Best AR-15: Black Rifle Guide

by David Reeder

September 27, 2023

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The rifle market in the United States has been completely dominated by AR15 and AR15-type rifles (including the troubled AR pistol) for decades, almost since Gene Stoner – may he sit at the right hand of God – developed it. There is a reason AR owners refer to the AR15 rifle as “America’s Rifle”; and why they’re not joking. As long guns go, it’s virtually ubiquitous. There are literally millions available.

They come in an exhaustive array of configurations for a wide range of purposes.  And they’re built by many very good manufacturers (when not built or assembled at home). So how does one choose the best AR-15? 

You don’t, not the way you’re thinking. Read on. Travis Pike and I will explain.

Why the AR 15?

Why would you consider an AR15 platform for your rifle? There are several answers to that. We could point out their availability at every price point, discuss the potential for individualization, or even the existence of niche versions like bolt action and pump action models.

But the best way to explain it is to examine it in a vacuum. Price and modularity matter, sure, but the rifle itself is outstanding. It’s a simple, lightweight, ergonomic firearm that anyone can use. By and large, they are extremely reliable and accurate enough to hit targets out to 500 yards or more relatively easily – if the shooter does their part.

This isn’t to downplay the desirability of other long guns – the Right Arm of the Free World (FN FAL), lever guns, and US-built AKs all have much to recommend them, too. It’s just that, all things being equal, an AR15 is simply the best overall semi-automatic everyman rifle platform on the market. 

⚠️AR15s, and to a lesser extent AR10s and AR9 PCCs, are also referred to as black rifles, ARs, and Modern Sporting Rifles (MSR). I won’t use the latter term because I think it’s ignorant and short-sighted.

One carbine to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. The AR15 rifle is a ubiquitous, jack-of-all-trades rifle, but there is no one build that will do everything equally well. Happily,m the platform has vast potential for individualization.
The AR15 rifle is a ubiquitous jack-of-all-trades rifle, but no one build will do everything equally well.
There is no One Rifle to rule them all. Happily, the platform has vast potential for individualization.

Styles of AR15: Intended Uses

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939).” Judge Roger Benitez

Possible uses of the AR15 can be generally categorized as follows.

Home Defense – Here’s an interesting fact. Approximately 100% of home invasions occur in someone’s home. Hearth and home (in the context of the Second Amendment) is the first, best reason for private ownership of an AR. Compared to a shotgun or pistol, I would argue that an AR or PCC are the best home defense weapon options (though many firearms have performed admirably in this capacity.

Duty – Duty means police, military, and security use of an AR, of course, but also hunters working to eradicate feral hogs, even the National Forest Service. These roles often require hard use under nasty conditions.

Competitive Shooting – There aren’t any lives on the line here, but you still want a gun that runs well (and reliably!). Quality matters whether you’re competing recreationally or your livelihood depends on it. Budgets in this category generally go higher than all the others.  

Hunting – It’s surprising to some, but a rifle meant for hunting animals is often configured far differently than one intended for defensive use. A duty, competition, or defensive rifle will certainly drop a deer or a pig, but a weapon built and/or equipped specifically for hunting will be more effective.

So while it’s hard to label any one make or model AR-15 as the best, we’ve done our best to assemble a general list of some representative best black rifles within several price brackets.

BEST AR-15s

Best AR-15

Best premium AR

Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2

Knight's SR-15 MOD 2
  • E3 bolt design
  • URX 4 M-LOK rail
  • 16-inch barrel
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Best high-end AR

Daniel Defense DDM4V7

Daniel Defense DDM4V7
  • Cold hammer-forged barrel
  • MFR 15.0 rail
  • Improved flash suppressor
Check price
Alternate high-end

KE Arms WWSD Rifle

KE Arms WWSD Rifle
  • Awesome backstory
  • Extremely light build
  • Monolithic polymer lower
Check price
Alternate premium

JP Enterprises JP5

JP Enterprises JP5
  • 9mm pistol caliber carbine
  • Roller-delayed 
  • Competition-ready
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Best mid-range

Colt LE6920

Colt LE6920
  • Closest to military grade M4 on the market
  • Affordable
  • Proven across the globe
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Best bridge AR

MARS-L

MARS-L
  • Advanced ambidextrous lower 
  • True monolithic upper receiver
  • Adopted by the NZ Defense Force
  • Excellent bridge between high-end and premium
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Alternate mid-range

Aero Precision M4E1

Aero Precision M4E1
  • Advanced lower receivers
  • Comes in various calibers, colors, and sizes
  • Easy to build
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Best budget-conscious

S&W M&P Sport II

S&W M&P Sport II
  • Reliable, budget grade option
  • Lacks anything fancy
  • Great warranty
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Alternate budget-conscious

Ruger AR 556

Ruger AR 556
  • Good baseline ~sub-$1000 AR
  • Solid and reliable
  • Built by a company with proven track record
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Best entry level

Radical Firearms RF-15

Radical Firearms RF-15
  • Hands down best base level rifle
  • Preferred by editor over many mid-range and high-end guns
  • Solid and reliable; great “starter” rifle
  • Built by a company with proven track record
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Best for interstate travel

Fightlite SCR

Fightlite SCR
  • 50 State Legal 
  • Unique design
  • Accepts AR anything
  • Mid-range cost
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List of the Best AR15s:

  1. Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2 
  2. Daniel Defense DDM4 v7
  3. KE Arms WWSD Rifle
  4. JP Enterprises JP5
  5. Colt LE6920
  6. LMT Defense MARS-L
  7. Aero Precision M4E1
  8. S&W MP15 Sport II
  9. Ruger AR 556
  10. Radical Firearms RF15
  11. Fightlite SCR

About the AR15: History

History of the AR15

The AR15 is a direct descendent of Gene Stoner’s ArmaLite Rifle AR-10. Stone was the Chief Engineer for ArmaLite, which was then a division of the Fairchild Engine Corporation. The initial AR10 model was completed in the mid-1950s, but for various reasons (some shady) was passed over a couple of years later by the M14 as the Army’s new service rifle.

Gene Stoner (center right) at an ArmaLite reunion organized by Reed Knight (center left) for Stoner’s 70th anniversary. Bill Mullens (left) was the chief marketing agent, and Tom Tellefson (right) developed the process that built fiberglass stocks for ArmaLite rifles. Stoner, a US Marine armorer in the Pacific Theater during WWII, was hired as Chief Engineer by Armalite in 1954, a year after the company was founded.

What Does AR Stand For?

This is the obligatory what does AR stand for in AR-15? part of the article.

Although explaining this gets old, some misinformation never seems to go away. The AR in AR15 stands for ArmaLite Rifle. Colloquially and unofficially, it is referred to as America’s Rifle. It does not now nor has it ever stood for “Assault Rifle” or “Automatic Rifle.”

ArmaLite AR-15 serial number 000001: where America's Rifle started.
ArmaLite AR-15 serial number 000001: where America’s Rifle started.

The need to make that distinction might seem pedantic, and sometimes it is, but a general understanding of the fundamentals and how something works is never a Bad Thing. You don’t need to be a specialty mechanic to know whether you’re driving a 4-, 6-, or 8-cylinder vehicle. Or how much air should generally be in your tires.

