A Sweet Pair Of 9s

A Sweet Pair Of 9s

Rising ammunition costs lead our shooting editor to some fun new guns.

I love to shoot anything that goes "bang," but the Model 1911 and the AR-15 are my favorite fun guns. No matter what guns I am testing in a given week, it's a safe bet that a few of my favorite 1911s or ARs will make it into the truck when I leave for the range. But lately, rising ammunition costs and decreased availability have caused me to leave my favorites at home more and more. That realization led me to consider different calibers in both platforms.

Selecting a new pistol caliber was easy. After all, no centerfire pistol ammunition is as cheap to shoot or is as readily available as the classic 9x19mm. It may not hit with as much authority as my favorite 230-grain .45 ACP load, but hot new loads like those from CorBon and Winchester's SXT +P+ line don't give up much real-world performance.


Deciding on a rifle caliber was a bit tougher. In fact, I almost gave up on the project until I went to two local gun stores to check .223 Remington availability. I found that one store had no plinking ammunition whatsoever, and the other had only a few of the most expensive boxes of 55-grain FMJ I have ever seen.



I considered all the available AR cartridges, but I kept coming back to the 9x19mm because of cost and availability. I must confess that I was a bit disappointed until I gave the matter more serious consideration. If the 9x19mm +P+ loads work well from a 5-inch pistol barrel, I reasoned, then they should hit even harder from a 16-inch carbine barrel. It won't replace my .223/5.56mm ARs, but I don't feel under-gunned with a 9mm carbine stoked with quality ammunition.

Choosing the guns was much tougher. Although most guns designed around the 9x19mm cartridge are very reliable, the 1911 and AR platforms are both notoriously fickle when chambered for the 9x19mm. This has nothing to do with the cartridge. In the case of the 1911, quality 9x19mm magazines are tough to find. With the AR, again, magazines are a problem, and the guns can be capricious even with good ones.


I had to do a great deal of research to find the right guns, but I think I chose wisely.


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Kimber Aegis II Accuracy & Velocity:

Factory LoadVeloicty (fps)25-Yard Accuracy (in.)
Federal American Eagle 115-gr. FMJ11263.10
Federal 124-gr. Hydra-Shok11022.14
Hornady 124-gr. TAP10972.34
Winchester 127-gr. +P+ SXT12201.15
CorBon 147-gr. Match8851.56
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 25 yards. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.

The Kimber Aegis II
The 9mm Aegis II is an attractive, two-tone offering from the Kimber Custom Shop. Although it is available in more compact versions, I chose the full-size pistol, which features a lightweight frame of rugged 7075-T7 aluminum and a slide machined from solid steel, as well as a laundry list of desirable custom features.

The frame features well-executed 30 lines-per-inch checkering on the frontstrap and the polymer mainspring housing. Some shooters prefer more aggressive checkering, but I like 30 lpi because it provides a great deal of grip yet doesn't tear at my hands during long firing sessions or my clothes in daily carry.

The frame is cut high under the trigger guard for a high grip, and the magazine well is nicely beveled to facilitate rapid reloads. Its attractive rosewood grips are affixed with Allen-head screws. Instead of the usual checkering, the thin grips have three grooves ball-milled into the flats.

9x19mm Loading Data

The step resulting from changing to a thinner bevel is clearly visible here.

The beavertail grip safety has the obligatory speed bump to ensure activation, even with a less-than-perfect firing grip. It is nicely fitted and easy to engage when drawing the pistol from the holster.

The "II" designation denotes Kimber's Series II firing-pin safety. The grip-safety-activated Swartz-style safety serves to improve the drop safety rating of the Series II pistols, yet it does not affect the trigger pull as the Series 80 style does.

In contrast to the current trend of extended models, the thumb safety is abbrev

iated. It was designed to be snag-free, but the tiny, teardrop-shaped ledge is too small for my liking. However, it engages positively without too much effort.

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Kimber Custom Aegis II

Model:Custom Aegis II
Purpose: Self-defense
Manufacturer: Kimber Mfg. Inc.
1 Lawton St.
Yonkers, NY 10705
406-758-2222
Action type:Recoil-operated autoloader
Magazine type/ capacity:Single-stack/9 rounds
Frame and slide material : Aluminum frame, steel slide
Caliber: 9x19mm
Barrel length: Custom: 5 inches (tested), Pro: 4 inches, Ultra: 3 inches
Rifling: 1:16 LH twist
Sights: Tactical Wedge three-dot tritium
Finish: Kimpro II slide, anodized satin-silver frame
Safety: Grip safety; two position thumb
Trigger type: Single-action
Pull weight: 4lbs, 6 oz.
Grip material and finish: Slim rosewood with ball-milled flutes
Overall length: 8.7 in.
Height: 5.25 in.
Width: 1.15 in.
Weight, empty: 31 oz.
Accessories: Owners manual, plastic case.
MSRP: $1,195

The hammer is black and shortened to the point that it is not visible when it is in the down position. The trigger is an extended, aluminum number that is adjustable for overtravel. It broke at 4 pounds, 6 ounces, with minimal creep and no appreciable overtravel.

