The AR-15 is renowned for its versatility and customization options. As one of America’s most popular rifles, numerous manufacturers produce their versions of this iconic firearm.
That said, it isn’t always easy to find a good rifle when on a budget. You will often find that some of the more popular options easily top out above $1,000. Though possible, finding a good rifle on a budget certainly poses its own challenge.
You don’t have to worry about that anymore, though. We’re breaking down some of the best bang for your buck rifles, each one being below $1,000. Follow along as we go over what to consider when looking for a rifle and what some of the most affordable options below:
Understanding the AR-15
At its core, the AR-15 rifle is a semi-automatic rifle that was initially developed in the 1950s and 60s. Today, it’s one of the most popular rifles since it’s easily configured to fit multiple roles. Each of the components of the AR-15 are easily interchangeable with upgraded ones. Parts like the safety selector, mag release, and bolt catch are commonly swapped out with enhanced ones to increase the speed of using them.
The AR-15 can accept a multitude of different calibers, the most common being .223/5.56 and .300 Blackout. Other niche calibers are used as well, like 7.62×39, 6.5 Grendel, .458 SOCOM, and 6.8 SPC to name a few. When it comes to choosing a caliber, it’s up to personal preference.
It’s important to make sure that whatever manufacturer you go with has a good reputation for making high quality products. Regardless of whether it’s a budget build or not, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you pick is reliable.
What to Consider Before Buying and AR-15
There are few key things to take into consideration before pulling the trigger on an AR-15, including your personal preferences, the rifle’s purpose, and your budget. Fortunately, this is the easy step, and it will only set you up for success when you start the search for your rifle.
Like anything firearms related, one of the biggest determinants of what’s best for you is going to be your personal preferences. By considering your preferences, you can drastically narrow down the options available, and give yourself some better selections tailored to your needs and wants. For instance, you may prefer KeyMod over M-LOK, or you might prefer Picatinny quad rails on your handguard. There’s a near-endless possibility of options you can have on an AR-15, ranging from color patterns to ambidextrous controls. Just like we mentioned before, the AR-15 is easily customizable and can be tailored to suit your needs.
Since the AR-15 can be configured to fit different purposes, it’s crucial to keep that in mind. If your main purpose for having an AR-15 is home defense, you wouldn’t want a rifle with a 20-inch barrel that’s difficult to maneuver in tight quarters. On the other hand, for shooting at longer ranges, a longer barrel length will serve you much better. Some of the most common barrel lengths you’ll find on the AR-15 are 14.5 (pin and weld), 16, and 18 inches.
So long as your barrel length is 16 inches or longer, it’s considered legal rifle length. If your barrel length is shorter than 16 inches, it is considered an SBR (Short Barreled Rifle), and you’ll need to get a tax stamp and register it with the ATF. Keep in mind that pinning and welding a muzzle device to your barrel can bring it to a legal 16-inch overall length. However, there are diminishing returns when using certain barrels. The most common barrels to pin and weld are 13.7-, 13.9-, and 14.5-inch barrels. You can theoretically do this a shorter barrel, but there aren’t many muzzle devices that add enough length to do so, and it isn’t really worth it in the long run, making it better to opt for an SBR in some cases.
Though buying a new rifle can be done on a budget, AR-15s can also be a costly endeavor in some cases. Our guide on how much AR-15s cost goes more in-depth on the expenses you’ll make when buying a new rifle.
Build or Buy?
If you’re looking at an AR-15, we’re sure that at some point, you’ve heard that it’s better to build instead of buying one off the shelf. This is up for debate and subjective, but both options have their pros and cons. For instance, buying an off-the-shelf rifle is great because there isn’t any additional labor involved, making it better for newcomers. You also have some factory guarantee of compatibility and assembly, which is great if you’re new to the platform.
In contrast, building a rifle takes time and can have a steep learning curve if you’re unfamiliar with the platform, but it gives you full control over which parts are installed on your rifle, making it truly fit to your needs.
Regardless, both options can be done inexpensively. One of the easiest ways to build a rifle is to pair an assembled lower receiver, with a complete upper receiver. It is possible to build from a stripped lower as well. That said, if you plan on building your rifle this way, we recommend that you get a punch set and some other tools before tackling the job. Fortunately, if it’s your first-time building, our guide on assembling your AR-15 makes it as simple as possible. Be sure to check it out if you decide to go the builder’s route.
If you don’t plan on building and would rather opt for a budget friendly complete rifle, you’re in luck. Below, we go over some of the best affordable AR-15 Brands available:
Affordable AR-15 Brands
Anderson Manufacturing has been producing quality rifles since their inception over 30 years ago. Today, they specialize in making a variety of rifle types that are reliable and cost-effective for varying budget restraints.
Models like their A4 series rifles come in a variety of different configurations, but each one is built utilizing an A2 front sight gas block. Depending on the model, they can either come with A2 furniture, Magpul furniture, and quad rails with A2 or Magpul stocks. In addition to the A4, their MLOK AM-15 rifle has more modern features while remaining under $700.
