Wilson Combat vs Nighthawk Custom: Different Approaches for Same Great Results
There are a handful of prominent M1911 makers throughout the country, but Nighthawk Custom and Wilson Combat are among the most notable. These two prolific custom gun builders hail from Berryville, Arkansas, a small town of just over 5,000.
Guns.com caught up with Mark Stone, CEO of Nighthawk Custom, and Richard Roberts, Customer Service Manager of Wilson Combat, to understand the differences between the companies and how each yields great results.
When Bill Wilson started making custom M1911s in 1977, it was out of necessity. Unable to find a gun out of the box with tolerances tight enough for his taste, Wilson started as a small one-man shop. That small shop has since flourished into one of the most prolific gun shops in the country.
“I don't think there's a gun magazine person or anyone that's followed the industry over the last 20 years that could say that the 1911 or even the firearms industry would be where they're at without Bill Wilson,” Roberts told us, “What he brings to our industry, a lot of people don't really know or even see -- his ability to constantly be thinking of what's next.”
Wilson Combat’s next steps have often included innovative designs, pushing outside traditional M1911s to rifles. The company even collaborates with the likes of Glock, Sig, and Beretta. Wilson Combat has also become incredibly well-known for its magazines, especially among competition shooters. Wilson’s M1911s are also no strangers to the gunmaker’s forward-thinking approach.
“The new EDC X9, we introduced a few years ago, it's really been a market changer for us. The introduction of that tipped the 1911 market upside-down,” Roberts explained. “We've seen people attempt some double-stack 1911-type things to a point, but they were still considered 2011s... It changed how the market sees the 1911 because it is a 1911, but it's also a double-stack.”
This ability to move beyond the expected, rests on the shoulders of its team of trained specialists, tending to every detail of the build. “A lot of people might look at that [team] as being a full-scale assembly line, but it's really not the way we look at it,” Roberts said. “Every person that touches [the guns], no matter what they do -- whether they work on triggers, whether they do a lot of the dehorning process or get it prepped for paint or Armor-Tuff or bluing -- there are so many confident, skilled people that really build these out.”
Wilson Combat entered the arena 30 years before Mark Stone opened the doors of Nighthawk Custom. In many ways, he began in the same place that Bill Wilson did. Though Nighthawk forged a partnership with legendary German manufacturer Korth to produce revolvers and a line of tactical shotguns, its primary focus remains on perfecting John Browning’s century-old design.
“[Wilson Combat] builds good guns, but I felt like we had to do more in order to get there and be more flexible in order to get that business,” Stone said. “People say ‘hey, why don’t you do ARs?’ I say about anybody can build an AR, but a really custom M1911, that takes some super talent.”
Pointing to models like the Agent I and Agent II, Stone noted small innovative improvements. But then he pointed to things like Nighthawk’s new drop-in trigger system, a first for the M1911 -- build on the age-old Browning design as something totally new and shakes the industry.
“[The drop-in trigger] is not for our guns,” Stone said. “There are a lot of people that have other production model pistols that would like to have a better trigger… This drop-in trigger is something they can do. They can move from pistol to pistol.”
A Nighthawk Custom build is never typical, and build time reflects that. Stone said a variety of customization options and the company’s “One Gun. One Gunsmith” approach means build time varies.
“Each gun is completely different,” Stone explained. “We’re spending upwards of 14 hours on the build, not counting the time it goes and is inspected after the builder builds it. If there are any flaws on it, they’re highlighted, kind of like your teacher would back in school.”
After the build passes final inspection, it’s put through assembly process where the final details -- like polishing the feed ramp and barrel throws --are worked out. When these steps are completed, the gun undergoes testing where 50 to 60 rounds are shot through it. After that, it’s another inspection, followed by cleaning, final assembly, and shipping. In total, Stone estimates that 18 to 20 hours can go into a standard Nighthawk M1911.
A Legion of Devoted Fans
Both gun makers pride themselves on offering detailed designs exclusively made in the USA. Aside from small parts -- like recoil springs -- both make every part in-house with a commitment to the details that really bring life to a custom gun. Whether backed by a team of trained specialists or a single gunsmith, there’s one thing both companies place within each build -- time and love. It’s this devotion that brings loyal fans back for more.
Wilson Combat’s Roberts told us that, for instance, the CQB Elite’s appeal is shootability, which is important to fans who run a lot of rounds through their guns. “They’re intending on shooting that gun a lot, and that’s what we see most of the people who buy a CQB Elite tell us even beforehand,” he said.
Nighthawk Custom’s Stone said that it comes down to quality for those that chose to go the expensive pistol route.
“There's a lot of people that are making $50,000, $60,000, or more a year that don't have to have 14 different guns. They buy one that they really love and one they can take a lot of pride in owning because of the craftsmanship that went into it,” Stone commented, “Whether you're a great shooter or not, everybody loves quality. [These guns] can be set on their table beside their favorite chair, in their living room, or by their bed stand at night. Every time they look over at it, they smile. That’s the difference. I don't think a plastic gun makes you do that.”
In addition to quality products, each company possesses a dedication to great customer service – standing full behind their products.
“We know our reputation and our customer service and stand behind things. We’re not perfect, but if we ever do make a mistake, we make it right, and we don’t hesitate about it,” Stone told us.
Both companies told Guns.com that they work with customers over the phone first to fix any issues. If the issue cannot be resolved, an overnight label is sent right away to ensure guns get fixed and sent back into the customer’s hands as soon as possible.
“You’re going to be able to reach us at any time of the day,” Roberts said of Wilson Combat. “We get the gun back to the customer within two to three business days or sooner, depending on the issue.”
Additionally, both companies provide lifetime warranties. This policy doesn’t just apply to the original purchaser. If you come across one of these fine pistols second-hand and encounter an issue, you still get the same red-carpet treatment – a testament to the companies as a whole.
Despite the cost, a Nighthawk Custom or Wilson Combat gun is worth every penny. The mixture of quality manufacturing and customer service is a winning combo no matter which way you spin it -- you’re not going to be disappointed by the end result.
If you have the spare change and claim allegiance to the M1911, there should be a place for both a Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom M1911 in your gun safe. Trust us; your grandkids will thank you.