Custom Quality, Production Price:
Kimber Custom Stainless Target II Pistol

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Kimber Sts. Target II
Stainless Target II. Illustration courtesy of Kimber Mfg., Inc.

Kimber proudly claims that they build the finest, and the most popular, 1911 style pistols in the world. They note that it was the introduction of the Kimber Custom that really initiated the 1911's present surge of popularity. Today John Browning's 1904 pistol design that became the Colt Government Model 1911 is a cultural icon. It makes a person wonder what the folks at Colt make of all this.

Kimber points out in their catalog, with good reason, that every year another gun company trots out a 1911 pistol in hopes of grabbing market share. Most of these pistols are largely assembled from off the shelf parts sourced from 1911 parts houses. None of these pistols match Kimber in quality or features, but they do a great job of confusing things.

Unlike most other manufacturers, Kimber does not purchase parts from 1911 parts houses to assemble their pistols. All parts are made from the finest materials in Kimber's American factory and with manufacturing tolerances up to three times tighter than the competition. Every pistol must pass over 200 inspections plus test firing. LAPD SWAT, U.S. Special Forces Marines, and the U.S.A. Shooting Team use Kimber pistols.

Kimber now offers several lines of 1911 pistols, including the Custom II, Gold Match II, Compact II, Pro Carry II, Ultra Carry II, Tactical II, Eclipse II, and CDP II. These lines are based on variations in frame size and material, barrel length, sights, details and finish.

The Kimber Custom pistol started it all. This became the Custom II when a firing pin safety was linked to the moderate beavertail grip safety, making the design more secure without compromising trigger pull.

Other basic features of the Custom II include a match grade barrel machined from a single piece of solid steel for accuracy and maximum wear, chamber cut to match specifications, lowered and flared ejection port, a polished breech face for improved feeding and extraction, one-piece guide rod, Colt Commander-style loop hammer, an enlarged firing pin stop that locks the extractor in position for increased reliability, slightly extended slide release and safety levers for easy operation without snagging, beveled magazine well for faster loading, a high kidney cut on the frame to encourage the best grip, front and rear slide serrations, and a loaded chamber indicator port. Barrel bushings are all machined from stainless steel and are match grade. Most Custom II pistols come in caliber .45 ACP only, but some models are also offered in 9x19 (9mm Luger), .38 Super, .40 S&W, and 10mm Auto.

The Stainless Target II pistol that is the subject of this review adds fully adjustable target sights and all stainless steel construction to that list of features. Well, it's almost all stainless steel; The sights are made of blued steel to lower reflectance, the hammer is blued steel with brightly polished sides, the drilled-out match grade trigger is aluminum for reduced weight, and the straight mainspring housing appears to be made from some sort of polymer to allow a tiny bit of flex to diminish the effect of recoil. That's it; everything else on the gun appears to be made of stainless steel, except the grips, which are black rubber checkered in the traditional double diamond pattern. Upon inspection it is obvious that this is a very high quality, well thought out pistol with the "right stuff."

Here are the specifications of the 9mm Kimber Custom Stainless Target II pistol.

  • Type - Short recoil operated semi-automatic pistol
  • Caliber - 9mm Luger (9x19mm)
  • Magazine capacity - 9 rounds
  • Material and finish - Satin stainless steel
  • Width - 1.28"
  • Barrel - 5" long (ramped)
  • Twist rate - 1:16" (left hand)
  • Sights - Kimber fully adjustable, dovetailed into slide
  • Sight radius - 6.8"
  • Height - 5.25"
  • Weight - 39 ounces (with empty magazine)
  • Length - 8.7"
  • Grips - Black synthetic
  • Trigger release - 4 pounds on test pistol
  • Recoil spring - 12 pounds
  • 2007 MSRP - $1113

The Stainless Target II is offered in more calibers than any other Kimber 1911. These in include .45 ACP, 10mm Auto, .38 Super, and 9x19. We requested, and received, our test pistol in 9x19 caliber, as that is the caliber for which we have the greatest variety of ammunition on hand.

Our Kimber was shipped in a black plastic, lockable, padded case with the usual operating manual, cards, and a gunlock. Kimber warrantees their pistols to be free of defects in materials and workmanship for one year from the date of original new gun retail purchase. Unusual but appreciated was the inclusion of a takedown wrench. Kudos to Kimber for a complete package.

The aforementioned Operational Manual is quite useful and includes an exploded diagram of the pistol. It is larded with the usual lawyer inspired warnings, but well worth reading. This is especially true if you are not intimately familiar with the operation, takedown, and care of 1911 type pistols.

This old 1904 design is quirky and more complicated than the more modern pistol designs that we have reviewed. According to the Kimber parts diagram there are about 62 total parts in the gun, only a couple of which are supplied as assemblies, and a number of which in any 1911 pistol go together like a Chinese puzzle. Field stripping and reassembling a 1911 for cleaning is, in fact, more difficult and less straightforward than performing the same chore on a Civil War vintage Remington 1858 muzzleloading revolver.

