May 07, 2020
By Brad Fitzpatrick
The rifle shooting world is not immune to fads—remember see-through scope mounts?—but classic styling never goes out of fashion. In this era of chassis rifles with beefy top rails, extended detachable magazines and muzzle devices, there’s still a coterie of shooters who yearn for the look and feel of the premium guns from days gone by. They like premium walnut stocks; they like simple, reliable designs; and they appreciate good craftsmanship.
If you’re one of those neoclassicists, the Kimber Classic Select Grade rifle will appeal to your sensibilities. It’s a hunting rifle at heart and features Kimber’s 84/8400 controlled-round-feed action with a full-length claw extractor and blade-style ejector.
The benefit of the design is that the claw bites on the rim of the cartridge during feeding, and the bolt and cartridge remain connected until the bolt is retracted and the extractor blade interrupts that contact, which ensures reliable cycling under the worst conditions. It’s the same setup you’ll find on Peter Paul Mauser’s M98, Winchester’s original M70, Ruger’s M77, Kimber’s rifles and a few others.
Controlled round feed gained favor with big game hunters who faced dangerous game in situations where lives depended upon the reliability of a rifle’s action, and while push-feed actions have become more popular of late—they’re easier and more affordable to build—controlled-round-feed actions like those on the Kimber provide a level of security and reliability not available with push-feed guns. Dual front lugs lock the stainless steel bolt into place when the action is closed.
The Kimber Classic Select Grade also features a three-position, Model 70-type wing safety mounted on the right rear portion of the receiver. In its rearmost position the safety disengages the firing system and locks the bolt closed, and in the middle position it allows the bolt to be cycled with the safety engaged. Pressing forward readies the gun to fire.
The design is reliable and easy to access from a shooting position, and it also offers the added benefit of being able to lock the bolt closed while hunting. I came to appreciate that feature while hunting in mountainous terrain with a lot of brush. There was no way to maneuver through the dense cover without having the rifle contact low-hanging branches, and on two occasions with a two-position, non-locking safety, the bolt snagged on brush and opened, dropping the cartridge from the chamber. The Kimber’s safety system eliminates the risk of accidental bolt opening.
All Kimber Classic Select Grade rifles come with an A-grade French walnut stock with an ebony fore-end cap and a hand-rubbed oil finish. The walnut itself offers plenty of figure, and the straight-comb design (0.43 inch drop at the comb, 0.54 inch at the heel) and generous recoil pad offer traditional American styling that’s designed to efficiently handle recoil. There’s a metal grip cap and 20-l.p.i. checkering on the fore-end and pistol grip. At 13.75 inches, length of pull is slightly longer than most factory rifles.
The hinged floorplate, internal box magazine has a capacity of five rounds for standard cartridges and four for magnums. Barrel lengths vary from 22 to 26 inches depending upon caliber, and overall lengths run from 41.25 inches to 46.5 inches.
Wood densities vary, but expect average weight for a .243 Win. rifle to come in at about five pounds, 13 ounces, while the .300 Win. Mag. version weighs roughly seven pounds, four ounces. Suggested retail price is $1,427.
These are all features you might expect to find on any bolt gun that calls itself a classic, but the Kimber impresses by adding some modern features that help make it shoot as well—and maybe better—than the best rifles from a few decades ago. For starters, it comes with a pillar- and glass-bedded stock and a match-grade chamber that helps to improve accuracy.
The sporter-profile barrel comes with a recessed crown and 1:10, right hand-twist rifling (except .308 Win. guns, which get 1:12 twists). The single-stage factory trigger is adjustable and comes set between 3.5 and four pounds.
Controls are minimal. There’s a bolt release on the left rear side of the receiver, a floorplate release inside the trigger guard and the aforementioned wing safety. The Kimber comes without sights, but the cylindrical receiver is drilled and tapped. Despite the rifle’s resemblance to the Winchester Model 70, the two rifles do not accept the same scope bases.
That’s a long and impressive list of features that check every box in the classic rifle design playbook, and the Kimber is well executed and built right. The one-inch Pachmayr Decelerator pad fits precisely against the rear of the stock, and there’s no noticeable gap between the stock and the barrel.
The finish—matte blue for the barrel, matte black on the action—looks good and doesn’t have the glare-inducing shine you’ll encounter on some classic guns. The bolt runs smoothly in the receiver, and while it isn’t as silky smooth as the popular full-diameter bolts found in many modern push-feed guns, there isn’t a lot of slop and wobble when you’re shoving a cartridge home. The 20-l.p.i checkering is well executed and functional and adds to the gun’s classic look. Front and rear sling studs are properly secured in the stock, and the steel grip cap adds a subtle touch of class.
