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.
He is probably best known, however, for his semi and fully-automatic firearms that the 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.
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 this 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 of the French requirements was that the pistol must have a capacity of at least ten rounds (hence the name). In short, the name is derived from the magazine capacity, not the cartridge. It is somewhat ironic that “high capacity” pistols are all the current rage, considering Browning and Saive figured it out more than eight decades ago.
Although France did not ultimately adopt it, the Hi-Power went on to become the official sidearm of over 50 nations and spans 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 them with the Browning designed 1911.
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 has hand texturing that resembles very fine skateboard tape that 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 on the bottom of the trigger guard. Although it gives a very good grip, it is not abrasive to the touch.
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 genuine 14k gold bead. The rear sight is a black Heinie Slant Pro. The rear face is of the sight 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 is the slide release and magazine release button. An oval-shaped hole is in the hammer.
Internally, the Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power has a competition steel hammer, improved sear lever and trigger.
The trigger has a flat face and a four-pound, crisp 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 cocobolo checkered 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 in 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.
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 with Celtic Knot hand 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 ordered the CID double mag pouch to carry 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 Meg-Gar mags are of the highest quality. As a matter of fact, they are OEM for numerous manufacturers. Finish was bright blue.
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.
In the accuracy department, the Hi-Power was everything you would expect from a custom pistol. Shooting from 20 yards, I fired a full magazine of each load. Halfway through I put up a second target as the original target was one ragged hole.
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 that it’s wise to always fire twice, I don’t think it’s too 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 is likewise a good thing, but don’t get carried away with it. This is just my opinion, but getting in the habit of doing what I call the “Firing Range Macarena” where someone turns a full 360-degree—and in doing so faces away from the target they have just shot—is not a real 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.
The Hi-Power had a high capacity magazine long before high capacity was cool. One of the most revered pistols in history, it is only rivaled in service length by the 1911.
In its latest incarnation it 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 some may be tempted to turn it into a safe queen.
Mine is shot and carried—a lot.
SIMPLY RUGGED HOLSTERS