Kimber 10mm Review

Kimber’s summer 2003 offering for the small but loyal following of 10mm shooters is a limited production model of their stainless target model.  Available as a full size pistol, this 1911 variant sports all of the features found in Kimber’s newer generation target pistols; adjustable sights, good trigger, full guide rod, decent grips and a matte sandblasted stainless steel finish.  It, is however, one of the last pistols in their production to get the standard 1911 style extractor.  Subtle enhancements include hex head grip screws, rubber grips, extended safety and dovetailed front sight.

Most of the internal parts are MIM components from Chip McCormick, along with the few proprietary items from Kimber, like their forged slide, barrel and frame.   Oddly, the mainspring housing on this pistol is plastic, just like on the CDP series.  The plastic has pretty good cast in checkering, but it still seems a little out of place on a gun costing well over $900 at most local gun shops.  Fortunately, an upgrade to stainless steel or black rubber coated Pachmayr mainspring housing is an easy and cost effective upgrade that usually costs less than a tank of gas.

These pistols come packaged with the requisite goodies you get with a quality handgun.  The pistol comes in a lockable plastic case, but the lock is a cable style lock that is designed to pass through the magwell and ejection port of the gun.  You would need a different kind of lock to effectively lock the case.   Watch out on this, because transporting a gun in some states require a locked case and a trigger lock or action lock like the one included here does not meet that requirement.  You also get a bushing wrench (very nice touch) and a sample tube of some hotshot gun lube.   The owners manual and paperwork will keep you up to speed on how the gun works.  You also get a catalog sheet from the Kimber custom shop.  The prices are high, but not really entirely out of the realm for custom 1911 work from a reputable outfit that stands behind their work.   My experience with Kimber warranty service showed them to be nothing short of amazing.   I would recommend sending the gun in for some periodic custom work from time to time just to have them go through the pistol and tune up anything their sharp eyed gunsmiths can find worth improving.   This basic re-tuning is a no cost service if you are having them do any other work on the pistol and their turnaround time is very very fast.

The magwell is not exactly super funneled like a race gun, but it does sport some beveling with plenty of extra room in it for improvement if the owner is so inclined to do it or have it done.   Here, the casting line on the plastic mainspring housing is plainly visible.  What passes for a loaded chamber indicator is a hole in the top of the breech.  In good light, you can make out whether or not there is  a brass case in there.  Otherwise the gun has all of the safety features standard to the newer generation 1911 pistols, including the grip safety, thumb operated lever, half cock and a firing pin block safety.  Being a 2003 production run, these pistols have the conventional 1911 style extractor, while nearly all 2004 production guns are slated to have the new S&W style external extractor.  It is unclear what type of extractor would go in any future production Kimber 10mm pistols.   There is no 10mm version of the Kimber Eclipse, but in adding up the costs of Kimber custom shop upgrades, I was pleasantly surprised to find out this pistol can be upgraded to have everything an Eclipse has and the net cost would be about the same as a standard Eclipse.  These things, like the night sights, checkered front strap, ambi safety, special finish and special grips are all available through the Kimber custom shop.  None of these items and services are cheap, but the cost is pretty middle of the road for custom gunsmithing work and Kimber generally has a pretty fast turnaround time on their work.

The gun is built on the custom target II platform from Kimber and that means standard adjustable sights.  This is a pretty useful feature on .45 pistols where you want to set the sights for your particular load and the range you want it zeroed at, but on a 10mm, this matters less.  Real 10mm ammo shoots flat, meaning the bullet does not drop much until it is out around 50 yards.  That is one of the big advantage of the 10mm as a standard cartridge, you don’t have to compensate for range under most normal distances you would be shooting with a handgun.   The flat shooting accuracy, good tight but realistic tolerances and target grade trigger make the gun a good point and click interface for putting lead downrange.

