April 10, 2023
Hitting a target at 1,000 yards takes some effort and the right equipment. Hitting a target that far away with an AR-pattern rifle is even more difficult due to some mechanical attributes of the rifle. However, ARs offer some advantages versus bolt-action rifles. One example: The AR can make rapid follow-up shots that enables the shooter to adjust for misses before wind conditions change thanks to its semiautomatic operation. The AR also has the advantage of disturbing the shooter’s position less because the shooter doesn’t need to move to cycle the action, eject and load the next round.
The first consideration when choosing an AR for long-range work is cartridge selection. The new Rise Armament 1121XR recently sent to Guns & Ammo for testing is chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. It has a 22-inch stainless-steel barrel, which makes it a good candidate for 1,000-yard shooting. Length determines velocity, so the longer the better, and 22 inches is about as long as an AR barrel gets. Rise Armament’s is made from 416R stainless and has a 1-in-8-inch twist — ideal for long-range shooting.
Chambering an AR in 6.5 Creedmoor is optimal for shooting to 1,000 yards because it combines good barrel life with high ballistic-coefficient (BC) bullets and good velocity. It’s possible to pick a faster 6mm that might resist the wind better, but it’ll experience a shorter barrel life. There’s also the tendency to get AR barrels hot because it’s so easy to shoot again and again after a near miss. When barrels don’t get a chance to cool off, they wear out quicker. Finding a cartridge that balances barrel life with high BC ammunition with good velocity is critical. The 6.5 Creedmoor sits in the sweet spot.
After the cartridge, the next most important criteria to address long-range AR riflery is the trigger. AR triggers can be difficult to manage when used on precision rifles because they work differently than a bolt-action’s. Instead of a firing pin that sits inline with the primer and only needs to be released from spring tension to fire the cartridge, an AR trigger has a large hammer that swings on a pendulum. Just before the cartridge fires, and when it’s really important to hold the rifle steady, an AR slams the hammer into the back of the bolt carrier group to ignite the primer. Hammer shape is really important for precision shooting with AR-pattern rifles.
One way to see the impact (pun intended) the AR hammer has on the rifle’s precision is to watch the scope’s reticle when dry-firing. A mil-spec hammer that places most of the mass away from the axis on which it rotates will cause the reticle to bounce when dry-fired. That bounce is difficult to eliminate.
Rise Armament has two triggers that are ideal for precision use. The first is the RA-535 that they’re famous for. Its hammer is flat and it has a crisp let-off that breaks at just a hair more than 4 pounds. It is a wonderful single-stage trigger for use with an AR-15, and it’s machined from S-7 tool steel so it’ll stay that way for a long time. I used the RA-535 for accuracy testing and was impressed by what I saw when dry-firing before shooting groups. The reticle had almost no movement — rare on an AR — meaning that groups sizes were going to be a fair representation of the rifle’s accuracy potential.
Rise Armament also offers its new Iconic trigger, which I’ve also evaluated. While the RA-535 is exceptional, I prefer the Iconic for precision use. Rise Armament has become the Stealth Bomber (i.e., “before anyone knew about it”) of the AR trigger world. These products have flown under the radar, but Rise Armament makes exceptional triggers. Both the RA-535 and the Iconic make precision marksmanship easy and have hammer shapes ideal for long-range shooting.
My preference for the new Iconic is due to the two-stage design and the lighter 3-pound combined pull weight. It’s incredibly difficult to get a pull weight that light on an AR trigger because the bolt velocity requires substantial sear engagement. What makes it doubly difficult is how Rise Armament incorporated a full-power hammer spring.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit figured out a couple decades ago that the AR’s best accuracy only comes when using a full-power hammer spring because a primer needs to be smacked pretty hard to get the most consistent ignition. However, the biggest trigger-pull cheat code is to use a lighter hammer spring because it’s easier for the trigger to let-off. Rise Armament employed no such shady tactics to obtain the unit’s incredibly crisp 3-pound pull weight with the new Iconic trigger. It’s just a good, solid design made from great engineering.
The rest of the 1121XR rifle is also a product of quality manufacturing. Rise Armament shapes its receivers from billet aluminum, so everything is straight and true. They also make the 15-inch handguard from billet to shroud the free-float barrel. M-Lok slots along the bottom of the rail can accommodate either sections of Picatinny or ARCA rail.
