By RONI TOLDANES
It was love at first sight. Literally.
Kim Stroud built a high-capacity pistol with a red-dot sight several years ago, shot her first Practical Shooting tournament and felt her heart melt. By her own account, that began her love affair with shooting – and guns.
“It’s addicting,” Stroud says, “because it’s a very competitive sport ‘that requires a combination of speed and accuracy. It’s really very challenging.”
Stroud, 34, began shooting action pistol tournaments only in 1992, but she started building guns in 1988. She was the first woman accepted into the American Pistolsmith Guild (APG), the most prestigious association of gunsmiths in the United States. She’s also a member of the American Handgunner Club 100, considered “a roster of the best and the brightest in the pistolsmithing profession.” Those honors help her quickly eradicate doubts about her ability.
When she became a full-time gunsmith at Gun Craft eight years ago, Stroud initially received mixed reactions from her customers. Even now, new customers roll their eyes as soon as she introduces herself as the gunsmith who would be working on their guns. “They come up and ask you so many questions,” Stroud recalls. “They want to find out if you know what you are talking about.” After firing off a staccato burst of technical questions, the loquacious customers get impressive answers and discover that Stroud is one heckuva gunsmith. “When they realize you have the answer for everything,” she says, “they relax. They are actually tickled by the fact that their guns would be built by a woman.”
Stroud says that building guns was not one of her original goals in life. She was working for a precision medical supply company when her father, Ben Jones, who owns Gun Craft, prodded her to give pistolsmithing a try.
Stroud’s father didn’t encounter much difficulty convincing her, even though she jokingly says “my dad chained me to the bench” to force her to work on guns.
She was working for what she called “a dead-end company” and she knew it would be the height of silliness for someone not to consider other professional avenues.
Guided by her fellow gunsmith Dave Smith, Stroud joined Gun Craft in 1989 and started out with the basics – cleaning and assembling pistols. She began her shooting career when her father and Smith pointed out that joining tournaments would help her better understand what her customers needed. In 1993, she joined the USPSA Open Nationals as a B-Class shooter.
Despite several penalties for not following the course description, she says she had fun.
A year later, she bagged the Top Lady trophy at the Florida Invitational Pistol Tournament (FIPT) and today, she is “just about a half-inch away” from being classified as a Master Class shooter.
Then Stroud joined the Bianchi Cup for the second time and took third place in the Ladies division.
When Stroud talks about shooting, her voice backfires with excitement. She says her dedication paid off.
Her consistent shooting performance has attracted several sponsors, including Vihta Vuori, STI, Rndolph Engineering, which manufacturers shooting glasses; and “mom and dad,” her biggest fans and sponsors.
Stroud’s insatiable appetite to learn and her exemplary ways of dealing with her customers formed part of the basis for her acceptance into the APG in April 1992.
The quality of her work, of course, was the main reason. Each pistol produced by Kim Stroud evinces a gunsmith’s artistry. Her custom pistols are functional, yet they show no exaggerated design.
“We try our absolute best to make the appearance of the gun as exceptional as its ability,” Stroud says in a quiet voice. “The finished product reflects your craftsmanship. You have to take pride in what you do.”
Kim Stroud’s refined taste shows even in a firearm equipped with the latest technological gizmos. She builds guns that look extraordinary but not bizarre.
Stroud’s broad list of customers – doctors, lawyers, rock stars, among others – doesn’t purvey a concrete clue about her reputation.
Several years ago, however, she was commissioned to build a custom Para rdnance pistol that was presented to the President of Austria. Now that’s what even the most deft of hands in the gunsmithing profession would call prestige.
Usually, two simple but very significant words – reliability and accuracy – sum up the leitmotiv of praises heaped on Stroud by her satisfied customers.
This Bianchi Cup gun explains why.
We asked Stroud to build a working gun. When you look closely at the pictures of this gun, you will notice scratches, smudges and even powder residue. That’s because we specifically asked for the type of gun that shooters use in competition.
In fact, Stroud went to battle with this gun at the Sportsman’s Team Challenge, in which her team won the Ladies division; and the Bianchi Cup, where she placed third overall in her category.
Stroud created this centerfold gem using a single-stack frame and slide from Caspian Arms of Hardwick, Vermont. While other shooting events offer a plethora of advantages for shooters with high-capacity guns, single-stack pistols are preferred by top shooters at the Bianchi Cup, where courses of fire require only six rounds. More ammo in the magazine increases the risk of receiving penalties for firing extra rounds.
