Up front; regarding rifles, I’m an unmitigated accuracy snob. I meet friend’s show-and-tells of classic lever guns, pencil-barreled deer rifles or rare antiques with a yawn. I don’t rifle hunt big game (also being an archery snob), but am obsessed with predator and small-varmint shooting. Only tack-driving accurate rifles are interesting to me, as a ground squirrel or prairie dog at 300-plus yards doesn’t offer much target. For me this has traditionally meant bolt guns, only occasionally single shots. I suppose like many shooters I always believed autoloaders, AR-style rifles in particular, supplied lack-luster accuracy. This fit into my intuitive assumptions. How could something with all those moving parts relinquish sub-MOA accuracy?
Consequently, I was late to jump on the AR bandwagon. My thoughts basically followed, “Great for burning ammo, but they have no place in my varmint-shooting world.” My assumptions were not unique in the greater shooting world, as I recall a certain big-name gun writer Tweeting essentially the same sentiments and being immediately ostracized by the entire gun community for his effort.
Yet, like most unsubstantiated presumptions direct experience proved me wrong. While working on a predator/varmint shooting book recently I requested an AR from Rock River Arms, mostly in the interests of seeing what all the fuss was about. I choose a model with a heavy, 24-inch barrel, a RRA LAR-15 Varmint A4 in .223 Remington. My eyes were opened wide the minute I set to sighting that rifle in—and we’re talking standard 55-grain FMJ ammo from a budget-minded outfit generally not considered the epitome of accuracy. Had I delved deeper I might have noticed such RRA’s rifles come with a ¾-inch accuracy guarantee when paired with premium ammo.
Handloading brought those groups closer to ½-inch, a standard I would find acceptable from any of my custom bolt guns. That’s more than enough accuracy to deal with even diminutive Columbian (Idaho), Belding’s (Oregon) or Richardson’s (Wyoming) ground squirrels, and we’re talking burrowing rodents corresponding to a 16-ounce container of bottled water, often smaller.
But I’m more about actual field results than paper punching. That Varmint A4 got a real workout in Eastern Oregon, where my father and I go for serious high-volume varmint shooting. Off a portable bench in a light wind I went to work on those destructive little pests, ravaging a hay field the rancher depends on to get his cattle through the winter, burning through one 20-round magazine after another. Pop commented on my rate of fire, assuming the worst. “I’m hitting at least 80 percent,” was my reply. Not bad for shots at hand-sized targets from 150 to 300 yards.
The real test occurred at home, on the logging clear-cuts of northern Idaho, where topography and those “rats’” propensity for posing atop knee-high stumps offer an opportunity to discover your maximum effective range. Short version: I hit a ground squirrel with that RRA LAR-15 and turreted scope at 405 laser-measured yards—a shot that would test the priciest bolt rifle.
The Varmint A4’s fast 1:8 twist also allows shooting long-for-caliber bullets with superior ballistic coefficients, something even my custom .223 bolt precludes due to “standard” 1:12 barrel twist. That A4 loved a couple long-for-caliber lead-free bullets (bullets that key-hole from my bolt), a 50-grain Barnes Varmint Grenade sitting atop 24.5 grains of Hodgdon 322 (3,200 fps) and 50-grain Lead-Free Frangible from Rocky Mountain Reloading over 26 grains of Winchester 748. Both of these loads produced ½-inch groups.
This fast twist really came into its own when I used this A4 for Texas hogs, loading long, streamlined, heavy-for-caliber bullets to cleanly anchor boars up to 300 pounds. Ramshot TAC, Hodgdon CFE-223 and Varget shined here; 25 grains of TAC or CFE-223 pushing Sierra’s SBT or Cutting Edge’s Copper Raptor, both 65 grains, to nearly 2,900 fps without undue pressure, 24.5 grains of Varget is a great combination with Barnes’ 62-grain TTSX BT. All shot sub-¾-inch groups, or better than promised by Rock River. The superior BC of these sleek bullets would make them welcome in varmint arenas, though they might lack the “splat factor” of lighter pills.
I was obviously forced to eat crow on the entire AR issue. AR rifles are capable of exceptional accuracy—small-varmint, long-range accuracy—at least the ARs I’ve shot by Rock River Arms.