Range Test and Product Review: Rock River Arms LAR-8 .308 Mid-Length A4 Carbine, by Michael Z. Williamson

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

After many delays for many reasons, I finally have my hands on a LAR-8, which is Rock River Arms' entry into the AR-10 clone market. This model is the LAR-8 16" carbine, flattop, MSRP $1,100.

The rifle arrived in a sturdy bright blue case, compartmented to fit a disassembled rifle of each length, with one magazine, manual, everything wrapped in plastic. This is a heavy rifle compared to an AR15, at 8.1 lbs (for a carbine, remember), but is quite reasonable for a .308.

From the rear: The buttstock is a standard 6 position, and aftermarket stocks will fit, likewise for the Hogue grip. The internals are proprietary, but it appears that standard AR fire control parts will fit. The trigger felt really odd, almost hair trigger, until we weighed it right about 6 pounds. It is just exceptionally crisp with a very sweet let-off. The fire control switch is right-handed only, which is a little odd, since the magazine release is ambidextrous (button on each side), and the bottom-mounted bolt release is, also. It appears that standard handguards will fit, too.
The controls are easy to reach. I do like the bolt release. Insert a magazine, brush downward with thumb, and it clacks into battery. Operation was flawless for the full day. This is on the rifle as delivered, with no oil, teardown, anything. It chambered and fired every time, and there were no hitches.

Here's one of the prime selling points: The rifle is advertised to, and does, accept metric and inch FAL magazines. I had a little more trouble with inch mags, but I suspect they were older. I bought ten at a gun show for $50. That's enough magazines for 210 rounds of ammunition (nine 20 round, one 30 round). That's about the price for just one of the competitor's magazine. Feed and function was fine with both, assuming the magazine was good. At that price, though, one can buy a case and keep the tight ones for spare parts.

The weapon is tight, well-made, with excellent fit and finish. It is well-balanced and comfortable. It felt very robust and durable, though as a loaner, I didn't do an all-out abuse test. If you are familiar with the AR-15, the only relevant differences for handling are the weight and the location of the bolt release, which is lower than one is trained for, but easily managed. Since most of us slap the paddle as the hand goes down anyway, there's no problem adapting to carrying the motion to the base of the magazine well. Other minor differences are the much heavier recoil spring, and the previously-mentioned excellent if unusual trigger.

The rifle came without iron sights on this model (other models have M16A2 style sights). This was a minor problem. I have excellent scopes, but no riser to bring them high enough above the receiver, and no mountable front sight. I managed by attaching one of my EoTechs. The EoTech is a combat sight, not intended for long range precision, but seemed to work well enough. I was within 8" of center with the first shot (before zeroing). That's good enough for combat shooting at 100 yards.

Weather: 64° F, 62% relative humidity, Barometric pressure 29.87 and falling, elevation 630 ft above sea level.
Using South African surplus R1M1, 204W, Lot A11/80, I was able to keep 4" groups of 20 rounds. This is 4 MOA, with 30 year old ammo, a short barrel, a combat sight with a red dot shooting at a red target. I find this acceptable.

With US [military] surplus Lot 1-80, three shot groups ranged from 2.125" to 2.375", very consistently.

Using US military match grade XM118 LR PD (2002, Lake City), our groups ranged from 1.125" to 1.6", median 1.375". This is well within the 1.5 MOA accuracy promised, using an inadequate sight. I am impressed and satisfied. A good handloader could probably break 1 MOA, and this is with the 16" carbine, not the 26" heavy barreled "varmint" rifle.

I would suggest Rock River make the fire selector switch ambidextrous, since all other controls are. That's the only improvement I can think of.

It cleaned easily, with a little more room to get inside than an AR-15. The bolt cam pin appears to go in sideways compared to an AR-15 (rotated 90 degrees). The firing pin is longer. Everything fit well, had a good metal surface and a very dark parkerized finish.

For those of you wanting .308 power and range with the AR's handling, welcome home. For those wanting a reasonably priced precision rifle for target shooting, hunting, or SHTF, you'll be hard-pressed to do better than a Rock River LAR-8. The availability of AR-platform accessories and mods are significant points in favor of both, as are the dirt-cheap military surplus FAL magazines. One can buy the rifle and included case, customize stocks, grips, handguards and mechanicals, load 200 and more rounds in magazines, and still be money ahead of a competing AR-10 clone. Add in the exceptional accuracy and strength, and it tops my list.- Michael Z. Williamson


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