If all you’ve ever looked at from Kimber is its über-popular line of 1911-style pistols, you’ve missed a lot. While many people are aware of the Yonkers, N.Y., based gun company because of the groundbreaking line of factory-custom 1911s it introduced in the mid-1990s, the company actually began in 1979 by producing rifles, and became known for its fine line of .22 LR target guns. Fortunately, Kimber has stuck with the long guns, a tradition it’s currently carrying on with a broad selection of both hunting and tactical-style rifles, many based off the magnum-sized Model 8400 bolt action. Like many of those who’ve spent a fair amount of time reading Capstick and therefore dream of hunting in Africa, the one that caught my attention is the Kimber Caprivi, a classic safari rifle that comes in .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, .416 Remington Magnum and .458 Lott.
Big Game Getter
Named after the game-rich Caprivi Strip in upper Namibia, the matte black Caprivi has a 24-inch barrel, weighs in at 8.63 pounds unloaded and features a stock made of AA French walnut with a traditional pancake cheekpiece and an ebony forend tip. While many rifles come with relatively coarse 20 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering, the Caprivi’s stock has hand-cut wraparound checkering in the finer 24-lpi pattern. It also comes with all the practical features of the classic dangerous game rifle, including express sights and a barrel-mounted sling swivel.
The other specifications are in line with what you’d expect from a magnum-class bolt action rifle: It has a four-round magazine with a floorplate latch conveniently located inside the front of the triggerguard, a three-position “wing style” safety similar to that of the Winchester Model 70 and a full-length, Mauser-style extractor. While many modern firearms have a push-feed (PF) design where the bolt pushes a cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, then snaps the extractor into place on the cartridge, the Caprivi has a controlled-round-feed (CRF) action traditionally preferred on rifles for serious use, where the cartridge slides up beneath the extractor as it feeds upwards from the magazine and is never loose in the action.
The express sights are also indicative of the gun’s mission. Coming with three leaves, the first of which is loosely regulated
(they say for 50 yards; mine does okay to 100 or so yards) and the other two of which are left blank for gunsmith modification to your load of choice, the Caprivi’s express sights aren’t the fine peep sights of the target rifle because much of the shooting is often done at relatively close range, and because fine accuracy is generally an academic issue when being charged. Express sights are meant to be fast (hence why they sometimes appear on defensive pistols), with an easy-to-pick-up dot up front, often a bead of some sort to help draw your eye (the Caprivi’s is white), coupled with a shallow “V” in the rear. Drop the ball in the “V,” press the trigger and live.
That also explains the scope that I picked for the test gun. Leupold’s VX-7 is a 24mm riflescope with the magnification adjustable from 1.5x to 6x. Compact and bright, it also has a heavy duplex reticle whose bold lines are easy to pick up at speed. Similarly, the relatively low magnification makes it easy to use at close range, where greater power often makes it harder (read: slower) to get on target.
Instead of the traditional adjustment knobs that many of us are used to, to adjust the VX-7 for windage and elevation, you unscrew what would ordinarily be the cap; it pops up, revealing a marked dial that helps you dial in the correct number of clicks for adjustment. Push down, lock it in place by screwing it back down, and you’re in business. It’s very quick and easy, and there’s nothing to lose. I found it particularly helpful when switching back and forth between 270- and 300-grain cartridges, where additional bullet drop made the point of impact vary significantly at 100 yards.
I mounted the matte black VX-7 in a pair of quick-detach rings from -Talley, which uses a combination of well-buttressed bases and a throw lever on the rings’ mounting crossbolt to let the scope come off the rifle and go back on without any significant loss of accuracy. Rotate the levers counterclockwise and tilt the scope off the bases; reassembly is in reverse order. The levers themselves can be “clocked” on the crossbolts, and I oriented mine so they would point downwards (to reduce the risk of snagging on brush), and both have the same angle, so I could tell quickly that they were both tight.
Nince I intended to use the Caprivi while hunting deer largely as training for hunting dangerous game later (as with defensive pistols, it makes sense to me to be familiar with a gun that your life could depend on), I focused on both acquiring the sight picture as well as running the bolt quickly after firing to get ready for a follow-up shot. While I occasionally would encounter resistance pushing the bolt home when I would grasp the bolt handle, pull it to the rear and drive it forward again with my fingers still wrapped around it, I found that the bolt ran more smoothly if I pulled the bolt back and drove it forward with my palm, much as you slap down the cocking knob on an HK MP5. As with most CRF actions, the harder I ran it, the better it responded, and while it first seemed a little more difficult to strip the top round out of the magazine when shooting it fully loaded with five rounds (4+1), that dissipated as I spent more time with gun.
Overall, I fired probably around 200 rounds from the Caprivi, a mix of 270- and 300-grain loads (both soft points and solids) provided by Hornady and 300-grain soft points provided by Federal. Accuracy-wise, the best groups I’ve shot were all just a little over 2 inches, which is perhaps more reflective of my skill with the rifle than its capabilities.
Oh yes, the recoil. We need to talk about the recoil. While the Caprivi’s stock is well designed to let the shooter handle the kick of the .375 H&H without too much discomfort (the 1-inch-thick recoil pad is appreciated), understand that when you move into the African calibers, beyond just being unpleasant, these are cartridges whose recoil can physically injure you. Rookie mistakes—eye too close to the scope, hand behind the pistol grip when shooting off the bench—are swift, painful lessons you’ll only need to learn once.
From standing, the recoil, while certainly noticeable, isn’t bad; in fact, I found the .375 H&H to be much more comfortable than my old 7mm Mag, whose less-refined stock design left me with green bruises no matter how few rounds I fired from it. Shot from the bench, however, where you generally don’t have much of a grip on the rifle’s forend, and therefore less control of the recoil, long strings of fire are quite unpleasant. When shooting groups at 100 yards, I found that when I fired two back-to-back, it wasn’t uncommon to see differences of 1.5 inches or so in group size, probably because each round fired was increasingly painful. While a box of 20 rounds or so isn’t that bad, a full afternoon of shooting is, in a word, punishing.
In The Field
While I certainly spent time with the Caprivi on the range, the test would be incomplete if I hadn’t taken it hunting for its intended purpose of getting accustomed to it in the field. Still very much a new hunter, I went several times with no luck until the Sunday afternoon that found me watching the hillside a couple hundred yards or so from where I sat behind the large fallen tree that I intended to use as a rifle rest. Focusing intently on the brush line at the top of the adjacent ridge, I suddenly heard the distinct crunch of cautious steps through dry leaves about 50 yards to my left, and turned to see two 4-point bucks and a doe stepping cautiously out of the heavy cover behind me. Drawn to my movement, the lead buck saw me and froze. So did I. When he turned to look forward again, I swung the big Kimber over, thumbing off the safety, and settled those thick black crosshairs. I never felt the recoil.
On the way back from the deer processor that night, I looked through the windshield at the night sky and saw one of the only two constellations I know sitting low over the horizon. The three vertical stars of the belt were unmistakable: Orion, the hunter. I’m still a long way from having earned that title, just as whitetail are a long way from the African Big Five. But we all start somewhere.
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