Nighthawk Tomahawk Shotgun — A Close Range Bludgeon

Shotguns can be had in various forms ranging from a double barrel, pump action, semiauto and for good measure even lever action. The Nighthawk Tomahawk 12 gauge takes the defensive shotgun to a new level with its 16″ barrel and pistol grip. Yes, a 16″ barrel on a shotgun! Don’t stop reading this article assuming it involves an exotic paper-laden NFA Class 3 weapon.

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The Nighthawk Tomahawk is a treated as a firearm and is not an NFA Class 3 Short barreled shotgun even though it sports a 16″ barrel. Photo courtesy of Nighthawk

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The Nighthawk Tomahawk is able to be purchased just like any other type of shotgun — no NFA paperwork required. A review of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that defines what a short barrel shotgun consists of is the key. A shotgun that is manufactured from the start with a pistol grip and maintains an overall length greater than 26″ is considered a firearm; not an NFA regulated short barrel shotgun even with the 16″ barrel versus standard 18″ barrel associated with stocked shotgun requirements.

Attention To Detail

While similarly profiled shotguns have come to customers’ attention of late, typical of Nighthawk attention to detail the Tomahawk separates itself with attention to detail nuances. The Tomahawk features a Hogue pistol grip and forend. The 16″ barrel features Vang Comp barrel porting and backbore treatment. This assists to manage the stout recoil associated with any 12-gauge load chosen. A four-round sidesaddle shell holder is a nice touch to a personal defense shotgun. The Tomahawk starts life as Remington 870 pistol grip shotgun before Nighthawk adds a big button tactical safety; hand hones the action and rails, and installs an extension tube machined from solid billet, and then black Cerakote finish.

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Hogue pistol grip and textured forend contribute to positive manipulation and grip purchase. Photo courtesy of Nighthawk

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The non-stock shotgun as a specialized tactical tool has its inception traced back to several entities/roles: US Marshal Witness Protection teams, various law enforcement units specializing in stakeout surveillance, high-value prisoner transport teams etc. Each of these listed appreciated the close range firepower potential of the compact shotgun.

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The 4 round sidesaddle carrier affixed to the left side of the Tomahawk’s receiver is a worthy addition. Photo courtesy of Nighthawk

While an option, firing from the hip is not the best way to deploy the Nighthawk Tomahawk effectively. Bringing the Tomahawk to slightly below eye level, while keeping it out in front away from your face, produced the best on target results. Indexing with your body towards the target is advised. Even in our politically correct environment of today, it must be stressed the Tomahawk 12 gauge is best used by persons of stout body and mind. There is no shame in choosing another weapon type if not capable of managing the recoil physically or the mental commitment of relying on a short-range bludgeon. Nighthawk’s label of Tomahawk is apropos.

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The most efficient way to place lead on target is to orientate the Nighthawk Tomahawk slightly below eye level.

Managing Recoil

Recoil for me was best managed by maintaining forward pressure on the forend in conjunction with pulling rearward on the pistol grip i.e. “stretching” the Tomahawk. Proper technique is important as well as taking advantage of the growing amount of low recoil shotgun rounds becoming available. The Vang Comp porting did make a difference in felt recoil, especially based on prior experience with a non-ported pistol gripped shotgun. A rhythm was discovered to make the most of the natural recoil impulse to rack the slide ejecting spent hull, load fresh shell, and bring Tomahawk back up on target.

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Reduced recoil shotgun loads such Hornady American Gunner and Federal FliteControl buckshot are perfect matches for the Tomahawk to maximize its potential. These patterns were fired at 10 yards.

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The Nighthawk Tomahawk was tested with Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil #00 and Federal Premium Low Recoil FliteControl #00 buckshot (9 #00 pellets). The Federal Premium buckshot load utilizes a special wad for tighter buckshot patterns — thus longer effective range. However, the role of the Tomahawk as a close range blunderbuss could justify the use of “normal” patterning buckshot represented by the Hornady American Gunner loads. The newer buckshot loads with specialized wads could maintain too tight a pattern limiting its greatest attribute of lead dispersion at distances most associated with practical Nighthawk Tomahawk deployment. For example, the Federal FliteControl at 20 yards produced patterns in the 6″ range. The standard buckshot generated a 5″ pattern at 10 yards. Users will have to determine what best suits their needs. (As a side note, some advocate the use of #7.5 or #8 birdshot in a shotgun for use in a home to limit any chance of over penetration. A column of birdshot at close range such as across a room is lethal due to not having time to disperse.)

Buck And Ball

Supplementing the buckshot for testing was the Winchester PDX 1 load — combining a 1oz slug and three-#00 pellets. The Winchester PDX 1 load harkens back to the “buck-n-ball” loads used by our forefathers against the British in the Revolutionary War and each other during the Civil War. The Winchester PDX 1 loads stretch preconceived 12 gauge lethality notions even further with its combination of slug and buckshot. Range testing of the Winchester PDX 1 raised eyebrows with its performance combining the best of both worlds for the combat shotgun — single projectile performance and 10″ buckshot pattern spread out to 20 yards with one of the holes being made by the 1oz slug!  If only one load is possible for use in a combat shotgun, the Winchester PDX 1 may very well be it.

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Winchester PDX 1 combines both slug and buckshot into one potent shotgun load. This photo shows a 20-yard pattern out of the Nighthawk Tomahawk.

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The Tomahawk is a close-range sledgehammer and was treated as such for this review. The Nighthawk Tomahawk was evaluated via drills involving moving between barricades — think emerging from a bedroom into a hallway. Another niche role the pistol grip shotgun found in the law enforcement arena is CQB force multiplier, especially in/around vehicles. Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC) range cars were utilized simulating responding to bad breath distance ambush.

The Nighthawk Tomahawk’s simplicity/reliability and raw power exemplifies why the 12-gauge pump action continues to attract users. Your primitive side is ignited, as you know encounter will be up close —similar to when we fought with sharpened spears and animal bones. If the range is point blank, the near ¾” diameter bore is devastating. Buckshot’s natural dispersion as it travels downrange creates a firepower “cone”. A 6” diameter pattern at 10 yards translates into a one square foot area of terminal ballistic destruction. Eight or nine .33 caliber pellets smashing into a target is a fight stopper. The Tomahawk is a specialized weapon created for close range firepower superiority.

Nighthawk Tomahawk 12 Gauge
LOADVelocity avg. (fps)  Pattern 10 yards (in)Pattern 20 yards (in)
Winchester PDX1 Defender1,1203.757.5
Hornady Reduced Recoil Buckshot1,2804.58
Federal Premium PD Buckshot (low recoil)1,13524.5


  • CALIBER/Gauge: 12 gauge
  • BARREL: 16″ cylinder bore
  • OA LENGTH: 26.1″
  • WEIGHT: 6.25 lbs.
  • SIGHTS: bead
  • STOCK: Hogue pistol grip and forend
  • ACTION: Remington 870 pump action
  • PRICE: MSRP $1,395

For more information, visit:

Nighthawk Custom:

Echo Valley Training Center:

Federal Cartridge Company:


Winchester Ammunition:

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