Monday, October 31, 2011

Rock River Arms RRA Mid-Length AR15 A4 Review with Stainless .223 Wylde Barrel

Rock River Arms RRA Mid-Length AR15 A4 Review with Stainless .223 Wylde Barrel

Oddly enough Rock River Arms (RRA), one of the most venerable names in AR15 business, was not started as an black rifle company but as a 1911 pistol company initially launched in 1996 as Tolerance Plus.  In 1998 they changed the name to Rock River Arms due to their mid-western proximity to the Rock River. As time went on, diversification to AR15 rifles became a small then quickly the majority share of the Rock River Arms volume.  Today Rock River Arms has become one of the most respected AR15 brand names due to long-term contracts with the US Government, a multitude of law enforcement agencies, and consistent high quality.  Rock River Arms buyers end up with a known brand name Military spec weapon which has historically provided a higher than average resell value.

Rock River Arms’ focus is to provide buyers custom production build-to-order rifles the way they want versus ending up with a drawer full of parts after upgrading an “as-is” manufacturer configured rifle.  Rock River Arms has never been the least expensive, however they strive to offer the best value without sacrificing high quality on a custom configured AR15.

As noted before in other articles I am a fan of mid-length systems and when I ordered this Rock River A4 AR15, I again selected a Mid-Length rifle configuration.  The carbine length gas system was really designed for military 14” barrels, a mid-length system is optimum for 16” barrels and provides more controllable and lighter recoil, runs a bit cooler and even a bit cleaner and offers more forend real-estate to use up front.  Rock River Arms do come very nicely equipped, however I did opt for a stainless 1:8 twist barrel chambered in .223 Wylde to increase overall accuracy which brought the base $940 gun up $65 to $1005.
Quality over price has always been the primary goal of Rock River Arms.  I will be the first to say that goal is not always shared by the flood of AR manufacturers these days... unfortunately it seems price is the leading design factor for most manufacturers.  Unless a AR manufacturer is extremely picky, most AR builder/manufacturers are all using the same components from the same small core of component manufacturers.  Assuming all these parts are in the same spec range, the quality of the build becomes more about fit, finish, and assembly expertise to deliver a reliable and durable rifle.  Part of this quality process is to assure dimensional and fatigue testing procedures are in place for parts coming in the door, such as we see on MPI (Metal Particle Inspection) and HPT (High Pressure Tested) testing in an effort to assure parts will not fail is performed only by a few manufacturers. Many disagree on the testing procedures themselves. Some AR manufacturers such as Rock River Arms feel MPI and HPT testing which inspects & fatigues parts, should be done but only on random samples which are tested but never used in customer rifles. Rock River Arms perspective is that these fatigue and inspection testing procedures can actually negatively affect the durability of the part subjected to testing and instead pulls random samples but still dimensionally “go/no-go” checks each part assembled into their rifles.  

This attention to detail on each part going into the rifle results in Rock River Arms renowned tight fit and one of the tightest no-slop upper to lower receiver fits in the industry.  The tight tolerances do not stop there and expand to every part on the Rock River Arms for a very solid build that will be tight for some time.  The parts are all finished uniformly and with the stainless barrel upgrade My RRA A4 is mighty sharp looking standard AR15.

As mentioned earlier the Rock River Arm Mid-Length AR15 is a very solid build. The heavy contour stainless barrel does add some extra weight up front, however for off hand shooting at distant targets the weight is appreciated.

Rock River realized that nearly every rifle leaving the factory was ordered with a chrome bolt and carrier and decided to just offer that as a standard no-charge upgrade.  From my understanding you can still order a standard phosphated bolt and carrier if you want, but I went for the Rock River Arms chrome Bolt Carrier Group.
The Rock River Arms 2-stage Trigger is notably the best production trigger on the market and they include it for no charge on most models including the RRA Mid-Length A4 AR15 I am reviewing here.  This trigger has a direct impact on Rock River’s famous accuracy.  The break is as crisp as many of the entry target triggers on the market and rids the AR of that horrible stock gritty trigger feel. The two stage trigger provides you with a noticeable smooth take up and then a hard stop which allows you to set up before pressing the trigger through the crisp break.  I will agree with all the previous statements regarding the trigger, the best production trigger in the business period.

“Sorry dear my thumb slipped and I accidentally ordered the upgraded stainless barrel”  So the story goes, but it was a great intentional “mistake” which delivers outstanding accuracy on a standard non-free floated hand guard rifle.  It was only a $65 upgrade to the stainless 1:8 twist barrel with the .223 Wylde chamber.  The 1:8 twist is a compromise rifle twist between the 1:7 military and 1:9 civilian standards.  The slower 1:9 twist prefers lighter bullets, the 1:7 heavier, the 1:8 generally really shoots all very well and is the twist found in most precision target rifles. 

The .223 Wylde was developed by Bill Wylde as a precision target chamber compromise which would shoot both 5.56 Nato and .223 Remington rounds safely but more accuracy  Without going all ammo nerd, the 5.56 is a hair larger than the .223. Shoot a .223 in a 5.56 chamber and that ever so slight tolerance makes accuracy suffer. The .223 Wylde allows both rounds to be shot (handy survival utility) and generally increases the accuracy of both in the process do to tighter tolerances.  The 1:8 twist and the .223 Wylde chamber is a best of all worlds accuracy compromise with a wide variety of ammo.

