The Best AR-15 For Your Budget: Complete Buyer’s Guide [2017]

Looking to buy your first AR-15 rifle but not quite sure where to start?

Stay tuned, because in this article I’m going to cover the best AR15 options, no matter whether you’re a budget shopper or advanced shooter.

After you read this guide, you will know all there is to know about how the AR-15 works and how different configurations make a big difference. This should help you select the best AR-15 to fit your personal needs.

Below, you will find some of my own recommendations on brands and models based on my extensive experiences with each of them.

Here’s my list of the top ten AR-15 rifles across all price points:

  • Aero Precision: AC-15M
  • Armalite: M-15 A4
  • Bravo Company: Mod 0, Mod 2, Recce 14/16
  • Colt: LE6920
  • Daniel Defense: DDM4 V3, DDM3 VV5, DDMA1
  • LaRue: PredatAR
  • Rock River Arms: LAR-15 Entry Tactical
  • Sig Sauer: M400
  • Smith & Wesson: M & P MOE
  • Windham Armory: R16M4FTT

We’ll cover all of these weapons below, but first, let’s get started!

If you need to jump to a specific section of the article, please click on the link in the Table of Contents here:


Why the AR-15?

There are many reasons why the AR-15 has remained the most popular of sporting rifles. Here is a list of the top five reasons why I think they are so popular:

They Are Used by the U.S. Military

Technically, that’s not true. The US military uses M16’s and M4’s whereas the civilian AR-15 is a semi-auto. This differs from the automatic/select fire capabilities of the military variety.

five army soldiers shooting ar15 rifles at the range during a training exercise
Military versions of the AR15 rifle.

What this means is that a single press of the trigger results in a single shot rather than the continuous stream of shots that occur with a single press of the fully-automatic’s trigger. The fully-automatic rifle fires three back-to-back shots with one squeeze of the trigger.

Personally, I think it’s pretty freakin’ awesome to handle a weapon that is emblematic of America’s muscle.

AR-15 “Furniture”

One of the coolest things about the AR-15 is that it can be tailored to suit your style and needs. It is customizable for any purpose and has readily swappable parts, aka “furniture.” This includes aesthetics as well as more purpose-driven parts.

You can pick up virtually any gun-related magazine and you will see ad after ad of people selling AR accessories and parts.

To really put this into perspective, there is a wildly popular firearms parts and accessories supplier called Brownell’s whose catalog rivals the Yellow Pages in size. That’s how many AR-15 parts and additions that are available to gun buyers.

Shootability

The AR-15 has a very weak recoil which any shooter can appreciate. It is particularly light when chambering its intended 5.56x45mm round. It is also more ergonomic than other popular rifles, such as the AK-47.

It has a precision build and it specially designed for accuracy with most models tricked out with easy grip handguards, scope mounts and more. Hence why many gun experts lavish praise on the AR15, calling it “one hell of a precision weapon.”

And this brings us to number four on my list of reasons why the AR-15 is incredibly popular.

Modular Design

The AR-15 is primarily comprised of two segments—the lower receiver and the upper receiver, each of which can be easily swapped out in just seconds.

You read that right – seconds! This makes it the ideal weapon for military personnel as it is easy to dismantle and reassemble for training purposes or for cleaning.

image of a fully disassembled ar 15 rifle with all the parts in 2017This also makes it a versatile rifle because it can serve as a long range precision weapon or can be used as a CQB (Close Quarters Combat) carbine by simply switching out the upper receiver and combining it with the lower receiver.

What’s more, the upper receiver can be swapped out for different calibers like the .22LR or the .50 Beowulf. I prefer the Beowulf because they never go out of style. Some ammo is hard to find, but the .50 Beowulf is a constant presence on ammo dealers’ websites.

Users have called the Beowulf a “reloader’s delight,” and I can understand why. Because it is an adaptable caliber with smart case design that can be used on anything from a sasquatch to a suicide bomber.

As mentioned earlier, there is no end to the aftermarket products with which you can customize your AR-15 to suit your specific needs. This means that you can personalize the look, feel and performance of your rifle for its intended use.

