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Kimber's Long Road

Kimber's Long Road

The new long-action Model 84L took some time to get here, but it's worth the wait.

Rifle nomenclature can be a confusing swirl of numbers and letters, usually relating to internal factory designations of mechanical parts that bear little relation to the rifle's purpose in the real world of hunting. Occasionally, however, a manufacturer gives a rifle a name that actually means something--both to a prospective buyer and to a shooter.

The "L" in Kimber's new Model 84L stands for "long." Longer than what? Longer than the standard Kimber 84M--longer barrel, longer overall and six ounces heavier. Net result? A rifle that is steady and comfortable to shoot yet still light enough to carry comfortably all day long. (Watch Here)

In .30-06, a prototype 84L weighs six pounds, six ounces. Fitted with a Zeiss Victory 2.5-10x42 scope, with a 30mm tube, the weight becomes seven pounds, 13 ounces. Add a half pound for a Brownells leather latigo sling (such a classic rifle demands leather) and five cartridges in the magazine, and the rifle tips the scales at almost exactly the 8.5 pounds that Jack O'Connor, 50 years ago, decreed as the ideal weight for a mountain rifle.

Eight and a half pounds? For a mountain rifle? No, O'Connor was not kidding. And neither am I when I opine that he was just about dead on. Contrary to popular belief, the babble of blogs and the bleating of ad men, a mountain rifle need not be overly light. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for both longer barrels and a few more ounces. As one who has carried rifles up mountains from Tanzania to Alaska, I appreciate the advantage a little extra weight can give you when you have to make a tough shot.

A decade ago, ultralight rifles were the bandwagon du jour. Melvin Forbes started the trend with rifles that tipped the scale at less than six pounds, and soon every gunmaker in the country was Swiss-cheesing actions and trimming barrels in an attempt to come in a gram or two lighter than the next guy. The result was a generation of rifles that felt like fluttering wisps in the hand--and were just about as steady when the time came to make a shot.

You have not seen a barrel wave in the breeze until you fling yourself to the ground after a 600-foot climb and a sprint across a mountain meadow to take aim at the disappearing rump of a Dall sheep. Suddenly, the perceived advantage of carrying such a light rifle disappears, and you have plenty of time to reflect on it as you trudge back to camp, empty handed. This is why the Kimber 84L, in .25-06, .270 Winchester and .30-06--classic mountain calibers all--makes so much sense.


Kimber's line of rifles has developed in a strange but not haphazard manner, and a look back at its evolution puts the 84L in perspective.

The original 84 was designed to incorporate the best features of two of the most popular and enduring hunting bolt actions: the Mauser 98 and the pre-64 Model 70. It has a claw extractor and controlled-round feed, a one-piece floorplate with an Oberndorf-style release in the trigger bow and a three-position wing safety on the bolt shroud. Overall, the 84's lines are reminiscent of a fine custom rifle on the Mauser action.

The 84L retains all characteristics that have made the Kimber action so popular: three-position wing safety, Oberndorf-style floorplate release, and a light, crisp trigger.

When the 84 appeared, however, the most popular family of mid-range cartridges was based on the .308 Winchester case, from the .243 on up. Anyone who in the past had wanted to have a custom Mauser made in such a caliber had to accept the fact that there was no standard Mauser length that really fit the .308. One had to start with an action that was longer than necessary for the cartridge.

So Kimber designed its new action to fit the .308 family exactly, and the result was the slim, trim, efficient 84M .

Then along came the WSM family of cartridges and a sudden demand for rifles chambered in the unbelted short magnums. Kimber responded with the 8400. This action was thicker and heavier to accommodate the greater diameter of the fat WSM case, yet short enough that the tricky short mags could be made to feed and eject acceptably--a continuing bugbear for rifle makers trying to fit WSMs into standard-length actions.

You will notice that Kimber did not yet have a rifle chambered for the most popular American cartridge of all time--the .30-06 Springfield--or the (probable) second most-popular, the .270 Winchester.

In order to add these favorites to the list, Kimber lengthened the heftier 8400 action, and ended up with what was, in essence, an African magnum action. It could fit the .375 H&H and .458 Lott (and did, in the Caprivi model), and while it was also adaptable to the .30-06 and .270 Winchester, it was simply too much action for those cartridges. About 10 ounces too much action, to be precise.

So Kimber proceeded to do for the .30-06 family what it had done a few years earlier for the .308s: It designed a slimmer action to exactly the right length, and the result is the 84L.

It is a truism in the American firearms industry that, when a company is run by people who like to shoot, it will produce products that other people will like to shoot, too. In the modern era, this included Dakota Arms, founded by Don Allen, a stock maker and elk hunter, and before that the Ruger behemoth founded by gun nut extraordinaire Bill Ruger.

Kimber also has its share of serious hunters in the upper ranks because its hunting rifles over the past 10 years have been spot on in providing aficionados not only with rifles with all the features they covet and crave but also rifles they can afford.