The Caspian frame’s slim grip makes it easier to control during recoil, but Stroud further improved the grip surface with her hand-checkering, creating 20-lines-per-inch of diamonds on the gun’s front strap.
Trigger poundage ticks the 2-something level, but the actual felt trigger pull for this centerfold gun is around 1 ½ pounds. The trigger action, compared to standard 1911 pistols, allows the shooter to “swing” his finger instead of letting it “slide.” This is because of Gun Craft’s proprietary pivoting trigger system.
The increased mechanical leverage provided by this trigger system lightens the felt poundage without the need for super-thin hammer hooks. The separate, lightweight, one-piece bow has an oversize pad and was fitted for the exact length of travel and minimum take-up.
With the pivoting trigger system, the gunsmith can produce a super-light trigger pull without worrying about hammer follow, which, for the benefit of gun owners without sufficient technical knowledge, simply means that there’s no possibility for this gun to accidentally go into full-auto mode.
Stroud expounds on the virtue of having a smooth trigger job set to the shooter’s preference. “I don’t like a super-light trigger pull,” she says. “For me, around 2 pounds is preferable so I don’t have to worry about an accidental discharge.”
From what looked like an ordinary pistol, Stroud gave the Caspian gun a sweeping transformation by topping it with a Bushnell HoloSight and a Gilmore shroud, a vital accessory for Bianchi competitors who prefer propping their pistol against the barricade in the Barricade Event.
The shroud completely encases the frontal area of the slide. The “wings” on both sides of the shroud allow the shooter to press the gun against the barricade, steadying each shot for pinpoint accuracy.
This gun also features the HoloSight’s “Tombstone” reticle pattern. It was designed for Bushnell by Bruce Piatt, who won the Bianchi Cup using the same reticle. The electronic sight uses holographic technology. The shooter simply looks through the heads-up display window to see a bright red image of a reticle pattern projected onto the target plane.
The “Tombstone” reticle, which retails for around $79.00, comes with an outline of a tombstone-shaped target as a sighting system. Three dots are positioned in a horizontal line in the center.
At 25 yards, the reticle’s tombstone pattern fits perfectly on the outer edges of the tombstone-shaped brown paper target. The middle dot is used when aiming at stationary targets, much like an ordinary red-dot scope. The right and left dots are used to estimate leads when shooting moving targets at the Bianchi Cup’s nerve-wracking Mover stage.
Stroud says guns for Bianchi competition require utmost accuracy. “The important thing,” she says, “is to have reliable sights, a smooth trigger job and outstanding barrel fit.”
Our featured gunsmith certainly knows what she’s talking about. Having shot it in practice and at the Bianchi Cup, she proudly claims that this gun, when fed with light .38-Super loads, holds consistent shot groups of 0.75 of an inch at 50 yards.
She achieved that amazing accuracy using the new Sierra 125-grain bullets, VihtaVuori powder, Winchester brass and Federal primers.
Stroud built a gun that’s heavier than pistols used in steel shooting tournaments because the extra weight is necessary at the Bianchi Cup.
There are four events in Bianchi tournaments; Mover, Plates, Practical and Barricade. Except for the Plates event, where a lighter gun is advantageous for faster target-to-target swing, all the other events would require a heavier and more stable gun.
“But you have to find a happy medium,” Stroud explains. “You don’t want something that’s too heavy or too light because you’re not allowed to change guns at the Bianchi Cup.”
Asked if she’s not intimidated when her works are compared to her male counterparts, Stroud’s reply exudes the confidence of a maestro: She says her colleagues look up to her with respect because of the quality of her work and her ethics towards her customers. Impressive guns are based on those standards, not gender, she declares.
Stroud welcomes the idea of having more women joining her profession. It might be an impossible task for others but, waxing a little bit philosophical, she says women should think of the case of the bumblebee.
“Based on its weight, its wingspan, its energy capacity, and its strength, according to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee is incapable of flying,” she explains. “But you see, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, and so it flies anyhow.” That’s Stroud’s favorite way of thinking about the problems facing anyone who goes off into the impossible.
Men who’ve doubted a woman’s ability to succeed in the macho world of shooting and gunsmithing should look at Kim Stroud, a woman who likes to face spectacular challenges.
“Until you try, you will never know that you can always do more – much more – than you think you can. Never say you can’t. Just do it.”
Just like the bumblebee.
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)