By R.K. Campbell
Not only raising the bar, but leaping over it
In a time when many industries are cutting workers and cutting costs it is encouraging to see a healthy firearms industry turning out the best products in history. The American consumer seems willing to pay for top quality merchandise and many of the best firearms in the world are made right here in America. When it comes to defensive handguns there are compromises in selecting a model for concealed carry. The pistol must be shorter and lighter than a service pistol and sometimes the caliber is a compromise as well and we have to deal with less of a handle to grasp during recoil. Sometimes compromises are made in magazine capacity. Just the same, deploying a lightweight weapon at all times is better than carrying a heavy handgun only when possible. My handgun is the 1911 and there are a number of lightweight versions that offer excellent protection – and one of the finest is illustrated in these pages.
The lightweight 1911 was in the planning stages before World War Two. The underlying premise was quite practical. Reduce the length and weight of the 1911 while retaining reliability and the fight stopping cartridge. World War Two intervened but the technological advances with aircraft grade aluminum made efficient aluminum frame pistols possible. Before the war, aluminum was rare and expensive to obtain. While various custom gunsmiths continued to produce chopped and channeled versions of the 1911, very few approached the reliability of the 1911 Government Model. The Commander reduced the weight of the pistol by over ten ounces and also shortened the 1911 by 3/4 of an inch. “Old Ugly” is flat but not small and the new pistol was a great step forward for those wishing to carry the highly effective 1911 concealed and in comfort. The tradeoff was increased recoil. The Commander requires about a twenty-five per cent increase in meaningful practice to master but is well worth the time and effort.
The Officer’s Model, the Detonics and various other pistols were introduced that shortened the 1911 even further. Barrel length was reduced to 3.5 and even 3.0 inches and the magazine and butt shortened as well. While opinion varies on the subject, professionals agree that the shorter barrel and slide versions of the 1911 are not as reliable as the Commander length barrel. Modifications to bushingless lockup moved the pistol several steps away from the original template. A consensus among gunsmiths seems to be that a minimum barrel length of four inches is needed in order to ensure reliable function with the 1911 pistol. After much deliberation and experimentation, this author agrees. While there are a number of reliable compact 1911 handguns – the Kimber Ultra Carry comes to mind – with a worst case scenario of poor maintenance and with the widest possible spectrum of ammunition, the 4 inch barrel will always prove more reliable. This brings us to the Kimber Custom Defense Package (CDP). A product of the Kimber Custom Shop, the CDP illustrated is a four inch barrel 1911 with a frame of 7075-T7 aluminum alloy. The frame is finished in a rugged Kimpro finish.
The CDP is in practical terms an upgraded Pro Carry but also much more. The Pro Carry is a great pistol, a respectable carry gun with the same reliability as the CDP. But the Devil is in the details. The CDP features the full length handle of the Government Model. The handle lies flat against the back when worn in a properly designed concealment holster. There is no need for a short butt 1911 in this application. However, the five inch barrel Government model may tend to pinch the skin when worn in an inside the waistband holster. The four inch gun works better for concealed carry and also clears leather more quickly. While a short sight radius may limit precision accuracy at long range the four inch barrel pistol comes on the target more quickly. The frame is aluminum and of course a lightweight pistol kicks more than a steel frame. The front strap is checkered in custom grade style with thirty lines per inch in order to be certain that your hand stays in place during recoil. The grips are perfectly checkered rosewood. The Pro Carry uses rubber grips and if you think that they feel as good or do the same job as rosewood; fine, but remember Steinbeck’s words in The Grapes of Wrath concerning the worn comfort of a pistol grip. After forty years with the 1911 when I wrap my hand around Kimber something says ‘friend.’
The CDP sports a custom grade beavertail grip safety that ensures that you depress the grip safety as you grip the pistol. Some shooters using the thumbs forward grip may allow the palm to rise off of the frame and deactivate the grip safety. Training cures this but the CDP’s grip safety is an advantage. The grip safety releases the trigger at the proper point about half way into compression. The beavertail also funnels the hand into the grip as you acquire the firing grip. The mainspring housing aids in gripping the pistol as well. The magazine well is slightly beveled as an aid in rapid insertion of the magazine. The magazine catch is tight as it should be. Flush fit magazines are preferred for concealed carry. There is nothing wrong with the Kimber magazines. I supplemented the factory magazines with flush fit Metalform magazines and sometimes deploy the excellent, slightly extended and ultra-reliable Metalform eight round magazine. The CDP is virtually devoid of sharp edges as a concealed carry handgun should be. A good example of this is the ambidextrous safety. The safety is among a few designs that is genuinely robust and devoid of sharp edges.
The CDP features self luminous sights with Tritium inserts. The sight design is among the best ever fitted to a handgun. The front sight is a serrated ramp dovetailed into the slide in a far superior fashion to the old tenon attachment. The rear sight is angled to prevent snagging on the draw but presents a bold sight picture. Thankfully there are no forward cocking serrations. I do not use them on a short handgun and, in my opinion; the slide looks cleaner without this addition. Although the Kimber is an aluminum frame handgun +P loads are no problem to fire partly due to the good fit, a beavertail safety that spreads recoil about the palm and also an 18 pound recoil spring. The pistol also features a full length guide rod. The chamber is cut to minimum specifications, good for accuracy, perhaps not so great with lead bullet handloads. Care in handloading ammunition is demanded.
