The ATRS Modern Hunter: Made in Canada & As Good As That Sounds

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Rick at Alberta Tactical Rifle Services was kind enough to send one of his Modern Hunters over, the idea was I’d bring it on a Mountain Goat hunt I was guiding and get some pictures of the rifle with game beyond the basic. Sadly that wasn’t possible as the client fell very ill and had to be helicoptered out, rather nixing plans to use the rifle on mountain game, this didn’t however detract from my experience with the rifle. I’m a hunting nut, and of course a firearms nut, I dabble in everything from rare antiques and double rifles to, well, modern rifles. Somewhere in the history of sporting arms it very suddenly became distasteful to embrace improvements, I feel this had more to do with legislation and societal pressures creeping into our sport than actually arriving at any sort of a technology plateau. Turn of the century, and on for fifty years through WWI and WWII era and a bit more, there was no distinction made between a sporting rifle and a cutting edge military arm; all that mattered was function and quality. One must remember the great white hunters of Africa and India, such as Bell and Corbett went afield with what were the contemporary equivalents of today’s AR-10/15s… actually no… their Mauser based firearms were more advanced at the time than the sixty year old AR family is today. Westley Richards, Holland & Holland, Rigby and the other greats all tailored the most advanced military designs of the time to the sportsman’s purposes. I owned until recently a semi-auto C96 “Broomhandle” dating from 1896, an extremely advanced arm for the time naturally, as wild as a caseless ammunition HK… and they were marketed and customized by Westley Richards and others for well heeled gentlemen, including Winston Churchill who used his in Africa.

So when did we suddenly eschew military designs, even if they had merits, in favour of “classic choices”? I figure in the 60s and 70s when the ARs were becoming mainstream and commonly recognized arms of political aggression. The counter culture movement and villainization of the black rifle occurred through the Vietnam War and the civil protests, with these viewpoints trickling into even the most stalwart of the old school; plaid-clad hunters. Suddenly, showing up for a hunt with an AR-10 became inconceivable, branding its owner as a Rambo wannabe, or a range warrior out of place in the field. This is of course, absurd. There are a host of reasons why modern rifles make fantastic field guns, and the criticisms and prejudice look even more ridiculous beside a Browning BAR, Benelli, Remington, or any other hunting autoloader- even a semi-auto goose gun. A semi-auto dressed in wood is somehow more acceptable than the more functional synthetic, again ridiculously. For some time we seem to have lost the rational sense that a gun is a gun, and how it is dressed means little in the field, and in fact modern designs offer many merits in accessory availability, magazines, trigger groups, you name it. No more looking for a single set of bases for your sporting rifle when anything picatinny will work, offering thousands of different mounts and configurations.

Modularity, and being able to alter your rifle to the task are huge components of the modern design. Everything from grips, to hand guards, to optics and sights, to the entire barrel is easily and rapidly interchangeable on a modern rifle. Accuracy and reliability are generally exceptional, as the most modern techniques, concepts, and designs determined through decades of evolution are employed in manufacture. Now how about the clincher, when even my beloved Model 70 is made in Portugal, the Modern Hunter I’m dancing around in this introduction is made here. By Canadians, for Canadians, in the face of ever tightening restrictions. The ATRS Modern Hunter is the flag in the ground at the foot of our firearms hill- for the politicians to take our Winchesters they first have to attack the Modern Hunter, a point I’ve borrowed from a fellow named Clark. We all owe Rick and the ATRS crew a debt for manning that position, Rick didn’t need to build this rifle, he has a strong business based on bolt action long range precision rifles. As a smart business man he took a gamble, a gamble on future regulations and I know without asking him he also did it for the firearms community on principle. He, as the rest of us, was aware the regulations in place are absurd, unfair, and aren’t saving anyone or anything, unfairly keeping the Canadian firearms and hunting community in the past.

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Well, Rick made a statement through his company’s machining and technical expertise, and I can tell you it is a hell of a statement. This won’t be a technical review of the Modern Hunter, those already exist, and well done to boot (¬†http://calibremag.ca/home/2014/11/atrs-modern-hunter-non-restricted-black-rifle-goodness/ ). Instead I’ll lean on what I do and my understanding of firearms; hunting and field use. I’m an outfitter and guide on the North Coast of British Columbia, with a business based on coastal Grizzly Bear and Mountain Goat hunting. For this purpose I ordered a Ruger Gunsite Scout as a weatherproof knockabout rifle with a detachable magazine. The detachable magazine is an important tool for me, and the lack thereof my main misgiving with my “conventional” choices of double rifles and custom bolt actions. Reason being, as per our regulations in BC a magazine may not be loaded inside a firearm in any means of motorized conveyance, for me that is a light jet boat on the coastal rivers. Very frustrating when scouting for instance and hitting numerous sites a day, unloading a conventional bolt action and reloading every time you go in and out of the boat sand bar to sand bar. You may do better than I but I fumble and drop many a cartridge in the sand or river. A detachable box magazine clicking into place soon as you stand on the sand is a small pleasure I’m becoming extremely fond of.

