Monday, August 14, 2023

AST Rock Guard - Advanced Simulation Technology


AST Rock Guard by Advanced Simulation Technology

Our Jeep, TROUBLEMAKER, is utilized to fulfill a variety of applications from daily driver activity to outdoor adventures. I recently came across a product that I now use and wanted to detail my positive experience with AST Rock Guards for Rock Monster 17” wheels.

While building our Jeep, I made the decision to utilize Rock Monster beadlock wheels made by Hutchinson Industries. What is unique about Rock Monster beadlock wheels is their internal dual beadlock design that is also DOT approved. They provide a street-legal solution to air down tires during off-road use. As off-road enthusiasts know, this provides improved traction and safety while driving off-road.

Image Courtesy of Hutchison Industries Inc.
A notable difference with Rock Monster internal double beadlocks when compared to conventional style external beadlocks (originally designed for off-road use only) is the Rock Monster wheels lack of an external beadlock ring bolted to the wheel. Hutchinson wheels are well known for their durability and capability. Many consider internal double beadlocks to have advantages over conventional beadlock design.

I had some concern regarding potential damage to either the Hutchinson long or short stud wheel hardware on rugged trails where large rocks might get into the wheel face area and potentially strike and damage hardware. That coupled with the inability to easily replace an external ring either for aesthetic purposes or functionality should that surface of the wheel become damaged over time.

The nice thing that a conventional external beadlock ring design, machined for recessed hardware, provides is the ability to reduce or eliminate sheared mounting bolts caused by exposed hardware striking trail obstacles such as rocks. As external beadlock rings become worn and damaged over time from trail abuse they can be replaced. A new ring can be obtained and used on the original beadlock wheel. Hutchinson Rock Monster Wheels do not have an easily replaceable external surface (ring) like a conventional beadlock wheel. 

Hutchinson does make available replacement hardware should you damage one of the long or short wheel studs. They also have replaceable split lock nut hardware. However, when the external surface of the Rock Monster wheel edge surface becomes badly damaged, they are not replaceable like an external beadlock ring. If cosmetics are not of concern, then the wheel can still be utilized until it becomes unserviceable.

The product I am excited to write about addresses my areas of concern described above. The product is made by Advanced Simulation Technology (AST) located near Philadelphia Pennsylvania. As a company, AST is grounded in mechanical engineering. They use both classic as well as emerging technology approaches in their product development. They can provide 3D scanning, design, manufacturing, and electronic fabrication all through their single location.

One of the products they have brought to market is the AST Rock Guard for the Rock Monster 17” Wheel. The product is described as able to “protect the wheel’s surface finish from most hazards encountered on the trail. The rock guard is manufactured from high-impact plastic and is intended to be a sacrificial wear component that absorbs most rock rash jeepers experience during trail rides. The rock guard also protects the bead lock studs from most impacts.”

This product sounded like a great option to help protect my Hutchinson Rock Monster beadlock wheel surface from damage. I wanted my Jeep to be able to perform well on the trail, but I also wanted it to look clean and well-kept around town. In addition, the AST Rock Guard would provide protection to the hardware (wheel studs and split lock nuts) and valve stem. After several outings in heavy rocky terrain, the Rock Monster wheels can develop unattractive rock rash on the wheel flange. Over time, deep abrasions could compromise the tire bead region and possible cracking of the flange near the bead rim. This area of the beadlock wheel is not replaceable. Wheel studs and their protective covers are also susceptible to trail damage.

AST was founded by Chip Potter. I reached out to AST and initially spoke with Wes Potter. Wes is Chip’s son. Wes gave me a very detailed history about their business, experience, and background regarding the AST Rock Guard development. Wes outlined the product’s intended purpose, material durability, performance expectations, impact testing, and trail testing performance in real world applications. I told Wes I wanted to purchase a set to test prior to the upcoming 71st Annual Jeepers Jamboree. I was scheduled to attend the three-day event from July 28-30, 2023.

I later had the opportunity to speak with Chip Potter to learn more details about the AST Rock Guard and design concept. Chip related that as a Jeeping enthusiast who liked to run challenging trails and appreciated what the Hutchinson beadlock wheels offered, he didn't enjoy beating them up. After only a few days on the trail, the Hutchinson wheels were ugly to look at, and he had to be careful not to cut himself when cleaning them. He found himself hand-filing burrs that were created by contact with rocks. Chip felt they were great wheels for off-roading, but some additional wheel protection was needed.

