Photos by Mark Fingar
1911s have always been popular and show no signs of becoming less popular anytime soon. That’s not bad for a pistol that’s been around for over 100 years. How does a pistol that’s been around for so long evolve to remain relevant? Kimber’s new Aegis Elite Pro is an object lesson in how and why that happens.
“Aegis” means protection, and the Kimber Aegis Elite Pro is ideally suited for that task. The Aegis Elite Pro might be a time-tested design, but the bushing-less barrel, integral ramp and flawless integration of a mini red dot sight means it is more accurate and easier to shoot than its predecessors.
Red Dots Matter
There is no faster way to improve your pistol-shooting accuracy than by putting a mini red dot sight on your gun. Getting small groups from a pistol at 25 yards (or hitting steel at 100 yards) can be a bit problematic. The shooter’s eye has to see the target but focus on the front sight blade when shooting with iron sights. The farther apart the target and gun, or the smaller the target, the harder it is to see everything at the same time. Age doesn’t make this process any easier.
Putting a red dot on a pistol allows the shooter to focus exclusively on the target. This is especially useful in a high-stress environment (like when someone is trying to kill you), when there is an almost overpowering desire to focus on the threat and not a front sight blade.
It takes a lot of discipline to look at a front sight and not the threat when the pressure is on. The only way to learn that behavior is to spend hours at the range and, even then, the shooter will have to keep their wits about them in the moment of truth. A red dot sight is a rare example of a piece of equipment solving a tactical problem. Kimber took advantage of that on the Aegis Elite Pro (OI).
For the optic-included version, Kimber milled the slide for and mounted a Vortex Optics Venom sight on the Aegis. It has a 6-MOA dot that is easy to see. It is big enough to find quickly but not so big as to cover the target. At 25 yards, it covers a 1½-inch circle.
One potential problem of learning to shoot rapidly with a red dot sight on a pistol is finding the dot when the pistol is at arm’s length. Rob Leatham, the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) 24-time National Champion (yep, he’s kicked ass for almost 25 years), once told me that the best way to learn to use the red dot was to turn it off and practice presenting the pistol to the target.
Leatham’s method teaches the shooter to extend the pistol toward the target while using the front sight as a guide. Once the shooter has a small degree of muscle memory, turn the dot on and it’ll be easy to find each time.
Kimber’s Aegis does the shooter one better. They put fixed and raised sights on the pistol that co-witness with the red dot. There is no learning curve this way. Just as any shooter would extend the pistol toward the target while looking at the front sight after removing it from the holster, you do the same with the Aegis. There is no need to go hunting for the red dot because it’s in the same spot as the front sight blade. It’s a simple solution that has yet to be fully understood and adopted in the pistol-manufacturing world.
There are no disadvantages when using the Aegis’ mini red dot sight. Should the battery or sight itself unexpectedly fail, the fixed sights are an immediate fallback option.
Using a mini red dot sight does not negatively affect concealability. The location of the sight on the slide puts it right at the beltline when holstered. Since it is in the pants or under a belt, there is no chance of any additional firearm printing.
Those with a weaker grip will also benefit from the presence of a mini red dot sight on the Aegis. The sight provides some additional purchase that makes it easier to use the strength of the entire hand instead of just the fingers.
Message in a Barrel
The barrel of the Aegis is built for strength and accuracy. It has an integral feed ramp and a coned muzzle. Both changes to the legacy 1911 greatly enhance the durability and accuracy of the pistol.
An integral feed ramp on the Aegis not only ensures reliable feeding of hollowpoints, which eliminates the traditional 1911 gap between barrel and frame, but it also puts a lot of mass against the slide-stop pin. A traditional 1911 barrel has two small lugs that sit on either side of a link that hangs underneath the barrel. When the pistol fires and the barrel unlocks, the chamber end of the barrel drops down until those lugs smack the slide-stop pin. The slide-stop pin passes through the link, and the small lugs rest on the pin. If the lugs don’t have the exact same amount of contact with the slide-stop pin, the lug with the most contact will break prematurely.
