Kimber Model 84M Classic .338 Federal Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Kimber refers to their Model 84M Classic as a "light sporting" rifle, and that it is. They further claim that the 84M is the lightest production hunting rifle on the market, and it may well be. Certainly it is lighter than the other serious contenders with which I am familiar, such as the Remington Model 700 Ti, which weighs 6 pounds in short action form and uses a carbon fiber stock with a shorter length of pull, fluted barrel, 4 round magazine, and substitutes titanium and aluminum for steel wherever possible. The catalog weight of the 84M is approximately 5 pounds, 10 ounces.
This weight reduction is achieved with a 22" barrel, a full size walnut stock with a length of pull of 13-5/8", and a full 5-round internal magazine. In other words, the Kimber 84M Classic is not cut off at both ends like most lightweight production rifles and it doesn't use a shallow magazine, hollow plastic stock, and aluminum or plastic bottom iron and trigger guard parts to subtract ounces.
Instead, Kimber subtracted weight by engineering a completely new action scaled to and designed specifically for short action (.308 Winchester length) cartridges. The Kimber 84M is not based on a standard size receiver shortened in the middle like most short actions. Instead, it uses a smaller diameter receiver, small diameter bolt, tapered bolt handle, light sporter contour tapered barrel, slenderized buttstock, and so forth. Everything is sized to fit the petite dimensions of the 84M action. Unbelievably, the one-piece bottom iron, magazine floorplate, and trigger guard are all steel. Even the trigger and the contoured, slightly teardrop shaped pistol grip cap are steel. Kimber has steadfastly used the best available materials and still managed to build a featherweight rifle.
Kimber has created an action that is a blend of Mauser Model 98, Winchester Model 70, and Remington Model 700 features. Basically they have retained many of the nice features of the Mauser 98 and Winchester Model 70 controlled feed actions and held down production costs by adopting Remington 700 style economy features where they would do the least harm.
Kimber makes their own barrels from 4140 steel, and all work on Kimber rifles is done in house. Barrels are machined to match grade standards and air gauged to prove consistency to .0001". The light sporter contour barrel of our .338 test rifle measured 0.559" diameter at the muzzle. Chambers are cut to match grade dimensions and the muzzle has an 11-degree target crown. A nice touch is the coned breech, which is an asset for smooth and reliable feeding.
This Model 84M is a modified Mauser pattern bolt action that cocks on opening. Bolt rotation is approximately 90 degrees. Features include dual front locking lugs, a full length non-rotating extractor for controlled feeding, dual gas escape ports in the bottom of the bolt, and a pivoting, receiver mounted ejector at the "7 o'clock" position. Due to the latter feature the left front bolt lug does not need to be slotted to pass the ejector. And, unlike its Mauser 98 forerunner (but like the Model 70 Classic), the full-length extractor is beveled to allow the bolt to be closed on a cartridge fed directly into the chamber. Those are desirable improvements over the hallowed Mauser 98.
The round, 0.585" diameter bolt body is machined out of a single piece of steel and there are large ports in the bottom of the bolt to vent escaping gasses into the magazine well in the event of a ruptured case. The bolt handle is screwed into a square lug at the rear of the bolt body and secured with high strength (red) Loctite. It is not intended to be removed. The bolt handle lug looks like an auxiliary locking lug, but Kimber's Aaron Cummins assured me that it is not. The slightly pear shaped bolt knob, integral with the handle, is smooth for easy operation. I find a smooth bolt knob to be easier on the hand than knurled or checkered knobs.
The Model 84M lacks the integral bolt guide rib machined into the bolt body found on a Mauser 98 bolt; instead there are bolt guide rails machined into the inside of the receiver that bear against the bottom of the front locking lugs to reduce wobble or binding as the bolt is cycled. Despite considerable bolt wobble when the action is fully open, the Kimber's bolt slides back and forth smoothly and easily, reliably feeding cartridges into the chamber. I would recommend the Kimber 84M action as suitable for use on dangerous game, and there is no higher praise than that for a bolt action hunting rifle.
A Model 70 type 3-position safety blocks the cocking piece when engaged. Fully forward is "fire," fully rearward is "safe" and the bolt is locked closed. The middle position blocks the cocking piece but allows the bolt to be operated.
The round receiver body is 7.88" long with a front ring diameter of 1.14". It is CNC machined from 4340 steel bar stock (as per the Remington 700) and incorporates a generous ejection port that makes loading easy. There is a gas escape hole in the right side of the receiver ring. The recoil lug is a heavy washer in the Model 700 pattern that is trapped between the barrel and the receiver when the two are screwed together. In the Kimber action, unlike the Remington, this example of cost cutting is neatly hidden under a flange on the front of the receiver.
