by R.K. Campbell
If there is a most popular handgun cartridge in America, it is the .45 ACP. The most significant of handguns are chambered for this cartridge, and a new handgun in this caliber, if of good quality, often enjoys success in the marketplace.
Full-size .45 autos are accurate and easy to use, but they have one great drawback: they are big. These guns often weigh up to 2.75 pounds and are over 8 inches long. This makes for difficulty in daily carry, so much so that some shooters may choose to carry a lighter handgun and one of a smaller caliber as well. Some even abrogate the right to personal defense and 'go naked.' But if you are interested in personal defense, favor an effective handgun but find carrying the full-size .45 a daunting proposition, read on.
Kimber Manufacturing Inc. (1 Lawton St., Dept. GWK, Yonkers, NY 10705; phone: 888-243-4522; on-line: www.kim-beramerica.com) has earned a reputation for guns of top quality, fit and finish, in a short time. All Kimbers I have handled and fired are outstanding examples of that type. But frankly, I have a number of full-size .45s that perform well and was not inclined to replace them with a new, albeit attractive, pistol. This has changed with the introduction of the Ultra Carry line.
These pistols weigh just 25 ounces and are truly compact. They feature an aluminum frame and 3-inch barrel. The gun is light enough, but more importantly, it works.
Ammunition performance in short barrel .45s can be a problem. The bane of short slide, compact handguns has been poor function. Increased slide velocity in such a short gun is difficult to arrest. Some .45-caliber pistols have proven reliable with certain loads, but few indeed are reliable with all .45 auto loads. The lightweight 185-grain bullets are the most troublesome.
With so many .45 ACP shooters attempting to use light, fast bullets in compact guns in order to preserve bullet expansion, this was a serious problem.
I have personally experienced a failure to stop with a 200-grain, .45-caliber hollow point. The failure was due to a lack of penetration, as the bullet stopped in about 5 inches of hard muscle and bone. This bullet was fired from a Star PD.
Modern ammunition is better, and the Kimber Ultra Carry is the best compact pistol yet offered. We'll discuss ammunition performance later, but bear in mind the .45 ACP does not rely upon velocity and expansion for performance. Forward mass weight and bullet diameter is what gives the .45 its advantages.
The Kimber Ultra Carry is not simply a chopped gun. Of course, it is not a purpose-designed compact but a variation of an existing design-the full-size 1911. But it differs in so many particulars it is obvious a lot of engineering and development went into this handgun.
The extractor and ejector differ from full-size guns. Short slide guns often have
snappy slide velocity, and a taller ejector adds a measure of reliability. The lockup of the barrel and slide differs from the full-length 1911. The barrel is what is known as a coned type. This barrel has standard locking lugs as with the full-size pistol, but is cut differently than most 1911s. The gun also has a swinging link, just as the full-size gun does.
I took a hard look at the Ultra Carry. It is an even bet this is as compact as we can go in a .45 auto without resorting to complete redesign, such as eliminating the link or perhaps going to a SIG-type lockup.
Recoil springs have been a problem in short .45s. The first compact .45-the immortal Star PD-used a type of shock buffer, which needed to be replaced every 500 rounds for best function. The Kimber uses a double-wound recoil spring.
This spring takes a lot of compression. Compressions are numbered, i.e., in the number of times the slide is racked, not in rounds fired. I would replace my spring every 700 rounds or so if the gun is reserved for serious duty. This is about four times as often as we would replace a recoil spring in a full-size .45, but there is no free lunch.
The gun has a short and rather cute, full-length guide rod. Despite the needed stiffness of the springs, it is not difficult to manually rack the Kimber's slide when loading and unloading the Ultra Carry. Apparently, Kimber has managed to slow the slide enough to reduce battering and control feeding.
The standard Kimber magazines would perform well during testing, but I also used several full-length 1911 magazines from Wilson Combat (Wilson's Gun Shop Inc., 2234CR719, Dept. GWK, Berryville, AR 72616-4573; phone: 800-955-4856; on-line: www.wilsoncombat.com). Function was perfect. The Kimber does not demand short slide-specific magazines.
If I place more emphasis on perfect function that would seem adequate, let me state for the record, reliability is about a million times more important than accuracy or even power!
Looking over the Ultra Carry, fit and finish was not simply good. The fit of each part was excellent. When working the slide, I felt that the fit of the link and of all moving parts was flawless. The grips are fitted with hex head screws, another improvement.
The slide lock safety, of an extended or 'speed' design, proved crisp and positive in action. The beavertail safety fits flush with the frame when engaged and fits most hands well. I am one of those who occasionally miss the grip safety of conventional pistols. I appreciated the Kimber a great deal.
The magazine release was positive, tight enough to prevent inadvertent dropping of the magazine. I had two magazines for the gun, and as I mentioned I had on hand several seven- and eight-shot magazines which I used during the test. The eight-round mags were from Wilson Combat. I also had on hand a six-round magazine, designed for the Colt Officer's Model, from Metalform Co. Inc. (555 John Downey Drive, Dept. GWK, New Britain, CT 06051; phone: 203-225-3318). This magazine functioned flawlessly during testing.
