I have been a fan of the .308 cartridge (7.62x51mm) for many years and have always enjoyed its versatility. It has numerous useful applications for self-defense and law enforcement and one of my bolt-action rifles in that chambering is set up for medium- to-long range anti-personnel work.
I have used .308 rifles in bolt-action, lever-action, slide-action and semi-automatic configurations, the latter being in the form of the M14 battle rifle, which is what we cadets trained with in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) I was very interested when Rock River Arms (RRA) introduced an AR-type rifle in the popular .308 caliber.
The rifle was the Mid-Length (M/L) LAR-8 A4 (308A1239), which comes housed in a compartmented, electric blue plastic carrying case. In the case, the rifle is broken down into the upper-receiver/barrel group and the lower-receiver/stock group that allows the case to be a bit more compact length-wise. It is a great case for shipping the weapon, but unfortunately the case cannot be used once an optic sight is mounted on the LAR-8, which means that if you want to carry your RRA rifle in a gun case fully assembled with a sight mounted, you will be in the market for a new larger gun case.
My sample LAR-8 mid-length A4 came with a 16-inch Wilson chrome moly barrel having a 1-in-10-inch right-hand twist, six land and groove rifling and a Picatinny rail on the upper receiver and on top of the barrel at the front of the handguard as there are no iron sights. There is also an A2 version that has the same iron sight configuration that is found on the M16A2 rifle. Both of these rifles are fitted with a tactical CAR-style buttstock.
Other RRA LAR-8 factory variations include Standard A2 and A4 models that have 20-inch barrels and a conventional AR-type butt stock, plus there is an A-4 Varmint Model that features a 26-inch Wilson air gauged, stainless steel bull barrel that is coupled with a free-floating, tubular aluminum handguard for increased long-distance accuracy.
Standard features on my LAR-8 M/L A4 includes a rubber Hogue pistol grip, which is stippled and has finger grooves, a two-stage match trigger, upper receiver with bolt forward assist and ejection port door, plus brass deflector, ventilated polymer handguard, sling swivels and A2-type flash suppressor. The LAR-8 basically looks like a M16 on steroids, as the receiver has been beefed up to allow use of the .308 (7.62x51mm) cartridge.
The two big differences that the discerning eye will note is the magazine and the bolt catch. The factory-supplied magazine for the LAR-8 is basically the same as the 20-round magazine used in the famous FN/FAL and L1A1 battle rifles. Entire articles and books could be and have been devoted to this fine weapon, so we won’t delve into that subject here, but this Fabrique Nationale-designed rifle has been in service since 1953 and has armed some 60 countries around the world including Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and Argentina.
Needless to say, there have been countless thousands of magazines made for the FN/FAL and that fact pays dividends to the LAR-8 owner who has a wide selection to choose from. I did a little Internet surfing and came up with price ranges from $10 to $22 for used Mil-Spec 20-round magazines. There are also 30-round magazines out there that average around $50 more. They hang down a bit too far for comfortable prone shooting, so I’m content to stick with the 20-rounders myself.
The bolt catch on the LAR-8 is not on the left side of the lower receiver as on the M16, but is positioned at the base of the magazine well at its juncture with the pivoting triggerguard. It is more reminiscent of the bolt catch found on the FN/FAL and is made to be ambidextrous, and if your hand is large enough can be actuated by the trigger finger of whichever hand you use. The magazine release is located in the same area as on the M16 and the LAR-8 is also ambidextrous.
While the manual safety lever, just above the pistol grip on the right of the receiver, is not ambidextrous, it appears to be easily changed to the left side of the receiver if that’s the user’s preference. On a whole the controls on this rifle are easily reached and manipulated without removing the hand from the pistol grip, certainly a plus in a patrol rifle. I had no trouble whatever operating them with my medium-sized hand.
Obviously, this rifle is going to pack more weight than the M16 and the LAR-8 M/L A4 weighs in empty, sans sights, at a respectable 8.1 pounds. With the 6-position CAR buttstock fully extended it measures 38 inches. The weight and the propellant gas operation system of the action certainly help tame recoil, which is a good thing given the hard checkered butt of the CAR stock.
The standard polymer handguard is round in shape with flats on the top and bottom that are serrated and have holes for barrel ventilation. There are no rails on the standard handguard, but RRA does offer optional Daniel Defense Lite Quad Rails for both the Mid-Length and Standard LAR-8 A4 rifles. In fact, a visit to the RRA website will allow one to see the full list of optional items available that allow you to “have it your way” with just about any Rock River Arms’ AR-type rifle.
As always, I gave the RRA LAR-8 Mid-Length A4 a top to bottom inspection and did not find anything wanting in overall fit and finish of the weapon. All the flats were flat, corners square and rounded surfaces done to perfection. No machine marks or other blemishes were visible and the black hard coat anodized finish was a good match to the black polymer material of the handguard and buttstock of the rifle.