Chip also noted that the Rock Guard is 100% US-made. AST used only US companies to produce the final product. The injection mold tooling was designed by a small company in Upland, California (Woiken Concepts), the mold maker is in Dickinson, Texas (West Point Plastics), and the molder is in South Houston, Texas (A&M Plastics). Each of these small businesses had the same passion as Chip did for producing the best possible product.

Above is a picture of the tool that is used to mold the AST Rock Guards. As you can see, a lot is happening to produce a high quality large plastic part.

The Jeepers Jamboree is an annual trek to Rubicon Springs from Loon Lake via the Rubicon Trail. From there, it is up Cadillac Hill on the Rubicon Trail to Tahoma (near Lake Tahoe). The Rubicon Trail, for those who have never driven it, is a near-constant off-road experience of difficult boulders, rock faces, and ledges. Many of the rocks and boulders on the trail simply can’t be avoided. Even the most experienced wheelers will be impressed with the seemingly never-ending rock gardens and beautiful California High Sierras scenery. 

The AST Rock Guard was designed to be an insert which can be easily attached to the Rock Monster beadlock wheels. Several versions were considered by AST including cast aluminum and performance injected molded plastic. Design concepts were created, and prototypes were trail tested.  Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) prototype rock guards were fabricated and tested including prototypes tested during a prior Jeep Jamboree event. The FDM material was ABS/Polycarbonate. 

Damage that incurred during various phases of prototype testing was evaluated and the design revised where needed. As shown in the partial guard images above, it was determined that the wrapped lip and inner lip rib structures should be added. The contact plane of the rock guard was also revised to further minimize possible damage to the guards. Also, it was to ensure the long wheel studs were still protected, and to increase overall rigidity. After continued testing, the final design version was adopted and created. The finalized material utilized in the AST Rock Guard is an extremely tough plastic that is not brittle. This (full reverse side guard image shown) is the AST Rock Guard now available to the public. The guard is only available in a black finish and not in red as depicted.  

The AST Rock Guards I ordered arrived in plenty of time for me to give them a two-day shake-down on some rugged rocky trail areas to see if they would work for my intended application. My initial impression when unboxing the AST Rock Guards and mounting hardware was positive. The AST Rock Guards are very robust and solid in their construction. The hardware included with the guards is of excellent quality. 

The directions provided for the installation of the guard are excellent and very easy to read and understand. The installation process is primarily a direct bolt-on process however a single hole must be drilled into the guard by the purchaser before installation. 

The Rock Monster Wheel has six potential configurations when a tire is mounted, and the wheel’s outer rim and inner rim are assembled and bolted together. The valve stem hole must be drilled in the guard based on how the wheel was assembled. The drilling process for the valve stem is extremely easy and well detailed in the instructions. 

Small dimples on the back of the rock guard (see above image) indicate locations where the valve stem hole should be drilled based upon the unique valve stem location of your individual wheel. Wherever the valve stem aligns on your wheel that is the dimple you would utilize to drill for the valve stem to pass through the guard. A step drill was included with the set of four AST Rock Guards that I received. 

Preparing the wheels to accept the AST Rock Guard is quick and easy as is drilling and installing the guard. The total process took me about seven-ten minutes per wheel/guard.

First, the three plastic stud protectors on the long studs of the Rock Monster Wheels mut be removed, exposing the hex nuts. The plastic nut protectors for the short studs can remain on the wheels. 

Next, The AST Rock Guard is aligned over the three long wheel studs to determine where the valve stem hole must be drilled using the step drill. After the location is determined, the AST Rock Guard is flipped over and can be drilled. A dimple is located on the back of the AST Rock Guards for all possible valve stem locations. This makes orienting the drill bit in the proper location fast and easy. I placed my AST Rock Guards on a wooden 2X6 and drilled the holes. The directions are very clear and well-illustrated.

The included white hex-cap spacers (shown yellow in image) are then slipped over the long wheel studs and seated onto the Hutchinson wheel hex nuts. The soft rubber of the spacer conforms to the nut. After the white spacers are installed, a black split cap (shown purple in image) is placed over each spacer. The directions describe the proper orientation of the split cap.

The drilled AST Rock Guard is then slipped over the valve stem and positioned over the 3 long studs. The guard is attached using three washers and three retaining nuts that are included. The nuts tighten down on the long studs. The final installation step is to torque to approximately 20 Ft-Lbs. That is all that is required for installation.

