Kimber on review

          A law enforcement career is marked by several uniform changes: An officer might start by wearing a patrol uniform and soon be dressed for bike patrol or motor officer duties, followed by the jacket and tie of the detective.

     It would be ideal if the duty weapon were light enough for non-uniform wear, heavy enough for long training sessions, combat accurate and reliable. Law Enforcement Technology recently tested Kimber's Tactical Custom II and found it fit the bill for a variety of law enforcement applications.

     The Kimber Tactical Custom II is a U.S.-made 1911-type .45 auto with a receiver machined from 7075-T7 aluminum and a steel slide that sports a black oxide finish. It has a full-length guide rod, steel wide-mouthed magazine well and a stainless barrel bushing carefully mated to a match the barrel.

     This gun is so faithful to the original design it could be handed to any lieutenant in the Lorraine Campaign and he wouldn't have even blinked — except it is lighter and shoots better than the GI model. And any soldier would have preferred the KimPro Tac-Mag premium magazines. We used Kimber's magazines and Metalform's premium magazines with rounded followers and extended bumper pads.

     Kimber makes two similar models with shorter bushingless barrels. All three guns come with a hard anodized receiver that is reminiscent of the utilitarian look of an issued military arm. The flat black steel slide gives the Tactical Custom II a subdued two-tone look. The other show-stopping feature is the 30 lines-per-inch checkering on front strap (the front of the grip) and the trigger guard. It improves the grip, even if soaking wet or wearing patrol gloves.

     Using a Blackhawk CQC Leather Inside-The-Pants holster, we drew our Kimber hundreds of times and fired +P duty cartridges at least a thousand times. We accumulated enough data to make several conclusive statements: First, the inherent accuracy did not waiver, even when we failed to clean the gun several range days in a row. Second, our tests did not create any wear on the finish. Third, the gun delivered bullets without a hitch.

     Internally, The Tactical Custom II resembles standard GI workings, except for the firing pin block and the full-length guide rod. The firing pin block is activated by the grip safety, which pushed the plunger up smoothly, allowing the firing pin to contact the primer. This is an improvement over many firing pin plunger designs. Other firing pin plunger safeties use the full depression of the trigger to allow the forward motion of the firing pin. Kimber uses the grip safety, which explains a target quality trigger on a combat gun.

     We tried to get the gun to fire out of battery, which means pushing the slide back a little and pulling the trigger. Like any well-made firearm, it fired when it was supposed to and didn't when it wasn't. The firing pin block, essential for a law enforcement firearm, effectively prevented the forward travel of the firing pin without a deliberate grip. The trigger, adjustable for over-travel, was smooth, broke cleanly and had a crisp break and sear reset. We simulated a "drop test" and found the firearm did not allow forward travel of the firing pin without the consent of the shooter.

     The extractor has an aggressive hook suitable for yanking stubborn cartridges out of the chamber. We "stressed" this extractor by chamber loading cartridges, which is a normally unacceptable practice. This is done by putting a bullet in the chamber (rather than allowing the gun to strip it off a magazine), then letting the slide slam closed. For almost any semi auto, this goes beyond the design parameters of an extractor and is a common cause for extraction failures. (In other words: Don't do this at home.) We were unable to cause extractor failure.

     The bullet feeding areas, including the chamber, were smoothly contoured. We tested this area by allowing the gun to strip off empty brass from a magazine, which it chambered and extracted. Our logic was, if it will feed an empty cartridge, it will reliably feed a round or truncated cone nosed bullet.

     The feel of the Tactical Custom II is probably its most important asset. Some officers choose a non-uniform duty gun because it is lightweight. However, when they practice with it, the lightweight gun doesn't have the same muzzle stability while moving and shooting. This .45 could hold its own in a practical pistol competition. Shooters who got behind the Kimber found it easy to turret the muzzle, engage and scan for threats.

     Our model came with Meprolight Tritium sights that appeared taller and more prominent than those of other duty pistols, with the rear sight flush with the rear of the slide. Horizontal lines cut on the plane closest to the shooter dissipate reflections in the shooter's face. The rear sight is mounted using a dovetail and secured with a locking screw.

Kimber on the range

     The first shooting session began with slow firing at 5 yards, unsupported. The Tactical Custom II printed two magazines worth of Remington 230 Grain Brass Jacketed Hollow Point (GSB45APB) bullets, all bullet holes touching, exactly where it was aimed.

     Consistent with its excellent workmanship, the firearm guided duty rounds into group sizes that easily fit within a 3-inch circle at 25 yards. It particularly liked the Remington 230 grain cartridges, which stayed within 1.75 inches, and 175 grain plated frangible (practice) bullets.

     The lightweight alloy frame made this handgun feel like a compact while still retaining the full sight radius of the duty gun. Lightweight polymer frame guns with lightweight slides generally weigh 20 to 25 ounces. Our Tactical Custom II weighed 31 ounces unloaded, making it light enough to be worn on a dress belt yet heavy enough for long shooting sessions. Because it sat deeply in the hand, it was extremely controllable. Adding the magazine well is essential. It was a counterweight for the lightweight frame, assisting in the recoil control of the gun.

     The supplied disassembly tool offers extra leverage on the barrel bushing. Although testers found they could disassemble it without one, the tool prevented bruised knuckles and fingertips. Most .45 users will recognize that guns with tight tolerances require disassembly tools.

     Because of the heavier slide and resulting geometry, testers found a malfunction caused by "limp wristing," or allowing the gun to recoil without resistance, was unlikely. Throughout tests, The Tactical Custom II proved resistant to poor maintenance and poor handling.

     The beaver tail, or top part of the grip safety where the web of the hand meets, fit a wide variety of hand sizes. It was relieved enough to put the web of the shooting hand on the same level as the top of the trigger, which explained the moderate recoil. The closer the shooting hand rides to the axis of the bore, the better the recoil control.

     The ambidextrous thumb safety is low-profile and easily indexed. While running through hand switching drills we found that some positive click and generous ridges added to the gun's controllability.

     Although this gun was obviously designed for officers to prevail in a gunfight, it is not significantly different from a custom competition gun, except it is less than half the price. Our testing team found the workmanship, reliability, accuracy and weight of the Kimber Tactical Custom II sets it apart.

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif.