Rock River LAR-8 Varmint A4.
The reason gun rags now lean so heavily toward the black gun is mainly mercenary. ARs sell briskly. Components come cheap. Assembling ARs is easier than crafting walnut-stocked bolt rifles or sculpting side-by grouse guns--and much more profitable. Competition among the growing ranks of players in this sector has become fierce, a trend that has fueled more advertising, more new models, more reviews.
It's true: Racks bristling with black flash-hiders and polymer pistol grips can induce depression, especially on dark days. Still, even those of us weaned on hand-checkered French walnut and triggers that tripped at a wish are occasionally impressed with the machinery spawned by Eugene Stoner's creation. Such was the case during my introduction to Rock River's LAR-8 Varmint A4 rifle. It's not an AR-15; call it an AR-10, if you must, scaled to cycle the .308 Winchester.
Behind its long, stainless barrel, the LAR-8 looks and feels familiar. It wears a standard A2 buttstock on an A4 (flattop) receiver. I've used and liked this rifle in other forms. Smooth to shuck, with an assist I'll probably never need, it shows clean detailing inside and out. Other than its larger size, the LAR-8 differs from AR-15 rifles most noticeably in its bolt latch. The release is not on a hinged tab on the left side, but a double-sided shoe forward of the oversize triggerguard. Press down on the shoe to let the bolt drop. As on standard AR-15s, it stops open after the last round in a magazine.
The Rock River LAR-8 Varmint comes with a 20-round box but will, of course, accept magazines of lesser capacity. You can also specify alternative parts: An ambidextrous safety/selector costs $25 extra; a flip-up front sight on the gas block is $90 (from the box, the block wears a rail). I like the knurled alloy tube that serves as a floating fore-end, but if you don't, you can specify a quad rail ($95) or an advanced half-quad ($130). The pliable, well-contoured Hogue grip appeals to me, but for another $45 you can have an Ergo grip, right- or left-hand or ambidextrous.
The heart of any rifle is its barrel, and Rock River has bestowed a very good one on its LAR-8 Varmint. The 26-inch heavy stainless tube on my rifle has a target crown (as does the 20-inch barrel also cataloged). The button-rifled bore is air gauged and cryogenically treated. Twist: 1:10. The exterior is evenly polished and left bright, in contrast to the satin black of the receiver and handguard. The barrel of my rifle gives it a pronounced tilt forward, but that is as it should be on rifles meant to be fired from prone or supported positions at distant targets. Incidentally, the rifle comes with a warning not to substitute other types of barrel nuts on any LAR-8.
CHRONOGRAPH RESULTS Load Bullet Velocity Standard Average Weight (fps) Deviation Group (gr.) Black Hills BTHP 175 2,669 28.0 1.2 Federal TB High Energy 165 2,857 19.2 1.2 Federal MatchKing 175 2,685 8.7 0.8 Fiocchi SST 150 2,961 20.5 1.2 Hornady SST Light Mag. 150 3,115 12.3 1.8 Hornady IB (44-gr. Varget) 165 2,720 7.0 1.2 Hornady TAP A-Max 168 2,739 19.0 0.7 Lapua SPRN 185 2,597 22.4 1.5 Remington SP Managed Recoil 125 2,645 16.6 2.0 Remington PSP Core-Lokt 150 2,879 22.2 0.6 Remington Scirocco 165 2,686 22.2 0.9 Winchester E-Tip 150 2,853 27.8 2.0
Rock River lists the two-stage trigger as its own. I found the take-up to be smooth and short enough. At 4 1/2 pounds, the let-off hardly qualifies as light, but it is manageable, consistent and clean. The LAR-8 proved easy to shoot well after just a short time on the range.
My only criticism of this AR is that there's no QD swivel stud on the buttstock. The fixed, rigid sling loop (can we call it a swivel if it doesn't?) is paired with a QD stud up front on the hand-guard. The stud is properly placed for my Brownells Latigo sling and could as well be occupied by a Harris bipod. Of course, without an attachment for its tail, a sling can't be used for carry. A QD stud at the rear, and a second stud up front, would cost little but add convenience and versatility.
