The AR-15 has become the icon of ‘American rifles’ with its staggering popularity among the masses.
What began as an experiment in the 1950s is now the best-selling and one of the most owned rifles in America. Used by the military and civilians for everything from tactical operations to range fun. An AR-15 is a versatile and also must-have weapon.
Considering the popularity of the AR platform, it is quite difficult and time-consuming to choose the right pick from the immensely vast sea of options. But worry not, as I’m about to present you with a reviewed list of the best AR-15 rifles available on the market today. Along with some very important and helpful suggestions and considerations to choose your pick.
Comparison of the Best AR-15 Models
What to Watch For When Buying an AR-15
There are a ton of things to consider when buying an AR-15. But mentioned below are some of the most basic and important ones for a successful selection.
Quality of Construction
As with any other product, the quality of an AR-15 matter very much. A solid construction will ensure reliable performance and a long-lasting weapon that can be passed on to further generations. Among forged, billet machined and cast receivers, forged are considered to be the strongest. Whereas machines offer the most customization and aesthetics. There are also polymer receivers to choose from.
A good choice will be to go for mil-spec rifles or components. As they offer the best quality construction and compatibility with aftermarket parts. Additionally, you should also consider choosing a high-quality barrel.
With a wide range of options in build materials (4150 Carpenter steel being a very renowned barrel material) and finishes (melonite, chrome, etc). Make sure to choose high-quality barrels as well. Also consider factors like length, rifling, muzzle thread, and twist rates in mind.
Gas System Length
The AR-15 is available in four gas system lengths, rifle/full, mid-length, carbine, and pistol. The type of gas system you use will dictate the length of the rifle’s barrel. Longer gas systems are suitable for longer barrels and applications where the full capability of the ammo needs to be unlocked.
Additionally, the barrel length also decides how compact your rifle will be. Another viable consideration is to pick an adjustable gas system to fine-tune the AR-15 according to different ammo loads and your preferences.
Options for Customization
Modern AR designs offer the best customizability you can expect from a rifle. Models with M-Lok handguns, full-length quad rails, adjustable stocks, foregrip, flip-up sights, QD points, and many other capabilities allow you to add and remove accessories according to your needs.
Additionally, AR-15 is a rifle that has an endless number of aftermarket accessory options to choose from. From a simple A2 style 50’s M4 style AR rifle to the latest ‘tacticool’ options with innovative add-ons. You have a lot of options to choose from inline with your needs and budget. That’s why many people choose 80% lowers to evade serialization and get customizability.
Is it Legal in Your State?
A semi-auto AR-15 is legal in most states across the country. With a few exceptions like California and New York which require you to convert your AR into a featureless rifle or pay tax along with too many restrictions if you don’t want to convert it.
Similarly, there are rifles related to the overall length (OAL) and minimum barrel length (16 inches). Which otherwise will make an AR be considered an SBR (Short Barreled Rifle). With its own set of registration and other laws. So keep an eye out for that.
After Sales Support
This is what differs a good brand from bad ones. If you’re buying a complete AR-15, make sure you buy it from a reputed or renowned manufacturer. With a good track record for after sales support. Extras like a guarantee or warranty never hurt.
Cost should be an important consideration if you’re just starting out. AR-15 rifles. There’s a lot to know and learn since the AR topic is enormous. Buying full rifles will cost 11% more (federal tax) than buying lowers and custom building your own rifle. But beginners should go for fully assembled rifles. Further leaning towards customization unless they get a knack of the AR trade.
Review of the Best AR-15 Models
The following is a list of the best AR-15 rifles that are currently on the market. As you go through each one, it’s important to note some of the features and characteristics that stand out as interesting enough for you to give it a closer look.
Although it seems that AR building projects are all the rage today, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a complete rifle from a trusted manufacturer. One of the factors that could prevail on the scale is resale value, since the branded factory AR-15s are much more valuable compared to self-built rifles. Under the laws of the market, AR platform manufacturers are offer firearms in different price ranges. Therefore our list below will encompass the best black rifles from several price levels. Let’s begin with the first item on our list:
Smith & Wesson - M&P 15t M-Lok 5.56 16" 30+1
What Recent Buyers Report
According to some of the new users, they said that this rifle was pretty solid in construction. Plus, it was accurate and precise right out of the gate. One user said that he was able to get tight shooting groups at distances between 100 to 200 yards. Plus, he said that it didn’t feel so heavy even when he was finished installing some other accessories like a scope and a couple of extra items as well.
Why it Stands Out to Us
If you are looking for an AR-15 rifle that’s got the goods, then you’ll probably give this bad boy a better look. It has flip-up sights, a trigger guard that can handle your fingers if you are wearing gloves, and a magazine that can handle up to 30 rounds and provides smooth and reliable feeding. And since this is a Smith and Wesson, it lives up to the name of being one of the most reliable rifles on the market.
Another modern sporting rifle (MSR) which comes from one of the most reputable U.S. firearms manufacturers with a long history in developing firearms, Smith & Wesson.
With more than 40 variants of AR-platform rifles, Smith & Wesson has released the new upgraded M&P15T (tactical model), an affordable but still expensive model with a carbine-length gas system.