While the AST Rock Guards are not DOT approved for road use, the individual end user will ultimately determine when they will install them to be utilized for protection. Ultimately, they could be installed on the trail, or an end user might install them before they hit the trails and remove them when they arrive home.

The next two days after I installed the AST Rock Guards, I hit the trails and punished them on all the rocks I could encounter. While I was able to scuff the guards, they did not chip, crack, or fracture. The wheels were protected from the hard hits and scrapes that were generated to the AST Rock Guards in the rocky terrain. It was obvious to me that these would be perfect for my upcoming trip on the Rubicon Trail.

I recontacted Chip at AST and told him I was pleased with my initial use and testing of the AST Rock Guard. While the rock guards I tested would be fine to use on the Rubicon trail, I decided I wanted to start with guards that were not scuffed to document how they performed and if they would survive a pass through the Rubicon Trail. I ordered my replacement and prepared the Jeep for the upcoming Jeepers Jamboree event.

After driving to the trailhead of the Rubicon Trail near Loon Lake, I aired down my tires to approximately 8.5 pounds and took a starting picture to memorialize how the AST Rock Guards appeared at the beginning of their journey on the trail. All the guards were a little dusty at this point, but all were in perfect condition and were not scuffed from prior trail damage. 

At 8:00 AM we began starting the trail near Loon Lake. We traversed the trail over the next seven hours. We chose not to stop for a lunch break but instead traveled straight through to Rubicon Springs where we would be camping for the Jeepers Jamboree event.

During this first leg of the trail, we encountered countless amounts of rock, boulders, rock ledges, tree roots, and some water crossings. The AST Rock Guards were bounced into boulders and rocks along the trail and were scuffed against boulders, rocks, and tree roots. After setting-up camp I re-checked the torque specs to assure the AST Rock Guards were secure. They were fine and were holding up as promised!

Two days later we were heading out on the Rubicon Trail toward Lake Tahoe. This involved traveling up infamous Cadillac Hill and following the remainder of the Rubicon Trail. This leg of the trail took five hours of constant trail driving. We encountered countless amounts of rock, boulders, rock ledges, tree roots, and some water crossings just as we did on the first leg of the trail. When we exited the trail, we aired our tires up to begin the three-hour drive home. 

End of Trail - Passenger Front

End of Trail - Passenger Rear

End of Trail - Driver Rear

End of Trail - Driver Front
When I arrived home, I took pictures of all four AST Rock Guards to capture their appearance after coming off trail (four pictures shown above).

Passenger Front Washed

Passenger Rear Washed

Driver Rear Washed

Driver Front Washed
I drove to the local car wash and used a high-pressure wand to rinse off the mud to reveal any scuffing or impact areas on the AST Rock Guards (four pictures shown above).

Passenger Front Wheel

Passenger Rear Wheel

Driver Rear Wheel

Driver Front Wheel
Later the next day I removed the AST Rock Guards, lightly washed the wheels, and photographed them to record their condition to compare with the pictures showing impacts and scuffing sustained by the AST Rock Guards (four pictures shown above). I thought this would be a good way to photographically depict how they prevented damage, cosmetic or otherwise, from occurring to the wheels.

I am extremely happy with the AST Rock Guard performance. As can be seen in the above series of guard and wheel images, they obviously protected my wheels from extensive impacts, scuffing, and gouging while on the trail. These guards are still able to be used on trails and are very serviceable in their post trail use condition. The AST Rock Guards are considered sacrificial. Over time they will eventually need to be replaced as they wear down from additional trail damage.

I am also very pleased how the AST Rock Guards protected the short and long Rock Monster wheel stud hardware. They also provided impact protection to the valve stem. Additionally, the AST Rock Guards provided standoff and protection for the wheel lug nuts. As shown in the above image, scuffing can be seen along the inner edge along the center open area of the guard. It appears that I got into a rock(s) that could potentially have contacted my lug nuts without the AST Rock Guard in place.   

Chip is working on developing a rim gasket that will fit under the outermost edge of the AST Rock Guard. The gasket will serve as a mechanism to help mitigate the possibility of debris, such as small roots, from entering under the AST Rock Guard and contacting the facing edge of the Rock Monster wheel. This will also reduce possible abrasion in this area that could be caused by mud and sand, or other small granular debris getting behind the AST Rock Guard. This material could be compressed into or rubbed against the facing edge of the Rock Monster wheel by impacts with obstacles.

