Signature models rifle don’t come along a lot in the gun industry, and it is a little strange that Rock River Arms would put famous bow hunter Fred Eichler’s name on one of their highly regarded LAR-15 guns. An AR-15 is an AR-15 right? Wrong! Fred of course does also hunt with modern sporting rifles, and specifically this one built to his specifications. The point of this Eichler gun is hunting, and primarily hunting varmints, or pest animals, as evidenced by the coyote prints on the special Fred Eichler floating handguard. Is it cute? Well, is it possible for an AR-15 that shoots under .75 MOA at 100 yards to be cute? Then yea, it’s cute. But after hog hunting this gun for a day, shooting it at the range with a group of friends, and driving tacks with it, this bad boy is a predator killing machine, a gun that is so reliable, dependable, accurate and intuitive to shoot that a missed shot is obviously user error. The Fred Eichler Series LAR-15 is a gun that dominates the nightmares of coyotes, hogs, and prairie dogs. If you think the puppy prints are silly, move on. RR makes the same gun, with the .223 Wylde chamber, meant for both .223 and 5.56, without the extra Fred stuff. But if you think the gun is cool, pull the trigger. I haven’t met anyone who has fired the Eichler who isn’t impressed. And at a direct Rock River and store price of $1500, it is an impressive specialty hunting rifle that isn’t going to break the bank.
Let’s break this beast down. The Fred Eichler Series LAR-15 from Rock River Arms (RRA) represents a collaboration between the renowned bow hunter and personality Fred Eichler and the Colona Illinois based Rock River Arms. Eichler, who regularly hunts big game with a comparatively primitive recurve bow, has brought his aesthetic and specifications to one of the staples of the Rock River line. The result is a ridiculously accurate AR that is ready to roll just as soon as put an optic on it. And it is designed to hunt.
The 16-inch barrel isn’t long by AR standards. The weight, like many guns in this class, is light enough to carry all day: 7.6 pounds. With the A2 fixed stock, the rifle comes in at 36 inches. The collapsible stock knocks 2 inches off of that. Either way, it is short enough to be maneuverable in the brush (which may explain why the barrel isn’t even longer).
The upper receiver and lower receiver are both forged aluminum. The barrel is cryogenically treated stainless, with a 1:8 twist, and is bead blasted. The RRA Chrome two-stage trigger is solid, and breaks clean at 3.5 pounds. It is vastly superior to the typical stock AR trigger, and you can see how well it works when you shoot for accuracy. The trigger guard is oversized to allow the use of sizable gloves.
The grip is made by Hogue and is exceptionally comfortable. I’ve always liked the softer feel of rubber, and there are finger notches that widen the grip ever so slightly, which is a good thing for those of us with larger hands.
The flat top rail continues all the way down the handguard, which means you can set up optics however you’d like. If you want a scout scope forward on the rail, it will easily fit. It is an AR, so there are way too many ways to set it up. We topped it with a gem from Leupold. The magnification of the scope and the clarity of the glass helped with the accuracy testing. This is something that some folks overlook. If you are saving up to buy a rifle like this, you might be tempted to top it with a budget scope, but you’ll be doing the rifle a disservice. Save up for good glass, too.
At first glance, the Eichler Rock River looks like a souped-up AR. The hand guard is free floated and extends out over the low-profile gas block. The handguard is long enough to get a good solid forward grip, but not long enough that it risks putting your hand in the way of the muzzle break. It is branded as the RRA Fred Eichler Series Free Float Handguard. And it is decorated with puppy dog paw prints. Or maybe those are coyote prints. Perhaps this is akin to the tall-tales I used to hear about native hunters decorating their bows with images of the animals they wanted to kill in an attempt to channel some animalistic spirit power. If that’s the case, the Eichler will rain hell on coyotes.
As much I am ambivalent about the paw prints on the handguard, I’m inclined to like the way they feel. The tube is round, and the cutouts offer a nice subtle grip. They’re not too abrasive, and not so large that they’ll let in too much dirt and debris. The top of the tube is one long continuous strip of rail, and there are smaller rail sections near the muzzle end for attaching sling mounts and lights, or even a very far forward vertical grip.
Look closely at the chambering and you’ll see it isn’t 5.56 or .223, exactly, but .223 Wylde. This chambering will allow for a wide selection of ammo usage. 5.56 and .223 will both work well, and there is enough chamber space to make use of the longer 80 grain match bullets.
