The great Obama AR-15 Sale of 2013 is over, sort of. Yes, fears about political shenanigans like green tip 5.56mm ammo bans and other nonsensical moves are driving sales, but we’ve moved on from the time when there were no ARs of any type available on the shelves. In fact, as the market has chilled a bit, prices also have chill-axed, so there are lots and lots of good deals out there.
During the boom, everyone who owned a pair of Vise Grips got into the AR manufacturing business. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does, however, make it a lot harder for prospective buyers to know which companies know how to make a quality rifle and which recently shifted production from selfie sticks to AR-15s. Even when we filter out the companies that recycle aluminum foil burrito wrappers into bolt carrier groups, there are still a ton of great deals out there, so this list is just a starting point. Space limits us to five, so rather than get all cranky that your rifle isn’t listed here, leave a range report on your best pick in the comments.
Let’s clear up one other thing right off the bat. For this list, I am going to eke every available dollar of extra features and quality by using an actual street price limit of $1,000 rather than the often inflated manufacturer’s suggested retail price. That will let me squeak in a few entries with an MSRP over our $1,000 limit.
With that said, here’s my top 5 list of the best AR-15s for the money.
1. Smith & Wesson M&P15 OR
The OR part of the name stands for “Optics Ready” and it certainly is. This one makes my list because you get a solid rifle, prepared for optics and back-up iron sights, without any frills or stuff to remove before you get started customizing. It comes with a receiver-length rail, and the gas block is also a short rail segment that is the exact height of the receiver rail. This makes mounting permanent or flip-up iron sights easy. While it’s not that hard to remove a fixed front sight gas block, I’d just as soon do without one in the first place.
It’s got a 16-inch barrel with 1:9 rifling, so it’s perfectly appropriate for the most common 5.56mm bullet weights. The bore, chamber, and bolt carrier are all chromed for durability. The trigger is heavy, but not gritty. It’s fine in its default configuration, at least until you get an itch to put in a match-grade replacement.
The net-net of this rifle is that it’s a good mix of bare bones features, but all the core components are good for long term use. You don’t pay for things you’re likely to customize or replace anyway, so it’s a great platform to customize over time. MSRP of the 811003 model is $1,069, but I see them online for a little over $890.
2. Rock River Arms LAR-15 Entry Tactical
I’ve been using and abusing two different rifles from Rock River Arms for the past couple of years, and both have passed the time test. They make good gear. While most LAR-15 models will break the $1,000 price barrier, you can get a deal on the LAR-15 Entry Tactical.
This one includes a Wylde chamber, so you can shoot both 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington without sacrificing accuracy. The 16-inch barrel is chrome moly treated for long life, and the pistol grip is a Hogue rubberized upgrade. It comes with the standard Rock River Arms two-stage trigger.
You can find one for less than $950.
3. Colt LE6920 Carbine
Not so long ago, leaving a Colt out of the top five AR rifles list would have been considered a cardinal sin. Considering Colt’s struggle to remain a viable and profitable arms manufacturer, there’s a case to be made to leave this rifle off the list. How can you recommend a product that may or may not be available a few months down the road?
However, the LE6920 is a reputable rifle, and the AR-15 design has become so standardized that there is little risk in buying this gun. Even if Colt does fade away, it’s not as if replacement parts and service will ever be an issue.
This one is just a tad heavier than our other picks, weighing in at a hair less than seven pounds—which many would consider a benefit. It’s got the standard A2-type gas block and front sight and Magpul MBUS in the back.
Coincidentally, after I turned in the first draft of this article, I went to the range and in the lane next to me a South Carolina Highway Patrolman was shooting his brand new, you guessed it, Colt LE6920. He ended up getting a model geared up with Magpul accessories, but that’s exactly the point of this article. Get a rock-solid basic rifle that has quality core components like barrel, receiver, bolt and carrier group. You can upgrade and accessorize over time as budget allows.
Its MSRP is $999 and you’ll find it for less on the street.
4. Sig Sauer M400 SRP
Like the Smith & Wesson M&P15 OR, the Sig M400 SRP (Sight Ready Platform) is designed to be optics ready. Also like the Smith & Wesson, it does not come with iron sights under the assumption that if you buy this one, you want every dollar to go into the rifle platform itself and not parts you may not use.
One thing I like about this particular rifle is that the barrel twist rate is 1:7, which allows the use of longer (and, therefore, heavier) bullets. The faster twist rate will properly stabilize 75- and 77-grain projectiles. In my testing, I’ve not found 1:7 twist rates to have any observable negative impact on normal 55-grain projectile accuracy.
There are a couple of other things I like about this particular rifle. The barrel is nitride-finished for fantastic corrosion resistance and durability. You’ll also notice that it comes with a Sig pistol grip, which I like quite a bit more than the standard mil-spec grip most ARs have. MSRP is $1,054, but if you dig online, you can find them for about $910.
5. CMMG Mk4 T
This one makes the list for its looks and performance. Better yet, you get some advanced features for the money. The barrel is free-floated and is surrounded by the CMMG RKM11 KeyMod handguard. I’ve recently started using a CMMG Mk4 rifle with this handguard, and it’s fantastic. The KeyMod system allows direct attachment of KeyMod-compatible accessories and short Picatinny rail segments only where you need them. The result is a handguard that is slim and light. All the Picatinny rail slots that you probably won’t ever use aren’t there to add weight and mess up your hands.
Unlike other models featured here, this one has a full-length rail on top for maximum flexibility in optics and accessory placement. The KeyMod holes are available on the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions of the handguard. You can find this rifle for about $900.
Since it is so close to our completely arbitrary price limit, I have to mention the FNH USA FN 15 Carbine. The folks at FN make billions and billions of rifles and machine guns for our folks in uniform and are now going after the commercial market with a vengeance. While the production lines are separate between commercial and military orders, the processes, raw materials, and machinery are the same, so if you pick up an FN 15 you are getting a true “mil-spec” AR-15. Look for a feature highlighting a full FN factory tour coming up soon right here at OutdoorHub.
If you shop, you can find an FN 15 for about $1,029, ever so close to our budget limit for this list.
Those are my picks, what say you?
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.