The slide release is checkered, and the magazine release is smooth and beveled with a more pronounced slope on the forward edge that flows towards the trigger. The frame and controls are finished in Kimber's rugged, corrosion-resistant KimPro II finish.

With its black KimPro II finish, the steel slide is an attractive contrast to the silver frame. Unusual, widely spaced grasping grooves fore and aft give the Aegis II a distinctive look. A flattened slide top and snag-free, dovetailed Tactical Wedge night sights with three-dot tritium inserts round out the slide.

The barrel is a 5-inch, stainless-steel, match-grade unit with a 1:16 rate of twist. A witness hole at the back of the barrel hood serves as a loaded-chamber indicator. The barrel bushing is also a stainless, match-grade affair. The guide rod is a full-length, one-piece model.

The Aegis II's barrel is nicely fitted. It locks up nice and tight, with no slop. The barrel bushing is not loose, but it is easily turned by hand. In fact, were it not for the full-length guide rod, this one would be a snap to disassemble without a bushing wrench.

A well-executed carry-bevel treatment leaves the exterior smooth and free of sharp edges. The magazine well is also beveled, but this is not done as nicely as the rest of the work. For some reason, the bevel is much wider on the sides of the magazine well. At the back, where it should curve outward towards the mainspring housing, the bevel is much steeper. That would be fine if it weren't for the fact that the gunsmith switched to the shallower bevel on the side of the magazine well rather than at the back. The result is an unattractive step that detracts from the Aegis II's otherwise flawlessly executed metal work. That blemish aside, the Aegis II is an attractive pistol.

The LAR-15 By Rock River
ARs in 9x19mm are notoriously erratic, but the good ones work as well as any .223 AR. Based on past experiences with its offerings and a good recommendation from a friend who uses one on duty, I decided to go with Rock River's LAR-15 9x19mm carbine.

Two of the Aegis II's distinctive features are the hammer and thumb safety.

I chose the standard 9mm CAR A4, but Rock River builds each gun to order, so I was able to customize mine. Although the options I chose--like green furniture, a Picatinny gas block, Ergo grip, and winter trigger guard--were all extra-cost items, the increased cost was minimal compared to ordering the parts I wanted later and installing them myself.

As with all Rock River carbines, the 9mm CAR's upper and lower receivers are built from forged 7075-T6 aluminum. Both are machined to extremely tight tolerances on CNC equipment and then hard anodized. The exacting tolerances are evident on my test rifle, which was very tight with no discernable play between the upper and lower.

A single-stage trigger is standard. The example on my rifle was typical of production AR triggers--a bit spongy and heavy, breaking at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. A fixed, A2 buttstock is also standard.

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Rock River LAR-15

Model:LAR-15 A-4
Purpose: Tactical entry, home defense, target shooting
Manufacturer: Rock River Arms
1042 Cleveland Rd.
Colona, IL 61241
866-980-7625
Action type:Semiautomatic
Magazine type/ capacity:Double-stack/25 rounds
Receiver material : Forged 7075 T6 aluminum upper and lower receivers
Caliber: 9x19mm
Barrel length: 16 inches
Rifling: 1:10 LH twist
Sights: None; flat-top Picatinny rail
Finish: Matte black
Safety: Two-position thumb
Trigger type: Standard single-stage
Pull weight: 7lbs, 4 oz.
Stock material and type: Green A-2 buttstock, green Ergo grip
Sling swivels: Fixed front and rear sling swivels
Weight, empty: 7.5 lbs.
Overall length: 36 in.
Accessories: Owners manual, safe case, one magazine, warranty card
MSRP: $1,075

The flat-top A4 upper has standard, plastic handguards, though free-floating aluminum handguards are an extra-cost option. I ordered mine with a Picatinny gas block and a 16-inch barrel with a birdcage flash hider.

The 9mm carbine differs from modern .223 ARs in that the upper has no forward assist. Rather than an integral part of the upper, the shell deflector is a polymer piece that is held on by the same pin that holds the dust cover. The only other significant difference is the magazine well. Although it is the standard size, it is fitted with a block to reduce its dimensions to accept the smaller 9x19mm magazine.

For testing, I mounted an Eotech holographic sight on the flat-top upper. Though this zero-power optic is not the best for long range, its heads-up display is tough to beat for plinking and self-defense.

With the optic attached and five modified 25-round Uzi magazines, the Rock River has all the makings of an excellent little defensive carbine.

The Aegis On The Range
In preparation for testing my new 9mms, I gathered a variety of ammunition from CorBon, Federal, Hornady, and Winchester. I also ordered six stainless-steel, nine-round Metalform magazines from Brownells. Magazines for the 9mm 1911 tend to be anything but reliable, but Metalform magazines are considered by many knowledgeable shooters to be the most dependable on the market. I ordered some to give the test pistol every opportunity to prove its mettle.