Now it occurred to me, the ATRS Modern Hunter shared an awful lot with the little Ruger Scout. Both are available in .308, both are weatherproof, both use box magazines, however one shrinks to a smaller size than even my 16″ Ruger with the stock collapsed, for the penalty of a couple extra pounds of weight. As much as I appreciate the three position wing safety of my Rugers, Kimbers, and Winchesters there is no substitute for the modern, thumb activated switch / selector above the grip. It is as intuitive as a safety / selector gets, and there’s a reason essentially every modern design has used the design and placement. Now combine the aforementioned modularity of modern rifles… don’t like the grip shape? Change it. Want iron sights? Put them on the rail in 30 seconds. Need magazines? Shop a half dozen manufacturers. No matter what your heart believes about walnut and checkering, these are superb packages for field use… work guns, and as accurate as an off the shelf bolt action now thanks to ATRS and their Modern Hunter. Before the hunt I hit the range to sight in the package ATRS had sent, the rifle had a boresighted Nightforce on top. I was cautioned to only use match, FMJ, or robust polymer tipped ammunition and I halfway heeded the advice.

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The only ammunition available locally was Winchester Deer Season XP 150 grain, a large tipped fairly new round at least to me, and Power Max bonded 150gr hollow points, a fairly open / large hollow point. I fired sixty rounds total, all flawless in function, and startlingly accurate, and to my surprise the tips and hollow points fed to the chamber with extremely little deformation (I play with a lot of match M14s and Garands that chew such bullets). The picture of the two rounds on their boxes is of rounds cycled through the action aggressively to determine how much damage they receive- nearly none. I fired off the hard case with the butt unsupported, and rather hastily as I was sighting in the rifle right before jumping on the Beaver floatplane for the lift to our alpine lakes. Still I managed 1″ 3 shot groups at 100 with little trouble and a warm barrel, the rifle liking the Power Max 150 grain best. On bags, and with a cool barrel and more time, I would expect the rifle to half that for 3 shot groups- this is the most accurate semi-auto I’ve ever fired, hands down. Nothing else has even been close. Being direct impingement, there are little to no gas system vibrations affecting the barrel. Some call direct impingement old school and dirty; I have to vehemently disagree. For accuracy, it is still be best system devised, the light tube transferring the bare minimum vibrations to the barrel, and the fully free floated barrel inside the encompassing handguards the system is typically mated with further ensures the barrel is left to do its work without outside interference. Compare that to the torquing, levering slam of a piston system and it is easy to see, at least in my eyes, why this is the most accurate semi I’ve had the pleasure of operating.

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So, you have an agglomeration of superior ergonomics, modularity, and quality all made right here in Canada, and Non-Restricted. This is as real a hunting rifle as any Remington or Winchester, and it is as accurate to boot. And it stands as the very important sentry at the front line of our concern for the future of firearms here in Canada. It’s not if I’ll buy one from Rick, but when, and I suspect that should be fairly soon. Features and controls I should quickly run over, I haven’t gone in to depth as the other reviews have, and well everything is perfect. There is a left side, non-reciprocating charging handle that folds away, it will accept a gazillion AR system hand guards and rails, grips, stocks. It’s a rather simple affair to customize yours and be sure no other is like it. Ambi bolt release, with a button either side, conventional AR type selector perfectly placed, AR style mag release again perfectly placed. The receiver mating system ATRS devised, of a simple cross pin and a longitudinal centering pin at the rear of the receiver is ingenious. No slop, and recoil actual tightens the receiver mating as it pushes back on the tight fitting longitudinal pin. ATRS is offering carbon wrapped barrels to keep weight down, and while this model didn’t feature it, weight was perfectly in keeping with standard hunting rifles. No… I did not have my scale in the field, but again the other reviews will have this covered. In my safe’s future is a pencil or carbon barrel Modern Hunter I suspect, and I would urge you to put one in yours. They are available in the majority of the .308 case family, tailor it to your purposes from gophers to Moose. It’s an excellent rifle well worth its price of approximately $3,500 and up depending on options, and being modular and modern you can always outfit your base model with standard off the shelf accessories for a long term evolution plan.

Would I recommend this to a friend? A resounding yes.