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AR-15: The Versatile Choice of Rifle Enthusiasts

Here’s all you’ve ever wanted to know about the AR-15, one of the most well-rounded rifles out there.

Gun sales have skyrocketed over the last eight years. In 2013, U.S. arms manufacturers produced 10.8 million firearms, up from 5.4 million in 2010, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Prior to 2008, there were never more than 4.4 million firearms produced domestically for commercial sales in a single year.

These numbers are more pronounced when you single out America’s most ubiquitous rifle, the AR-15. Tactical Retailer estimates there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 manufacturers of AR-15s today, when less than 30 existed in 2000.

Of course some of this was exacerbated by the 10-year federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The threat of further gun control measures has also fueled massive spikes in both AR-15 sales and prices in recent years. The market has slowed in 2016 and AR-15s are now aplenty in price ranges that fit every budget.

AR-15 Basics

Despite many companies manufacturing what the casual gun buyer refers to as an AR-15, Colt is the original and primary manufacturer. AR-15 is the semi-automatic civilian version of the fully automatic M16 used by U.S. military and NATO forces. Both gas impingement and piston-driven operating systems are available and interchangeable simply by swapping out the upper receiver.

America's Gun

The most common AR-15 chamber is the .223 Remington. Some prefer the Mil-Spec 5.56 chamber, as it can safely fire both .223 and 5.56 NATO ammunition. Though some AR-15 newbies will tell you this works the other way around as well, it’s not a good idea.

Granted, 5.56 will shoot through the .223 chamber, the higher pressure of the previous and smaller chamber of the latter can cause numerous issues, with the worst possible outcome being a cracked upper receiver. When purchasing an AR-15, make certain the barrel is properly stamped — do not take a gun seller or manual’s word for it.

AR-15s are popular because of their versatility and accuracy. The political term “assault rifle” is inaccurate to describe the AR-15, since it is not fully automatic. AR-15s are sports rifles that are no more powerful than other rifles of the same caliber.

AR-15 with smoke coming from its chamber as another round is chambered ** Note: Slight graininess, best at smaller sizes

Only registered M16 owners can legally convert an AR-15 to give it three-shot burst or full automatic capabilities. There are, however, drop-in triggers with “positive reset” that provide a fully automatic feel to AR-15s that don’t require additional licensing.

Hunting and Self-Defense

Most people think of AR-15s solely as self-defense weapons. But because of their versatility, they are one of the best hunting rifles on the market.

When you think of rifling in an AR-15 barrel, think of throwing a football with that perfect spiral. The rifling, or twist, inside the barrel is what causes the bullet to spin and ultimately be more accurate when shot. Twist rates for AR-15s typically range from 1:7 to 1:12; the latter meaning the bullet spins one full rotation through 12 inches of barrel.

The lower the bullet weight (grain), the higher twist rate you’ll want for accuracy. For instance, 40-grain ammunition for squirrel or rabbit hunting would require the highest twist for maximum accuracy. Changing the longer barrel for small game to a shorter one for bigger game is easy and requires only a barrel wrench and receiver block.

Accessories

Once you have the AR-15 lower receiver, parts and accessories can be purchased to customize it.

An AR-15 rifle on a generic camoulage background

Start by replacing the standard A2 grip with a Hogue Rubber Monogrip or Magpul Rail Vertical. A less common but important modification new AR-15 owners should consider are anti-rotational trigger and hammer pins. Rotating pins wear out over time and enlarge the hole they’re housed in. This could ultimately lead them to break or come lose.

Once you get comfortable shooting your AR-15, you can decide whether a fixed or collapsible stock is right for you.

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AR-15: The Versatile Choice of Rifle Enthusiasts