I’ve tested a number of Rock River’s offerings over the years and have always come away impressed. In fact, I liked most of my test guns so much that I bought them. Today, my personal collection includes five Rock River firearms, and those guns earned their places in my collection with their consistent quality and accuracy.
That consistent quality and accuracy are why I was so excited when Rock River announced the new .308-caliber LAR-8 series of AR-based rifles and carbines. I was so fired up by the announcement that I ordered a sample gun on the spot. And then I waited, and waited, and waited for the new gun to show.
I’m not sure why Rock River took so long to start shipping LAR-8s. To be honest, I didn’t even ask because I knew the firm must have had a very good reason. My guess is it had to do with fine-tuning the design to make the new gun live up to Rock River’s outstanding reputation. Well, it took about a year longer than I expected for that first gun to show up, but the new LAR-8 that is the subject of this review was well worth the wait.
Strong From Top To Bottom
The LAR-8 is available in a 16-inch-barreled, mid-length version as well as in A2 and A4 versions with standard handguards, aluminum free-float tubes, or Daniel Defense Picatinny-spec rail systems. I fired the 20-inch-barreled Standard A-4 variant for this report.
Like all Rock River’s offerings, the Standard A-4 is built on a forged lower receiver of 7075 T6 aluminum. The aircraft-grade aluminum is both strong and relatively lightweight, which are essential ingredients in building a .308-rated AR that’s actually man-portable.
|Model:||LAR-8 Standard A-4|
|Manufacturer:||Rock River Arms, 866-980-7625|
|Magazine Capacity:||20 rounds|
|Barrel:||20 in.; rifling: six grooves, 1:10 RH twist|
|Overall Length:||42 in.|
|Weight, empty:||9 lbs.|
|Stock:||A2-style rear; fixed front and rear sling attachment points|
|Sights:||None; Picatinny front gas block and rear integral Picatinny rail for sights or optics|
|Trigger:||4-lb. pull, two-stage|
The lower houses Rock River’s excellent two-stage, National Match trigger; a standard AR-style safety lever; an A2-style fixed stock; and a Hogue grip. The magazine release is in the conventional location, but there are two of them–one on each side–for ambidextrous operation.
Rock River’s bolt release is radically different from the standard AR-style. Rather than a single catch on the left side of the receiver, the T-shaped release sits at the bottom of the receiver between the rear of the magazine well and the front of the trigger guard. Closing the bolt requires a downward push on either side of the ambidextrous lever. It locks the bolt back automatically on an empty magazine, but you can also lock the bolt to the rear by pushing the release upward.
The magazine well is also noticeably beefier than other ARs. It is also more rounded at the front to accommodate the FN magazines around which the receiver was built. The LAR-8 accepts FAL metric mags as well as inch-pattern, L1A1 magazines. That’s a good thing because FN magazines are cheap and plentiful. They’re also rock-solid mags that can stand up to a ton of abuse. Each gun comes with one 20-round magazine.
The upper receiver is machined from a 7075-T6 aluminum forging. Other than its larger size, the A-4 upper receiver is conventional in appearance with a flat-top design, a forward assist, a case deflector, and a dust cover. The rifle-length handguards are conventional, plastic parts. They are held in place by a standard Delta ring arrangement and are not free-floated. A Picatinny-style gas block sits ahead of the handguards.
The barrel is a 20-inch, chrome-moly tube with a 1:10-inch rate of twist. The A2-style flash hider is threaded on the end of the barrel, which has a 5/8-24 thread pitch and accommodates my Jet titanium suppressor nicely.
Operating the LAR-8 should be very familiar to anyone accustomed to standard, direct-gas-impingement-style ARs. The overall feel of the gun is very much the same as that of a .223 AR on steroids. The controls, with the exception of the ambidextrous magazine release and bolt catch, work the same and are in the same location as those of your favorite AR-15. Field-stripping is the same, too.
The LAR-8 looks very much like a standard, 20-inch AR-15, but the .308 platform is noticeably beefier and heavier than a .223 AR-15. However, once you get over the shock of the size difference, you’ll notice that the LAR-8 actually balances really well. It points naturally and is easy to hold steady as long as you don’t plan on holding it up for too long.
Fit and finish of the LAR-8 are phenomenal. There is minimal play between the upper and lower, and all the controls engage smoothly and positively. The bolt is also smooth, though stouter springs necessitate a bit more effort to retract the bolt.
The supplied Rock River two-stage, National Match trigger is exceptional. Mine breaks at 4 pounds on the nose and breaks clean as the proverbial glass rod. That’s no surprise, however, as Rock River’s two-stage NM trigger is one of my favorite AR triggers.
I was most impressed with the gun at first glance, and based on my past experiences with Rock River ARs, I expected good things from it on the range. In preparation for my testing, I mounted my high-mileage, 4-16X 50mm Nikon Monarch X Tactical scope in a set of LaRue 30mm rings.
