|February - March 2003
Volume 38, Number
The Kimber Stainless Target II is chambered for the .38 Super. Photo by Stan Trzoniec. Pronghorn photo by John R. Ford.
Our choice for this piece was the
Kimber Stainless Target II, which contains all the features familiar to dedicated target
shooters. The Kimber just arrived, and things have never looked so good for this old-line
cartridge. With it also comes my chance to flesh out both the gun and the cartridge.
For testing any handgun cartridge,
nothing could be a better vehicle than a target gun. Machining is tight, tolerances close
and with the extra care given this type of pistol, the full potential of a cartridge is
easier to chart. While Im not going to dote on all the virtues of the basic 1911
semiautomatic pistol, Kimber has obviously picked up the ball handily, much to the chagrin
of the dyed-in-the-wool Colt aficionado. The companys attention to detail is now
The sample is a prime example of
modern gun making art. Slides, barrels and frames are produced on CNC machines for
exacting tolerances. Features include match grade barrels and triggers; tighter barrel
bushings; low-mounted, target-style, fully-adjustable sights; a checkered backstrap; and
rigid quality control.
Trigger pull on the Kimber measured
4 pounds on the nose with just about 1/8 inch of take-up before the sear released. The
trigger is skeletonized for appearance with a grooved front surface that is just right for
target shooters. The hammer is also lightened and customized for todays modern look,
and the gun comes standard with the typical beavertail safety. There is an extended safety
on the left side (sorry, no ambidextrous safety on this model), and the slide release is
checkered for a good purchase despite its diminutive size. The only negative I could find
- and its personal - is the Target II comes with a set of black rubber grips. A quick
replacement with checkered rosewood panels, complete with a traditional diamond checkering
pattern, improved the appearance tenfold.
Of the 39 or so models Kimber
currently shows in its new catalog, only two are chambered for the Super. One is this
Stainless Target II; the other is a Pro Carry HD II, a shortened version with a
full-length grip. Thats only about 5 percent of its product, which is just about the
The .38 Super as a whole has had a
very interesting history that can be traced as far back as 1900. John Browning designed
the first .38 Auto cartridge that was chambered in early Colt pistols. In time, some of
the other major players included the Spanish Llama, Star and even Webley and Scott jumped
on the bandwagon with pistols chambered for this high-stepping cartridge that would launch
a 130-grain bullet at 1,040 fps.
At the end of the 1920s, an improved
version with more power, designated the .38 Super Auto, received even more
attention by its association with the famed Colt Super .38 Automatic pistol. While it was
popular for a short time, the .357 Magnum came along in 1935 and stopped the Super in its
tracks. But regardless of the outcome, Colt and the .38 Super have had a great run. In
just over five decades and, except for a few lean years from 1941 to 1945, Colt produced
just under a quarter-million (240,000) units chambered for this cartridge.
Loading semiautomatic cartridges like the 9mm,
.38 Super, .40 Smith & Wesson and the traditional .45 ACP often represents more of a
challenge than traditional rimmed cases like the .38 Special, .44 Special or even the .45
Colt. Instead of just loading and crimping, the auto cartridges represent some additional
time and effort to get things just right, and by that I mean absolutely 100 percent
I prefer to purchase at least 10
boxes (500 rounds) of factory fresh brass from the same manufacturer, preferably all with
the same lot number. Larger outlets can accommodate you or mail order firms can help with
their seemingly unending supply of new brass. Inspect the whole batch for defects and/or
in the case of once-fired brass, check for incipient cracks at the mouth, scratches,
crushed and otherwise damaged case mouths. Size the whole batch with tungsten dies,
eliminating the tedium of lubing, cleaning and tumbling cases after each session. Whether
youre a novice or veteran to auto pistol loading, the purchase of a taper crimp die
should be included in the above package.
At this point its good to
verify both the inner and outer case dimensions. For auto pistols, I like the die to be
just a bit undersized to offer a good grip on the bullet. That slide is raising all kinds
of havoc on those cases, and the last thing you need is the bullet moving back into or out
of the case.
For perfect functioning, after
sizing and tumbling if you wish, check for overall length of the case as it comes from the
die. Since modern .38 Supers headspace on the mouth, this measurement is very critical.
For the record, this would be .900 inch or a little less, if you trim. On the other hand,
inside case measurements of fresh, out of the box brass can vary from .354 to .355 inch.
After sizing with the RCBS tungsten sizing die, they measure .352 inch, just about right
for a .355-inch bullet.