When you take down a Government type 1911 pistol for routine cleaning you wind up with 9 separate parts, some large and some small, to keep track of. This is a chore we are very glad we never had to perform in a trench with an inch of mud and water at the bottom or the blowing sands of the North African desert. Service pistols have come a long way since 1911, Baby!

Yet, the 1911 has a good reputation for reliability, founded when the U.S. Army compared the then new pistol against its contemporaries. These included the German Army's famous P '08 Luger pistol, which U.S. doughboys were soon to face in the trenches of the First World War.

Contemporary U.S. Army and other rigorous testing has proven more recent designs, such as the H&K, SIG, Beretta and Glock combat pistols, to be even more reliable under military service conditions, but we feel confident that a well maintained Kimber 1911 pistol can be relied on for civilian self-defense. A well built 1911 will be reliable, a shoddily built 1911 will not run well, just like any mechanical device, and Kimber pistols are the best. 1911 pistols have saved a lot of lives over the years.

If you buy a Kimber (or any 1911 pistol) with protection in mind, take good care of it. Read and carefully follow the instructions pertaining to cleaning and lubrication on pages 27-29 in the Kimber Operational Manual.

As mentioned earlier, John Browning actually designed this famous pistol in 1904, but the U.S. Army didn't adopt it until 1911, after some modifications, thus it's famous moniker. The original Model 1911 (straight mainspring housing) and slightly improved Model 1911A1 (curved mainspring housing) of the 1920's remained America's standard issue service pistol until 1985, when it was replaced by the Beretta M9. I believe this to be the longest run as "service standard" of any pistol in the world.

To those who can excuse its eccentricities the design has a ton of charm. And here in the U.S. the old Colt/Browning 1911 pistol has legions of followers and a lot of history behind it. Some of our greatest American military heroes carried and used Government Model 1911 pistols. Sergeant Alvin York (W.W. I) and Lieutenant Audie Murphy (W.W. II), both Medal of Honor recipients and the most decorated American combat soldiers of their respective World Wars, used their 1911 pistols to good effect against German soldiers on the Western Front.

The late Colonel Jeff Cooper used his issue 1911 against Japanese soldiers in the Pacific during W.W. II, and after the war he and some friends founded what eventually became IPSC and the "modern school" of combat pistol craft. Colonel Cooper later became one of the finest gun writers ever to practice our checkered trade and perhaps the best known and most convincing proponent of the 1911 pistol. Jeff Cooper was to the 1911 what Jack O'Connor was to the .270 Winchester, and more.

While the 1911 may be obsolete as a front line service pistol, the Kimber Classic II is a tight, well made pistol. Because of its high quality and the care taken in its manufacture it is a pleasing gun to handle and admire. Like all 1911 pistols, dry firing will not harm the Kimber Classic Stainless Target II. And dry fire practice at home is just about the best thing an aspiring pistolero can do, short of spending time on the firing line, to hone his or her skill.

To see if we could find out how well our sample 9mm Stainless Target II could shoot, a group of Guns and Shooting Online staffers visited the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. Included in this motley crew were David Tong, Rocky Hays, and Chuck Hawks.

Dave is a true believer in the 1911 pistol; to him it's the greatest handgun ever designed and he has owned a bunch of them. (See Dave's article, "History's Most Significant Handguns" on the Handgun Information Page.) A customized Colt 1911 is Dave's normal carry pistol. Rocky is familiar with and owns a Colt 1911 pistol, but prefers more modern sidearms such as the Glock 17, Beretta 90-TWO, and the H&K USP. Chuck owned his only previous 1911 pistol (briefly) back in the 1960's and was not sufficiently impressed to acquire another; he is basically a revolver man. So our shooters represent different levels of 1911 familiarity and competency, although they are all experienced handgunners.

The Izaak Walton range offers covered shooting positions and solid bench rests with 25, 50, 100, and 200 yard target positions. Of these, only the 25 yard stands were required for our purposes. Our 25 yard groups for record consisted of 5-shot strings at NRA 25 yard slow-fire pistol targets. A Pistol Perch rest was used on the shooting bench as an aid to stability.

One of the big advantages of the 9x19 caliber is the wide availability of reasonably priced ammunition. Ammo in 9x19 is substantially less expensive than the other calibers offered in the Stainless Target II.

We were able to shoot groups for record with four common 9mm Luger factory loads during the course of our testing, two practice loads and two defense loads. The practice loads were Rem./UMC L9MM3 (115 grain FMJ bullet) and Win./USA Q4172 (115 grain FMJ bullet). The defensive loads were Federal C9BP Personal Defense (115 JHP bullet) and Win./USA 9JHP Personal Protection (115 grain JHP bullet). This is moderate cost ammunition that can be purchased from practically any dealer who sells pistol ammo.

