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Honest Review: Rock River Arms Ascendant ATH AR-15



The AR-15 platform has not been traditionally regarded as a hunting rifle … but serious hunters should seriously take a look at the Rock River Arms Ascendant ATH.

The AR-15 may be “America’s Rifle,” but bolt-action rifles rule the day when it comes to harvesting game for the freezer. But what if you’re harvesting game for the good of the ecosystem? When it comes to invasive species, the name of the game is eradication. Right now, the chief offenders are wild boars–an incredibly destructive species. Feral swine can destroy entire crops practically overnight, and spread diseases to livestock and pets. Hogs can carry over 30 diseases and over 40 types of parasites, many of which can spread without direct contact. On top of that hogs are the perfect eating and breeding machine that multiply faster than most other large mammals. Population estimates at the time of this writing are 6 million plus, and that number is growing exponentially in a way that would make Malthus sob.

With this kind of threat you need all the fast-shooting, no-reloading firepower you can get. An old-school bolt-action will just not get the job done on a herd of scurrying, tough-skinned squealers. That’s where Rock River Arms enters the picture and transforms the modern sporting rifle into the ultimate ALL Terrain Hunter (ATH) rifle, a lightweight, upgraded rifle that offers you an out-of-the-box hunting package with all-premium parts–so you don’t have to worry about choosing, finding, buying, and installing the most important aftermarket stuff. Rock River Arms has matched the best components together and guarantees that each Ascendant ATH has sub-MOA accuracy around .75 of an inch at 100 yds. It’s available in three chamberings: .223 Wylde, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster.

The name of the game with the Ascendant ATH is accuracy. And the heart of the ATH has to be the barrel, a match-grade, cryogenically treated, 416R stainless-steel barrel. Under the handguard, the barrel has a heavy profile that narrows down to a medium profile past the mid-length gas block. Some people might be suspicious looking at pictures of the ATH, with the “silver” stainles- looking barrel against the rest of the black rifle. In reality Rock River Arms has bead blasted the barrel to cut glare so it should not be a problem. (Personally, I like the two-tone look.) Speaking of the fluted barrel, this serves two purposes beyond looking cool. The flute cuts make the barrel more rigid with less flex, while lowering the overall weight of the rifle. Trust me each saved ounce will feel like pounds if you have to carry it during a long hunt.

The ATH I tested for this review is chambered in .223 Wylde with a 1:8 twist rate. While the ATH can perfectly shoot the standard run of the mil 55-gr. .223/5.56 ammo, that might not be the best choice. It’s like driving a performance car; yes, it will run just fine on 87 but you really need to buy 93 to get the best results. For the Ascendant ATH, that means a medium-weight bullet in the 62-80 grain range. To make those groupings even smaller, make sure you use a match-loaded round manufactured specifically for performance.

A rifle can have the best barrel in the world, but if the the trigger sucks, your accuracy will too. Rock River continues the “who’s who” of premium components by utilizing the amazing TriggerTech Diamond single-stage cartridge trigger. It’s adjustable by the end user–simply use the rear takedown pin and open the upper. Looking down into the lower receiver, you see the trigger weight adjustment that is clearly marked plus and negative. The Diamond is adjustable from 1.5-4 lbs. of trigger pull weight. I recommend not going down to 1.5 lbs. right away until you’ve gotten a feel for where the trigger will break; trust me, there’s practically no movement to this trigger. It is like having a bolt-action trigger feel in an AR!

When it comes to shooting, you can’t hit what you can’t see. So Rock River Arms partnered with Vortex Optics to create a couple of packages. If you anticipate stretching out and shooting longer distances, the ATH can include the Viper HS 4-16x44mm scope. If you like the idea of running and gunning shooting intermediate distances, then the Strike Eagle 1-6x24mm might be more your style. Either way, each will include Rock River Arms’ own cantilever scope mount, which allows you to go shoot right now instead of piecing stuff together.

Moving forward to the handguard, Rock River’s is lightweight aluminum. Not only does it have more M-Lok slots that I can count without removing a glove, it also features a full-length Picatinny rail on top. That’s a metric ton of mounting surface for attaching all sorts of things to your ATH. You can easily add a bi-pod, light, laser, thermal … whatever you need to get the job done. I love that RRA utilizes anti-rotation tabs on the handguard. There is no point zeroing a laser if the hand guard can move and twist. The tabs keep the handguard indexed no matter how much rotational pressure is applied.

The buttstock uses Magpul’s new PRS Lite stock, which keeps weight down while offering full adjustability for length of pull and cheek weld. Instead of moving your head to find the center sweet spot of the scope, play around with the PRS until you get a natural comfortable head position. Repeatability is the foundation for accuracy, and I can’t say enough about not having to adjust between each shot.

I have had the opportunity to put the Ascendant ATH through its paces for the last six months. I will be honest and say I haven’t always used super premium match grade loadings. For the most part, my ATH had a steady diet of Winchester 55gr … you know, the cheap stuff … and I’ve been more than happy with my groupings and accuracy. The ATH did everything I asked of it and more, including accurate double taps at distance, all due to the Triggertech Diamond. Rock River Arms’ goal with the Ascendant ATH was to provide a turnkey rifle solution that would meet the demands of hunters who needed a hard working tool. With the upgrades and well-thought-out aspects of the ATH, RRA has met those goals. If you are looking for an out of the box solution for a designated marksmen rifle or lightweight hunting rifle, the hardest part is picking your caliber. After that if you do your part with good shooting fundamentals the ATH will make you look like a better shooter. MSRPs dependent upon model chosen.

–James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!



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