December 05, 2018
By David Faubion
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
After three days of rain, snow, and patchy visibility, the weather finally broke, revealing a panorama of jagged mountains powdered in fresh snow. Twin glaciers at the head of the basin fed a pristine blue stream that snaked through the valley, past the spot where three of us had endured five days of frigid camping. It wasn’t the weather we’d hoped for on our DIY backcountry hunt on the South Island of New Zealand, but that’s hunting.
Despite the conditions, we’d seen animals. My father, Bill, and I had spotted dozens of Himalayan tahr and a few chamois in the rugged terrain, while my nephew Chase had taken one of each. But dozens of hours of glassing had resulted in one brief glimpse of a mature bull tahr, his long mane flowing in the mountain breeze just long enough to whet our appetites. Now it was the final morning, and Chase and I were high on a ridge, staving off hypothermia while searching for a mature bull to use a rifle I’d lugged 9,000 miles through five airports and seven time zones.
About the time my fingers went numb, Chase called out from the far side of the ridge. I grabbed my Kimber Open Country 6.5 Creedmoor rifle and hustled to his location, hoping that this was the opportunity I’d traveled so far for.
Heavy on Performance
Choosing backcountry gear is as much gambling as meticulous planning. The goal is to bring the least amount of gear to ensure safety and success—and not an ounce more. The challenge is balancing the unknowns, such as weather, game density, terrain, and hunting pressure. I skimped on my clothing and camping gear for my adventure, thinking the weather would be better, but I didn’t chance it when it came to selecting the rifle. To collect a mature tahr, I had no idea how far I would have to sling a Nosler 129-grain AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) bullet.
According to my rangefinder, the answer was 420 yards, which was why I brought the Open Country chambered for 6.5 Creedmoor to New Zealand. The rifle is accurate, durable, and impervious to the elements—three qualities that make it a fine choice for tackling rough areas and connecting on long shots.
Kimber has earned a reputation for building the lightest standard-production hunting rifles. I love ultralight rifles as much as the next person; however, I don’t like shooting them. A 5-pound rifle is a joy to carry, but when it comes time to shoot, a little meat on a rifle’s bones adds much needed stability.
To learn more about the Open Country, I reached out to Winslow Potter, senior product manager for Kimber. Potter said the goal for the Open Country project was to build the ultimate hunting rifle for extended-distance shooting.
“The target audience for the Open Country was long-range hunters,” said Potter. “We wanted to build a ridiculously well-balanced rifle that was accurate and capable, but also one that could be carried without feeling like a 4x4 was strapped to your back. I believe it’s the biggest sleeper in our rifle line—well balanced, match-grade stainless barrel, extremely strong stock. Last year, we couldn’t keep up with demand. We could have produced three times as many rifles and sold each one.”
Potter attributes much of the demand to the 6.5 Creedmoor, a round that has grown in popularity over the past few years. A balanced and capable cartridge, however, demands a balanced and capable rifle—two areas where Kimber’s Open Country shines.
The first thing you notice about the Open Country is the size of its fluted, 416 stainless barrel. Its profile is heavy, measuring 0.86 inch at the muzzle’s thread protector, yet six deep flutes shave weight while maintaining stiffness and providing surface area for cooling. At 24 inches, the barrel is long enough to generate top velocity without creating an unwieldy package.
What about balance? With the small 84M action and carbon-fiber stock balancing the rear, the rifle possesses a weight-forward bias. Nothing obnoxious, just enough to hang on target with ease, especially when shooting from a solid rest.
Despite the heavy barrel, the Open Country is not a heavy rifle. At 6 pounds, 15 ounces, it strikes a great balance between mass and maneuverability. Toss on rings and a scope, such as Leupold’s VX-5HD 3-15X 44mm seen here, and the rifle weighs just shy of 8.5 pounds. That makes it light enough to pack up mountains yet steady enough to shoot across them.
Two versions of the Open Country exist. Initially, the rifle was launched with a Gore Optifade Open Country pattern wrap on the stock. That’s the model I used in New Zealand. But not everyone wants camo or will use this rifle for hunting, which explains the new Granite version. It was designed for shooters who seek more of a neutral-colored rifle. Regardless of the color scheme, both versions of the Open Country have a KimPro II gray finish on the barreled action and bottom metal, ensuring durability and minimizing maintenance. Both versions are also offered in .308 Winchester.
Like all Kimber bolt-action rifles, the Open Country’s features include an adjustable trigger, a three-position wing safety, and controlled-round feeding. I won’t get into the “push feed versus controlled feed” argument—and safety preferences vary—but Kimber’s adjustable trigger is the finest factory trigger that I’m aware of. Add the required pressure (in this case, 4 pounds, 4 ounces) and it goes off without any fuss. Cycling the rifle is simple and fast, thanks to the smooth action and the extended bolt knob. The four-round magazine capacity is ample for any hunting scenario I can imagine. Fortunately for me, when my time came in New Zealand, I needed only a single round.
I proned out on the snowy knob, rested the rifle atop my pack, and angled the barrel towards the broadside bull contrasted against the snowy slope. I watched him through the Leupold scope as he fed under a rock outcropping. He was majestic and beautiful, exactly what I’d traveled so far for.
First came the rangefinder: 420 yards. Next, I retrieved a Kestrel weather meter and my iPhone from my pocket. Once paired, they crunched the distance, atmospherics, and ballistics before spitting out a simple number representing my vertical come-up: 7.02 MOA. The wind was so slight and the ABLR bullet so slippery (.561 ballistic coefficient) that I held zero wind. After confirming Chase’s earplugs were in, I dialed the turret, carefully applied 4.25 pounds of pressure to the trigger, and collected my first big-game animal from the Southern Hemisphere.
The next morning, the helicopter arrived to transport us back to civilization. It was raining, and conditions were getting worse, so we quickly tossed our wet gear into the luggage bin. When I handed the Open Country to the pilot, I noticed the fresh dings on the barrel, the bruises on the stock, and the rusty screws holding the scope snug. Each was a testament to the harshness of the Southern Alps.
After a final sweep of camp, we arrived at the helicopter just as the pilot was stuffing the last item into the hold. It was the cape and skull of a beautiful bull tahr, which served as a furry memento of the magnificent mountains of New Zealand and as a tribute to the accuracy and durability of Kimber’s Open Country rifle.