The Best AR-15 rifle is the one you own. This is my rifle isn’t just a creed any rifle can be personalized to the point that every rifle is different and individual. The idea of the modern musket or adult Legos isn’t just marketing. Everyone should own at least one AR-15. If you don’t think you can afford one check out our build series.
The best rifle is going to be the one you customize for yourself, the best AR-15 can have every single part custom fit to you and your shooting, but that level of customization will cost a ton. You might want to start with a solid entry level rifle, shoot out a barrel or two and they start to customize, even at the cheapest ammo will cost more than the rifle over the life of your rifle or at least your barrel.
The AR-15 or ArmaLite Rifle Model 15 is Both The Most Popular and Most Vilified Rifle in The United States.
- Why Is It So Popular?
- Best AR-15 Rifles
- The Budget
- Build a Budget
- Finding The Best Rifle
Why Is It So Popular?
The ArmaLite rifle fulfilled a need, a cheap, soft shooting, modular yet accurate rifle. It is wildly popular because every part can be changed by the user with a minimal amount of tools.
It is lightweight
The biggest reason for the existence of the AR-15 is the lightweight of the rifle and the bullets
The AR-15 weighs just right around 7lbs or 8lbs with a full magazine of 30 rounds. Much better than the M14 at 11lbs. Do those 3lbs make a difference to the average shooter who will drive to the range and then drive home of course not but it does matter if you are actually forced to use the rifle to defend yourself or others.
Why is the AR-15 so cheap?
It is cheap, due to the large amount of militaries using the rifle in the standard 5.56x45mm, ammunition is fairly cheap compared to nearly any other caliber with the exception of the .22lr and with a simple modification your AR-15 can shoot .22lr
Why should everyone own an AR-15?
They are simple, many would argue simpler than an AK after training. The small caliber .223 or 5.56x45mm is softer shooting, more configurable, or the most realistic reason is that they are used by the United State Military and most of its allies.
Is it a good hunting rifle?
If it is legal to use an AR for hunting in your area it makes a great hunting rifle. Hunting and the military is intertwined and has been since the days of Agamemnon, US military frequently pulls individuals for sharpshooting or sniping because of their hunting background. AR-15s have been used for hunting for nearly 60 years, only gaining in popularity, as the light weight and soft shooting allow the old, the young, and females to take a more active role in the sport.
Best AR-15 Rifles
POF-USA P415 Edge
POF AR-15s are just built different. The company Patriot Ordnance Factory has been making gas piston AR-15s since 2002. They looked at the most popular rifle in existence and thought how can we improve it.
They started with using a gas piston instead of the direct impingement system that most ARs use. This increases reliability and decreases the need for cleaning. It also allows suppressors to be used without gassing the shooter. Gassing happens when the increases flow of gas from the bullet blows back through the gas tube at the users face from an improperly calibrated system. Adding a suppressor increases the pressure causing the gas to flow at an increased rate. The solution is to add either an adjustable gas system or a gas piston.
Next they looked at the extraction failures of other AR-15 systems and added their patented E2 dual-extraction technology. Basically, four channels in the chamber wall to allow gas to remove the bullet casing on firing. Making the POF extract much smoother, with fewer failures than a standard AR
They added a massive barrel heat sink to increase accuracy especially during rapid fire and mag dumps. Less heat on the barrel increased barrel life and accuracy. Then since I’m guessing every employee wanted a rifle they started adding quality of life improvements. Flared Magwell, Ambidextrous controls. Tension screws for the receiver. Roller Cam Pin, anti-tilt buffer tube. Features that would increase the cost of any AR-15 but built to a much higher standard than even most aftermarket parts could reach.
For instance the ambidextrous controls, unlike most rifles the POF has a bolt hold open control inside the trigger, instead of using an aftermarket bad level you can lock the bolt back with your hand still on the pistol grip. Need to charge the rifle, you can hit your slap paddle or just tap your finger on the ambi-bolt release and keep firing.
We can just keep going down the list of features but there are so many that you won’t notice several until after you go back to a regular AR, like the oversized trigger guard and the grip relief, the grip relief is a small area machined out of the lower for the index finger when you don’t want your finger on the trigger. Or the monolithic railed upper, built to reduce weight while providing a few extra inches to mount optics at the correct eye relief. The Rail uses M-Lok for attachments while using Picatinny rail for collapsible sights and a bipod mount.
Even with all the features the gas piston AR weighs only 7lbs with a 16.5 inch barrel, and it will shoot near 1 MOA with Federal Gold Medal Match. It truly the best of the best ARs, it will only be beaten by customized AR costing twice the price. If you are looking for the best AR start by taking a look at the P415 Edge or one of the several variants that POF-USA offer especially the Renegade+ if you want the P415 in direct impingement.
Not everyone can afford the POF P415, thankfully, Budget ARs while not having the bells and whistles of the high end rifles are still worth buying, especially if you are looking at upgrade as you go. The best budget ARs are going to be the ones you build yourself, there are several ways to do this, buy a full kit and a lower and build the entire rifle yourself. Slap together a complete upper and a complete lower, or buy a completed upper and build your lower. Alternatively, you can buy a solid platform like the Ruger 556, M&P Sport II or PSA rifle, then change parts as you go, this is going to be slightly more expensive but it is much more difficult to end up with an incomplete rifle, since the largest changes will be barrel, furniture and trigger.