Some weapons are correctly called Automatic RIfle, but those are military designations.
Some weapons are correctly called Automatic Rifles, but those are military designations. The M1918 BAR Browning Automatic Rifle is one. The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle (seen above) is another. Lance Cpl. Camron Edwards, Golf Company, Battalion Landing 2/6, 22nd MEU training with his Trijicon VCOG-equipped Infantry Automatic Rifle aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD3). USMC Photo Sgt. Armando Elizalde

Also, guns are divisive, black rifles more than all the others. None of that is likely to change. It’s good for you and all of us who own guns if you are informed and can intelligently discuss your semi-automatic, not automatic, rifle or carbine.

Called to Service

Even as the M14 was taking the field, many in the DoD were agitating for a transition to smaller, faster calibers in the .22 family. As a result of this push, Stoner modified the AR10, switching it from the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge to 5.56x45mm NATO; this latter round was a close cousin of the .223 REM cartridge. He then put the weapon in front of the US Continental Army Command for evaluation.

That modified weapon was the original AR-15.

Much drama ensued (too much to detail in this article). Ultimately, thanks in no small part to Generals Willard G. Wyman and Curtis LeMay, the DoD adopted the AR15 as the official replacement for the M14.

It was then designated the M16.

The “AR” firearms subsequently used by the DoD weren’t, for the most part, AR15s. They were classified as M16s or M16 variants…but only ~mostly. The actual designation AR15 was reserved by Colt for use with its commercially available semi-automatic rifles.

An excerpt from the Report of the M16 Rifle Review Panel,  History of the M16 Weapon System (1984 regraded unclassified), Office Director of Weapon Systems Analysis
An excerpt from the Report of the M16 Rifle Review Panel,
History of the M16 Weapon System (1984 regraded unclassified),
Office Director of Weapon Systems Analysis

If that seems confusing, don’t sweat it. There were a number of monikers used during this process.

The M16, M16A1, XM16E1, and other variants are “select-fire” weapons. This means they can fire in bursts of three and/or fully automatic mode. Later versions include the M16A2, M4, and others; these and their cousins are also select fire. AR15-type weapons can only fire one round with each pull of the trigger. There is no fully semi-automatic. That’s like saying a picture is in full color black and white.

Anyway, that was then.

Now, though, the term AR15 has been genericized. Think Taser, Velcro, Kleenex, Coke, and Xerox. ArmaLite sold its rights to the AR15 to Colt in 1951. After the military adopted the weapon and designated it the M16, Colt continued using the AR-15 trademark for the semi-automatic firearms it sold commercially to civilians and law enforcement agencies.

Colt still holds that trademark, which is why, technically, the only actual AR15s are the ones built by Colt. All the others should be referred to as an ” AR15 type” rifle.

In practice, though, most people use “AR15”, “AR rifle,” or just “AR” to refer to anything that can be even loosely categorized as an AR platform weapon.

A Colt AR-15 ad from 1986.

Should I Build My Own? 

(Pike) You can certainly build an extremely nice rifle if you have the requisite skills. Building a functional AR 15 doesn’t take rocket surgery or specialized tools, but building a premium AR 15 certainly requires experience and some nice tools. Ensuring the barrel nut is torqued correctly and the flash hider is on straight isn’t something you can do with a pair of channel locks. 

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but when I spend a good chunk of money on a rifle, I want someone with more experience than me to put it together. I’ve built rifles before and haven’t had a problem, but that doesn’t mean I trust myself to build a rifle to defend myself with. 

Build vs. assemble: These two words are usually used interchangeably. The closest you can come to actually “building” a rifle, in the sense that a manufacturer does, is with an 80% lower receiver.

That topic requires a dedicated article of its own, so read our 80% lower FAQ.

The K in M16k/AR-K comes from the German word Kurz, meaning short.
This is the M16k. Gun owners who enjoy “retro rifles” or “clone builds” call this the AR-K. The K in M16k/AR-K comes from the German word Kurz, meaning short. Some M16Ks are chambered in rifle caliber cartridges, but others, like the one you see here, utilize the .45 ACP round. An AR-type weapon with a longer barrel and chambered in a pistol caliber cartridge is referred to as a Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC) or, in the case of those chambered in 9mm, an AR9.

Major Parts of a AR 15 Explained

The AR15 is an uncomplicated, ingenious design. Vast numbers last for years with nothing more than the occasional cleaning and field-strip-level maintenance to sustain them. Individual parts are equally simple and relatively painless to install. Here’s an overview to give you a feel for how the weapon is laid out.

This is not a comprehensive list of all AR rifle parts.

Fifteen parts of the AR15

AR15 parts diagram: 15 pieces of the rifle.
1 Bolt Carrier Group (BCG) and chamber.

Your rifle’s heart beats in here. The chamber is part of the barrel; it sits roughly to the right of where you see the letter R.

2 Gas block and gas tube.

They are in there with the barrel; handguards (forearm) surround them.

3 The barrel.

The left end of your barrel (in this diagram) is the chamber; the right is where a muzzle device is attached. Sometimes less of it is visible if longer handguards are used.

4 The muzzle device.

This may be a flash hider, compensator, muzzle brake, or suppressor.

5 Your charging handle sits here.

It runs across the top of the interior of the upper receiver and hooks onto the BCG.

6 Front sight post.

This one is “fixed,” meaning permanent, but many are detachable. Some people who use optics do not run “iron sights” (which are often polymer) at all; this and the rear sight are now often referred to as “BUIS” for Back Up Iron Sights. Others who run optics utilize what are called “offset sights.” These cant out to the side of the upper receiver at 45° and are used in lieu of BUIS for close target acquisition if use of an optic is unsuitable or if it goes down.

7 Rear sight.

This one is a fold-down/pop-up version. The rear sight is much more rarely fixed, though if there is a carrying handle the rear sight will be incorporated there.

8 Optic or “glass.”

This could be a red dot sight, reflex sight, scope, LPVO, etc.

9 The trigger.

You can see the part you manipulate here, but more of it is up above roughly between where you see the two letter Rs. The hammer is in here as well, more back in the vicinity of the letter W.

10 Receiver extension, aka “buffer tube.”

Your buffer and buffer spring are in here. Depending on how you have the stock collapsed, and how you shoot, your cheek will probably rest here.

11 Pistol grip.

This is where you hold the rifle, usually with your dominant hand.

12 Rifle stock or pistol brace.

There are just about as many different kinds of stocks as there are AR type rifles. Some are fixed, more are collapsible (or “telescoping”) and some will fold.

13 Magazine well.

Your rifle mags insert and lock in here. The spring at the bottom of the magazine pushes cartridges upward so the BCG can push a new one off the top each time the weapon cycles.

14 Magazine.

There are vast numbers and styles of mags, too, from old military USGI mags to the common polymer versions to single- and twin-drum magazines. Sometimes colloquially (though incorrectly) referred to as a “clip.”

15 Vertical foregrip (VFG).

Not to be confused with pistol grip. Numerous kinds of VFGs are available, some minimalist, some with a flashlight and/or laser aboard. This piece is often used less for a traditional grip and more as a physical guide/mnemonic for support hand placement. It is often from here that lights, visible lasers, and IR lasers are manipulated.

The relative simplicity of the AR15 design is why so many people choose to accessorize their rifles so extensively. In this section, we’ll delve a little deeper into some of the main parts of the AR-type rifle, beginning with the receivers.

