Rock River Arms LAR-15 Carbine, by Pat Cascio

This may come as news to some readers, but not all AR-15-style firearms are equal. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that, the brand-new Gee-Whiz AR you just bought, brand-new in the box, for $500 is the equal to the Wow AR that was next to it for $1,200. It just ain’t true – and I don’t care what the guy standing behind the gun counter might tell you. Don’t be taken in by their sales pitch. I actually own a couple of lower-end (in price) ARs and they are good performers, and would probably last for the the rest of my life. But they aren’t ones I’d want to take into combat with me. Oh sure, they’ll make do, for most survival situations, and perhaps even for real-life combat. But I’d make sure I had plenty of spare parts on-hand.

Many AR makers claim that their ARs are made with mil-spec parts, and they are either lying or don’t know the difference between mil-spec and civilian AR gun parts – simple as that.  If they were using all or mostly all mil-spec parts in manufacturing their ARs, then they couldn’t sell them as inexpensively as they do. And, lets be clear on this, I don’t know of any – not any – maker of ARs, that manufactures every single part that goes into producing their ARs. It makes no sense to set-up machining to make the little springs and pins that go in to an AR – when they can have them made to their specs, by an outside vendor – that is, assuming, you can actually get the parts made to your specifications. The US military is very particular, into what goes into making our M16 Rifles and M4 Carbines. Every single part must be to mil-spec – period! We don’t want parts failing in the hands of our troops, because some company produced sub-standard parts, and looking to save a few cents. No sir. We want the best for our troops.

Today we’re checking out an AR-style carbine from Rock River Arms (RRA).They make a huge variety of AR-styles of rifles and carbine – probably one of the best selections or styles you’ll find. And, right off the bat, I’ll tell you this, they have some of the absolute best triggers on all their firearms, right out of the box. They also produce some models in a left handed version – you won’t find many other makers doing this.

I’m old – hate to admit it, I really do…my mind tells me I’m 27, my body tells me…well, let’s just say, it tells me, on some days, that I’m actually much older than I really am. With age, comes old school thinking – at least for me. I cut my teeth on military web gear from the 1960s, and it is called A.L.I.C.E. gear (All-purpose Load-bearing Individual Carrying Equipment) and I still believe it is better suited than much of the military combat gear that is issued today. It is sure more durable, too. But that’s another story.

RRA LAR-15The current rages in ARs are either for a complete flat top upper receiver, with which you can mount whatever you want on it, or a partial flat top upper – with a fixed front sight. I can live with a partial flat top receiver with a fixed front sight, and I often install a detachable A2 rear sight on those guns. However, as I said, I’m old school. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, as they say. The Rock River Arms AR that I’m covering today has a fixed front sight, and a fixed A2 rear sight – it can’t be removed which means less chance of it getting broken. RRA is one of the few makers these days offering a CAR-15 (M4gery) with this old school design feature.

RRA LAR-15RRA designates all of their AR rifles/carbines LAR-15, and this model has added that it is their CAR-A2 model – hard to tell the players without a score card because they make so many different models of ARs. So, we’ll just call it the CAR-A2. This gun is chambered in 5.56mm NATO/.223 – and it is not the same caliber – if a gun is chambered in 5.56mm you can safely fire .223 Rem ammo through it – but not the other way around. Oh sure, I’ve done it – not on purpose, but for experimentation – and there was no damage to the .223 Rem chambered gun – that I fired 5.56mm through – but just don’t do it – sooner or later, you’ll have a problem. So, it is great that RRA chambers this model in 5.56mm NATO.

