- First a little AR10/15 History
- A troubled Start for the AR rifle
- Today’s AR15 and AR10 rifles
- AR Rifle Differences
- Other Considerations for choosing a rifle caliber
- AR Pistol Calibers
- Long Range shooting with an AR type rifle
- AR15 and AR10 Barrels and Barrel lengths
- Other Barrel Designations
- How do I choose a barrel type when buying a rifle?
- Choosing a Barrel length
- What is twist Rate
- Let the Bullet Choice Drive the barrel selection
- Sighting systems for the AR15 and AR10 Models
- The cost of purchasing an AR15 or AR10
- Upgrades and choices
How to choose the right AR15 or AR10 type rifle from the huge available selection can be a really daunting task. The AR Type rifle is America’s favorite rifle. Because of that, there is a huge selection of rifles and manufacturers of rifles to choose from. In this article, we will try to break down some of the differences between manufacturers and versions of this popular rifle platform. As well as give you some choices of rifles to buy.
First a little AR10/15 History
Eugene Stoner designed the AR platform. While he was working for the Armalite company in Long Beach California. The AR actually stands for “Armalite Rifle”, not “Assault Rifle” as many people think it does. The first design of rifle that resembles the AR15 we know today was the AR10 model. Designed in 1955 the AR10 was chambered in 7.62 NATO. In 1956 the rifle was submitted to the US Army for evaluation but was passed over in favor of the M14 rifle.
In 1960 the US military requested a rifle for testing chambered in the .223 Remington cartridge. Robert Fremont and Jim Sullivan redesigned the AR 10 at the Armalite factory. The new rifle was chambered in 5.56 NATO. They renamed it the AR15. The US Military adopted the rifle in 1963 and designated the rifle the M16A1. Shortly after the rifle was approved by the US Military, the rights to the design of the rifle were sold to the Colt Manufacturing Company. Colt produced the rifles for both military and civilian ownership.
A troubled Start for the AR rifle
The new rifles were far from refined at this stage. Early on they were plagued with troubles. One of the biggest issues was the claim that the rifles did not need to be cleaned. This resulted in rifles that could not sustain firing without constant stoppages. The other issue faced at this time was the environment in South East Asia were the Vietnam conflict was taking place. With high humidity and moisture, a chambered round could become corroded to the chamber. When fired the round would discharge but would not eject.
Cleaning kits solved the operational issues. As soldiers were able to maintain their rifles. Also, the barrels had a chrome liner installed. This helped to prevent corrosion issues.
Today’s AR15 and AR10 rifles
Fast forward to today and the AR platform has come a long way. The number of available rifles has just exploded. Not to mention the accessory market. Today you can pretty much customize your rifle to look and feel just about any way you want to. But if your new to the AR platform where do you start?
The first question I always ask is “What do you want to use it for”, followed by “how often will you use it”. These two questions are going to be the biggest direction indicators that you can start with.
AR Rifle Differences
To understand the usage question, you have to understand the amount of choice there is in the AR platform. As far as calibers go there are currently 68 different available calibers for the AR 15 and 38 for the AR 10 platform. Choosing the right caliber is going to be based on what you want to use the rifle for.
By far the most popular caliber would be the original 5.56 NATO caliber in the AR15 models. The 5.56 ammunition is easily available and has a very mild recoil. The round is basically a high power .22 caliber. The small bullet has an effective range of about 300 to 400 yards. The hunting usages for this cartridge are going to be somewhat limited to Varmints and smaller game. It is, however, a great round for target shooting and general plinking because of the availability of low-cost ammunition.
