Photos by Mark Fingar
Rise Armament is like other AR-brands in the firearm industry. Its roots are in manufacturing, machining and fabricating for the oil and aerospace industries, which have been proving grounds for the successful entrepreneurs of the gun world. The company’s machinists and engineers are also hog hunters and target shooters. Some are veterans, but all are patriots. Like most of us, they admit they don’t get to shoot as much as they would like to.
Rise Armament (RA) is a name that 3-Gunners are already familiar with. It’s a brand that supports 3-Gun competition and other shooting disciplines through financial and prize contributions. Rise Armament built its reputation with the RA-535 cassette-type, drop-in, 3 1/2-pound-pull trigger ($260). It’s complete with anti-rotation pins developed for AR-15-pattern rifles. They’ve since introduced the RA-140, which is a more affordable trigger unit, having a flat-face trigger option that features anti-walk pins ($140). Though their triggers are very good, they now offer complete, race-ready and duty rifles, carbines and AR pistols, not to mention high-end AR parts and subassemblies.
While I don’t need another AR-15, I am always on the lookout. The next one I buy will have to offer significant innovations to make me willing to purchase it. With that said, Rise Armament may just be the company to entice me.
The suffix letter “C” designates that this model rifle was purpose-built for competition. However, adding words such as “competition” or even “tactical” to the name doesn’t always make the product perform any better. In a competition rifle, I look for one with low recoil, one-hole accuracy and a rifle that’s lightweight and fast handling. Although the RA-315C is marketed towards competition, the RA-315C could serve a defensive role.
The RA-315C is well balanced, light and sleek, and weighs just shy of 7 pounds. What really makes these RA rifles a stand out is the precision fitment between the machined billet aluminum upper and lower receivers and the slender handguard that presents plenty of M-Lok attachment points.
Given that these are not the usual forged receivers, RA machines a generously flared magazine well and a large, integral triggerguard into the lower. They look great, but I have to note that the flared magwell presented some issues during magazine changes with various Magpul PMag generations. It ships with one second-generation PMag, and you’ll have to verify that other magazines you choose will work with it. More on this later.
A quick search of the company’s website shows that it’s available in several color options besides one that’s subdued in all black. The optional colors are achieved using Cerakote, a finish that Rise Armament’s skilled applicators have mastered. The rifle G&A received for testing was all black with a stainless barrel and muzzlebrake. Black receivers, steel parts and latches on the six-position Magpul MOE adjustable stock can be accented with red controls.
The RA-315C ships in a pre-cut foam case developed by Patriot Cases (patriotcase.net). Though Patriot Cases offers several high-quality models, the one that Rise Armament ships the RA-315C in is lockable, but not tamperproof. While it may not be a travel case, its plastic offers some protection for transportation to and from a local range. You can also cut the foam further to accommodate additional accessories.
Details & Features
The thin, eight-sided aluminum handguard is the RA-902 Stinger Slimline M-Lok, which is 15 inches in-length and falls just short of the 16-inch barrel length. It can also be purchased as an accessory for $190 and retrofitted to an existing rifle in your collection. It is ideal for shooters who want to get their support hand far out toward the muzzle, which allows them to drive the gun faster between targets and with more control.
The Slimline name indicates that it’s thin. The top rail features a lack of rail slots until you get to the very front where a short section is free for mounting a front sight, light or laser aiming device. The M-Lok slots also serve as vents, which reduce the amount of heat that the barrel retains during prolonged strings of fire, typical of fast-paced 3-Gun stages.
When it comes to a 3-Gun rifle, barrel length is a personal choice. Depending on the type of match being shot, one may opt for a 16-inch barrel with a red-dot optic or a longer 18- or 20-inch barrel with a variable power scope. For me, the choice is based on the distance I’ll have to shoot and the size of the targets I will be engaging. Many 3-Gun Outlaw Open matches will stretch target engagement out to 500 yards or more. Most local 3-Gun bay-style matches are under 200 yards and often feature targets positioned closer with a maximum distance of 100 yards or so.
The 16-inch BC-160 Competition barrel on the RA-315C has a standard profile with a .750-inch diameter mid-length gas block. Made of 416R stainless steel and air-gauge tested, part of the RA barrel is fluted, which contributes the lightening treatment and cuts weight to only 1 pound, 11 ounces. The barrel is finished with an M4 barrel extension and 1/2x28 threads at the muzzle.
