This past week we ran a extremely popular SHOT article on the new AR pistol from MGI chambered in the 7.62×39 cartridge, which we generally think of as exclusive to the AK-47 and SKS class of rifles. Many people noted in the comments out there that there are other options for ARs that take AK mags, and it so happens that we put the Rock River LAR-47 through its paces some time ago. Since the gun is available for sale right now, this week is a good time to run it.
Why do AR makers find the cartridge so fascinating? First off it is because AK ammo can usually be found cheap, in disposable steel cases. But the other reason is that the 7.62×39 is a little more versatile than the .223/5.56 traditional AR cartridge. It is a slower, heavier, bullet that with the right bullet works great in many hunting situations. And most important, the AR platform rifles have proven that the cartridge is not inherently inaccurate when shot from a rifle built to quality specs, unlike most AKs and SKS rifles. The big deal about that MGI gun is that it takes AK mags, which as you can see from the gun under review here, is not a novel concept. As you’ll see, the LAR-47 did take some break in time, but after it got going the powerhouse rifle turned into flawless, and accurate. One criticism of AKs as a battle rifle is that shot to shot the gun rises a lot. When the same cartridge is fired in the AR platform with direct impingement, this is not an issue. Take a look at my 50 yard off hand mag dump.
I have to put this out there. Any rifle that is chambered in 7.62×39 will be compared to the entire pantheon of AK-47s, and all of its various knock-offs. The LAR-47 will be no different. This is, of course, tremendously unfair. Though I don’t think it happens often, AK-47s will fail. Their ergonomics leave a lot to be desired. Magazine changes, when compared to the AR-15, happen more slowly. The lack of a bolt hold open, and thumb-side safety make some American shooters cringe. And there are people who flat-out hate the 7.62×39.
But the rifles, more often than not, work. Even if you hate the AK-47, you have to respect it. I’ve picked up AKs that are rusted shut, hammered on the charging handle to knock things loose, chambered a round and put a 7.62 sized hole in a target. I’ve got an AK now that’s part of an absurd longevity experiment. I haven’t ever cleaned it. And I don’t intend to until it fails–I mean really fails. How many rounds does it take to get to that level? The world may never know. I expect the experiment to outlive me.
But we’re here to talk about one isolated example from a growing body of non-AK patterned 7.62x39s. While some folks are trying to modify AK mags to hold the bolts open, or drilling holes in receivers to install additional safeties, Rock River worked to adapt the round to the AR platform. The LAR-47 is an AR pattern rifle that chambers the 7.62×39 rounds and accepts (some) AK magazines.
What does the LAR-47 get absolutely perfect?
Most of the LAR-47 will be familiar territory for AR fans. The safety, grip, stock, forend–even the railed gas block, which I’m not crazy about, is typical for the platform. These are basics. For more advanced options, Rock River offers the same sort of furniture upgrades found in the rest of their guns. They’ve just announced a Tactical Comp, and two other versions: The X-1, and Coyote Carbine. With the CAR A4 and the Delta Carbine, that makes five distinct permutations on the one rifle.
The first non-AR feature worthy of mention is the magazine release paddle. It is huge, and rides inside the trigger guard. While I’m not crazy about that, it easy to actuate. The trigger guard is over-sized, which keeps you from accidentally hitting the mag release while running the trigger. The paddle is in an awkward spot for good trigger control, though, as my trigger finger rides on top of the paddle when off the trigger. That said, I never dropped a mag accidentally. And the bulk of shooting we did for this review was done in freezing weather, so we were wearing gloves. Even so–no accidental mag drops.
And the lever is great for mag changes. Your thumb hits the wide paddle when you move to grip the mag, and it strips free just exactly like it should. When you combine this with the position of the safety, and the familiar charging handle, the ergonomics of the LAR-47 are a solid improvement.
Oh, and while we’re highlighting perfection, I’d like to foreshadow the accuracy. Don’t get sidetracked by the next couple of sections and forget that this gun is capable of amazing things, even in this CAR A4 configuration.
Thermold is a hometown industry here in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve toured their factory and torture tested their mags. They have a couple of strong selling points: Thermolds are plentiful and cheap. And the quality is up to par with most polymer magazines. In the world of polymer AK mags, I’d put them on the same level as Tapco, a short step below the Magpuls, and two or three steps down from the US Palm. Why so much emphasis on the Thermold? It is the mag Rock River ships with the gun.
