When it comes to defensive pistols, one size definitely does not fit all. Size, shape, weight and functionality are factors that prompt a customer to purchase one gun versus another. Understandably, when a person hands over hard-earned money to a dealer, they're hoping to get a handgun that feels just right based on perceived needs.
My preference for defensive carry is 9mm. Pistols chambered in 9mm tend to be smaller, lighter, more concealable and easier to shoot at speed than those chambered in .40 S&W or .45 ACP. Even from a terminal ballistics standpoint, today's 9mm bullet performance is on par with the .40 S&W and .45 ACP — just ask the FBI, who recently returned to the 9mm after depending on the .40 S&W for more than 20 years.
Micro 9 Close-up
At a recent event held at the prestigious Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, I was introduced to Kimber's Micro 9. The Micro 9 is a 9mm chambered, 1911-style pistol that's the size you'd expect from a .380 ACP-caliber pistol.
At just over 4 inches tall and a hair over an inch wide, the Micro 9 is wieldy. It weighs just 15.6 ounces yet features much of the same functionality as heftier 1911s. As such, the controls are readily accessible for even small-handed shooters.
The Micro 9 is offered in several variants. The version I tested was the Micro 9 Two-Tone, featuring an aluminum frame and matte-black steel slide. The contrasting frame and slide are complemented by classic-looking rosewood grips. The pistol could easily pass for the kid brother of one of Kimber's full-size 1911s. Fortunately, there is more than a family resemblance. The Micro 9 actually functions much like the time-tested 1911 that much of America has grown to love over the past century, in large part due to its ergonomic design and unparalleled trigger.
Model 1911s are known for fitting average-sized hands well. The Micro 9 offers the same comfort to shooters with smaller hands, making the controls easily accessible. Although not large, the thumb safety can be flicked on and off with ease. The Micro 9 doesn't feature a grip safety like most 1911s, but rather it has a checkered backstrap and beavertail that mates well to the hand.
The slide stop of the Micro 9 is right where it ought to be. After inserting a magazine, you can run it like a slide release by simply rolling your hand over and pressing the lever down with the left thumb, the technique I prefer. (If you use the right thumb, you may unintentionally send the slide forward before the magazine is fully seated, which would lead to an unwelcome empty chamber.) Of course, you could also charge the slide without pressing the slide stop by racking it over the top.
The Micro 9 is not immune from the drawbacks of pocket-sized pistols. The grip leaves no room for the pinky, which translates to a little more muzzle flip during recoil. This, coupled with the pistol's light weight and 9mm chambering, make it a little snappier than the same caliber pistol with more heft and more real estate with grip.
Another knock on pocket pistols is their sight radius. The longer a pistol's sight radius, the greater degree of accuracy one can expect to achieve. The Micro 9 has a much shorter sight radius than a Government Model 1911. To compensate, Kimber gave the Micro 9 prominent steel sights. The sights on the model I received for testing were black on black and had horizontal striations. It should be noted that Kimber now ships their Micro pistols with white-dot sights, which is good because my only complaint is that all-black sights can be difficult to align in dark environments.
The beveled magazine well funnels the magazine into the pistol, making for a smoother and faster reload. The Micro 9 ships with a 7-round magazine (6-round magazines are available separately). The model I received, however, had a flush-fitting six-round magazine. The magazine release button is big enough to operate easily and is checkered for optimal control.
The Micro 9, like all of Kimber's Micros, features a lowered and flared ejection port. This helps reduce the likelihood of a spent round failing to eject, thus interrupting the cycle of operation. (Having fired hundreds of rounds through the Micro 9, I didn't have to contend with a single failure to eject).
Gunsite Field Test
While Gunsite's founder, the late Col. Jeff Cooper, was a huge proponent of large 1911s and the venerable .45 ACP cartridge, the colonel was not privy to recent technological advancements, which have made smaller caliber pistols more accurate, reliable and effective.
Speaking of accuracy, the Micro 9, despite its small frame, proved plenty accurate for combat as Gunsite's chief operating officer, Ken Campbell, ran our group through an abbreviated 250 Pistol Course, which is intended to provide the foundation upon which a shooter develops real combat skills with a pistol.
I shot the Micro 9 against shooters armed with larger pistols and fared quite well. One course of fire was a head-to-head challenge. At the sound of the shot timer, shooters drew and engaged a steel pepper popper located 10 yards downrange.
