Eugene Stoner’s Armalite Rifle, design number 15, has quickly become one of the most adaptive hunting and shooting rifles on the market. An inherently accurate platform, the AR-15 has become widely produced and highly demanded. This demand has pushed manufacturers to produce budget-friendly versions of the design. These lower-cost ARs are great rifles by the themselves, or they offer a solid starting point for a custom build.
Owners of these firearms can swap out just about every part of the rifle to personalize it for taste and function. One of the first thing AR owners tend to add is an optic. Red-dot sights are popular for close-quarters shooting. The AR is one of the better home defense options, and a red-dot sight is perfect for this application. You can also use one for hunting purposes, too. Another option is a more traditional scope, and there are several that were designed just for the AR platform and the .223/5.56 round.
Other areas you can customize include the stock and handguard, which can help fit the rifle to you. You can also add a foregrip, which can help steady the rifle when shooting at targets or game. And don’t forget extra magazines, and all the other accessories such as cleaning kits, cases and much more.
The Ruger AR-556 (above) sells for $699.99 and is Sturm Ruger’s entry into the budget AR arena. Ruger is one of the oldest rifle manufacturers in the nation. They were late coming into the AR market, but in typical Ruger fashion, they came in with a well thought out design that is basically flawless. Unlike Ruger’s initial AR, the gas-piston driven SR-556, the AR-556 is a direct impingement design, like other lower-cost rifles. The AR-556 has a 16-inch cold-forged barrel with 1:8 rifling. There is a six-position telescoping stock, or a fixed stock depending on where you are, and a basic handguard, an elevation-adjustable front sight and Rapid Deploy folding rear sight. The Made-in-USA Ruger comes with either a 10- or 30-round Magpul PMAG magazine, depending on local ordinances. It is an accurate and well-built rifle, and is available at a price that has made it a highly sought-after commodity.
Smith and Wesson is also one of the more storied names in firearms manufacturing. Known for legendary quality and innovation, S&W put a lot of thought into the design of the M&P 15 Sport II Semiautomatic Tactical Rifles (above), which sell for $699.99. The M&P name has been part of the company for decades, and recently it has come to represent a line of outstanding AR-platform rifles. The Sport II features a 1:9 twist, 16-inch 4140 steel barrel with Armornite finish that withstands a ton of abuse and lots of rounds down range. Adding to the durability is a chrome-lined gas key and bolt carrier. S&W went with a 7075 T6 aluminum receiver and fitting the M&P with Magpul sights and magazines. Like many other ARs, the stock is a six-position adjustable, or a fixed stock, depending on where you are. As you’d expect from S&W, the M&P 15 Sport II is made in the USA.
The Bushmaster QRC Quick Response Carbine Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle with Mini Red Dot (above) sells for $699.99 and comes with a 1:8 twist 16-inch Melonite treated barrel. Of course, you’ll also notice it comes with a 3 MOA mini red-dot sight. Much of the standard features are things you’d expect on an AR at this price point. Bushmaster sells more AR-platform rifles than any other company and has long been one of the leaders in design. The American-made QRC is designed as a rifle you can grab and shoot quickly, but it has proven to be accurate at longer ranges, too.
DPMS Oracle Semiautomatic Tactical Rifles (above) are reasonably priced at $599.99 and provide the very basics of what you’d need for an AR-platform, but with the quality you’d expect as well. DPMS has built a reputation on bringing quality, lower cost rifles to the market. The Oracle is an optics-ready carbine that has no sights. This keeps the cost lower and allows you to start from a blank slate. Of course, the slate is pretty nice. The Oracle’s features are pretty standard for most AR-platforms, but overall, the quality is excellent. There is a 1:9 twist, 16-inch chromoly barrel and both the upper and lower receivers are 7029 T6 aluminum alloy. This means the Oracle weighs in at only 6.4 pounds.
The Armalite Eagle 15 Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle (above) sells for only $619.99, and it’s the latest offering from the company that first brought us the design. Armalite as a company has been through many changes, and the Eagle brand celebrates the company that formed in the mid-1980s as a rebirth of the Armalite brand. Under Eagle, Armalite has developed a line of budget-friendly AR platform rifles, of which the Eagle 15 is the flagship model. It combines the legendary quality and manufacturing excellence of Armalite, with a value-based configuration aimed at providing you with an affordable general-purpose rifle. It has a 1:8 twist, 16-inch barrel and aluminum alloy receivers. Better still, owning one is like owning a little piece of the history of the AR-platform.
P.S. A note about barrel twist: So what’s the deal with the different barrel twist rates? Long-range shooting calls for a heavier bullet in the .223/5.56. You’ll get better penetration for hunting, too. A look at common ammo loads will show 62-grain and 77-grain being the most common heavier .223 bullets. Generally speaking, and obviously your results may vary, 62-grain bullets prefer a rate of twist around 1:8, and 77-grain bullets weights favor a 1:7 twist rate. The most common bullet for the .223 will weigh 55-grains, and the rule of thumb says a 1:9 twist rate will perform the best. The best thing to do is to buy several different types of ammo with various bullets and then head to the range. A little trigger time will help you find which round works best with your new AR. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun, which is why we do it in the first place.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s
Shooting range photo courtesy of DPMS; product images courtesy of Cabela’s