It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2020, I wrote an article on a Colt Classic 1911 that was being offered by Nighthawk Custom. Nighthawk took the Classic model and upgraded it without losing the Colt flavor. 1911 fans loved the pistols, and they sold very well. Unfortunately, the project had to be discontinued due to the unavailability of the Colt pistols. So, I asked Nighthawk Custom to do the same to a Springfield Mil-Spec Classic 1911.
Nighthawk Custom Updates a Springfield Mil-Spec Classic 1911
I had to return my test pistol. But, looking back, it was one of my favorite 1911s that I’ve evaluated over the years. I couldn’t get the build off my mind.
So, I decided to call my good friends at Springfield Armory and purchase a new Mil-Spec. The Mil-Spec is built using a forged frame and slide and has a match-grade barrel. Like the Colt Classic, it was the perfect canvas for the project!
In addition, the guns are readily available, and the street price is very reasonable.
The Classic Package
While the Colt was discontinued, the classic build sheet has been standardized. So, I called Bob Reeves and asked if Nighthawk could do the exact same build on the Springfield. He said that was very doable, and the project came to life.
For those not familiar with this package, it is far more than a makeover. In fact, it’s a complete custom build that is done to the same exacting standards as every Nighthawk Custom pistol.
Upon receiving my pistol, the shop did a complete overall breakdown to ensure the components that we were going to keep were within specifications. During preparation, the gun was given a Grade 2 bevel package to remove any sharp edges on the frame and slide. The rear of the slide and frame were expertly blended, and, where appropriate, new parts were prepped, fitted, and beveled.
The frame was high cut at the base of the trigger guard, and the front strap received VIP vertical serrations. The slide was cut with a French border, giving the Mil-Spec a nice custom touch.
Springfield is known for its outstanding barrels, and as such, we retained the factory unit. The factory barrel was crowned and fitted to a custom thick bushing and mainspring plug.
Focusing on the Details
The factory-arched mainspring housing was replaced with billet machined flat housing with VIP serrations that match the front-strap serrations. The MSH was expertly blended to the frame for an almost seamless fit.
A low-profile Carry Beavertail replaced the GI grip safety and was perfectly blended to the frame. Likewise, a single side Tactical Thumb Safety and a medium-length, solid trigger were installed. I specifically requested a Harrison Design Retro Spur hammer.
Internally, the Mil-Spec received all new fire control components, including fully machined ignition parts. A complete trigger job was done, giving the pistol a clean 4 lb. 6 oz. break. The shop also did a complete reliability enhancement package to ensure the Mil-Spec was 100% reliable.
The breech face was trued and polished, and the feed ramp was throated to the proper dimensions and then polished. A new extractor was properly fitted, tensioned, and blended to the rear of the slide. Nighthawk also included two of their stainless eight-round magazines with an extended base plate.
Finishing Touches on the Springfield Mil-Spec Classic
To maintain the theme, I replaced the factory rear sight with John Harrison’s Retro Rear sight. The rear of the blade has 50 LPI serrations to reduce glare. As a result, the sight provides a great sight picture and is very durable.
The new front sight features a 14 ct. gold bead with a nicely blended base that has been contoured to the radius of the slide. “Nighthawk Custom” is subtly engraved on the right side of the dust cover to indicate that this is not just another 1911.
The entire gun features a distressed smoked nitride finish. Correspondingly, the coating actually looks like a well-worn blue, and the distressing is done tastefully on the edges. The gun appears to have good, honest wear that gives it real character. Likewise, the dehorning gives the pistol the feel of “a bar of soap.”
The overall pistol is uniquely unassuming to the untrained eye. Yet, to a true believer, it is a pistol that is good to ride the river with.
The Texas Ranger Connection
In case you missed it, 2023 is the bicentennial celebrating the founding of the Texas Rangers. The 1911 has been the choice of many Rangers for years and continues to serve today. With that in mind, I set out to make the Nighthawk Classic a tribute to these legendary lawmen.
My first call was to Scott Kolar of SK Grips. Scott specializes in exotic wood and stabilized mammoth ivory. I discussed the theme of the project, and we selected a blank of mammoth with the appearance of aged stag. The idea that the stocks are over 10,000 years old still boggles my mind. Scott is great to work with, and his prices are very reasonable.