Few indeed are the American rifle nuts who do not like fine walnut stocks, who do not want controlled-round feeding and who are not delighted to be seen in public with a rifle that looks like it rolled out of one of the better custom shops. From the beginning--literally, from the very first Kimber .22 rimfire produced in 1979--Kimber has offered rifles that are throwbacks, in both their features and their workmanship, to an earlier, more

graceful era.

The Kimber action incorporates the most desirable features of the Mauser 98 yet does so in a way that allows it to be produced on machinery, and in a simplified (and less expensive) process. The Mauser 98 is very complicated to produce, requiring approximately 115 separate machining operations. The Kimber requires considerably fewer than that, but it does not sacrifice anything critical in doing so.

Kimber makes its own barrels in its plant in Yonkers, New York, and applies the high standard of workmanship we now expect from its stellar line of Model 1911 handguns .

The 84L's action is tailored for .30-06-length cartridges and is about half a pound heavier than the 84M — but about half a pound less than a similarly chambered 8400.

In all its models, Kimber offers both walnut stocks and Kevlar, and the 84L is no exception: There are two grades of wood-stocked rifle (the Classic and the Classic Select) and the Montana model with Kevlar.

Our test rifle was a prototype Classic Select. To summarize its good points, it feels like a real rifle, coming to the shoulder and pointing naturally. The stock is American classic--no Monte Carlo, no cheekpiece, no rollover comb. It has simple, graceful lines that are accentuated by the grain and color of the A-grade French walnut stock. It has an ebony fore-end tip, steel grip cap and solid black recoil pad.

The foregoing may seem to go without saying but, alas, all too many rifle stocks today seem to have been designed by engineers who have never fired a rifle. Not the 84L: The shooting heritage of the decision makers at Kimber show through in its lines.

The barreled action has a tasteful matte blue finish. The trigger is very crisp, set at two pounds, 14 ounces. From the factory, the trigger is set at 3.5 to four pounds, but it can be easily reduced to a more comfortable weight. The three-position wing safety, which locks the striker, moves easily yet locks into position firmly.

Finally, what I consider to be the defining feature of a rifle like this: How does it feed, extract and eject? The answer: Better than any factory rifle I have seen in quite a while.

Typically, when a bolt action is made in a wide variety of cartridge sizes, feeding and ejection is spotty at best. The Mauser 98 is legendary for its reliable feeding, but what is often forgotten is that Paul Mauser designed the 98 action, its magazine box, follower and feed rails for one specific cartridge: the 8x57, which he also designed. They all work together like parts of a puzzle.

When you rebarrel a 98 to something like .30-06 or 7mm Remington Magnum, you should expect to need some gunsmithing to make the cartridges feed reliably. The same applies to any commercial rifle produced in a wide variety of cartridges. Unless it is carefully worked over by a skilled gunsmith before it leaves the factory, you will likely have to pay a skilled gunsmith to do it after you get it.

Because the 84L was designed specifically for .30-06 length cartridges (and is initially chambered only in cartridges derived from the .30-06), it feeds extremely well. The cartridges snap into the magazine and stay there; it feeds cartridges from a full magazine without a hitch; the empty cases are ejected smartly; and bolt operation is smooth both coming and going. The floorplate release (Oberndorf-style, in the trigger bow) works easily, yet the floorplate snaps shut firmly.

I have received high-dollar custom rifles from renowned gun makers that did not function as perfectly as this factory Kimber 84L did.

Today, of course, the definitive test of a rifle is its accuracy. With six different factory loads, the 84L performed more than adequately for hunting, averaging under two inches at 100 yards for 18 groups. Two of these groups were under an inch, and only one was more than three inches.

Kimber rifles never fail to deliver in the looks department, with top-notch walnut, well-executed checkering and understated styling cues such as an ebony fore-end cap.

Given some time, and a good selection of bullets and powders, I am quite sure I could find a load for the Kimber that would put five shots consistently in an inch and a half. Because I was working with a prototype rifle on a very tight deadline, there was not time to try a handload, much less work one up from scratch.

With the arrival of the Model 84L, Kimber now plans to discontinue the standard cartridges, such as the .30-06, in the existing lengthened Model 8400. With that out of the way, it is logical to assume the company will then begin adding other calibers for the 84L.

So far, Kimber has generally followed in the very wise footsteps of Paul Mauser, carefully fitting its actions to the cartridges it intends to chamber. Even if it insists on sticking to .30-06 derivatives in the 84L, there are all kinds of fine candidates: the .280 Remington, .338-06 and .35 Whelen would be naturals, and it would be nice to see the 6.5-06 as well. But maybe that's dreaming.

At any rate, the Model 84L as it stands fills a large hole, not just in the Kimber lineup, but in the affections of American riflemen. No American company making bolt-action rifles should be without one flagship model tailored to the .30-06. And now Kimber has one.

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