Some people make fun of shooters for effectively “pimping their gun,” thus overly customizing it to be “tacticool,” but I say more is more. Do you!

A gun owner should be happy with the look and feel of their weapon. If your AR-15’s customized design instills you with confidence then you’ll likely shoot more accurately.

Demand

It’s simple. If someone tells you that you can’t have something, you want it that much more. That was the case with the AR-15 back when then-President Bill Clinton signed into Office the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.

Former President Bill Clinton signs the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994.
Former President Bill Clinton signs the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994.

In time, Clinton would come to realize that his ban did nothing to deter gun-related crimes nor did the ban successfully halt production on AR rifles. But it did cause AR sales to rise and, also, resulted in manufacturers making innovative modifications to the AR model to strengthen its materials.

They upgraded the aluminum material with which the upper and lower receivers were forged and its fiberglass parts were dumped in favor of the stronger carbon fibre and reinforced polymer.


The Origins of the AR-15

picture of eugene stoner standing next to a wall of ar15 rifles
Eugene Stoner, creator of the AR15.

The first AR-15 was made in 1958 by Eugene Stoner for ArmaLite (which is why it’s a no-brainer that ArmaLite should land on this list). It was a lightweight 5.56x45mm variation on the 7.62x51mm AR-10.

The lighter bullets made it so that infantrymen could carry more rounds with ease.

Most people associate the AR-15 with the Colt name because Armalite sold the rights to Colt in 1959. But think about the name AR-15 — what does the AR stand for?

If you’re as sharp as I think you are, you’ve probably figured it out. That’s right, the AR is short for Armalite.

Over time, Colt tweaked the design and came out with the M16, a select fire (auto) design with a twenty-inch barrel.

In the Nineties, the M4 was introduced featuring a 14.5-in barrel and a carbine gas system. Carbine is a word that basically serves as a shorthand for “shorter barrel.”

The AR-15 is the civilian semi-auto version of the automatic M4. To call back what I was saying earlier, one trigger press equals one shot.

Since Colt owns the rights to the AR-15 name most manufacturers use slight variations on the name such as ARX, A4 or, more cleverly, “PredatAR.”

Now, to answer a pressing question:


AR-15: To Build or Buy?

For those of you who are purchasing your first ever AR-15, I would highly advise you buy a complete rifle from a trusted manufacturer. In the very least, you should buy a total upper and build your own lower.

This will prevent a lot of inconveniences because you will have a full warranty on your rifle. Also, when you’re just getting started, you might not know exactly what you want or need so it’s best to go with a standard configuration.

image of all the ar 15 parts you need to build your own diy rifle in 2017
All the AR-15 parts you need to build your own.

 

Factory-grade rifles are generally pretty affordable which means that you won’t have to spend much more money than you would if you were building your own. Besides, beginners aren’t exactly adept at assembling their own firearm so this takes the headache out of the whole process.

Another factor here is resale value. As I learned the hard way when I posted an ad in the past, self-built rifles are basically worthless when compared to standard brand pre-built firearms.

On the flip side, many people enjoy the sense of pride they get from building their own. Designing your very own “Frankengun” can be a satisfying and fun experience, but I recommend getting your hands on a standard AR before attempting to go the DIY route.

I think you’ll find that you have an easier time building one after you’ve spent some time with a factory gun.

For those of you who have graduated from the factory-built AR-15 and want to build your own AR-15 lower receiver, there are several resources out there that will walk you through the process.

I recommend this helpful and informative YouTube video, which covers the process start to finish.


Barrels

This is another important area that needs to be covered, especially for first-time shooters. We’ll begin by breaking down the AR-15 system by talking about the multiple characteristics of barrels.

image of the ar15 barrels compared side by side by sizesThis is where things get fun!

Barrel Chamber

Barrel chamber refers to the part of the barrel where the cartridge resides before it is fired. This determines what kind of ammo your rifle can shoot.