RRA Design Features

The upper and lower receivers are forged, not cast – this makes them stronger. The barrel is 16-inches chrome-moly plated – with a 1:9 twist – the most common twist on civilian ARs – you just can’t shoot some of the heavier bullets with any degree of accuracy – most of us either use ammo with 55-gr or 62 gr bullets anyway – so no problems there. There is a standard A2 flash suppressor. And, the already mentioned trigger – it is a two stage trigger – one of the sweetest trigger pulls you’ll get out of the box. The handguard is the oval R4 type, and it has a typical 6-position adjustable buttstock. Their are marked with the Rock River name. The supplied Hogue finger-grooved pistol grip is very nice. The gun weighs in a 7.5-lbs – a bit heavier than some lower quality ARs, but not as heavy as some others. RRA says the gun is capable of 1 MOA at 100-yards. More about this, later.

RRA LAR-15I purchased this RRA CAR-15 used, from my local gun shop, that is also a pawn shop, and I believe this one was in pawn, and the owner never paid-off his pawn and lost the gun. The gun was filthy. It looked like it had never been cleaned – inside or out. It took me several hours to clean this gun. I also found that the gas rings were worn out. It was easy enough to replace those, and I always keep some of those those on-hand. The gun might have functioned with the old bolt gas rings, but it only took a few minutes to replace the gas rings, and they are quite inexpensive – so stock-up on those parts. The extractor – I thought it was “iffy” and replaced that – another inexpensive spare part – as well as the extractor spring and rubber buffer. Once again, inexpensive spare parts to keep on hand. The gun was now like-new, at least on the inside, the outside had seen better days – it wasn’t all that bad looking but you could tell it had been around the block a few times.

Target Shooting Tests

I had a great selection of .223 Rem ammo from Black Hills Ammunition for testing in this RRA CAR-15 – the nice folks at Black Hills have been supplying my ammo needs since I first started writing about firearms, back in 1993. I had their 55 grain FMJ – Factory Seconds, this is new ammo, but it has some cosmetic flaws, mostly itty-bitty dings in the brass or tarnished brass – but it is still brand-new ammo, I also had their 52 grain  Match Hollow Point, 55 grain FMJ, 60-gr Soft Point, 55-gr Barnes TSX, 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point, and their 69 grain Sierra Matchking. This was quite a selection to run through this AR.

I placed my target stand out to 50 yards, a fair enough distance, for the open sights, and I didn’t want to keep marching back and forth at 100 yards to change targets. The gun was rested over a padded rest, on top of a big rock for my accuracy testing. At 50 yards, even with a wide variety of ammunition, the best group I could get was right at 1-inch, so this equates to roughly 2 inches at 100-yards. So much for the RRA mention of 1-inch MOA at 100-yards. I might have done better with a scope mounted on this gun, but I don’t care for any scopes mounted on top of a carry handle. With those, I just can’t get good cheek placement on the telescoping stock.

Best accuracy, that gave me that 1-inch group at 50 yards was with the 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point. Hot on its heels was the Black Hills 60-gr Soft Point – always a good performer for me, followed by everything else, and they were still well under two inches – well under that. So, not too bad. I can’t complain at all, with this accuracy – might get better if I went prone, but in my old age, its too darn hard to get back up!

RRA LAR-15This gun won’t be used for hunting. It will be a plinker – a fun gun to shoot – killing rocks and punching paper. And, of course, it would certainly make a great End Of The World firearm, as well. I don’t plan on going out on any recon missions, or facing down a platoon of enemy troops – so this gun will make due. It can be issued to a trusted partner, if it comes down to it. I only paid $490 for this gun, and they are selling retail  brand-new in the box, for about a grand.

RRA doesn’t sell low-end, low quality ARs. Rather, they are about in the middle of the road. In all my testing, I fired 400 rounds through this gun. I’m thinking that, if I scrub out the barrel, I mean, really scrub it out, I might get better accuracy from this piece – who knows? I’m still satisfied with this gun, even though it won’t give me one inch groups at 100-yards, at present.

By the way, don’t be afraid to ask the guy behind the gun counter for a better price, if you find a used and slightly abused AR that is filthy and needing a little TLC. They should come off the asking price for you – or clean the gun up and replace some well used parts for you. It doesn’t hurt to ask.