For best control in rapid fire and in target shooting a smooth and tractable trigger action is needed. The Kimber demonstrated a smooth 4.5 pound trigger action as delivered. After 7,500 rounds or so trigger compression has settled into a crisp 4.2 pounds, practically ideal for all around use by a skilled user. The 1911 tends to smooth with use and reach a sweet spot. The Kimber has done that. There are those that feel that a too light trigger will increase the user’s liability. Perhaps I don’t know much about gunfighting but I do have a couple of difficulties under my belt, a degree in Criminal Justice and over two decades of police experience. If the trigger action helps you hit the target, great. If you miss the target and strike an innocent person then you are in a world of trouble regardless of the type of firearm used. Putting a bullet where it will matter is what counts in marksmanship.
The CDP is a great gun chambered for an efficient cartridge. The .45 ACP is among a few cartridges that often demonstrates a full powder burn in a relatively short pistol barrel. The cartridge achieves good velocity with a modest powder charge. The cartridge has been around since about 1905, a bit longer than the 1911 handgun, and has proven its efficiency. Even with a non expanding bullet, the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge has proven effective in interpersonal combat. Despite claims by those without a leg to stand on and arguably little to no experience in the real world, the small calibers cannot equal the .45 ACP’s ballistics despite the use of well designed modern expanding bullet designs. The .45 ACP is also a low pressure cartridge and that means little wear on the handgun. The .45 ACP is a handloader’s dream compared to many cartridges and that means economy in action. The 1911 pistol and the .45 ACP cartridge are simply an ingenious combination. In the light of the times it simply made sense and the pistol and the cartridge had to work. Good men have died because of inferior equipment.
There are a number of deviations from the original template that some will laud and others condemn. The ambidextrous safety is seen as superfluous for the right handed shooter, but a necessity by the left handed shooter. The Kimber ambi safety is well designed and more robust than most.
The 1911’s virtues included the ability to be field stripped with only a coin or case rim. The Kimber needs an Allen wrench to remove the grips. The pistol also features a full length guide rod. Many custom grade handguns use a full length guide for many reasons, including taming recoil and preventing the recoil spring from kinking. If jammed against a barricade the full length guide rod will prevent the pistol from going out of battery. On the other hand maintenance is more complicated, although the top end is easily brisked off compared to the original pistol. It is removing the guide rod that demands a special tool. If this bothers you remove the full length guide rod and substitute a Commander length guide rod and 20 pound recoil spring. But remember – the CDP is not designed as a service pistol for general issue. It is designed for use as a personal defense pistol and this means a higher standard of maintenance and perhaps a higher demand on the handgun as well.
For range use a minimalist holster allows ease of demonstration for the instructor and a comfortable carrying platform. The Milt Sparks #88 Mirage is ideal for this use. Unlike the common belt slide, the Mirage rides under the belt, which adds security but also allows considerable ease of concealment if you choose. I like this holster very much. It is convenient and few if any belt slide holsters approach the all-around utility of this well made holster. For use under a covering garment the Milt Sparks 60TK is ideal. This holster offers a good balance of speed and retention and is very well made of good material. The holster rides high and it is a very specific 1911 holster not well suited to some types of handguns. This holster demands a certain break-in period as it is quality gear. Once this break-in is accomplished you have a brilliantly fast holster. For deep concealment beneath a pulled out T shirt or sport jacket nothing conceals like an inside the waistband (IWB) holster. The IWB rides inside the pants, which means the covering garment need only cover the belt line, not the body of the holster. This isn’t an easy holster for a maker to get right. The Milt Sparks Summer Special IWB is the standard by which all others are judged. This holster features dual belt loops, a reinforced holstering welt, a strong spine and a sewn in sight track. This is as good as it gets. I cannot imagine a task these three quality holsters cannot handle and handle well. The 60TK is easily the fastest on the draw and a remarkably concealable holster while the Summer Special conceals the best. The choice depends upon the situation, the season and the covering garment. Milt Sparks offers even more designs but these three are my choices and they are excellent all around holsters that are well made by professionals for the discriminating user.
The combination of good sights and an excellent trigger compression make for a pistol with the highest hit probability of any I have used. The 1911’s low bore axis and straight to the rear trigger compression are contributing factors but the CDP is designed to enable a trained shooter to make hits quickly at combat ranges. The pistol is capable of good work. At longer ranges the CDP is about as accurate as any five inch barrel handgun you wish to put it up against. When conducting the firing test the new Black Hills steel cased ammunition was used during combat drills. It is good to see Black Hills offering quality affordable steel cased ammunition. This is a good resource when one is too busy to load their own as is often the case these days. For carry use I have deployed the Black Hills 230 grain JHP for many years. I prefer the .45 ACP because it makes a larger hole and the 230 grain JHP has more momentum than a lighter bullet. The 185 grain Black Hills load is reliable and accurate and has about the same energy, but I prefer the heavier .45 ACP bullet. A new loading has given me pause. Black Hills is offering an all copper 185 grain JHP. While a disadvantage of all copper projectiles has been the expense of the bullet, Black Hills offers these loads in fifty round boxes at an attractive price. Copper weighs less than lead in a bullet of equal length. So, if the bullets are an equal length and take up the same volume in the case, the lighter bullet will be driven faster for a given powder charge. A 185 grain .45 is longer than a 185 grain lead core/copper jacket bullet, but shorter than a 230 grain bullet. The all copper bullet, however, retains its integrity after the hollow nose expands. The base and the bullet do not separate, they cannot. So far function and accuracy are excellent. Ballistic testing has shown the bullet performs at least as well as any other hollow point in the caliber. It just may be an honest improvement over the cup and core type hollow point. The light recoil and good accuracy coupled with consistent expansion and penetration may just sway me toward the TAC load.
The combination of first rate quality control and a proven design has proven a winner for Kimber. Coupled with good support gear the Kimber CDP is as good a defensive handgun as currently available and my first choice in a 1911 for daily carry.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N3 (June 2014)|