One neat thing about the rifle is the shortness of the rear bridge. If you look at many controlled feed rifles, the ejector is buried inside the rear bridge and requires brisk bolt travel to eject the shell out. On those rifles, when you pull the bolt back softly, the empty cartridge hits the rear bridge and bounces back into the action. On a Kimber rifle with the short rear bridge, the empty shells eject easier.
The bolt release is a small, convenient lever at the left rear of the receiver; press in to release the bolt. Operation could not be easier. Another nifty feature seldom seen on rifles today is a magazine floorplate release mounted inside the front of the trigger guard bow, just like the original Model 98 Mauser. This remains the most convenient of all magazine floorplate release systems. The bottom iron and trigger guard are separate parts, sculpted from steel, as is the floorplate.
The magazine is of the internal, staggered box type. The magazine well is made of sheet steel and holds 5 cartridges. The magazine follower is made of polymer, the only plastic part I could find in the whole rifle. Polymer magazine followers seem to feed with less friction than conventional steel followers. This is a case where plastic is the best material for the part, so that is what Kimber used.
Kimber calls the Model 84M single stage trigger "match grade." It is adjustable for sear engagement, over travel and weight of pull, much like a Timney trigger. Since the catalog factory pull weight is 3.5-4 pounds, I'd hardly call that aspect of the stock trigger pull "match grade." BUT, our test rifle had been "tweaked" by Kimber before it was sent to us, and the trigger adjusted for a very light, very clean 2 pound release. The trigger in our test rifle really is match grade, and superior to both the recent Model 70 and Model 700 triggers and most commercial Mauser 98 triggers. The trigger in your Kimber Model 84M will probably conform to the factory specification, but it's good to know that it really does have "match grade" potential.
The metal finish is an overall matte blue except for the bolt body and extractor, which are left in the white. While they vaguely resemble a rust blued finish and are currently fashionable, matte blue finishes are simply a cost cutting exercise that eliminates the need to polish the metal parts. If I could change one thing about the 84M it would be this finish. A rifle as elegant and refined as the Kimber deserves a polished blue finish. Unfortunately, only the very expensive Super America grade rifles (MSRP $1928) receive a highly polished finish. I guess I'll just have to save my pennies for a Super America!
The handsome, modern classic style stock is made from "A" grade claro walnut. It features a high, straight and deeply fluted comb. The generous and well executed 4-panel, 20 lpi cut checkering is done in a borderless point pattern. The forend is hand filling, actually a bit deeper than strictly necessary. Detachable sling swivel studs are provided. A traditional hand rubbed oil finish completes the classic look of this stock.
The inletting is commendably tight around the receiver and chamber portion of the barrel, but there are small gaps around the bottom metal and trigger guard. The bottom metal is secured, by the way, with flush mounted hex-head screws, a nice touch.
The barreled action is dual aluminum pillar bedded in the stock, and the stock is glass reinforced at the recoil lug. From the chamber area to the muzzle the barrel is free-floated, a cost cutting measure that may help, and at least doesn't usually hurt, accuracy. The gap between the barrel and stock of our test rifle is slightly wider on the right side than on the left, but a dollar bill slid between the barrel and forend for its full length did not drag anywhere, indicating that the barrel is indeed free floating and not touching the wood anywhere it's not supposed to.
Here are the specifications of the Kimber 84M Classic:
The Kimber 84M reviewed here scaled exactly 7 pounds wearing a Leupold VX-I 2-7x33mm scope in Kimber's tapered steel two-piece bases and Leupold steel rings. (I figure that a fine American rifle deserves an American made scope and mounts.) That makes it an exceptionally easy rifle to carry, and its middle of the receiver balance makes it one of the fastest and best handling bolt action rifles I have ever used.
As regular Guns and Shooting Online readers know, I am not necessarily a fan of lightweight rifles. It has always been my contention that a hunting rifle needs to be heavy enough to be held steady from unsupported positions in the field. That means a minimum weight of around 6 pounds even in .22 rimfire caliber. In addition, a hunting rifle should be heavy enough to ameliorate the recoil of the cartridge for which it is chambered. A .243 rifle can be built lighter than a .308 rifle, for example, because the .243 cartridge generates less recoil. I can live with an all up weight of 7 pounds in a .243, but prefer 7.5 pounds for .260 or 7mm-08 and 8 pounds for a .308. 8.5 pounds is about right for a .338 or .358 rifle.
The Kimber 84M Classic, at 7 pounds, is very light for a cartridge as powerful as the .338 Federal. The thing is a joy to carry and swings like lightning, but shooting it--particularly from a bench rest--could be another matter. That's one of the things that we wanted to explore in this review.