The Thermold is also the only polymer magazine I could get to chamber rounds in the LAR-47. The Magpul wouldn’t work at all. It presented the rounds higher in the receiver and the bolt caught on top one. Even under-loaded, I couldn’t get it to run. The US Palm wouldn’t fit in the mag well. The Thermold is thinner, more like a steel magazine, and it rocked into the mag well perfectly.
Steel magazines work fine. I’m not willing to write off the LAR-47 because it won’t chamber a PMag. I will say that there are several other historical examples of rifles chambered in 7.62×39 that don’t take AK mags. Ruger’s Mini-30 keeps chugging along. For me, though, I’ve got this nagging survivalist voice in the back of my head. The AK’s appeal (or one of the many) is that it will take any magazine and shoot any 7.62×39 round. If I were to build a 7.62×39 from the ground up, I would build that feature into the gun.
Who am I kidding? If I could build a 7.62×39, I wouldn’t be sitting here at the computer, waxing poetic. And Rock River has built a solid rifle. As you can see in the photos below, this gun shoots straight. When I think of the strengths of the AK, I don’t often list MOA accuracy. Speed, yes. Accuracy, only in the best of the platform.
The ROck River is rewarding to shoot. We put everything we can find through the LAR-47. There was no ammo that it wouldn’t shoot. Extraction was solid and energetic. We saw similar accuracy results from steel cased Tula, Hornady, and Winchester.
Recoil is minimal, which makes rapid shots very consistent. Ran the LAR-47 on our typical course of short range accuracy, 100 yard bench shots, 200 and 300 yards. Past 100 yards, we were shooting steel, so I don’t have the measured accuracy. But the LAR-47 shoots straight enough to pop a 10 inch plate at 300 yards. A torso sized target at 100 is nothing.
Preparing to shoot
Let’s go back a minute and talk more about the magazine issue. AK magazines present rounds into a system with some very loose tolerances. The bolt picks up rounds and hammers them home with little difficulty. No difficulty.
The AR platform has much tighter tolerances. The case size of the 7.62×39 is wider than the .223. There’s less room inside the receiver, and the bolt has to pass over a round during extraction, then pick the same round up on the way back. On the way back, the bolt muscles the round down (thus out of the way). As it returns, it catches the rim and forces the round off the stack and into the chamber.
You see where I’m going with this, right? This motion is a sticking point for the AR patterned 7.62x39s. When we unboxed the LAR-47, it wouldn’t perform this function. Even when it picked up a round from the Thermold mag, the BCG would hang up on the round below the round it was trying to chamber. The steel BCG on the steel cased ammo was sticking. We had to make use of the forward assist, and sometimes the charging handle (in a slingshot motion), just to get rounds to chamber.
It was so bad that I almost sent the rifle back. There are two reasons why I didn’t. 1. I was shooting the LAR-47 at an isolated range where I was camping out. I couldn’t ship it back easily. 2. More importantly–as I was shooting mostly junk 7.62×39, I wasn’t wasting expensive ammo trying to get the gun to work. Because I was camping and had ammo to blow, I blew it. And I cussed. A lot.
And it did loosen up. When we first unboxed the gun, we were lucky to get 2-3 rounds to fire in succession (without the use of the forward assist). By the end of the 10th magazine, or thereabouts, the gun was running smoothly. Is this a classic case of a gun requiring a “break-in period?” Undoubtedly. And yet. When it runs well, this is one hell-of-a-rifle.
I’m inclined to be forgiving here. I’ve come out against break-in periods in the past. If you’re talking about a defensive handgun, one that is punishing on the hand, I think a break-in period is dangerous. I don’t have confidence that shooters will shoot the 500 rounds needed to break a gun in. So why am I backpedaling on an AR? It is easier to break in, and you’ll really want to do it. And because I’m fickle like that.
After more than a full spam can, this rifle runs like a finely tuned AR. Throw in the Thermold and go for it. Dump 30 rounds into a a hole the size of a coffee cup. Hold firm and tag a bag-guy plate on a hostage target at 100 yards. Drop to a knee and ring steel at 200, or go prone and reach out farther. There isn’t anything the rifle can’t do when it’s running right.
The price for the CAR A4 is on par with what you’d expect from a well made AK–$1,2700.