Kimber Returns to the Rimfire Rifle Scene with the Classic .22

Text & photos
by Phil W. Johnston, Handgun Editor

It seems like yesterday when I first covered the new Kimber Model 82 rimfire rifles in these pages. I remember being impressed with the rifles right off the bat-as you know I'm not often impressed by rifles. Still, the quality of the old Model 82 was unmatched in those days and the accuracy was phenomenal as I recall.

The Kimber Model 82 appeared in the early 1980s, and various rimfire models were offered under the Kimber brand until 1991 when it appeared that Kimber was finished, once and for all, sadly. Fortunately, that wasn't the case.

Today, the Kimber name is associated with a different bunch of folks who call Yonkers, NY, their home, and the wares of the new firm are becoming legendary as we speak. Originally associated with high quality, 1911-style semi-auto pistols, we began hearing rumors of another Kimber rifle several years ago. The Kimber booth featured pre-production samples at the 2000 SHOT Show, and the new Kimber .22 became reality early last spring.

The .22 Rimfire
While I don't often write about long guns, I wasn't about to turn down the chance to again work with a Kimber rimfire. It also comes as no secret that I love the .22 rimfire cartridge-it truly is the greatest cartridge in the world, hands down.

The .22 rimfire cartridge is inherently accurate out of a variety of firearms and features gilt edged accuracy out of the best of them. Able to stay in the "10" ring all day in the hands of a champion, the .22 rimfire is likewise fully capable of putting smiles on young faces as cans dance on a string or roll along the ground, urged on by a 40-grain bullet doing between 1,000 and 1,600 fps. Featuring negligible recoil and noise, regardless of the ammo choice or barrel length, the inexpensive .22 is just plain fun. Heck, I'll bet that 99% of us got our start with an old .22-I did.

Kimber's newest rimfire bolt gun is not a resurrection of the Model 82C, but rather an entirely new rig designed on a clean sheet of paper. The design team included experienced rimfire shooters, including Olympic smallbore competitors.

The new Kimber .22's design ultimately rested with Nehemia Sirkis, a noted firearms designer who represented Israel in two Olympics as a smallbore competitor. With over 40 years of experience, Sirkis' new rimfire looks like a gem indeed.

The Kimber design team also includes Vladimir Polosin, formerly the coach of the Ukrainian Olympic team. Obviously Kimber was serious about designing a first-rate rimfire. And their combined effort was a success-if the sample Classic sporter-weight rimfire is representative of the effort. I have no reason to believe otherwise, either.

Smooth Performer
The Kimber .22 is based on a new bolt action receiver that features a full-length, Mauser-style claw extractor. During the cycle, the one-piece bolt picks up a cartridge from the 5-round, detachable box magazine as the rim of the cartridge slips under the extractor to be guided into the chamber.

Kimber says that the full-length extractor eliminates any chance for the bullet nose to be deformed during the chambering process, while ensuring positive extraction as well. I repeatedly ran live RWS R 50 rounds through the action in several fashions, and there was no evidence of a bullet contacting anything during the cycle. The bolt action is butter smooth all the way.

The bolt cocks on opening and is smoothly cammed into lockup by a spring-loaded guide that engages a slot milled into the bottom of the bolt. The bolt guide is lowered by depressing the bolt release on the left side of the receiver, allowing the bolt to be pulled completely clear of the action. The action is designed to smoothly and effortlessly move the loaded round fully into the chamber and seat the bullet well into the rifling as the bolt is closed.

The Winchester Model 70-style safety is located on the bolt and is pushed forward to ready the gun for firing. The safety engages the cocking piece rather than the trigger. The Kimber .22 design locates the bolt off center in relationship to the chamber, and unlike most rimfire arms, the firing pin is centered in the bolt-as it is in centerfire arms. Kimber says that this results in a stronger firing pin and an action that can safely be "dry fired," although by habit I dry fired on a fired case anyhow.

Speaks Quality
The Kimber .22 features a fully adjustable trigger that breaks like ice with no discernable creep or overtravel. The sample Classic trigger breaks perfectly at 2-1/2 pounds and there is no finer sporter trigger out of any box in the world, at least in any gun selling in the price range of the Kimber Classic. I found no reason to adjust anything on this gem, including the trigger.

The detachable box magazine holds 5 long rifle cartridges and is released from the action by a flat lever located immediately behind the magazine. To keep the lines clean and uncluttered, the magazine and all associated hardware are flush with the bottom of the forearm. The design makes it nearly impossible to inadvertently drop the magazine in the field. The magazine drops from the action rather than being ejected, so the rifle must be held with the magazine down or nearly so to allow the magazine to drop. The magazine is easy to load, as well.

The stock is nicely figured claro walnut and speaks class all the way. Wood-to-metal fit is flawless, and the cut checkering looks almost like it was hand-done. I suspect that the 18 l.p.i. checkering was machine-done, simply because the execution is so flawless. The stock features a pair of sling swivels-should one wish to equip the rimfire with a sling.

I can also see a Harris bipod clipped to the front sling swivel for some occasions. The stock is also equipped with a beautiful steel grip cap that fits like it was painstakingly hand-done. The steel grip cap is finished in the same attractive matte blue/black finish used on the receiver and barrel. The metal finish also speaks quality throughout.

The 22-inch barrel is listed as sporter weight and features a pleasing tapered contour that looks at home on the Classic. The Kimber .22 barrel features 8 lands and grooves making 1-16-inch twist and a match-grade chamber. The muzzle features an 11-degree, target style crown.

