There are certain things in life that just make a perfectly matched pair. Salt and pepper would be a prime example, as would guns and knives. While knives predate firearms by thousands of years, as soon as firearms came about, man quickly adopted the new tool for his self-defense needs. You would think that the new weapon would totally replace the knife, but early firearms only promised one shot. Take that shot and you were right back to relying on your edged weapon. Also, take into consideration that even with the modern firearms of today, there are too many tasks that only a knife can complete. Try opening your rations with an M16 and see what kind of meal you make. Even a hunter can shoot his game but he needs his knife to field dress the animal. These two weapons, or tools, complemented each other and where you see one, you will surely see the other.

nighthawk2.gifTop End 1911’s
Many knives are now being sold by firearms makers and good business savvy isn’t reserved for just the larger companies. A proud member of the firearm industry is Nighthawk Customs based in Arkansas. Nighthawk’s 1911-style handguns, the mainstay of their product line, transforms the 100-year-old sidearm into a custom piece of art normally reserved for fine European shotguns and double rifles. They have done so by relying on the experience of master craftsmen who are experts in their field. It only made sense that once Nighthawk Customs decided to add knives to their existing products, they would bring in a craftsman who is at the top of this field. Nighthawk Customs recently announced a partnership with Keith Murr to produce custom knife lines for both the hunting and tactical markets. Keith has 20 years of experience and, like Nighthawk, has become known for his quality. Nighthawk and Murr should make a good match since both build products made to stand the rigors of everyday use in an environment where failure is not an option.

The Nighthawk/Murr fixed-blade knives are fabricated from D2 for strength and, like the firearms of Nighthawk, the knives may be custom ordered with an array of options. At the time of my review, there were 10 models of hunter/utility knives and they had just brought out four models of tactical knives. I have seen and handled Keith’s hunters over the past couple of years and can vouch for their quality, but I really wanted to see the latest tactical knives. Nighthawk soon had examples of all four forwarded to me for photographs and a little testing.

Gun-Kote Finish
All four knives had similarities such as the black Gun-Kote finish and full tang construction. Three of the four had smooth Micarta handle scales while the smallest of the group used textured G10. All of the knives are supplied with Kydex sheaths. The Model 510 has a 5.75-inch blade, the 530 a 5-inch blade, and the 550 a 7-inch blade, all 3/16-inch thick. The Model 525, the smallest of the group, has a 3.5-inch blade of 1/8-inch stock. The Models 510, 530 and 550 may be applicable for utility use but I would consider all three to be combat fighters. The smaller Model 525 would be more of a utility blade but could hold its own as a weapon. Just by looking at the knives, you could see that all showed a perfect mating of handle scales to tang and the grind lines were well matched from one side to the other. Like a well-made sports coat, a knife may look good but you really have to try it on to get the feel for the quality. All of the knives gripped well and felt more like an extension of the hand in use. 

When it came time to carry one of the knives out for a bit of field testing, the choice of which model to use was not an easy one to make. Of the four, the Model 525 struck me as the one that I would find the most useful for my everyday lifestyle. The thinner and shorter blade was partially serrated and seemed to be a perfect mating of size to versatility. However, one of the other three would be a better representation of the product line. My final choice for a test knife was the Model 510. I could claim that I chose this model because its blade length fell in between the other two, or that I liked the aesthetic appeal of the flowing lines. To be honest, it just felt good in my hands. 

The Model 510 has a small, double guard which is a feature I normally would not choose when picking out a knife. I can understand the value of such a guard on a combat knife, but I always thought the upper portion would get in the way during everyday use. My testing would give me a chance to see if this feature would impair normal function. The 5.75-inch blade has a clip point with a false upper edge and a slight recurve. There is an oblong lanyard hole in the exposed butt of the tang and matching oblong holes in both the upper and lower guards. The handle is the portion of the knife that really sold me on it. There is the slightest of palm swell in the profile of the scales, and all edges of the Micarta are well rounded. The scales are held in place by three cap screws and I imagine they could be removed for cleaning, but the fit of Micarta to metal was so tight that I can’t see how anything could penetrate under them. 

Deer Hunt Deployment
To give the 510 the best chance to excel, I decided to “deploy” myself to the deer woods of North Carolina for a bit of hunting. There is no way I would compare this model to a machete or large chopping knife, but I did find it very useful in clearing shooting lanes near one of my deer stands. By attaching a lanyard and using a somewhat loose hold on the knife, I was able to make some sizable “snap” cuts to clear saplings with little effort. Larger cuts could be made by just using a club to beat the spine of the knife around the tree. A hatchet may have been quicker, but I didn’t have one with me and I know the knife was easier to carry. I can’t tell you how well it worked on cleaning my deer (I got skunked), but I can report it did a great job on the deer my hunting partner Mike brought down. With his permission, we decided to run a test I seldom get a chance to perform.

You can’t go out and pick a fight just to try out a knife, but the hair and hide of a whitetail deer is much tougher than human skin and the rib cage is rather similar. I have never been in a knife fight so I decided to try a few slashing cuts and stabs on my willing victim. I now know I never want to be in a knife fight! With the deer hanging in front of me, I took one practice swing and sliced the carcass wide open. To say that the Nighthawk knife had a perfect edge is an understatement. The ease of the cut shocked both of us. Bone was the only thing that stopped the blade from going deeper. Mike tried a few stabbing jabs with the knife and we didn’t know whether to be amazed or sickened by the ease at which the knife penetrated to the guard. Both of us are avid shooters and practice often with our daily carry weapons, but neither of us would want to face a well-trained person wielding this knife.

Even though the Nighthawk 510 would be considered a tactical fighter, it held its own during the skinning process. Slicing meat was a breeze while butchering and again with the steak at dinner that night. Three days of clearing shooting lanes, butchering deer and just general everyday use didn’t affect the edge at all. Shaving hair from my forearm was as smooth after the trip as it had been when I unpacked the knife in the studio. By the way, that upper guard really didn’t seem to be the hindrance I’d envisioned.     

As I mentioned, I am an avid gun nut. I have always looked at knives as a must-have utility tool but only as a last-ditch weapon. After working with this product by Nighthawk Custom, I may have to re-evaluate my philosophy. Keith Murr can be proud of his work and Nighthawk can take credit for picking the right person to head up their new line of tactical knives.

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