making sure that the gun is empty and with the magazine removed, one depresses the recoil spring plug, and turns the stainless barrel bushing clockwise. Carefully remove the spring plug from the recoil spring channel. With the spring tension released, move the slide to the rear, lining up the half-moon shaped take down notch with the slide stop. Pressing the slide stop pin from the right side of the gun, lift the slide stop out of the frame. The slide assembly can then be moved forward off the frame. The recoil spring and guide rod may, at this time, be removed from the slide, to the rear. Turn the barrel bushing counter-clockwise, lining up the notch in the bushing with the corresponding notch in the slide, and pull it forward off the slide. The barrel may then be removed from the muzzle end of the slide.
Reassembly is in reverse order.
Field stripping was easily accomplished, and due to the exceptional fitting of the parts, reassembly was a breeze.
Carry and Concealment
The name of the new T3-UCP pretty much sums up its "mission-specific" goal. Therefore, leading up to the shooting and chronograph testing of the T3, I decided to see how the "Ultimate Carry Pistol" performs in this role.
I typically carry my Combat Commander in a Tucker Gunleather HF1 belt holster. Since that holster was made for a 4.25 inch Commander slide and upper frame, I theorized that the fit would be adequate, if not perfect. The latter proved to be true, as the T3 fit perfectly in the Tucker rig. The gun/holster combo carries comfortably, only slightly behind the point of my right hip bone. This places the pistol's grip above the hollow immediately under my rib cage. From that position, I have been able to practice drawing and firing with some success. Since purchasing this holster, I have been able to safely increase the speed of that draw. This technique involves moving a cover garment, such as a shirttail, long pullover shirt, vest, or light jacket, and commencing the draw.
I have managed to become fairly smooth with the Combat Commander. The T3, however, proved to be "light years" better on the draw than my personal gun. The combination of front strap checkering and the G-10 grips seemed to "cement" the weapon to my hand from the beginning of each drawing action. The pistol felt more secure during and after the draw, and firing positions were more quickly acquired. I repeated these exercises about 30 times, firing double-taps and Mozambique drills alternately. Distances ranged from about 4 feet (1.22 meters) to 12 yards (10.97 meters). At point-blank ranges I used point-shooting techniques, and changed to a modified Weaver stance when distances increased from 3 yards (2.7 meters) to 12 yards.
The Firing Line
Factory ammunition costs have risen dramatically over the last year. To fully test any pistol, I feel a minimum of 500 rounds of various types of cartridges should be fired. (Nighthawk Custom actually recommends that number to be fired in their pistols before the first field stripping and cleaning.) Without the kind donation of ammunition from Advanced Tactical Firearms (Armscor Precision Ammunition), ATK Ammunition Systems Group (Federal and Speer), and Hornady Mfg. Company, these tests would be much less comprehensive. We at the M1911.ORG E-zine are grateful for the generosity of these companies.
The Competitive Edge Dynamics Millennium Chronograph doesn't operate in the rain. Constant showers and thunderstorms rolled through my part of Texas during the duration of these tests. Dodging these storms proved challenging, but when I got brief respites from the precipitation, I set the chronograph "start" diffuser screen 12 feet (3.65 meters) from my shooting bench, and the muzzle of the NHC T3.
The temperature during the test hovered between 77 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 and 26.6 degrees Celsius). The humidity (73%) was the determining factor on what I considered to be abnormally low velocities for some of the rounds tested.
The chart emphasizes that the fastest load tested was the Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point, using the 185 grain bullet. The most consistent round (high and low velocities) was the Armscor Precision 230 grain load. Accuracy honors went to the Armscor ammo on this test day as well. It should be noted that all of the test ammunition performed well, and accuracy from the various bullet weights and loadings was atypically uniform. The Nighthawk Custom T3 was not particular to any brand of ammo used, and all brands represented in the accuracy and chronograph testing functioned with total reliability.
Of the 1911s I currently own, none have factory installed night sights. Therefore, I always try to do a little shooting in low light whenever I have a test pistol so equipped. The Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP has some dandies! The Heine Slant-Pro Straight Eight sights have green tritium inserts, which became more visible as dusk turned to late twilight. I fired several 7 round strings at a reduced FBI target from 30 feet (9.14 meters). The NHC T3 and the excellent Heine sights provided me with a good front sight reference point. Unfortunately, I began missing to the left, as the ambient light faded. In the interest of complete honesty, I include the following photograph. It should be noted, in closing this section, that the last few shots taken on this target were fired by the light provided by a full moon.
