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AR-15 vs AR-10 Functionality Breakdown: What is Going to Work For You?

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AR-15s are among the most popular rifles in America, used for everything from home defense, to hunting, to competition, to good old-fashioned target practice. It’s been made popular by its low recoil, ease of use, and utter simplicity of operation, which makes it an exceptionally simple platform to maintain or modify. 

The AR-10, whether a true AR-10 from Armalite or one of the many similar rifles erroneously called by its name, is in many respects the same. It too offers low recoil for caliber, the same simple controls, and a similar level of complexity when it comes to building or modifying a rifle. 

The primary difference is a mere matter of scale; nearly everything about the AR-10/AR-308 platform is larger than the AR-15. Because of the many similarities and the handful of very significant differences, it can be difficult to discern which platform is best for your needs. 

Below we’ll take a look at the key attributes of each rifle, how they differ, and the applications for which each is best suited. 

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What is an AR-15? 

The AR-15 is a lightweight, self-loading rifle first developed by ArmaLite. The rights to the rifle would later be sold to Colt, who to this day makes some of the finest AR-15s on the market. 

Owing to the size of their receivers, AR-15s are chambered almost exclusively in intermediate rifle cartridges such as .223 Remington/5.56x45mm NATO, .300 Blackout, 6.5 Grendel, or .350 Legend. Larger cartridges, including popular hunting rounds like .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor, are simply too big to fit. 

Because of this, as well as the AR-15’s efficient self-loading system and inline stock, they tend to have very low recoil compared to other rifles and are quite easy to keep on target, even for beginners

The design and pattern of the AR-15 have largely become an industry standard—any firearms manufacturer can make an AR-15, and many do. Parts are generally standardized and interchangeable between rifles as well, although some manufacturers have innovated on the original design using proprietary or non-standard parts. This makes it easy to install a few quick and easy AR-15 upgrades or even build a rifle from scratch without running into compatibility issues. 

Like many semi-automatic rifles, AR-15s feed from a detachable box magazine. This magazine has a standard capacity of 30 rounds, although versions exist with capacities ranging from five to 100 rounds. 

If an AR-15 sounds like it might be the right fit for you, we recommend checking out our guide to the best AR-15 rifles under $2000


What is an AR-10? 

AR-10s are often thought of as a bigger, more powerful AR-15, but the truth is that the AR-15 is actually a scaled-down AR-10. The AR-10 was developed before the AR-15, also by ArmaLite, then adapted to be smaller and lighter in response to the demands of military contracts of the day. 

Regardless of the order of their origin, the truth remains that the AR-10 is bigger and beefier than the AR-15, despite retaining many similarities in their method of operation and manual of arms. 

AR-10/AR-308s are most commonly chambered in .308 Winchester, but are available in a variety of other full-powered rifle cartridges, including the popular 6.5 Creedmoor, but also less common rounds like 6mm Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, and .338 Federal. 

Owing primarily to their larger cartridges, AR-10s generally have more recoil than AR-15s but typically are fairly soft-shooting compared to other rifles firing the same cartridges, as they benefit from the same recoil-absorbing operational system and inline stock as the AR-15. 

Unlike AR-15s, AR-10s are not a standardized design. The only true AR-10s are those made by ArmaLite; everything else falls under the generic category of “AR-308” or “Large-Frame AR.” AR-308s are likewise nonstandard—parts from different manufacturers will not always work in different rifles. AR-308s have several different receiver patterns and types, which can make building or modifying them more complicated than an AR-15. 

AR-10s, like AR-15s, utilize a detachable box magazine for feeding, but due again to their larger cartridges do not always offer the same capacity. Common AR-10/AR-308 magazines run from 5 to 25 rounds, although larger drum magazines are available with varying degrees of reliability. 

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AR-10 Vs. AR-15: Key Differences 

The biggest difference between the AR-15 and the AR-10 will always be size. AR-10s are bigger in every way and that increased size can either be a boon or a drawback depending on your application. 

Because AR-10s are significantly larger and heavier, they can be more difficult to fire offhand, particularly for newer users. They also will be more tiring to carry over long distances, which is an important consideration for some hunters. 

The larger size of the AR-10 is what enables it to chamber a fire a larger round, though, which can offer many advantages. Larger cartridges offer more energy both at the muzzle and at impact, all else being equal. These more powerful rounds can be essential for an ethical kill on larger game animals such as elk, while standard AR-15 hunting rounds like .350 Legend may be perfectly suitable for smaller game. 

More powerful cartridges also lend themselves better to long-range performance; while the AR-15 can be chambered in several cartridges capable of landing effective hits out to a thousand yards, or perhaps even a bit more, AR-308 rounds like 6mm Creedmoor can easily outpace them. 

However, the AR-15 does retain the advantage when it comes to ammo capacity. Those big, powerful rounds take up more space in a magazine than a svelte cartridge like .223 Remington. AR-15s have a larger standard capacity, with most rifles coming with 30-round magazines, and have the potential for much larger capacities than an AR-10 is capable of even with a drum. 

AR-15s also offer significantly less recoil. It is a law of physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and so inevitably the larger, more powerful rounds of the AR-308 will generate more recoil. 

Lastly, AR-15s tend to be less expensive than AR-10s. AR-10s are considerably less common than AR-15s, and so they do not benefit from the economies of scale available to the smaller, standardized rifle. 

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AR-10 Vs. AR-15: Which One Is Right For You? 

The answer will depend entirely on what you plan to do with the rifle. For most casual users, a good-quality AR-15 is the answer. They’re lighter, easier to handle, and cheaper to feed than any AR-10. Depending on the chambering you select, they can be fully capable of hunting or long-distance target practice. 

AR-15s are one of the most popular rifles in America for a reason, and a large part of that reason is their nearly unmatched versatility. A single AR-15 can serve as a competition gun, a hunting rifle, and a home defense firearm. Even in a common chambering like .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, it’s capable of engaging targets out to 500 yards or more—a distance few people have access to at their local range. 

AR-10s, on the other hand, are perfect for people who want a bigger, more powerful firearm for hunting or long-range performance. If you need to put down a big animal, you’ll want to use a powerful cartridge. After all, no one ever walked away from a downed brown bear wishing they’d brought a weaker rifle. AR-10s offer ballistics that the AR-15 simply can’t match. 

Additionally, AR-10s are the clear choice for users who want to push themselves to engage the farthest targets possible. While AR-15s have come a long way in terms of long-range performance since their inception, they still can’t match the AR-10, even with the latest long-range cartridges. 

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AR-15s are lightweight, low-recoiling, and easy to use. They are simple to build, simpler to buy, and perfect for a wide range of applications. There is a reason they are one of the most popular rifles in the nation. 

AR-10s, on the other hand, remain a specialized tool for specific tasks. What they do, they do well, but their size and recoil make them less than ideal for many applications, as well as for new users.