Other Considerations for choosing a rifle caliber
If you plan on using the rifle for larger game like Deer or Elk, then you are going to better served choosing the AR10 platform. Although the AR15 does have some calibers in its lineup that are capable of taking larger game, you will be better served by the larger AR10 platform. In the AR10 you can use calibers like the .308 Winchester and the
AR Pistol Calibers
Another popular trait of the AR platform right now is pistol calibers. Pistol rounds like the 9 mm and .45 ACP offer less recoil than the already very light 5.56 cartridge. Pistol calibers are a good choice for a home defense application. When choosing any firearm for home defense you should always consider the power of the cartridge you are using. A 5.56 NATO bullet is leaving the barrel at 3000 to 3400 feet per second. It can easily penetrate interior walls including studs, striking someone in another part of the house.
If you use a pistol cartridge that is traveling between 1000 to 1500 feet per second, there is less chance of a bullet ending up where it should not. You still need to be aware of where the muzzle is pointed. Remember drywall will not stop any bullet. Using a frangible type of bullet that is designed to break up when it impacts a surface is also a good idea.
Long Range shooting with an AR type rifle
There are a number of cartridges in the AR’s line that are compatible with long-range shooting. Loads like the 6.5 Grendel and the new Hornady 6 mm ARC round are excellent candidates for long-range target shooting in the AR15 platform.
The AR10 may be a better choice though for longer range shots. There are approximately 38 different AR10 compatible cartridges. These vary from the .220 Swift to the .510 Winchester Short magnum; these also include the .308 Winchester and
AR15 and AR10 Barrels and Barrel lengths
One of the next choices that you will be faced with is going to be barrel type, and length. Things like barrel length and contour will all play a part in the expected use and cost of the rifle. Generally speaking, a lighter weight shorter barrel will be less accurate at longer ranges than a heavyweight longer barrel.
There are 4 main types of barrels, not factoring length
Pencil Barrel: the first and smallest in diameter of all barrels. It is available in different lengths. This barrel will work just fine for most shooters. The drawback of this barrel is that it will heat up quickly with sustained fire. But unless you are planning on using it in a full auto this is not going to an issue for 99% of shooters. One of the benefits of this barrel is that it is lighter making the rifle easier to point and lighter to carry.
Government Profile: The US Marine Corps requested that the barrel thickness be increased. To better withstand the heat from sustained fire as well as general duty. However, the barrel thickness was only increased from the front sight post forward. This also adds more weight to the front of the rifle.
M4 Profile: The M4 and the Government profiles are very similar with the main difference being the notch in the barrel just forward of the gas block. This was for mounting the 40 mm Grenade launcher. Not really a concern for most of us
Heavy barrels: Also known as HBAR barrels. These are as the name implies heavy and thicker barrels. Heavy barreled rifles are usually used for long-range shooting. This is due to their ability to stay fairly rigid, and slow to absorb heat. Heavy barrels are typically longer in design. This allows for greater muzzle velocities that will help in long-range shooting.
Other Barrel Designations
There are also other types of barrel profiles that have emerged.
- DMR: Designated Marksman Rifle profile.
- SPR: Special Purpose Rifle.
- SPR/Heavy: Special Purpose Heavy Barrel
- DRP: Distinct Rigid Pattern
The biggest difference with the above barrels is they are all typically heavier in design. These barrels are going to be more accurate than a standard barrel profile. All of these barrels can have different twist rates which will affect the type and size bullet used in the barrel.
How do I choose a barrel type when buying a rifle?
Just like choosing a caliber picking a barrel type when buying a rifle is going to come down to your expected use. To use for long-range shooting you will pick a rifle most likely with a Heavy barrel profile and a longer length. If you plan to just shoot at the 100-yard range or plinking, then a standard M4 or Government profile will suit you just fine.
One of the big advantages of the AR platforms both in the AR10 and AR15 designs is that the barrels are easy to change. And there is such a wide selection of barrels available today, that if you find a rifle that is a great price but does not have the barrel you want you can always change it later.
Choosing a Barrel length
As I touched on earlier in this article barrels are available in a lot of varying lengths. In the rifle category, the 16” barrel is going to be the most common. This is because Federal law states that 16″ is the minimum length barrel to be a rifle. To buy something shorter you will either need to buy an AR pistol or an SBR, (Short Barrel Rifle). Buying an SBR is a lot more difficult as it will require a Federal $200 Tax stamp and can take from 6 to 18 months for that to be approved. It may also not be legal in your state.