While both receivers are made of 7075-T6 aluminum, the flattop upper sports a full-length Picatinny rail that allows for the addition of scopes or other accessories.
Designated with manufacturing number 11600, the model M&P 15T comes with a 16-inch barrel machined from a 4140 steel and treated with a Melonite finish to prevent corrosion. Additionally, the manufacturer has outfitted the carbine with a chromed bolt carrier group (BCG) and a gas key.
The light, contoured barrel features 5R rifling and 1:8-inch twist rate, which excellently stabilizes most common bullets and provides improved accuracy and easier cleaning.
Smith & Wesson has fitted the gun with a long, 13-inch slim handguard that is an M-LOK-compatible, modular, free-float rail system.
It also arrives equipped with Magpul MBUS polymer sights and the A2 military-style patented S&W flash suppressor on the muzzle. Smith & Wesson built the rifle with a forged, integral trigger guard and a single 30-round Magpul PMAG magazine.
The only potential drawback may be rifle furniture, a rattle-trap, six-position adjustable buttstock without a clamp to take up the slope.At 7.5 pounds total weight for the M&P15T Tactical package, the gun is on the heavier side compared to its counterparts.
Who Will Use This Most
This rifle was built for multiple purposes. So if you are a civilian that is looking for the best rifle for hunting or target shooting or a law enforcement officer looking for something for tactical applications, this might be worth a closer look. It’s lightweight, has all the right parts you need right out of the box and will exceed your standards as far as performance goes. Not only that, it will maintain its reliability for as long as you use it (and so long as you take great care of it regularly).
The Smith & Wesson M&P AR-15 is proof that it can hang with the big boys and be able to handle any kind of application no matter what it is. And it’s guaranteed to never jam or malfunction on you in the times where it matters most. If you want a rifle with a name that many shooters trust, Smith and Wesson might be the one you should consider buying from.
Without question, the current top offer of the S&W M&P15 production line is the Tactical model, M&P15T. Though slightly heavier than other AR-15 rifles, the M&P15T is a carbine ideally suited for use in a home defense role.
2. Springfield Armory Saint AR-15 5.56 16" 30+1
What Recent Buyers Report
New users say that they were able to use this rifle for multiple uses. And they were not disappointed in the slightest once they put through well over 500 rounds at the range. The shooting was smooth and reliable with no malfunctions. And the shooting groups were pretty tight as well. Overall, a great rifle that delivers quickly and on the promise according to most users.
Why it Stands Out to Us
It used to be that if you had a rifle that was sturdy and well-constructed, chances are it would be a little heavy in weight. That isn’t the case with a rifle like this. You can have this fully loaded and good to go and not have it feel like you are carrying some kind of heavy dumbbell. With 30 rounds at your disposal, it’s a rifle that gets the job done no matter if you are at the range or if you are out on the prowl looking for a varmint or big game target.
Who Will Use This Most
This will be great for all kinds of shooters. They will be hunters, casual target shooters, and competitive shooters. Either way, you have a great AR-15 rifle that will make every shot count no matter what you use it for. It’s a well-constructed beast that will last you quite a while and will stay reliable so long as you take great care of it.
The Springfield Armory Saint AR-15 is perhaps one of the best multi-purpose rifles that you can find on the market. It doesn’t matter which application you use it for, you’re still going to get a good amount shooting out of the whole thing. And believe us when we tell you that you are going to enjoy every minute of using this.
3. BAD-15 Brownells Exclusive Precision Patrol Rifle Smoke Cerakote
What Recent Buyers Report
This was a rifle that made all kinds of waves among new buyers. They said that it was probably the closest they could get to a tactical-style rifle. It was light in weight, easy to maneuver, and they were able to fire off as many rounds as possible in a target shooting situation where they were timed and landed their rounds with consistent accuracy and precision.
Why it Stands Out to Us
When it comes to all things tactical, their firearms don’t have to weigh them down. The rifle has to be light in weight even when fully loaded. And that’s exactly what you are going to get out of this rifle. Yes, you can customize it to your advantage so it’s more accurate and able to hit your targets exactly where you need them to go. It’s a tactical rifle made for the range, the field, or even tactical applications themselves.
Who Will Use This Most
This will be a great rifle for civilian and tactical use. And that will be largely due to the fact that it will keep light even when you got the thing decked out for higher performance. Plus, it can handle high-stress situations and walk out unscathed. If you want high-quality and excellent performance, this is the rifle to go with.
The Battle Arms Development Exclusive Precision Patrol Rifle can be a useful rifle that will be depended on by civilians and law enforcement officials alike. This is a rifle where every shot will have to count. It doesn’t matter if it’s against a paper target or someone who may be posing as a threat to others (if such a situation warrants it). It can and it will deliver the results you want the moment you pull the trigger.
4. Daniel Defense - Ddm4 V7 16in 5.56x45mm Nato Matte Black 30+1rd
What Recent Buyers Report
Most of the new users say that this was great for all kinds of applications. But the hunters who venture out at night for coyotes and varmint were even happier because of the built-in flash hider. They said that it was a godsend since it not only did it reduce flash, but it also reduced recoil in the process. One user said that if you are looking for an AR-15 rifle that is dedicated to night hunting, this one will definitely be something to consider.