From my perspective, minor cosmetic blemishes to the facing edge of the Rock Monster wheel from abrasion with mud and sand is far outweighed by the overall level of protection provided from severe scuffing and gouges. Still, it is a great design idea and an accessory item that I will purchase when they become available.

If you want additional information about these guards, visit the Advanced Simulation Technology website. Select “AST ROCK GUARD” from the banner and select “BUY THE AST ROCK GUARD” to learn more about them or to purchase.

Please note that I have not been given or promised any free products, services, or anything else by AST or Hutchinson Wheels. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions of AST or Hutchinson Wheels or its members. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

2023 Safari Rifle Challenge World Championships: Final Report


The 13th annual Safari Rifle Challenge is in the books. Here is a recap of this year’s event made by The Western News speaking with Jay Sheffield. Jay is the Match Director of the Safari Rifle Challenge World Championships:

The Libby Rod and Gun Club recently hosted the 13th annual Safari Rifle Challenge. The big bore rifle competition drew shooters from MT, ID, WA, OR, NV, AZ, TX, CO, and Canada. They came armed with everything from .375 and .416 caliber bolt actions to custom .600 Nitro Express and 10 Bore Double Rifles.

The ten different stages required shooters to engage everything from photo realistic life size moving Cape Buffalo targets down to small steel plates, all at distances from 30-120 yards. 

Two of the events that proved to be very popular this year were the life size photo target of a fast-charging Rhinoceros powered by a modified ATV, and the "charging water jugs" event where two competitors must shoot the three one-gallon water jugs swinging from a cart racing towards them. Some jugs were shot so close that even the spectators got wet from the spray!

Match director Jay Sheffield said that the competition would not happen without the help of the numerous volunteers who show up every year to set the various stage scenarios and to immediately repair severely damaged targets, all with the efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew.

The competition is also the main fundraising event for the youth participants of the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP). Seven high school age members of the team came out to assist with scoring, target set up and to provide some youthful energy to several of the rope-towed moving targets.

Four of the team's parents also provided a catered meal for the shooters and guests. Each year the match competitors prove to be extremely generous to the youth shooting programs and this year was no exception.

The events primary sponsor, Shawn Joyce of Diizche Safari Adventures provided the first-place trophy of a Bronze Lion as well as a large number of great items for the raffle table.

While many participants also quietly made cash donations, the gentleman who brought the .600 Nitro Express double rifle offered other competitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shoot that rifle for $50 a shot with all proceeds going to the youth shooting team.

With factory ammo normally selling for $100 per round, a dozen adventurous folks took advantage of the unique opportunity to launch a .620 caliber, 900-grain bullet at over 2050 feet per second as it generated over 8,400 foot-pounds of energy. They quickly raised $600 while earning themselves a few bruised shoulders in the process.

The final tally of funds raised to support the SCTP youth shooting team was over $2,300.

When the dust finally settled, Libby’s John Harma (center) was declared the winner with a score of 193/220. It was exceptional shooting considering that all shots were taken offhand and several of the ten-rings were only one inch in diameter.

Many of the competitors had attended the shoot in previous years and all were impressed by the dramatic expansion of the Lincoln County range facility and the improvements to its infrastructure.

The Libby Rod and Gun Club, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and our local National Forest Service Supervisors Office have all worked together to create what is truly the finest free public range in the state of Montana.

The competition is held every year on the second Saturday in June. 

For those who own a safari rifle in caliber .375 or larger and would like to shoot against some of the best in the country, contact for more information.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

2023 Safari Rifle Challenge World Championships-Coming Soon!


The 2023 Safari Rifle Challenge World Championships are coming soon. After months of chaos and closures we are going to hold the Safari Shoot on June 10, 2023. This year represents our 10th annual shooting event! The event will be held in Libby, Montana at the Libby Shooting Sports Complex. Jay Sheffield is the Match Director and puts on an exciting and enjoyable event. This year the event will fall on Saturday June 10, 2023 from 8am - 4pm. 

Since the last event (June 2019) we have GREATLY expanded the range facility by adding four new shooting bays surrounded by 14’ berms and a huge vendor display/public parking area. The cement baselines are poured, and permanent steel shooting benches have been installed. The overhead shelters are also completed. 

