We all know there is a plethora of makes and models, variations and variants out there. I will shine a light on what I think is the best. That might give you a little help and guidance when you embark on the journey to your first AR15.

Let’s start with the simple question, why you need to have a rifle in order to defend yourself. The answer is simple: range and power. If you want to hit anything further away than the length of your arm under stress while being attacked, a rifle offers you a much more stable platform. You will be able to hit further and faster. We all carry handguns not because they are the best but because they are handy. However, this leaves us with pretty weak bullets. A rifle changes that picture. It is less comfortable to carry but much better to stop an attack come what may.

If you need a rifle, why an AR15? Because it is the best bang for your buck. It starts with being cheaper than many other options. It is more precise than cheaper options, and it has the best ergonomics. This all did not happen by accident.

AR15 are the best developed rifles because the serve in the military. This means, they are built in great numbers what brings the price down. Also, they are intended to be less expensive. And they come with the best ergonomics as they have to suit a lot of different shooters in a lot of bad conditions.

The standard AR15, while being definitely related to the military M4 and M16, is not completely a military weapon, but a civilian version of such a gun. You see that in the fact that your AR15 does not have a full automatic capability. While many think that is a downside it is actually an upside. Full auto is just a waste of ammo. In fact, most soldiers are trained to use only semi, and the US military had the trigger group set up to shoot 3 round bursts instead of full auto in many version Shooting semi-automatic allows you to aim much better. Even if you go spray and pray and pull the trigger again and again, you still hit better as you know when each shot will come.

Also, the M4 and M16 are symbols of the might of the US military and they stand for the freedom of us all. It is just cool to have that symbol in your own hands.

Did I mention that it is very ergonomic? This does not only provide you with a good feel, but also with a fast target acquisition and good recoil management. This is further enhanced with the 5.56×45 round which does kick only very little.

Then there is the modularity of the design. An AR15 consists of two main parts which have all the rest attached to them. These are the lower receiver and the upper receiver, also just called the lower and the upper. Only the lower is the actual firearm as far as the law is concerned. It is serialized and you can swap out the upper as much as you want without having to deal with any additional paperwork.

To the upper and the lower, you attach all the toys and gadgets, all the upgrades and customization parts, that you want, like, or feel are necessary. Also, you can even change the caliber. You can go with the 556 or .223, which are both in many regards the same, although there are some small differences, or the .300 BLK, 22LR or .50 Beowulf. All you need to do is swap the upper.

Apart from the caliber, you have tons of options for aftermarket products. Choose wisely not only to get the best product but also to not add to much. Everything you attach to your gun will increase its wait and often enough it’s bulk. Also, more significantly, it will get you stigmatized as mall ninja or tacticool. Do not add parts simply for a cool look but parts that make sense for increasing the performance. Of course, in the end, it is your gun and if you want to attach a TV set and microwave to it, feel free to do so.

By the way, AR15 does not stand for assault rifle 15 but for armalite model 15. It was developed as a lightweight version of the AR10 with a lighter round, as the AR10 used 7.62×51 mm. The rationale behind that was that an infantryman can carry more bullets when each of them and the rifle as well are lighter.

Armalite sold the rights of both, the AR10 and AR15, to Colt, as Colt was a better partner for the armed forces and bigger and more experienced. They could easily integrate all the changes and upgrades the airforce and later the army wanted. Colt finalized what Armalite had begun and supplied the gun in form of the M16 to the armed forces using a 20” barrel for it. Of course, this made it a rather long weapon but for its time, it was short and handy as other rifles were not only longer but also heavier. Still, once the soldiers got used to accept the M16 as the standard, they wanted something lighter and handier. Their request was answered by the M4 that came out in the 1990s with a 14.5” barrel which reduces both size and weight of the gun.

The AR15 started as a version of the M4, just in semi instead of full auto. The name AR15 is widely used when people speak about this type of gun, but it is owned by Colt. This leads to many different names for rifles of other manufacturers that follow the general pattern of this system.

When it comes to the moment that you want to be the proud owner of your own AR15, there is a basic decision you have to make. Do you rather want to buy or build it. The answer is easy. If it is your first AR15, buy it. Then you cannot go too wrong. Once you are familiar with it and it is not enough to just customize it but you want your own, very specific version, then build it.