Why it Stands Out to Us
If you are looking for the perfect 5.56 NATO rifle, you may want to consider the idea of giving this bad boy a try. Especially when you are working with some rounds that are high-powered and precise in accuracy. Sure, they might be one of the standard calibers. But you know that they can do you some good if and when you are in a situation where you need to land the perfect shot exactly where you want it. It can be while you are in the middle of a competition or when you have your eyes locked on a whitetail deer that you’ve been pursuing since the offseason.
Unlike some companies that are not actually manufacturers, but assembly line companies, the Daniel Defense is one of the few companies who make most of their own parts.
Featuring an impeccable reputation, Daniel Defense is one of the leading AR-15 makers in North America and their V7 Carbine is the first rifle in the DDM4 lineup to feature the M-LOK attachment technology. This modular mounting system directly attaches and securely locks accessories onto empty space mounting points atop the 15-inch, free-floating MFR XS handguard. Because the rail is free-floating, it doesn't interfere with barrel harmonics, allowing the rifle to provide enviable weapon accuracy.
Weighing in at only 6.2 pounds unloaded, the V7 is one of DD’s most lightweight and popular 5.56mm rifles. The DDM4 V7 comes with a government profile, 16-inch cold hammer forged (CHF) barrel with a mid-length gas system, which provides smooth and reliable cycling.
Model 02-128-02338-047 is equipped with Daniel Defense components in the form of comfortable buttstock and pistol grip made of glass-filled polymer with a soft touch over molding.
The V7 carbine boasts a DD salt bath, nitride-finished muzzle device. The improved flash suppressor is machined from quality 17-4 PH stainless steel and due to its design, virtually eliminates muzzle flash.
The DDM4 boasts a Geissele Automatics Super Dynamic 3 Gun (SD-3G), single-stage trigger and is shipped with one proprietary a 30-round capacity magazine.
Who Will Use This Most
If you are serious about finding a rifle with accuracy and precision, this could be exactly what you are looking for. You will be able to put this to good use while you are out in the field or if you are at the range for as long as you are able to use it. It’s well-built and proves its worth as far as reliability goes. So you can expect this to get you through every hunting or range shooting reason year in and year out.
The Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 Nato Matte Black rifle is not the kind of rifle that you want to underestimate. Rugged in construction, accurate in shooting, and a lot of fun to use is what you might be getting out of this rifle. And we won’t be surprised if you love it at first shot.
Using a lightweight, free-floating barrel design, the DDM4V7 is an extremely maneuverable weapon that easily stays on target. Indeed, the Daniel Defense V7 carbine is one of the top picks for a 5.56mm weapon, but greatness does come at a price.
5. Aero Precision - Ac-15 5.56x45mm Nato 16" Mid-Length Rifle
What Recent Buyers Report
One user said that he was very happy with how reliable it was through 2000 rounds. He said that he never went through any instances of malfunction and said that it was a great target shooting rifle for his long days at the range. Overall, a lot of new users said that the rifle was well built and was easy to disassemble for cleaning and maintenance purposes.
Why it Stands Out to Us
If you are looking for a rifle that might be one of your most affordable options possible, this might be the best option. So you get more than what you pay for as far as the quality and performance goes. Not only that, you have a rifle that will be easy to handle because of the pistol grip and buttstock are made from high-quality synthetic materials that will give you a no-slip grip so you can be able to maintain control of your rifle.
If you are looking for an optics-ready, semi-auto AR-15, the flattop Aero Precision AC-15 mid-length rifle is a perfect choice that will not cost an arm and a leg, while still featuring many features that can also be found in some of the more expensive options.
Like ArmaLite, a genuine AR manufacturer, Aero Precision has a background in the aerospace industry, enabling them to build most of their components in-house and up to mil-spec standards.
The AC-15 is a cost-efficient rifle featuring both receivers made of 7075-T6 aluminum and sixteen-inch barrel with a 1-in-7 twist rate. Sporting an M4 profile, the barrel is machined from 4150 CMV steel and coated with an AP proprietary corrosion-resistant finish. In addition, the barrel comes with M4 feed ramps and an A2-style flash suppressor.
The rifle uses a mid-length gas system and a full-auto bolt carrier group with the shrouded firing pin. Whereas the gas key is properly staked, the bolt is machined of Carpenter 158 steel and has been both magnetic-particle (MP) and high-pressure (HP) inspected.
All Aero Precision complete rifles are shipped with a Magpul MBUS rear sight, a collapsible, M4-style stock, a dust cover, and forward assist, as well as one Magpul magazine.
If you decide to buy a rifle from a smaller brand, you should expect some tradeoffs. For example, besides a gritty trigger, quality control (QC) is an essential issue with Aero Precision.
Who Will Use This Most
If you are on a budget and in search of an AR-15 rifle, then this might be the one you’re looking for. Why settle for the best of the best when you can find something that might be fitting for beginners? Yes, if you are a newbie it is important to start off with a high-quality starter rifle that goes for an affordable price. You might be surprised that it can do a better job than any high-end rifle on the market.
