September 2013

Rock River Arms, ArmaLite, and Bushmaster AR-15s Compete

We tested three of these 5.56 NATO–chambered rifles selling for around $1000. Were any worth the money? We find out

In front of us this month are three of the “black rifles,” AR-15s by Rock River Arms, ArmaLite, and Bushmaster. There are — or were — many types of this rifle available, and there are also many aftermarket accessories available. In addition to the three guns, we were provided with some clever accessories to try on them. These include triggers by Timney and Geissele, some alternative stocks by Magpul, some iron-type sights by the same company, a very fine 20-round magazine that we used in all our testing, and one of the rapid-fire Slide-Fire stocks. We will give a detailed report on these rifles using some of these accessories in a separate later report. For this report, we take a look at the rifles pretty much as they came to us.

The specific guns were the Rock River Arms LAR-15 Tactical CAR A4 AR1201X ($1065), ArmaLite M15A4 Carbine No. 15A4CBA2K ($1031), and the Bushmaster Carbon 15 SuperLight ORC No. 90689 ($845), all in caliber 5.56 NATO. None had a top handle. All had the numbered-notch Picatinny rail. The Rock River and ArmaLite had front sights, but no rear. The Bushmaster Carbon 15 had no sights whatsoever, but came with a Chinese-made electronic red-dot sight. All three had the collapsible M4-type stock, and all three had 1:9-inch twist, 16-inch barrels.

We decided to first shoot all three rifles with a 36x Weaver CT36 Micro-Trac target scope with central dot, and then see if each rifle needed, say, a better trigger or a tighter stock. The Weaver scope was mounted in a proprietary base that was adapted to Picatinny rails and secured by two hefty screws to which we could put adequate torque. We shot the rifles at 100 yards using just two types of ammo. This was Black Hills’ 68-grain Heavy Match HP, and Russian TCW ball (55-grain FMJ) ammo, representing some of the finest and some of the least costly 5.56 ammo (formerly) available for these rifles. All other types of 5.56 or 223 ammo would, we thought, fall between these two extremes. Some might be better and some worse, but with today’s limited supplies, we thought these two ammo types would give a good look at what you can expect from these three rifles. Along the way, we found good reasons to try one of the replacement triggers, and were glad to have had it on hand. Here’s what we found on the rifles.

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