This being a beginner’s guide, we’ll focus only on the most common loads—.223 Remington and 5.56X45 mm NATO. Granted, there are lots of chamberings available, whether it’s the .22LR or the aforementioned .50 Beowulf (my personal go-to ammo), but aside from the .30 caliber, these are the two best offerings for novices.

The 5.56 is the most popular choice for home defense and regular plinking purposes. It offers looser tolerances and can handle the pressure of a 5.56 round more than others.

This may seem like a “no duh” comment, but when it comes to guns safety should always be a top priority. With that in mind, here are some safety suggestions that first-time shooters (and all shooters) should abide by:

  • With a .223 barrel, you can only fire .223 rounds.
  • Hybrid chambers like Wylde are implemented for specific reasons but can fire a .223 or a 5.56.
  • 5.56, on the other hand, can fire both 5.56 AND .223
  • Always clean a lube before shooting, especially if your rifle is new.
  • Protect your eyes and ears with goggles and ear plugs
  • Stand in a prone position when firing an AR-15.
  • Consider taking shooting lessons/classes before purchasing an AR-15.

Barrel Length

The minimum barrel length, according to Federal law, is sixteen inches. If an additional device is used, such as a muzzle brake or flash hider, it has to be permanently attached if it will be included in the rifle’s length.

For instance, gun owners can have a 14.5-inch barrel and weld a muzzle device that’s 1.5-inch long in order for the gun to be compliant with Federal requirements.

However, it is important to note that some states and municipalities have their own laws governing firearms and their accessories, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations in your area.

Due to these restrictions, I strongly advise first-time shooters to purchase at least a sixteen-inch barrel so that they can swap out muzzle devices at will. There are three main lengths that are popular: 16”, 18” and 20”.

One thing that beginners should be aware of is this: Length doesn’t necessarily equate to accuracy. Shooters can achieve plenty of accuracy with a sixteen-inch barrel because it is stiffer and thus less affected by barrel whip.

civilian shooting an ar15 with 16 inch barrel in field - slow motion gif
Shorter, thicker barrels tend to have less “barrel whip” (ie, the barrel moves less up and down as you shoot).

On the other hand, longer barrels can provide higher velocity as there is more space for the powder to burn. When bullets are able to move faster, there is far less time for environmental factors to affect the bullet’s trajectory, meaning that each shot will be far more accurate.

On average, sixteen-inch barrels are able to reach a target from four hundred yards away. That being said, the traditional fifty-five grain load grows more imprecise after three hundred yards, so fire carefully.

If you’re looking to fire at a longer range, you would fare better when a heavier, longer load like a sixty-two grain, seventy-seven or eighty grain bullet.

When I’m considering a weapon of any kind, I always think about portability. Shorter barrels generally weigh less and are easier to handle.

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Barrel Material

When you first get into guns, it can be overwhelming. There are so many numbers and so much technical jargon that it might seem scary or confusing.

This is especially true of barrel material which is why I’ve tried my best to simplify it for the newbies out there who are just learning about this stuff.

  • 4140: This one consists of steel with ten percent less carbon than its predecessor, 4150.
  • 4150: Steel used in mil-spec barrels.
  • Stainless Steel: This one is more accurate but possesses less of a lifespan.
  • Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium, Chrome Moly, or CMV: Basically identical to 4140

There are slight differences between that last one and 4140. Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium steel alloy contains a range of elements from chromium and nickel to molybdenum and so forth. It is renowned for its strength and hardness.

up close look at the barrel of an ar15 made of chrome moly material“Chrome Moly” or Chromium-molybdenum steel, is a range of low alloy steels that are of high tensile strength and aren’t as lightweight as counterparts like aluminum.

4140 alloy steel is a combination of chromium, molybdenum and manganese has high fatigue strength, impact and abrasion.

Both are high tensile steels which make them great for guns as well as bicycles and the like.

The average shooter should probably just stick with 4140 or CMV because there’s really no benefit to using 4150 unless you’re dealing with a fully-automatic piece. Besides, you’ll save money as 4150 costs more.