The Ruger AR-556 was my first AR, well my first not issued by Uncle Sam. Ruger famous of the 10/22 and the Mini14 decided that they wanted to break the price point of entry level AR-15s, and they did. They built a rifle perfect for the first firearm purchase, for when you moved out of your parents’ house and need to feel safe, that first rifle before you know anything, at a price point that lets you fuck up and fix it.
The AR-556 is just what a new shooter need but doesn’t know they want starting with a free-floated barrel in a 1:8 twist. A 1:8 twist allows you to shoot 55gr bullets with more stability than the standard 1:7 yet still be able to shift up to the 77gr unlike a 1:9 twist. The free floated barrel is M-Lok rail that is becoming the standard instead of the heavy quad rail.
Ruger uses heavy contour, cold hammer forged barrels that can shoot into sub MOA territory. But the beauty of what Ruger has done with the AR556 is that for the price of most budget ARs you get all the features you shouldn’t be able to afford. Instead of using fancy furniture or sights the Ruger is built on a budget focused on accuracy, heavy barrel, free floated, while the rest of the gun is as stock as Ruger can make it. Being classic doesn’t make the Ruger a bad rifle because you can easily swap out the furniture or even trigger to your liking.
M&P Sport II
The M&P Sport is very similar to the Ruger AR556, but it doesn’t come with a free float barrel. It also uses standard sights and a 1:9 twist. The 1:9 twist is great for 55gr 5.56x45mm but it struggles stabilizing heavier bullets. The M&P Sport II is a great rifle and was one of the leaders for entry level rifles 5 years ago, but at the price it would be better to build your own or buy the Ruger.
Build a Budget
If you want the cheapest option that will run with the Ruger and the M&P Sport II if not surpass it pick any of the kits at Palmetto State Armory, don’t forget to grab a lower. While each of these kits has their own benefits and downsides, you will be building your own rifle, giving you a great excuse for when you don’t shoot as well as a POF or Daniel Defense. But with careful choosing you can have a tack driver for a fraction of the cost.
If you can also go for the Cold Hammer Forged Barrels, The CHF are made for PSA by FN and are some of the best quality barrels for the money. The EPT triggers are very smooth but since most kits come out $100 or $200 cheaper than even the Ruger, you can afford to throw in a Geissele or Timney trigger for match shooting. And because you built the rifle from the ground up you will know exactly how to build it, or just watch a bit of YouTube.
AR-15 RIFLE KITS
PSA AR-15 BLEM “STEALTH” STRIPPED LOWER RECEIVER
GEISSELE SUPER DYNAMIC ENHANCED (SD-E) TRIGGER
Mid-Range AR-15s are something of an odd duck. They are fantastic rifles, shoot around 1 MOA, have most of the bells and whistles you want in a rifle but they struggle to carve out their niche. They aren’t cheap plinkers, nor are they solid tack drivers, they perform and perform well but if I had to choose I would push through and grab the POF or buy better parts for the PSA builds. It is tough to judge them as rifles because they are solid, well built and usually boring and overpriced, you are paying for the brand name, worse because you can usually find every part that is unique to the rifle for a build without reaching the $1200-$1500 price range. So I’m going to list them without much enthusiasm. Save your money and go with a POF or build a custom.
FN 15 SRP G2
The FN 15 SRP is a classic law enforcement rifle. Meaning it is well built, accurate and no frills. This is your high end basic bitch rifle, suitable for any law enforcement or military use, the problem is that it has very little to justify the high price over the PSA CHF with the same barrel other than the product support FN would offer Law Enforcement.
Daniel Defense DDM4V11
6.5lbs of Forged AR perfection. It would be my favorite rifle if the POF P415 didn’t exist but between the accuracy, furniture and price. It is a very high end Standard AR-15 and in a world where you can get a fantastic AR-15 like the POF or Wilson Combat for the same price it doesn’t quite stack up.
Springfield Armory Saint Victor
Springfield managed to find some of the best aftermarket parts to include on their AR1-15 include a Brave Company Stock and an amazing free float rail. Not bad for a company that has been keeping the M14 relevant for 60 years. It is a great truck gun, but it doesn’t compete with a similarly priced PSA for accuracy or accessories.
Thanks to Mike Berg for letting me test this rifle. It delivered everything it said it would on the box, but what do you expect from an ArmaLite Rifle, AR-15. Unfortunately, ArmaLite is behind the curve with the keymod rail system, since the Army and Marines are going to go with the M-Lok rails this rifle will quickly become a relic.
The muzzle brake was one of the more interesting of the rifles, I shot. Deadly accurate, can’t wait for them to release an M-Lok variant.
Palmetto State has really turned up its game with the custom series. They will beat most other manufacturers where it matters bang for the buck. The innovation that comes from being one of the best suppliers of AR parts in the US isn’t lost on PSA. The customs look and shoot like a high end FN or Daniel Defense while keeping their flair. The current favorite of the custom shop is the 16 inch with 13.5 cross cut M-Lok Rail and a 3.5lb Flat trigger
Finding The Best Rifle
The POF-USA P415 is the AR-15 for under $2000 that we could find. It truly is an amazing rifle. But we might have missed some since supply lines during Covid-19 made it difficult to produce new rifles, combined with rifles always being scarce during democratic presidents, especially with President Biden’s push for a new Assault Weapons Ban. We want to hear from you if you found better AR-15 or if you disagree with our best rifle being gas piston. Comment below.
Andrew Maurer is a Precision Rifle Series competition shooter and gunsmith. Building competition rifles for over 12 years. He works as a big game hunting guide in Iowa, South Dakota and Arizona. He is also a political scientist studying the effects of gun control on society. He teaches youth rifle shooting.