The rifle also comes with Magpul’s Gen 3 PRS stock, the best choice for long-range precision shooting. This stock has an adjustable comb to help the shooter establish the crucial connection between the head and the stock. A solid connection is necessary to allow the shooter to see where the bullet impacts to make corrections for near-misses. The PRS stock also has a long-angled toe that rides rear bags well. A sandbag under the toe helps minimize rifle movement during recoil, and the longer toe gives the stock more contact with the rear bag. The angle on the toe is useful when making small elevation corrections by either moving the rear bag closer to or further from the grip.
I tested bullet weights from 130 to 147 grains and the 1121XR digested all with equal aplomb. I checked for over- or under-gassing and saw no signs. All spent cases landed about 6 or 7 feet away from my shooting position at about the 4-o’clock position. Rise Armament put dual ejectors on the bolt — as every large-frame AR should have — so the rifle demonstrated positive ejection. There were no malfunctions during testing.
The rifle ships with a Magpul PMag, which works well with factory ammunition. Should the noses of 140- or 147-grain ammunition drag in the slightly cramped PMag, Federal’s 130-grain Berger would be my top pick for use in this rifle. That 130-grain bullet was designed for ARs; it’s shorter to avoid dragging on the magazine, but has a great ballistic coefficient and muzzle velocity for 1,000-yard shooting.
Rise Armament got every detail right to make this an accurate and long-range-ready rifle. With the 1121XR, 1,000 yards is not only possible, it’s enjoyable.
Rise Armament 1121XR
- Type: Direct impingement, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
- Capacity: 20 rds.
- Barrel: 22 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 44 in.
- Weight: 9 lbs., 12 oz.
- Stock: Magpul PRS
- Grip: Magpul MOE
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Finish: Cerakote, FDE
- Sights: None
- Safety: Two-position selector
- MSRP: $2,450
- Manufacturer: Rise Armament, 844-747-3308, risearmament.com
Rise Armament Cassette Triggers
AR triggers come as one of two general types: Cassette and traditional. The traditional trigger has the two main subassemblies, including the trigger and disconnector and the hammer. Of course, there are also the springs that power the hammer and trigger.
The other trigger type is the cassette, which is what Rise Armament makes and offers as an aftermarket accessory. They have several models, but the RA-535 ($260) and Iconic ($300) are the brand’s top single- and two-stage offerings. Aside from the triggers’ visual aesthetics, the quality of the materials, consistency of operation, reliability, and finishes used are uncommon in AR trigger construction.
The RA-535 is a single-stage unit and features a bright red anodized housing. The hammer and trigger are constructed of tool steel. This is important because many AR triggers are metal-injection-molded (MIM), which can have voids in the steel and are only hard on the surface. Using tool steel ensures the homogeneity of the material and makes them more reliable.
Assembling the hammer, trigger, disconnector and springs into the cassette makes user installation a snap. Unlike mil-spec AR triggers, it doesn’t require training as an armorer to install these. All that’s required is to drive out the hammer and trigger pins, loosen the pistol grip to remove the safety selector, and remove the factory trigger components. Then, drop the new cassette trigger, replace the safety selector, hammer and trigger pins, and hit the range.
Rise Armament’s Iconic trigger is the two-stage model. Unique to this cassette trigger are the independent stages. Separating the first and second stages is interesting. The trigger shoe handles one stage while the second overlapping trigger shoe handles another. The Iconic produces reliable and clean 3-pound trigger pulls with the reliability of a full-power hammer spring.
Normally, I’d be concerned about the durability of such a trigger, but not this one. Rise Armament used S7 tool steel that they work-harden through impact. They call it “heavy-hit” hardening, which means that beating S7 tool steel hardened the surface and made it tougher than regular tool steel. Next, Rise Armament coated the hammer and trigger with black nitride to provide corrosion resistance and some lubricity. It was designed to be functional and durable, but good looks were a by-product.
Rise’s aren’t the most well-known triggers in the AR community, but they should be. Using tool steel and black nitride are rare to the point of almost being unique. However, when combined with ideal hammer shapes and top-shelf assembly into a fine-finished cassette housing, these triggers are top contenders for anyone interested in flawless trigger performance.
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