John Moses Browning described the P-35, or Browning Hi-Power, as an improvement over the 1911. He designed the Hi-Power with an integrally ramped barrel that replaced the two small lugs with one big lug, just like the Aegis. I think even Browning knew that the barrel link and lugs surrounding it were a weak point for the 1911. Kimber is well aware of the traditional weak spots on the 1911, and that’s why the Aegis has a ramped barrel as well.
Kimber’s integrally ramped barrel replaces the two small lugs with one solid block of steel that also doubles as the feed ramp. The single block of steel has a lot more mass and a lot more strength than two small lugs, so it takes the beating it receives from the slide-stop pin with ease. You can shoot the Aegis all you want, but you will never break the large, single lug that rests against the slide-stop pin.
The muzzle end of the Aegis barrel has also seen some significant improvement. A traditional 1911 has a straight cylinder barrel with a bushing that provides a snug fit between it and the slide. This system is a result of the manufacturing technology available in the early 20th century. The best barrel consistency back then came from making barrels from straight tubes.
Kimber has invested significantly over the past few years in advancing an already sophisticated manufacturing facility in New York. The emphasis is on eliminating hands-on steps that introduce errors to the precise CNC machining.
The best example of this advancement is Kimber’s use of tombstones during the manufacturing process. The use of a tombstone, when combined with a CNC machine, allows several manufacturing processes to occur without having to remove the part and reposition it in the tooling. Every time human hands remove and replace a part in the tooling, it introduces variations. Tombstones represent the apex of manufacturing prowess, and it’s impressive that Kimber rarely pulls a part off a tombstone until the chip cutting is complete.
All that manufacturing horsepower is how Kimber can turn out a coned barrel that eliminates the need for a barrel bushing. The barrel increases in diameter as it approaches the muzzle until it is large enough to fit directly into the slide. Lock-up on this barrel is perfect.
Checking lock-up on a 1911 barrel is pretty straightforward. Cycle the slide to cock the hammer and let the slide go all the way back in battery. With one hand on the grip and the other on top of the slide, ease the slide back while observing the barrel hood (barrel seen through the ejection port when the slide is forward). The barrel and slide should come back together for about an eighth of an inch before the barrel unlocks from the slide. That unlocking should click.
If the barrel easily separates from the slide, the relationship between the two isn’t tight and accuracy will suck. The Aegis’ accuracy is great because lock-up on the test pistol was perfect. The coned barrel is a big part of making that happen.
Rounded Butts and Perfect Checkers
After some time at the range, a few additional features of the Aegis Elite Pro stood out. The rounded mainspring housing is a great idea if this pistol will be used for concealed carry, and the 24-line-per-inch (LPI) checkering on the frontstrap means it’ll hold up to lots of use without being painful under recoil.
The bottom of the grip has a rounded frame and mainspring housing, sometimes referred to as a bobtail. Should a regular 1911 be stuffed inside the pants, this is the portion that prints the most. The rounded grip and frame on the Aegis allows the garment to slide over the top and is much better at ensuring the pistol remains concealed; it has no negative impact on how firmly I can hold the pistol.
The 24-LPI checkering on the frontstrap also hits a sweet spot. It’s coarse enough to not flatten under recoil from any rings on the firing hand, but it isn’t coarse enough to be uncomfortable. All 1911s should have 24-LPI checkering instead of the common 20 LPI (too coarse) or 30 LPI (a ring will flatten it).
The Aegis Elite Pro (OI) is ideal for fans of the 1911 who like to shoot and carry the classic platform. It’s easier to conceal thanks to the bobtail, and the Vortex Venom will get you on target fast.
Kimber Aegis Elite Pro (OI)
Type: hammer fired, semiautomatic
Capacity: 9+1 rds.
Barrel: 4 in.
Overall Length: 7.7 in.
Weight: 2 lbs., 4 oz.
Sights: Vortex Optics Venom
Trigger: 4.5 lbs.
Finish: matte stainless and KimPro II
Manufacturer: Kimber, kimberamerica.com