Cars & Guns: A Look at Rock River Arms

Cars & Guns: A Look at Rock River Arms

Gun guys are typically car guys. Rock River Arms CEO Chuck Larson is proof of that.

Driving muscle cars is like shooting in a lot of ways. They are both quintessential Americana and signify control over unbridled power. Whether it's at a track or on the range, you exercise unequalled personal freedom and responsibility by choosing where to point and when to go for it. Effectively managing felt recoil is comparable to hanging on to the wheel as you push 1g while trying to maintain the courage to stay in it. When it's all over, the descending rush of pumping adrenaline makes you want to do it all over again.

After corralling the 638-horse Torch Red Corvette ZR1 back into its parking space, Rock River Arms CEO Chuck Larson handed me the keys to his Camaro ZL1; you know, the one with a 580-horsepower 6.2L supercharged V8. It's got a lightweight aluminum hood with a carbon fiber insert, downforce-inducing aerodynamics and the magnetic ride-control suspension everyone's been talking about.


From the time you dump the clutch, it only takes 3.9 seconds to run at interstate speed and just 12.3 seconds to meet the state trooper at the end of the quarter-mile. Even more impressive, the ZR1 does 60 in 3.4 seconds and a standing quarter in 11.3. My thoughts went back in time to that of a 16-year-old. It was as if my dad just told me I could take his enviable machine to the prom.

Then I heard Chuck say, "Go ahead'¦ You know you want to. It's only a car."

These impressive torque monsters represent just 1,218 horses in Larson's eclectic stable, and they provide an insight into the philosophy behind every Rock River Arms AR-type rifle and 1911 produced: Innovative performance should be obtainable by any hard-working American.

Rock River offers a rifle that's explicitly for left-handed shooters. Not only does it offer left-hand eject, you get a left-hand forward assist, ambi mag release, right-side bolt catch and even left-hand barrel twist.


Though scientific studies show that southpaws only make up 12 percent of the global population, it is estimated that as many as 43 percent of shooters are left-handed or left-eye dominant. Lefties usually get the shaft in the gun world. Even though the next generation of rifles and pistols will be entirely ambidextrous, left-handed shooting enthusiasts still have to deal with adapting existing platforms like the AR-15 to shoot for them. A few companies have offered so-called ambidextrous ARs or ones that are left-hand eject, but no one had completely reversed the AR-15 for our favorite underdogs — until Rock River Arms.

Rock River Arms completely reversed the AR-type rifle in its LAR-15LH LEF-T model. We're talking left-hand uppers and left-hand lowers. These will not work with conventional AR receivers. You'll find an ambidextrous charging handle, forend, grip, mag release and stock in addition to the left-hand ejection port, left-side forward assist, right-side bolt catch and right-side-only selector that'll make the rest of the population know what it's like to be discriminated against.

Even the sight adjustments are left-side oriented and the cryogenically treated barrel given a left-hand twist. Nothing has ever been this well thought out to address the needs of a southpaw nation.

Our tests produced an average of 1.14-inch five-shot groups from multiple right- and left-handed shooters at a 100-yard bench. Occasionally, we'd even print a sub-MOA group (not bad for a wrong-handed rifle).

Just as an AR-15 isn't for everybody, neither is a Corvette. And that's why Rock River Arms redesigned Stoner's rifle to run AK mags. Mr. Camaro, meet Mr. LAR-47.


The Rock River Arms LAR-47, introduced in 2013, delivers 7.62x39mm performance in an AR-style package. Really, it's not even fair to relate this model to an AR-15, because it's a completely different rifle design. Rock River Arms chose not to simply force an AK round into an AR magazine (as others have done before) and expect it to feed. Rather, RRA engineered the LAR-47 from the ground up to accept popular AK mags.

In order to accept AK magazines, Rock River Arms incorporated the AK's hook-and-latch system to lock mags in place. Because engagement surfaces of an AK mag are made of steel and AR receivers are made of aluminum, Rock River Arms had to include a steel crosspin for the magazine to hook on to. You can find it just behind the receiver's takedown pin.