For leather, I turned to the esteemed Alex Tukeindorf of American Classic Gunleather. Alex is a true master at crafting and carving leather. He made a custom A.W. Brill-style holster and a double magazine pouch. Both feature an exquisite hand-carved oak leaf and acorn pattern.
A matching Ranger-style gun belt with a sterling silver buckle completed the set. The set is magnificent and absolutely fitting for the Mil-Spec Ranger 1911.
Prior to going to the range, I removed the mammoth stocks and replaced them with a set of 10-8 Performance G-10 stocks. Founder Hilton Yam is a retired FBI SWAT agent and spent most of his career on a regional SWAT team in Florida.
With hundreds of thousands of rounds fired through a Springfield Professional, Hilton knows what works and what doesn’t. His stocks feature a diamond pattern that provides a positive purchase without being too aggressive. There is also a thumb relief to assist in accessing the magazine release.
I ran my normal 1911 functionality tests, which are the industry standard. The first test consisted of 10 single rounds fired with no magazine to test the extractor and ejector. This ensures proper tension on the extractor and a proper angle of the ejector.
I then tested the feeding, from slide lock, of the first round of a full magazine. Finally, I shot the last three rounds from each magazine to ensure proper feeding and slide lock. I also shot several full magazine dumps to ensure feeding under extreme circumstances.
I selected to test the Mil-Spec with Federal 230 gr. HST, Speer 230 gr. Gold Dot, and Hornady 185 gr. Critical Defense.
Velocities were as expected, with the HST averaging 835 fps, the Gold Dot averaging 798 fps, and the lighter Critical Defense averaging 1,047 fps. While I am not a fan of +P ammo in .45 ACP, I had some Federal 230 gr. +P HST on hand. The +P HST averaged 889 fps.
Getting on Target with the Springfield Mil-Spec Classic
The fixed rear sight, combined with the gold bead front sight, gave a very clean sight picture. I appreciated the wide square notch rear aperture that gave me plenty of daylight on either side of the front post. This setup was very conducive for tracking the sights through recoil and making follow-up shots.
Hitting a 10-inch plate at 50 yards became routine as long as I did my job. Groups at 25 yards are reflected in the accompanying chart (below) and are more reflective of my capability than that of the pistol.
I did have one issue with the pistol. On the first outing, and after about 100 rounds, the rear sight started drifting, even with the retention screw tightened.
A quick call to Nighthawk and the pistol was returned. They found the dovetail was slightly out of specification and corrected the issue. Other than that, the gun is everything you could want.
It’s really hard not to want to carry a new pistol, and the Nighthawk was no exception. Carrying a pistol, the size and weight of a Government Model, requires good gear. So, I broke out my 20-year-old Milt Sparks 55BN with the matching belt and double magazine pouch.
This was my primary off-duty carry rig for many years, and it felt good to buckle it back up. The Nighthawk carried perfectly, and with the smoked nitride finish, it was very slick out of the holster. There has always been something intrinsically pleasing in carrying a 1911.
Since I specified the build sheet, I really don’t have any regrets or criticisms with the gun. The finish is absolutely outstanding, and the workmanship of the build is everything that has become expected of Nighthawk. In hindsight, I might have considered a more retro thumb safety. But, that is a very minor issue that is purely subjective.
The combination of the retro hammer, fixed sights, and the low profile beavertail helps the gun retain a retro appearance. However, don’t let the retro appearance deceive you! This pistol is fully capable of serving as a duty or personal defense pistol. Or, as the Rangers said, “It is good to ride the river with!”
As with their full custom guns, this project was done by “one gunsmith!”
That smith is Brian Woody, and I would like to extend my appreciation to him for this one. I now have a suitable barbecue, and Sunday, go to meetin’ gun and rig. Now, I need to get to Texas!
For more information, please visit NighthawkCustom.com.
Nighthawk Custom Springfield Mil-Spec Classic Specs
|Distressed Smoked Nitride
|Build Price As Shown
|Speer Gold Dot
|Hornady Critical Defense
|Chronograph measured at 10 ft/Accuracy shot at 20 yards
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