The Aero Precision AC-15 Mid-Length Rifle is the perfect choice for newbies and seasoned shooters alike. You will definitely be amazed by the overall quality and performance of a rifle that is reasonably priced and doesn’t sacrifice any of the much-needed quality that every rifle should have. You deserve the best, even when it’s not high-end and expensively priced.
The Aero Precision AC-15 is a solid, reliable carbine for first-time shooters with a very attractive price tag. It comes with features that make this rifle stand out above others in its price range.
Best AR-15 Under $1000:
DPMS - 5.56 Oracle A3 16" Rifle
What Recent Buyers Report
As expected, a lot of new users were quite happy with this rifle. They said it was really easy to control due to the lack of recoil it had right out of the box thanks to the built-in flash hider. About half of the new users were hunters that went at night to hunt down varmint and coyotes. One user said that he was able to fit on a thermal scope and a couple of other accessories with ease and was able to shoot each shot without any instances of “night blindness”.
Why it Stands Out to Us
Right out of the gate, this sucker is quite accurate. If you are looking to put the rounds to paper or to a target of your choice ranging from 100 to 300 yards out, then you’ll be quite satisfied with what this rifle can do without having to make any additional adjustments prior to use. Plus, it will be easier for you to sight in your scopes and optics as well.
Since DPMS has offered affordably priced ARs for years, it’s no wonder that the company has quickly become one of the largest manufacturers of AR-15 platform rifles.
The DPMS Oracle semi-auto rifle is an excellent introductory level carbine since it sports some stand-out features like a 16" light contour "Pencil" barrel for reduced weight, a mil-std A3 upper receiver made from forged 7075 T6 alloys, and a heat-resistant GlacierGuard polymer handguard.
DPMS outfitted the Oracle with lightweight, 4140 chrome-moly barrel that employs the versatile 1:9" rifling twist rate capable of stabilizing a wide selection of varies 5.56mm projectiles weights.
The gun comes without any sights, but its flattop upper receiver with Picatinny rail and railed gas block instead of an A2, provide an attachment point for riflescopes or open sights
While the Oracle is topped with an A2 birdcage flash suppressor, on the opposite side, it is equipped with the proprietary collapsible, six-position Pardus stock. Additionally, the Pardus AR-15 carbine stock features a Monte Carlo-style cheek rest and four slots for sling attachment.
The rifle is shipped with a 30 round magazine and is one of the most underrated parts of the 5.56 Oracle because of the poor quality control.
Who Will Use This Most
This is another rifle that we see as a good option for newbies. Not only because it’s easy to use, but it also comes at an affordable price that you might not say no to. If you want a well-constructed rifle that will exceed your expectations and standards, then you may want to give this rifle a whirl at the range. And best of all, it’s the kind of rifle that will go the distance no matter what the application.
The DPMS 5.56 Oracle is another newbie-friendly rifle that is affordable, fully functional right out of the box, and will definitely give you the chance to hit your targets a little farther than most rifles. Whether you hunt, casually shoot targets, or compete this rifle is a proven winner for any purpose that warrants the use of an AR-15.
The Oracle is a great choice if you’re looking for a good starter weapon, but it is also a remarkable compromise between the sporting and tactical models, especially considering its more than affordable price.
7. Colt Law Enforcement Carbine 16.1in 5.56x45mm Nato Matte Black 30+1rd
What Recent Buyers Report
A majority of the new users were members of law enforcement who are usually in tactical situations. They put this to the test at the training range and were able to move around quickly and freely in “run and gun” situations. Not to mention, they said that it was accurate, reliable, and did not weigh a ton especially when they were wearing protective gear. One user said that he made the right choice in choosing this rifle for all of his tactical applications.
Why it Stands Out to Us
This is one of the best tactical style AR-15 rifles that you can come across. We might as well say that this one might just be made for law enforcement officers by those who understand them best. It’s fast-firing, accurate, and will be forgiving as far as weight goes. We know that high-stress situations require a lot more attention to the task at hand. The last thing you need to worry about is the weight of your rifle.
The runner-up is the company most associated with the AR-15 timeless design; you can probably guess it’s from Colt Manufacturing Company, LLC.
The Colt Law Enforcement Carbine, designation LE6920, shares many features of its combat proven brother, the Colt M4. In fact, Colt's semi-automatic model will bring you closer to owning a military M4 than any other provenance carbine.
Unlike the 14.5-inch barrel of the true M4 Carbine, the LE6920 M4 carbine features a slightly longer, 16.1” chrome-lined barrel with a 1:7 rate of twist, which enables virtually unlimited selection of ammunition. The completely full-floating barrel is an M4/government profile and has the step-cut pattern that allows it to accept an M203 grenade launcher.
The Colt LE6920 employs a carbine-length gas system/forend and a standard direct gas impingement system of operation.