My informal  tests with decent ammo and a good steady hold show the gun is at least capable of 2″ at 25 Yards.   I think perhaps the gun itself might even be capable of better accuracy with some custom tuned ammo.   Getting much better than that in practical applications might also require some finer sights.  For real world applications, this handgun in skilled hands actually could perform as well as an AK at distances out to 100 meters where the large size of a pistol sight will start to be a liability.   Still, when compared to the relatively lousy iron sights found on a lot of AKs, the Kimber 10mm pistol does a lot to cross the midrange accuracy gap between rifle and pistol.   If you do your part, you will get a hit every time.  Recoil can take some getting used to, but it is no worse than an aluminum or polymer framed .45 pistol.   With these things in mind, the 1911, and especially the 10mm cartridge are not tools of a novice level shooter.   Most shooters will likely be disappointed by the high cost of ammunition and stiff recoil of these pistols and those are the two main reasons why 10mm 1911 type pistols are only found in the hands of  a fairly elite crowd or gathering dust on the bottom shelf of some pawn shop display case.  Not much in between.

Accuracy is superb, but we expect that from any $900 pistol.  It is not entirely unusual for a Kimber to benefit from a little tuning even when brand new, but I am confident I can put a lot of rounds downrange before this one would really benefit from a trip to the gunsmith.  About the only upgrade I can see it needing would be an ambidextrous safety, which by now ought to be standard on most quality 1911 pistols, but the manufacturers don’t quite see it that way.   A big part of this is the fair amount of skill and work necessary to install an ambi safety on these guns and get it to work right.   The magazines comfortably hold eight shots, but look like they should hold at least nine.   I think that perhaps they will hold nine when the springs are broken in.   This is one of the weak points of the whole Kimber 10mm platform.   They take their own magazines and with the guns not always in production in this caliber, you can have a hard time obtaining magazines.   You definitely want to get a supply of magazines when you can because no aftermarket magazines are going to be readily available for this gun any time soon.   You may be able to substitute Colt Delta 10mm mags or mags made for the old Springfield Omega, but you don’ t want to bet on it.   Several mags that look like they should fit 10mm have a filler piece welded in along the rear spine inside the mag to make it only hold .40 ammo.

Traditionally, the 10mm is a hard hitting round, but by far the most available ammo for this caliber is the fairly lame 180 grain lead target loads from Federal.  Pushing 1050 FPS, they have more power than most available. 40 ammo, but don’t take full advantage of the potential power of the 10mm.   The good thing you can say about this stuff is that it will probably never wear out your gun and it provides decent brass for reloading.  I was surprised that it shoots so accurately and reliably in the Kimber, since it does not perform so well in the Glock or Witness 10mm pistols.  The federal Hydrashocks in the 180 grain 10mm flavor on the other hand, hit like a freight train.   There is also a growing number of hot 10mm loads coming around, although very few if any match the power of the original Norma 10mm loads that were engineered to go with the D&D Bren Ten.  Part of this situation is that the prevalent 10mm pistol on the market right now is the Glock 20, and that pistol suffers from a design fault of having a less than fully supported chamber and some components that will wear out quickly under prolonged use with higher powered 10mm ammunition.   Despite these shortcomings, the Glock 20 is rumored to be extensively used by the FBI as a replacement for the ill fated S&W 1076 since they still need a companion pistol to go with their excellent but unpopular 10mm Mp5s.  The folks at the FBI are unwilling to talk about what ammunition they are currently using in the Glock 10mm, but it is likely something a lot like the high and low impulse selection they had developed for the S&W 1076, and at that one of the loads is quite likely the Federal 180 grain Hydrashock, and the other likely a 165 or 145 grain expanding bullet of some type.

