Famous for their high-quality, built-in-house
1911 pistols, Nighthawk CUSTOM now offers
their own tricked-out 12-gauge Remington PUMP.
I first met this 12-gauge pump while teaching at Nighthawk Custom Training Academy in Centerton, Ark. Shawn Armstrong, Nighthawk Custom’s Director of Operations, brought assorted goodies from the Nighthawk factory in Berryville, for show-and-tell.
The custom 870 caught my attention. And that of everyone else who shot it.
Lee Turner (above) runs the timer as Mas shoots an IDPA shotgun side-match with Nighthawk 870.
Mas came in second. John Strayer (below) wins “jungle lane” shoot with the smooth-operating
Nighthawk 870, winning against semi-auto shooters.
Buyers can order with standard cylinder or improved cylinder choke but we went instead with the Vang Comp option. These Hans Vang barrels are backbored. “Shoot one next to a standard barrel,” says Armstrong “and you can feel how much the backboring reduces the recoil.” These 18-inch barrels are designed to pattern buckshot tighter than full choke.
The action bars and indeed the whole slide assembly get hand-honed, to make the 870’s famously smooth action even smoother. The trigger pull is likewise smoothed, but not lightened, kept to a 5.5- to 6-pound pull. The safety is replaced with the super-fast Big Dome unit, also a Vang Comp product. Furniture fore and aft comes from Magpul. The shotgun’s front end is completed with a 2-shell magazine extension, muzzle porting if the Vang Comp option is chosen, and choice of Tritium post or fiber optic front sight, shielded by large protective wings in either case.
You’ll align that green Tritium night sight or bright fiber optic ball within the generous aperture of Nighthawk’s proprietary, adjustable ghost ring rear sight. By the time this handsomely Perma Koted thoroughbred workhorse is ready for shipping, Armstrong told me, it will have been lavished with 11 to 12 man-hours by the company’s master craftsmen.
Mas used the Nighthawk 870 to teach the defensive shotgun portion of a MAG-80 class.
Mas purchased this all-black one. The black stock set is a $165 upgrade.
With low-recoil shells, Mas enjoys speed of fire and excellent recoil control
delivered by the Vang Comp ported barrel and hand-honed action.
Hornady’s tight-patterning Reduced Recoil Pump buckshot, when combined with the Vang Comp barrel, kept the shot pattern amazingly snug. Two .33 caliber double-ought pellets strayed out of the group, and the rest of the charge stayed where the wad hit from 15 yards, creating a rat-hole about 1-1/4-inch wide. The total pattern, if that’s what it was, went about 4-1/2 inches.
A friend of mine calls these Hornady shells “Vang Comp in a box,” and when that’s combined with actual Vang Comp, the result is amazing. If you’re looking for a localized, massive wound at more than across-the-room distance, this combo will deliver. If instead you seek the traditional “saturation effect” of the buckshot charge piercing a variety of organs at once, this load in this particular barrel may be too much of a good thing.
Federal’s “132” Tactical Buckshot, one of the original low recoil buckshot loads, performed more traditionally. At 15 yards all nine pellets were in an even, 7.20-inch pattern for optimum saturation effect. This is tighter than we generally see with conventional cylinder choked or improved cylinder police-type shotguns.
Slugs? Reaching for Federal again, I shot the Nighthawk off the bench with full power 1-ounce loads. All three touched in a tight “3-leaf clover” at the 6 o’clock point of aim on the Caldwell Orange Peel aiming marker. The group measured right at 1-inch center to center. Slug shooting is the real reason for those neat Nighthawk adjustable ghost ring sights, which greatly increases versatility for defensive needs and “practical shooting” competition.
With the low-recoil Federal Tactical and Hornady Reduced Recoil Pump (called such because it may be too soft to cycle many autoloading shotguns), and the comfortable, cushy-butt Magpul stock, recoil was not at all hard to manage. The Vang Comp muzzle vents, designed to jet burning gases upward and hold the muzzle down, did seem to do just that. Virtually all the several people who shot the Nighthawk 870 (including almost everyone, male and female, in a MAG-80 class I taught in Arkansas) commenting on how easy it was to control for a 12-gauge pump.
The Nighthawk Custom 870 (above) proved accurate and reliable. This one, featuring the
Magpul stock in custom tan camo, was used by Mas’ students in the class. The tan, green
or urban camo stock set is a $365 upgrade to the basic gun. Hornady’s Reduced Recoil
Pump ammo gave this awesome 00 buck pattern at 15 yards (below) from the Nighthawk’s
Vang Comp barrel.
Between the Vang Comp barrel and the recoil-absorbing Magpul stock, kick was “poofy” with light birdshot loads, very manageable with low-recoil “tactical buckshot,” and surprisingly well-cushioned even with full-power rifled slugs. The honed action made working the slide almost effortless. Though it’s possible to “short-stroke” any pump gun and cause either a stoppage or a “click” when you need a “bang,” none of the several shooters on our test team did so when I was present. The smoother the action, the less likely such an error is to occur.
Helping-was the design of the Magpul foreend. Its textured surface gives excellent traction to the operating hand. There are flanges front and back to keep your hand from slipping off when rapidly pumping the shotgun, in case the shooter has taken a less than perfect grasp. One downside I noticed was for those of us who grasp a fore-end with index finger pointing to the target, if the fingertip touches the forward Magpul flange, recoil can be painful and even leave a bruise.
The Magpul buttstock is unique, positioning the angle of the firing hand between where it would be on a traditional 870 stock, and where it would be with a full pistol grip as on an AR-15 stock or Remington’s own, old-style folding stock. It is not as easy to retain in a struggle using stickfighting-like retention techniques as the traditional stock, but better for that than the AR-15 type. On the other hand, the Magpul is much better for a one-hand-only “wounded shooter” shot, if not quite so good as the AR-style configuration. Good news if you live in a state that bans “assault shotguns” and allows only one “assault shotgun feature.” With the Nighthawk 870, it would be the extended magazine. Armstrong states emphatically the Magpul stock does not constitute a “pistol grip” per se.
One rainy day, shootin’ buddy John Strayer and I took the test gun to an IDPA match with a shotgun “jungle lane” side event. John won and I took second with this pump gun, running against some autoloaders. We were delighted with the Nighthawk 870’s performance.
At $1,865 the way ours was configured, the Nighthawk 870 ain’t cheap, but its suggested retail is consistent with its features and custom workmanship. Your price will vary depending what you pick from the list of optional features.
By Massad Ayoob
Photos By Gail Pepin
Maker: Remington Arms
870 Remington Drive
Madison, NC 27025
Customizer: Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble
Berryville, AR 72616
Action type: Pump-action
Gauge: 12-gauge, 3-inch
Choke: Vang Comp (tested)
Cylinder or IC
Barrel length: 18-1/2 inches
Length of Pull: Spacer adjustable
Overall length: 40-1/2 inches
Weight: 7-1/2 pounds
Finish: Perma Kote
Sights: LPA ghost ring rear, protected tritium front (tested), or fiber optic
Stock: Magpul stock and fore-end
Price: $1,450 (base gun), $1,865 (as tested)