Since the AK magazines are larger than the AR's STANAG design, the magazine well is larger, which eliminates the bolt catch and provides enough room so the Rock River Arms' two-stage trigger could still be used. Since AK magazines do not inherently come with a way to lock back the bolt carrier, we doubt that the noticeably absent bolt catch will be missed.

Pushing a cleverly designed magazine-release paddle just outside the front of either side of the triggerguard drops the magazine. To accommodate this unique mag release, the winter triggerguard had to be reshaped and enlarged.

To overcome the usual fouling associated with using common surplus AK ammunition, Rock River has chosen to help its customers by chroming the bore and bolt carrier group for improved reliability.

The best part about the LAR-47 versus the AK47 may be that you can finally gain confidence in securing Picatinny-mounted magnified optics on the receiver's top rail. Most AK magazines will work with the LAR-47, but you may find that some U.S.-made polymer ones won't.

Our range time demonstrated an expected accuracy of 1.7 inches at 100 yards with quality ammunition and a little more than two inches for newer-manufactured surplus. That rivals the performance out of the average AK47 any day.

For some Americans, there is no substitute for a Model 1911 as a carry gun. (Unless, of course, it weighs as little as Rock River's 1911 Poly.)

1911 POLY

The Rock River Arms 1911 Poly made its first appearance in gun stores in 2013. Building 1911s and fixing other high-end custom 1911s was part of the start for Mark and Chuck Larson, so it only makes sense that they revisit this American icon and infuse some modern technology, like Chevrolet has done with the latest-generation Corvette and Camaro.

Rather than molding the checkered grip panels into the frame (as other manufacturers of polymer-frame 1911s have done), the 1911 Poly allows one the option of using aftermarket grips should you want to personalize this feature. And unlike other poly 1911s that were designed for a double-stack magazine, Rock River Arms' entry is the classic seven-round, single-stack configuration.

A steel insert into the polymer frame includes the frame rails and functions as the anchor point for the disconnector, ejector, grip safety, hammer, plunger tube, slide stop and thumb safety.

The 1911 Poly maintains popular features of modern 1911s including a beavertail grip safety; molded, 20-lpi checkering on the frontstrap and the backstrap; low-profile, Novak-style sights; stainless steel combat hammer; and aluminum trigger. Most Government Models with five-inch barrels typically weigh between 36 and 38 ounces. The 1911 Poly comes in at 32¾ ounces.

Based on our testing, expect it to print two- to three-inch groups at a 25-yard bench with virtually any ammo.

The R3 is a great race gun. It offers out-of-the-box ¾-MOA performance, a directionally tuned and ported muzzlebrake and a 15-inch TRO-XL eight-sided forend.

LAR-15 R3

In response to the popularity of 3-Gun competition, Rock River Arms answered the call from performance-minded shooting enthusiasts for a supercharged rifle capable of winning a street race right out of the box. Rock River Arms starts with forged receivers and has added an adjustable Operator CAR stock, a Hogue rubber grip, a low-profile gas block on a mid-length gas system and the company's match-winning two-stage trigger.

Introduced on the Rock River Arms R3 is a 15-inch, eight-sided free-float handguard with full-length top rail. It completely protects the cryo-treated 18-inch fluted stainless steel barrel that's capped off with a directionally tuned muzzlebrake. That's the description of a full-fledged race gun.

We've only had one chance to shoot the R3, and it wasn't at the bench. Rock River Arms suggests that this rifle is capable of ¾ MOA at 100 yards. All we can say is that it has no trouble keeping hits in a 10-ring the size of a dime between 10 and 50 yards. Even under pressure of a timer, the R3 proved to be an easy-handling tackdriver on multiple targets during our recent 3-Gun-style competition.


Rock River Arms does not represent the cheapest ARs and 1911s on the market, but they rival the most expensive. In this way, they, too, are like the Camaro and Corvette. When it's made in America, you typically get more than what you pay for.

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