The Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander: .45 Masterpiece Review

Testing a pistol thoroughly as prep for writing a magazine review involves a mundane protocol to put each firearm on a relatively equal footing for evaluation. It never gets boring. And after reviewing a few thousand guns, finding something creative to say about a new gun can be challenging. However, Nighthawk Custom always makes it easy with options like its VIP Commander.

The Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander

The fun meter starts ticking upward when I handle an exceptionally accurate weapon. When that gun has put a few rounds downrange, and its balance and fit make it feel like it’s an extension of my arm, the fun meter pegs out. That was my recent experience when I handled Nighthawk Custom’s VIP Commander.

The Berryville, Arkansas, gunmaker has earned a solid reputation as a quality 1911 shop with a lot of high-end pistols going out the door since 2004. Nighthawk launched when a few Wilson Combat gunsmiths decided to leave and form their own company. It focuses on building custom 1911s with a creed of “hand-built from start to finish by one gunsmith.”

Mark Stone started the company and still owns it today.

I’ve long been a fan of 1911s in .45 ACP and burn through several thousand rounds of ammo each year. My confidence level in a .45 ACP 1911 Commander is so much that one rides in a shoulder holster under my sports coat to church every Sunday. If I could only have one pistol, it would be a Commander-length 1911.

A friend and fellow writer got called home early on an emergency during the Athlon Outdoors Rendezvous in Idaho last fall. So, I wound up taking over the coverage of a couple of his assignments. One of his assignments was to test and evaluate Nighthawk’s VIP Commander 1911. As much as I like shooting 1911s, yes, I lucked out.

VIP Build

Nighthawk’s VIP Commander is designed to be a true heirloom quality pistol. The rear of the slide has been hand-serrated to match the Heinie Black rear sight. Correspondingly, the front sight sports a 14k solid gold bead, adding to the class of the pistol.

A Heinie Black Slant Pro rear sight couples with a gold bead front sight.

This VIP Commander sports a 4.25-inch National Match grade barrel that has been crowned. Deep hand engraving is featured throughout the slide and frame. To speed magazine changes, the VIP Commander features an extended, beveled mag well.

Truly an elite pistol, the VIP Commander is the epitome of style and class in a 1911. Each pistol comes with a custom walnut hardwood presentation case to proudly display the exquisite piece. “Very Impressive Pistol” might be a more fitting explanation of this handgun’s “VIP” designation.

In addition to hand-carved serrations on the back of the slide and ejector, the vertical frontstrap and mainspring get matching vertical serrations. A classic antiqued nickel finish makes this a stunning work of art.

The vertical frontstrap and mainspring get matching vertical serrations.

The finish work on the pistol is so fine that it shows a luster that reminds me of the “swirly” patterns seen in bone case hardening. To top off the package, giraffe bone grips create an elegant look that will last for generations.

The VIP Commander Nitty-Gritty

Let’s get really specific about the Nighthawk VIP Commander. A Heinie Black Slant Pro rear sight combined with a gold bead front sight yields a 6.51-inch sighting radius. Lefties are out of luck because this pistol wears a traditional thumb safety.

Another custom feature that’s not readily available on a 1911 is the VIP’s smaller firing pin size. It’s actually the same as a .38 Super’s firing pin diameter. What does that mean?

Well, smaller firing pins allow for higher cartridge pressures. And this pistol’s firing pin matches up nicely with .45 ACP with a small pistol primer, too. Yet another way to get more psi from a .45 ACP case.

The height of this pistol is 5.6 inches, and its overall length is 8.66 inches. Widest across the grips, this span measures 1.40 inches. Nothing out of the ordinary with the slide width, coming in at 0.92 inches.

The pistol is painstakingly hand crafted one at a time by a single craftsman, resulting in a very tight, well-made fighting pistol.

The VIP on the Range

Range time with the Nighthawk VIP Commander didn’t disappoint. It ran like a well-dressed machine. To find the preferred loads for this pistol, I put it through an exhaustive test. Six different factory loads and one handload went downrange and across a chronograph.

Accuracy testing was conducted from a bench at 25 yards. Several five-shot groups were fired with each load over several days to get a notion of the pistol’s potential. Velocity data gathered was the result of 10-shot strings giving standard deviation and extreme velocity spread.

The author shooting Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander.

Running Various Ammunition

The single handload tested was loaded with a 200-grain cast from an MP-Molds from Slovenia. It’s a six-cavity mold that drops a clone of a by-gone era Hensley & Gibbs No. 68 mold. This Central European machinist produces a fine semi-custom mold.

These days, I’m shooting this bullet atop 6.5 grains of Unique powder. This produced an average velocity of 850 fps, an SD of 11 fps, and an ES of 34 fps. The best group from this economic plinking load measured 0.90 inches. Of note is a 15-round group fired offhand at 25 yards that kept all slugs within a 3.28-inch group.

Black Hills’ 230-grain jacketed hollow points averaged 820 fps and posted a best group size of 2.57 inches. The standard deviation was 9 fps, while the extreme spread was 31 fps.

Federal’s budget-grade American Eagle drives 230-grain FMJs at an average of 835 fps from this Nighthawk Commander. The best group measured 3.25 inches. This load also posted an SD of 10 fps and an ES of 22 fps.

The Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander handled many various brands of ammo.

Winchester’s PDX1 was a zippy load, producing 910 fps on average. That velocity was rather eyebrow-raising for a 230-grain load. Its best performance at 25 yards measured 2.42 inches for five shots.

Hornady’s Critical Defense ammo loaded with 185-grain FTX bullets produced the smallest group with factory loads from this pistol. The group went 1.82 inches measured center-to-center. It was the speediest, too, with an average of 1,001 fps. Its standard deviation was 6 fps, and the extreme velocity spread was 16.

Hornady’s 220-grain Critical Duty loads performed nearly as well, posting a 2.18-inch group. Velocity averaged 884 fps. The last factory load was 230-grain FMJs from PMC. The best group measured 2.82 inches, and their average velocity was 828 fps.

Final Notes

After putting 200 rounds through this pistol and breaking it in, the slide felt like it rode on greased ball bearings. Three hundred rounds later, it was still just as tight. When you hit the slide release on a loaded magazine, it drives home with authority and the pleasing sound of a well-constructed pistol.

For more information, visit NighthawkCustom.com.

Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander Specs

Caliber .45 ACP
Barrel 4.25 inches
Overall Length 8.66 inches
Weight 43.8 ounces (empty)
Grips Giraffe bone
Sights Heinie Black Slant Pro rear, gold bead front
Action SA
Finish Antique Nickel
Capacity 8+1
MSRP $8,000


Black Hills 230 JHP 820 2.57
Federal American Eagle 230 FMJ 835 3.25
Hornady Critical Defense 185 FMJ FTX 1,001 1.82
Hornady Critical Duty 220 FlexLock 884 2.18
PMC 230 FMJ 828 2.82
Winchester PDX1 230 JHP 910 2.42
HG68 Cast 200 SWC 850 0.90

Bullet weight and load measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best 5-shot group from 25 yards.

This article was originally published in the Personal Defense World October/November 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email [email protected].

Performance of the Nighthawk Custom VIP Commander.

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