January 03, 2011
Proving to be a gun for all seasons
In lieu of the more common breech-release lever, the new KP1 uses a cast breech release that has the look of an oversized top-tang safety.
My guide Barry and I had decided to head back to camp and hopefully to a big plate of hot enchiladas after a morning of scouring the New Mexican countryside for a good antelope. Only then did a nice buck, chasing a doe for all he was worth, materialize out of the plains--seemingly out of nowhere. A quick look through the binocular revealed great mass along the entire length of horn and good enough length. I slipped a cap into place, closed the break action, and headed after the buck in a hurried-but-slow, hunched-over stalk.
The doe stopped to look, and the buck, whose eyes never wandered far from the doe, stopped with her. Barry rang up the range at an even 145 yards. I had plopped down into a sitting position and had adjusted the shooting sticks. The instant the buck stepped from behind a tall yucca and paused again, a cloud of blue smoked rolled across the space between us.
After a big lunch, I popped the latches on my Storm case and pulled out a second scoped barrel. In less time than it took my hunting buddies to polish off the last few bites of dessert, I had converted my muzzleloader into a .223 rifle and was ready for coyotes and prairie dogs. The switch-barrel concept wasn't new, but the rifle was. The handy little KP1 from Knight accounted for an antelope and quite a few prairie dogs. It is Knight's first switch-barrel gun and the company's first venture into centerfire rifles.
|Receiver Material:||4140 steel alloy or 416 stainless steel|
|Calibers:||.50-caliber muzzleloader; .223 Rem., .243, .270 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .45-70, .17 HMR, .22 LR|
|Barrel Length:||27.5 inches (muzzleloader); 24 inches (centerfire)|
|Rifling:||Eight grooves, 1:28 LH twist(muzzleloader); six grooves, 1:9 LH twist (.223)|
|Sights:||Williams adjustable fiber-optic iron sights, drilled/tapped for scope mounts (muzzleloader); none (.223)|
|Metal Finish:||Brushed satin stainless steel|
|Pull weight:||4 pounds, 1 ounce (average)|
|Stock finish:||Black, camo (synthetic); sandstone (laminate)|
|Drop at heel:||1.5 inches|
|Drop at comb:||0.81 inches|
|Length of pull:||14.125 inches|
|Grip surfaces:||Light stippling on pistol grip and fore-end panels|
|Buttpad:||Kick-Eez Sling studs/One sling stud on buttstock, swivels: one sling stud on fore-end|
|Weight, empty||8 pounds (muzzleloader); 7 pounds, 13 ounces (.223) |
|Overall Length:||43.5 inches (muzzleloader); 39.5 inches (.223)|
|Price:||Rifle with one barrel: $509-$690; combos: $679-$829; extra barrels: $209-$269|
Knight Rifles did not try to reinvent the wheel with the KP1 the way Tony Knight reinvented muzzleloaders when he introduced the in-line Mk 85 back in 1985, but the firm was able to make some substantial improvements. The gun's familiar single-shot, external-hammer, break action can be converted from a centerfire to a muzzleloader to a rimfire in just a few seconds. Design improvements include a free-floated barrel and a trigger group that can be removed--without tools--for easy cleaning. A shallow receiver and well-designed stock give the KP1 a fast-handling, shotgun-like feel and above averages marks in the looks department. All this comes at a price that does not make one cringe.
Aaron Simms, a product engineer who has
worked for Knight Rifles for almost five years, helped design the KP1. He said the gun started out with a strict set of design parameters that took almost two years of work and head scratching to meet.
"The break action is the easiest action to build a multi-barrel system around," Simms said. "But we wanted to eliminate the big problems that other break-action guns have."
The KP1's receiver starts out as either a 4140 steel-alloy or 416 stainless-steel investment casting and is precision machined into its final shape. The buttstock is attached on a 1/4-inch threaded rod with a socket-head cap screw. Moving parts are pretty scarce, save a floating firing pin, breech release, breech-release lever, and locking lug. The receiver is nicely contoured, scalloped in places and has shadow lines that collectively add up to a very smooth and elegant look. There is only one pin through the receiver, and the locking lug hangs on it.
The receiver has a new contour but still uses a half-inch hole spacing that works for most two-piece Weaver mounts. Starting next year, Talley's one-piece base/ring combo machined from extruded aluminum will be available directly from Knight.
A cast breech release replaces the more-common lever found on other rifles and has the look of an oversized top-tang safety. Pushing it straight down toggles a lever connected to the locking lug rearward and pulls it out of the barrel lug's matching recess. This allows the barrel to tip up for loading or priming. A hardened dowel pin holds the halves together and is hidden by the fore-end.
The barrels are easily switched by removing the free-floating fore-end, which is attached to a tang on the barrel lug, and tapping out the pivot pin.
The trigger group contains--you guessed it--the trigger, hammer, transfer bar, decocker, and associated coil springs, levers, and pins. It is removable--a nifty feature first found on Knight's Revolution muzzleloader introduced several years ago.
