While it may have been developed for 3-gun action, the R3 Competition Rifle by Rock River Arms has the mettle to be a top-notch varmint rifle.

by Heath Wood

“Here comes a fourth. Now a fifth,” whispered our guide.

We were on a media predator hunt in western Oklahoma, tucked in tall grass and positioned on the side of a red dirt hill overlooking an open field. Our guide told us to get ready. Five coyotes had made their way over the hill in response to my electronic call that was playing a yellowhammer woodpecker sound.

As the coyotes edged closer to our setup, I ran a game plan through my head that would allow us more than one shot on the coyotes. With only one of us set to take a shot with an AR-15 style rifle, we chose him to be the follow-up man for the other two shooters manning a .243 bolt action rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun.

As the coyotes crossed the 50-yard range, the shotgun shooter made the first shot and connected, rolling the lead coyote head over heels. The remaining four coyotes sprinted off in two different directions. Two of the coyotes ran towards the top of a hill but our hunting partner was able to fire three shots, connecting on both coyotes on the first and third shots.

Having the ability to execute fast and on-target follow-up shots is priceless when hunting coyotes. This was one of the turning points for me in appreciating the AR platform for predator hunting.

Rock River Arms R3 Competition Rifle

As I began incorporating an AR rifle into my predator hunting arsenal a few years ago, I was impressed with the results. Still, there were a few things that did not make my wish list. One thing missing from my perfect AR list was the size of my rifle.

Where I hunt in western Oklahoma and my home state of Missouri requires a lot of walking. I certainly need the exercise, but I have found that many of my hunts are cut short because of fatigue, mainly from carrying a gun that is too heavy (when combined with everything else I take for predator sets).

I am also not a fan of “blinged out” rifles—those sporting too many accessories, funky paint jobs, crazy optics, and so on. When I am hunting, I prefer a firearm that efficiently gets the job done without all the superfluous fluff.

For years, manufacturers have produced ARs for military, law enforcement, personal defense, and (my personal favorite) hunting. Many today are making these guns for competition use, such as 3-gun matches. The Rock River Arms R3 Competition Rifle, as its name implies, was developed for the increasingly popular 3-gun competitions. But just because this rifle has a competition pedigree does not mean it lacks hunting credentials. On the range and in the predator hunting fields, I have discovered there are many features to this rifle that hunters will appreciate.

Weight

The Rock River R3 is a compact rifle, measuring less than 40 inches with the adjustable stock fully extended. It only weighs 7.6 pounds, which is on the lighter side compared to previous ARs I have used for hunting. Lighter weight means I can hunt longer without becoming fatigued.

Barrel

An 18-inch fluted and tapered stainless steel barrel leads the R3. The handguard is 15 inches long, so it extends almost to the end of the barrel. For competition shooters, this allows a far-forward grip that is popular because it makes for fast transitions from target to target. Quick transitions are perfect when I am on hunts in which more than one coyote responds to a call. The ability to get on a coyote quickly, make the shot, and then be able to move to the next one means more dead coyotes.

Trigger

After the first few shots at the range, I quickly became a fan of Rock River Arms’ 2-stage trigger that comes standard with the R3. The trigger on this rifle is smooth, easy to pull, and crisp on the break. When making a long-range shot on a small target such as a coyote, this is the trigger you want.

Aiding in trigger operation is the included Rock River Arms Winter Trigger Guard, which provides plenty of trigger room when wearing warm gloves or if you need to get to the trigger quickly as a coyote is approaching.

Muzzle

The R3 comes with RRA’s 2-chamber ported muzzle brake. The first chamber has vent ports to direct gas away from the muzzle at the top and sides to reduce muzzle rise.  The second chamber, located at the front of the brake, is designed to minimize the backwash of expelled gas as the bullet leaves the barrel.

How It Shoots

After receiving the Rock River Arms R3, I topped it with a TRUGLO Eminus 4-16x44mm scope. The Eminus has a 30mm tube and features MOA reticles that are easy to see. On the range, I used Hornady 55-grain V-Max Varmint Express ammo. From experience, I have found Hornady’s Varmint Express to be among the most accurate, off-the-shelf varmint ammo around.

After zeroing, I shot a four-shot 1-inch group at 100 yards using a Caldwell Lead Sled. Three of the four shots were within 3/4 inches.

Next, I moved the Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets to 200 yards and shot another group of four. Like the group at 100 yards, I was able to keep three shots within 3/4 inches. The total group size at 200 yards was an impressive 1-1/8 inches.

Moving to 300 yards, the R3 delivered a 1-1/4-inch group.

When testing a rifle, I always evaluate through the eyes of a hunter. To that end, I placed a Birchwood Casey Pre-Game Coyote Target at 200 yards to see how I could group with the “almost real thing.” My three test shots grouped within one inch.

The Rock River Arms R3 Competition Rifle is designed for and has the feel of a competition rifle, yet the same platform is spot-on if your hunts require a lot of walking or if your predator sets demand exceptional accuracy out to the limits of the cartridge along with the ability to make fast follow-up shots. In this regard, the R3 is a competition rifle that is ideally suited for serious varmint hunting. Consider it a two-in-one AR.

Rock River Arms R3 Competition Specifications

  • CALIBER: .223 Wylde Chamber for 5.56mm and .223 Caliber
  • LOWER RECEIVER: Forged RRA LAR-15
  • UPPER RECEIVER: Forged A4
  • GAS SYSTEM: Mid-Length Gas System
  • GAS BLOCK: Low-Profile Gas Block
  • BARREL: 18-inch Fluted Stainless Steel, Cryogenically Treated, 1:8 Twist
  • MUZZLE: RRA Tuned & Ported Brake / 1/2–28 Thread
  • TRIGGER: RRA Two-Stage Varmint Trigger
  • TRIGGER GUARD: RRA Winter Trigger Guard
  • SAFETY SELECTOR: Star Safety
  • HANDGUARD: RRA Lightweight Free Float Rail, 17-Inch Extended, M-LOK® Compatible
  • BUTTSTOCK: RRA Operator CAR Stock
  • PISTOL GRIP: Hogue Rubber Grip
  • WEIGHT: 7.6 pounds
  • LENGTH: 35.8 Inches Retracted / 39.3 Inches Extended
  • ACCURACY: 3/4 MOA at 100 Yards

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