Soldiers using DDM4v7 rifles in Ukraine.
Photo of reportedly pro-Ukrainian fighter by a captured Russian vehicle; he is carrying a Daniel Defense DDM4v7.

We’ll also cover the following:

Upper Receivers

In simplest terms, the receivers of an AR-type weapon are the top and bottom foundational halves. The upper receiver connects the barrel, bolt carrier group, and charging handle to the lower receiver. You can purchase complete uppers (fitted with the basic pieces needed to make the gun function) or stripped uppers.

Above: a Geissele Super Duty complete upper receiver. Below: An Aero Precision stripped upper receiver. The former includes a barrel, BCG, muzzle device, dust cover, charging handle, and forward assist. Hence the word complete. More and more complete upper receivers are now sold without sights attached because that is often the first thing people want to change on a pre- (or mostly pre-) built weapon.
Above: a Geissele Super Duty complete upper receiver. Below: An Aero Precision stripped upper receiver. The former includes a barrel, bolt carrier group (BCG), muzzle device, dust cover, charging handle, and forward assist. Hence the word complete. More and more complete upper receivers are now sold without sights attached because that is often the first thing people want to change on a pre- (or mostly pre-) built weapon.

Think of a stripped upper as a skeleton frame with nothing attached yet. People often use stripped uppers when they want to build a completely individualized gun.

Neither kind of lower receiver is serialized. They are not considered firearms. You can buy, sell, or trade at your leisure. If you purchase one online, they can send it straight to your house.

Learn more in the Gun University Upper Receiver Rundown.

Lower Receivers

A lower receiver is the “bottom half” of an AR-style rifle. This is the part of the weapon that is serialized, meaning it is legally classified as a firearm whether there is an upper receiver attached or not. Lower receivers hold the “guts” of a weapon, including the trigger, safety controls, and buffer assembly. This is also where the stock and grip are attached.

Lowers are also available in stripped or complete versions; many lower parts kits are available to flesh out a stripped lower.

Lower receivers like these are considered a firearm, whether or not anything is attached. These, too, may be bought and sold (including online), but unlike the uppers, lowers must be shipped to a licensed firearms dealer (FFL). The purchaser must still provide an ID and complete a background check before taking possession of the weapon.

Bolt Carrier Group

The bolt carrier group (BCG) is the operational heart of a rifle. It holds the firing pin, extractor, gas key, and the bolt itself.

Components of the bolt carrier group (BCG)
  1. Bolt
  2. Ejector and ejector spring
  3. Extractor
  4. Gas rings
  5. Bolt carrier
  6. Bolt cam pin
  7. Gas key
  8. Firing pin

When you pull the trigger on an AR, the hammer swings up to strike the firing pin inside the BCG. That engages the primer on the cartridge, exploding the gunpowder therein. Expanding gas from the burning gunpowder propels the bullet down the barrel, but some is channeled back to the gas key on the BCG. That drives the BCG straight back over toward the hammer and compresses the buffer spring.

As the bolt rotates and moves rearward, a couple of things happen. First, the extractor part of the BCG grabs the case from the round you just fired and ejects it. Next, the BCG (still traveling rearward) recocks the hammer like you would on a revolver with your thumb. Finally, the BCG reaches the limit of its ability to maintain tension against the buffer spring. The buffer spring then decompresses (unsprings? becomes unsprung?) and throws the BCG back forward.

As the bolt drives forward, it strips a round off the top of the magazine and pushes it into the chamber, completing the cycle. The rifle is now ready for the next pull of the trigger to begin the process all over again.

The entire operation takes less than a second.

🚨Replacing the semi-automatic BCG of an AR15 with the auto-capable BCG of an M4 or other select fire weapon will not make your rifle fully automatic. Even if it did, you’d be breaking the law. A number of changes to the weapon’s internals would have to be made to convert it to full auto successfully, and even then, only if the receiver had enough space to accommodate the parts.

Owning and using full-auto BCG is perfectly legal; it will only put you in a jam if you use it in an illegal fashion.

Read more in Upgrading the Bolt Carrier Group.

Charging Handle

The charging handle is what “charges” or “cocks” your rifle by chambering a round. Pulling the charging handle back pulls the bolt carrier to the rear, cocking the hammer and (if a loaded mag is in the mag well) allowing the spring at the bottom of your magazine to push a round up into the chamber.

You might also check out: What are the Best Charging Handles?

AR15 Barrel Guide

(Pike) After quality, the most important thing to consider in an AR15 barrel is length. Determining the optimal barrel length for your gun is not simple. There are some questions to be asked: What’s the gun’s purpose? What’s its caliber? Those are all important to consider. To show a simple example, let’s focus on the 5.56 caliber. It’s the most common AR 15 caliber and has the most barrel options.

20 inch – Barrels classified as “rifle length” come in at 20-inches. The 5.56 was made for a 20-inch barrel, and the round reaches its max velocity from a 20-inch barrel. An AR 15 with a 20-inch barrel will be the smoothest shooting AR experience out of the box. These are perfect for hunting and for competitions involving accuracy. 

16-inch – 16-inch barrels are the most common barrels on the commercial market. At 16 inches, you get a good mix of velocity and maneuverability at close ranges. 16-inch barrels are also the shortest you can get without using an AR 15 pistol or SBR. This length of barrel will ensure reliability, and accuracy, and give you a very effective range. 

14.5-inch – 14.5-inch barrels are the military standard for the M4 and, as such, are quite popular among civilian shooters. Like the 16-inch barrel, the weapon remains maneuverable, lightweight, and reliable. To avoid the NFA, you can pin and weld a muzzle device in place to reach the necessary 16 inches. 

11.5 inches – Now we are getting into specialized barrels made explicitly for close-quarter combat, and out to longer ranges, the terminal ballistics will suck. For home defense, it’s great, but it’s super loud, has a lot of muzzle blast, and creates lots of concussions. 11.3 inches is a sweet spot for reliability with shorter barrels. 

10.3 inches – like 11.5, the 10.3-inch barrel is for special purposes, like CQB. In CQB, the 10.3-inch barrel does well, but again you are limited in max range in terms of terminal ballistics. On top of that, you’ll have to deal with the flash, noise, and concussion. They’ve made 10.3 guns work, but the 11.5 guns tend to be more reliable. 

Shorter Barrels – Anything shorter than 10.3 is a bit silly in 5.56. It’s basically a flashbang in the form of a gun. Sure, 7.5 exists, and I even own one (and it’s fun!), but it’s not worth the investment for a premium-grade gun. 

Read more in the Gun University AR15 Barrel Comparison.

AR15 Gas Systems Explained

Two kinds of gas systems exist in an AR-type weapon: Direct Impingement (DI) and Piston. DI guns are far more common than piston guns (in the black rifle world). AK platform weapons, by contrast, are almost exclusively piston.

