The Most AR-15 Bang For Your Buck: Finding The Best AR-15 For The Money
The AR-15 market is a hot one and it has been for years. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of manufacturers out there. With different materials and feature combinations, it can be a tricky world to navigate. So, let’s dive in and examine what you should look for when shopping to make sure you find the best AR-15 for the money.
The AR (which stands for ArmaLite Rifle) is America’s most popular rifle for good reason. In the mid 1950’s the government asked Eugene Stoner to downsize his AR-10 rifle to fire the 5.56 cartridge in hopes that the US military would adopt the ArmaLite as its rifle of choice. Eventually it did, but only after ArmaLite sold the patents and plans to Colt. Colt eventually tweaked the design into the M16.
The AR has served the US military in some form or another ever since. There’s no doubt that has certainly helped the rifle’s popularity.
When the initial patents expired in the mid 70’s, other manufacturers started to produce the rifles. From there, capitalism did what it does best! Today there is a competitive niche in the firearms industry that surrounds the AR-15. There are guns available from companies big and small and everything in between. Models vary in more than just color. They range from Plain Jane and inexpensive to highly customized and pricey.
The Start of Your AR-15 Search
For the average consumer, selecting the AR-15 that is right for them can be a daunting task. AR-15 prices vary widely, even for rifles that seem to have similar features and accessories. That makes finding the best AR-15 for your money quite a challenge. No one wants to waste money on something they don’t need, but at the same time we can all think of an experience when we wish we would have followed the “buy once, cry once” philosophy.
So a fundamental question exists for those who are thinking about purchasing an AR-15: What makes a good AR-15 a good AR-15?
In order to find an answer, I talked with three experts. When these gentlemen talked, I listened. Not only are they smart guys with loads of experience, but right now it is a buyer’s market and I am in the mood for a new rifle!
Here is what they had to say:
AR-15 Value Is Similar To Value In Cars
In the gun industry we make a lot of comparisons to cars. Sometimes those comparisons are a bit off and other times they hit their mark. When it comes to buying the right AR-15 I think there is some wisdom that can be gained by comparing the purchase to buying a car. When we are shopping for a new daily driver we need to look at our purpose for the car and then select the right car for the job. It is the same when buying an AR-15. Consider what your use is and then buy the rifle that fits that use.
Grant Allen knows what it takes for a rifle to do its job. He is a retired law enforcement officer who used his personal duty rifle to stop a gunman while he was still on the job. Allen described his thoughts in car terms. That makes perfect sense as his shop, The FiringLine, is a metro Detroit area FFL dealer and indoor range.
“An AR-15 is like a car. Some like a Mustang and some prefer the Camaro. Is there really that much of a difference?” asked Allen.
He continued, “If it is a tool you are betting your life on? Then it probably makes sense to invest a little bit more.”
Allen talked about sports cars but I’ll take it a step further. Some folks need a Corolla, others a minivan or an SUV, while others might select a pick-up. We make a car selection based on a variety of factors. What we NEED, what we WANT, and, let’s face it, what we can AFFORD. Your AR-15 selection should probably consider these areas as well.
Your Experience & Plans Matter
You might also factor in your level of experience with the AR-15 or guns in general. A new driver might be enthralled with a Porsche 911 GT2 RS but if their main goal is to get to school and back safely when it’s snowing out, a used Subaru Forester might be a better choice.
When it comes to the AR-15, the concept is the same. There is no sense in spending money that you aren’t going to put to use. If you are new to guns, it might make sense to buy a middle of the road rifle that can do it all reasonably well. From there, you can always make upgrades to parts or the whole rifle when you have a better understanding.
Grant’s favorite wheels are from BG Defense. Think of the BG Type-A rifle as a Mustang with a few nice aftermarket upgrades including a full cerakote job from the factory.
Some AR-15’s need to be able to go ANYWHERE and do ANYTHING.