This civilian-pattern variant of the M4 platform has a flattop upper receiver with an optics-ready mil-spec M1913 Picatinny rail. The Colt Law Enforcement Carbine is shipped with a Magpul Back-up Sight (MBUS) Gen 2 and with two 20-round, Colt-branded magazines.
As expected, the bolt carrier and the barrel of the LE6920 are both magnetic particle inspected (MPI) and high-pressure tested (HPT).
While the Colt LE6920 is an excellent rendition of the company’s famous M4 Carbine, it differs in its upgraded MOE SL carbine 4-position butt stock.
Who Will Use This Most
If you are a member of law enforcement and need a rifle that will get you through the tactical situations where things can change for the better or the worst, this could be what you need. You’ll be able to keep yourself and your team protected against assailants that might put you in danger. While you probably may not be able to use it in self-defense, it’s always good to be prepared for whatever might happen next. Why go behind the 8-ball when you should be a step ahead of danger?
If you are looking for an AR-15 that is the closest that you can get to a law enforcement grade rifle, then you’d be hard-pressed to find anything quite like it anywhere else. Whether you’re alone or if you are leading a team, this rifle will be your go-to option for when you need to defend yourself when danger takes a grave turn. You want to get out of it alive and without any further incident.
At 6.95 lbs, it's not the lightest of rifles, but this M4 Carbine-style rifle provides you with the confidence required to accomplish any mission.
History of the AR-15
After another decade, the more conservative U.S. military started looking for a single automatic rifle to replace the venerable .30 caliber battle rifles and .45 caliber submachine guns. The competition for the generous military contract also included a company from the aircraft industry called ArmaLite.
Applying the concept of using the latest technical advances in plastics and alloys, the ArmaLite Division, part of Fairchild Corporation, jumped into the competition to make the U.S. military’s next gun- the AR-10.
While the AR-10 was chambered in the .308 Win, it used an innovative straight-line barrel/stock design, which included a gas system, an aluminum flash suppressor, and recoil compensator.
As you may know, ArmaLite’s AR-10 didn’t get the military contract in 1957, only to be purchased by the Artillerie Inrichtingen, a Dutch weapons manufacturer who sold it throughout Europe.
After few years, the U.S. Army adopted the recommendation for a small-caliber, high-velocity cartridge and appropriate weapon. Eugene Stoner, Robert Fremont, and L. James Sullivan, project owners in ArmaLite had revised AR-10 design and developed a lighter, 5.56mm version of the AR-10. Shortly after that, ArmaLite fell into financial trouble, and in 1959 sold its AR project to Colt Industries.
Colt began selling the scaled-down version of the Armalite AR-10 rifle, dubbed the ArmaLite AR-15, to foreign militaries. Soon after, in 1962, they began to be sold to various U.S. military services including the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps.
While the U.S. military eventually adopted the AR-15 under the designation of a 5.56 caliber M16 rifle, Colt continued to use the AR-15 trademark for its semi-automatic variants intended for the public market and law-enforcement agencies.
Indeed, the AR-15-style rifles look like rifles used by the military, but are operated like other semi-automatic civilian sports firearms and are internally different from the fully automatic M16.
Why is the AR-15 So Popular?
Today, many companies make the AR-15 and its versions in a wide range of configurations, but are marketed under separate designations since the trademark "AR-15" is registered to Colt Industries.
The modern sporting rifle (MSR), based on the AR-15 platform, is widely popular in the United States due to the rifle's modular design, ergonomics, limited and manageable recoil, and its practicality.
Benefits of the AR-15
- The small “black rifle” is a comfortable shooting platform as this lightweight gun offers relatively better ergonomics than other popular rifles.
- With nicknames like “Barbie for men” or “Lego for adults”, this extremely modular platform allows you to add or remove accessories and components to create a gun with a distinct flavor or to optimize it for a specific use.
- There are lots of rifle calibers available for the AR-15, ranging from the lowly .22LR to the mighty .50 Beowulf, but all have one common feature, a relatively moderate and manageable recoil.
- As for practicality, the AR-15 is viable for a host of civilian applications so that you can utilize it for everything from plinking, varmint hunting, target shooting, and home defense.
How Accurate is an AR-15?
Besides the earlier mentioned benefits, AR-15`s are popular among civilian shooters and law enforcement forces due to its accuracy. Compared to the venerable AK-47, the AR-platform rifle is a precision-built tool specially designed for accuracy.
The expected level of accuracy with the most budget ARs is typically around two MOA, whereas the mid and high-end ARs are guaranteed to shoot one MOA, which equates them to bolt-action rifles.
Of course, the superior precision depends on the specific barrels and twist rate parts, as well as ammo selection. As a rule of thumb, shooters choose the heavier, hollow point bullets for home defense and long-range shooting, while for general shooting with an AR-15, FMJ ammo is a good choice.
How to Choose Your First AR-15
Before answering this question, it should be noted that you don't need to be an engineer to assemble a unique black rifle of your choice, but a prevailing expert`s opinion, particularly for the first time buyers, is to procure a complete gun from a trusted manufacturer.
Once you have decided the type of shooting you will be using your AR-15 for, your next consideration is deciding on a suitable AR configuration.