"The removable trigger makes the gun so much easier to clean," Simms said. "You can't clean out the extremely corrosive blackpowder fouling unless you can get the trigger group out of the gun. We thought that was a big weakness in some other designs."
A hardened dowel pin extends through the trigger-group housing and is attached to the trigger-release tab. Matching receiver cuts, barely visible when the trigger group is in place, allow the pin and the rest of the trigger group in and out of the receiver. When the trigger is replaced, the pin, under the pressure of a coil spring, rides up small ramps cast into each side of the receiver to pull the trigger group into its recess.
"A small tab on the front of the trigger group, called the breech interlock, prevents you from closing or opening the gun when the hammer is cocked," Simms said. "It locks both the breech block and transfer bar in place."
The KP1 features a removable trigger, that facilitates cleaning. The author says the trigger group can be easily removed with one hand.
Removing the trigger group can be accomplished with one hand. Simply grasp the trigger group between the thumb, which pushes the release tab just ahead of the trigger forward, and the index finger, which wraps around the front of the trigger guard. Then pull straight out. Replacing the unit is a little tricky. A little experimentation revealed the key was rocking the hammer back slightly and inserting the back end of the trigger group into the recess first.
One feature very unique to the KP1 is located on the hammer. The decocker is a two-position lever that fits neatly in a recess in the hammerspur. It does not drop the hammer as the name implies, but it prevents the rifle from firing if the shooter's thumb slips while trying to lower the hammer.
"When pulled to the rear, the decocking lever locks a plunger in place that protrudes from the face of the hammer," Simms said. "The plunger strikes the transfer bar, and that strikes the floating firing pin. The hammer is nonrebounding and acts as an additional safety."
When in the "Safe" position, the plunger sits flush with the hammer's face. An extension of the hammer body above the plunger strikes the receiver, stopping the hammer's forward motion. Since the tab is longer than the plunger, unless the plunger is locked into place in the "Fire" position, nothing contacts the transfer bar. The hammer also has a small tab under the spur into which an extension can be screwed for left- or right-handed shooters using a scope.
The sample rifle's nonadjustable trigger broke around 4 pounds and was fairly consistent. Similar to a two-stage military trigger, there was about 1/8 inch of take-up before the pull began in earnest. There was very little overtravel.
Switching the KP1's firing pin from centerfire to rimfire is accomplished by removing the trigger group, wiggling out the extractor, using the end of the extractor as a screwdriver to loosen the firing-pin screw, rotating the floating firing pin 180 degrees to align with the second firing-pin hole, retightening the screw, inserting the extractor, and replacing the trigger group.
Like those of most other break-action, switch-barrel rifles, the KP1's barrels are easily swapped by removing the fore-end and tapping out a pivot pin. The fore-ends of most others are held in place with a screw that threads into a block welded or brazed to the barrel. The pressure exerted on the fore-end can vary greatly and adversely affect accuracy. The point of impact can shift vertically by simply tightening or loosening the fore-end attachment screw in some cases. Ruger No. 1 aficionados figured this out a long time ago and found ways to bed or hang the fore-end so that it did not exert pressure on the barrel.
Knight's approach is simple. The KP1 fore-end hangs off a tang on the barrel lug. An aluminum insert in the fore-end matches a shoulder on the tang. The fore-end release operates a double hook that latches over the end of the tang to hold the fore-end in place. This free floats the barrel along two-thirds of the fore-end's length and all but eliminates any fore-end pressure on the barrel. It is a small improvement on convention, but it's an improvement nonetheless. The only downside is a fore-end that flexes slightly under pressure.
Over the years, gun ma
kers specializing in switch-barrel guns have come up with ingenious solutions to move the firing pin's strike from the center of the bore to the edge of a rimfire cartridge. Knight's is no less ingenious. First, drop the trigger group and break open the action. The extractor, held in place by a detent pin, wiggles out of its slot under the barrel. A small flat-head screwdriver is machined into the extractor and is used to loosen the firing-pin screw a couple of turns. The screw is up inside the receiver, on the bridge across the two receiver halves, just above and behind the locking lug.
The floating firing pin is slotted on the hammer end, and the extractor tool is used to rotate the firing pin 180 degrees so the firing pin aligns with a second firing-pin hole on the breechface. The firing-pin screw is then retightened, and the trigger group is dropped back into place. It takes longer to write about it than to actually do it. The only catch is not dropping the floating firing pin and having it roll under the shooting bench, where it can hide for hours.
"The gun has a spring-assisted mechanical extractor," Simms said. "The spring does most of the work, but if the cases are a little sticky, the mechanical action will pull the case out. The extractor is cammed into place against the breechface when the gun is closed."
The button-rifled barrel blanks are produced by Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Company, an arrangement that dates back to Knight's first guns. The barrels are contoured, and a flat is milled on the bottom at Knight's Decatur, Alabama, manufacturing facility to accept the barrel lug. A robotic TIG welder joins both sides of the barrel to barrel-lug joint at once to prevent drawing them out of square.
