The AR-15 is an incredibly versatile rifle, and it is no surprise that it is one of the most popular firearms in America. With that, there are an incredible number of options when buying your AR-15.
When it comes to choosing the best AR-15 for you, it is important to consider factors such as the intended use, your budget, quality, and the components and accessories best for your use case.
What is the Best AR-15?
One of the reasons the AR-15 rifle is so popular is its versatility. From countless barrels, chamberings, and other accessories, the AR-15 can meet a variety of needs.
The AR platform can be tailored to almost any role, from hunting and competition to home and self-defense. When choosing a new rifle, it is crucial to determine what makes the best AR-15 for your use case.
Factors That Contribute to the Best AR-15
A lot goes into an AR-15, and it can be challenging to know what parts and accessories are most important when choosing the one for you. What components should you consider when determining the best AR-15 rifle for you?
Some of the most important parts of an AR-15 are the receivers, barrel, and bolt carrier group. These parts, if high quality, make for a long-lasting and reliable rifle. Parts like the barrel can significantly affect the rifle’s ability to perform in different uses. So keep your use case in mind when shopping for the best AR-15 for the money. Let’s go over some different use cases and some good ways to set them up.
When it comes to hunting two main things stick out in terms of importance, accuracy, and firepower. These stick out as it is vital to have the ability to put down your game effectively and ethically. So what features should you look for when shopping for an AR-15 for hunting.
When it comes to accuracy and repeatable accuracy the barrel profile is very important. A beefier barrel profile typically leads to less vibration in the barrel causing better barrel harmonics making for better accuracy. With a thicker profile, however, comes more weight.
As you may know, ounces turn into pounds and pounds turn into pain so keep the overall weight of the rifle in mind, especially if you tend to hike out to your favorite hunting spot.
Pairing with a thicker profile, a longer barrel is ideal for hunting. How long of a barrel should you look for when picking an AR-15 for hunting? It is recommended that you utilize a barrel that is 16” or longer. While the barrel length is not as important for accuracy it is crucial for the velocity of the round fired.
Most AR-15s are chambered in 5.56 NATO, whether or not that is the best AR caliber for hunting is a whole other discussion but overall has historically done well. If you are not aware, the 5.56 NATO cartridge was originally designed to be paired with a 20” barrel. This barrel length allows you to squeeze as much velocity out of the round as possible.
This higher velocity aids in more effectively putting down your game. If you are not planning on hunting but are rather searching for an AR-15 for self or home defense, should you set it up the same way?
Home and Self-Defense
Shifting gears from hunting, setting an AR-15 up for defensive purposes leads to a vastly different rifle. Squeezing every bit of accuracy out of the rifle becomes less important as you will typically not be taking long-range shots. So, what is important for these rifles?
For a defensive AR-15, just like an AR for hunting, some features stand out. First thing first, rail space. Why is rail space important? When setting up an AR-15 for defensive purposes there are a couple of accessories that could be deemed essential.
Having a handguard with a rail system whether that be M-LOK, KeyMod, or Picatinny allows you to host flashlights, foregrips, slings attachments, and other accessories that aid in the maneuverability of the rifle.
That brings us to number two, maneuverability. In a defensive situation, it is crucial to have an easily maneuverable rifle. There is no go-to setup for a defensive AR-15 as it only matters what works best for the user.
For example, if you want an AR-15 that is great for a so-called “truck gun” the ability to more easily conceal and maneuver inside the vehicle would be important. Going with a piston-driven AR that has the ability to fire with a folding stock or just a direct impingement AR with a folding stock adapter is a great start. Some of the best AR-15 folding stock adapters include the Law Tactical adapter and the Sylvan Arms adapter.
AR-15s for Competition
Competition whether it be USPSA, USSL, or PRS has a different goal that partially combines the needs of both hunting and defensive shooting. When it comes to looking for an AR-15 for competition you need accuracy and lightweight maneuverability. In the competition world seconds and half seconds win the game.
Just like the competitor’s strategy of balancing their speed and the accuracy of their shots, you will need to find the best balance of weight and features of the rifle. This balance is subject to the competition you take part in.
For example, barrel needs can change based on your style of competing. So what are the best AR-15 barrels for your style of competing? If all you do is close-range shooting where speed is of the highest importance, then a pencil barrel, a super lightweight rail, a large muzzle brake, and minimal accessories are the way to go.
On the other hand, if you will be moving from stationary position to stationary position while taking long-range shots like in PRS your balance will look different. For this style of competition, repeatable long-range accuracy is very important and weight is secondary as constant fast movement is not required. This may look like having a thick profile barrel that is 18” in length with a high magnification scope and accessories like a bipod. Keep in mind that a rifle barrel must be 16″ or longer. If the barrel is any shorter, you reach SBR or short-barreled rifle territory and will have to register your rifle with the ATF.
Components that significantly improve your AR-15 no matter the use case are triggers, charging handles, and muzzle devices. Are upgraded versions of these parts essential for basic function? No, but they add to what makes a rifle best for you and what you want to achieve with the AR-15.
Standard triggers, muzzle breaks, and charging handles will get the job done just fine. However, upgrading your trigger can aid in being accurate with an AR-15. Adding a muzzle brake can help reduce felt recoil, allowing for faster follow-up shots, and adding an ambidextrous charging handle improves overall ease of use.
So apart from features and upgraded parts, what makes for the best AR-15 for you? Well, the gun needs to run well and without question.
Quality and Reliability
Being able to pick up your AR-15 and know that it will go bang every time you pull the trigger is essential for any AR-15 to be considered the best.
How is this reliability achieved? Manufacturers can make reliable firearms due to a couple of factors, including the use of high-quality materials and strict QC procedures.
High-quality and robust materials like Carpenter steel for BCGs and 7075-T6 Aluminum for rails and receivers make for a strong rifle, but what makes it reliable?
Quality control is vital to a reliable AR-15. High-quality parts may make a strong rifle, but if the parts do not properly work together, it will not run. This is why manufacturers spend countless amounts of time and money on their QC procedures. That said, when looking for the best AR-15 for you, be sure the manufacturer puts their rifles through stringent QC checks.
Determining how much you can expect to spend on an AR-15 depends on what features you have concluded make the best rifle for you. If the best AR-15 for you is simple to take target shooting occasionally, you can expect to pay anywhere between $600-1200. On the other hand, if you plan on shaving as much time off your slit times in a competition, the prices can easily climb.
So, what is the best AR-15 rifle to fit your needs? As you can tell, your use case will greatly alter the type of AR-15 that would be best. As you shop for an AR-15, whether it be your first AR-15 or your tenth, keep what you want to achieve with the rifle in mind. If you will be hiking or running with the rifle as you would competing in PRS, you will want something lightweight. The weight will not be as crucial if you plan on taking more stationary shoots.