Barrel Lining

two lined ar 15 barrels resting on a wooden stump outdoorsThere are three basic options on the market when it comes to the inside of your AR-15 barrel. They are as follows:

  • Ferritic Nitrocarburizing (FNC): Otherwise referred to as Melonite, Tennifer or Nitride, FNC treats the surface of your barrel instead of coating which can make for increased accuracy.
  • Chrome Lined: This is a popular form of barrel lining. It is a coating that makes for barrel longevity, but that longevity comes at a price—it makes for less accuracy. If you see a gray ring around either end of the barrel, it is chrome lined.
  • None: Some barrels have absolutely no coating whatsoever.

Many environmental factors such as heat, moisture and more can affect your exact round count, but you can count on approximately ten to twenty thousand rounds before you need to re-barrel.

If you’re still with me, let’s move on to testing, another important area to be aware of.

Barrel Testing

As I said before, there is a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that comes with owning guns. Some acronyms that manufacturers like to throw at you include the following:

  • MP: Magnetic Particle tested. This just means that it’s essentially been given an X-Ray to ensure that the gun doesn’t have any voids, cracks or other imperfections.
  • HP: High Pressure tested. This is a method by which manufacturers ensure the integrity of anything from primers and projectile seating depth to chamber parameters and neck tension.

Of course, some AR-15s have not been tested at all, so buyer beware! If a gun’s packaging or advertising specifically says it hasn’t been tested or doesn’t mention testing, you’re buying it at your own risk.

Barrel Forging

  • man forging the barrel of an ar15 in his work shed red hotCold, Hammer, Forged (CHF): This is a process that results in a more durable barrel. Repeated blows by a series of hammers align the grain within the metal, causing more strength and rigidity.
  • Barrel, Forged, Hammer (BFH): Essentially the same as CHF, BFH is where a mandrel (carbide tube) is inserted into the barrel, rotated and pushed forward to create precise rifling.

With these options, you lose some accuracy but they make up for that with increased durability.

Barrel Contours

This refers to the thickness and overall shape of your barrel. Fortunately, there are several options available.

chart comparison the ar15 barrel contours side by sideThey include:

  • CAR (Colt Automatic Rifle): This one used to be the name of a certain group of AR-15s and M-16s back in the 1970s, but today it is a name for carbine-length rifles.
  • Light: This one is just what it sounds like, it’s lighter than others but it’s vulnerable to the heat associated with rapid firing. This one’s .625-in in diameter.
  • Heavy (Bull): This one is heavier and stiffer, but it’s also far more accurate. I like this one a lot because it can handle more heat than others before it starts to be affected. It’s typically implemented for precision builds. Bulls are .936” in diameter.
  • Medium (M4): The M4 contour possesses a cutout for grenade launchers which is what makes it ideal for military purposes. It’s got terrific balance and is .750” in diameter.

In my opinion, the average plinker doesn’t require anything more advanced than light or medium barrel.

Barrel Feed Ramps

This is a vital part of the AR-15’s upper receiver, therefore you want it to properly match the barrel of your sporting rifle.

It is still debatable as to whether it assists in terms of reliability, but in the very least, it’s important to match your ramps with your upper receiver. Usually, if you buy factory made rifles this won’t be an issue, but you should still check to confirm it.


AR-15 Gas Systems

Now that you know the basics of about the AR-15, we’ll get into the more complicated stuff.

There are two primary types of gas systems for the AR-15. They are DI and Piston. DI stands for Direct Impingement. DI is the original design whereas the Piston only became popular in recent years.

Direct Impingement vs Piston

The AR-15 operates by transmitting hot gas behind the bullet into the gas tube at which point it the tube uses the gas to either move a piston or deliver the gas directly back (direct impingement).

up close schematic animation of the ar15 direct gas impingement system
The Direct Impingement system in action.

No matter how the force is applied, it makes the bolt unlock, move back, excrete the spent casing and release a new cartridge into the chamber.

By and large, most AR-15s are DI instead of Piston. Like most things, there are pros and cons to each.