A 16” barrel will easily be able to shoot out to 400 yards and beyond with a reasonable amount of accuracy. If you are looking to go further than that then and stay with the 5.56 NATO round, then I would be looking at something in the 20” Heavy barrel range. I have a Colt HBAR Match rifle with a 20” 5.56 NATO barrel that reliably hits at 800 M
If using a different caliber, I would start by looking at the ballistics of that caliber. That is going to tell you what the best barrel length for that bullet is going to be. The same is going to be for the twist rate of the barrel.
What is twist Rate
The twist rate of a barrel is responsible for how fast the bullet is spun while in the barrel. This is the job of the rifling in the barrel. The twist rate is stated as a ratio. For Example 1:9. What this means is that the bullet will make one complete revolution in 9 inches of barrel. So, to break that down in a 16” barrel the bullet will be spun approximately 1 and 3/4 revolutions before leaving the barrel.
The purpose of spinning the bullet in the barrel is to help stabilize it in flight. However, not all bullets need to be pun at the same rate. In fact, using the wrong bullet with the wrong twist rate can end up resulting in very poor accuracy.
This is where your intended use of the rifle is going to come into play again in making the right choice. If you are going to be shooting long-range typically the type of bullet used will be longer. This is because a longer heavier bullet will be more stable in flight. This makes it more accurate over a longer distance. However, most of the military surplus and cheaper ammunition uses a much shorter projectile.
Let the Bullet Choice Drive the barrel selection
There are three common twist rates used on the AR15 rifles in the 5.56/223 cartridge. They are 1:7, 1:8, and 1:9 each barrel is going to perform differently depending on the bullet.
- 1:7 twist rate is generally used with longer bullets and is generally considered as a long-range barrel twist rate.
- 1:8 twist rate is designed as a catch-all and is often used with the .223 Wylde chamber. It is supposed to be able to shoot just about anything with reasonable accuracy.
- 1:9 twist rate is more designed for the smaller bullets like the 55 Grain 5.56 NATO round.
The good thing to know is that is not usually a safety concern using the wrong bullet for the twist rate. It is instead going to have an effect on the rifle’s accuracy. Just to put things in perspective the Military surplus 5.56 Ammunition is going to average around $0.25 to $0.35 a round and should be used with a 1:9 twist barrel. Ammunition used for long-range shooting will cost between $0.95 to $1.05 a round and should use the 1:7 twist rate.
Sighting systems for the AR15 and AR10 Models
The choice of sighting systems can affect the type of rifle that you buy. Just like everything else the AR platform offers a lot of choices. The early AR 15 and AR 10 rifles had the rear sight housed in a carry handle. The front sight is also part of the barrel’s gas block. This is a robust style of sighting system. And built to stand up to the military’s use requirements. Although his style of sight set up is rather limiting.
A better choice would be to pick a rifle that has a Picatinny rail as part of the upper receiver. By using a Picatinny rail you can still use an open type sight or mount an optic type sight to the rifle. The front site can still be left as a standard “A” frame sight if desired. And it will usually not interfere with the operation of a different type of sighting system.
The cost of purchasing an AR15 or AR10
There is a huge range in pricing on the AR-type rifles. You can find some priced around $550 and then on the same page see rifles priced well into the thousands. My advice would be when starting out buy the best brand name rifle in the style you want for the budget you can afford. Like I have said throughout this article is that these rifles are highly customizable. And anyone with basic skills can change things likes the grips, the furniture, or even the entire upper.
As long as the lower receiver is a good quality build, you can always add on to it as you progress in your shooting. In the list below I review some of the different rifles in different price ranges and with different usages. It is by a long way not an all-inclusive list, but with so many choices out there it is hard to review them all.
