Photos by Mark Fingar
My dad, brother and I found a nice bull elk early one morning and spent a fun, relaxing day packing the meat back to camp. The late September afternoon was exceptionally warm, so to prevent meat spoilage, we laid the quarters and backstraps out on a large log 50 yards behind camp. After it cooled and aired out, we’d run it up the meat pole. I built a fire, and we cooked dinner while taking in the Absaroka sunset.
I had just filled my mug when I glanced at the meat. There in the dwindling light was a wolverine, walking down the log with its Mustelid shuffle. The shaggy brown and blonde glutton had found himself the mother lode. Wolverines are very rare in Wyoming, and I was ecstatic at the luck. I yelled for my brother, grabbed my camera and sprinted toward it.
We were all grins as we ran up to the log, until I realized the horrible mistake. The waning light had played a trick. What I saw was not a wolverine ambling down the log. It was the hump of a big boar grizzly poking up and moving around as it had its way with a front quarter.
The floor fell out from my heart as I recoiled. There was nothing but 15 feet of air between us and the big bear, and surely it would guard its find with tooth and claw. All I had for protection was an iPhone — no gun, no bear spray and no hope.
My brother and I slowly backed away, then turned and sprinted for camp. On the run back to the tent for my .338, I vowed to never again take a step in the wilderness unarmed. It was a long night; we had to run that bear out of the middle of camp three times. The next morning, we packed up and rode the 20 miles back to civilization where my search began for a pistol that I could wear every second while in grizzly country.
I looked at several models of large-caliber defensive revolvers at local gun stores, but they were so heavy, clunky and slow that I changed direction. While watching a SHOT Show 2017 YouTube video, I saw a clip about the then-new Kimber Camp Guard 10mm. It explained that its genesis was from a conversation around a campfire in the wilderness regarding what constitutes the perfect backcountry firearm. As a lover of 1911s, their storied history and hunting elk in the wilderness, I knew this gun was exactly what I needed. When I found out that a percentage of each gun sold would go to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), whose mission is near to my heart, I was sold.
The guns were so instantly popular that it took some work to find one, but a couple of months later, one came up on Gunbroker for the right price. It arrived quickly at my FFL, and I knew at once that I had found my new best friend. What I liked the most was how it was so slim and trim and hugged my body in the holster. It is so much smaller than a big revolver that you can almost forget that you are wearing it — until you need it.
The list of features that makes it a great choice for the wilderness goes on and on. Wilderness weather can be brutal, but the Camp Guard shrugs it off. It’s made of stainless steel, and the slide is coated with Kimber’s propriety corrosion-inhibiting KimPro finish. The sights are glow-in-the-dark tritium that is essential for the backcountry. Bears tend to like low light, and the Kimber is ready for things that go bump in the night. The stainless steel magazine holds eight rounds, which is comforting when a bear walks into camp. If you can’t solve it with one magazine, you can quickly put in another or run away!
This was my first 10mm; the John Browning-designed 1911 pistol is a great match for the caliber. In May, a buddy and I split a case of 1,000 rounds of hot, 180-grain ball ammunition. It took me all summer, but I shot it all and learned a lot about the caliber and platform. I found that the 10mm has the perfect power-to-weight ratio. It can get the job done but doesn’t have so much recoil that it will lay you open like a .454 Casull or try to jump out of your hand and hit you in the forehead like a .460 S&W. Where the 10mm really excels is in how fast you can get off your second shot (and third, fourth, fifth). It’s ridiculously faster to get back on target than a big revolver.
My friend has a plastic 10mm; it’s so light that after shooting a full mag, your hand is not happy about what you just put it through. That triggerguard comes back painfully hard into your middle finger. The weight of the all-stainless Camp Guard and its rounded heel means that I can shoot it all day without any discomfort and without developing an accuracy-murdering flinch. I would go so far as to say that is much nicer to shoot, even at full power, than most concealed-carry pistols in any caliber.
I am no expert with a pistol, but the Camp Guard is very accurate and makes me a better shooter. The trigger is better than some of my rifle triggers. Its practical accuracy is outstanding. I can shoot eight-shot, fist-sized groups with it at 10 yards from real-life shooting positions as fast as I can pull the trigger. That is plenty accurate for shooting a bear in the face at 5 feet, which is what I need it for. From the bench, it will provide 2-inch groups at 25 yards all day.
