Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Kimber Mountain Ascent, The Lightest Production Rifle

I’ll be honest, it’s pretty rare for a new hunting rifle offering to raise my pulse ever so slightly these days. In fact it seems as if we’re losing some of the gems to blandly featured, mass production optimized, ever more budget driven hunting rifles. RIP Ruger RSM, but I digress. It seems as if everything has been done, originality in guns and gun designs waning, and then something like Kimber’s Mountain Ascent is thrust upon the scene. Eschewing the norms in nearly every way from features to appearance, the 4lb 15oz. (in .308 trim) Mountain Ascent is a fairly radical departure from the mind numbing lack of imagination one can find on nearly any gun shop’s rack. Before this the last thing that started the tingle for me was a combination of stainless steel and walnut Ruger offered, which while I’m a staunch fan of Ruger’s classy offerings, it is ignificantly lower in originality and performance offered than this new Kimber.

Where this rather edgy styled Kimber makes its name isn’t in its wild looks, but rather its weight; 4lbs 15oz. It’s not going to win on price point, nor even styling and beauty although the machining is wonderful for a factory offering, but on the solid basis of being the lightest production rifle currently offered. I covet my standing within my circle as a mule, and have hauled a 9 1/2lb rifle to places and altitudes wholly unsuited to it, namely to just under or over 10,000′. All the while I claimed it was a piece of cake. Here now, without having to keep up appearances among associates, I will admit you feel every ounce in the mountains terribly. Even my spork is titanium. The critical importance of weight reduction has been etched into me on climbs, one to just shy of 20,000 feet in the Andes, along with very modest experience in technical climbs abroad and too much simpler trekking abroad and at home.

I work in aviation, and good working aircraft reduce every ounce possible, even on what sometimes appear the most curious of components, such as screws being made of titanium and costing $60 or more a piece. Surely the aircraft could handle the extra pound for steel screws in that particular area, reducing cost and hardly affecting performance; breakfast weighs more! But that’s not the point, the point is to squeeze the maximum in performance possible from a particular machine’s available power, stress it that little bit less, and ultimately build a better tool for the job. This is what Kimber has done, just our powerplant isn’t a Lycoming, Allison, or Turbomeca but our meagre human bodies. That pound saved means so much more to us than any helicopter, for we are, in the animal kingdom, among the weakest of the weak. We are also some of the only animals who need to haul gear and implements to not only hunt successfully but to survive the hunt period. To what I would like to consider my more informed as of late thinking, light gear means everything, if the quality can be preserved; Kimber did it. If I can get to the game with less exertion, I’ll both shoot better, and enjoy the experience more, no matter how good of shape I think I’m in.

The little Kimber 84M was introduced to me by a Professional Hunter’s recommendation deep in Zimbabwe, his opinion held enough weight for me I immediately went home and purchased an 84M Stainless Classic .308, a walnut stocked stainless beauty pictured below. It was ridiculously light, in fact I could scarcely imagine a lighter rifle having lugged my 9 1/2lb .375 H&H hundreds of kilometres on foot cumulatively, and it shot very well despite the odd reports to the contrary I read on the internet forums. While lovely, it was however in the end rather vanilla- just another pretty face in my cabinet, and not strong enough in any specification to permanently win a slot in my surprisingly small battery. I did regret that sale, but that’s not the first time I’ve regretted a sale and got over it. My time with that Kimber was however a lovely introduction to one of the physically smallest actions I’ve enjoyed using, certainly among those with controlled round feed. The little 84M was so trim and slim it almost didn’t seem as if it would be strong enough for real cartridges, but it certainly is. Performance was also superb for a hunting rifle, grouping in the standard MOA / 1″ bracket so many demand today.

A couple years passed, and the Mountain Ascent came to my attention. I was initially blasé about the hoopla, still not having the great appreciation I now have for light rifles hammered in, until I hunted Hawaii this past March. Climbing to the neighbourhood of 10,000′ on Mauna Kea chasing Sheep, my beloved .375 on my shoulder, I immediately resolved to seek out a rifle a third lighter. I ended up finding one half the weight in the Mountain Ascent. The chambering, .308, while admittedly vanilla was an easy choice for me due to the plethora of components I have for it and its proven well rounded performance. It also was the lightest of the Mountain Ascent models offered, in addition to .308 it is offered in .270 Win, .280 AI, and .30-06 in the 84L (long action) rendition which tips the scales a bit heavier. Weight was everything in this purchase, or rather a lack of it. The others weren’t even considered as I’ve yet to meet an animal a .270, .280, or .30-06 will kill a .308 won’t, and the extra ounces were more than unwelcome. A friend pointed me to a good Alberta shop with stock who had a .308 in my hands in three days, $2,300 including taxes and delivery. Pretty cheap if you consider the cost of having a rifle built for you to the same specs, let alone stainless and controlled round feed.