This is also where the question of “how much do you intend to use it” question will factor in. If your plans are just for the occasional trip to the range, then buying a cheaper rifle will serve you just fine. But if you plan to shoot a lot, then spending a little more for a higher quality rifle is going to be more appropriate.
Upgrades and choices
In this article, I have tried to cover the major differences when buying your first AR rifle. There is still so much more to it. Choices like triggers, bolt assemblies, and stocks are all things that you can learn about once you have some trigger time under your belt. The goal of this is to get you out and shooting as soon as possible.
See our choice for Budget rifles Below
1st Choice S&W M&P15 Rifle
The Smith and Wesson M&P Range of Rifles are reasonably priced and are a good quality rifle to start with. Prices range between $660 to $750 dollars, (at the time of release)
2nd Choice DPMS – 5.56 ORACLE A3 16″ RIFLE
DPMS has had this model out for a while now. it is a budget type AR but is still a good rifle for the money. These rifles will typically sell for around $500 to $600 dollars. We have also seen them on sale for as low as $359 with a mail-in rebate.
Mid range and up selections for AR15 and AR10 Models
1st choice RUGER – AR-556® MPR 5.56 18″
The Ruger AR-556 MPR is a slightly updated rifle that is still priced under the $1000 price range. It comes with an 18″ barrel with a 1:8 twist. This makes the barrel very versatile and increases the range of available Ammo it can shoot. The rifle also comes with a free-floating handguard, up-dated trigger, and bolt assembly, and Magpul grip and stock. Overall for the money a nice rifle.
2nd Choice FN – FN15 COMPETITION 18 IN 5.56X45MM NATO
FN has produced more battle-proven rifles and firearms than any other manufacturers. The FN15 comes with as 18-inch alloy-steel, cold hammer-forged, and chrome-lined match grade barrel with SureFire ProComp-556 muzzle brake. It also includes a Mega Arms 16-inch rail system, Magpul MOE® furniture, and a Timney Competition single-stage trigger. Just add a sighting system and you are ready to go with this rifle. The FN15 retails for around the $2000 mark
3rd Choice WILSON COMBAT – AR-10 SUPER SNIPER
Wilson Combat has been building precision rifles and pistols since 1977 and is well known for a quality product. This AR10 rifle comes ready to go out of the box with a bunch of upgrades. These include a Billet Upper (Flat-Top) and Billet Lower Receiver, Wilson Combat Super Sniper Match Grade Barrel, Rifle Length Gas System with Lo-Profile Gas Block, 5/8”x24 Threaded Muzzle with Thread Protector (On Threaded Barrel Versions), Wilson Combat 14.6” M-LOK® Rail, Wilson Combat/BCM Starburst Gunfighter Grip, Black, Wilson/Rogers Super-Stoc®, Wilson Combat TTU (Tactical Trigger Unit) M2, 4#, Premium Bolt Carrier Assembly with a Nickel Boron treatment applied, Standard Buffer with 40 Coil Chrome Silicon Flat Wire Buffer Spring, Armor-Tuff® Finish applied over Mil-Spec Hard Anodized Upper/Lower Receivers
Definetely a high end rifle retailing round the $3000 mark without any optics
AR15 pistol platforms
1st Choice Ruger AR-556 PISTOL
Just like the Ruger AR-556 rifle, this is a great little pistol from Ruger. It comes with a price point right around $820 and comes with a lot of upgraded parts.
2nd Choice Springfield Armory Saint Pistol
This AR pistol is based on the Springfield Armory’s AR rifle of the same name. The SAINT® Pistol features a 9.6″ barrel and is built with military-grade components from B5 Systems. With its Type 23 P-Grip, enlarged trigger guard, and slim yet rugged M-Lok® handguard, the SAINT Pistol with B5 Systems furniture makes it any easy pistol to use. This pistol retails around the $750 mark.
There are a lot of choices out there, don’t let them overwhelm you. Choose the best rifle you can for your budget and things will work out just fine.
Be safe and get out and shoot often.