This drill reminded me of a Wild West shootout in which only the fastest and most accurate pistolero lived to tell the tale. The Micro 9 pointed naturally, and its smooth trigger helped me consistently ring my steel adversary's bell. To all but my pinky, which was left dangling below the grip, shooting the Micro 9 felt much like shooting a full-size 1911.
The Micro 9 concealed well in an appendix-positioned Galco holster. My untucked shirt completely hid the rig, without even a hint of printing. Although the pistol is small enough for pocket carry, the grip proved sufficient to acquire from an inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster, my preferred mode of carry.
As one would expect with a 1911-style pistol, the single-action trigger on the Micro 9 was smooth and clean. Kimber lists the trigger pull weight at 7 pounds, but it felt lighter. This can be attributed to the short, sliding trigger that is a hallmark of the 1911. In a nutshell, the Micro 9 carried like a pocket pistol yet performed like a real Government Model 1911.
With scaled-down 1911s, reliability is often an issue. They tend to be more finicky than other pistols, especially when it comes to feeding hollowpoint ammunition — and hollowpoints are what you want to carry in your defensive pistol for their enhanced terminal ballistic performance.
At Gunsite, we shot Federal's new American Eagle Practice and Defend ammunition, which features 124-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds for practice and 124-grain HST jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) rounds for defense, as well as Federal American Eagle Syntech, which is comprised of a 115-grain total synthetic jacketed (TSJ) bullet. Syntech is designed to produce less barrel friction, which suggests cooler operation with less fouling. Federal also purports that Syntech produces considerably less splashback on steel targets than FMJ rounds, making it a safer alternative.
All three Federal chamberings ran amazingly well in the Micro 9, with nothing more than a little lubrication after about a day and a half of shooting. It was impressive to put the Micro 9 through its paces in a training environment as opposed to merely plinking. It was reassuring to witness firsthand just how well this little 9mm pistol performed.
With the Gunsite experience behind me, it was time to conduct the obligatory accuracy testing on the Micro 9 at my home range. I was not concerned with the demonstrated accuracy of the Micro 9 at typical shooting distances. Whether it would allow me to shoot tight groups from 25 yards while seated and using a sandbag rest seemed far less relevant. After all, the Micro 9 wasn't designed as a target gun.
So, I took Kimber's Micro 9 to an indoor range whose lighting was somewhat of an issue, especially while trying to align blacked out front and rear sights over a target hanging 25 yards downrange. (Here again, the white-dot sights that Kimber is now shipping these guns with would have made this task easier.) During such testing, the greatest hindrance to tight groupings was the difficulty in establishing a consistent point of aim on the target.
Aiming issues aside, the Micro 9 proved to be "minute of bad guy" at worst. The average group size was about 4½ inches. Not tack-driver status, but not too shabby from a 3.15-inch barreled miniaturized 1911.
My rounds were consistently grouping about 5 inches higher than my point of aim. I also experienced this phenomenon when shooting offhand at the 10-yard line, but to a lesser degree. This is not uncommon with small pistols, which are typically sighted-in at distances not exceeding 7 yards, where the manufacturer predicts they would most likely be employed.
The best group of the day was an impressive 1.59 inches with 124-grain Federal HST, which also produced the best average grouping at 3.33 inches. Not far behind was Winchester's 147-grain FMJ, with a best group of 2.7 inches and an average group size of 3.82 inches.
Aguila 124-grain FMJ printed a best group of 3.12 inches and an average group of 4.48 inches. The 124-grain American Eagle registered a best group just under 4 inches and an average of 5.16 inches.
Although I saw no issues up-close at Gunsite, the 115-grain Federal Syntech was the least accurate, with a best group of 4.4 inches and an average of 6.14 inches.
During accuracy testing, the now dirty and dry Micro 9 failed to go completely into battery on three or four occasions. Each time, I slammed the rear of the slide with my left palm to remedy the problem. This begs the question, "Are scaled-down 1911-style pistols reliable?"
While they may be slightly more prone to malfunction than striker-fired pistols, many find micro 1911s much more conducive to delivering accurate fire thanks to their ergonomic design and straight-to-the-rear trigger press.
If you're going to carry a micro 1911 pistol, choose one from a reputable manufacturer and perform regular maintenance. With its ease of carry, shootabilityand its 9mm chambering, Kimber's Micro 9 seems to have all the bases covered.