Kimber Rifles – A Lightweight Hunting Rifle Showdown
Lightweight rifles are nothing new, especially to Kimber America, but the new Mountain Ascent rifle has been turning some heads. Let’s take a peek at how a brand new Mountain Ascent stacks up against a modified 84M Montana to see which one of these Kimber Rifles takes the cake in the quest for fewest ounces possible.
My brother first got his Kimber 84M Montana a few years ago, and for the price, it was pretty hard to beat when you took into account how lightweight the rifle was from the factory. A bare-bones 84M chambered in .308 Winchester is listed on Kimber America’s website at approximately 5 pounds 2 ounces. Over the last few years, a fair amount of customization was completed to his rifle, shedding unwanted ounces in the never ending quest to whittle away any stray gram that a mountain hunter can while not sacrificing performance.
When a friend of mine luckily stumbled upon a Mountain Ascent rifle from Kimber (also chambered in .308W), I wanted to see how the modified 84M Montana stacked up to see which of these Kimber rifles was in better shape. With the comparison being as apples-to-apples as I thought it could get, I was eager to break these featherweights down to their individual components and get an accurate comparison between the two. Kimber publishes the weight of the Mountain Ascent at 4 pounds 13 ounces.
Aside from the Sitka Gear Optifade Open Country camo-clad stock, the first thing you will notice on the Mountain Ascent rifle is that the folks building these Kimber rifles decided to begin with a highly machined bolt assembly. The bolt body features wide helical flutes along the surface, complimenting the skeletonized and hollowed out bolt handle. Kimber even went through the trouble of machining three cuts into the Mauser style extractor bar. Without looking at the rest of the rifle, its apparent that putting the regular 84M Montana on a diet was the name of the game here.
The 84M Montana bolt also shed some weight through both straight flutes on the bolt body and also a replacement bolt handle made from titanium. The bolt handle appears to be a factory unit, but is much lighter in comparison. You can see from the photos below that the 84M Montana rifle has been well-loved and likely spends more days in the field than most hunters. It was difficult to find someone that was willing to perform bolt fluting on a bolt for a CRF (controlled round feed) action, but Clifford Hugg of Soldotna, Alaska got it done and, I feel, did a beautiful job. I believe the bolt handle was sourced from an online auction site that had a small run of the titanium bolt handles produced for Kimber rifles. I’m sure some googling could turn up more options for this part of the lightweight build.
When comparing the two bolt assemblies in the hand, I wasn’t going to be surprised if the Mountain Ascent unit was lighter as it appeared to have less material on both the bolt body but I was fairly sure that the skeletonized bolt handle would weigh less than its beefier titanium cousin. Let’s let the scale decide.
Between the bolts from these Kimber rifles, I wasn’t shocked to see the Mountain Ascent bolt a bit trimmer than the custom 84M Montana bolt. That solves that. Now it was time to really tear these down and get into the nitty gritty of it all. Both models wear a very lightweight Kevlar/Carbon Fiber stock with a one inch Pachmayr Decelerator pad. I wasn’t sure if Kimber took the liberty to re-engineer an aspect of the Mountain Ascent stock to be more lightweight, but in all external appearances, the stocks from these Kimber rifles are carbon-copies of each other.
The weight comparison between the stocks was interesting to me. I did put a Duracoat paint job on the 84M Montana stock, but it appears that the hydro-transfer product that they use to make the finish mirror the Sitka Optifade pattern actually increased the weight of the stock. I’m sure Sitka Gear and Kimber had collaborated to have this film on the exterior of their flagship featherweight rifle, but it almost doesn’t make sense. In the world of lightweight rifles, it appears that a sub five-pound gun is difficult to achieve from the factory without a $3,000 price tag and in this game, its not counting ounces, its counting GRAMS. Why add almost an ounce of weight to your rifle for aesthetic purposes when you’ve already achieved an extremely attractive rifle by means of the extra machine work that went into other aspects of the firearm? Anyways, let’s get back to the weights.
