September 11, 2020
By Keith Wood
In the semiautomatic handgun world, there is nothing quite like a good 1911 trigger. The short, straight pre-travel, the rigid little wall and then the clean break make for a pull that makes guns easy to shoot well. It is, justifiably, the trigger by which all other pistols are judged.
There’s a problem, though: In order to get a really good trigger pull on your 1911 you need to either pay for a premium-priced handgun or send your pistol out for custom tuning by a professional. Simply swapping ignition parts on a 1911 isn’t brain surgery, but precisely fitting those parts for a perfect break should be reserved for only the most skilled among us. Until now.
With the introduction of the Drop-in Trigger System (DTS) from Nighthawk Custom, achieving a great 1911 trigger is within reach of anyone with the most basic of mechanical skills and tools.
Nighthawk has built a reputation for building some of the most innovative and well-built 1911s on the custom market. The core of Nighthawk’s business is its “one gun, one gunsmith” philosophy, which means exactly what it says, and it was an experienced 1911 gunsmith named Mark Dye who came up with the DTS and brought it to Nighthawk. He assisted in the decade-long development and manufacturing process. The result is one of the most practical and useful design changes to the 1911 in recent memory.
The standard 1911 ignition system is comprised of several parts that include the sear, hammer, disconnector, hammer strut and three-legged sear spring. These parts fit together in a somewhat complicated arrangement that requires a reasonable level of skill to assemble correctly. It’s not impossible, just tricky—particularly if the gun is a Series 80.
Just installing aftermarket parts into the handgun won’t necessarily improve the trigger pull either. The 1911 was designed in an age where parts were hand-fit by skilled workers who performed these tasks day-in and day-out, often for decades. The process of hand-fitting the hammer and sear so they mate perfectly to create a crisp and safe release is no simple task. There’s a reason why custom gunmakers stay in business.
Modern manufacturing equipment including CNC mills and wire EDM cutters have taken the excessive tolerances out of the parts-making process so that, in theory, components can be made that mate together almost perfectly with little, if any, hand work. These techniques are expensive, though, and major manufacturers have found it to be far more cost-effective to fit injection-molded or cast ignition parts into their guns.
Companies have marketed “drop-in” trigger kits in the past, but these are really just matched sets of parts that still require assembly and do little simplify the process. The Nighthawk DTS is a fully enclosed steel unit that replaces the sear, hammer, disconnector, hammer strut and two of the three sear spring legs. The only other component included is a single-leg spring that allows the grip safety to function properly.
Both the sear and disconnector springs are housed inside the drop-in unit. All of the parts, with the exception of the springs, are machined from bar stock 416 stainless steel for a precise fit. You won’t find MIM or cast parts on the DTS.
Because 1911s are produced by so many companies in so many factories around the world, consistency can be an issue. The challenge of ensuring that a drop-in unit will properly align with the sear and hammer pin holes in a variety of frames is one of the factors that has kept such a system from being successfully launched in the past.
Though Nighthawk doesn’t claim that the DTS will work with every 1911, they are confident it will fit in the vast majority of the guns on the market. I fit the DTS to two different handguns made by two different companies to evaluate the unit’s compatibility.
Nighthawk has created a helpful series YouTube videos that walks viewers step-by-step through the process of removing the factory parts and installing the DTS. I’ve had my share of 1911s apart over the years, but I am by no means a pro. Taking my time, it took me less than five minutes to install the DTS on my first try. The only tools required are a pair of simple punches and a means for removing the grip screws.
I first installed the DTS on a Springfield Armory Champion Commander-length 1911 I’ve had for close to 20 years. It is a slick pistol, but the trigger was nothing to brag about. The frames and slides for these guns were produced by Imbel in Brazil, which made me question whether the pin holes would properly align. They did.
After my five-minute trigger job, things improved dramatically. The spongy, creepy trigger was suddenly crisp and consistent, breaking at 4.25 pounds. I ran two magazines through the gun with the DTS installed, and it performed flawlessly.
It worked with a factory gun, but how about one with some non-standard parts installed? My first 1911 was a Series 80 Gold Cup that I bought as a high school student in the early 1990s. I fit a Wilson thumb safety, an aftermarket trigger and, years later, a Chen Custom combination checkered mainspring housing and extended mag well. The DTS fit with no problems and the gun’s trigger pull was immediately improved.
The guys at Nighthawk Custom advised me that the trigger pull would actually improve after the first few magazines after the springs settle in, and that is exactly what happened. After settling, the trigger on my Gold Cup broke at a very nice 3 5/8 pounds.
The DTS retails for $300, which is less-expensive (not to mention far quicker) than having a gunsmith perform a good trigger job.