I started out with the Aegis at 7 yards. With 115-grain FMJ and 124-grain Hydra-Shoks, it printed very tight groups right on top of the front sight. The trigger was crisp and clean, and the sight picture was familiar to anyone who has shot Novak-style sights as much as I have. However, I had several failures to feed the last- or second-to-last round from the supplied magazine.

I suspected this was a magazine problem, so I loaded up my extra magazines and ran them through the gun. One other magazine gave me the same problem, and another would not reliably lock back the slide on the last round. But the other four performed flawlessly, so I marked the three offending magazines, put them aside, and completed my evaluation.

From then on, the Aegis II ran like a champ. The good sights and crisp trigger made it easy to handle and shoot straight during rapid-fire drills and long-range work. The thin grips and checkering made it easy to hang onto in extended firing sessions.

Greg selected a Picatinny gas block for his 9mm Rock River carbine.

I poured one shot after another of Winchester's 127-grain +P+ SXT load--my favorite 9x19mm defensive load--into a fist-sized group no matter how fast I pressed the trigger. Recoil, even with stout +P+ loads, was negligible.

With the general testing out of the way, I cleaned up the Aegis II and settled in to do my 25-yard accuracy testing. I fired five, five-shot groups with six different loads from a sandbag rest at 3-inch Shoot-N-C stickers on a plain white target backer.

My first group with Winchester's 127-grain +P+ load was an impressive 0.88 inch. My second group was nearly as good at 1.10 inches. The pistol continued to shoot impressive groups, but I noticed that every group consisted of four shots in a very tight group with the fifth shot as much as 1 inch away--usually lower--from the rest of the group. Careful studying showed the flyer was always the first shot, which was loaded manually from the magazine.

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Rock River LAR-15 Accuracy & Velocity:

Factory LoadVeloicty (fps)50-Yard Accuracy (in.)
Federal American Eagle 115-gr. FMJ11682.80
Federal 124-gr. Hydra-Shok11342.65
Hornady 124-gr. TAP11131.23
Winchester 127-gr. +P+ SXT12481.94
CorBon 147-gr. Match9121.42
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 50 yards. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.

That is not an uncommon occurrence with semiautomatics. However, given the incredible accuracy of the test pistol, I was a bit surprised. So I loaded six rounds into each magazine to test my theory. After firing the first round into a separate target, I fired the next five into another Shoot-N-C. The results were impressive to say the least. My best group with the Winchester load measured just 0.49 inch, and Federal's 124-grain Hydra-Shok load yielded an impressive 0.75-inch group.

Wringing Out The Rock River
I started my carbine testing at 15 yards to zero the EOTech sight. Once I got it close, I moved back to 50 yards for some serious accuracy testing. Although it is a long gun, I elected to do the majority of my accuracy testing at 50 yards because, in my opinion, the 9x19mm is ineffective at longer distances. It will get the job done, but the .223/5.56mm is far more effective to 100 yards and beyond.

At 50 yards, I fired three rounds, moved a few clicks right, and just for fun, fired the remaining 22 rounds. The resultant group measured less than 2 inches. That's not bad for a 9x19mm carbine topped with a low-power optic with an oversize reticle.

With the carbine zeroed, I settled into the bench and fired five-shot groups with several ammo types. Some loads shot okay, but two loads produced sub-inch groups.

After completing my accuracy testing, I ran 10 magazines through the gun over the course of a half-hour or so. Though the gun was hot, it ran flawlessly, hitting where I pointed it and ejecting empties well clear. I was especially impressed with its almost complete lack of recoil. No matter how fast I squeezed the trigger, the carbine was always on target.

The magazine block is basically a spacer in the front and back of the magazine well. It allows a tight fit for the 9mm magazines.

For the next few months, I carried the Rock River carbine in the truck as I drove around the ranch. I used it to dispatch crows, jackrabbits, and even a wounded deer. I also pounded countless rocks with it, and I let several kids and ladies get some trigger time with the little gun. They all fell in love with the carbine, but so did a pair of police firearms instructors who shot it. In fact, both opined that the little 9x19mm carbine was just the ticket for muzzle blast-shy shooters.

Nine Is More Than Adequate
Although rising ammunition costs drove me to switc

h to the 9x19mm in the 1911 and AR platforms, I don't believe the smaller cartridge is as big of a handicap as I thought when I started down this road. In fact, I am confident that with modern high-performance ammunition, the 9x19mm is more than adequate. Of course, accurate, reliable guns like Rock River's 9mm CAR and Kimber's Aegis II inspire greater confidence in the cartridge, too.

Though I won't be giving up my .45s or .223s anytime soon, the 9mm Kimber 1911 and the Rock River AR have earned a permanent place in my collection. They are up to the most serious of tasks, and they are also seriously fun!

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