If you just want to save money by avoiding the 11% tax on a completely ready gun, just order a build kit. It has everything in that you need. All you gotta do is to assemble it. Going with a standard configuration is not bad, and it allows you to learn what suits your specific needs. Also, there are a good budget options out there that allow you to do exactly that, getting to know the AR15 pattern and go to something more custom from there.

The Parts of an AR15

In principle, all parts of a rifle are important. It is hard to say this or that is the most important part, but I make an exception for the barrel. This is the thing the bullets travel through and start their journey to the target. Actually, the barrel is a little bit more than just that, as it also holds the chamber.

The chamber is the part, were everything starts. The round sits and is fired in there. The powder in the round is ignited and expands. The bullet is pushed forward and rushed down the length of the barrel, while biting into the rifling and starting to spin. Then, at the gas port, part of the gas pressure is bled to cycle the action that ejects the spent case and inserts a new round. You see, the barrel is the heart, the main thing, the center, of everything in a gun.

Now, there are a few things one need to consider. First, in most cases, you can shoot only one caliber out of the chamber and barrel. However, there is an exception when we look at .223 and 5.56. The chamber and barrel that can take the 5.56 can also take the .223. However, the barrel that can take the .223 can only take .223 as it has looser tolerances and the 5.56 can withstand higher pressures.

Another thing to consider is the barrel length. First, there is the law. It says that the minimum barrel length must be 16 inches. This means, everything shorter than this is either a pistol or a short-barreled rifle that needs a special tax stamp and is subjected to special rules.

Another point is the combination of precision, power, and barrel length. Let’s start with the power. A longer power makes a bullet go faster as it is subjected to the pressure that accelerates it. However, this stops at a barrel length of 20 inches. Any barrel for a 5.56 or .223 that is longer does not increase its speed nor its force. Added to this is that a longer barrel means more precision, but also this has a limit. The limit comes from the whip of the barrel with every shot. The longer the barrel, the stronger is the whip. If you look for precision, go with an 18” barrel, as this offers the optimum between precision because of the length of the barrel and loosing the precision because of barrel whip.

Also, a barrel is pretty heavy as it must withstand the pressure of the shot. This makes the barrel length the most important factor when we talk about weight. Add to this the pure fact that a longer barrel makes for a longer rifle that is automatically less handy. So, what should you go for?

For your decision, there are three factors to consider. Those are power of the round, precision of the shot, and comfort or ease of shooting. You want power, go with a 20” barrel. There is a very high chance that one shot is enough to down a target and keep it down and that out to up to 400 yards. If you are looking for the maximum precision, go with an 18” barrel. You lose power, but you hit where you intended to and this at long ranges, up to 800 yards. If you want ease of handling, go with the 16” barrel. You still have power and precision, but only out to 200 or 300 yards for power and 400 yards for precision.

Another factor is the bullet itself. Shooting shorter ranges, go for a lighter bullet, one below 60 grain. It goes fast and creates nice terminal ballistics by transferring most of its energy into the body of the target. If you go for longer ranges and precision, use heavier bullets. They start slower, but keep going farther out and are less susceptible by environmental influences like wind because of their weight. They also keep a good terminal ballistic further out, but are beaten by the lightweights at shorter distances. All comes down to what do you expect to be your range. Below 200 yards, go with a 55 grain bullet. Past that, go for 62 or up to 80 grain.

Then there is the barrel twist. This shows you how fast the rifling, that imparts the spin, goes around one full circle. A 1 in 9” twist means that the rifling will do a full circle at 9 inches. The rule of thumb is that a heavier bullet needs a shorter twist rate or a lower second number. A lighter bullet of 55 grain goes perfect with a 1:9 twist rate. A 80 grain bullet should be shot through a 1:7 twist. Buying a common AR15, you will get a 1:9 twist rate as it is perfect for 55 grains, and those are the standard for this caliber.

The barrel is also made of a certain materiel. That one you can see from the number on the barrel. A 4150 is a steel barrel following military specifications. 4140 is almost the same, but it comes with 10% less carbon. Then there are the CMV barrels or Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium that are like the 4140. In the end, there is the stainless steel barrel that offers more accuracy for the price of a shorter lifespan. However, think about how many rounds you will actually shoot through your barrel in training and self-defense, and you will see, that stainless steel can take that kind of use.

