By John Taffin, GUNS Magazine
.38 Super, 9mm, .45 ACP & 10mm.
The 1911 is still number one when it comes to full-sized semi-automatic pistols; the number one supplier of 1911s today, in a market with over 50 manufacturers of 1911s, is Kimber. Kimber started out, not all that long ago, making rimfire rifles, added centerfire versions (all of which were high quality) to the line up and then brought in 1911 pistols. In a few short decades, Kimber has risen to the top of the 1911 manufacturers list and has captured over 40 percent of the market. With such a large number of competitors, Kimber has to be doing something right, and right is building excellent 1911s at reasonable prices. Recently, their Stainless Target II got my attention to the extent I ordered four matching 1911 pistols chambered in .45 ACP, .38 Super, 9mm Parabellum and 10mm. Kimber offers a long list of 1911 models, however, my choice was made easier by the fact I wanted adjustable sights. In this case, I was interested only in a basic 1911 without such things as ambidextrous safeties, light/laser rails, beveled magazine wells and fiber optic sights.
All of these have their place in certain situations; however, they are normally not necessary for everyday use and the fact that none of them are found on the Stainless Target II made it even more attractive to me. After more than 100 years of “improvements” to the 1911, the most desired options (to me) are to be found in the sights, trigger and grip safety. On the Stainless Steel Target Model II, these three are exactly as I would custom order them: Sights are big, bold and black with a fully adjustable rear sight that has a square notch matched up with a front post.
Both of these are set in a dovetail and the serrated front post slants to the front so it will not catch on a holster. And speaking of holsters, Zach Davis, a local crafter, beautifully constructed holsters of exotic leather to carry any one of these four Kimbers. They ride high and close to the body and exquisitely exhibit the three necessary elements of holster making: proper design, construction and leather. Zach gets high marks for all three. The rear sight blade, which is also serrated, slants to the rear to cut down on glare. These sights are easily adjustable; not only do they have relatively large screw heads for adjusting but also an arrow pointing to the proper direction, which is especially desirable on windage adjustments as all rear sights don’t adjust the same way.
The barrel, stainless steel bushing and trigger are all match grade, with the latter being of lightweight aluminum with three weight-reducing holes drilled from side to side — it’s matched up with a Commander-style skeletonized hammer. The beavertail grip safety has a cutout to receive the back of the hammer while allowing it to ride as high as possible; it also has a very slight memory bump to make sure the grip safety is depressed when firing.
The top of the slide stop is nicely checkered, as is the magazine release and the flat mainspring housing. The top of the thumb safety is serrated for positive operation and the slide has striations front and rear for ease of manipulation. As far as fit and finish, the slide is tightly fitted to the frame and the overall finish, except for the black sights, is matte stainless — a most attractive pistol. All four pistols came with checkered rubber grips, however to make them more easily separated without having to read the caliber marking on the barrel, I replaced the grip panels with four different versions of Herrett’s 1911s of different woods. The relatively mild recoil of the .38 Super and the 9mm resulted in a perfect match-up with fully checkered panels of exotic woods while the heavier recoiling .45 and 10mm were fitted with traditional panels with less checkering, making them easy on the shooting hand.
In addition to the four chamberings mentioned, the 1911 can also be found in such others as .22 Rimfire, .40 S&W, .460 Rowland, .38 Casull and even .50 GI; however, the number one choice still remains the original and now legendary .45 ACP. The 1911 in its original chambering is still the most popular self-defense/fighting handgun available. This Kimber .45 ACP is a most versatile pistol. It can serve as it name indicates, for shooting bullseye competition, can be carried as a self-defense pistol, or for my intended use, namely as an everyday working gun. Its stainless steel finish makes it impervious to more lousy weather than I intend to spend much time in and it has proven to be exceptionally accurate.
The Stainless Target II .45 was tested extensively with 12 factory loads and nine handloads, all of the latter consisting of cast bullets. The original 1911 was designed for 230-grain jacketed bullets and Black Hills 230 FMJ and 230 JHP; both placed five shots at 20 yards in 1-1/8″, clocking at 781 fps and 790 fps respectively. This accuracy was duplicated by my handloads with the Oregon Trail 200 SWC over 6 grains of WW452AA with the muzzle velocity of 965 fps. I got a most pleasant surprise when I found a large box of reloads at the back of one of my storage shelves, going back more than 25 years and consisting of Lyman’s #452460 SWC over 6 grains of Unique. This long-stored load clocked out at 926 fps and put five shots in 7/8″ at 20 yards. The test results of all the loads run through the .45 Kimber, as well as the other three Target Models, are in the accompanying charts.
Top Trail Gun
The .38 Super is one of my all-time favorite cartridges, in fact in a semi-auto it’s (to me) what the .44 Special is in a sixguns. Both have always been the connoisseur’s cartridge. The .38 Super is definitely not for big-game hunting; however, with suitable loads assembled with hardcast SWC bullets or jacketed hollowpoints, a secure holster and some time to roam the sagebrush, foothills, forests or mountains, it is the premier trail gun where one is not likely to run into anything larger with four legs then a coyote. As a self-defense round, the .38 Super is not far removed from a .357 Magnum, and with traditionally-styled sidearms the .38 Super holds 10 rounds to the first Magnum’s six rounds.