Pros of Piston

  • Typically more reliable in poor weather conditions (dust, water, moisture, heat, et al.)
  • Cleaner as dirty gas is vented out

Cons of Piston

  • More expensive than DI
  • Heavier and with more weight in front
  • Harder to find proprietary parts from manufacturers
  • Less accurate than DI

Unless you’re in an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie where you have to fire your weapon coming out of water or you’re battling dust bunnies, a DI system will be perfectly adequate for most purposes.

Assuming you properly maintain your AR-15, a DI model will be a dependable weapon.

DI Gas System Lengths

Gas system length is the distance to the gas hole. The gas hole refers to the triangular front site base (FSB) that sits on top of the barrel.

Although there is the rare “Dissipator” model that has a sixteen-inch barrel, the rifle length gas system is normally used for an eighteen-inch barrel.

The average choice for sixteen-inch barrels is a carbine or midlength gas system.

Personally, I favor the midlength system because I think it’s advantageous because it enables the user to have a longer sight radius when you’re using a front sight base. You also get more rail space because the handguard extends from the upper receiver to that front sight base.

Gas Blocks

We’ve mostly been talking about the FSB (Front Sight Base) style gas block here where the front sight is combined with the gas block and there’s a reason for that.

I always recommend this style to first-time shooters because it’s easier to have a front sight and it’s affordable to use a non-free-floating barrel.

picture of the front sight base (fsb) gas block for an ar15 rifle, black on white

Another groovy thing about this style is that it can be converted after the fact by grinding down the front sight base to allow for a free-floating barrel.


Handguards

Front sight blocks generally use non-free-floating handguards. So the two-piece handguard touches the barrel at the front sight base which, unfortunately, can add a bit of inconsistency when it comes to force. Consequently, your shooting accuracy can be affected.

Nevertheless, if you are a non-competitive shooter, the non-free-floater will be accurate enough.

While there are some aluminum models, most are made from polymer and are cheaper and just as good at their more affordable price point.

image of the standard MOE handguard for ar15
Standard MOE handguard, manufactured by Magpul Industries.

Magpul MOE handguards are my go-to handguards because they enable the shooter to attach Picatinny rails on slots which allow you to add accessories. Picatinny rails are a tad on the heavy side, but if you like to attach accessories, this is the way to go.


BCG (Bolt Carrier Group)

The BCG is basically the engine which runs the AR-15. It retracts when you pull the charging handle back.

When you let go of the handle, the bolt carrier group moves forward, strips a round from the mag and releases a round into the chamber.

When you pull the trigger, the hammer is released and it strikes the firing pin, hitting the the primer. This sparks the gunpowder, sending the bullet down the barrel. This is where the gas system comes into the picture.


The Best AR-15 Manufacturers

Let’s cut to the chase! Naturally, there are a number of other factors that you’ll want to consider when selecting your AR-15.

They include build (precision build or 18” barrel vs pistol build or short-barreled rifle), optics, trigger (single stage vs two stage trigger), rifle type (semi-auto vs fully-auto), but for the sake of brevity, let’s get right down to it.

Below is a full list of all the top AR-15 manufacturers around followed by my personal favorites.

These are the manufacturers that seem to be reputable rifle vendors who don’t cut corners and commit to providing quality materials. Either that or they’ve just got a crazy marketing budget that makes them look boss.

Top Tier Manufacturers

As of the publishing of this article, we vouch for the following eight companies as the absolute best manufacturers of AR15 rifles:

  1. Bravo Company
  2. Colt
  3. Daniel Defense
  4. Larue
  5. Lewis Machine & Tool
  6. Noveske
  7. Rainier Arms
  8. Yankee Hill Machine

The companies listed above are believed to be the greatest sources for service grade AR-15s.

Mid-Tier Manufacturers

  • Anderson
  • Aero Precision
  • Ruger
  • Sig Sauer
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Spike’s

These are some companies with good guns that are fine for training/range plinking purposes. I suggest you run at least 1,000 rounds through one of these rifles before you trust any of them with your life.

You want to know that your AR works before affording it the title of great home defense weapon.