Now given that my RRA LAR-8 M/L A4 comes without sights, it was time to select something with which to aim the rifle that would be fitting for my uses. I looked at a number of optical and sights of various manufacturers, but came away impressed with the Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) 3.5x35mm .308 BDC/FT.Chevron BAC riflescope for our test.
Anyone that watches the network nightly news has seen the ACOG sights on the M16A2 rifles carried by many of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; their bell-shaped housings make them easily identifiable. They have been in use for many years by Army Special Forces, the Marines, Navy SEALs and the FBI, so I didn’t see how I could go wrong. Trijicon is synonymous with the night sights that have been fitted on many of the most popular combat handguns for a couple of decades. However, Trijicon’s founder Glyn Bindon wanted to build a sight for long arms that would bring together both-eyes-open shooting, an illuminated aiming point, plus magnified optics.
What he discovered was what has since been termed the Bindon Aiming Concept (BAC), aiming with both eyes open, which gives a superior sense of balance and field of view, coupled with a magnified Trijicon sight, which offers the shooter a considerable advantage over his target using conventional sights. When used as designed, in the binocular mode, the operator sees only the red, chevron-shaped reticle (the pointed tip is the aiming point) transposed on the target at anywhere from across-the-room ranges to several hundred yards.
My sample ACOG 3.5x35mm scope came packaged in a well-padded Pelican case, which also held a black nylon, Scopecoat scope cover, a Lenspen lens cleaner and an ACOG thumbscrew flattop adapter for affixing the scope to the Picatinny rail of the LAR-8. The scope housing is 8 inches in length and is made of rugged forged aluminum; the black, hard-anodized finish matches almost exactly that of the RRA rifle. Scope weight without mounts adds only 14 ounces to the weight of the rifle.
The scope is calibrated for use with the .308 cartridge and is meant to be sighted in at 100 meters with an effective range of 800 meters on flattop rifles. The reticle also includes a rangefinder and the base of the chevron aiming point is 5.53 MOA (minute of angle), which at 300 meters is 19 inches allowing for good range estimation. Of course, during the day, the fiber-optic tube running along the top of the scope gathers light for the red aiming point and at night/low light tritium is used to illuminate the chevron. The field of view at 100 yards is almost 29 feet, the eye relief is 2.4 inches and the adjustment is 4-inch clicks at 100 yards.
Now it was time to go to my ammo locker and select some cartridges from my stock of .308 ammunition. I chose Black Hills Gold with a 168-grain Hornady A-Max bullet, which has a factory velocity of 2650 fps (feet per second). Next I picked Federal Gold Medal that has a Sierra 168-grain “MatchKing” BTHP bullet also rated at 2650 fps. To add a law enforcement-designed cartridge I included the one of the Hornady TAP loads in .308.
According to their website, “The 155-grain A-MAX TAP Precision cartridge offers match accuracy with a high-ballistic coefficient providing superior long-range performance. This load demonstrates expansion and fragmentation similar to the 110-grain load, but with a noticeable increase in penetration and retained bullet weight. This bullet penetrates glass with minimal deflection and exhibits retained expansion and fragmentation characteristics.”
It is also intended for use in a 1-in-10-inch or 1-in-12-inch twist rifle barrel such as that on the LAR-8. My final selection was the Winchester 150-grain Supreme Elite with “The new XP3 bullet that starts with a two-stage expansion design, then combines all the best-known bullet technology to offer delayed controlled expansion, deep penetration, and high retained weight.”
With my rifle/sight combination, plus test ammunition in hand, it was time for a field test. I did my shooting at the NRA Whittington Center during the 2008 Shootists Holiday and used the Center’s Sight-In Range for my accuracy and chronograph testing session. I sighted the Trijicon ACOG 3.5x35mm scope in for 100 yards, then proceeded to shoot three 3-shot groups for record with each test cartridge, using the concrete benches and an MTM Casegard rest.
My best group was 0.82 of an inch using Federal Gold Medal loads, followed by 0.97 of an inch with the Hornady TAP ammo. All of the group averages stayed under 2 inches and my guess is that the rifle would have had no trouble out-shooting the shooter that day. I also set up my Oehler Model 35P chronograph to see what velocities I would get from the LAR-8 M/L 16-inch barrel.
Next I put a silhouette target out at 200 yards and fired a dozen shots using a mixed bag of .308 cartridges at center mass and scored 10 hits in the 10 and X-ring and two just out in the 9-ring. Three shots to the head resulted in three hits in the 10-ring. Lastly, I took the LAR-8 to the Animal Silhouette Range, where the backstop is a mountainside covered with nice big rocks.
From the standing, off-hand position, again using a mix of my test ammo, I was able to make dust fly on rocks out as far as I could see them on the mountainside, which has been previously checked with a laser rangefinder to have shootable rocks out to some 475 yards. The best part besides the practical accuracy and “shootability” of the LAR-8 was the fact that it was 100-percent reliable and I did not note a single malfunction during the test.
RRA has a winner here and mated with the Trijicon ACOG scope and good ammo, I can’t think of anything I’d rather take into harm’s way.