Federal loads their .338 factory loads so hot, presumably with non-canister powders, that handloaders cannot duplicate them within permissible pressure limits. A rough guess would be that the highly effective Federal factory load using a 210 grain Nosler Partition bullet at a MV of 2630 fps probably generates about 25 ft. lbs. of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of about 15 fps.
A more accurate calculation (since I know the actual powder charge required) showed that a 7 pound rifle in .338 Federal caliber shooting a 200 grain bullet at a MV of 2600 fps (a maximum reload) generates 22.2 ft. lbs. of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of 14.3 fps. A more moderate reload shooting a 200 grain bullet at a MV of 2400 fps to duplicate the ballistics of the .338x57 O'Connor should deliver about 19 to 20 ft. lbs. of recoil energy and a recoil velocity of around 13.5 fps. Better, but maybe still not a barrel of laughs to shoot.
In order to find out just how well this Kimber shoots, and other relevant details like how hard it (subjectively) kicks, we headed for the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This is where we habitually test rifles, as the range offers covered shooting bench rests (necessary in winter in rainy Western Oregon) and target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. The weather was rainy, wind about 15 knots across the firing line, and a high temperature of about 49 degrees. Far from ideal, but much like the weather in which we typically hunt.
ATK/Federal Cartridge graciously supplied the factory loaded ammunition for this review. They sent all four of their .338 Federal factory loads. These include Federal Premium loads using a 180 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet at a MV of 2830 fps, a 185 grain Barnes TSX bullet at a MV of 2750 fps, and a 210 Nosler Partition bullet at a MV of 2630 fps. In addition, the kind folks at ATK sent along some of their Fusion loads that use a 200 grain bullet at a MV of 2660 fps. Those velocities, of course, were taken in 24" test barrels.
Last, I was able to reload some ammunition for this review. One reload used the 200 grain Speer Hot-Cor spitzer-soft point bullet in front of 42.0 grains of IMR 3031 powder to provide an estimated MV of 2409 fps from the Kimber's 22" barrel. Another reload used the Hornady 225 grain Spire Point Interlock bullet and 41.4 grains of IMR 4064 powder for an estimated MV of 2247 fps. A third used the Nosler 200 grain Ballistic Tip bullet with 43.0 grains of Varget powder for a MV of about 2404 fps. A fourth used the 215 grain Sierra GameKing bullet with 43.5 grains of Varget powder for a MV of approximately 2314 fps. All of these loads used CCI 200 large rifle primers in full length resized cases with the bullets seated to provide a COL of slightly less than 2.80".
These are medium pressure reloads, approximately midway between the minimum and maximum charges listed on the Hodgdon and Nosler web sites. IMR 4064, IMR 3031, and Varget powders were selected for initial testing as they are reasonably efficient powders for the case capacity and bullet weights involved, and I had them on hand. More testing will be required to find the specific bullet and powder preferred by this rifle.
Participating in the shooting chores were Guns and Shooting Online staff members Bob Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, and yours truly. Groups for record consisted of three shots at 100 yards and were fired from a Caldwell Lead Sled weighted with two 25 pound bags of shot at Outer's ScoreKeeper targets. We let the barrel cool between shooters, and tried to keep it from getting more than warm while shooting groups.
The Leupold 2-7x33mm scope turned out to be a good choice for this rifle. It is reasonably light and compact so as not to degrade the excellent handling qualities of the Kimber Classic rifle any more than necessary, and at maximum magnification it allowed clear views of the target. At low magnification, where it will normally be used in the field, it has the very wide field of view so necessary for hunting large animals like Roosevelt elk in the Oregon woods. This Kimber/Leupold combination looks good and works good. It seems like a nearly perfect Roosevelt elk rifle to me.
A subtle advantage of the Kimber 84M is how low you can mount a scope. People with small dimensions from cheekbone to eye will find that with low rings they donít have to pull their head off of the stock to see through the scope. Conversely, since the stock comb is pretty high, those with longer and fatter faces will want to use taller scope rings to keep the comb from hitting their cheekbone on recoil. I found that medium height Leupold rings were about right for me. By varying scope ring height, just about everyone will be able to achieve a good cheek weld on an 84M buttstock.
Here are our shooting results with the Kimber Model 84M Classic rifle:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR FACTORY LOADS TESTED = 2.55"
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR RELOADS TESTED = 1.99"
This time out yours truly shot the best single group for record. Everyone praised the bench rest quality of the Kimber adjusted trigger, although we all felt that it was set too light for a big game hunting rifle. There were no malfunctions of any kind.
The accuracy results from our testing were somewhat disappointing. We had expected better from a Kimber, but all rifles are individuals. Fortunately, elk are large targets.
