January 22, 2021
By Steve Gash
Specialty firearms vary in size and shape, depending on their intended uses. Chassis rifles, short-barreled ARs, classic sporters, they're all available. Seldom is one specialized version designed for one purpose also suitable for many others. A “one size fits all” approach is far from ideal.
Those hardy souls who trudge over high mountains and rough country for hours searching for a 40-inch ram or a 360-inch bull elk may carry their iron for many miles and shoot it only once or twice when the opportunity finally presents itself. The rifle must be absolutely reliable, chambered for an accurate and powerful cartridge, and lightweight—the lighter, the better.
Enter Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle, a highly specialized gun made especially for this select group of hunters. It fits all of the aforementioned criteria to a “T.”
The Mountain Ascent is available chambered for 10 popular cartridges that are suitable for a wide variety of game. The 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington, and .308 Winchester rifles have 22-inch barrels. The .270 Winchester, .270 WSM, .280 Ackley Improved, .30-06, and .300 WSM Mountain Ascents have 24-inch barrels. The 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum rifles have 26-inch barrels. The rifle's technical specs and camo-finished synthetic stock looked intriguing, and I succumbed to temptation and ordered one chambered for 6.5 Creedmoor.
The Mountain Ascent's main attributes are ultra-lightweight and superb accuracy. Kimber actions are designed and manufactured to the smallest possible dimensions around each cartridge, so there's “no more rifle than necessary.” For example, my Mountain Ascent's bolt weighs 8.4 ounces, whereas the bolt from a Ruger Hawkeye in 6.5 Creedmoor weighs 13.6 ounces.
Right out of the box, the rifle tipped my scales at 5 pounds, 2 ounces. I used a set of Tally lightweight aluminum mounts, and they weigh 2.08 ounces. In keeping with the “light is might” theme, I studied the specifications of many scope brands and models and selected a Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9X 40mm. It weighs 12.2 ounces. With the scope and mounts installed, the Mountain Ascent weighs 6 pounds, 0.28 ounces.
That was the bread and butter. Now here comes the meat and potatoes. The Mountain Ascent is crafted of stainless steel with a strong but lightweight reinforced carbon-fiber stock.
The stock is finished in a dynamite camo pattern called Gore Optifade Open Country with a soft touch treatment. And in the hands, the stock's texture does feel slightly “soft,” but still solid, so it's easy to get a good grip on the rifle for steady shooting. Sling-swivel studs are provided fore and aft, and the butt has a 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad that makes the length of pull 13.75 inches. The stock comb is nice and straight, with only about 0.5 inch of drop at the heel and a bit less at the comb, so it's perfect for good cheek positioning with the scope.
The barreled action mates to the stock with solid pillar bedding. The blind magazine holds three or four cartridges, depending on the chambering. There is no floorplate or open sights, which saves another few ounces.
The metalwork on the Mountain Ascent is unique and dazzling. Everywhere you look, there are cuts, flutes, and hollowed-out parts. Every place a gram or two of weight could be shaved off, it was—all without sacrificing strength or performance in any way.
The stainless steel is finished with a lustrous polish that looks great but isn't game-spooking shiny. The barrel has three, eight-inch flutes that start three inches from the front receiver ring. The muzzle mikes 0.562 inch, and it is threaded. My 6.5 Creedmoor rifle's barrel has a 1:8 twist, and it came with a thread-protective cap.
The trigger is adjustable from 3.5 to 4 pounds, but my rifle's pull measured 3 pounds, 0.4 ounce according to my Wheeler Engineering digital gauge. It was crisp as can be, with absolutely no take-up, so I left it as is.
The Mountain Ascent is made on Kimber's Model 84M action, and the two-lug bolt features a three-position Model 70-style safety. That means the chamber can be unloaded with the safety engaged. A robust Mauser-type claw extractor pulls a case toward the rear until it hits a blade ejector at the left rear of the action. This feature is handy for handloaders because fired cases can be conveniently plucked off the extractor before they hit the ejector. But be aware that the operator's manual states that the use of reloaded, handloaded, or remanufactured ammunition voids all warranties.
Kimber rifles have a “sub-MOA accuracy standard” for three-shot groups of 0.99 inch or less at 100 yards when fired by a highly skilled and qualified shooter using factory ammunition. In addition, taped inside the top of my Mountain Ascent's box was a target with a three-shot group signed and dated “5-1-2020” that measures 0.59 inch. It was fired with Hornady 120-grain ELD Match ammunition. I figured I had my work cut out for me in trying to match that group. I had many 6.5 Creedmoor factory loads on hand, so I gathered 'em up and headed for the range. I soon learned several important lessons.