The sights are excellent, high visibility units. Each is dovetailed in place, offering good adjustment. Front staked-in sights, in particular, have a tendency to fly away when extended firing is part of the regimen. The Kimber sights will stay put.
The trigger was, frankly, breathtaking. Trigger compression was a very smooth 4 pounds. The trigger action was clean, with little take-up and an absence of creep or backlash. Too light for a defense gun? Hardly. The 1911 is a gun for the accomplished shooter. Duffers need not apply. A good hand will find the Kimber trigger gives the operator a chance to connect at ridiculous pistol ranges.
I loaded several magazines with Fiocchi 230-grain ball. Affordable, reliable, and accurate, this ammunition is a good training resource. I suppose conventional wisdom holds that a gun of this type should be used only at close range. After all, most handgun combat takes place at conversational range.
I began at seven yards. I drew and fired quickly. I found the short sight radius of the Kimber brilliantly fast and accurate at short range. The sight picture was quickly taken up and accurate strikes followed. Muzzle flip was there, but I could quickly bring the gun back on target. The pistol was surprisingly comfortable to fire, largely due to advanced recoil spring technology. Despite the short grip, I found I could keep a good hold on the pistol during firing.
Occasionally, I find a pistol that shoots well, no matter what I do. I found that even without perfect trigger control, the gun shot very close to where I aimed in the majority of cases. The short-range sight picture was excellent. Coupled with the 1911's fast handling and a beautiful trigger, the gun proved capable of acing any combat drill in short order.
During this test, I drew the gun from my standard carry holster-a Sparks Summer Special, from Milt Sparks Holsters Inc., (605 East 44th St., Ste. #2E, Dept. GWK, Boise, ID 83714; phone: 208-377-5577). It simply doesn't get any better than this. This inside-the-waistband holster is more complex than it first appears. The holster features a reinforced welt, which prevents the holster from collapsing if the gun is drawn and also allows ease in reholstering.
Worn inside the waistband, this holster allows good concealment even under a light T-shirt.
I'd had such good results with the Ultra Carry I decided to carefully fire it off a benchrest at a long 25 yards. The gun's good lockup, good sights and excellent trigger contributed to the sterling results listed. This gun is about as accurate as most full-length 1911 .45s, and more accurate than quite a few. You have to concentrate to keep the sights on target during a long firing string, and recoil can become tiring after a box or so of ammunition off the bench. But accuracy is there for the shooter who respects the basics of grip, trigger press, sight alignment and sight picture.
The accompanying chart shows accuracy results, at 25 yards with groups measured in inches, center-to-center, with most widely dispersed bullet holes in a 5-round group.\
Ammunition performance is an issue with compact handguns. I prefer 230-grain bullets in all .45s destined for defense. However, some loads lose up to 100 feet-per-second (fps) when fired in short barreled handguns. An exception is the Fiocchi 230-grain JHP. This is high quality ammunition.
Using the Cullman, AL-produced Zero hollow point, this loading offers well over 800 fps in velocity from most compact pistols. The bullet usually expands at this velocity. Notably, the Kimber proved reliable with all weights tested, but I strongly prefer the 230-grain bullet. A balance of expansion and penetration is maintained with this loading.
After the initial firing session, I practiced several times with the Kimber. I fired a total of 600 rounds of ammunition. Despite a non-existent cleaning regimen-I simply wiped the gun off and re-lubricated it every 200 rounds-function has been perfect.
I took the Kimber out for formal range testing once more, this time with a different class of ammunition. I wished to qualify the handgun's performance with +P ammunition. But this is problematical in a short slide gun. Slide velocity is increased, which can affect function. And recoil is certainly increased. Yet, we are not certain the increased wear and tear is worthwhile, as the loadings still suffer less velocity and may not offer a significant advantage over standard loads.
I fired 100 rounds of Cor-Bon 230-grain ammunition, 50 rounds of Cor-Bon 200-grain, and 40 rounds of Hornady's 230-grain +P loading. Results were good. Recoil was certainly increased but not uncomfortably so. The little gun handled each loading with aplomb.
I would caution that a vise-like grip be used when firing +P ammunition, as slide velocity is increased and the slide could take a run and outstrip the ability of the magazine to feed if the gun is not clamped tightly in the fist.
After the test period, the Kimber did not exhibit significant wear. There had been no problems of any type. The gun is well balanced, offers good reliability, and chambers a fight stopping cartridge. That is all we can ask for in a carry gun.
Check out a Kimber for yourself. For ordering information, contact Kimber Manufacturing at the address listed earlier in this report.
|Fiocchi 230-grain Ball||766 fps||3.45"|
|Fiocchi 230-grain JHP||813 fps||3.0"|
|Fiocchi 200-grain JHP||-||3.6"|
|Speer 230-grain Gold Dot||759 fps||3.25"|
|Speer 185-grain Gold Dot||867 fps||3.5"|
|Speer Lawman 230-grain FMJ||780 fps||3.5"|
|Handloads all use Unique powder|
|Hornady 185-grain XTP||904 fps||4.0"|
|Hornady 185-grain XTP||823 fps||3.6"|
|Precision 200-grain SWC
(An excellent practice load)
Return to Archive Index