Both the action screws and the magazine box/spring/follower were identical in weight on both rifles…no surprise there.
The custom 84M Montana rifle came with a steel trigger-guard, which was sent off to have an aluminum clone put in its place. When I pulled the trigger guard out of the Mountain Ascent stock, it was apparent that the factory trigger guard from that rifle was also aluminum. Since the external dimensions appeared to be identical, I expected the same to be reflected in the weight, but this wasn’t the case.
It didn’t take me long to find the difference and the extra weight savings on the Mountain Ascent piece. I would assume these start from an aluminum casting and incorporating this design for weight savings was an elegant move from Kimber rifles to easily remove material from the trigger guard component without adding any appreciable cost to the manufacturing process.
What we are left with is basically just a barreled action. This is where the comparison of these Kimber rifles takes a bit of a turn away from a true comparison, and the photos show why. The 84M Montana traveled to Colorado where Kevin Weaver cut the barrel down and made cuts in the action for additional weight savings. The Mountain Ascent barreled action features a fluted barrel but also has a slightly longer barrel with a muzzle brake.
With the custom 84M Montana being nearly 1.5 ounces lighter, I would bet the barrel length, along with the weight of the muzzle brake, to be the lion share of this difference. I measured both barrels using a rod placed inside of the bore on a closed bolt, measuring to the crown. The custom 84M Montana measured 20 1/4″, shaving 1 3/4″ off of the length that Kimber shipped it with. The Mountain Ascent barrel measured 23 1/2″. This includes the brake with an overall length of 2″ to the end of the brake body. Some might balk at cutting down the barrel to nearly 20″, but I’m guessing that just over 1.5″ of barrel length wouldn’t make a significant difference in performance that one would worry about. I only had these rifles in my possession for a short time and was unable to get range time with a chronograph to do some speed comparison, but I’m betting it wouldn’t be much.
So what were the totals for each one of these lightweight Kimber rifles? After weighing the individual components and seeing both rifles winning in different categories, I knew the weight was going to be close…
The custom rifle takes it! Granted the fit and finish of the Mountain Ascent is top notch and the appeal of the rifle will speak to more people than this one of a kind custom lightweight 84M Montana, but the numbers don’t lie…the custom rifle is lighter.
Now let’s talk money for a second since buying lightweight Kimber rifles means you’re likely going to be spending more than a run of the mill Ruger, Savage, etc. The original purchase price of the 84M Montana was right at $1,000. Price of the action cuts, barrel chop and recrown, bolt fluting, titanium bolt handle, and aluminum trigger guard came to roughly $450 for a total cost of $1450. Kimber prices their Mountain Ascent rifle at $2,040 MSRP while this particular Mountain Ascent was picked up for $1,800. What does this mean? I guess it means that it might be possible to out-edge the weight of a Mountain Ascent while leaving $350 in your pocket. That said, you will have to go through the trouble of sourcing these individual modifications and if you were pressed for time or didn’t want to go through the trouble, $350 isn’t that much money when you’re talking custom lightweight mountain rifles. Also, you’ll have to decide if the gorgeous fluting of the lightweight Kimber rifles from the factory outweighs the true custom touches you could add to your own rifle. That’s a tough call.
The Mountain Ascent rifle was a bit heftier than the published weight, coming in (on my scale) at 4 pounds 15 ounces, while the customized 84M Montana taking the Mountain Ascent published weight at around 4 pounds 13 ounces.
If I were to build my dream mountain rifle from Kimber America, the only thing that I would do differently after getting my hands on the Mountain Ascent (other than wanting it in a left-handed action!), would be to lose both the opti-fade pattern and the muzzle brake. Granted I didn’t shoot the rifle with the brake, but I don’t think it would be such a heinous recoiling rifle to warrant the extra weight. When you aren’t chasing pounds, you’re chasing ounces and when you aren’t chasing ounces, you’re chasing grams. Both of these rifles have undergone some serious trimming and barring me finding one for a southpaw, I guess I’ll just have to dream of one for myself….for now.