According to Greek mythology, the aegis was the protective shield or breastplate handed down from Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods, to his daughter Athena. It is referenced in Homer’s Iliad, and according to popular accounts, the aegis was adorned with golden tassels (or, in some cases, writhing serpents) with the head of the Gorgon Medusa at its center. This gruesome artifact, according to legend, granted universal protection to its bearer regardless of the strength or number of enemies encountered.
In modern culture, the term aegis refers to anyone or anything that offers protection or support in the face of danger. Though none of us modern mortals will likely face an enemy as dangerous as a chimera, the world in which we live is not without peril. Our defense against those threats is not a breastplate or a shield bearing a Gorgon’s severed head but rather a sidearm loaded with expanding hollowpoint ammunition.
If there’s a modern interpretation of the aegis for the 21st century, it might well be the 1911 single-action semiautomatic pistol. It was not handed down to us by Zeus from the heights of Olympus, but rather from the mortal firearm designer John Moses Browning—though some consider Browning something of a demigod.
Aegis is also the name of Kimber’s newest family of 1911 pistols. You’ll find no golden tassels on this weapon, but this doesn’t mean these Kimber pistols are without adornments. For starters, they feature a stylish two-tone construction: a satin silver frame and a slide finished with a KimPro II protective coating in matte black.
The Aegis Elite Custom OI (Optic Installed), the line-topping, full-sized version of the Aegis 1911, bears Aegis Elite X (AEX) front and rear slide serrations and comes with a milled slide and a pre-mounted Vortex Optics Venom six m.o.a. red dot sight co-witnessed with tall three-dot sights.
The Venom red dot sight is attached to a plate on top of the slide with a pair of Torx screws, and it can be quickly and easily removed if desired. The elevation adjustment dial is located on the top of the red dot and the windage dial is positioned on the right side, and each click offers one m.o.a. of adjustment.
The optic allows the shooter to swap out the CR1632 battery without removing the sight from the pistol. Battery life is good—up to 150 hours on the highest of the 10 brightness settings and tens of thousands of hours on lower settings. The low-glare, hard anodized matte finish, ArmorTek coating and O-ring seals make this a durable optic well-suited to the rigors of daily carry. Even if you manage to run the battery down, the tall three-dot sights mean you’ll always have a sighting option.
The Aegis Elite Custom OI comes with a five-inch stainless steel barrel with a 1:16 left-handed rifling twist and a match-grade barrel bushing. If you feel that’s too much gun for your needs, there’s also a four-inch OI model, the Aegis Elite Pro as well as other Aegis 1911s without pre-mounted red dot optics.
I tested the full-size Aegis Elite Custom OI in .45 ACP, although there are also 9mm versions if you’d prefer. Kimber is known for making good-looking guns, and the Aegis did not disappoint in that department. The two-tone look is modern without being gaudy, and the AEX serrations—sort of a stylized chain-link design—are both functional and eye-catching.
These pistols come equipped with G10 laminate grips combining gray, black and green layers that complement the metal finish. The rounded grip surface features ridged texturing that affords a solid hold on the pistol without being too aggressive. It also gives the grips a dimensional, scaled look.
The frontstrap comes with 24-lpi serrations, and the rounded heel helps in concealment. There’s also an extended beavertail, a skeletonized target hammer and a skeletonized aluminum target trigger. The frame and slide are both made of steel—no shock—and the front sight is dovetailed into the slide. An eight-round magazine comes with the .45 version, and the 9mm magazine offers one additional round.
Overall length is 8.7 inches, the vertical height is 5.25 inches (six inches to the top of the red dot sight), and width is just a bit under 1.3 inches. Overall weight with an empty magazine and red dot sight was 40.7 ounces on my digital scale.
My go-to carry gun is a .45 Commander, and the Aegis doesn’t feel excessively large when you carry it concealed—as long as you’re used to the 1911 design. The Aegis tucks neatly against the body, and the red dot doesn’t preclude this from being an everyday carry pistol, although it’s certainly on the large side for that.
The front sight may cause you grief if you’re using a generic 1911 holster, and I had to use a file to widen the already bored-out sight channel on my leather Galco holster a bit to get a clean draw. To Vortex’s credit, the Venom is a compact, durable optic, and if you’re one of the growing number of people who prefer a red dot-equipped everyday carry pistol then this gun is worth a look—especially since it comes out of the box with a red dot already in place.
The price as tested is $1,395, which isn’t what you might call cheap if you’ve been shopping in the polymer/striker-fired pistol aisle. But for a solidly built 1911 .45 with high-end features and superb fit, finish and machining, it’s not out of line—especially since the Vortex Venom itself carries a price tag north of $200. Additionally, the Venom is light enough, just over an ounce, that you won’t be adding much bulk as compared to an iron-sighted 1911.