Over the last two years, that Monarch X’s brilliant glass and rugged construction have earned it a spot on over a dozen of my test guns. It’s always tracked perfectly from 50 yards on out to 1,000, and it’s never lost its zero despite some pretty rough handling. I thought it would be the ideal match for Rock River’s LAR-8.
The Rock River ARs I own are phenomenally accurate, so I had pretty high expectations for the new LAR-8. As you’ll see, it shot very well for an AR with conventional handguards and a Delta ring, but it did have a quirk.
|RRA LAR-8 ACCURACY|
|Load||Velocity (fps)||100-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Federal 168-gr. Match||2613||1.35|
|Hornady 168-gr. TAP||2656||1.44|
|Silver State 168-gr. SMK||2642||1.78|
|Black Hills 175-gr. Match||2557||1.97||NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a Caldwell front rest and rear bag. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun’s muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph.|
Right off the bat I noticed that the test gun consistently shot the first round from the magazine to a different place than subsequent rounds. Rounds two through four consistently grouped in the 0.7 to 1.2-inch range, but the first shot consistently opened the group by as much as 1.5 inches. That’s a common issue with many semiautomatics, and in my experience, it’s usually a quirk of an individual gun not certain makes or models. In the case of the test gun, the problem actually improved as I drove up the round count.
I test-fired the LAR-8 with match ammunition from Black Hills, Federal, Hornady, and Silver State Armory. I know that incorporating FMJ-tipped practice loads and hunting ammunition would be a bit more realistic representation of what many users will feed their rifles, but I really wanted to see what the gun could do, so I stuck with match-grade factory offerings.
I started off by firing a magazine through the gun to zero the scope and get a feel for the trigger. The sample rifle was a joy to shoot. Its crisp, smooth trigger made accurate shooting easy and felt recoil was minimal. It ran perfectly early on and continued to chug along without a hiccup throughout my shooting session.
All four test loads performed very well from the bench, with Federal’s 168-grain match load producing the best accuracy average of 1.35 inches. Match loads from Black Hills, Hornady, and Silver State averaged from just under 1.5 inches to almost 2 inches. With every load, my groups would have averaged just at or under one MOA had I fired four, five-shot groups from each magazine to reduce the effect of those first-shot flyers on the accuracy average, but the first shot is the most important one, so I didn’t cut the LAR-8 any slack.
Inch-and-a-half accuracy would thrill many shooters, but I expected more based on my past experiences with Rock River’s rifles. But then my training partner, Lance Bertolino, chimed in on the matter. Lance is a police firearms instructor who spends an awful lot of time behind ARs. He reminded me that the LAR-8′s handguards are not free-floated and insinuated that perhaps my free-float-tube-equipped .223 Rock River rifles had spoiled me.
I was grateful for Lance’s reality check. I am not trying to make excuses for Rock River because, frankly, the rifle shot too well to warrant them. However, I think it is important that we consider the design of each firearm and its intended role before determining the accuracy standard to which we will hold it. When you consider its design and mission, the LAR-8 I tested shot very well.
With my accuracy work out of the way, I cleaned the LAR-8 and stuck it in my truck for an upcoming trip to friend Irvin Barnhart’s Texas ranch. Irvin had invited me and James Jeffrey to come down to the ranch to do a little plinking and help him thin out his exotic herd. I graciously offered to help him out with the new Rock River.
Before we started hunting, I zeroed the rifle with Federal’s 165-grain Fusion load. We planned to shoot an elk or eland with the LAR-8, but I’ve shot enough kudu with the Fusion from various .308s to know the affordable, accurate, bonded bullet would get the job done.
As I shot the rifle at the ranch, I couldn’t help but notice how nicely the LAR-8 handled from various field positions. I couldn’t hold it on target all day, but it came up easy, pointed naturally, and seemed to just hang on target. James seemed to take a shine to it, so I
offered to let him do the honors and take an elk with the new rifle.
James finally got his chance late on day two when we eased up on a nice 6×7 that was feeding its way through an oak motte. The trees were thick, so it was tough to get a clear shot, but eventually the bull stepped into a small opening. When he did, James hammered him with a single shot that took out both shoulders and sent the bull on a death run that ended with him piled up in some thick brush.
The next morning, we were walking through another stand of oaks when a medium-sized pig busted out of the brush and took off, full-speed, for the next county. James raised the LAR-8, found the fleeing pig, and dropped it with a steep raking shot. “Nope, it’s not too heavy,” he chided me as he walked over to size up his pork chops.
Rock River’s new LAR-8 earned high marks in my testing. It is attractive, easy to use, reliable, and plenty accurate. It also makes a darn good hunting rifle. As much as I like the new LAR-8, I won’t be buying the test gun. You see, I don’t have much use for another .308 fighting gun. But I really need an accurate semiauto precision rifle that can do double duty for target shooting and hunting. Rock River’s LAR-8 with a 20-inch barrel and a free-float aluminum handguard should be just the ticket.