Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gun Review: RRA LAR-8

It had been many years since I had bought a gun and I was in need of a good battle rifle. Most readers of this blog will recognize that the term "battle rifle" refers to a self-loading rifle firing a full-sized (usually .30 caliber) rifle cartridge.  These are not to be confused with those weapons firing intermediate calibers (i.e. bigger than a handgun but smaller than a battle rifle) which can be called "battle carbines" or "assault rifles" (if they are equipped for select-fire) or are just "poodle-shooters" by my brother Bawb.

Why a battle rifle? Bawb has gone to great lengths stressing the superiority of the 7.62X51mm NATO (.308) round over the 5.56X45mm NATO (.223) round. You can read his thoughts here, and here. Since I shouldn't only reference authors who try to sneak the phrase "poopy drawers" into every paragraph, I will quote no less of a source than the Bible (Boston's Gun Bible, 2000 edition):

"Since rifles are for neutralizing long-distance threats, choose the .308 over the .223. Although the .223 will sometimes (and even often) suffice, it's in all honesty limited to 300yds through light cover, while a .308 will go through 12" of tree, or drop a bad guy out to 800yds. You can sportingly hunt deer and elk with a .308, but not with a .223. Get a .308 first."  Here endeth the lesson.

I had bought a cheap Spanish CETME battle rifle many years back. The CETME was the basis for the later German Heckler & Koch G3 (or HK91) which was very successful. My CETME was functional, but never really blew my skirt up. The "paddlewheel" rear sight on it was junk.

There were several contenders to become my new battle rifle. There were my brother's beloved FN FALs, as well as the M14 derivatives, the FN SCAR 17S, the aforementioned HK91s, and the AR-10 derivatives. There were about three-thousand reasons why I wouldn't be getting an FN SCAR 17S. The others seemed pretty good, but the AR-10 stood out to me.

It was my familiarity with the AR system that I liked. I started shooting M-16s when I joined the Nat'l Guard in 1992 and I'd had a civvy AR-15 (poodle-shooter) of my own since the mid-1990s. Operating the controls had been committed to muscle memory and I could (probably still) field strip an AR blindfolded. I don't have a lot of free time to practice with a new operating system and I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks. So, an AR-10 derivative it would be.

I originally figured on getting an Armalite, the original maker of the AR-10. I handled a few other AR-style .308's from some other manufacturers, like DPMS, and they seemed rather fragile and chintzy. I've never had much use for those telescoping M4-style stocks but it was hard finding one these days with the solid A2-style stock like I wanted.

That's when I came across a Rock River Arms LAR-8. It was solid and sturdy. It was a "Standard A4" model meaning it was a flattop with an A2 buttstock and handguard. It had a 20" chrome moly barrel with a 1:10 rifling twist. It had an A2-style flash hider, a gas block sight base and a Hogue rubber pistol grip. It came with one 20-round magazine, a RRA hard-sided carry case, manual and a warranty. I bought it along with a set of flip-up sights for it.

Of course the most important part of owning a rifle is naming it. I remembered playing "Medal of Honor" on my Sony Playstation years ago and having to infiltrate and destroy the rail-gun "Greta" on one of the missions. Seemed like a good name for a gun, so I named her Greta.

I couldn't wait to take Greta out shooting and I wasn't disappointed when I did. With her RRA two-stage trigger, Greta shot like a dream. Recoil was negligible. Greta was more accurate than I was. RRA says the LAR-8 Standard A4 should get 1 MOA at 100 yards. Zeroing at 25 yards with the flip-up sights I was getting one-inch groups, which ain't bad for me since I only get to the range a few times a year.

After consulting with Bawb on what riflescope to buy, I got a Burris MTAC riflescope in 1X-4X-24mm. This has the Ballistic CQ Reticle which eliminates having to guesstimate holdover for long-distance shots. According to the Burris literature, "the circular 'donut' in the center provides ultra-fast engagement at close distances, while the smaller dots of the reticle provide trajectory compensation out to 600 yards for 5.56 62 grain FMJ and 7.62 150 grain FMJ cartridges."
Once I got the scope sighted in I enjoyed blasting milk jugs and ringing a steel plate at 100 yards (the maximum of my shooting range regrettably.)
Using Rock River Arms' purpose-built poly mags, I put several hundred rounds through Greta with NO malfunctions. She gobbled up foreign mil surplus ammo, Sellier & Bellot, Wolf and Silver Bear FMJs and even some Serbian Prvi Partisan soft-points without so much as a hiccup.
Although I enjoyed shooting the LAR-8, perhaps it's unsurprising that one thing I liked the least was the thing I was least familiar with. Unlike the M-16s and AR-15s I was used to, the bolt stop and release lever was located between the mag well and the trigger guard. I said something earlier about an old dog and new tricks. But this new feature makes the bolt stop ambidextrous and I've read people saying they wished their ARs had it. I'm already growing accustomed to it.
I had bought a bunch of the RRA 20 round polymer magazines before the big magazine "panic" or whatever the hell that was. But the LAR-8 is supposed to also accept metric and inch FAL/L1A1 mags. Just to see how they'd work I bought a brand new DSArms FAL metric mag. Although Greta had never had a malfunction before, when I put the FAL mag in, she had numerous failures to feed. About 6 in a 20 round mag actually.
When she malfed, Greta wouldn't strip the next round off the magazine. No slapping up on the mag to seat it better seemed to change that. I got the message: She didn't like the FAL magazine. It's probably not scientific to base it on one magazine but I'll stick with the poly mags. Seems like RRA could have skipped the FAL mag compatibility and stuck with their own mags and been further ahead.
All things considered the RRA LAR-8 is a terrific weapon and I'm as tickled as a streaker in a feather duster shop with my purchase. Although I'm no Jeff Cooper, I give the LAR-8 high marks for reliability (with RRA mags), accuracy and maintainability. Now I just need to keep heading to the range and make the operator worthy of the rifle.
Update: Here's a picture from when I originally zeroed the open sights right out of the box. I guess that's better than a 1 inch group (like I said in the text) because the holes are actually several three-round groups with some sight adjustment (and one flier) with the last group. The black square is a 1 inch square. This was the first target. I was firing 25 yards from the prone.


Bawb said...

Nice review, eh, and nice weapon. I'm quite impressed by that 1 MOA accuracy. Someday you'll have to bring it out and we'll make sure those MTAC hold-overs really are good to 600 meters.

As for your malfunctions with the DSA FAL mag, it's not the "FAL mag" part it's the "DSA" part. I have a wide variety of real military-issue steel and aluminum FAL mags of Austrian, Israeli, Belgian and unknown country of origin, and they all work flawlessly. OTOH, I got 6 new DSA FAL mags and all of them have given me problems in all of my FALs. The problems are painfully common over at the FAL Files.

If I was a newbie in search of an accurate and reliable brand-new name-brand battle rifle, from your review and all else I've heard about Rock River Arms I think I would go with your LAR-8 over either a DSA FAL or a Springfield Armory M1A. I've had bought both of the latter new and both were a big disappointment.

You wouldn't want to trade that 1 MOA Rock River for a 5 MOA DSA Para would you?

Ben said...

No Bawb, I think I'll hang on to Greta.

If I see another brand of FAL mag cheap at a gunshow maybe I'll pick one up and give it another try. But I'm happy with the RRA mags and have a bunch.

By the way I updated the post with another photo and text.

Anonymous said...

How are you liking this piece a few years later? I just ordered one for $1119 out the door. I'm thrilled about it.

Ben said...

I'm still liking it, Anonymous. Thanks for reading.