Budget Manufacturers

Don’t be thrown by the title, these are perfectly adequate manufacturers with perfectly good guns. They are inexpensive and may be the right choice for starter rifles.

  • Bushmaster
  • Delton
  • DPMS
  • Olympic
  • Palmetto State Armory
  • Rock River Arms
  • Stag

Price Points

When it comes to the top tier, you should be prepared to spend no less than $1,000. On the other hand, most mid-tier manufacturers’ rifles start at $500.

$1,000 might sound steep, but keep in mind that you’re paying for quality, name, and the research and development that goes into the same.


Our Top Picks for the AR-15 (Updated: 2017)

Let’s talk a bit about my top picks! To recap, here’s my top ten list across all price points:

 MakeModelPrice 
image of Aero Precision AC-15M
Aero Precision
AC-15M$549
image of Armalite M-15, A4
ArmaliteM-15 A4$1,000
image of Bravo Company: Mod 0, Mod 2, Recce 14/16
Bravo CompanyMod 0, Mod 2, Recce 14/16$1,340
image of Daniel Defense DDM4 V3, DDM3 VV5, DDMA1
Daniel DefenseDDM4 V3, DDM3 VV5, DDMA1$1,690
image of Sig Sauer M400
Sig SauerM400$1,000

image of Smith & Wesson M & P MOE
Smith & WessonM & P MOE$1,259
image of Windham Armory R16M4FTT
Windham ArmoryR16M4FTT$880

I’d just like to preface this by saying that if a popular AR-15 isn’t on this list, it doesn’t mean that the rifle is no good. This is just based on personal experience.

1. Aero Precision AC-15M

side shot of the aero precision ar15 rifleAero is a well-known name among people who build their own AR-15s, but they’ve also done an incredible job of offering complete AR-15s with unique features. Their AC-15M is a handsome gun with a sixteen-inch barrel that I simply love because it’s ergonomic and inexpensive.

This one is great for the first-time shooter because it won’t cost you an arm and a leg (unless you terribly misfire) and it’s got most of the bells and whistles of more pricey options.

2. Armalite M-15, A4

armalite ar15 a4 lying on its side on the ground, all blackThe M-15 is a lightweight tactical carbine and at $1,000, it’s one of the better defensive sporting rifles on the market. Tailored to front line users, it can also cut the mustard as a home defense weapon.

A bit larger than the last piece on this list, the M-15 has an eighteen-inch match-grade, cerakoted stainless steel barrel. A semi-automatic, the M-15 is durable, compact and ultra-fast.

3. Bravo Company Mod 0, Mod 2, Recce 14/16

image of my favorite bravoc ompany mod0 ar15 rifle in 2017These are all worthy options, but I personally favor the Mod 0 because I’ve spent more time with it than others. The Mod 0 is a 16” 5.56x45mm rifle that typically goes for around $1,100.

With a chrome lined barrel, the Mod 0 was not designed for the gamer, rather it is geared toward tactical applications. But when it comes to training and range shooting, this one packs a lot of punch.

This one includes the aforementioned Magpul MOE handguards and a PNT trigger. For me, it’s the gold standard of modern AR-15s.

The Mod 2 is a quarter of an inch wider than the Mod 0 and shares its cable lock and 5.56mm. It’s also got a mid-length gas system that enables it to run cooler than its counterparts.

The Recce 14/16 is more pricey than the others on this list, generally retailing for $1,500. But it’s a sexy, streamlined weapon that will definitely be the envy of everyone you encounter at the gun range. The first time I picked one up, I felt like I was in a Predator movie. Seriously, just look at this design:

As with the Mod 0 and Mod 2, the Recce 14 is a 5.56mm caliber rifle with a chrome lined barrel and 11595E certified steel. It’s got a Mod 4 charging handle, a Mod 3 pistol grip and a BCM QD end plate.

With a shot peened bolt, feed ramp flat top receiver and chrome lined bore and chamber, it’s a real beast.

