We all know Blackwater – the private contract military superpower. Blackwater Worldwide was founded by Erik Prince, an astute, intelligent, aggressive visionary and an ex-Navy SEAL officer. He left the Navy in 1996, and then he started numerous business ventures. 

As a global enterprise, they are no longer directly in the private military contracting business. But they have moved on to other pursuits in the same industry. Hence their purchase of the company Iron Horse Firearms in 2020, with three firearms on their product list. 

One was the DMR, or Designated Marksman Rifle, the shorter version being the Iron Horse SPR. The acquisition also included the Sentry 12-gauge tactical shotgun. I will be looking at the innovative Blackwater Iron Horse DMR.

A Look at Innovation

The innovative lever-driven trigger is easy to miss on this unique rifle. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

Why is this rifle, which appears to be designed on the AR platform, such an innovative rifle? A closer look at its profile has you quickly asking one basic question, how do you fire it without a trigger?


The answer is that this rifle has an LDF trigger, or a “lever-driven fire” trigger. This technology is innovative, and the description from the Blackwater website states that, “the operator can break shots on an AR-style rifle, using the more dexterous and inline digit, the thumb.” They go on to state that the thumb is less likely to cause a push or a pull that can occur with a traditional trigger finger manipulation, and they must have done some analysis since they state that group sizes on average are 26 percent smaller than traditional trigger systems.

Offsetting a sight works well for this style of firearm. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

Now, I guess we should stop calling it a trigger and refer to it as a lever, even though the definition of a trigger probably covers it. The lever “press” weight is 4.5 pounds. The rationale for a thumb-fired rifle was to appeal to returning vets who had debilitating injuries. Speaking with Blackwater’s Mike Semanoff, I was given a little more detailed info on the innovative lever system. 

Apparently, the inventor was a retired Marine who had seen too many hand and finger injuries. After some research, he found there are approximately 60,000 injuries to fingers every year. Innovation sometimes follows tragedy, and this revolutionary idea is meant to provide an alternative for those who thought the shooting sports were no longer an option.

Notice the absence of a trigger and trigger guard? (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

Mike also disclosed that a few aftermarket trigger manufacturers are in the process of providing variations for the lever system. We took the rifle down to Lead Faucet Tactical, a training  and gear development company owned by Dan Brokos, a retired Special Forces sergeant major, marksman, information guru on all things tactical, instructor, and, as Recoil magazine put it, “a soldier’s soldier.” 


He ran it through its paces and got a feel for the Iron Horse DMR. His comments were positive in that he thought the rifle was “unique,” “innovative,” and “not bad at all.” I really liked one comment he made that was, “I’m kind of diggin’ it.” That’s pretty good coming from someone who is infinitely knowledgeable about AR platforms.

Other Specifics

The unique lever recessed behind the grip replaces the normal trigger. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

The rifle I am looking at is chambered in 5.56 NATO. The barrel is a nice length at 18 inches, and it is constructed of 4150 steel with a button nitride coating. This is great for high-volume, rapid-fire scenarios. The barrel’s twist rate is 1-8, which is good for its intended purpose.

The specifications boast that the bolt carrier group has been magnetic particle inspected, which is nice if you worry about that sort of stuff. Another positive is the ambidextrous extended charging handle, a Radian Raptor-LT. To continue with the whole gas recoil system, the Iron Horse has a rifle-length gas system with a .750 Journal Gas Block. On the other end, there is an A2 buffer, spring, and tube assembly.


The upper and lower are billet 7075 Aluminum. The M-Lok handguard is 15.25 inches and made of 6061 aluminum. A full-length 1913 Picatinny rail runs the length of the upper. The mag well has a nicely tapered mouth that aids in mag seating.

The buttstock is adjustable for the length of pull, but the Gen 2 DMR version is already being upgraded. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

Moving to the buttstock, it is designed to have a 1.5-inch adjustable length of pull as well as an adjustable cheek riser. The rifle we reviewed had the aluminum buttstock, which is being upgraded on the Gen 2 DMR. This would be the “FAB Defense RAPS Rapid Adjustable Precision Ambi Buttstock” that “features the Length of Pull (LOP) Memory System.”  

The pistol grip and trigger guard assembly now should be specified as the lever guard or shroud with a skeletonized pistol grip that is also aluminum. The rifle comes in at a total weight of 8.5 pounds. It’s a good weight for a DMR if you want some aid in mitigating recoil. I would think follow-up shots would be immediate with all this rifle has going for it.

Looking at the controls, the bolt release is a standard AR-15 release. The magazine release is enlarged and assists with dropping the magazine without any adjustment in the firing grip. One other major change is the safety. The safety is an ambidextrous safety selector switch that is a slide to select safe or fire. 

Its placement is ideal in that it can be manipulated by the trigger finger or middle finger without adjusting your grip. Finally, the overall length is 36.25 inches.

On the Range

We ran a Primary Arms PLx 1-8x24 FFP ACSS Raptor scope on this particular rifle. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

Initially, getting on this rifle was a little challenging. Question, what do I do with my trigger finger? Taking the Iron Horse through its paces was a delight. Of course, we outfitted it with a Primary Arms PLx 1-8x24 FFP ACSS Raptor scope. To aid in necessary “closer than desired” shots, we had a Trijicon RMR on a 45-degree offset rail. 

We added a Lead Faucet Tactical Brokos brace, known as the “Doohickey,” and a Cloud Defensive light. To round it off, we put an OSS suppressor on it as well. Now, that is a nice DMR with or without a trigger finger. 

When you get around the learning curve, the unique lever system works quite well intuitively. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

After taking a few minutes to sight it in, we were shooting steel at 150 yards offhand with no problems. Cycling was flawless, and it ate our 5.56 ammunition with ease. We were using some vintage Lake City M855 5.56 62-grain FMJ and Winchester 5.56 55-grain FMJ ammunition.

We found the lever press easy to get used to and, after a few rounds, we did not think about the difference. Trigger pull or push was not an issue, and the thumb press was in line with the target and never caused a problem. The weight was nice, and follow-up shots were fast and accurate.

Overall, the rifle handled nicely, magazines seated well, and the bolt cycled flawlessly. All controls were easily accessed and manipulated. Ammunition cycled without issue. Recoil was relatively light, making follow-up shots easy and accurate. After shooting for a while, the lever system was easily managed.


As a Designated Marksman Rifle, this platform offers some great benefits. (Photo: Rutsen Eagle/Guns.com)

I would have to give this rifle high marks as a Designated Marksman Rifle. It proved to be accurate out to the distances we were shooting. The buttstock design is structured like a precision rifle stock and has adjustments for length of pull and cheek rise. This helps to ensure accurate shot placement. 

The standard Picatinny optics mount easily. We could have easily mounted a red dot or even iron sights on a 45-degree offset mount if the shooting scenario warranted such an addition. An added bipod would assist in creating a stable shooting platform. I recommend you consider this rifle for those who might need to reach out and touch something at a distance … consistently and quickly. 

This is a great rifle for hunting, competition, or tactical operations. Also, check out the Guns.com website for the Iron Horse SPR chambered in .223 Wylde with a 16.5-inch barrel or the Sentry 12-gauge Tactical Shotgun.

revolver barrel loading graphic