I’ll admit it. I’m a technology fanboy. Give me a gadget, and I’ll rationalize a reason why I need it. My choice of cell phones? iPhone, natch. If I don’t have the latest and greatest of whatever it is we’re talking about, it’s due to a limit of discretionary income – not a lack of desire. So when I got over my “anything less than a full-sized, steel-frame 1911” phase, I began looking for my dream gun. And I found it, in a Kimber with an aluminum frame and a sweet set of faux-rosewood Crimson trace laser grips . . .
I love the feel of a 1911 the way that Robert Duvall loves the smell of napalm in the morning. And while a steel frame’s weight arguably results in a firearm that has less recoil, carrying a lighter gun is more than worth the additional kick. The laser? That puts the gun right up there in fanboy territory. How cool would it be if I could flash a laser on a bad guy and get him to surrender without ever firing a shot?
But my Red Ryder-esque, Christmas Story fantasy was interrupted by TTAG’s fearless leader, who opined aloud about the relative merits of a laser over going laserless. Ah, reality. A cruel mistress.
Now being TTAG’s resident 1911 groupie, I typically expect to get first crack at all 1911s. Especially one that comes so achingly close to my über-gun, like the Kimber Crimson Pro II. Alas, it was not to be. Another lucky TTAG scribe got to spill some electronic ink on it first. Not to be deterred, I asked RF for a crack at it. “What can you talk about that we’ve not already covered?” was his reasonable and rational reply. Thinking quickly, I realized the whole laser thing had not been field tested, and so begged asked to test the pistol vis-a-vis it’s low-light chops.
That’s the setup. Here’s the scoop.
We’ll get the niceties out of the way first. Kimber makes one mean mama-jama handgun. There’s a whole class of 1911s out there that fall under the realm of “feels like a custom-made piece from a master gunsmith without the custom price.” This particular Kimber falls into that category. (Of course, if you’re coming at this from a plastic gun point-of-view, anything in the +$1,000 price point is – pricey. But rest assured, you can’t touch a custom job for under three times that.) It shoots like buttah.
The only problem I had with the Kimber: a couple of failure to feeds on the first round, a problem I ascribed to the gun needing cleaning.
Now on to the good stuff – the laser test.
This review is in two parts because – well because we had some technical difficulties completely unrelated to the weapons, ammo, targets, or anything actually gun-related. Being the first time I’ve shot at dusk at an outdoor range, I didn’t know what to expect from a videography point-of-view. Let’s just say the footage we shot was somewhere between “worthless” and “completely unusable” and leave it at that. So back out to the range we will go, to reshoot both Kimber and video. Having said that –
There is a vast difference in playing with a laser in broad daylight versus actually shooting with it, and and even bigger difference between shooting in daylight and at dusk. So let’s talk about that for a second, backing up to consider the eminently reasonable question, “why would you need/want a laser sight?”
Theoretically, a laser sight is a no-brainer. Forget sight alignment, bifocal problems, sight picture – wherever the little red dot glows, that’s where the bullet goes. Simple. Safe and effective, if used as directed. (Okay…enough with the rhymes already.) But what if the batteries die and you’re used to relying on the laser? What if it gives you a bad case of tunnel vision if you are in a multiple bad-guy situation? What if you can’t hold the laser on-target to save your life?
Hmmm. First of all, the reliability of a laser system is a concern, but the same can be said of your potentially life-saving tactical flashlight. And if I had to choose between the two, I’d much rather have my laser die than my tactical light. For reasons I’ll explain below.
As the sun set in the sky, I had my first surprise with the laser. I have big hands. I tend to grip the pistol high, so I can get all my fingers around the grip. Because of the position of the laser alongside the top of the RH grip, that can be problematic. The first magazine I shot, when the gun would recoil, the laser beam would intersect with the top of my finger, sending a brilliant, blinding red light in my face for a split-second. Adjusting my grip was easy, but it’s something you need to be aware of, if you’re going to avoid “night-blindness” with a laser.
I found it surprisingly difficult to keep the laser in a tight, focused area at 35 feet. Now, you can argue that most gun battles take place at shorter distances. Shorter is easier. 35 feet is, by most experts, a practical limit for accuracy in handguns. Let’s just say in my typical Weaver stance, I was not thrilled with how the laser was bobbing around in about a 4″ area.
As it grew darker, it became apparent that a laser is no substitute for a tactical light. Period. If you think a laser’s gonna light up your target like a minimalist Christmas tree, then you have a rude awakening in store for you. The darker the area, the more you’re gonna want a tactical light. And if you don’t carry one that clips on to a picatinny rail on your gun, you’ll need to learn to A) shoot with a modified grip, allowing you to hold and control the light, or B) shoot one-handed, so you can control the light with your free hand.
There’s something to be said for controlling the light away from your gun, simply because if the bad guy uses a light to determine where you are, holding it away from your body is a great idea. But then you’d better practice, practice, practice shooting one-handed.
I was pleased to discover two things I’d not anticipated. First, you can shoot holding the gun in almost any position, with or without a sight picture. Need to shoot around a corner from behind some camouflage or cover? No worries. Shoot from the hip? The laser’s got your back.
The other thing was that it seemed to me that I had a much wider concept of the downrange area, as opposed to tunnelvision problems. Of course, I wasn’t in a stress situation, where I’d be dealing with adrenalin and other mitigating factors. But I was impressed that I was automatically able to keep the entire scene in view, whereas when I’m dealing with iron sights, that is decidedly NOT the case.
For the record, I shot at a 8″ target. Of the eight rounds I fired, six were within a 5″ group, one within a 6″ group, and one kissed the edge of the 8″ circle. I did not hit the bull’s eye, but I did get three rounds within an inch of it. At 35 feet, I can typically shoot a 3 to 4″ group, so the dark obviously had a negative impact on my accuracy. However, it was not as significant a factor as I’d feared. The biggest challenge, frankly, was shooting one-handed or even more so, trying to adjust my grip to get the tactical light on target, without screwing up my aim.
Bottom line (for now), the Kimber/Crimson Trace combo delivers on it’s promise. I’d opt for a laser on any handgun I planned to use for home defense and for concealed carry. I believe the value in painting a target with that red dot has some serious deterrent potential. And the fact that I know where the bullet is gonna end up has some serious psych value for me as the shooter. But it is not a panacea. You must practice with the laser, and practice even more with the tactical light. And you’d be foolish to cut out practice without the laser, just in case.
The experience has brought home an important lesson – if you wanna survive, practice in situations that are as close to what you will experience as you can. target practice at a range is great – as far as it goes. But it’s no substitute for getting some reps in in low-light or no-light situations, unless your idea is to ask your assailant to wait while you turn on a light.