Several hundred rounds of U.S.A. manufactured Winchester 230 gr. full metal jacket ammunition (the kind available at Wal-Mart) had been cluttering up considerable space at my small home, so I concluded my shooting tests using this type of ammo. Also included were about 40 rounds of Winchester 185 gr. Silver-Tips, and a few Federal 165 gr. Expanding Full Metal Jacket cartridges. As with the other brands tested, the Nighthawk T3 fired all these subsequent shots without incident or malfunction. Targets for this final phase of shooting consisted of steel plates, jugs filled with water, and 8" paper plates. In all, 519 rounds were expended over a three day period.
Typical comments I hear from people I associate with, as well as some contributors to the M1911.ORG Forum range from "What makes a custom or semi-custom gun worth so much more than what I own?" to "I'd never pay two grand or more for any handgun."
The first question cannot be answered unless someone has the opportunity to fire a high end pistol, and compare it to what they have on hand. The differences between custom or semi-custom arms and production weapons is pictured and described in this text, but the true test comes in the handling and firing of such pistols.
The second statement can be misleading. When I first began shooting handguns in the mid-1960s, I would never have imagined paying $1,000 for a production grade pistol. The first 1911 I ever fired was a far cry from the high end guns being offered today. Believe it or not, you DO get what you pay for, and in my humble opinion, guns such as the T3 are worth every penny.
Fellow Forum member JustinTime had the opportunity to briefly examine the Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP. His comments about the butter-smooth slide action and crisp trigger were noted. I wanted him to have the opportunity to shoot the T3, but the spring Texas monsoons, and our totally different work schedules made it difficult to schedule a compatible range session. I sorely needed Justin's younger eyes during the accuracy portion of the pistol test.
In the descriptive section of this review, I tried to successfully photograph and describe the unique features of this gun. I hope I objectively covered aesthetic items that become quite subjective when actually firing the weapon. The T3 did not shift in my hand whatsoever during shooting and range tests. This was as true while drawing from a holster for double-taps on a reduced FBI target, as it was from a braced and padded rest from my shooting bench. The gun was designed to be carried. If called upon to be drawn and fired, that same design insures a reliable, accurate pistol that will not move in the hand from the first round fired to the last.
My brief tests (including drawing from a leather holster) had absolutely no adverse affects on the Perma-Koted T3. This was my second exposure to a Perma-Kote finish on a Nighthawk Custom pistol. While my brief tests are no benchmark, I have had some finish wear occur on other manufacturers' similarly treated (non-Perma-Kote) guns during a test session.
The redesigned magazine well deceived my eyes at first. I knew the frame was an Officer Size unit, but the mag well appeared to extend the grip length to standard proportions.
As can be readily seen in the preceding photograph, the magazine for a full size 1911 that is mounted for upright display clearly shows the difference in grip lengths.
I initially thought I might have some problems acquiring the Heine Slant-Pro Straight Eight sights. The large front sight dot stands out very well, and those concerns were unfounded.
While I was at a loss for words to describe the G-10 stocks on the T3-UCP Nighthawk, I have no such problem in stating that I really like the way they feel. These stocks not only compliment the appearance of the pistol, they provide a non-slip surface that is perfect for the gun's intended role.
The no-snag horizontal serrations on the mainspring housing seem to achieve what the designers at Nighthawk were trying to accomplish. I stated in the "Carry and Concealment" section that I could detect no snagging of the material used as a cover garment in my tests. Those cover garments don't have silk linings, but they would tend to snag, nonetheless. Aesthetically, I prefer vertically serrated or checkered mainspring housings, but the horizontal serrations worked quite well.
The Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP is as close to an "ultimate carry pistol" as one is likely to find. Its name is well deserved. I have had the good fortune to handle some very nice pistols in the last couple of years. Each one had that "something", or combination of things, that made it special. Every weapon exhibited superior craftsmanship, and a dedication to quality not matched by production-type guns.
Exceptional pistols built to exacting standards. The Best of the Best.
And nobody does it better than Nighthawk.
* "Nobody Does It Better" Theme song from the 1977 James Bond movie "The Spy Who Loved Me".
I would like to thank Nighthawk Custom for providing the T3-UCP to the M1911.ORG E-zine for the first gun test of this brand new pistol. Craig and his staff promised a quick delivery, and their word was as good as gold. I continue to be impressed with the quality of both product and customer service exhibited by Nighthawk Custom.
Quick delivery from Berryville, Arkansas would mean nothing without the swift actions of Bill Lamb at Great Guns in Burleson, Texas. My gratitude once again goes out to Bill for his assistance with this pistol, as well as all of my previous gun tests.
Finally, our sincere thanks go out to the fine makers of the donated ammunition (mentioned previously in the article). Without your interest and support, the cost of doing these tests would be prohibitive, and much less comprehensive.
You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:
Caliber: .45 ACP
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Advanced Tactical Firearms
Hornady Mfg. Co
ATK Ammunition Systems Group
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
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|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 2 (Spring '07) - Pistol Review: Nighthawk Custom T3-UCP|