  1. Direct Impingement: expanding gas from a fired round is channeled into a gas tube; the gas pushes the bolt back directly and cycles the gun.
    • DI guns generally weigh slightly less than piston guns (fewer pieces in a DI system).
    • DI guns typically produce less felt recoil than piston guns (no reciprocating mass in a DI gun); this provides a greater potential for accuracy on the shooter’s part.
    • DI guns don’t have direct physical contact between the gas tube and the action; this means the barrel can be “free-floated,” providing greater mechanical potential for accuracy.
    • DI guns blow gas and carbon straight into the chamber and barrel, making them get dirty much faster than piston guns. This affects the reliability of the gun.
  2. Piston: expanding gas from a fired round is forced against a metal piston, pushing the bolt back to cycle the gun.
    • There are two piston systems: long-stroke (common on AKs and some ARs) and short-stroke (often found in pistol ARs).
    • Piston guns run significantly more cleanly than DI guns. They can burn through vastly larger round counts before requiring attention.
    • Piston guns usually burn cooler than DI guns.
    • Movement of the piston makes perceived recoil higher than in a DI gun, making it potentially less accurate (from the shooter’s side). It may also cause movement in the barrel between shots, which also decreases accuracy potential.
    • Piston rifles are generally considered to be mechanically superior to and more reliable than DI rifles, but this is relative. No one watching Becky Yackley drive a piston gun would think the extra weight and recoil affect her ability to put rounds exactly where she intends.

Read GU’s article about lower receivers for more info.

What Caliber is an AR 15?

(Pike) AR15s come in a multitude of calibers; in fact they come in so many it would be an entire article just to list them. Instead, let’s talk about the three most common calibers you’ll find in the premium grade AR15s and some of the other categories of AR cartridges out here. 

5.56 – 5.56 comes standard in the AR15 world. This intermediate caliber does well out to 500 yards and even a little more with a good shot. It’s incredibly common and affordable. It provides excellent accuracy and minimal recoil. 

The most common AR15 platforms are chambered in 223 REM, 5.56 NATO, or 223 Wylde
Seven (7) examples of the .223 cartridge (L) lined up next to a .308 (R) for comparison. The most common AR15 platforms are chambered in 223 REM, 5.56 NATO, or 223 Wylde: “Skeptical of the Ordnance Department’s willingness to respond to their needs, the board’s members, with General Wyman’s backing, struck out on their own. Having only recently been impressed with the Armalite AR15, Wyman and Colonel Neilson visited Eugene Stoner late in 1956 to discuss development of a small-caliber version of his rifle. Paying a return visit to Fort Benning, Stoner found the board open on matters of technical detail but assertive in its desire to give the infantryman a lighter rifle with an automatic fire capability. The board had lowered the range requirement to 500 meters, a distance at which they felt the bullet should pierce a helmet. No longer wedded to caliber .30 rounds, Stoner and the board agreed that a caliber .22 bullet weighing 55 grains with a muzzle velocity around 3,250 fps would be about right. Stoner returned to Armalite to develop his AR15.” The M16 Controversies, Thomas L. McNaugher

9mm – 9mm is the world’s favorite pistol round and also their favorite pistol caliber carbine round. It’s a fun little cartridge that works well with the blowback systems in PCC AR15s. It also allows the user to use standard pistol magazines that can match their chosen handgun. 

300 Blackout – 300 Blackout is a neat round that excels at the versatility and is often being used in short barrels. It’s designed to reach max velocity in a barrel as short as 9 inches. It’s perfect for use with suppressors as well. In fact, if you want an SBR or short-barreled pistol, I’d go with the 300 Blackout. 

Big Bore – Big bore calibers, including 350 Legend, 450 Bushmaster, and 458 SOCOM, are developed for taking bigger game at closer ranges. These are excellent hunting cartridges within 200 yards or so, but provide a costly source for ammunition. 

Longer(er) Range – The 6mm ARC, 6.5 Grendel, and their cousins provide AR15 with a high ballistic coefficient, allowing you to really reach out there.

Best AR15: General Classification

This is going to be subjective and relative. Maybe borderline arbitrary. But we had to start somewhere, right?

The following examples will be organized into 5 categories.

  1. Entry level: ~$700 or less.
  2. Budget Conscious: ~$700 to ~$1k.
  3. Mid-Range: ~$1k – ~$1.6k
  4. High-End: ~$1600 +
  5. Premium: ~$2,500 +

There will be those who argue there should be another category at about ~$3.2k or so, and there is some merit to that. But we’re going to leave it at just five. Our categories and choices will create consternation and outrage in the comments and forums, but that’s life on the interwebz.

Best AR-15 Reviews

Now let’s look at our selections and examine some pros and cons of each.

Best Premium AR Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2

Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2

The SR-15 E3 MOD 2 series’ 5.56mm NATO barrel is manufactured for military grade durability, and is free-floated inside a URX 4 M-LOK handguard.

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  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A+
  • Value A-

Our Grade

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SR-15 MOD 2 Specs

  • Weight 6.55 lbs
  • Length 33.5 inches
  • Barrel Length 16.1 inches
  • Caliber 5.56

Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2 Review

(Pike) Knights Armament arms the world’s best professional gunfighters with the finest fighting rifles money can buy. Knights Armory Company, of KAC, produces rifles for the most discerning customer. In the AR-15 realm, the SR-15 is hard to beat. If the world was going to end, I’d grab the SR-15 because it’s insanely durable and made to last.

The SR-15 utilizes the E3 round bolt lug that increases bolt life to an extreme level. A common weak point is the extractor, so Knights packs the SR-15 with dual extractor springs that provide constant pressure and ensure the best extraction even when you have the dirtiest chamber. 

Knights also utilizes ambidextrous controls that include the safety, the magazine release, and bolt release, all accessible from either side of the lower receiver. These controls are fantastic and provide perfect ergos for lefties and allow you to maintain control when swapping shoulders. 

I love how accessible the SR-15’s controls are because when I’m teaching my friends how to use it, I can easily reach over to make adjustments and help them along. In fact, I also know a few competition shooters who swear that the position of the controls lets them make faster and more reliable shots. 

For a balanced and secure feel, it’s hard to beat Knights’s proprietary extractor design. The “butterfly” shaped extractor is supported by two full-sized springs that provide steady compression and keep the bolt functioning in case one of the springs fails. I’ve also discovered that as long as I lube the cam pins and bolt regularly, I can manage approximately 20,000 rounds before I have to clean out the rifle. That said, I always inspect my rifle every few thousand rounds and keep an eye out for debris build up. 

The URX M-LOK rail is tough to beat in terms of durability, and you can easily zero a PEQ style aiming device and know it will maintain zero. The two-stage flat trigger will help you ensure the rounds hit their target, and so will the unbeatable QC. The SR-15 might be the future of duty-grade AR-15 rifles. 

Find it at KAC.

Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2 Pros and Cons

  • Absurdly reliable
  • Ergonomic
  • Outstanding design
  • Expensive

Knight’s SR-15 MOD 2 Deals

Best High End AR Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 5.56 NATO

Daniel Defense DDm4v7

Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 5.56 NATO

Another excellent rifle in a long line of excellent rifles from Daniel Defense.

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value A-

Our Grade

A

Reader’s Grade

C

Based on 2 Reviews

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Daniel Defense DDM4v7 Specs

  • Weight 6.2 lbs
  • Length 32 1/4 – 35 7/8 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber 5.56mm NATO

Daniel Defense DDM4v7 Review

(Reeder) Daniel Defense has an excellent reputation for quality rifles. This seems apropos since every DD rifle I’ve ever put hands on has performed very well. Lots of people speak very highly of DD’s blasters, but lots of people speak highly of lots of things. I’m a fan of the company as well, but not to the point of emotional investment, so I wanted to make my own determination.