While waiting for the rifle to arrive, I had read all I could find about this model on the internet. A recurrent comment from users was that the first three shots usually were really close together, but that the skinny barrel heated up really fast, and subsequent shots opened the groups considerably.
I tried a few five-shot groups just to see for myself. Guess what? That pencil-thin barrel got really hot really fast! And sure enough, shot No. 4 (usually) and shot No. 5 (always) landed some distance away from the first three. So my standard protocol of three, five-shot groups quickly went to three, three-shot groups from a cool barrel.
I shot from a solid rest out of an insulated building that has an air conditioner fortuitously placed between two shelves on the back wall. For each load, from a clean barrel, I fired one “fouling” shot into the berm, then shot a three-shot group. Immediately after firing that group, I placed the rifle on the shelves with the barrel positioned in front of the air conditioner, which was set at maximum warp. I left it there for five to six minutes. While the slim barrel heated up fast, it cooled fast, too. It was back in front of the AC after the second and third groups. Then I cleaned the barrel and repeated the process with the next load. This process slowed things down quite a bit and extended the shooting over several days, but I was rewarded with the kind of accuracy Kimber describes in its literature.
When you think about it, this is completely in concert with the rifle's mission: carry it a lot, shoot it a little. Now for the shooting results.
In all, I fired 14 factory loads and seven handloads. The overall average of all loads was an astounding 0.81 inch. And it pains me to admit this, but as I've noted previously, factory loads are getting better and better, so these days it's really hard to beat them with handloads. In this case, factory loads edged handloads by a slim margin: 0.80 inch to 0.84 inch. Many times the three bullets literally went into the same hole. In fact, I think the few groups that were over an inch were just flukes, but I included them in the averages regardless. The design and accuracy capabilities of the 6.5 Creedmoor chamber and case design have been confirmed many times, so this was not really surprising.
Almost all of the factory loads were hunting ammo, and all shot very well. The Hornady 143-grain ELD-X, HSM Low Recoil 140-grain Tipped, and Berger 135-grain Classic Hunter loads were tops. One of the better match loads was Berger's 130-grain OTM. Note that the three Berger factory loads are put up in Lapua cases with Small Rifle primers, and all three shot very well.
Since literally hundreds of handloads for the 6.5 Creedmoor have been published, I veered off on a couple of tangents, one with Small Rifle primers, the other with VihtaVuori's High Energy N555 powder. It is designed especially for the 6.5 Creedmoor. All handloads were prepared in Lapua cases and ignited with Federal No. 205 Small Rifle primers, except for one using Hornady cases and Federal No. 210 Match primers. Loads with the new N555 powder and Small Rifle primers shot very well, but velocities were a tad lower than the factory loads. It is my understanding from VihtaVuori that loads with Small Rifle primers are not recommended for shooting at low temperatures.
Here's a tip for handloaders. Lapua cases not only have Small Rifle primer pockets, but also have small (0.059 inch) flash holes. A standard decapping pin will stick tight as a drum in these flash holes, so you'll need to request smaller pins from your die manufacturer.
The Kimber Mountain Ascent not only is a great shooter, but also is as light as a feather, and it looks great. It would be right at home on a climb to the top of a Colorado mountain in search of elk or on a long stalk across a Wyoming prairie after pronghorns. At an MSRP of $2,040, the rifle isn't cheap, but if the hunt of a lifetime is riding on its performance, it is inexpensive.
Mountain Ascent Specs
TYPE: Bolt-action repeater
CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor
MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 4 rounds
BARREL: 22 in.
OVERALL LENGTH: 41.25 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY: 5.13 lbs.
STOCK: Soft touch carbon fiber
LENGTH OF PULL: 13.75 in.
FINISH: Satin stainless barreled action, Gore Optifade Open Country camo stock
SIGHTS: None; receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts
TRIGGER: 3.003-lb. pull (as tested)
SAFETY: Three position
Kimber Mountain Ascent Accuracy & Velocity
Accuracy is the average of three, three-shot groups fired from a benchrest. Velocity is the average of nine rounds measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle. Range temperature was 74 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.