While at the range we also took the opportunity to fire the Kimber from the shoulder, over sandbags while sitting at the bench and from an offhand standing position. Unfortunately, my fears about recoil were confirmed. The consensus is that .338 Federal is too powerful a caliber for such a lightweight rifle, particularly if you are confined to shooting the available (Federal Premium and Fusion) factory loads. The recoil and jump of the lightweight Kimber rifle with these loads is just plain unpleasant.
Frankly, the results would have been better had the rifle kicked less. Even in the Lead Sled the little rifle would jump up, allowing the comb to hit the shooter in the cheek if not held with considerable tension. We have found in the past that the easiest way to shoot consistently good groups from a Lead Sled is to put as little tension on the rifle as possible. That was simply not possible with the Kimber 84M in .338 caliber. Every few shots we had to reposition the Lead Sled on the shooting bench, as otherwise the recoil of the Kimber would have driven it backward off the edge of the bench. We had the Lead Sled weighted with 50 pounds of lead shot in addition to the Sled's 17 pound basic weight!
We also concluded that the Kimber Classic's ultra-light contour barrel was too light for the cartridge. It whips excessively and that degrades accuracy. A heavier--at least medium sporter contour--barrel would be more appropriate for a .338 Federal caliber rifle. A Kimber technician, who shall remain anonymous, agreed with us in that assessment.
We feel that Kimber would do well to include the .338 Federal in their Longmaster version of the 84M rifle. With its 24" heavy sporter contour barrel the Longmaster adds weight where it is most needed. It would be less prone to fly up on recoil, and the extra weight would help to lessen the overall kick. The Longmaster, at a catalog weight of about 7.5 pounds, is still a relatively light rifle. Jon Wolfe's .308 Longmaster weights 8.4 pounds with a scope and mounts, which is surely not too heavy for a .338 Federal rifle.
Shooting medium velocity reloads brings the Kimber's recoil down to about that of a .30-06 shooting full power loads with 180 grain bullets in a normal 8 pound rifle. This made shooting the little rifle more pleasant, although still not fun, and such loads are still sufficiently powerful for shooting elk out to about 200 yards. I prefer a 200-210 grain bullet in this caliber, as it can be driven faster and shoots flatter with reasonable recoil. The Kimber has been added to the article, "Compared: Elk Rifles in the Field," which is on the Rifle Information Page.
After we completed our range testing, I adjusted the trigger for a 3-1/8 pound pull. The only disassembly required is removing the barreled action from the stock. The only tools required to adjust the trigger are a small open end or crescent wrench to loosen the lock nut and a small Allan wrench to adjust the trigger spring screw.
Loaded with Federal Premium loads using the Nosler Partition 210 grain bullet, the Kimber 84M Classic would make an excellent "Guide Gun" type of rifle. Such rifles are carried a lot and fired very little, which is exactly how it should be with a .338 Federal rifle as light as this one. The Classic's light weight and handiness makes it a fine choice for use by campers, fishermen, hikers and other nature lovers for protection in the field in areas where an encounter with large, dangerous predators is a realistic possibility. Equipped with a 2.5x fixed power scope, such as a Weaver K-2.5 or Leupold FX-II 2.5x20mm Ultralight for simplicity and maximum field of view, the Kimber 84M should weigh less than 7 pounds. That would make it lighter, as well as far easier to hit with, than a Remington Model 673 Guide Rifle or Marlin Model 1895 Guide Gun equipped only with iron sights.
Here at Guns and Shooting Online we have long campaigned for a cartridge like the .338 Federal, both as a woods and brush country deer and black bear cartridge and a manageable elk and moose caliber. Many shooters have read our articles and e-mailed us expressing their support for such a cartridge. Now that more rifle makers are chambering for the .338 Federal (Kimber, Ruger, Sako, T/C, and Tikka among them) and ammunition is available from Federal and Fusion dealers, we hope that the .338 Federal caliber will catch on.
The introduction of a Federal "Low Recoil" factory load would be much appreciated and a definite asset in terms of the future popularity of the cartridge. For the shooter moving up to a medium bore caliber from their .243, .260, 7mm-08 or .308 caliber rifle the .338 Federal is a natural choice, providing the additional bullet weight and diameter necessary for large game in a short action rifle without the unnecessary recoil of a magnum cartridge.
Among the rifles available in .338 Federal, the Kimber 84M is a standout in every respect but accuracy, which usually differs between individual rifles. It is a fairly expensive rifle, but certainly not the most expensive rifle in the caliber. It delivers good value for the money because of its true short action design, top quality materials and workmanship. These virtues are combined in the Kimber 84M Classic to create one of the handiest bolt-action hunting rifles we have ever reviewed, as long as you can tolerate its very considerable recoil. It's a rifle that, years down the road, you'll be proud to own.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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