That was quite a while and a lot of rounds ago. My DDM4 has continued to do what it’s supposed to do, without a hiccup. Built around a Cold Hammer Forged Barrel, it’s got a great design and finish; every part of the rifle goes through extensive quality checks, so you don’t have to worry about its quality. It’s also very smooth and easy to handle with its ambidextrous grips and rubber pads, so much so that I would even recommend it for beginners if it’s within your budget. 

Overall, I think it’s worth the money you’ll put down, though I wish the stock trigger was a little crisper. While I’m not a huge fan of the stock (it always wants to rip my beard out), that’s a pretty minor issue. I just replaced the stock on mine with one of the B5 jobs and everything was good to go. I also really liked its flash suppressors that reduce the flash signature, perfect for reducing your visibility after taking a shot. Some shooters might prefer a muzzle brake to a flash suppressor, but I’m a flash suppressor guy until I get into the bigger calibers, so that wasn’t an issue for me. An actual issue I had was the trigger; it’s a MilSpec one with a 7 lb pull weight and while that’s manageable on the field, it’s not great for when you want to precision shoot. 

Meantime, if you have the budget for it, this is an excellent choice. And honestly, these rifles are good enough that I’d feel safe buying one used from a reputable website.

At Daniel Defense.

DDM4v7 Pros and Cons

  • Accurate – This rifle has more mechanical potential than I can exploit
  • Lightweight – It’s not much lighter than other ARs, but somehow it feels lighter
  • Reliable – I’ve yet to clean it and yet to have a malfuntion
  • Caliber – Not a con if you like 5.56 NATO; I’m a 223 Wylde kinda guy
  • Aggravating stock – If you have hair on your face (admittedly much of a con)
  • Mushy trigger – Not overtly so, but not as good as I’d hope for the money

Daniel Defense DDM4 v7 Deals

Alt. High End KE Arms WWSD Rifle

WWSD-rifle_best-AR-15

KE Arms WWSD Rifle

WWSD = “What Would Stoner DO”; it’s an awesome premise for a rifle. Manufactured by KE Arms, it’s Karl Kasarda and Ian McCollum’s take on simultaneously modernizing the AR-15 while bringing it back to its roots.

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  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics B+
  • Accuracy A-
  • Value B+

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

TBD

Based on 0 Reviews

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WWSD RIfle Specs

  • Weight 4.96 lbs
  • Length 42.14 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber .223 Remington

WWSD Rifle Review

(Reeder) What Would Stoner Do? That’s the question answered by Karl Kasarda (InRange TV), Ian McCollum (Gun Jesus/Forgotten Weapons), and Russell Phagan (Sinistral Rifleman) in the form of the KE Arms WWSD rifle.

Many readers will raise hell about this rifle being included in this list. I disagree, obviously, or it wouldn’t be here. If you’re considering one, don’t take my word for it. This has been a contentious firearm since it was released. I would buy one, but I know (and trust) Ian and Russell enough to know they wouldn’t put a subpar rifle in my hands.

The genesis of the WWSD was a series of videos asking, “What would Gene Stoner, the creator of the AR-15, do today if he had access to modern manufacturing and materials?” They started with a monolithic polymer receiver and then built outwards with an array of quality components. It’s an old gun design with some of the best AR parts and AR15 accessories currently available.

The trigger, for example, has improved sealed housing and full power hammer spring, making the trigger pull feel crisp and lightweight. Plus, now you can put the firearm on safe regardless of the position of the hammer thanks to the tech used in the trigger.

KE Arms has taken off the forward assist from the upper receiver reducing its weight significantly. Also, this move decreases the chances of the operation cycle getting interrupted by the forward assist. It wasn’t there in Stoner’s design of the first AR15 anyway, so I’m honestly not surprised they chose to stick to tradition and remove it from the WWSD. 

Handling has been made easy on this AR15 with a couple pounds of weight reduction and some ambidextrous features: the bolt release and the charging handle. It’s simple and straightforward to handle whichever way you hold it.

So did KE Arms successfully answer the question “What would Stoner do?”? We could argue that around and around, but once I get my dad’s truck completely restored, I will be buying one.

Note: if you like the idea of the WWSD rifle but can’t bring yourself (or just can’t) spend all those ducats, check out their Civil Defense Rifle.

Online at KE Arms.

WWSD Rifle Pros and Cons

  • Lightweight – The polymer lower and hollow buttstock drop a LOT of weight
  • Heritage – WWSD answer or not, this is a cool idea
  • Reliable – It’s an advanced basic design: modern KISS (keep it simple stupid)
  • Contentious – Many people disagree with the choice of parts
  • Full stock – If you want a collapsible stock, this ain’t for you

KE Arms WWSD Rifle Deals

Alt. Premium JP5 Roller Delayed

JP5 Roller Delayed

The JP-5 Competition PCC is the ultimate Pistol Caliber Carbine for the action shooter. This configuration includes all the features you need to get out and win some matches.

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A-
  • Accuracy A
  • Value A-

Our Grade

A

Reader’s Grade

C-

Based on 4 Reviews

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JP5 Roller Delayed Specs

  • Weight 6.1 lbs
  • Length 31.5 inches
  • Barrel Length 14.5 inches with fixed muzzle device
  • Caliber 9mm

JP5 Roller Review

(Pike) The JP5 from JP Enterprises took the classic PCC design and revamped it. Most are direct blowback firearms, but the JP5 uses a roller delayed setup much like an MP5. However, unlike the MP5, the JP5 retains the awesome ergonomics of the AR 15. This roller delayed setup reduces recoil, and the massive compensator reduces muzzle rise as well. Basically, what comes out of this setup is a soft-shooting carbine with supremely fast sight recovery and indexing.

The JP5 comes with complete ambidextrous controls that make rifle manipulations quite easy and very intuitive. The complete clone of the rifle from one side to the other allows the rifle to be easily handled by any shooter. The JP5 utilizes Glock pattern magazines that make it easy to keep the rifle fed. JP enterprise did an amazing job with this rifle, and this means everything is premium. This includes a fantastic trigger, billet receivers, and massive, easy-to-use controls. 

You’ve got a pretty versatile rifle in your hands with the JP5. It’s compatible with multiple MP5 operating system components, AR15 stock, grips, and accessories, and Glock 9mms, so I’d say shopping for JP5 is a breeze. You also have adjustable and interchangeable lock pieces for custom configuration tuning; in my eyes, that’s a lot of freedom to play around with your rifle. 

At 6.1 lbs, the JP5 is lightweight, so the felt recoil is short and gentle. This allows for rapid follow-up shots that don’t compromise on accuracy. In fact, I shot close to 500 rounds during field testing and made incredible groupings every single time. Now, as a PCC, this kind of accuracy speaks volumes about its performance and reliability. 

The JP5 is built from the ground up to be a competition PCC, and it’s all about speed and accuracy. The JP5 kicks ass in either direction and makes double and triple taps impressively easy. 

JP long guns in other cartridges are equally well-designed and built.

See it at JP Enterprises.

JP5 Roller Delayed Pros and Cons

  • Recoil and muzzle rise is nil
  • Easy to shoot
  • Extremely reliable
  • Costs more than the SR-15

JP5 Roller Deals

Best Mid-Range Colt LE6920

Colt LE6920

Throughout the world today, Colt’s reliability, performance, and accuracy provide our Armed Forces the confidence required to accomplish any mission.