Overall Length: Carbine Length vs Mid-Length vs Rifle-Length
Today, AR-15 platform weapons are available in many configurations ranging from standard rifles with 20-inch barrels, mid-length rifles with 18-inch barrels, or short carbine-length models with common barrel lengths of 14.5″ and 16 inches.
While full-size rifles have a longer sight radius and may perform best for high-precision applications, the mid-length rifles featuring an 18-inch barrel are a good compromise between the two.
However, if we take into account the ease of carrying and maneuverability in close quarters, without question, the carbine length AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel is by far the most practical and popular choice.
Finally, let’s not forget the somewhat less popular AR pistols featuring 4.5″ and 10.5″ barrels lengths.
All You Need to Know About AR-15 Barrels
Whether you are building an addition to AR rifle collection or purchasing your first ever AR-15, the barrel is the most critical component of your firearm. The barrel in AR platform is fixed to the upper receiver with a barrel nut and has a barrel extension that fits into the upper receiver. Moreover, the barrel is crucial for AR-15`s balance, since a lot of the rifle`s weight is concentrated in the barrel.
Barrel Length: What is the Preferred Length?
Initially, the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge was designed for the AR-15 rifle configuration with a 20″ barrel to achieve optimal performance at this length.
Today, however, barrels are available in a range of lengths from four inches for a blowback-operated AR pistol build and up to as long as 24-inch rifle length barrels for other configurations.
Since the rifles with barrels shorter than 16″ belong to “Short Barreled Rifle” (SBR) category regulated by the NFA, it is advisable to opt for at least 16″ barrels.
According to Federal law, the minimum required barrel length for rifles is sixteen inches.Also, shorter barrels generally weigh less and are easier to handle because they are not as unwieldy as the rifle-length barrels.
On the other side, though the longer barrels provide higher velocities, they are not as accurate as shorter barrels.
With all these important considerations, a good compromise between the two would be a 16″ or 18″ barrel from a reputable manufacturer.
Barrel Chamber: What is the Preferred Cartridge?
By definition, the gun chamber is the portion of the barrel in which the cartridge resides before it is fired.
The AR-15 was originally chambered for .223 Remington, to be later adapted to the 5.56X45 mm NATO cartridge. In fact, commercially-produced .223 Remington ammunition can be used in military weapons if necessary but is not advisable in the long run.
Whereas a barrel marked 5.56 NATO can shoot both rounds reliably, a barrel chambered for .223 Remington can safely fire only that round. There are also hybrid chambers like .223 Wylde that can shoot a .223 or a 5.56 reliably.
Without question, the most popular choice for average shooters is the 5.56mm, because it is readily available and cheap ammo.
By simply swapping a barrel, the bolt carrier group and magazine of an AR-15 can be configured to fire upwards of ten other cartridges. Some available calibers for the AR-15 platform are the 9mmPara, .22LR, 45 ACP, 5.7x28mm, 6.5 mm Grendel, 6.8 mm Remington SPC, .50 BMG, and .458 SOCOM.
Barrel Twist Rate
As you probably know, there are two basic firearms types, divided between the smooth bore and rifled bore guns. Unlike smooth bore shotguns, the AR-15 rifle has grooves that help guide a projectile down the length of the barrel.
The rifling on the inside of the barrel is usually in the form of helical grooves and serve to stabilize the bullet as it exits the barrel, making it much more accurate.
The twist rate is a distance in inches that rifling takes to complete one full revolution inside the barrel. A shorter distance indicates a "faster" twist rate capable of better stabilizing longer, heavier bullets. On the other hand, slower twist such as 1:12 can only stabilize lighter bullets, such as 55-grain FMJ.
While the earliest AR-15 sport rifles relatively slow rifling twist rates of 1:14 inches, today, ordinary AR-15 rates of twist vary between 1:7 and 1:12. For a good all-around twist rate, experts usually recommend the 1:9 or 1:8.
There are a number of linings available, but we`ll outline the three basic options that will give your barrel the most longevity.
The first and the most popular form of barrel lining is a chrome-lined process which provides the best protection against corrosion, heat, and rust, and will last the longest before it deteriorates.
Although the U.S military uses chrome-lined barrels in their M4s and M16s, you should be aware that accuracy might suffer from this lining.
The next barrel type for your black rifle is the stainless steel barrel. These are more accurate than barrels with a chrome lining but have a shorter lifespan before they need to be replaced.
The third option is a nitride barrel, a popular finish often found on budget models. Whereas nitride barrels are more affordable than chrome-lined or stainless steel, they may not deliver the longevity or the accuracy of other two.
When it comes to barrel materials, you should look for a reputable manufacturer and the best materials possible. Generally, there are only two options: – carbon or stainless steel.
- A 4140 carbon steel alloy has slightly less tensile strength than 4150 steel. It is often considered a lesser choice and is most often used for budget barrels.
- A 4150 steel comes with ten percent more carbon compared to its predecessor. It is slightly better than 4140 steel but has a variation called 4150 CMV, which is used in mil-spec barrels.
- A 410 stainless steel is more accurate and heat-resistant than carbon steel.