4. Colt LE6922

side shot of the coltle6920 ar15 rifle, one of the best ar15s

Another semi-auto, the LE6920 M4 carbine is a versatile option that is known for its performance and accuracy. With a wide range of ammo options, this tactical rifle also has a chrome lined barrel with a 1:7 rate of twist and combat-proven power.

Often implemented in law enforcement and military operations, the LE6920 has six lands and grooves, a 20-round removable magazine and a 5.56x45mm NATO chamber. At 6.95 lbs, it’s not the lightest of rifles, but it’s certainly a sweet piece with retractable length.

5. Daniel Defense DDM4 V3, DDM3 VV5, DDMA1

danieldefenseDDM4 ar15 rifleThe DDM4 has a 16-inch cold hammer forged barrel and a vertical foregrip for ideal manipulation. This one is good for maneuverability which makes it a nice pick for novices.

Another attractive feature is its nine-inch free float rail, but that’s not what I care about. When I’m recommending a piece to a first-time shooter or those who are less experienced with AR-15s, I like to suggest rifles that provide comfort and ease. The DDM4 has a comfortable buttstock and pistol grip which to this end.

It’s also got a 30-round capacity and direct impingement action. For beginners, this is one of the top picks for a 5.56mm weapon.

The DDM3 or “Tornado” measures up to its name. By that I mean it packs a real wollop.

With a salt bath nitride finished muzzle device and a full-latch impact plastic case, the Tornado is just an awesome thing to behold. Which brings me to my next point.

At nearly $2,000, this one is really an end-user piece. In other words, it’s not the first rifle I would recommend for beginners unless they’ve got a hefty trust fund or a job beyond my pay grade.

Essentially, it’s what I would call a vanity piece. It’s great if you want a fast and accurate weapon that will also serve as a status symbol, but there are certainly AR-15s out there that are significantly cheaper and every bit as efficient.

Otherwise known as the DDM4, the A1 is a lightweight free-floating barrel design. The thing I like the most about it is its sling swivel attachment points.

While I’m not gonna pull a Flavor Flav with one of my rifles and hang a giant alarm clock from it, I appreciate the convenience of tricking out my guns with handy accessories and this one conforms to my needs.

6. LaRue PredatAR

side angle image of the larue predator, a favorite ar15 rifle by civilians and military

I mentioned the Predator movie franchise earlier, right? Well, for those who are familiar with it, you’ll appreciate the name of this LaRue model because it wouldn’t look out of place in a balls-to-the-wall action movie.

This one’s got a camo-colored stock, a fierce-looking barrel and all the specs one looks for in a first-time AR-15. It’s got lightweight maneuverability, sub-MOA accuracy and staked carrier keys.

7. Rock River Arms LAR-15 Entry Tacticalimage of the rock river arms ar15 rifle side shot

At $1,065, this one is more expensive than some of the first AR-15s I would recommend to a beginner, but it’s a rifle that brings me joy to share with people. The number one reason is because most novices have never heard of Rock River.

Most of us grew up hearing about names like Remington, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, etc. But Rock River Arms was founded in 1993 and has been steadily earning a reputation since.

With a hogue grip and A2 flash hider, the LAR-15 is comfortable to use, moderately accurate and built to last. It’s got an RRA two stage trigger and a star safety selector.

Although I wouldn’t suggest this one to the kid who works the warehouse at my neighborhood Dollar General, I’d definitely recommend it to someone from an upper Middle Class family.

At this price point, you’re getting a nice middle of the road piece.

8. Sig Sauer M400

side angle photo of the sig sauer m400 ar15 tactical rifleThe M400 is billed as being made from some of the finest components on the market and I’d definitely agree with the advertising. It’s got a handsome, classy titanium finish and a direct impingement system.

The thing that makes this the ideal piece for a newcomer to the AR-15 is its ROMEO5 red dot sight. I always tell first-timers that they should get themselves a red dot sight because it makes a huge difference to those who don’t have much experience with aiming for long range targets.

Of all the rifles I’ve mentioned here, I think this one takes the cake in terms of beginner AR-15s. It wasn’t my first AR-15 personally, but it may just be my last. The design is impeccable and the price is fair for a gun that proudly carries the “Elite” name ($999.99).