To range-test the Rock River LAR-8, I mounted a 30mm Trijicon 5-20x50 scope, an excellent sight. It has an amber tritium dot in a mil-dot reticle and the Trijicon adjustable fiber optic window on the ocular housing. This new model also wears a side-turret parallax/focus dial and mid-height, resettable target knobs. I carried a dozen types of factory ammunition to the bench and used a Pact chronograph to register velocities at 15 feet.
Rock River claims its rifle will shoot into a minute of angle, and my rifle bore out that claim. The tightest group, a .6-inch cluster, came, surprisingly, from Remington 150-grain Core-Lokts. Scirocco hunting bullets from Remington cartridges also stayed inside a minute of angle, as did Hornady's A-Max BTHP and Sierra's indomitable MatchKing in a Federal load. I didn't have to discard targets to come up with an impressive accuracy score here. Indeed, the LAR-8 Varmint A4 shot eight factory loads out of 12 into sub-l 1/4-inch groups during its first run with all of them. Only a couple of loads seemed at odds with this rifle. Incidentally, the only feeding glitches occurred with 125-grain Remington Managed Recoil ammo and, at the other end of the recoil spectrum, with Federal's 165-grain High Energy loads. The powder-puff MR cartridges did cycle the action, and empties did eject. But bolt travel was not quite as strong or as long as needed to catch after the last round. Federal HE loads gave the bolt lots of exercise, and the recoil spring objected loudly. Hold-open failure happened with these hot-rod cartridges, too.
Applications? The .308 seems an unlikely choice for prairie dogs, but it is indeed effective when Wyoming winds kick up. And it's deadly on coyotes at distance. The label says nothing about big game, but this rifle would excel in the big spaces that impose themselves between you and prairie deer. A new boattail hollowpoint from Hornady--loaded in its Superformance ammo--gives you a ballistic coefficient of .530 and, at 2,770 fps, extraordinary reach. With appropriate bullets, the .308 is certainly an elk cartridge. However, at nearly 12 pounds without scope, this is not the rifle for steep trails.
While the shooting press increasingly points out the utility of ARs afield, it has all but neglected their application on distant iron. You can hammer the gongs to 600 meters with long bullets from a .223, but beyond 600 the .308 rules. Want to ring that 1,000-yard plate in wind? The advantage of Hornady's new load or a 175 MatchKing over a 75-grain .22 is that of an ocean freighter over a dinghy in high seas. Rattling steel far away can be as much fun as shooting big game, and more instructive. You needn't apply for tags, endure rough weather or limit yourself to a couple of shots per annum. And if you want a rifle that shoots gently, nips sub-minute clusters with paper to spare and supports comfortably the powerful scopes you'll need for distant targets, there's no better tool than this varmint-style AR.
True, the LAR-8 Varmint A4 must share the market with many black rifles. But in my view, it's a standout. Certainly, it is among the most accurate and least persnickety of bigbore ARs I've fired. And its military ancestry doesn't upstage the refinements that make it a top long-range performer. From the muzzle of its thick, bright barrel to its sturdy buttstock, the LAR-8 Varmint exudes high quality and accuracy for shots to 1,000 yards--attributes that have drawn marksmen to great rifles since they all wore figured French walnut.
Rock River LAR-8 Varmint A4
Type: Gas-operated semiauto
Barrel length: 26 or 20 in. (heavy taper, 1:10 twist)
Overall length: 46 or 40 in.
Weight: 11.6 or 10.4 lb.
Finish: Matte black/bright stainless barrel
Stock: Black synthetic A2-type (floating alloy tube fore-end)
Sights: None; Picatinny rail on receiver top and gas block
Manufacturer: Rock River Arms, 309/792-5780, www.rockriverarms.com