American Genius: Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power

When it comes to firearms designers, one stands out above all others—John Moses Browning. Born in Ogden, Utah in 1855, he made his first firearm at the tender age of 13 and received his first patent at age 24. During his life, he designed or made improvements to lever-action rifles, including the ubiquitous Winchester Model 94, and slide-action (pump) shotguns.

But he is probably best known for his semi and fully automatic firearms that include the 1911 pistol, water- and air-cooled machineguns, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), Browning A-5 shotgun (Remington Model 11), and the M2 .50-caliber machinegun. Many of these designs are still in use today. Browning guns have been putting America’s enemies in the dirt while keeping GIs above ground for over a century.

Browning was working on a new pistol design for Fabrique Nationale (FN) when he died in 1926. The pistol was completed by FN designer Dieudonné Saive in 1935 and became the P-35. We know it better as the Hi-Power.

Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power shot as good as it looks.


BROWNING HI-POWER

The Hi-Power is a semiautomatic single-action pistol chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. It is fed from a 13-round staggered-column magazine.

Many people believe the name Hi-Power refers to the cartridge, but that is not the case. The Browning/FN collaboration was undertaken for trials for a new French service pistol, the Grand Rendement (French for “High Yield”), or alternatively Grande Puissance (“High Power”).

One French requirement was that the pistol have a capacity of at least ten rounds (hence the name). So the name is derived from the magazine capacity, not the cartridge. It is somewhat ironic that “high-capacity” pistols are currently all the rage, considering Browning figured it out more than eight decades ago.

Although France did not ultimately adopt it, the Hi-Power became the official sidearm of over 50 nations and runs the gamut, literally, from A to Z.

While popular with many private citizens, the Hi-Power has also seen limited service with some U.S. SWAT teams. It was the choice of the FBI HRT until that unit replaced it with the Browning-designed 1911.

Rear sight is Heinie Slant Pro. Rear face is serrated and slanted forward to help eliminate glare. Top of slide has hand texturing to further eliminate glare. Texturing extends behind sight’s dovetail.


CUSTOMIZING A CLASSIC

In 2015, Nighthawk Custom undertook the task of seeing what they could do to improve the already excellent Hi-Power. I first saw it at the 2016 SHOT Show and was very taken with it. I placed an order shortly after the show.

Nighthawk Custom offers several finish options, including a two-tone version. The finish on the test pistol is a satin black Cerakote™. A French border is milled into the slide at the junction of the flats and top of the slide. While it doesn’t increase performance, it is a nice touch and looks great.

The top and rear of the slide have hand texturing that resembles very fine skateboard tape and eliminates any glare. The Nighthawk logo is on the right side of the slide behind the grasping serrations. This same texturing is applied to the front and back straps of the frame and the bottom of the trigger guard. Although it gives a very good grip, it is not abrasive to the touch.

Nighthawk Custom front sight has a 14k gold bead. French border is milled into slide.


An extended beavertail prevents hammer bite and affords a high grip on the pistol to help control recoil. The mag well is contoured for fast and easy magazine changes.

The Nighthawk Custom front sight has a 14k gold bead. The rear sight is a black Heinie Slant Pro. The rear face of the sight is serrated and slightly slanted forward to help eliminate glare. Both sights are set in dovetails and therefore drift adjustable for windage.

The thumb safety is ambidextrous and serrated for positive manipulation, as are the slide release and magazine release button. An oval-shaped hole is in the hammer.

Barrel is crowned to protect rifling at the muzzle.


Internally, the Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power has a competition steel hammer, improved sear lever and trigger. The trigger has a flat face and crisp four-pound trigger pull. The barrel is crowned to protect the muzzle. Crowning can also increase accuracy as the exiting gas is distributed evenly.

Nighthawk offers different stock (grip) options. The test pistol wears custom select checkered cocobolo stocks with the Nighthawk logo.

As mentioned, the Hi-Power uses 13-round magazines. The magazines shipped with the pistol have an external spring at the bottom to assist ejection. I found that the mags would actually eject with the pistol inverted. The magazines have what appears to be a dull gray Parkerized finish.

The pistol ships in a padded nylon case with manual, trigger lock, and two magazines.

Custom extended beavertail prevents hammer bite and affords a high grip on the pistol.


SUPPORT GEAR

A great pistol deserves a great holster. I received a custom Cuda holster and CID double mag pouch from Simply Rugged Holsters. Both have a rich Oxblood finish and Celtic knot carving. The Cuda is a high-ride pancake design that carries the pistol close to the body. The three belt slots allow it to be carried either strong side or crossdraw. A sweat shield protects both the rear portion of the slide and the wearer’s skin from being abraded.