Persistent light rain and a high temperature of about 47 degrees F marked our time at the range. The wind was light. Actually, this is fairly typical weather for February in Western Oregon. Due to the range's covered firing positions and the relatively short distance (only 25 yards) involved in our testing, the inclement weather was not as much of an impediment as it might have been.

Here are the shooting results:

  • Rem./UMC 115 grain FMJ - smallest group 1"; largest group 2"; mean average group = 1.66".
  • Federal 115 grain JHP - smallest group 2-1/2"; largest group 3-1/2"; mean average group = 2.88".
  • Win./USA 115 grain JHP - smallest group 2-3/4"; largest group 3-1/2"; mean average group = 3.13".
  • Win./USA 115 grain FMJ - smallest group 2-1/2"; largest group 3-3/4"; mean average group = 3.25".


This time out Rocky shot the smallest single group. Among our three shooters, Rocky's mean average group size was 2.53", Chuck's mean average group size was 2.69", and Dave's mean average group size was 2.97" with the Stainless Target II. The Kimber's average accuracy with all brands of ammo was about typical of what we expect from service style autoloaders. Its accuracy with its preferred load was definitely better than most service style autoloaders.

The Kimber functioned reliably and did not jam. Its only bobbles were that twice Rocky and Dave had the slide fail to lock open after the last shot. Chuck, who did the most shooting with the Kimber, had no such trouble. On the whole, this is very good reliability for a 1911 style pistol.

We had four other 1911 style pistols on hand when we did our test shooting with the Kimber. One of these, a Colt 1991A1 with practically no wear on it, had fired about a box of ammunition maybe 9 months before and had not been cleaned or lubricated since. When we tried to shoot it, its slide returned so slowly that it jammed on almost every shot. It failed to make it through its first, and only, magazine load. (Sure, you should clean your pistol after every use, but still . . ..)

Another of our sample 1911 pistols, a new and highly tuned S&W Performance Shop 1911 clone that had been immaculately maintained and lubricated, failed to feed after shooting maybe 25 cartridges. Of course, unlike the Kimber, this S&W is largely assembled from after market parts.

No conclusion could be drawn about the other two pistols, Dave's personal and heavily customized Colt Series 80 (which we are willing to assume works fine), and a Springfield 1911A1. These pistols had no problems, but the way it worked out they were only used to fire 10 or 15 rounds apiece.

These five 1911 pistols, taken together, demonstrated what we have come to think of as the typically variable reliability of the breed. Note that the classy Kimber Stainless Target II, the subject of this review, fired many more rounds than the other pistols--probably more than all of the others combined--and kept running.

Our impressions after shooting the Kimber Stainless Target II are that it is an easy pistol to shoot due to its relatively good trigger pull, adjustable sights, 9x19 cartridge, and heavy weight that minimizes recoil. In the more popular .45 ACP caliber it would kick more and thus be less fun to shoot, of course.

Rocky thought that the square notch in the rear sight was too wide, but Chuck found it perfect. Dave and Chuck would have preferred a curved (A1 type) mainspring housing, while Rocky preferred the straight housing supplied. Such things are, of course, a matter of opinion.

The Stainless Target II is basically a heavy weight service pistol with target sights, so it is a perfectly acceptable choice for service use. Just be sure that your duty holster has a sight track for the front sight. As studies have shown, the 9x19 cartridge is a very effective anti-personal load with proper JHP expanding bullets, as are the other Stainless Target II calibers (.38 Super, .40 S&W, .45 ACP).

Chuck carried the Stainless Target II concealed in his large size Galco fanny pack for about a week. He reports that while it requires a bigger fanny pack than he normally favors, its flat shape is a definite plus. But, at 39 ounces (empty!) it is too heavy, in his opinion, for daily carry. If you are looking for a personal defense pistol, Kimber offers compact models intended for concealed carry. On the other hand, the Stainless Target II would undoubtedly do a fine job if called into action. He considers it satisfactory for occasional carry.

It would also be a pretty good home defense pistol if you favor a 1911 style autoloader. And, because it is easy, fun, and relatively economical to shoot (in 9x19 caliber), it might encourage more practice shooting than .45 ACP 1911 pistols. Bullet placement remains, by far, the most important factor in stopping power, and the good qualities of the 9x19 Kimber Stainless Target II make accurate bullet placement easier than with most of its competition.

In conclusion, the Kimber Stainless Target II is a fun gun to shoot if you favor a 1911 style pistol. From a recreational shooter's standpoint, that is its best and most important feature. Anyone considering the purchase of a full size 1911 pistol should definitely give this pistol a serious look. We believe that it stands at the top of its class.

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