- Lastly, 416 and 416R stainless steels are very similar to 410 stainless, but with more sulfur content that makes the material gentler to the machine.
This feature describes the thickness and overall shape of your barrel and are categorized into four main categories: lightweight, government, medium, and heavy profiles.
- The lightweight class also includes featherweight and pencil barrels, and all have reduced barrel wall thickness making them an excellent choice if you do a lot of firing without support.
- The government class is a mix of lightweight with medium or heavy barrel contours and a barrel cutout for an M203 grenade launcher.
- The medium profile is an excellent, all-purpose barrel profile similar to the lightweight barrel, but it will more efficiently mitigate heat soak.
- Heavy profile barrels and their variation, called a bull barrel, reference the greatest barrel wall thickness and provide greater accuracy and the best performance in full-auto fire.
The AR-15 barrels can be machined in two ways: Cold Hammer Forged (CHF) and Barrel Forged Hammer (BFH). Both methods provide a fast way to mass-produce very consistent rifle barrels.
Both types of the barrel-making process mean the "negative" mandrel (carbide tube) is inserted into the smooth "blank” while the large machine hammers the blank around the mandrel to create precise rifling.
Whereas both methods are essentially the same, they put a very high amount of stress on the barrel, so they need a steel stress relief process to minimize that deformation.
Barrel Feed Ramps
The barrel feed ramp a vital part of the AR-15, as it directs a new round from the magazine into firing position. The feed ramp for the AR-15 can be standard or extended, and it is crucial to match the ramp type with the upper receiver.
While the standard feed ramps are known as a rifle A3 or A4 profiles and the extended feed ramps are usually referred to as M4 profiles.
AR-15 Gas Systems: Direct Impingement vs Piston
There are two AR-15 gas system types, but the prevailing type is the direct impingement system (DI).
- DI is the original design where the gas is siphoned off through a small gas port and into a gas tube, then into the gas key located on the bolt carrier. As the main downside, this system requires tight tolerances, which means that your rifle needs to be impeccably maintained.
- The other alternative is a short stroke piston system, which uses the gases to move a piston (piston system) that cycles the action. The piston system is typically more reliable in poor weather conditions and is inherently cleaner as dirty gas is vented out, but these systems can be prohibitively expensive.
Bolt Carrier Group (BCG): Semi-Auto vs Full-Auto BCG
Commonly described as the engine, or heart, of your AR-15, the bolt carrier group, or BCG, is available as semi-auto or full-auto (FA) bolt carrier group.
- Semi-auto bolt carrier groups are slightly lighter in weight than FA carriers and they are quite a bit cheaper than the standard full-auto carrier. On the other side, the full auto (FA) bolt carrier group is much more popular, though it does not make your gun fully automatic.
- The full-auto (M16) bolt carrier groups are a little longer on the back end and heavier than SA BCG, meaning that added weight can help the rifle cycle more smoothly. The FA Bolt Carrier Group usually comes with shrouded firing pins to prevent the pin from becoming overly stressed.
- In addition, recently the industry has offered a third type called low-mass, or lightweight, BCG intended for super lightweight AR-15s. While these low mass carrier groups can reduce weight by as much as 8oz, they require an adjustable gas system to regulate the flow of gas to the BCG properly.
How the BCG Works
A bolt carrier group is a complex unit full of moving parts, but its function begins when you pull the charging handle back and let go, to allow the BCG to move forward, which then strips a cartridge from the magazine and releases a round into the chamber.
When the cartridge is fired and the bullet passes the gas port in the barrel, gas travels into the gas port, through the gas block, and then down to the gas tube towards the BCG. Under the gas pressure, the BCG is moved rearward and the bolt carrier group presses up against the action spring and buffer which is located within the receiver extension. The recoil spring pushes the bolt carrier forward again to allow the bolt to extract and eject the empty case and then strip and chamber a fresh cartridge from the magazine.
The muzzle devices are attached to the end of the barrel of your AR-15 and they can suppress the intensity of the muzzle flash or reduce felt recoil. They come in three main categories and the first choice is the flash suppressor. A flash suppressor is designed to protect the shooter from the full effect of the visible flash when a round is fired.
The next choice is a muzzle brake, which functions to redirect gases to counter recoil and muzzle flip. Some designs can be effective up to a 50% reduction in felt recoil but with increased loud.
Linear compensators are designed to counteract the rise when the AR-15 is fired, so they only reduce the muzzle flip.
A fourth option, which is a hybrid device for your AR-15 muzzle is a versatile unit created to perform several jobs. The most popular hybrid muzzle device is the A2 flash hider, which is a combination of flash suppression, recoil management, and muzzle rise compensation.
The standard AR-15 trigger group consists of the following parts: a trigger, disconnector, a hammer, and a set of pins and springs that hold it all together.
When considering triggers, the vast majority of AR-15s sold on the market use a typical one-stage trigger. This standard mil-spec trigger is not the smoothest and lightest, but it provides reliability paired with very positive break and reset.
