Tested: Nighthawk Custom Hi Power

posted on April 11, 2017

Fabrique Nationale’s classic pistol is the High Power, first offered in 1935 and still in production (under the name Hi Power) in Belgium and Portugal. Licensed copies have been made in other plants, and unauthorized copies are sometimes encountered. During some 80-plus years of serial production, little of consequence has really changed on this milestone handgun; it still serves as a defensive sidearm around the world. But today’s American shooters have grown accustomed to M1911 pistols with all manner of custom features; it is not, therefore, hard for them to accept a modified or customized High Power as a viable commercial product. Nighthawk Custom, the Arkansas-based maker of custom M1911s, apparently believes such an idea would appeal to its customers, as it recently introduced a line of the highly upgraded pistols.

Understand that Nighthawk is not building its Hi Power from the ground up. The company has simply obtained a quantity of the genuine product from FN, then developed a number of modifications designed to improve the gun’s appearance, performance and handling. Thoroughly trained and experienced pistolsmiths perform those changes in the company’s Berryville, Ark., plant. The result, as seen in the gunmaker’s provided sample pistol, is a superior performer that has a distinctive look all its own.

Through the years, FN-Browning has used many kinds of sights on the factory-original Hi Powers, and custom pistolsmiths usually replace them with aftermarket sights of various types. Nighthawk chose the Heinie SlantPro, with an excellent 14k gold bead front matched to a plain black rear. That rear sight is mounted low at the top rear edge of the slide, and the combination provides an effective sight picture. Also, note the hand-matting that completely covers the curved top surface of the slide. On the right side of the slide, just to the rear of the cocking serrations, Nighthawk applies a rendering of the company logo, a hawk swooping down to strike. While custom barrels of premium quality may be had, Nighthawk stuck with the factory original, which has been internally re-fitted for a more consistent lockup, and it’s obvious that the barrel has been re-crowned.

On the pistol’s frame a great deal of special work is evident. For one thing, a factory Hi Power has a contour flaw that has confounded its shooters for decades. The grip tang does not extend sufficiently rearward to keep the hammer from biting the web of the shooter’s hand. Nighthawk understands the problem. To resolve it, the company welds extra material onto the rear of the frame, then files and grinds it into a shape much like the beavertails on its M1911 models. On this gun, the modification is so well-executed as to be invisible. In the same area of the pistol, the bilateral safety, which appears to be the factory original, has had its edges and corners softened for trouble-free handling.

Also, the Nighthawk Hi Power features 25-l.p.i. texturing on the magazine release to facilitate high-speed magazine changes. A modest bevel on the mouth of the magazine well further eases that technique. Finally, the same hand-matting job as found on the top of the slide is also located on the pistol’s frontstrap, backstrap, rear of the slide and underside of the trigger guard. Matting improves purchase on the pistol, as well as virtually eliminating any chance of light reflection.

The sights on Nighthawk’s rendition of the Hi Power pairs a gold bead front (l.) with a Heinie SlantPro rear (r.). An extended grip tang prevents the hammer from biting the web of the shooter’s hand during firing.

Inside the enhanced Nighthawk, the pistolsmiths install a new hammer, trigger and sear lever. These are adjusted to give the shooter a relatively crisp 4-lb. trigger pull. The final touch is a Cerakote finish in a dull black color that seems completely consistent with the pistol’s overall businesslike character. In handling and firing the gun, the Nighthawk Custom Hi Power proves to be equally businesslike.

There is one feature that deserves extra attention. Early High Powers came with nicely checkered walnut stocks that were thick and flat. They caused the High Power a great deal of condemnation as “feeling like a two-by-four” in your hand. As the first widely distributed double-stack 9 mm Luger pistol, the Browning had untapped potential for the lack of a couple of properly shaped stock panels. Custom makers went to work and produced stocks like the ones on this sample pistol. They are tapered forward and incorporate a modest palm swell on either side. In the hand, they seem so comfortable that some shooters see them as the best feature of the gun. Nighthawk must have noticed the superior shape, because they draw attention to the stocks by making them from a beautiful grade of Cocobolo wood. This exotic wood, grown in Mexico and Central America, is red-orange in color with swirling black streaks. The stocks have book-matched grain and are as handsome as they are functional.

At the range, the Nighthawk was 100 percent functionally reliable with a variety of 9 mm Luger loads. However, it was in the Ransom Rest that the Nighthawk Hi Power really came into its own. Using three different commercial loads, the pistol went through the American Rifleman protocol of five consecutive, five-shot groups at 25 yds. As tabulated nearby, the three loads managed an average extreme spread of 1.73"—which is excellent accuracy for a handgun.

This beautifully finished custom example of the Belgian classic pistol proved to also be an utterly reliable handgun, with which anyone would be well-armed.


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