Kimber's Tactical Decision

Kimber's Tactical Decision

"So much less than you expect." It's a clever line, a snappy lead for the centerfire rifle section in the current Kimber catalog. It's also descriptive of what Kimber has marketed in its 84M and 8400 rifles. Less means less weight, less bulk, less unnecessary embellishment. At first glance, I didn't think that minimalist image would apply to the latest Kimber rifles--a trio of tactical rifles in .308 Winchester--but a closer look showed something different.

These new rifles are built on the 84M and 8400 platforms. The 84M was originally designed to minimize weight by close attention to proportions. Its short action and trim barrels kept overall weight to 53„4 pounds in a sporting rifle configuration.

The 84M has a Mauser-style claw extractor, steel bottom metal (a floorplate with release button in the trigger guard) and a steel grip cap--features retained in the new tactical rifle series.

The 8400 is a short-action version of the 84M, albeit a heavier one originally designed for the Winchester Short Magnum cartridges. The 8400 is thicker through the receiver ring than is the 84M.

"The ring is bigger because we wanted it stronger," says Kimber's Dwight van Brunt.

The three new tactical guns are built on these actions. All wear Kimber's own four-groove barrels rifled with a 1:12 twist. Mil-spec Picatinny rails are attached with 8-40 screws. Actions are glass bedded; magazine boxes hold five cartridges. While lacking the trim profiles of Kimber sporting rifles, the tactical models share the mechanisms many hunters have come to prefer over all others.

The 84M LPT, or Light Police Tactical, has a 24-inch medium-heavy fluted barrel and laminated wood stock with black finish and stippled grip and fore-end. Bottom metal is the same as on Kimber sporting rifles. The bolt knob, however, is conical and oversize.

Metal surfaces are matte black. The 81„2-pound LPT retails for $1,258.

The 8400 Tactical, based on Kimber's heavier short action, couples a heavy 24-inch barrel with a McMillan A-5 stock, stippled fore and aft. Metal finish and bolt knob are identical to those on the LPT.

A third swivel stud accommodates a bipod (not included), and the Picatinny rail incorporates 20 minutes of elevation. The 8400 Tactical weighs 91„4 pounds and lists at $1,836.

For eye-catching, few rifles beat the new Kimber 8400 Advanced Tactical. While its bottom metal and bolt have standard matte-black finish, the barrel and receiver are sheathed in KimPro II Dark Earth, an extremely tough, self-lubricating coat the color of wet sand. The McMillan A-5 stock is painted to match, in a light and dark desert camo pattern.

Underneath, the 8400 Advanced Tactical has much in common with the 8400 Tactical: same mechanism and barrel dimensions, same 20-minute slant in the rail. However, its stock offers more features: adjustable comb, butt spacers to change length, four flush QD swivel cups.

Appropriately, this sophisticated hardware comes in a heavy-duty tan polymer hard-case, with six push-button latches and hard-foam interior. The Kimber 8400 Advanced Tactical weighs 93„4 pounds and will set you back $2,497.

The rifles I received for testing looked new; however, their trigger pulls were lighter than the three- to 31„2-pound pulls Kimber claims as factory settings. Triggers on the LPT and Tactical models broke crisply at just under 21„2 pounds, that on the Advanced Tactical just under two.

The latter was already scoped with a Leupold 3.5-10X LR/T with illuminated reticle. On the LPT I mounted a Bushnell 3-9X 3200 Elite, on the Tactical a 12x42 AO. (The practice of using 8-40 screws instead of 6-48s is a thoughtful departure from tradition, particularly in light of the heavier scopes now popular on tactical rifles.)

After zeroing, I fired all three rifles with a variety of match ammunition and some sporting loads. Bullet weights were 110, 150, 155, 168 and 175 grains.

The 84M LPT performed best with Black Hills 168 Match. But it didn't group quite as tightly as I'd hoped, averaging a bit over a minute of angle. The 8400 Tactical shot better, averaging about 3/4 inch.

The 8400 Advanced Tactical showed a tendency to horizontal stringing, though I managed one three-shot, one-hole group. As is my custom, I tested myself to ensure I could hold as tight as these rifles could shoot. With other rifles, I drilled groups of 1/4 and 1/2 inch.

The reluctance of the AT to group consistently puzzled me, as most Kimber rifles are accurate. So I spoke to people at the company and learned that this rifle had been out on other testing sessions and that perhaps a super-thorough cleaning was in order.

I did as instructed and headed back to the bench. I thumbed Hornady 155-grain TAP cartridges into the rifle and got a 7/8-inch group. It would prove the biggest of the day. The 110-grain TAPs that drilled the one-holer now cut a 1/4-inch group.

Black Hills 175s gave me a 5/8-inch cluster, as did Fiocchi hunting ammo with 150-grain SSTs. Given this level of accuracy, I could have punched a golf ball at 200 yards all afternoon. The willingness of the AT to digest a wide range of bullet weights pleased me. Rifles fussy about fodder don't.

There were no malfunctions from the Kimbers. Bolts cycled smoothly and cartridges fed without a hiccup, the Mauser-style extractor controlling them from initial contact to lock-up. Single-cartridge feeding was easy too, as the extractor lip is fashioned to jump over a round chambered by hand.

Excellent trigger pulls allowed no excuse for bad let-offs. Extra leverage afforded by the long, over-size bolt knobs ensured effortless bolt manipulation. The beefy stocks on these rifles made them easy to steady at the bench as well as from prone.

Their shape, and the rifles' substantial weight, held recoil to a gentle bump. The grip-area stippling i

s just aggressive enough to anchor your hand but not so sharp as to prevent quick position shifts.

These new Kimber tactical rifles are intelligently designed, shooter-friendly and accurate. The improved results after cleaning the AT served as a reminder that copper fouling does impair accuracy. Similar attention to the LPT might have shaved group sizes. Still, groups from one rifle can't be guaranteed for all of its type. While modern manufacturing methods and strict quality control measures ensure that each rifle is almost like the next, tolerances apply to every part, every assembly.

So much less than you expect. It might apply to the lean, taut lines of a Kimber firearm, its lack of complexity, its quick, unequivocal obedience to your touch. But don't expect less as regards selection and sophistication. After a quarter-centery of gun-building, Kimber is on track to deliver more of both.

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