The name “target pistol” conjures up visions of aiming at a small black bull’s-eye at 25 yards. However, Kimber’s Target Models are much more than this. There is literally no chance I will ever use any of these Target Models for formalized target shooting, however, as a trail gun, the .38 Super is right at the top of the list. It won’t be used for traditional paper punching, but rather for deliberate shooting using two hands and whatever rest I may happen to find — a fencepost, a rock, a tree limb — anything to help me make a well-aimed shot. As mentioned, each of my Kimber Stainless Steel Target Models is now fitted with custom stocks. My choice for the .38 Super is fully checkered cocobolo grip panels from Herrett’s. The deep reddish color not only mates up nicely with the stainless steel finish of this Kimber .38 Super, but I can now tell at a glance which is the Super Kimber.
This particular .38 Super has proven to be exceptionally accurate. Nine different factory loads were tried, with Buffalo Bore’s 115-grain JHP at 1,470 fps and the Black Hills 130-grain FMJ at 1,182 fps both shooting into 1″ groups for five shots at 20 yards; while DoubleTap’s 115-grain JHP (1,422 fps) and Winchester’s 130-grain FMJ (1,182 fps) grouped at 5/8″ and 7/8″, respectively. My handloads using XTPs from Hornady also shot extremely well with the 115-grain JHP over 7.5 grains of Power Pistol at 1,331 fps grouping in 1″ while the 147-grain JHP over 6 grains of the same powder cut a 5/8″ group with the muzzle velocity of just over 1,000 fps. One could hardly ask for more than this from a .38 Super.
Today the 9mm is mostly found in polymer pistols, some of which are small enough to qualify as pocket pistols, as well as in the Browning Hi-Power. For several decades I have wanted a 1911 chambered in 9mm, however they have been very hard to locate, and when found, carry high prices, as the Colt version is basically regarded as a collector’s item. Two years ago I did come up with an excellent adjustable-sighted 1911 in 9mm from another manufacturer and now it is sided by the Stainless Steel Target Model Kimber.
Why 9mm in a 1911? There are several reasons, one major one being the pleasantness found in shooting such a low-recoiling semi-auto pistol. The .45 has always had a reputation for recoil, although nothing like shooting Magnum sixguns, while the 10mm in the 1911 can be a handful with full-house loads. No such thing happens with the 9mm, as it is always easy to shoot, and is exceptionally accurate in the Kimber version. Of all the semi-automatic pistol ammunition, the 9mm, except for the .22 Rimfire, is usually the least expensive. I just bought 1,000 rounds on sale and they cost a fourth as much as the .45s, which were also on sale. Just as with the .38 Super, the 9mm is a most viable self-defense pistol; in fact, with some loads it is even more powerful than the Super, has a capacity of 9+1 rounds, and is also not that far removed from a short-barreled .357 Magnum.
Many of the 24 factory loads tested in the Kimber 9mm were at the 1″ accuracy level for five shots at 20 yards, however some were so downright exceptional as to make this 9mm the most accurate-shooting pistol of the quartet. Hornady’s 115-grain XTP-JHP clocks out at 1,216 fps and groups five shots in 7/8″; Speer’s 124-grain and 147-grain Gold Dot JHPs both group in 3/4″ with muzzle velocities of 1,226 fps and 1,004 fps respectively; Federal’s 115-grain Hi-Shok JHP exited the muzzle at 1,237 fps and grouped in an astounding 1/2″. Folks, I can’t shoot this well!
Powerful Packin’ Pistol
This brings us to the most powerful of the four chamberings: the 10mm. The Ten arrived back in the 1980s after several experiments to come up with a more powerful semi-auto pistol. The first chambering was found in the ill-fated Bren Ten, and when it died, Colt brought out the Delta Elite (basically a traditional 1911 chambered in the new cartridge). Factory loads at the time, including a 200-grain bullet at 1,200 fps, quickly proved too powerful for this platform, so today’s ammunition has been toned down somewhat. While the .38 Super is a superb trail gun for varmints, up to and including coyote-size, the 10mm takes over where the Super leaves off. With factory loads using 170- to 180-grain bullets just over 1,200 fps and 155s at nearly 1,350 fps, the 10mm is the most powerful, practical chambering available in the 10mm. While the .45 ACP is the number one choice for most of us in a self-defense situation, the 10mm, at least to my mind, is the number one chambering in a semi-auto pistol for roaming the sagebrush, foothills and mountains. It’s not only more powerful than the .45, it is also flatter shooting. It could be viewed as the .41 Magnum of the semi-auto pistols, namely too underappreciated, except by those wise shooters who really understand its capabilities.