LWRC first made its bones on small government contracts and research until it was purchased in 2008, renamed LWRC International, LLC and moved to Cambridge, Maryland. From there, the company transformed from small- to full-scale manufacturing, and it has since earned a name for the kind of reliability and performance that make its guns a favorite of many police and SWAT teams throughout the United States.
Thankfully, in large part what’s good for the tactical market also translates into great features for other shooters, and once the virtues of LWRC became noted by sport shooters and hunters, its commercial market began rapidly expanding.
“The 16-inch version of our IC-SPR is extremely accurate and allows for nearly complete powder burn on most loads,” says LWRC Vice President of Product Development Jeff Clemmer. When explaining who their ideal customer is, Clemmer said, “It’s a great choice for quick follow-up shots on predators and the reliability of our rifle is unparalleled.”
IC-SPR stands for “Individual Carbine—Special Purpose Rifle.” It’s essentially a short-stroke, piston-powered carbine, but with a completely redesigned lower and a mounting base for the handguard machined into the one-piece Monoforge upper instead of the usual delta ring arrangement. The 12-inch handguard has a user-configurable rail system with individual rail sections allowing the shooter to place accessory rails anywhere along its length at 3, 6 or 9 o’clock while maintaining its low-profile ergonomic fit and function.
Though redesigned, the LWRC lower accepts standard AR-patterned uppers, as the redesign consists mainly of completely ambidextrous controls. While many “ambi” ARs have nothing more than a safety lever operated from either side, both the mag release and bolt catch on the LWRC are also operational using either hand without releasing your firing grip or lowering the rifle. Even the charging handle is ambidextrous.
Clearly, all of this “ambi” business is good news for left-handed shooters, but it’s also important to predator hunters as a predator can come in hard and fast from any direction. Shots from your off shoulder are possible, and no matter how well a gun or ammunition are made, malfunctions happen and can cost you a shot if you have to fumble with controls. Fortunately, right-hand malfunction drills are thoroughly vetted and now are possible using either hand on the LWRC.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some excellent carbine training with the folks at Gunsite, Shootrite, TDI Ohio and Thunder Ranch, so it seemed appropriate for me to use that experience and try various drills off my left shoulder to see how seamless the LWRC ambidextrous features work.
First up was basic loading from bolt open. Here, you take a firing grip with your firing hand, and with your support hand feel the top cartridge in the magazine before pushing the magazine in and pulling on it to make sure it’s seated. Next, smack the bolt release with your support hand to chamber the round. You can make sure a round chambered by releasing the magazine with your firing hand into your support hand and feeling if the top cartridge is now feeding from the other side. Press the magazine back in and pull to make sure it’s seated, and you’re ready to shoot. Left-hand operation exactly mirrored right-hand and the only difficulty I had was that the brass deflector somewhat protects the right-side bolt release so you have to be more deliberate in hitting it with your palm.
Next was a misfire drill, as this seems the most likely malfunction for a predator hunter to encounter either because of a bad round or failure for the bolt to fully close. This is pretty simple to set up — just lower the bolt on an empty chamber and seat a loaded magazine. The solution on a misfire is to push the magazine to seat it, pull the magazine to make sure it’s seated, roll the gun so the ejection port points downward then work the charging handle with your support hand to chamber a fresh round while keeping your firing hand in a firing grip. The operation worked southpaw as easily as it does right-handed.
Finally, another likely malfunction is a double feed when the chambered case either doesn’t extract or eject, or when the bolt tries to pick up and chamber two cartridges from the magazine. The first step in fixing this problem is to do exactly as you would with a misfire. I’ve been shown more than one way to do the next step if that doesn’t clear the malfunction, but the one I like is to forcefully strip the magazine using your support hand and work the charging handle multiple times with your support hand to clear rounds. Lock the bolt back, visually check the chamber and mag well, seat a new magazine and smack the bolt catch with your support hand. Again, the brass deflector was a minor issue with the bolt release maneuver.
When explaining what surprises customers about the IC-SPR, Clemmer commented, “How well balanced they are, the convenience of the ‘ambi’ controls, the well-thought design and the overall quality of the rifle.”
The quality is obvious throughout the gun. While examining it in the office, I removed the handguard and a co-worker remarked it’s “nice to see nice things” even in an area covered up. As for exposed parts, all LWRCI forgings are coined, meaning the material is struck twice in the die for precise dimensional accuracy and a superior surface finish. Over that surface, LWRC applies its own Cerakote ceramic-based thermoset epoxy finish in Patriot Brown, OD Green or Flat Dark Earth. Black anodized is also an option.
Part of the well-thought design is the handguard mounting base machined as part of the upper receiver for added strength and reduced weight. Four screws directly attach the lower half of the free-floating handguard to the mounting base while two thumbscrews at the front of the handguard retain the top half. The arrangement makes it quick and easy to access the piston for any cleaning or maintenance unless you have a scope mounted such that the front ring is on the handguard section of rail in which case you have to remove the scope, too. Another thing the mounting base does is eliminate the delta ring, which slightly tweaks the balance of the IC-SPR making it seem more lively.
Adding to the liveliness, not to mention just looking cool, is the spiral-fluted, hammer-forged barrel. “The spiral fluting is primarily to save weight,” says Clemmer. “It shaves roughly 20 percent of the weight as compared to a non-fluted barrel of the same diameter. It also aids in cooling, but the weight savings is the biggest positive. The rifle has a great balance using the fluted barrel while exhibiting the stiffness of a heavy unfluted barrel.”
I topped the IC-SPR with a Burris 3-9x40mm Predator Quest scope and selected Black Hills’ excellent 50-grain V-Max, 60-grain soft-point and 77-grain OTM loads and fired them for accuracy at 100 yards. The IC-SPR positively hated the Black Hills 60-grain soft point load — spitting them into uninspiring groups greater than 3 inches at 100 yards. Fortunately, the 50-grain Black Hills V-Max redeemed the gun, averaging 0.65-inch three-shot groups with the smallest 0.49 inch and the largest 0.83 inch. The 77-grain Black Hills OTM averaged 3⁄4 inches. Since the twist rate is 1:7 inches, stability wasn’t an issue, so there was just something about the 60-grain load the gun didn’t like and proves why you should try several different loads.
LWRC goes the extra step of x-raying the investment castings in its Enhanced Fire Control Group for any imperfections and then nickel-boron coating them for super smooth function. That effort showed as the two-stage trigger was really good registering a smooth and consistent 4½-pound pull.
Also nickel-boron coated is the bolt carrier so it delivers excellent wear and corrosion resistance and permanent lubricity. Clemmer notes that the coating “does boast some permanent lubricity, however this does not mean that the rifle should be run dry. A few well-placed drops of CLP are always a good thing for function and reliability.”
Overall, the LWRC IC-SPR is a great rifle for a predator hunter looking for a gun in the higher-end market. “Our rifles are famous for reliability and longevity,” says Clemmer. “Our cold-hammer forged barrels can handle two to three times as many rounds as a standard M4 or AR-15. Our piston operating system is many times more reliable than a direct impingement system and requires a small percentage of the time for cleaning. When calculated over a lifetime of ownership, our rifle will prove more reliable, more accurate and a best value solution for the high-volume shooter,” Clemmer added. He also conceded, “For folks who may only fire a few hundred rounds, there are other options that will fit the bill. But for those who shoot a lot … our rifle will outlast and outperform the lesser rifles.”