Opening the box, I was immediately impressed by the fact they included Talley aluminum rings, and a pair of socks. Yes, you get a pair of those nice $30 hiking socks, branded Kimber, with your Mountain Ascent at present. I’ll take a rosy angle on it and assume it means they know these rifles are hitting the hills on foot, in reality they’re just nice schwag. I weighed it, and it came in at 4lbs 15oz including the muzzle brake. I’ve read 4lbs 13oz quite a bit and assume this is taken without the muzzle brake, a thread protector and tool for removing the brake are included with the rifle so it is your option. Going in rather anti-brake, this brake I ended up having to shoot as I forgot both the thread protector and tool at home when I hauled this rifle to our range, and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. It is quite a quiet brake, I presume due to it’s extremely small size, and the holes in the brake have bevel cuts on the forward edge, seemingly directing gas slightly more forward for a brake than usual. So it’s likely not the most effective brake either, but the rifle is a pussy cat and entirely mild recoil wise at least to a fellow accustomed to .375s for everything. I’ll have to try it without the brake as well.

I almost held off on writing this article, as we are getting to the shooting part, a part I didn’t feel yet prepared for as I’ve only shot this rifle on steel at 100 yards for one magazine to sight in, then straight to 500 yards. It was 500 day on our private range and that’s all we set up for, with steel in dimensions of 12″ circle, and 6″x12″ rectangles. I mounted a 3-9x40X Leupold Mark AR with turrets, yes not the lightest scope but this rifle still comes in under 6lbs with this scope. Heck that’s still lighter than almost all “Featherweight” and “Lightweight” models by good measure, before they even have their scopes and mounts on. We walked in the first couple rounds and quickly started smacking steel, to the point hits were easy on the 2.2MOA 12″ circle even with a rapidly warming barrel, and the 6″x12″ standing steel was easily knocked over. Quite frankly it was a boring outing with the Mountain Ascent as it proved just as accurate as any hunting rifle I own, and we switched quickly to our iron sighted M1 Garand and M14 to have a more challenging evening at 500 on the steel. Plans were to do formal grouping at 100, but I can already tell it will also be a boring outing merely to satisfy those who assume Kimbers can’t shoot. I’ll still do it, just not rushed to, and my results will doubtless be the same as Boddington’s with the rifle, 1″ or standard if you will for rifles today. This sort of accuracy from a rifle under 5lbs does indeed start to raise eyebrows however.

All in all, I am highly impressed with the Mountain Ascent, a rifle I want to call “The little Kimber” but I can’t. It’s a full size, controlled round feed .308 with a 22″ barrel, it just happens to be as light as a pellet gun. Every friend I’ve tossed it to has exclaimed shock at the weight, you get that feeling when your body anticipates something heavier, and when you pick it up and it weighs nothing and almost jumps up in your hands. I’ve even come to like the stock finish, aptly called “Optifade” by the manufacturer. It is a rubbery textured coating made by the folks who make Gore-Tex in a pattern I’ve seen endearingly referred to as “Yeti puke”, a colour and pattern I initially wasn’t sure about. I came to realise Yeti puke would be hard to spot in the mountains, and like the rest of this rifle right down to its weight, it’s all about function. My only teething moment with this rifle was upon my first handling, being new to spiral fluted bolts. The initial working of the bolt, while low on effort required, gave you a jitter in the feel in that you could feel the spiral flutes passing the bearing surfaces. I wasn’t used to those bumps, but after that first range trip I realised I had forgotten about them, and didn’t even remember the feeling even on fast bolt work. Just something new to get used to. So, what we have is an absolutely all weather, ultralight rifle with no drawbacks to my mind compared to a traditional 6 1/2lb before scope “lightweight”, I’m officially converted on light mountain rifles. Thanks Kimber, too neat.