"We put the most critical barrel features--the main pivot hole, the breech lock interface, and the overall length of the barrel--in during one operation," Simms said. "That allows us to hold very tight tolerances for this critical operation."
The way a rifle feels is so subjective, I hesitate to write about it, but the KP1 feels great to me. Absent is the severe up-and-down angle between the stock's pistol grip and the receiver, something I have always found somewhat unnatural on other designs. The stock design attenuates felt recoil, which is pronounced on other switch-barrel guns loaded with heavy 150-grain blackpowder loads, 3-inch magnum shotshells, or magnum rifle cartridges. The KP1 handles much like a rifle and almost like a shotgun, with little price to pay for its tremendous flexibility. Accessing the primer pocket and loading or unloading the rifle is easy, due to a generous barrel-receiver angle when open.
At The Range
Two different barrels were procured for testing: a .50-caliber muzzleloader barrel and a .223 Rem. centerfire barrel. Talley one-piece bases were used to secure a new Swarovski Z6 2-12X 50mm riflescope to the muzzleloader barrel and an AV 4-12X 50mm scope to the centerfire barrel.
The muzzleloader shot quite well, no surprise to readers who own Knight muzzleloaders. This particular sample showed a profound fondness for heavier bullets. At 100 yards with a 100-grain charge of Hodgdon Triple Seven, three-shot groups of 338-grain PowerBelt Platinum bullets averaged 0.810 inch. The new 290-grain Barnes Ultimate Slam Series polymer-tipped bullet with its new easy-loading sabot averaged 1.073 inches with a 150-grain charge of Triple Seven. It was the bullet I used on my antelope hunt with excellent results--good accuracy with excellent penetration and expansion. Precision Rifle's Dead Center 200-grain bullets averaged 1.389 inches with a 150-grain charge of Triple Seven pellets.
The standard breechplug is, well, standard, but a magnetized breechplug is included in the accessory kit so 209 primers can be used. Swap out the breechplug first thing. An adapter for the plastic primer jackets is available for that extra measure of waterproofing.
The .223 barrel has a pretty standard profile, measuring .645 inch at the muzzle and 1.143 inches just ahead of the barrel flats. The barrel has a 1:9 twist, which allows the rifle to digest a wide range of bullet weights. Remington's Premier 50-grain Accu-Tip load turned in the best five-shot groups at 100 yards off the bench, averaging 1.078 inches. Black Hill's 60-grain V-Max load was a close second with a 1.105-inch average. The plain-Jane 55-grain, pointed softpoint Core-Lokt from Remington had a 1.361-inch average.
The KP1 will initially be offered in .17 HMR, .22 LR, .223, .243, .270, .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .45-70, and .50-caliber muzzleloader with options of blued or stainless metal finishes and synthetic black or camo stocks, or laminate stocks. Combination packages are a no-brainer, and Knight currently has two: a varmint package with .17 HMR and .223 barrels and a whitetail package with .50-caliber muzzleloader and the choice of three different whitetail centerfire barrels. Simms said the company hopes to expand the available chamberings and has started testing in that direction.
|Knight KP1 Accuracy|
|Bullet||Powder||Standard Velocity (fps)||Standard Deviation (fps)||100-yd Accuracy (inches)|
|.50-Caliber Muzzleloader, 27.5-Inch Barrel|
|Precision Rifle Dead Center 200-gr. Polymer Tip||Triple Seven||150||2120||82.6||1.063||1.511||1.389|
|Barnes Ultimate Slam 290-gr. Polymer Tip||Triple Seven||150||1943||10.2||0.582||1.432||1.073|
|PowerBelt Platinum 338-gr. Polymer Tip||Triple Seven||100||1474||13.7||0.478||1.114||0.810|
|.223 Remington, 24-Inch Barrel|
|Remington Premier 50-gr. Accu-Tip||Factory Load||3412||13.7||0.777||1.592||1.078|
|Remington 55-gr. PSP C-L||Factory Load||3220||37.1||0.714||1.592||1.361|
|Black Hills 60-gr. V-Max||Factory Load||3035||19.6||0.748||1.357||1.105|
|NOTES: Accuracy is for five consecutive groups fired from a benchrest at 100 yards. Guthrie fired three-shot groups with the muzzleloader barrel and five-shot groups with the centerfire. |
Current suggested retail prices for the KP1 start at $509 and run up to $690 for the stainless-steel/laminate model. Combo sets range from $509 to $829. Extra barrels run from $209 to $269 each. There are guns that cost less and guns that cost more, but few offer the unique features of the KP1.
Switch-barrel guns are popular for a variety of reasons. Most of us cannot cough up the cash for a new rifle every time a new caliber catches our eye, so the option of purchasing just a barrel works pretty well. Combo hunts like my recent New Mexico adventure are simplified when it is just a matter of slipping an extra barrel into the hard case instead of another rifle. The biggest advantage is consistency--the trigger, trigger pull, cheek weld, and firing grip never change.
Knight took a long, hard look at the switch-barrel concept and carefully thought about how to make it better. The KP1 is an accurate, simple rifle that brings a lot to the table at a price that is hard not to like.