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  • Shootability A-
  • Reliability A-
  • Ergonomics B
  • Accuracy A-
  • Value B

Our Grade

B+

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 6 Reviews

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Colt LE6920

  • Weight 6.95 lbs
  • Length 32 inches
  • Barrel Length 16.1 inches
  • Caliber 5.56

Colt LE6920 Review

(Pike) Want the closest thing you can get to an actual M4? Well, Colt has you covered with the LE6920. Colt is the original contract producer of the M4, and this is the closest you can get to the actual M4 without getting all the licenses and tax stamps to be a SOT. The Colt LE6920 provides shooters with a very competent rifle at a rather affordable price point. So the biggest plus for me here is that I get a battle-proven and time-tested design on a civilian rifle that I get to use pretty much everyday.

The Colt LE6920 utilizes the M4 standard everything, so expect anything fancy. However, you do get a very competent rifle with a proven track record for reliability and durability. It will take a beating and keep ticking. It’s an outstanding rifle that does core competencies very well. It can be the platform to build a better rifle and upgrade as you see fit, but it’s also damn fine by itself. 

The durability of this thing literally meets military standards: the bolt, the bolt carrier, the rigger, the barrel, and the springs are made according to military specs for strength and durability. The bolt and bolt carrier both are tested with high pressure to confirm how well they endure action, so this is a gun you can trust to last well and long.

Like I said before, you can swap out any part because the rifle is designed to be modular. If you’re the type to routinely finetune and upgrade your gun, you can definitely have fun with the LE6920 because it’s got an ideal platform with a good construction you can build upon. 

Unlike the M4, the LE6920 does have a 16.1-inches barrel that ensures the weapon remains NFA-free. The barrel is made of Chrome Moly Vanadium Steel which is a hard and strong material. The quality of the barrel definitely factors in on the accuracy of any rifle, and with this sturdy thing on the LE6920, I’d know for sure it’s not the barrel if my accuracy is ever thrown off. 

The LE6920 has a straight-lined build that’s great for control and produces little recoil. Add to it the lightweight receiver made with aviation-grade aluminum, you have a rifle optimized for mobility, rapid target acquisition, and impressive firepower. 

This pattern rifle has long been the favorite for military shooters around the world. It’s a rock-solid rifle, and it’s hard to find a more proven platform. 

See the LE6920 at Colt.com.

Colt LE6920 Pros and Cons

  • Affordable
  • Extremely reliable
  • Perfect rifle to build upon
  • It’s a plain-Jane rifle

Colt LE6920 Deals

Best Bridge AR LMT Mars-L

LMT Mars-L

The only true monolithic rail platform, milled from a single solid piece of aerospace aluminum forging.

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability B+
  • Ergonomics B
  • Accuracy B+
  • Value B

Our Grade

B

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 4 Reviews

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MARS-L Specs

  • Weight 7.27 lbs
  • Length 32 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber 5.56

MARS-L Review

(Pike) The MARS-L rifle is one of the most underrated rifles of all time. MARS-L stands for Modular Ambidextrous Rifle System – Light. This 5.56 caliber rifle has won a number of military contests, including the New Zealand Defense Force and Estonia. 

It’s more than just your average AR-15. The MARS-L is the only true monolithic upper featuring a handguard that is truly part of the rail system because it’s fashioned from a single solid piece of aerospace-grade, heavy-duty aluminum. These patented monolithic rail platform barrels have a proprietary coating and are cryogenically treated for durability. 

This design gives shooters 14.5 inches of rail and optic space to mount even the larger and most capable optics. Additionally, the barrel system uses two locking bolts to lock in the barrel extension. The benefits are the fact the barrel can be removed in seconds and swapped for another option at will. The best part is, you can swap it out for a barrel of any length, material, and caliber.  

The upper receiver has plenty of room for accessorizing with a 14.5-inches long Picatinny rail and an M-LOK rail, so you can attach sights, suppressors, or any other accessory you’d prefer. 

Additionally, the MARS-L uses an ambidextrous lower receiver to make controlling the rifle very simple. It has a textured grip and ambidextrous bolt catch, magazine catch, and safety selector, so anyone can pick the rifle up and find it ergonomic and natural to wield. Additionally, the MARS-L has proven to be very accurate and extremely capable in the field. It can withstand abuse, use, and dirt, without issue.

Online at LMT Defense.

MARS-L Pros and Cons

  • True monolithic upper
  • Quick change barrel
  • Ambidextrous ergonomics
  • Can be tough to find

MARS-L Deals

Alt. Mid-Range Aero Precision M4E1

Aero Precision M4E1

Aero Precision M4E1

The Aero Precision M4E1 16″ 5.56 Complete Rifle is built on the popular Enhanced Series Upper Receiver. This system provides the shooter a light-weight, free-floated, rigid design resulting in superior performance and accuracy.

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  • Shootability B-
  • Reliability B
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy B
  • Value B-

Our Grade

B-

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 5 Reviews

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Aero Precision M4E1 Specs

  • Weight 7.18 lbs
  • Length 35 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber 5.56 / 300 Blackout

M4E1 Review

(Pike) Aero is a massive company that makes uppers, lowers, and parts for a number of companies. They also produce their own series of rifles in various structures. My favorite is the M4E1. The M4E1 takes the normal AR 15 design and makes slight improvements to its design. These improvements include two threaded sockets to make installs easier, and the M4E1 lower is my favorite for builds. 

Additionally, the M4E1 comes with an integrated trigger guard as well as a flared magazine well for faster reloads. This is part of the receiver’s forging and makes the lower look very nice and clean. Aero’s guns are well known for their reliability and superb accuracy. Aero makes almost every part in-house, so it guarantees a perfect fit and function. 

The M4E1 is durable as the receiver is made from forged aluminum and the barrel is made of Chrome Moly Vanadium. Plus, the barrel has a corrosion resistant finish for good measure. I’ve used this for a couple of years now, and I can say with confidence that the hardware has stayed in place without tightening or loosening. The cycle gets smoother with time, and the rifle only needs some cleaning after a few hundred rounds. 

This has a Gen 2 Enhanced Handguard platform with a Picatinny Rail and M-Lock compatible front, so you can accessorize the rifle as you like. Even without any fancy upgrades, the M4E1 is good for plinking and home defense. Once you add a few choice attachments though, this rifle can be worth way more than the price you’d pay for it.   

Shooters looking for an AR15 pistol or rifle are taken care of by the M4E1 series, and so are those looking for a multitude of calibers. 5.56 and 300 Blackout are covered, and shooters wanting a .223 Wylde chamber are also covered. Aero Precision also provides their guns at a very fair price point. They can be tough to beat for first-time AR owners.

Visit Aero Precision USA.

M4E1 Pros and Cons

  • Multiple calibers, configurations, and colors offered.
  • Enhanced lower
  • Affordable
  • Nothing revolutionary

M4E1 Deals

Best Budget S&W M&P Sport 2

S&W M&P Sport 2

M&P15 Rifles are the ideal modern sporting rifle. Built to perform multiple uses under various conditions such as recreational, sport, and professional shooting, M&P15 Rifles are as versatile as they are reliable. 