16 Comments

  1. I have a number of AR’s. Price range from $450 to $2100. I can’t shoot them all as much as I want to but my most accurate ones are the ones in mid-range. I subscribe to the notion one is none, two is one, etc… Great article.

    1. As someone who has sold many, many, many firearms (new,sold and lost in pawn) the cleaning issue was always a matter of contention. If we cleaned something up that had been lost in pawn, the person who lost it would come in and poison potential buyers by telling them the condition at the time the loan was made and loan amount vs the price on the firearm. If we did simply a cursory cleaning, we were accused of not knowing what we were doing ( even though myself and two others are trained and experienced gunsmiths) because we made a loan on a firearm in a certain condition and putting money and time into said firearm is not smart business. No way to win. Piss off the people who want top dollar on their poorly cared for rifle, or piss off the people who think they know everything and are picking someone else’s stuff apart looking for a like-new rifle for a pawn shop price.

  2. Words I’ve heard are that picky contractors heading to the sandbox use Noveske, Danial Defense, Yankee Hill Machine, and a couple of others. Getting captured in Afghanistan is not acceptable. I have 8 AR-15 format weapons, from Olympic to Noveske and Colt. I have a STAG Arms model that I wouldn’t in good conscience give to someone. It develops these double-feed stoppages whenever it feels like it that require unusual tools and about 15 minutes to undo. How many of you carry around an industrial set of long-nosed pliers? Enough said. Somewhere around here I have photos taken of my lying on an urban warfare training prop, desperately trying to pry two stuck rounds out of the attic of the upper, using very harsh language. Other students began handing me various tools from the ground. The STAG is related to the training rack.
    The S&W M&P works OK, as does the Olympic, Colt, Eagle Arms, and Noveskes.
    Bolts are the most critical part on an AR, and all bolts aren’t the same! Cheap suppliers are…..CHEAP. What’s in YOUR AR?
    High end manufacturers supplying Uncle Sam recommend new bolts every 5,000 rounds.
    HAVE at least one spare bolt and carrier, in your gear where you can get it, to swap out in serious circumstances of you have a failed bolt. The bolts can break in half at the cam pin hole, or even shed locking lugs. Closely inspect your bolts and carrier, carrier key (for lose screws) every time you clean them. Spare parts kits are readily available on line. They are cheap and well worth your attention while the supply chain is up and running. Sales end when the music stops! Every Army and Marine Corps unit has an armorer that stays busy maintaining weapons. You don’t!
    Another great write up by Pat.

  3. I’ve had 5 new AR’s fail on me with in a few rounds. The primary reason for these failures were related to lubrication. However, had the individual parts been of higher quality, lubrication might not have been as much of a factor. In other words, higher quality builds would be less dependent on lubrication as the surfaces would be properly mated, smoother feed ramps, so there would be less accumulated friction, requiring less lubrication. I am not an AR mechanic, and do not have all the answers, but I do know the lower quality builds do have a more problems. I will not mention names, but I know that my friend had 2 barrels have come loose after about 1,000 rounds. IHMO, every low end AR should be inspected for proper torque, and be properly ‘staked’, barrel and buffer tube. I would replace the main spring, the buffer spring, with a quality one, as it is the heart of the rifle. A flat spring would be best, and not need replacement after several thousand rounds, or in the middle of the proverbial gun fight when it gets hot and dirty. I would then put it in the deep freezer over night, and do a mag dump in the morning. I would then run that rifle until it is smoking hot, to break in the working parts and to check each magazine for function. IHMO, it is not a waste of ammo, it is necessary, as IHMO, the most important thing that the rifle does, is that it goes ‘bang’ every time.

    I do this even with AK’s. I do find problem even with AK’s. Even high quality builds should be put to the test. Use the opportunity to drill, and get those mag changes smooth and fast. Of course if you can afford the best quality, it is well worth it. The likelihood of surprises down the road would be greatly reduced.

