It used to be that bolt-action rifles were the only serious consideration for law enforcement sniper operations. These rifles required quite a bit of specialized gunsmithing to get them to where they consistently produced the pinpoint accuracy required.
Times have changed and in recent years the Army solicited .308 semi-auto rifles from various manufacturers for its Semi Auto Sniper System (SASS) program. Knights Armament eventually won that contract and is now producing rifles for the military replacing tired M24 bolt guns and more than 50-year-old M21s (modified M-14 sniper rifles) with the M110 SASS. Accuracy of the semi-auto rifles now matches and in some cases surpasses that of the bolt guns.
The advantage to using a semi-auto weapon over a bolt gun is obvious. Follow-up shots are much quicker and the felt recoil is much less. Another advantage of the AR platform .308 weapons system is the familiar layout of the selector, magazine release, and charging handle. For service veterans and LEOs trained on the 5.56 AR system, there's no confusion as the controls are nearly identical.
Recently Rock River Arms introduced the LAR-8 Varmint A4 rifle. Chambered for the .308 cartridge, this rifle's most obvious feature is its 26-inch heavy stainless steel barrel.
Other qualities that make the rifle well suited for precision long range work include its free float handguard, match two-stage trigger, and its ability to use plentiful FAL surplus 20-round magazines.
If you're feeling a slight twinge of deja vu it is because you may have seen this rifle before in a different guise. Back in 2005, I reviewed a Bushmaster .308 with a 20-inch barrel for POLICE. "The .308 was an in-house project that probably started in the late '90s. We had the initial design going in 2002 and about that same time Bushmaster discovered that we were doing a .308 and approached us about licensing," explains Steve Mayer, Rock River's law enforcement and government sales manager and new product development coordinator.
Why would Rock River do such a thing? "At the time we were a very small company and had our hands full with the new DEA 5.56 carbine contract-the biggest that we had ever dealt with," says Mayer. "So the decision was made that we would license the design of the .308 to Bushmaster. They produced a few thousand rifles during the couple years that they had it under their control before eventually relinquishing the rights back to us."
Rock River did not immediately reintroduce the rifle. Rather the company spent the next two years going through the rifle from front to back, learning from Bushmaster's experience with it and incorporating new technology and newer ideas.
More than 60 countries used the FAL rifle from the 1960s on. At one time it was called the right arm of the Free World because it was so common in non-communist countries' arsenals. So there are literally millions and millions of surplus magazines available. At a recent gunshow I saw FAL magazines ranging from $8 to $20 for a like new magazine. The new Rock River rifles will accept both inch and metric pattern magazines.
"We were revolutionary in the way that we approached the FN FAL magazines," says Mayer. "Rather than working with an AR platform and thinking what can we stick in the magwell, we started working with the FAL mag and built the rifle around it. When it came to designing the bolt catch we thought let's make it work with one of the most plentiful magazines in the world and see what we can come up with.
"Our bolt release is very similar to that of the release on an original FN FAL, in both placement and how it functions," adds Mayer. "Everyone said that we couldn't build a rifle that would work with a FAL magazine and we proved the naysayers wrong."