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  • Shootability C+
  • Reliability B-
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy B-
  • Value B-

Our Grade

B-

Reader’s Grade

B-

Based on 11 Reviews

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S&W M&P Sport 2 Specs

  • Weight 6.45 pounds
  • Length 35 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber 5.56 / 300 Blackout

S&W M&P Sport 2 Review

(Pike) The S&W M&P Sport II is not the best AR15 on the market. However, if money is tight, the S&W M&P Sport II is going to be the best option for a budget-conscious shooter. It comes with a front sight base gas block, plastic handguards, and the classic six-position M4 stock. 

This simple and lightweight gun with a polymer grip is a comfortable fit in your hand. It has a flat top with the ability to mount an optic with ease. However, to mount anything else, you might need to start fielding a new handguard. It’s compatible with most standard AR15 components and accessories though, so attaching a few accessories and upgrading the rifle isn’t too difficult. If you need a rifle and you don’t have a ton of extra cash, this is a good base to start with. 

One of my favorite things about this rifle is that handling it is a breeze. The S&W MP15 Sport II is easy to handle because loading the magazine, adjusting the sights, and overall maintenance don’t need a lot of work. With regular maintenance, the M&P Sport II will be reliable and accurate enough for most tasks. 

It’s got a pretty sturdy build thanks to a corrosion-resistant Armornite finish and the aluminum upper and lower receivers have a hard coat black anodized finish. The rugged feel of the S&W M&P Sport II allows it to be functional and reliable in tactical settings. 

I noticed that this rifle is not ideal for rapid firing for long time periods because it heats up quickly, especially the front hand guards. It also doesn’t have excellent accuracy straight out of the box compared to most other firearms on this list. You won’t win a PRS competition, but this isn’t what that rifle is for. It’s a solid rifle that does the basics right. Also, unlike a number of other companies producing budget rifles, S&W has been around and will be around for a long time. If you need customer service, they are there. It’s not a fly by night shop selling the lowest common denominator guns. So if you’re a first-timer on a budget, this firearm would be a great start.

Check them out online at Smith & Wesson.

S&W M&P Sport 2 Pros and Cons

  • Great warranty
  • Easy to find
  • Super affordable
  • Far from fancy

S&W M&P Sport 2 Deals

Alt. Budget Ruger AR 556 Standard Autoloading Rifle

Ruger-AR-556_Best-AR-15

Ruger AR 556 Standard Autoloading Rifle

An inexpensive rifle delivering a reasonable performance for the price; chambered in 5.56mm NATO.

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  • Shootability C+
  • Reliability B-
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy B-
  • Value B+

Our Grade

B-

Reader’s Grade

B+

Based on 4 Reviews

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Ruger AR-556 Specs

  • Weight 6.5 lbs
  • Length 32.25 – 35.5 inches
  • Barrel Length 16.10 inches
  • Caliber 5.56 NATO

Ruger AR 556 Review

(Reeder) Ruger is a name that’s been around a while. While I prefer my Rugers to have things like “Mini” or “10/22” in their name, their AR style rifles seem to have a decent reputation within the ~sub – $1,000 price range.

Their list of specs on their website is respectable but nothing more than what I’d expect from any baseline rifle. Think folding sight, M4 gas block at carbine length, six-position collapsible buttstock, that sort of thing. I’m not knocking these features, mind you; just making you aware you’re not going to get any of the fancy, higher-end stuff on this AR…

…and that’s okay. You can do solid work with a basic rifle so long as it’s fundamentally reliable, as many AR15 owners have proven in the past. It’s a basic gun, but pretty solid and durable. It’s also compatible with a good range of ammo brands and case types. The gun has multiple attachment points including a QD socket and bayonet lug–that’s a reasonable amount of accessory mounting options. 

This firearm features the gas block at a carbine-length (M4) position to improve balance when handling. The one I tested–the 8500 model–was a piece of cake to handle because the pistol grip has an ergonomic design with an extended trigger that gave me more control. The trigger is not two-staged, it’s a single trigger but still pretty reliable. 

While the Ruger AR 556 is plenty durable with its hard-coat anodized aluminum forgings and the chrome-plated parts such as the gas key, the barrel coating is not built for heavy use. You should be fine for occasional hunting and competition though. 

Would I invest in a Ruger AR 556? No, but only because I already have a “basic” AR model that I really like. However, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at one, either. Especially if it was a foundation I planned on improving incrementally over time.

Check them out at Ruger.

Ruger AR 556 Pros and Cons

  • Solid – A robust build
  • Good starter – It’s a gateway AR that can be improved over time
  • Plain Jane – Nothing fancy to see here, folks

Ruger AR 556 Deals

Best Entry Level Radical Firearms RF15 5.56 NATO

Radical Firearms RF15 AR

Radical Firearms RF15 5.56 NATO

The RF15 and its cousins (like the “Blue Line” rifles) are hands down among the best “budget” rifles you can buy from anyone.

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  • Shootability B-
  • Reliability B-
  • Ergonomics B+
  • Accuracy C+
  • Value B

Our Grade

B-

Reader’s Grade

A+

Based on 2 Reviews

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RF15 Specs

  • Weight 5.9 lbs
  • Length 37.75 inches
  • Barrel Length 16 inches
  • Caliber 5.56

Radical RF15 Review

(Reeder) I will probably get as much flak for this one as I do for the WWSD entry, but here’s the deal: in my experience, Radical Firearms is the most consistently underrated “budget” AR15 company. RF’s rifles are (very) ~sub-$1k and perform as well or better than guns that cost twice as much.

There I said it.

The only reason my Radical Firearms rifle isn’t my favorite AR15 is because a KS47 currently holds that distinction – though I’d really like to try a SOLGW carbine at some point.

Anyway, I’ve put thousands of rounds through a couple of different RF rifles and one very rugged little pistol (you know, back when that was a thing). The guns all ran like sewing machines with one exception – I had some issues with an unpinned gas block on the pistol I mentioned. Once that was fixed I had no other issues.

This gun has a low profile .750 gas tube and more than enough room to accessorize it. The mag release, bolt release, and charging handle are all easy to handle, and along with its ambidextrous safety selector, I’d say it’s a pretty cool rifle for this price. 

The MIL-STD upper and lower receivers along with its 15″ RPR free float rail system give you reliable accuracy while keeping your hands cool. I’ve tried shooting at around 100 yards (and maybe a bit over it) and I was super impressed with the accuracy. 

The RF15 is also pretty reliable because I’ve had only one small problem while using this firearm and it was having to lube it up a little more often than my other guns. I also personally wasn’t a fan of the trigger so I had it replaced earlier on. It’s a decent trigger but I just wanted something lighter and smoother.

A word of warning: RF’s naming convention seems to change periodically. Or maybe it’s just out of sync with their website, I’m not sure. You’ll see models like “Skinny Hybrid”, “RAD-15”, and more on their social media, but nothing about them on the site.

You’ll be better served searching for information by reading/watching videos and going to their distributors.

This gun is not an extremely lightweight option if that’s what you’re looking for, but it feels stable when you’re shooting it. If you’re looking for a starter AR, budget-friendly rifle, or something you can use as the platform for a long-term build, this is where to begin. The total accessories dollar value on my Radical far exceeds that of the gun itself.

Find it at Radical Firearms.