Each of the rifles offered by Anderson are great options for enthusiasts that are new to the AR-15. Their rifles are inexpensive and easy to customize to fit different purposes. With different barrel lengths, furniture types, trigger packages, there’s a lot to choose from. Also, if you’re interested in building instead of buying, Anderson offers both complete and stripped lower receiver groups that are easy to customize.
Another great manufacturer and provider of budget friendly rifles is Radical Firearms. Like Anderson, they offer a wide variety of rifles, each with different furniture options. It’s common to find their rifles priced around $500 to $700, depending on the model.
They offer many different furniture options for their rifles with some including furniture from B5 Systems and MFT (Mission First Tactical). Also, they offer a few different variations of their M-LOK handguard. The RPR handguard is a free-floated aluminum handguard with a full top picatinny rail and M-LOK slots along the length of the handguard. Alternatively, the MHR handguard is similar in design, but it has a picatinny rail on the bottom for mounting something like a bipod. It’s up to personal preference as to which is better, but both options are a solid choice.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson has been a popular manufacturer since their inception, and among their vast number of products available, one of their most sought-after firearms is their M&P-15. The M&P-15 is Smith & Wesson’s take on the AR-15, with the Sport II variant being one of the most affordable options available from them.
Being known for their high-quality products, the M&P15 Sport II is a great choice for those looking for an affordable AR-15 variant. It comes standard with A2 furniture, a fixed front sight gas block, and has a 4140 Chrome Moly Steel barrel. It’s priced around $700 to $750, and like the other ARs we’ve mentioned, it can be easily modified to and upgraded with different parts.
As of right now, they don’t offer an AR-15 with an M-LOK that’s under $1,000 but rest assured that the standard M&P15 Sport II is still an excellent budget friendly rifle.
Accessorizing and Upgrading your AR-15
One of the key factors that sets the AR-15 apart from other rifles is how customizable it truly is. We mentioned how the core controls of the rifle can be easily switched out with upgraded ones, but your rifle can be a host to an incredible array of different accessories.
One of the first upgrades you should make is getting a proper AR optics package. There’s nothing wrong with iron sights, but they often leave something to be desired. As such, they’re usually one of the first things that are added to a new rifle. Since the AR-15 uses picatinny mounts on top of the upper receiver, you have the capacity to add some of the most popular optic types to your rifle.
Red dot sights, prism scopes, and variable power optics can all be utilized to great effect on your rifle. Red dots and 1x prism scopes tend to give you more versatility for faster target acquisition and provide a better sight picture that allows you to see more of your target. Variable power optics and magnified prism scopes tend to be better for precision shots at farther distances in scenarios like hunting and competition. If you’re looking for the versatility of both, an LPVO or red dot/prism and magnifier combo works well.
Lower Parts Kits
A lower parts kit can enhance your rifle, especially if you’re building one instead of buying one. Like its name suggests, an AR-15 lower parts kit contains all, or most, of the lower parts necessary to build out a lower receiver. Depending on the kit, it will either have every part necessary to fully assemble and furnish a lower, or it will have a few select parts that may be upgraded from their mil-spec counterparts.
For example, the Geissele Ultra Duty lower parts kit comes with an enhanced safety selector, bolt catch, and mag release, but it doesn’t include a trigger, grip, or buffer assembly. Kits like these can be used to upgrade the lower on a complete rifle, but it can also be used when piecing together a lower for a custom build.
There are a lot of accessories for an AR-15 like slings, furniture upgrades, and foregrips. Slings are generally considered essential for most practical rifles. They allow you to keep your rifle close to your body, give you better support when carrying it for a long time, and make it easier to quickly transition from your rifle to a sidearm. Magpul, Blue Force Gear, and Ferro Concepts are just a few notable sling producers that make high quality products. For a full guide on sling selection and mounting, make sure to check out our Slings Guide.
Just like how a sling can enhance your shooting experience, so can a good furniture setup. Upgraded stocks and grips go a long way in making your rifle more comfortable to use. A newer stock can give you a better cheek weld and some added padding for recoil dampening. Grips work this way to in that they give you more positive grip contact, and they offer different grip angles depending on the model.
Lastly, foregrips are another way to give you more positive grip contact. A foregrip mounts to the handguard and allows you to maintain control of your rifle. They can be either vertical or angled, and both help to give you control of your rifle, allowing you to make quicker target transitions. It’s up to preference to determine which is better for you, but both are great options.
With the popularity of AR-15s being so high, it’s no wonder that there are seemingly endless amounts of manufacturers creating their takes on the iconic rifles. Despite AR-15s often exceeding $1,500, numerous affordable options exist.
If you’re planning on buying or building an AR-15, it can definitely be done on a budget. By researching different manufacturers, reading reviews, and checking out guides like this one, you can get a better understanding of what to look for as well as find some suggestions for places to start.
Still, there’s more to owning an AR-15 than just buying a rifle and ammo. It’s important to know how to clean and maintain your rifle and get up to speed on what all new owners should know before owning one.
Of the rifles mentioned, they’re a great place to start your search. Whether you’re looking at an Anderson, Radical or Smith & Wesson AR-15, each of them is affordable, easily upgraded, and vetted with positive reviews. There isn’t a better time than now to start your venture into owning an AR-15.