Priming and belling or flaring the
case mouth is next. Most presses allow you to do this in one operation. Priming with Small
Pistol primers is pretty straightforward, but stay away from Magnum primers as they are
not needed. Belling the case is another critical point in the operation, as too much of a
flare will allow the bullet to enter the case with little or no friction thus causing more
problems later. For instance, to keep tabs on this part of the operation, outside diameter
of a new case out of the box is .380 inch. Out of the sizing die, youll see around
.377 inch, so you should adjust the outside of the flare to about .380 to .381 inch. Youll
know when you didnt get it right, as little or no flare will make it difficult to
seat the bullet, or worse yet, crumple case mouths. Since nothing is etched in stone, most
of this operation comes from experience, but the novice can handle it with ease the first
Place the sized case into the
shellholder. Ease the ram to its uppermost point and leave it there. Screw in the second,
neck-sizing flaring die until contact is made with the case mouth. Lower the ram while
turning the flaring die a bit more. Raise the ram again, and notice the amount of belling
or outward flare on the case mouth. Pull the case from the shellholder and check this
flare with the base of a bullet. If there is too much resistance and the bullet does not
enter the case, repeat the operation. Do this again until the bullet will just sit on top
of the case mouth in a square and true manner relative to the level case mouth. Youll
know when its right simply because the bullet will actually snap into
the case. Secure the die and flare the entire batch of brass. I flare the case on the
upstroke and prime it when it comes back down as I push in the primer feed. It may sound
slow, but its amazing how much you can do in a short period of time.
While the .38 Super is often called the .38
Automatic, bullet diameter falls under the heading of those used in 9mm handguns. I know
many folks like to use .357-inch bullets, but that represents a gray area where unexpected
pressures lurk. Be on the safe side and use .355-inch bullets.
Powders range from Winchester 231,
Unique, Herco and Blue Dot to Bullseye. All functioned well in the Kimber, and all allow
more than enough snap to cycle the action. On the whole, the .38 Super is very respondent
to a variety of powders under many conditions and bullet weights. Seat the bullets of
choice to an overall length from 1.180 inches (lighter weights) to the industry standard
of no more than 1.280 inches (heavier bullets) and taper crimp. Since the .38 Super is
just a little longer than the 9mm Parabellum, you can use a 9mm taper crimp die. It will
work on both the 9mm and the Super and with the latter all you do is adjust the die upward
to fit the length and contour of the .38 Super case dimensions.
For these trials I clamped the
Kimber in a Ransom Rest and set up targets at 20 yards. With all the bullet weights, there
always seems to be at least one load that would make it into .75 inch. Powders didnt
seem to make any difference. In the 90- to 100-grain class, 5.5 grains of W-231 produced
good accuracy with a Sierra jacketed hollow cavity (JHC). Velocity was 1,127 fps. Bumping
up the charge to 6.3 grains not only increased the velocity about 17 percent but doubled
the group size as well. With 5.8 grains of Unique and the Speer 100-grain jacketed
hollowpoint (JHP) we hit that same group size with 1,112 fps. Again, an increase in powder
had basically the same effect.
In the 115-grain category, 5.5
grains of Bullseye came through with a one-inch cluster. Increasing the powder charge to
5.8 grains lowered the velocity by 3 fps but dropped the group size. Blue Dot is one of my
all-around favorites in the .38 Super, and with 8.7 grains under a 124-grain Hornady
full-metal-jacket flatpoint (FMJ/FP) the average velocity was 1,146 fps with another
.75-inch group. This has always been my best load in any Super, and the last time I
detailed this cartridge the extreme spread between shots was 10 fps. One of the best loads
was with a Hornady 124-grain full-metal-jacket roundnose (FMJ/RN) with 9.8 grains of HS-7
for almost 1,300 fps.
When I started the session, one
blank target was tacked up on the stand and kept there while the rest were stapled
directly on top of it. After the shooting was over, 105 shots went into a group that
measured 2 inches; five fliers opened this experiment to just under 3.75 inches. All the
samples tested showed no evidence of pressure nor were the source of any malfunctions, and
all handloads were shot from a loaded magazine.
Finishing up the session I took all the
remaining handloads plus two boxes of factory ammunition and dumped them all in a pile.
Loading at random, the Kimber fired all these without a bobble or misfire. For more
information and a catalog on the Kimber, contact the Marketing Department at 2590 Highway
35, Kalispell MT 59901.