  • Robust – A solid, reliably built AR
  • Great starter – You might decide to just upgrade this instead of buying something fancy
  • Uninspiring aesthetics – Unless you let them Cerakote it for you of course
  • Wait, what? – Information from social media, their site, and distributors is discordant

Best for Interstate Travel Fightlite SCR

Fightlite SCR

A complete AR-15 that’s legal in all 50 states.

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  • Reliability A+
  • Accuracy B
  • Shootability B
  • Ergonomics D
  • Value D

Our Grade

C+

Reader’s Grade

A-

Based on 8 Reviews

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Fightlite SCR Specs

  • Weight 5.8 lbs
  • Length 37.75 inches
  • Barrel Length 16.25 inches
  • Caliber 5.56 / 300 Blackout

Fightlite SCR Review

(Pike) I don’t want to leave my poor ban states out. States that hate freedom like New York, Hawaii, and California, you know, the usual suspects hate the traditional AR15 design. Numerous designs have come and gone to comply while providing the awesomeness of the AR15. 

The best one I’ve ever seen is the Fightlite SCR. This rifle uses a proprietary bolt carrier group and internal buffer system complete with a traditional style stock. It’s quite unique, and I don’t live in a ban state, and I own one because it just looks cool. 

The traditional-style stock doesn’t sacrifice the durability and performance of the rifle. The semi-grip lets you align your hands easily for offhand shooting, and the trigger has a clean break and a reset even though it’s a bit plasticky to the touch.  

The rifle is incredibly modular, so you can swap out anything with a better upgrade and attach any accessories you need as well. Topping up the rifle takes out the lightweight factor, but my point is that this rifle is a good base to start with, and you can decide if you want to go for a light and handy gun or a heavy and precise gun.    

Ban states are in luck with the Fightlite SCR, and even if you don’t live in a ban state, the gun is worth a try if you like semi-grip stocks. It’s a mid-range rifle so I’d say the investment is completely worth it, especially because the Fightlite SCR is a good base for upgrades.

Apart from the stock and a few more features, it’s almost entirely your standard AR. The controls are the same, the recoil impulse is even lighter, and it’s quite accurate. You lose the ability to use a standard pistol grip, a threaded barrel, and other small features, but the Fightlite SCR remains the only AR variant that is 50 state legal. If you want to learn more about the SCR, read the full review!

Visit Fightlite.

Fightlite SCR Pros and Cons

  • Ergonomic
  • 50 State Legal
  • Actually not a bad gun
  • Hard to find

Fightlite SCR Deals

Best AR 15 Manufacturers

We’ve talked ad nauseum about the subjective nature of “best.” No one will argue that a Springfield Armory Saint or a Faxon Firearms blaster isn’t superior to an Axis Mfg firearm or something from ATI. Then again, no one who would buy a Springfield Armory Saint Victor would do so every year, then pawn it after hunting season and buy another one next year either. 

Pricing ranges can be problematic, too, since some rifles come with accessories and some don’t (even from the same manufacturer). That’s why these categories are necessarily broad.

There are scores of AR manufacturers and AR “assemblers” that “build” rifles using parts made by other AR manufacturers. These are just a few of the better ones out there.

AR15 BrandWebsiteFacebook.com/company/InstagramTwitterYouTube/[@manufacturer)
Ballistic Advantageballisticadvantage.com//BallisticAdvantage/@ballisticadvantage@ballisticadv/@BallisticAdvantage
Bravo Company Manufacturingbravocompanymfg.com//BravoCompanyUSA/@bravocompanyusa@bravocompanyusa/user/BravoCompanyUSA
Faxon Firearmsyoutube.com/@FaxonFirearmsOfficial/FaxonFirearms/@faxonfirearms@faxon_firearms/@FaxonFirearmsOfficial
Sons of Liberty Gunworkssonsoflibertygw.com//sonsoflibertygw@sonsoflibertygw@solgw/@SonsofLibertyGunWorks1
Springfield Armoryspringfield-armory.com//SpringfieldArmoryUSA/@sprinfieldarmoryinc@Springfield_Inc/@SpringfieldArmoryInc
Stag Armsstagarms.com//StagArms/@StagArms@StagArms/@FaxonFirearmsOfficial
Wilson Combathttps://www.wilsoncombat.com//WilsonCombat/@wilsoncombat@WilsonCombat/@gowilsoncombat

Conclusion

You could say the AR15 –“America’s rifle”– is a superior firearm only taking into account how common it is, because there are millions of AR15s in use and in the market. It can be challenging to find the one that fits you best from hordes of choices, but if you start off with your budget in mind and explore the features you’d like in a day-to-day rifle, chances are you can pin down the best-fit AR15 from a bunch of worthy contenders.   

Additional Resources:

NSSF: the Modern Sporting Rifle

ArmaLite Reunion: Gene Stoner’s 70th Birthday

NRA Family: Tips for building your own AR15

Gun University: What’s the best AR furniture?

Gun University: What are the best AR upgrades?

FAQs

 Is AR15 better than AK 47?

Absolutely. The AR15’s maximum effective range can fall anywhere from 450 – 650 yards, but the AK 47’s maximum effective range can fall between 350 – 450 yards. 

How much does a reliable AR15 cost?

The price of an AR15 can range anywhere from $500 to more than $2000 but you can usually find a reliable one at around $750. 

How many rounds can an AR15 shoot?

In the fully automatic setting, the AR15 can shoot up to 600 rounds in a minute. It’s also worth remembering that you can shoot around 250-300 shots through your AR15 before you have to clean it. 

 What is the best AR15 size?

I recommend going with the 16-inch barrel length if you are just starting out. The AR15 comes in 3 sizes–16, 18 and 20 inches– but the easy handling of the 16-inch barrel makes it perfect for beginners. 

Why does the military use AR15?

AR15’s are popular with the military because they’re easy to learn, easy to maintain, super accurate, lightweight, and versatile. 

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About David Reeder

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3 COMMENTS

  1. This message is for Travis Pike,

    My name is Robby Robinson. I read the little blurb about your past history. We share quite a bit in common. We should go dancing!!! Uhm, WTF?????
    I am kidding dude, I swear! Anyway, I too am former Infantry. I was an 11B for the Army. I did my OSUT at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

    Myself and my life long friend were both in a COHORT Unit with 10th Mountain (Fort Drum, NY) Our Unit was involved in Operation Gothic Serpent, also known as Black Hawk Down in Somalia, 1993. 7th Infantry (Fort Ord) and South Korea with 2nd Infantry (C Company 1/506.
    I got hurt pretty bad over in Korea during a CALFEX. An artillery round fell way short and detonated over top of my squad. Both eardrums were blown out, a collapsed lung and a mangled left leg. I was ultimately medically retired.

    After the bulk of surgeries were completed, I went to back to school where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Emergency Management. I am a FEMA contractor as an insurance claims adjuster through FEMA’s NFIP.
    I am looking to break into the Emergency Management industry

  2. It helped me when you said that the AR 15 is quite dependable and can operate in almost any environment. My father is looking for an AR-15 Rifle for Sale Online [SPAM LINK REMOVED] so he can practice with his hunting. This article will surely help him to choose the best one for him. Thanks!

  3. Quality construction, reasonable price. Mine runs like a scalded dog and is plenty accurate. May not appeal to the rollmark snobs, but so what.

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