When I was a kid the “black guns” weren’t mainstream. In my mind they were just guns that the military used. I was always told they weren’t very accurate and most of the ammo available was the surplus full metal jacket commonly called ball ammunition. So back 30 years ago if you were serious about hunting or target shooting you bought a bolt-action rifle.
Times have changed and today the AR-15 platform rifles have become one of the hottest selling firearms. The reason is that the guns have changed a lot from the original Armalite-rifle design which is where the AR in AR-15 comes from. It does not stand for assault rifle despite what the media says.
Lots of companies now make their own version of AR-platform rifles. There are probably as many AR manufacturers as there are reasons for the sudden jump in their popularity. Of course, just because multiple manufacturers make an AR platform rifle doesn’t mean they are all created equally. In fact, it’s just the opposite. There are great guns and junk depending on who makes the rifle, where the parts are made, the quality of the metal used, quality of the barrel, trigger, etc. The good ones make a gun that is rugged, reliable, versatile, and as accurate as any rifle platform on the market. That’s why lots of serious predator hunters were some of the first hunters to change over to the AR. Predator hunters need a tough gun that can handle any weather conditions and still perform. We also need a gun that has the firepower for multiple shots for multiple targets that is also accurate enough to make long range shots at small targets. Some of the new AR platform rifles fit that need perfectly and so they crossed from mostly military use into a modern sporting rifle for hunting. Although they rapidly gained popularity with predator hunters, they are also great options for big game as well and continue to be favored by those hunters.
I am admittedly a tad biased because as I became a firm believer in the AR platform for hunting, I wanted to shoot one that had the best of everything. I approached Rock River Arms as I had heard from multiple sources, they had a great offering in assorted AR-style rifles that were extremely accurate and dependable because of the extras they incorporated into the guns. I also knew that a lot of competitive shooters as well as some specialized military units, border patrol and federal agencies chose their rifles, so I decided they were a great place to start. As an avid shooter and predator hunter I wanted to give my input on some things I wanted to see in a predator-specific rifle.
I also like that some models have options to swap out uppers so you can change calibers. You can actually have several rifles in one because they offer a myriad of uppers in different calibers.
If you’re unfamiliar with AR platform rifles, they can be intimidating at first. The fact is they are super easy guns to learn to use. It’s also a great gun to teach kids how firearms work or at least a general understanding because you can take them apart and show them the individual parts like the sear, hammer, firing pin etc. Here is a crash course on what makes up an AR platform rifle. Basically, there are two main halves to the gun, the upper and the lower. The complete lower includes the stock that comes in different models (like fixed position or adjustable), the pistol grip, the buffer spring, buffer, trigger assembly (trigger, hammer and other related parts that are commonly called the fire control group), the housing that the magazine goes into, and the attachment points for the upper (two pins that are easy to pop in and out). The complete upper is basically just the barrel, chamber, and hand guard (what you hold with your opposite hand). The upper also houses some important items like your gas block, bolt, bolt carrier, and charging handle. Pretty simple once you watch someone take one apart.
I finally got my opportunity to meet with the top brass at Rock River, Chuck Larson and his brother Mark. A family run business is refreshing in today’s world. Sadly, since our meeting Mark has passed away, but his brother Chuck continues to not only lead Rock River but also continues designing and building new guns. The two brothers impressed me instantly and I realized in a few minutes that they were more knowledgeable about firearms and their designs than anyone I had ever met. As a hunter I explained what I thought would be the perfect predator rifle. Basically, it was their design with a few tweaks. One thing I really wanted was a brake/port. They did question my motive at first as recoil on a .223 is minimal. My point was that as a predator hunter I wanted any advantage I could have when it came to a quick follow up shot. A fraction of a second could mean the difference in quicker target acquisition which could mean harvesting two or three coyotes instead of one. Also, if I missed (albeit rare, it has happened), the reduced recoil provided by a brake/port would allow me to stay in the scope and see where my bullet missed and adjust for my follow-up shot. We also discussed some other additions and the Rock River Arms/Fred Eichler LAR-15 became a reality. Why is it called the LAR-15? It’s an AR platform that was designed and made by the LAR “Son” brothers. There is a little trivia for you. I originally thought it stood for “laser accurate rifle.” I warned you I was a tad biased.
Lots of features set this rifle apart. First, they worked on designing a uniquely tuned and ported muzzle brake. So, in a sea of AR rifles we had a gun that allowed quicker target acquisition by combating natural recoil. As all shooters know recoil causes a gun to push back and up. With the tuned unique brake/port on my signature rifle these guys vented the gasses to push the gun down and forward thus almost totally negating recoil. This allows faster target acquisition after the shot because the recoil is minimal, and I can see my bullet impact. We also wanted this gun to come with their two-stage match trigger. A gun is only as good as its trigger and we wanted this gun to have it all. It is chambered in .223 Wylde so it could handle 5.56 ammunition and .223 and comes with the winter trigger guard so you could still easily slide a gloved finger into the guard and get to the trigger in cold weather conditions. For those that want to use night vision, thermal vision or add lights or other aftermarket options we added a full-length top rail with smaller 2.5-inch rails at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock position. Although there are some other functional features that make this gun sweet to me, I won’t mention them all. Lastly though I do have to mention the design feature to make it stand out as a predator rifle. They added coyote tracks to the hand guard. Yup, it stands out in a gun rack for sure.
Well enough about my AR let’s get down to how an AR can help you harvest more critters big or small.
Besides the firepower that an AR delivers which basically is only limited by how many rounds you have in your magazine, the range of options for different loads for the most common caliber (the .223) is seemingly endless. For instance, Hornady has bullet weights that are literally across the spectrum, including 35,40,50,53,55,60,62,68,73 and 75 grains with all different types of bullets to fit whatever you want to do from targets or prairie dogs, to hog or deer. The fps (foot per second) ranges from 2,600 all the way up to 4,000 fps. So, no matter if you’re shooting plates or for your plate you can probably find what you need. That’s a huge difference from what was available when I was cutting my teeth.
For predators like coyote or bobcat my favorite set-up is my RRA .223 with Hornady Superformance 53 grain V-MAX bullet. I like a Leupold 4.5-16 scope with their CDS (Custom Dial System) so I can hold dead on and only have to account for wind drift even on long shots. I have also used Nikon scopes in the past with the hash marks for yardage with success as well.
For large game and for an inexpensive way to have two rifles in one I got a Rock River .458 SOCOM upper. What’s great is that in literally seconds I can pop on the .458 upper and go from a .223 to a big bore big game gun. The .223 magazine is even dual purpose and single stacks the .458 rounds perfectly. Just make sure you either get a small magazine or permanently block the magazine so it can’t hold over the legal amount of rounds for big game as most states have a maximum number of rounds you can legally have in your gun when hunting big game. Both our oldest boy and I have harvested black bear with the .458 and it worked awesome in both circumstances.
My next addition to my large bore arsenal in an AR platform is the 6.5 Creedmoor. I already have the Rock River Arms LAR-8 in .308 and plan on getting the 6.5 upper so I again have two awesome large game hunting caliber options in one rifle.
I am not saying ditch your bolt rifles, but don’t overlook the AR platform when you’re looking for a serious hunting or target rifle. Some of the new ones on the market will surprise you. Plus, if the $#%& ever hits the fan, I would rather grab my AR to protect my family than dad’s old lever action.