This One Shoots!
There was no question that the new Kimber 22 would shoot, from first glance. The Kimber .22 line is shipped with sleek scope bases installed. The bases accept rings designed for Redfield, Burris or similar bases. The front mount twists into the base while the rear is held in place with two opposing screws that can also be used to center the scope for windage during bore sighting. For the range session, I installed a brand-new Tasco World Class 3-9 variable scope in Burris rings. The big Tasco features a 44mm objective lens and 1-inch tube. The combination looks great.

The accompanying chart details the shooting exercises nicely, but a few comments are necessary. The Kimber .22 line is designed to drive tacks and the sample did so right off the bat. I used Federal Gold Medal UltraMatch™ 1,080 foot per second (fps) ammo to zero the rig at 50 yards. The first 5-shot group measured a scant .44 inch, center-to-center. A few clicks later, the group was centered and the next one measured .81 inch with a called flyer. And so it went.

When I paid attention, the Kimber would stay in one hole. Twenty-one 5-shot groups later, the Kimber accounted for an average group of .93 inch, measured with a dial caliper. This group average included two 5-shot strings with CCI's hot, ultra-velocity Stingers that opened things up quite a bit. If the Stinger groups are excluded, the sporter-weight Kimber averaged .79 inch at 50 yards.

'Winner's Circle'
When the dust settled (not much of it in the case of a .22 rimfire, to be sure), RWS R50 and Eley Tenex shared the winner's circle with groups that averaged .53 inch, center-to-center. Tenex took top group honors with one that measured .37 inch, center-to-center. The five rounds that did that went over the Oehler 35P skyscreens at 1,113 fps with an extreme spread of 14 fps and a standard deviation of 5 fps.

The R50 ammo was nothing short of spectacular, with 5 R50s leaving at 1,133 fps with an extreme spread of 4 fps(!) and standard deviation of 1 fps (!!). I shot more Federal UltraMatch through the Kimber than any other fodder, so it stands to reason Federal might take top honors along the way.

Ten Federal UltraMatch rounds accounted for a pair of groups on one target that went .500 inch and .501 inch, center-to-center, respectively. These two groups left doing 1,146 and 1,162 fps with extreme spreads running 13 and 11 fps and standard deviations of 6 and 5 fps.

Obviously, there is some very good rimfire ammo out there, and once the work was done I decided to have some fun. With groups out of the Kimber running half an inch or better, I knew that I could hit a penny at 50 yards, routinely. Five shots later, I had four pennies scattered all over the range. I managed to find two that hadn't been perfectly centered. Two others appeared to be more perfectly centered but the Federal UltraMatch had pushed the target through the plywood target back and I couldn't find either behind the target.

The Kimber .22 Classic carries a suggested retail price of $950 and is being shipped as we speak. The HS (Hunter Silhouette) carries a suggested retail price of $775 and is also being shipped, currently.

And the Kimber line is being expanded further with the SVT (Short Varmint/Target) which we'll see in 4-6 weeks. The SVT will feature a stiff 18-inch stainless steel, fluted barrel and gray laminated wood stock. Next spring, Kimber will add the SA (Super America) which will sport a custom-grade AAA claro walnut stock, ebony forend, and wrap around checkering. This one should really be something to behold.

It's great to see Kimber again in the rifle business. It's also refreshing to see that Kimber remains committed to quality and workmanship along the way. In all honesty, the new Kimber. 22 is a breath of fresh air and a bargain, indeed.

For more information about the Kimber .22 line, drop 'em a note at Kimber Manufacturing Inc., One Lawton St., Dept. GWK, Yonkers, NY 10705; toll-free phone: 888-243-4522; fax: 406-758-2223. You can also find Kimber on the Internet at www.kimberamerica.com.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll head back outside to have some low recoil, low noise, and high-class fun. Oh, how I love a good .22!

AMMUNITION VELOCITY/ES/SD
AT 15 FEET
5 SHOT GROUP
AT 50 YARDS
AVERAGE
GROUP
CCI GREEN TAG 1,093/17/6 fps 1.15"
SV Solids 1,105/28/10 fps .78" .97"
 
CCI MAXI MAG 1,334/31/11 fps 1.16"
HV HPs 1,345/52/21 fps .87" 1.01"
 
CCI STINGER 1,653/46/20 fps 1.958"
Ultra velocity HPs 1,701/36/14 fps 2.72" 1.96"
 
ELEY STANDARD 1,191/36/15 fps .85"
SV Solids 1,164/46/20 fps .86" .86"
 
ELEY TENEX 1,113/14/5 fps .37"
SV Solids 1,119/17/7 fps .68" .53"
 
FEDERAL
Gold Medal
1,160/8/3 fps .44"
1,080 fps 1,169/24/9 fps .81"
Solids 1,165/19/6 fps .78" .61"
1,146/13/6 fps .50"
1,162/11/5 fps .50"
FEDERAL 1,313/40/15 fps 1.37"
HV HPs 1,297/55/24 fps .84" 1.11"
RWS R 50 1,133/4/1 fps .57"
SV Solids 1,131/10/5 fps .49" .53"
WIN. SX 1,341/17/7 fps .88"
HV HPs 1,341/27/10 fps 1.14" 1.01"
AVERAGE OF ALL GROUPS
.93"
EXCLUDING STINGERS:
.8"


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