  4. Although I am no AR mechanic, I am a stickler for reliability, and who would not be. However, I do have many decades of wrenching on all sorts of machinery. The AR reminds me of a delicate sewing machine. The over gassed varieties and mil spec triggers are a good thing, but after many hours of homework, I discovered the nasty truth about the quality of what ‘mil-spec’ is. It is now questionable.

    Made in America no longer means the same thing as it did decades ago. Now many small parts, or the materials that will be machined in the U.S. is sourced from outside the U.S. A chain is only strongest at it’s weakest link. The type of metal used is not as important as the tempering process. And the quality, or purity of the virgin metal does play a significant role, especially in the spring department. China buys scrap from around the world, but does not sort it into appropriate pots that melts into unique alloys comprised of spring, mild steel, various pot metals. This is a recipe for mystery metal. The AR could be made in America, yet it is no longer 100% American, made from virgin U.S. steel and then turned into the proper, or well known and tested alloy, that is then properly tempered.

    As the buffer spring is the heart of the AR, I’m now installing Tubb’s flat springs as these provide one plus more pound of force on the bolt when it is in battery, yet no more force on the BCG (bolt carrier group) as it cycles to the rearward extreme. The over gassed AR has an advantage of providing additional pressure and energy to eject the hot and dirty cases, and operate smoother with this spring. The low quality of springs these days mean that they will not hold their ‘spring’ for as long as it could be expected. This means fully loaded magazines may take a set sooner, or because of a weakened and worn buffer spring, the AR may not chamber a round after only few thousand rounds. Why? Because these low quality springs lose their springiness sooner than they should. If I could, I would install Tubb’s springs. It is relatively inexpensive up grade that fixes the weakest link in the mechanism, as good springs are critical for the reliable operation of the AR. I scrimp, so I can spend it on where it counts the most.

    http://davidtubb.com/ar15-bufferspring

  5. My first AR was built using a Del-Ton kit that cost around $550. I put a few thousand rounds through it with no issues of any kind. Accuracy was acceptable for my purposes. Sights, a couple magazines, and everything else spent about $750 and then out to the range. Good value overall, in my opinion.

  6. I had been looking for an AR with the old school carrying handle/rear sight and 20 inch barrel. I had a “CAR-15’before the M4 came around and it is nice but it doesn’t have the accuracy and reach that that extra few gives the full size AR. I guess when your running and gunning door to door in an Urban Area it makes sense but where I live I want to take full advantage of its max effect range. I have a Colt H-bar (flat top) but I really want an AR like I had most of my time in the service.

    I stopped by one of the shops and they had what appeared to be a new Rock River 20” barrel that fit the bill. Price tag was $750 and said it was “used”. I took that to mean “previously owned” since the gun looked showcase clean and the bolt head showed very little use, with the bluing intact and no brass circle. Took it home and out of the box was hitting a steel plate at 100 yds with iron sights. I was very impressed.

    Pat just wondering how much of the issue with the less than “advertised” MOA with your gun was from lack of maintenance and perhaps abuse? You mentioned you wanted to a deep clean on the barrel. Be interesting to get a New RRA and see how it performs.

    1. Yep. Mil-Spec is synonymous with “if the quality could get any worse, it would”. Granted, some parts are either Mil-Spec or Commercial, especially retractable butt stocks. If the buffer tube is Mil-Spec, or Commercial, you need to know that before ordering the butt stock because the diameters are different.

  7. Well, at a party in the county, a friend of a friend has his AR, and they were shooting. He put 300 rounds through it. Then it failed. Catastrophic. I brought out my AR, had over 2K rounds through it, anyone that wanted to shoot, got to, because it didn’t fail. My $850 Windham Weaponry AR with over 2K rounds through it survived against a $1,200 Daniel Defense AR. The tip that holds the buffer spring and assembly back, had busted through and jammed up the buffer spring. This allowed it to recoil about an inch or two before stopping completely. I had to grab the charging handle and jam the buttstock into the deck just to clear the weapon before disassembling it. Yep, that’s Daniel Defense quality, that he paid $1,200 for. To quote him, “it’s top of the line, the best there is”. And then it died. High price doesn’t guarantee quality.