Whether you choose a full-size 1911 with an optic as a carry gun is up to you, of course, but there’s no doubt the Aegis Elite Custom OI is an effective defensive firearm. The Venom offers excellent edge-to-edge clarity, and the dot is large enough that it’s easy to find and aim. It’s extremely effective in low-light conditions, and the 1911 .45 is beyond reproach as a personal defense weapon—whether for concealed carry, open carry or home defense.
Defensive prowess aside, this pistol also really shines on the range. Its construction and red dot sight make it a precise shooting gun. At 25 yards, groups under two inches were not unusual. The smallest group of the day, which came courtesy of Hornady’s 185-grain Critical Defense load, measured 1.2 inches.
Accuracy is enhanced by a crisp, clean trigger that breaks right at 4.6 pounds, which is smack in the middle of Kimber’s promised range of four to five pounds. The G10 grips offer plenty of surface area for a secure hold on the pistol, and solid steel construction makes this gun a pleasure to shoot.
When you fire well over a hundred rounds from the bench and top that off with a session of off-handed shooting, you garner an intimate understanding of how a pistol handles recoil, and the Aegis does so quite well. As an added bonus, the Venom sight was accurate enough right out of the box, so it didn’t require much adjustment before sending those .45 caliber bullets through the center of the bull.
I started shooting pistol at seven yards offhand, and the bullet struck right at the bottom of the dot. After familiarizing myself with the trigger and moving back to the prescribed 25 yards, I found that elevation was spot-on but windage was off by about three m.o.a. No problem. Three clicks and the gun was on.
In addition to the Handguns accuracy testing protocol, I put the Kimber through something I refer to as the “hostage accuracy evaluation.” The drill involves placing a Birchwood Casey hostage target at 25 yards and firing a series of shots at the “bad guys.” The exercise doesn’t leave a lot of room for error; the bad guys on those targets offer 1.5- to inch-and-a-half to two-inch targets. The objective is to fire as many effective shots (striking the hostage taker) in a row as possible. A bullet that misses the bad guy or strikes the hostage ends the exercise.
With most iron-sighted factory guns, it’s a real challenge to continually hit the mark shot after shot. Strings of two hits are good, and four is pretty exceptional. With its red dot sight, the Aegis was ideally suited for this drill. I managed five solid hits on the right-side bad guy with Hornady Critical Defense ammo before an errant shot drifted off the paper, effectively stopping the drill.
The left-side hostage taker also absorbed five shots before the sixth bullet grazed the hostage silhouette. Pretty impressive. And while this drill isn’t part of the standard accuracy test, I’ve come to rely on it as an alternative and effective means to determine the real-world accuracy of a pistol. The Aegis shined.
When the data collection portion of the test was complete and accuracy and velocity figures were tallied, I spent some time shooting the Aegis offhand at personal defense distances. The six-m.o.a. red dot allows for rapid target acquisition, and it’s a great option for new shooters who are trying to master the art of shooting with both eyes open—especially those who struggle with front sight focus. But the red dot will work for anyone, new or inexperienced, and it’s a great option for those shooters whose eyesight makes standard iron sight shooting difficult.
After a few rounds, I decided to pull the sight off the gun and remount it to see how close it remained to the original zero point. There was no discernible change, and at no point during the test did the Venom show any signs of loosening.
Nor did the Aegis have any cycling qualms with any of the loads tested. Two hundred rounds does not qualify as a torture test, but there were no issues. The pistol was quite manageable to shoot, even with the hotter rounds in the test, and I would imagine that the 9mm version of this steel-framed 1911 would be very soft-shooting.
No, it’s not a shield with gold tassels emblazoned with a Gorgon’s head, but the Kimber Aegis is an effective defensive weapon. It’s also a superb 1911, and even the most jaded shooters likely will develop a soft spot for this gun if they spend some time with it at the range. It’s reliable, accurate, fun to shoot and beautiful. And until we’re faced with Chimeras or other mythical beasts, this is all the aegis you need.
KIMBER AEGIS ELITE CUSTOM OI
CALIBER: 9mm Luger, .45 ACP (tested)
BARREL: 5 in.
OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 8.7/5.3/1.3 in.
WEIGHT: 40.7 oz. w/sight
GRIPS: gray, green and black G10
FINISH: satin silver frame, matte black KimPro II slide
TRIGGER: 4.6 lb. pull (measured)
SIGHTS: Vortex Venom six m.o.a. red dot, three-dot tall irons
PRICE: $1,395 (.45 ACP), $1,415 (9mm)
MANUFACTURER: Kimber, KimberAmerica.com