Being a big believer in having white light available to search and positively ID a target, I specified the CID double mag pouch with a spare magazine up front, and the rear pouch for a one-inch diameter flashlight.

To enable me to shoot more without constantly jamming mags, Mec-Gar USA provided six Hi-Power magazines. Prior experience has shown that Mec-Gar mags are of the highest quality. As a matter of fact, they are OEM for numerous manufacturers. Finish was bright blue.

Front of frame and bottom of trigger guard are hand textured for a sure grip. Safety is ambidextrous. Nighthawk Custom logo is at rear of slide.


ON THE RANGE

I arrived at the range with 22 assorted loads from ten manufacturers and one handload. I established the velocity of each load with a PACT Professional model chronograph.

Handling the Hi-Power was like shaking hands with an old friend. Like the 1911, it just feels “right” in my hand. The trigger on the test pistol, as measured with a Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge, broke cleanly and consistently at 4.3 pounds with a positive reset. The flat face of the trigger helped facilitate a press straight to the rear, promoting accuracy.

Speaking of which, the Hi-Power was everything you’d expect from a custom pistol in the accuracy department. Shooting from 20 yards, I fired a full magazine of each load. Halfway through, I had to put up a second target because the original target was one ragged hole.

Safety, slide lock/release, and magazine release are all serrated for positive manipulation.


Working from the holster, when coming up on target, the pistol points naturally and the sights seem almost to align themselves. Shooting dedicated pairs and getting good hits at 20 yards was not a chore.

While I believe it’s wise to always fire twice, I don’t think it’s smart to get in the habit of shooting twice every time. In self-defense shootings, the bad guy is the one who gets the final vote on how many shots are fired, so I mix it up by firing two, three, and four shots (sometimes more).

On a side note, scanning and assessing to break tunnel vision are likewise good things, but don’t get carried away. Habitually doing what I call the “Firing Range Macarena,” where someone turns a full 360 degrees—and in doing so faces away from the target they have just shot—is not a good idea, as in real life you may get shot in the back.

I fired just under 600 rounds through the Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power and experienced a grand total of one malfunction when the last round from one of the Mec-Gar magazines failed to feed.

Magazines furnished with pistol have a spring at the base to assist ejection.


SUMMARY

The Hi-Power had a high-capacity magazine long before high capacity was cool. One of the most revered pistols in history, it is rivaled in service length only by the 1911. Its latest incarnation is accurate, reliable, and has seriously good looks.

Nighthawk Custom has transformed a great gun into a serious work of art. Like other works of art, and considering its suggested starting price of $2,995, some may be tempted to turn this Hi-Power into a safe queen.

Mine is going to be carried and shot—a lot.

SOURCES

NIGHTHAWK CUSTOM
(877) 268-4867
www.nighthawkcustom.com

AGUILA AMMUNITION
(888) 452-4019
www.aguilaammo.com

BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION
(605) 348-5150
www.black-hills.com

DKG TRADING INC. (Colt ammo)
(877) 354-2666
www.dkgtrading.com

DOUBLE TAP AMMUNITION
(866) 357-10MM
www.doubletapammo.com

HORNADY MFG. CO.
(800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

HPR AMMUNITION
(888) 966-8477
www.hprammo.com

LIBERTY AMMUNITION
(941) 567-6178
www.libertyammunition.com

LYMAN PRODUCTS CORP.
(800) 225-9626
www.lymanproducts.com

MEC-GAR USA, INC.
(860) 635-1525
www.mec-gar.com

PACT INC.
(800) 722-8462
www.pact.com

SIG SAUER INC.
(603) 772-2302
www.sigsauer.com

SIMPLY RUGGED HOLSTERS
(928) 227-0432
www.simplyrugged.com

STURM, RUGER & CO., INC.
(203) 259-7843
www.ruger.com

WINCHESTER AMMUNITION
(615) 258-3340
www.winchester.com


NIGHTHAWK CUSTOMIZATION AND IMPROVEMENTS

  • Hand-textured (stippled) frame and trigger guard
  • Hand-textured slide top and rear of slide
  • Custom extended beavertail
  • Contoured magwell
  • French border
  • Heinie Slant Pro black rear sight
  • Nighthawk 14K gold bead front sight
  • Crowned barrel
  • 25 LPI serrated mag release
  • Competition steel hammer, improved sear lever, and trigger
  • Crisp custom four-pound trigger
  • Cerakote™ satin rust-resistant finish
  • Custom select cocobolo checkered stocks with Nighthawk logo
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