  8. here’s to reiterate vt’s thoughts. Mil spec means it met a minimum standard for requirements as well as the lowest cost. It doesn’t mean the best quality. I can buy a milspec bcg for $50 or an aftermarket for $350. Of the 7 or so ar type in my possession, most are mid grade. only one issue over many years and that was a fte on steel case. One. That’s it. Lube em, keep em kinda clean buff said.

  9. Good review. I own 2 Rock Rivers I purchased new. Great triggers, like Pat said, right out of the box. All 1 MOA if I do my part. Granted my LaRue Tactical and Black Rain are better guns, more accurate, but much pricier also. Highly recommend any of the above. Also TR was spot on with the lubrication. In training I watched others jam, and double feed that were not lubricated. I haven’t had any issues with failed parts on the above, which I run pretty often. My loaners, I have tested, but not put thru the 1000 rd tests…

    1. AK’s are far more robust, and I prefer them, yet the AR is a ‘must have’ as the most common ammunition is 5.56. And the AR is better for certain situations, especially for night vision. And in addition to being lighter and more accommodating is because the Smith Vortex flash hider makes you very hard to see if shooting .223. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3dFnENc7iM
      I do not know if it is possible to control the AK’s muzzle flash to this great extent as seen in this video. A friend recently suggested this. The A2 flash hider is good, but not this good!

      It is not the case that one type of rifle is best. AR;s are more adaptable, better for optics, lighter and more ergonomic for those not physically capable of handling the AK, and it’s magazines. AK ammunition is less expensive, but also one should have a precision rifle as well for shots beyond 200 to 300 yards. The AK has limits, it is a battle axe that will keep on going when and where is usually counts most, inside of 200 yards. My favorite has a 60% heavier receiver, and a heavy RPK 20 inch barrel, and is more accurate than the standard AK. The ammunition is only .20 cent a round, 7.62 x 39 Tula brand 154 grain soft point at 2,300 fps, is a very popular round for taking hogs. Lots of ballistic gelatin tests on line, and hogs prove the round is an excellent self defense round, every bit, and perhaps more effect than the .30-30 round nose ammunition, as it expands faster. And it is more accurate than all the low cost 7.62 x 39, 122 to 124 grain bullets of any manufacturer and type of bullet. No contest. It would stop the fight much faster than any .223 round or other types of 7.62 x 39 rounds. Ballistic gelatin test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UWA2-ZvXFI

      If you can find a semi auto battle rifle in 7.62 Nato that can handle .308 Winchester pressures, and be reliable with soft point or polymer tipped ammunition, it might cost as low as $1.00 per round. I do not know if that rifle exists. Of course most of us could not train with that ammunition either….but you would get better results than the Tula 154 grain soft point in 7.62 x 39. And the 7.62 Nato rifle would likely be more accurate, and might make a precision rifle unnecessary, if the rifle were accurized. It would unfortunately cost a lot more to run, and I do not know if that rifle exists. We could always hand load thousands of rounds at the lower Nato pressures, yet that is hard to recommend. The higher cost of the rifle and ammunition means less ammunition to train with. If you go for the AK, get the Arsenal brand with a strong fixed stock. Folders are not as strong. If you can afford more than the Arsenal AK, do so.

  10. Ya’ll have some misconceptions about where quality steel comes from. The U.S. has few actual foundaries. Quality steel should be DFAR compliant. Not sure how you would discover this for each individual component. Price doesn’t ensure quality. I like that.

    So, I was an armorer in the army, and work in metal manufacturing.

    There is no replacement, for owning a FEW quality weapons. Training with said weapons, to include level 20 and level 30 maintenance on weapons with repair parts!

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