Many serious shooters either own or are on a quest to to find the perfect battle rifle and I am no exception. My search for the perfect battle rifle began around 1998 when I decided that I wanted something more capable than the AK pattern rifle I’d acquired in my late teens. At that time I maxed out my limited finances and purchased a lightly used, all GI parts, Springfield Armory M1A from my local gun shop for about $925. Thus began the adventure that still continues to this day!
For purposes of this article, I will loosely define a main battle rifle (MBR) as a detachable magazine fed, semi automatic rifle chambered in .308 that is set up to perform well in the 2-500 yard range. The military has recognized the importance of this type of rifle and has fielded an entire designated marksman program to fill the need. You may not agree with my definition and that’s OK as each person should acquire the guns and gear that best serve their needs. I understand that AK’s and AR-15’s can be pressed into this role, but the 7.62×51 semi autos of today are likely the best choice for a “ground up” solution.
Do You Really Need an MBR?
Logical, pragmatic readers may wonder if someone outside the military really needs a true MBR. In our current American reality, average, everyday people likely have little chance of needing such a rifle for defense of hearth and home. However, when reflecting upon the direction of the national and global situation, I will simply state that things that can’t last forever won’t and just because things have been the way they are today for a very long time is no guarantee for what tomorrow may hold. Ultimately, each shooter must decide his own needs.
My MBR Quest
Selecting any kind of weaponry is an extremely personal choice and there is no perfect one size fits all solution. Below is a general summary of my experiences during this quest and I share them only for the purpose of passing on what I’ve learned. I’m not trying to convince you of anything and I do not assume that my experiences represent the sum total for all weapons and equipment mentioned.
M1A – For several years I was quite happy with that M1A. To this day I know of no other rifle I would prefer if I was limited to an iron sight only configuration. However, once I began to experiment with optics the M1A’s shortcomings became clear to me. First of all, even with a top notch mount and stock I had trouble keeping a consistent zero. The rifle shot well, but the zero seemed to move with frustrating irregularity, which is a common problem with M1A’s.
Because of the way the rifle is designed a large amount of mass that hangs from the barrel reciprocates with each round fired. In a USGI stock configuration the only force holding/bedding the rifle to the stock is clamping pressure achieved by closing the trigger guard after assembly. These design factors make the rifle’s BZO quite susceptible to any changes in pressure/contact to the barrel.
I later upgraded to a SAGE stock, which initially performed much better in this regard, but one day my 300 yard zero was way off. I meticulously went through all of the many variables that affect zero and finally realized that the shim kit which replaces the standard barrel band/stock retainer had been burned into flakes by the heat from the gas port and barrel. The resulting void seemed to have allowed enough of a pressure change that eventually BZO was significantly affected.
Mounting an optic over the action of this rifle not only significantly increases the overall burden, but also presents a substantial offset between the comb of the rifle stock and where your face needs to rest. I tried different comb risers and both the SAGE and Troy stocks, which eliminate this issue, but the weight penalty was substantial and other problems continued to crop up and plague the weapons system. I also never liked the inside the trigger guard safety.
SWAT magazine did an excellent and frank review the M1A rifle in an April 2010 issue and much to the chagrin of some readers “slayed the sacred cow.” It is abundantly clear to me after my experiences that the M1A has been made obsolete as a tier 1 battle rifle choice because of the better rifle designs on the market today. After years of of work with the rifle and a lot of money spent I began to seek a more modern rifle design.
FAL – I never gave FN FAL’s a fair shake because after my M1A experiences I did not relish the idea (or expense) of trying to modernize another dated rifle design and adapt it for optics and other essential accessories. Maybe I missed out. (Speaking of weapon accessories, my 2004 tour in Iraq really cemented some essentials in my mind. Any general purpose rifle I field under any conditions will have an optic, a light, and a tactical sling.)
The next MBR candidate rifle I purchased was a Rock River Arms LAR-8. After the M1A, it was quite refreshing to have AR style controls and something that was easy to properly accessorize. It was a solid, consistent shooter and all I really had to add was a good muzzle device and a rail. However, the rifle was again a little heavy, mag changes remained stiff after a break in period, and I am still not convinced of the long term viability of the FAL mag adaptation.
When the LAR-8 was originally designed FAL mags were cheap and plentiful and seemed like a logical choice. Now that the “AR-10” world is galvanizing around the SR25 pattern magazine and surplus FAL mags supplies have nearly dried up – the game has changed. The adapted design led to unsettling issues like some surplus mags working but not others and the bolt prematurely locking to the rear with live rounds still in the magazine. While this rifle left me less than completely satisfied, I still have a lot of good things to say about it and plan to do so in an upcoming review.
At this point, I really only saw two rifles on the market that fit the role I was looking to fill, the FN SCAR H and the new LaRue rifles (OBR and PredatAR). I agonized for months over the decision and, in a lot of ways, I wanted to choose the SCAR. I liked the brand new, well thought out design but was concerned over FN’s history of poorly supporting the US civilian gun market. The SCAR magazine availability problem remains a case in point.
Last year, after a long wait, I took ownership of a LaRue PredatAR 7.62 rifle with a 16″ barrel. I will save the details for a forthcoming review, but I will say that after well over a decade’s search for the right MBR I am very happy with this rifle. It has, thus far, corrected all of the shortcomings of the previous rifles and then some. I have a lot of LaRue products on my AR-15’s and I’m pleased to report that the same quality has been carried over into their rifle line.
Hopefully your MBR quest has been smoother and shorter than mine and you are very happy with the rifle you have for that role. I view the MBR as the modern equivalent to the long arms the “Minutemen” of 1775 fielded when they bravely defended the green at Lexington and the bridge at Concord. Their faith in God, sacrifice, example of courage, and ultimate preparedness helped launch a country and form of government that remains the greatest the world has ever seen. I wish you the best if you seek to take part in this aspect of our wonderful, national heritage!