The Kimber Classic Select Grade is an attention-grabbing rifle. The French walnut stock is striking, and the hand-oiled finish makes it more durable and water-resistant than some other wood finishes since the oil permeates the stock and adds an extra layer of protection to the wood. The rifle I tested came with a light tan walnut coloration similar in base color to maple stocks, though with more figure.
I’m a fan of the Kimber’s stock design. The pistol grip is rather narrow and isn’t as sharply angled as target rifles, and that makes it handle more like a fine shotgun than a PRS chassis gun. Very little consideration is given to how rifles handle since we’re a generation of bench shooters, but classic guns were meant to come quickly to the shoulder and handle like a grouse gun.
My sample was in .270 Win. and had a 24-inch barrel and an overall length of 43.75 inches. It weighed six pounds, four ounces unscoped. Kimber factory triggers are deeply curved, and the test rifle’s came set at 3.8 pounds, according to my RCBS gauge. Bolt travel was smooth, and the bolt release button is easy to maneuver, though the floorplate release inside the trigger guard required a little extra effort to operate.
The clean, simple lines of the Classic wouldn’t blend well with a big, bulky, tactical scope with oversized knobs and a massive main tube, so I paired it with a Trijicon AccuPower 3-9x40 scope. So equipped, the rifle weighed exactly eight pounds, which makes it light enough for all-day hikes in steep terrain.
Off the bench, the Classic Select Grade was capable of delivering sub-m.o.a. groups with loads that it favored. The 0.6-inch test target that came with the rifle was produced using Hornady’s 120-grain SST Custom Lite ammo, and while I didn’t have any of that ammunition, I found the Kimber would group around 0.9 inch with Federal’s 130-grain Trophy Copper loads. Hornady’s SST Superformance ammo also produced good groups, though they averaged just over an inch.
The Kimber is a light, trim rifle, and the stock is slender. Recoil was noticeable off the bench but not abusive. I’ve always been a fan of Kimber’s triggers, and the Classic Select Grade didn’t disappoint. The curved shaped offers maximum control, and there’s no perceivable take-up before the shot breaks.
As you might expect with a controlled-round-feed rifle, there were no problems with feeding, extraction or ejection. The three-position safety worked well, and when the safety is fully forward, a red dot is visible to offer a quick reference regarding the condition of the rifle. That’s particularly beneficial when you come upon an animal quickly and get in position for a shot. With one glance you can verify the rifle is ready to fire rather than having to remove your shooting hand from the trigger to manually check the condition.
The majority of rifle evaluations consist solely of bench shooting results, but that doesn’t paint a complete picture of how the gun will perform under field conditions. I shot a handful of groups over a backpack while lying prone and from three-legged shooting sticks. Unlike rifles with bulkier stocks and heavy barrels, the Classic Select Grade is easy to maneuver when you’re shooting in comfortable conditions, such as lying flat on a rock ledge and shooting at a steep downward angle. It’s also very light and comfortable to carry.
The metalwork held up very well to the abuses of testing, and the oiled-finish stock didn’t seem prone to scars and dings (which would also stand out less on the light French walnut stock than on darker walnut). The ebony fore-end is a classy touch, and the overall fit, feel and quality of the rifle is befitting of a gun in this price category.
Unlike rifles with narrowed ejection ports, the Kimber is easy to top-load, and the magazine release lever inside the trigger guard stays out of the way. It won’t stab your knuckle while shooting, yet it’s easy to access when you want to drop the contents of the magazine.
Functionally, the Kimber receives high marks. Everything about the gun is user-friendly and well built, and there’s no question regarding the quality of the construction. The 84 action has been around a long time, and it’s easy to see why these guns have been so successful.
In a world full of polymer stocks, multi-color finishes and bulky tactical/hunting hybrid rifles, the Kimber is something of an anomaly. It’s an homage to traditional hunting rifle design, and it reminds us why classics never go out of style.
Yes, wood is more fragile than polymer, but walnut stocks also have a look and a feel that you simply can’t replicate with plastic. Kimber isn’t above selling polymer-stocked rifles, and its Hunter model has been a big success, but for me, this will always be my favorite member of the Kimber family. It shoots well, but it’s also dressed to kill.
Kimber Classic Select Grade Rifle SpecsType:
Controlled-round-feed bolt-action centerfireCaliber:
.243 Win., .257 Roberts, .270 Win. (tested), .308 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag.Capacity:
5+1 (as tested)Barrel:
24 in. (as tested)Overall Length:
6 lb., 4 oz.Stock:
Hand-oiled A-grade French walnutFinish:
Matte black action, matte blue barrelTrigger:
Adjustable, 3.8 lb. (measured)Sights:
None; drilled and tapped.Price:
Kimber Manufacturing, kimberamerica.com
Kimber Classic Select Grade Accuracy Results