Another big question is the performance of 10mm against armor.   There is no commercially marketed AP 10mm ammo and most .40/10mm bullets have a flat nose configuration that is not conducive to penetrating armor.  That said, NIJ does not even have an official designation in their body armor specification for what constitutes protection against 10mm, although it would be a fair guess to say that 10mm will not penetrate anything stronger than IIIA, although IIA and II armor would be a real question, most likely depending on the particular load.    I have not seen any published reports of the performance of 10mm against body armor, but it might be likely there is not any predictable anti-armor capability of the cartridge without some highly specialized bullets.  Nearly all 10mm bullets on the market were developed for .40 S&W which was specifically engineered to NOT penetrate body armor.

I think it would be safe to say that most 10mm loads out of a full length 5″ barrel will penetrate most common items of cover that can stop a .45.   The sheer velocity of the round means you have a higher chance of activating a hollowpoint when it hits something soft and it penetrating deep enough to give maximum tissue damage.   What you may not get is that maximum energy dump in the first four inches of travel through a soft target, but it should still be more than what you get out of a standard .40 load.   This is precisely the reason why the 10mm is well suited as a defensive round against predatory animals which can survive a hit from a bullet that would disable a person.   That stopping power may just simply be overkill at short range for most human targets, but the 10mm will retain its power over longer ranges than the .40 or .45.   Thus, while the 10mm will not be any more deadly to a carjacker than a .45, it might prove to have the crucial extra oomph you need in dealing with a hungry mountain lion or misbehaving black bear that decides to  snack on your arm while you are out backpacking.

For now, the selection of factory ammo is still pretty lean, but reloading for the 10mm is fairly easy.  It involves the same dies and components as what are used with the more common derivative of 10mm – .40 S&W, you just use more powder and have the option of using heavier bullets.   While some .40 brass uses large primers and most uses small primers, 10mm will use large primers.  What would be a marginally unsafe +P+ load for .40 S&W is fairly normal for a 10mm.   Also note that 10mm pistols in general are built on larger and heavier frames originally designed for powerful handgun cartridges like .45, while most .40 pistols are built on tweaked out frames and guns originally designed as 9mms.  That is why people looking to push extra power should not try to push the limit on a .40.   It is often already at close to maximum stress for the gun while 10mm can have some room to play with.   Granted, that is no excuse to get stupid since a catastrophic failure of a 10mm case could be pretty bad.   With all of this said on the 10mm ammunition issue, you may also want to consider having the folks at Kimber fit a .40 barrel and action spring to the gun so that you can run cheaper and more readily available ammo in it if you are worried about running low on 10mm.   This will cost money, but I think it would most likely be recoverable in the resale value of the pistol.

The power of the 10mm cartridge makes it useful not only for self defense, but for medium game hunting, with the rounds being more powerful than your average .357 Magnum.  Recoil is manageable, but not for the weak.   For most defensive and combat carry pistols, caliber choice is either for stopping power on the street (.45) , armor penetration on the battlefield (9mm) or a compromise which barely gives you either (.40).   The 10mm is a wildcard in this department.  Obviously more “powerful” in every measurable way than the three most popular combat handgun calibers, but specific performance for a particular task is going to be situation and ammunition dependant with a very limited pool of knowledge available to predict how it will perform.   What we do know for certain is that 10mm is sufficiently powerful enough to pull down medium game animals (pigs and most deer) with no problem and that alone elevates the 10mm out of the realm of guns which are limited to martial applications.

In conclusion, the 10mm Kimber is an ideal concept gun for a multipurpose survival role given the logistical caveats of the particular gun and cartridge.  On performance issues alone, it is a winner, but I would not envy the survivor who has one as his primary handgun with no other handgun options, even if the guy has a good supply of ammo.   That said, for a carry piece or survival gun to put on your hip for a few days hike out in the wilderness, you could hardly do better than a stainless steel Kimber 10mm.    Just don’t expect it to be the kind of gun that goes unnoticed when tucked in your waistband for a trip downtown.   As a defensive pistol around suburban areas where opponents might not be right up on conversational distances, the 10mm can give you an edge where you otherwise could not have a carbine immediately available, and probably some level of improved penetration over the .45 without some of the over penetration liabilities of the 9mm, but this is still part of the “wildcard factor” of the cartridge.   I think it might spell the answer to the issue of what gun would be most appropriate in an environment where the bad guys would be wearing heavy clothing which can mitigate the effects of hollow points.   Again this gets back to the versatility of the 10mm without the compromise of the .40, but the price you pay is in higher cost ammunition and stiffer recoil.   These factors are what limits the 10mm Kimber to the small realm of expert weapon handlers willing to take all of these things into account and able to exploit the advantages of the 1911 platform and powerful 10mm ammunition.