While the most budget and mid-range black rifles will come with single stage mil-spec-style triggers, advanced shooters who are looking for improved trigger groups with a smoother, lighter trigger overall, will greatly appreciate the two-stage, or match-grade trigger. These triggers are constructed to require less pressure in order to be fired, allowing marksmen to place precision shots at competitions and distance shooting.
The third alternative for those who desire an upgraded trigger rather than purchasing a proprietary two-stage trigger is to polish the surfaces of the trigger that contact each other.This will reduce the trigger pull weight, but must be done correctly to avoid a weapon malfunction that can create a dangerous accidental discharge. You should not polish your trigger unless you are fully confident in the process and ready to accept any unintended consequences.
Best AR-15 Manufacturers
These days it is extremely popular to build your own AR-15, but since the factory-grade rifles are generally good choice and you will find plenty of AR experts who buy and run stock carbines and rifles.
There are a number of AR-15 manufacturers from giant companies to small boutique shops that meticulously machine and hand-fit almost every single part
Anyway, all the rifles can be divided into different categories considering the quality of their parts, machining, and final quality control.
Premium AR-15 Manufacturers
Tier 1 AR manufacturers offer the premier AR-15 rifles machined of highest quality materials, using top-notch parts with a fit and finish that is impeccable.
The best ARs seem to come from reputable rifle vendors who don’t cut corners and pay close attention to details. Premium AR-15 manufacturers fire and function-test their complete rifles before the rifle leaves its doors.
This list represents only a few reputable makers of premium AR-15:
Mid-Range AR-15 Manufacturers
Unlike the top tier AR-15 manufacturers, the mid-range manufacturers on the list below generally sell for less than $1,000. These are also respectable AR-15 brands who offer well-made AR-15 that work well for training/range/plinking purposes. When you just want an AR-15 from a manufacturer you know and trust then you should look at this category of good mid-range AR-15s:
- Sig Sauer
- Smith & Wesson
- Aero Precision
- FN Herstal
Budget AR-15 Manufacturers
Those who are budget-minded should look for solid companies with great entry level rifles. The budget AR-15s are reliable, accurate guns that usually can be purchased for about half the cost of mid-range rifles and even less. This round-up of affordable rifles includes:
- Anderson Manufacturing
- Palmetto State Armory
- Rock River Arms
Tips For Building an AR-15
As for the AR-platform advantages, most gun experts agree that besides its accuracy and flexibility, the modularity is at the top of the list.
Building an AR-15 instead of buying is not only an enjoyable hobby, but it is certainly an adventure. If you’re considering aftermarket products for your very first build, it may be a good idea to get some parts that are already assembled. It is advisable to purchase a complete upper receiver which will save you time and frustration and then you can customize your lower to your preferences.
One note: Before you buy your first part, you should decide what application you will use your rifle for.
For example, if you choose an upper with a fixed carry handle, it would be ideal to build a "Retro" civilian version of the Vietnam era M-16 Rifle.
The flattop upper is the far more popular type for building any kind of target or varmint carbine/rifle since any type of optic sight can be mounted to the flattop.
The first part you’ll need is a lower receiver, which is actually the part that makes an AR-15 a firearm in the eyes of the law. All other AR parts can be shipped directly to your house without a background check.
As mentioned earlier, the bolt carrier group should have the right quality inspection markings such as high pressure tested (HPT) and magnetic particle inspected (MPI).
Designing your very own “Frankengun”, will allow you to not only add your own personal touch to the look of the weapon but will definitely be your pride and joy.
For the last three decades, the semi-automatic AR-15 and its small-caliber, high-velocity cousin without question became “America’s Rifle.”
Although some call the AR-15-style rifle an “assault weapon” because of ignorance or with malice aforethought, the AR-15-style guns are NOT “assault weapons” but today’s most popular modern sporting rifles.
The AR-15 platform firearms are an excellent choice whether you’re searching for a new, complete rifle to add to your collection or if you’re looking for building a rifle with the features you want.
Regardless of whether you’re planning to get your hands on a standard factory-built AR, personalize certain specific traits, or attempting to go the DIY route, the guidelines above will certainly help you to make a wise decision.
People Also Ask
The following is a list of frequently asked questions that are asked by those who are potential AR-15 buyers. Use this as a guide so you are able to get a good understanding of how they work and be aware of anything that will get you to make a well-informed decision. Here are the following questions:
What Brand of AR-15 Does the Military Use?
As of today, the Colt Manufacturing brand is contracted to manufacture and provide AR-15 rifles for military members of the United States. These are the rifles also used by tactical teams that are associated with federal agencies (FBI, DEA, etc.)
What is the Most Accurate AR-15 Caliber?
This is a matter of debate among shooters these days. But if we had to choose one, we can say that the 6.5 Grendel is probably the most accurate caliber out of the bunch. This can hit hard and do so with precise accuracy up to 1,000 yards.
Will the AR-15 Ever be Banned?
While the AR-15 is not banned entirely, there are laws in states and localities where it is prohibited. It is important to read up on your local, state, and federal laws before making a purchasing decision. As for whether or not if it will be banned at all, only time will tell. But pro-gun groups are fighting for your right to bear arms so you can utilize them in a legal and ethical manner (including using an AR-15).