Presidential Competitor: Rock River Arms LAR-15 NM Review

The President's 100 is a National Trophy rifle competition that is fired annually at Camp Perry, Ohio. It first took place in 1878 and was brought into the National Match program after the Nationals were established in 1903. Modeled after the British Queen's Prize Match, the President's Match gained great prestige when the winner received a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt had been an active supporter of the legislation that led to the creation of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) and the National Matches in 1903. A few weeks after the conclusion of the 1904 National Matches, Roosevelt initiated this tradition by writing the first letter to Private Howard Gensch of the New Jersey National Guard. Thereafter—with only a few exceptions—the tradition continued. Additionally, since 1919 the top 100 competitors earn the President's 100 Brassard, a cloth tab or brass device commonly worn on a soldier's or sailor's uniform.

Joining the ranks of the President's 100 requires not only a highly accurate rifle and load, but skill and luck. Besides the obvious high degree of marksmanship required, the top 100 will need to have complete familiarity of the rifle's nuances, keen observation of environmental changes and advanced wind-doping skills.

There's a reason the National Matches take place at Camp Perry on the shore of Lake Erie. There, it's as much of a gamble in dialing wind adjustments as it is in choosing whether to pause and wait for conditions to settle before time expires. At most high-power ranges, a wall, berm or row of trees often blocks crosswinds between the firing line and the target. But the changing winds at Camp Perry are free to swirl. As the temperature increases throughout the day and winds pick up, you may observe a five-mph quarter-value wind crossing left to right at the firing line, but a 15-mph full-value wind chopping away at the range flags in the pits. Depending on what relay you're on and what time of day you're scheduled to fire, luck (in terms of sunlight and weather) becomes a significant factor.

Though a rifle used in this shoulder-to-shoulder shoot-off may look like an M16A2 service rifle, there's quite a lot of accurizing that goes into a competition-class rifle. Rock River competition rifles have been used by top contenders at Camp Perry since brothers Mark and Chuck Larson started air gauging stainless steel barrels, putting weight in the stock, adding free-float handguards and installing their National Match-spec two-stage triggers. The rifles combine all of the features once seen as modifications applied to a standard service rifle. They spent years discussing specific features with competitors. The result is the LAR-15 NM.

Mine weighs 13 pounds unloaded. Nearly four pounds can be attributed to the optional lead in the buttstock I use to counterbalance the weight at the fore-end. But the longest time any competitor will spend supporting this heavyweight is 10 minutes.

During the first stage, a shooter will stand perpendicular to the target and fire 10 record shots during slow fire wearing a form-fitted shooting coat. With a slight arch in the back, the shooter centers the weight of the rifle across the chest without the aid of a sling. The weight of the stock should balance with the barrel and fore-end. In turn, the shooter experiences recoil absorption and balanced handling. During prone rapid fire at 300 and slow fire at 600 yards, the weight helps stabilize your platform and minimize movement.

The fore-end has the appearance of a standard rifle-length handguard, but it's actually a free-float tube system that doesn't contact the barrel. Unlike the M16A2 these rifles resemble, the sling swivel on a National Match rifle is located at the forward end of the handguard tube to avoid any pressure on the barrel that could degrade accuracy.

Rock River Arms air gauges a 20-inch, cryogenically treated, extra-heavy competition barrel with a 1:8 twist. Rock River incorporates a .223 Wylde chamber, which is popular among competitors who usually use 77-grain match ammo with a long OAL. This chamber accepts both .223 and 5.56, but is optimized by competitors who single load through the ejection port their own wind-defying handload recipe for 600 yards.

Rock River ensures that the barrel is carefully mated to the barrel extension and that the bolt is matched to the barrel extension lugs for precise lock-up. The upper receiver is also matched to the lower, which houses the two-stage competition trigger that is factory set for a 3½-pound first stage followed by a one-pound let-off during the second stage, for a 4½-pound total to meet competition regulations.

What amazes outsiders is that these service-rifle matches are fired using iron sights. In a world overrun with optics and red dots, achieving a similar result at 200, 300 and even 600 yards with a dual aperture sight is a true testament to the skills of the competitors. Though you'll find a number of rifles wearing fixed carry handles, the Rock River A4 series comes with a removable unit. The company modifies the M16A2 rear sight so that it accepts interchangeable apertures available in two sizes to suit the individual's preference. The smallest has a .03-inch-diameter hole that is generally too fine and dark for most shooters under anything but sunlight. A standard aperture measures .04 inch. For dialing elevation and windage corrections, Rock River offers both a half-MOA and a quarter-MOA rear windage knob and elevation drum. Beginners might find it easier to track clicks with half-MOA adjustments, but once you've been shooting awhile, you'll wish you had quarter-minute clicks. Up front, the .05-inch front sight is ground on three sides for a sharp, crisp edge.

The Rock River ships with one 20-round aluminum magazines and a chamber flag to show a clear rifle when not in use (a match requirement). You can get away with just two 20-rounders for competition, but you'll want to stock up on a few more to minimize the distraction of loading between stages (and in case one magazine becomes unreliable).

When I first grouped and chronographed mine—using Black Hills' 77-grain 5.56 OTM ammo—the results were impressive. My best 100-yard group was .38 inch. The average velocity of the load from the Rock River was 2,728 fps.

I started shooting the President's Match in 2011 because it only required two days of vacation from work to participate. I'd been shooting week-long high-power matches for more than 10 years. Although I no longer have the time to focus on preparation for these competitions, I enjoy shooting this match for its prestige, low round count and the fact that this single-day event marks the start of the summer's National Matches.

In the President's 100, all competitors fire 10 shots standing at 200 yards, 10 shots rapid fire from the prone at 300 yards and 10 shots slow fire from the prone at 600 yards. There are no sighter shots made before each stage, so if a veteran competitor starts off poorly, even the novice stands a chance. It can be difficult to spot hits through a spotting scope during the 300-yard rapid-fire stage, and for this reason, once firing begins, rarely are corrective adjustments made. If a competitor starts firing and unknowingly misses the black, he will likely fall out of contention. It's important to know the rifle's point of impact at each distance and accurately estimate wind value. One relay may battle a full-value wind, while another may shoot in dead calm. It's anyone's match.

The top 20 shooters advance to a final shoot-off where they fire a 10-shot stage at 600 yards in the presence of spectators. The 40-shot totals for these shooters determine the match winner and the top 20 places.

Jared Perry, 31, of Porterville, California, beat U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Tyrel Cooper, 27, of Hamilton, Georgia, in a 10-shot shoot-off to win the 2012 President's Rifle Match. It was a close finish, with Perry scoring 398 out of 400 with 16 X's. Cooper posted 396 points with 18 X's. Amazingly, both contenders fired perfect 300s in the qualification round before moving on to compete in the shoot-off.

With a score of 274 out of 300 possible, I didn't make the top 20 shoot-out or even the top 100. I fell in the top 350 out of nearly 1,246 competitors. My relay didn't suffer the effects of wind and rain that other relays did, which probably helped my final ranking. What's great about shooting a match like this with a rifle like the LAR-15 NM is that tightening up accuracy, improving my ranking and earning a letter from the president are all within reach.

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