In the Field
As fall hunting seasons approached in August, I bought an El Paso Saddlery tanker holster for the Camp Guard. The holster is designed so that the gun rides higher than a belt-mounted holster, which is really handy for getting into and out of vehicles, horseback riding and carrying a pack. My grandpa carried a 1911 in one while he commanded a tank in Korea, so it just seemed right. I can carry comfortably all day — no more wishing I had my gun when faked out by a wolverine! The rounded heel of the Camp Guard also keeps it from printing when carried under a light jacket in the city.
I turned up the heat and accuracy for hunting with 200 stout reloads of 200-grain Hornady XTP hollowpoints. The hollowpoints hit in the same fist-sized group as the full-metal jackets (FMJ), so I didn’t have to move the adjustable sights. These loads were even more accurate that the factory loads, which inspired confidence.
The first scouting trip of the year was to the Absaroka high country. It was a quick, 20-mile weekend jaunt glassing basins and canyons for bighorn sheep. We saw plenty of sheep and a lot of elk. On top of that, we saw 16 grizzlies. The Camp Guard was in its element! I drew it three times as bears got too close, but only had one real close shave where I thought I might have to pull the trigger.
I was leaning over a small gas stove cooking breakfast. My brother, Tim, was set up on a spotting scope next to me. Tim calmly said to me, “Hey man, that must be some good oatmeal ’cause that bear wants some.” I looked up to see a grizzly come out from behind some stunted pines 20 yards away and start walking toward us.
The Camp Guard quickly came out of the holster, and the front sight was instantly hovering on the bear’s forehead. I felt extremely confident that I could cut that bear down if I had to.
“Hey bear!” Tim yelled, and the bear stopped and looked at us. My finger hung on the trigger, ready to go, but the bear turned and bolted. We breathed a sigh of relief.
Firearms vs. Bear Spray
Studies have shown that bear spray is very effective for stopping a charging bear at close range, but it cannot neutralize a threat at distance. Imagine a bear chewing up one of your horses or family members at 50 yards. Bear spray is useless at that range, but the Camp Guard could solve problems even farther than that.
Carrying the Camp Guard in the wilderness is like buckling your seatbelt: It is not guaranteed to save you, but it probably will. Everyone should understand that sometimes a bear jumps out so fast that neither you nor a U.S. Navy SEAL could do anything about it, but it’s a chance you take when going into their ecosystem.
In 2017, I carried the Camp Guard for a total of 55 days in the backcountry as a Wilderness Ranger and for personal enjoyment. I wore it while hunting bighorn sheep, elk and deer. It came with me on fishing trips, hikes, runs, trapping and horse rides. What I found is that this gun is the perfect wilderness companion. It can stop a bear, finish wounded game, get a grouse, put down a horse (if need be) and win a bet shooting a stew can off a stump at 50 yards.
I’ve shot it and handled it so much in the last year that I feel like it has become part of me. It’s second to none off the bench, and even if a two-legged threat was wearing body armor, eight rounds of 10mm to the side of the head would fix that.
The 10mm cartridge has been fun and effective. There is a much more satisfying bang when you pull the trigger than when you shoot a 9mm or a .45 Auto, yet it is economical to practice with and doesn’t beat you up.
On a more personal note, when I am carrying this gun, I am carrying the wilderness with me. I might be at an event in the city, but the gun has been with me in the high country, and I can feel that vibe soaking out of the tanker holster and into my heart. When I am carrying the Camp Guard in the wilderness, I am who I want to be. It has become my favorite firearm. Other than an actual big-game rifle, it is the most useful firearm for someone who loves the outdoors.
Kimber Camp Guard
Type: hammer fired, semiautomatic
Capacity: 8+1 rds.
Barrel: 5 in.
Overall Length: 8.7 in.
Weight: 38 oz.
Finish: KimPro matte black slide
Trigger: 4.4 lbs.
Sights: tactical wedge
Safety: grip, thumb