Inside, the barrel twist is 1:7 inches and the chamber is cut tight for the .223 Wylde profile. The .223 Wylde is a hybrid popular with competition shooters for the chambering accepts both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO loads. You’ll have to evaluate several different loads to see which one performs best with the .223 Wylde chamber. Once you’ve found it, you’ll love the results.
Attached to the barrel is a RA-701 compensator developed specifically to keep the muzzle from bouncing off target during rapid fire. It’s a proprietary three-chamber muzzlebrake with compensating ports on top, three to the right of center and two to the left that are designed to minimize the rotational torque and vertical climb when fired. With the standard mass operating system, I could not judge its efficiency. Like almost every other component on this rifle, it is available as an accessory sold separately ($109).
Magpul furniture completes the outside appearance of the rifle in a functional manner. A six-position CTR stock keeps weight down and allows it to fit most shooters without the rattle that plagues some other adjustables. The grip is Magpul MOE+, which features a tactile rubbery overmold and a storage compartment at the bottom for stowing small parts such as lubricant or small tools.
Controls on the gun are standard with one exception: the safety selector, which is ambidextrous. The charging handle is made by RA and is a robust machined piece of aluminum with a generous paddle making it hard to miss. It’s not so big as to snag on gear, which is my favorite style.
The RA-315C also includes Magpul folding front and rear backup sights. When folded, they stay down. When you need them, they spring up with a simple press of a lever. Yes, they’re plastic, but most of us are going to put an optic on the gun and rarely use them after they are zeroed.
It’s no surprise that the trigger is great. The single-stage RA-535 trigger breaks clean after 3½ pounds of pressure. RA’s drop-in triggers have crazy-fast reset, near-nonexistent overtravel and a smooth, light trigger pull with a clean, crisp break. The RA-535 feels like it’s 2 pounds, but my trigger gauge tells me otherwise. As we all know, a good trigger helps to wring out the accuracy and shootability of a rifle and this RA delivers the goods.
The bolt carrier group is full-weight with a M16 cut. It looks pretty standard, but it’s got a great finish. The black nitride is a welcome improvement over the military’s magnesium phosphate, which we see on most bolt carrier assemblies. RA’s is nicely machined, properly staked and even has the O-ring under the extractor to increase reliability.
Before accuracy testing began, I ran four 30-round magazines of practice ammunition through it. I’ve had guns that didn’t start shooting well until they had 100-plus rounds fired through them.
The gun proved accurate with Trijicon’s 4.5-30x56 Accupower turned up to 18X. After accuracy testing, I swapped the optic for a Trijicon’s new green-dot MRO and zeroed the rifle with Hornady’s 55-grain Steel Match. I then took it to the Michigan Multigun Championship, a 3-Gun competition where I managed 7th place. (Not placing better was not the gun’s fault.)
The RA-315C was lightweight, accurate, reliable and felt great in the hand.
What makes the RA-315C a competition gun, specifically? After the match, I noted that a competition rifle typically has an adjustable rifle or mid-length gas system, a good trigger, an efficient muzzlebrake and generally a low-mass operating system. The RA-315C has most of these features, but not all.
A few details stood out from my time with the RA-315C. First, G&A’s sample did not accept third-generation Magpul PMags. Third-gen PMags incorporate an anti-tilt ledge at the rear of the magazine, which directly impedes insertion into this rifle’s triggerguard where it meets the magazine well. The magwell and integral triggerguard design prevented these magazines from seating properly. Taking a file to Magpul’s Gen3 anti-tilt tab fixes the issue, however, the RA-315C is advertised as a competition-ready gun. This magazine compatibility issue is disappointing.
To add, the operating system on a competition gun — even if it isn’t lightened — should be gas adjustable. Heavy gas flow increases the reliability of the AR-15 system, but it also increases felt recoil and movement of the muzzle when firing. Ammunition pressures vary, so an adjustable gas block would do much to tame this rifle.
The brass collected from the range was dented from hitting the deflector on ejection, which is further evidence of over-gassing. When I examined the shell deflector at the rear of the ejection port, it showed brass transfer where cases were hitting hard during ejection. This is not a trait of a serious competition gun. Still, the rifle has a lot of positive attributes and a host of top-quality, high-performance parts.
The RA-315C is a valid competition rifle. However, for the $1,800 price tag, I’d like to see Rise Armament add an adjustable gas block. Rise Armament offers a low-mass bolt carrier group that should be standard on this rifle. If Rise Armament reads this, please take another look at the magazine well and modify it so that it will reliably accept third-generation Magpul PMags. At that point, Rise Armament would have one a heck of a match-ready rifle.