Cost – On the upper middle range for a 1911, even for a Kimber.  Suggested retail of over $1000 and limited production status keep this out of the realm of what most of the “10% over cost” dealers are going to have readily available.   Real world prices hover around $900 for a new one but if the record of the Colt and Springfield Armor 10mm 1911 pistols is any indicator, real world prices of used Kimber 10mm pistols will be all over the map. Accessories – Anything that will go on a standard 1911 will go on this pistol, but fortunately it comes pretty well “fixed up” from the factory.   Don’t expect to find ready availability of caliber specific radical upgrades like a compensator.   This gun will work in any holster designed for a normal 1911 type full size pistol.
Mags – Really the weak point in this whole play.  You have a limited number of suppliers for the magazines and they all seem to have the same capacity.  In theory, you should be able to get 10 shot magazines for the gun that don’t stick out the bottom much at all, but I have not seen them on the market yet.   This is also a limiting factor when compared to the EAA/Tanfoglio Witness 10mm which will hold 10 to 15 shots depending on which magazines you use. Longevity and durability – Mostly stainless steel throughout, the gun is built to last at least 100 years.   I personally would replace the plastic mainspring housing at some point though.  The gun should also stand up to harsh environments reasonably well, but the mechanism of the 1911 is not entirely friendly  to abuse.   Lack of lube and mishandling can mess up the tune of the pistol.
Ammunition – Can be difficult to obtain and the selection is limited.   You either spend a lot of money, hustle the best deals you can get on what you can scrounge, reload your cases, or all of the above.   Don’t expect to find readily available supplies in a crisis unless you have made your own arrangements to store the ammo or make it available.   You can use standard .40 caliber components (other than brass) for reloading. Power – The 10mm is a winner in this department.  It has as much power as anyone should expect to need in a handgun.  Expect usable power with this gun out to 100 yards, but don’t expect much beyond that as velocity will quickly drop off.  It is conceivable that the bullets would retain stopping power out to 200 yards, but the gun would be nearly impossible to aim at that distance.
Parts – Most of the gun can take standard 1911 parts used by a lot of custom and semi-custom makers as long as they follow the same general specifications.  You will have variations in tolerances on major components.   The frame itself can be converted for use with several calibers. Ergonomics and handling – Classic to the 1911 pistol, the gun handles a little better than its turn of the last century grand pappy, but not by much.  The heavy stainless frame and strong recoil spring make recoil manageable for a skilled shooter.
Reliability – My test specimen has been 100% reliable with no failures of any kind.  This is actual unusual for a brand new 10mm pistol since 10mms have a well earned reputation for needing tune-up right out of the box. Maintenance and repair – These only come in stainless steel, which is great for a wilderness gun.  I would expect it to stand up to most environments but not hard abuse.   Actual repair work will be about the same as any other 1911 type pistol.
Accuracy – As good as anyone should expect in a handgun.  The gun can match the practical accuracy of many common rifles but shooting the Kimber 10mm still requires uncommon skill.  Expect to get 2″ groups in skilled hands with good ammo at 25 yards and very usable hunting or combat accuracy out to 50 yards.  Skilled shooters should be able to hit targets at 100 yards. Popularity – The Kimber 10mm is a limited production gun for a limited market of expert shooters who are willing to pay a premium price for a unique pistol.   It is not expected to be a popular gun, but performance will command a certain level of respect among gun aficionados.



Larry Pearson is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

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