9. Smith & Wesson M & P MOE

photo of the sw moe ar15 rifle all black, ready to rockI’ve talked a lot about my love of Smith & Wesson guns, but this one is a bit expensive than some of their other options (it retails for nearly $1,300). With that said, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one.

The M & P MOE comes with folding Magpul MBUS rear sights, a Magpul lower receiver, a chromed firing pin and an Armornite barrel finish. It should really be called the “MAG Special” because it’s loaded for bear with a Magpul brand vertical grip, a Magpul magazine, a Magpul stock, a Magpul grip and a Magpul handguard.

Personally, I’m not much of a hunter (when I go fishing, I generally practice the catch and release method), but my neighbor took me out to the woods recently and brought his MOE with him. When I say he “bagged” a deer, I should tell you that he literally had to carry the spoils away in a garbage bag because the beast was torn to shreds by this incredible rifle.

It should come as no shock that this it is one of the fastest selling sporting rifles among outdoorsmen because it’s great for everything from small game hunting (obliterating vermin in your backyard and the like) to taking out some big game.

10. Windham Armory R16M4FT

windham armory ar15 R16M4FT rifle side image, ready for battleThis is probably the best mid-level sporting rifle in terms of price. At $879.99, it won’t break the bank but you know you’ll be getting a quality piece.

A 5.56mm semi-auto, the R16 is an attractive option because it has some interesting features that many AR-15s do not possess. My favorite one is its six-position telescoping buttstock.

The R16 also has manual-lever safety with indicator markings on either side of the receiver which is good for beginners who aren’t used to handling rifles. Each one comes with a durable hard plastic case which makes it easy to store and maintain.


Conclusion

I know we’ve gone over a bunch of stuff here and it’s probably been exhausting, but I urge my readers to do their own independent research before deciding on their first AR-15.

There are a host of great resources out there that will teach you more about how to handle an AR-15 and why some AR-15 models are better for certain purposes than others.

Make sure that the AR-15 you choose meets the exact criteria you are looking for. Good luck and happy hunting!

Love your AR15 but don’t see it included on my list? Please let me know in the comments below!

7 COMMENTS

  1. […] These issues were corrected in the M-16 variant, the M16A1. Despite the fact that the gun saved thousands of lives in Vietnam (whereas the M-14 might not have been so effective), the M-16’s popularity had dwindled. AR-style Rifles Today Today, many brands manufacture AR-15-style rifles, and many of these are popular (and wise) purchases. For example, the ArmaLite M-15 A4 and the Colt LE 6920 lead the pack of the best AR-15s for the price right now. […]

  2. Thanks for this interesting and informative piece of research and writing.

    I share your fondness for the MOE handguards. Would you care to offer any suggestions as to which rifles w/ either full length MOE handguards or full length M-Lok handguards, bbls ~ 16″ (“Dissapator” like) and collapsible butt stocks, you’d recommend as good values for a defensive rifle?

    I’m considering the newer Springfield Armory “Saint” (reviewed here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dLxX2bBwEU), though the handguard is only 13.5″.

    Are you aware of better built/ more reliable rifles in a similar configuration at, or near, this price point? Pls advise.

    TIA

  3. […] The SAFE Act immediately banned specific rifles and shotguns and expanded the scope of what constitutes an assault weapon. From that point, any gun that had a thumbhole stock, pistol grip or anything else that was deemed to be a military feature was relegated to being assigned to the sector of assault weapons. This ruled out many civilian-loved rifle models, like many of the popular AR-15s listed here. […]

  4. My latest budget carbine build is based on a $300 hardened arms quad rail upper with a 16″ 1/9 twist 5.56 m4 profile barrel

    It shoots under 1/2″ groups at 100 yds with a $180 vortex scope and a single stage mil spec trigger using $7.50 a box factory Winchester 5.56 55 grain q3131 ammo

    Total invested in the rifle with optic:
    less than $900 all magpul’d out and a streamlight so $750 for the basic rifle

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