Some folks are generalists while others are demanding users. I depend on a truck with serious tires and four wheel drive to deal with the winters in NE Ohio. A truck plows through the mud and rough terrain I come across at the ranges I frequently visit. In turn, I sacrifice some comfort on the road and fuel economy. I’m also not surprised when I plow right through some kind of a mess or when I fill up sooner than most. I have enough experience to know what I need and what I give up in return.
Some shooters are the same way: demanding users who expect their tools to perform regardless of the situation. The shooters who show up at Alliance Police Training Facility tend to be that way.
Cory Hupp spends his free time teaching on the range and in the shoot house at Alliance. When I say free time, I mean it. Cory doesn’t get paid. He is a volunteer and logs hundreds of hours working with students and their rifles. He has seen what it takes for a rifle to make it through a stressful, high-round count course.
According to Hupp, “When you spend more on an AR-15, say $1800, you get a couple of important things. You can expect better customer service (if you need it) and you know you’ll get better parts. Most importantly you get parts that are proven to work well together. Like the gas system. For that kind of money it will be midlength, properly tuned, and it will run.”
Selecting the right rifle gets easier with experience. Just like driving in winter or off road, getting stuck helps to teach you what you can do to avoid the pitfalls and what tools are going to bail you out. Pushing your gear WILL lead to failures and those moments will be instructive if you are paying attention. We simply want to make sure we push to failure while training so that we avoid the cost of lessons when the chips are down.
If you know you are going to run your gear hard you might take Hupp’s advice and make the investment in a high-end rifle right off the bat. Cory would tell you that Bravo Company Manufacturing is the way to go for an AR-15. A BCM is going to deal with anything.
An $800 AR doesn’t have to be junk!
It’s easy to enter the AR-15 market at the low end and learn hard lessons as we go. Although it will sting in the pocket book, you can take the opposite tact and go top of the line right out of the gate.
Or you could take Deryck Poole’s advice.
Deryck is the owner of Echo 5 Training Group and spends his time training everyday folks to efficiently use firearms in self-defense. Deryck has a practical approach to AR-15s. He’ll probably shirk away from my car comparison since he is a Toyota FJ kinda guy, but I think it fits nonetheless. According to Road & Track, if you need one car to do it all, a Jeep Grand Cherokee might be the right course. In the same vein, if you need a rifle to do it all, a capable, middle of the road blaster might be just what you need.
Poole, a Marine who knows the AR-15 well, looks at it this way: “An $800 AR doesn’t have to be junk; a great example is the M&P Sport. For less than a grand you can get into a rifle that has the features of a more expensive rifle. It probably uses some lower quality parts, but for most people, most of the time, it will get the job done.”
A Jeep SUV isn’t cheap, but it’s not luxurious either. It’s a solid middle of the road vehicle that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks just like the large number of mid priced AR’s out there.
As much as Deryck’s clients appreciate his conservative advice, the value of a more refined AR-15 isn’t lost on him.
“When you spend more money you should get a higher quality free float barrel with a solid muzzle device. The gun will have a one piece MLOK handguard to make attachment of accessories easy. You’ll benefit from an upgraded trigger and some ambidextrous controls like a charging handle and safety selector. You’d probably expect a more ergonomic pistol grip and stock. Once you hit the $1800 or higher range, you would expect a billet upper and lower with some attempt to make the rifle lighter.”
If Poole needed to recommend a rifle that delivered maximum bang for the buck he would send his students looking for a Patriot Ordnance Factory Wonder.
What Is The Best AR-15 For The Money?
That is the million dollar question, isn’t it? It pairs nicely with the question we set out to answer: What makes a good AR-15 a good AR-15?
The answers are going to be as unique as the shooters who ask them and are a bit rhetorical.
At the same time, when we look at the viewpoint of three experts we can see a bit of a convergence. If your rifle is going to be a tool you need to depend on, something for duty use or home defense, it makes sense to skew your choice toward the quality end of the spectrum. An inexpensive rifle might serve you well in a pinch, but we can’t afford to learn the hard lessons when it counts. Head to the middle of the pack or better. Make sure you have room left in the budget for dependable accessories and invest in quality training to make sure you are as capable as your gear.