In the past (pre-COVID) this shooting event typically fills-up very quickly after sending notices to the past participants on their email group. If you want to sign up, request more information, or get on their notification list send Jay an email (see below) and he will get you squared away. The registration fee will cover your participation, a commemorative match T-shirt AND lunch!  

The Event: This is a family-oriented shoot featuring both life size and moving targets. It is designed to simulate events encountered on an African Safari. Targets will be scored, and times will be announced, but since prizes are awarded by random drawing, you will be competing purely for the glory of sport! There is however a beautiful First Place-Overall trophy that will be awarded. Participants will be expected to cheerfully help with reset of targets, powering the moving targets and any other menial labor that may be necessary for the greater good. ALL shooters must be at least 18 years old and pre-registered. There is a $30 participation fee which will also entitle you to lunch and a commemorative match shirt.

The Guns: This is a big bore, dangerous game rifle shoot. Essentially .375/9.3 caliber or larger cartridges in single shot, bolt action or double rifles with minimum muzzle energy of approximately 4000 ft/lb. If you have an antique double rifle in a smaller caliber that is capable of taking big game, then bring it!  Paradox guns firing single lead balls will also be allowed. Sorry, but no handguns, pump, or semi-automatic firearms. You will need about 30 rounds of ammunition.


The Rules: All guns will be placed in the racks with actions open. When it is your turn to shoot, you will be directed to get your rifle by the range master. SAFETY AND MUZZLE CONTROL ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE!   The start position will generally be low ready with a round in the chamber, finger off the trigger and the safety on, unless otherwise directed by range staff. A range master “PH” will always stay beside you while on the course. On most stages, there will be a limited amount of ammunition allowed in your gun when starting the stage, extra rounds will have to be loaded from the belt, pocket, butt stock etc. We reserve the right to change the course of fire based on our disposition, your disposition, the untimely demise of the targets, comments from the peanut gallery, weather or whatever other factors may be present. All distances are approximate and subject to change.

The Course of fire: Shooting positions will vary from standing on your hind legs and shooting offhand, to kneeling or seated. Frequently it will be a combination of positions. Some stages may require the use of shooting sticks which will be provided. Many stages will require you to fire at a target, move to another spot, reload, and then fire at a second target.  All movement will be done with an empty gun and all reloading will be done once you are safely at the next shooting position. If you have any physical issues that preclude a certain activity, we will cheerfully accommodate you.  

The 10-stage course is specifically designed to NOT favor any particular style of rifle or sight system.  Distances will vary between 5 and 75+ yards. Targets will vary from life-size broadside buffalo and elephant heads to clay birds, water jugs and steel gongs.

Location: Libby Shooting Sports Complex on Farm to Market Road across from the Libby Airport.

Shooting starts at 8 am SHARP!   Please arrive plenty early to check in and get setup. Remember to bring lawn chairs, hat and sunscreen, snack food and drinks (NO ALCOHOL ON RANGE PROPERTY).  Lunch and a T-shirt are included with the $30 registration fee. Additional lunches for guests are available at $10 each and MUST be prepaid with registration.

Please email to sign up or request more information.

Directions from Libby: Take Hwy 2 east about 3 miles from town. As the highway starts up a steep hill in front of you, watch for Bowker Road at the bottom of the hill on your LEFT side. Take Bowker about 100 yards to the intersection with State Rd 482 (Farm to Market Road). Turn RIGHT on 482 and go 3.5 miles to the range which will be on your left. If you get to the airport you have just passed the range.

Directions from Kalispell: HWY 2: as you come down the steep hill entering Libby, turn RIGHT on Bowker. Take Bowker about 100 yards to the intersection with State Road 482 (Farm to Market Road). Turn RIGHT on 482 and go 3.5 miles to the range which will be on your left. If you get to the airport you have just passed the range.

Airports: For those who are flying from out of state, the nearest airport is in Kalispell, MT about 100 miles away. The cheapest airport to fly into will probably be Spokane, WA about 180 miles away. 

Amtrak: Serves Libby MT.

Car rentals: Available through Libby Auto Sales at 406-293-7717 or Timberline Ford/Dodge at 406-293-4128 

Local motels:  406-293-7711      406-293-8831    406-293-2092
Evergreen Motel     406-293-4178

Please email  to sign up or request more information. FYI, during the past events space has been very limited!