Rock River Arms uses an M4 Barrel Extension with M4 style feed ramps to increase reliability.  Although standard on RRA models, M4 feed ramps are an upgrade over the standard old feed ramps and provide for more reliable movement of rounds from the magazine into the chamber.

The RRA Mid-Length A4 comes in a variety of standard configurations to be customized from but all receivers include a logo'ed upper with T-markings on the 1913 Spec picatinny rails. I ordered mine with the adjustable RRA 6-position stock, standard GI grip, heat shielded forend, and standard fixed F-Marked front sight.  The standard rifle comes complete with a very heavy duty hard plastic case with steel clasp locks and foam padded interior, one standard aluminum GI magazine, a US Army M16 Maintenance Manual, and safety range plug.  Typically most ARs will include a standard plastic rifle case which is usually too long and the result is most of use end up buying another more compact case.  Rock River Arms’ cases are not Pelican quality however they are a big step beyond the in-expensive cases provided by most manufacturers but they are very good quality, are AR15 sized, and will prevent you from buying a more compact case for trips to the range.  Everyone seems to be using the polymer magazines these days, however this RRA proved the GI metal magazines still work just fine.

No problems what-so-ever without cleaning between any of the 30 magazines of mixed ammo run through during two afternoon’s of testing.  About the 940 round count mark I did have a bad steel case round which had a good hard solid primer hit but did not ignite, however I am attributing that to the cheap ammo. Clearing that round and continuing on, without cleaning I passed the 1000 round count through the Rock River Arms A4 AR15 Mid-Length Rifle without any other issues. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to report back at some point regarding how many rounds it took before a non-ammo related failure occurred.

Rock River Arms accuracy guarantee (along with any other manufacturer offering said guarantee) has taken heat from a number of folks.  In fact I have had a number of discussions with various manufacturers who could guarantee their accuracy, but just don’t want the hassle.  The problem typically is not question of ability of the rifle, but rather the ability of the shooter.  Most folks simply do not have the skill to produce consistent 2” groups at 100 yards with a $5000 precision tack driving rifle, let alone 1” groups with a production $1000 rifle.  The point people miss is that off a fixed rest and higher power scope and a great shooter they will do those figures but typically better, but not with a iron sights or low power scope from a shaky rest and in front of an inexperienced shooter.   

For my testing of the Rock River Arms Mid-Length A4 AR15 rifle, I dropped the rifle on the bench and sandbagged it in to provide as stable a rest as possible and for optimal precision topped it off with a Simmons Predator Quest 6-24x50 scope (which is a great scope by the way).  Here were the average 5-shot group results:

 WOLF FMJ 62GR = 1.5”

From an accuracy perspective I was pleased and I was pleased and was blessed with a good day for group shooting.  In better hands, this AR would shoot a bit better and with a free float forend it would improve accuracy a little as well.  My intent for this gun would be targets inside 100 yards, so I was more than pleased with the results.

This Rock River Arms A4 Mid-Length AR15 is one of the higher quality standard rifles I have tested but not the cheapest.  This rifle was very tight and I could barely pop out the pin for dis-assembly by hand which is a good thing. I am a believer in tighter initial fit because as the rifle breaks in over 1000s of rounds, it will inherently loosen up a bit. The Rock River Arms AR have a long history of high quality production, above average accuracy with a fair price.  Another selling point is that unlike many black rifles that have taken a huge price hit in the used market, historically Rock River Arms reputation for quality has maintained a higher resell value than its competition.  

I will note, do not purchase directly from Rock River Arms website... you will end up paying about $200 more than you will via a Rock River dealer. I was shocked to find out two of my local dealers could have delivered this gun to me for $200 less than the $1100 retail price on Rock River's site. As with most purchases in life fully upgraded up front is almost always less expensive than dribbling out upgrades and ended up with a drawer full of spare parts.  Where many manufactures are offering take-it-or-leave-it configurations, Rock River Arms offers a near limitless set of custom options to set up your rifle your way from day one.  The up front investment is worth it and in the long run less expensive.
Included upgrades such as chromed bolt and carrier, Rock River’s 2-stage trigger, and premium quality mil-spec parts throughout set the Rock River AR apart from others and when at the range those differences deliver excellent AR patrol rifle accuracy and flawless functioning.  Highly recommended.

LAR-15 Mid-Length A4 with Tactical CAR Stock

  • 5.56mm NATO Chamber for 5.56mm & .223 Cal
  • Forged RRA LAR-15® Lower Receiver
  • Forged A4 Flat-top Upper Receiver
  • 16 Inch Chrome Moly 1:9 Twist Barrel - Upgraded to stainless 1:8 .223 Wylde barrel +$65
  • A2 Flash Hider, 1/2-28 Thread
  • RRA Two Stage Trigger
  • Mid-Length Handguard
  • A2 Pistol Grip
  • RRA 6-Position Tactical CAR Stock
  • Weight: 7.1 Pounds
  • Length: 36 Inches
  • Accuracy: 1 MOA at 100 Yards
  • Included: One Standard Aluminum GI Mag
  • RRA Case
  • Manual
  • Warranty
  • MSRP: 940.00 +$65 Barrel Upgrade = $1005

Rock River Arms
Rock River Arms Mid-Length A4 Rifle

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