The muzzle break is extremely effective at cutting down the muzzle rise. It is much more enclosed than a typical flash hider. It is short, but drilled in such a way that it channels the gas up, and out. I can’t speak to any appreciable reduction in flash, but I can attest to how well it holds the gun down. There is very little rise. This may be the flattest-shooting AR I’ve come across yet. And that has a certain appeal to varmint hunters. If you miss, you won’t be wasting much time getting the rifle back on target. If there are multiple targets, you’ll have an easier time moving from one to another. Yet they’re going to hear you. This is one of the loudest ARs I’ve shot. It is loud for the shooter. If you happen to be taking pictures of the gun when your assistant pulls the trigger, and you’re not expecting it, you may need a minute to compose yourself. It is loud.
Odds are, though, the varmint in your sights won’t hear the shot. That’s what the Eichler Rock River is meant for. This is a varmint gun. The 1:8 twist in the barrel is versatile, and will allow for stabilization of lighter bullets over longer distances. In the south, where I am, I can’t find much open land to hunt that extends beyond the 300 yard range. I lived out on the plains of New Mexico for a while, right against the eastern slope of the Rockies, where the distances and prairie dogs were unlimited. This would have been an ideal rifle to have on hand there.
The Fred Eichler Series LAR-15 really epitomizes the modern sporting rifle. Even the color scheme and the paw prints help to distance the AR at its core from the all-too-terrifying tactical rifles in its family tree. And while this is meaningless to those of us who don’t judge rifles by the color of their skins, it may help establish the MSR as an actual thing. If anyone ever says to me that ARs aren’t meant for hunting, I will simply show them this one.
Speaking of hunting . . ..There are those who want to argue the relative merits of the .223 for hunting hogs. Hogwash. I haven’t met a pig yet that couldn’t be dispatched with an appropriately placed .55 grain bullet. There are certainly merits to larger rounds. If I were hunting from a helicopter, say, where precision accuracy might be sacrificed by movement, I might want a round that could dump more energy in a feral hog. Yet the Eichler boasts .75 MOA accuracy. If you have a chance to hold on a boar, even briefly, you can take him down. You may miss, but it won’t be the rifle’s fault.
This may all sound a bit hyperbolic. It isn’t. I unboxed the Eichler on a weekend when I had a fair number of guns that needed to be worked out. My initial reaction to the puppy dog prints wasn’t exactly positive. And I’ve never really been a fan of two-tone guns, especially when the tones aren’t balanced. When I was giving the rifle the once over, I couldn’t stop wondering why they hadn’t painted the forend to match the stock and grip. Sure, it was an AR, but it was an odd combination.
Then I fired it. We sighted the rifle in at 50 yards. We were shooting Gorilla Ammo. .223, 55 grain Sierra Blitzking bullets. At about $1.20 a shot, the Gorilla is a great choice for hunting hogs. Working from a rest, I pulled the trigger. The gun kicked, but not so much that I lost my sight picture through the scope. I checked the target, aimed, and fired again. That second shot was more problematic. It punched in through the same hole as the first round. If I looked carefully, I could see the ragged edge of the first hole had grown slightly, but I really needed the help of a spotting scope to pick up the detail. We walked it up and in and shot some more ragged holes. From 100 yards, we had no difficulty producing the .75 MOA groups. Most came in under that mark. At 50 yards, the gun shot one clean hole.
Needless to say, such results can be heady. After a few rounds with the Eichler, I was beginning to think I was a much better shot than I actually am. It is precisely this confidence that makes a rifle like this empowering. I won’t pull the trigger on an animal unless I think I’m going to make a clean kill. It doesn’t always happen the way I would like, but I have to have that gut level confidence. When I’m hunting with a rifle that would put a hole through a quarter at 100 yards, I simply feel more confident.
And everything else about the gun worked just as well. Magazines drop free. The mid-length gas tube brought enough pressure back to kick out brass, consistently, and every time. We had no failures to feed or eject. There were no operational issues with the LAR-15. When I think if that necessary confidence I was writing about earlier, this certainly plays into it. The gun shoots straight and it has yet to falter.
The Eichler series ARs aren’t cheap. The MSRP on this one is $1,510. Considering the accuracy we witnessed out of the box, I can’t complain about the price. When I shoot most stock AR-15s, I find myself wanting to make changes. The trigger is always the first thing to get attention. Then I look at the gas block and forend. I wouldn’t change either of these on the Eichler gun. Even with the puppy dog prints.
The Eichler Series LAR-15s aren’t for everyone. Yet if you’re looking for a dedicated gun for knocking down the vermin, this would be a good choice. We took it out hog hunting with Kissimee River Hunt and Fish and put it to the test. It worked. When you draw down on a pig’s ear, it doesn’t stand a chance. One shot. That’s all it takes.