For an average use, the 4140 or CMV is more than adequate. As long as you are not doing one mag dump after another, you will not benefit at all from a 4150. Also, 4140 or CMV can be felt by your bank account. Do not forget that you pay for what you get. The higher the performance you want, the higher the price, even if you do never use this performance.

The barrels also come with a lining. There is the chrome-lined barrel. This lasts you a lot longer but it also decreases the accuracy for a teeny tiny little bit. Then there is the FNC, Ferritic Nitrocarburizing or Tennifer or Melonite or Nitride, lining. That gives you a treated inside surface of the barrel for a longer life but without a lining. This means, you can hammer more shots downrange without loosing accuracy. However, you pay more. The third option is to go without any lining.

Of course, the wear and tear of any round shot is varying with the environmental factors, but we are talking about tens of thousands of rounds, not just hundreds or thousands.

Furthermore, for the barrel, the testing might be of interest for you. They can be MP, magnetic particle tested, HP, high pressure tested, or not tested at all. Another one is batch tested, when there are only samples taken from a specific batch of barrels. Do not forget that you pay for what you get. Believe it or not, the testing is less important than you think. Faulty or grossly imprecise barrels are rare as they cost the manufacturer dearly in lost trust and lost customers.

Barrels must be manufactured. For this, there are different methods to be used. There is the cold hammer forged (CHF) barrel, that is way more durable. Then you have the barrel forged hammer models, that are also durable. On the lower end, you have those with none that did not get processed. The hammer forging, being cold or not, gives you a more durable product for a lower accuracy. However, if you shoot 20,000 rounds per year, it is absolutely worth it. If you shoot less, do not waste your money.

Also, the barrel contours come into play. The contours refer to the outside of the barrels over their length. A thicker barrel is heavier but can take more abuse. A thinner barrel is lighter but overheats much faster.

A heavy or bull barrel means you carry around more weight, but it offers more precision. Also, it keeps this precision longer, until the heat from the repeated firing opens up your groups. Medium barrels are balanced as they are lighter with enough precision at the beginning and the ability to last longer in a firefight. The light or pencil barrels are ok for one mag. Everything beyond that shot in rapid fire will excessively reduce accuracy and lead to overheating and subsequent jamming.

Did I mention that the barrels include the chambers? The chambers also include the feedramps. Those are the areas, that make a round go easily from the mag into the chamber. From the factory, a rifle might encounter no problems here. A built however has to carefully match receiver and ramps so that the gun feeds reliably.

You remember how I told you that the gas is bled from the barrel and used to cycle the action? Here, you can choose again between the direct impingement and the piston system. The DI, the direct impingement system uses the gas directly. It goes through a tube into the bolt carrier group and pushes it backwards, and it starts to cycle.

The other system is the piston. The gas is directed against the head of a piston that moves subsequently backwards cycling the action. Which one is better? Depends on what you want.

You want precision, go with the DI system. DI means less weight and especially less moving weight. However, you foul up the gun so clean it more often.

You want to use the gun again and again for many days without cleaning? Go with the piston. However, you carry more and the moving weight causes your gun to move during the shot reducing your accuracy.

What should you take as the average shooter? Go with DI. It is lighter to carry around and you do not shoot it that much anyway. Besides, after every range session, there should be a cleaning session anyway. The piston system offers a lot of advantages, but none of them is for you. Do not forget that you pay for what you get, so pay for things you need and not for things you have no use for.

The hand guards are an important part of the upper receiver. Basically, they are supposed to keep your hands away from the barrel which will get increasingly hot with every round fired. You can put them in one of 2 categories. There are the free floating ones and the non-free floating ones. The free floating ones do not touch the barrel. That allows it to whip freely and bring consistent precision. Non-free floating means that the foregrip touches the barrel somewhere and this leads to inconsistencies. However, it also leads to a lighter and cheaper gun because of a less stiff handguard. Free-floating handguards are something for competitive shooters but not for the average Joe.

Also, the handguard allows some gadgets to be attached. For this, there must be rails on them. Those add weight and price. So choose wisely if your really need all of those rails and real estate for your toys to attach them and making the rifle heavier by themselves and the rails.

The part of the AR15 that makes it go bang is the bolt carrier group. The bolt is inside this group and it as a whole moves inside the upper receiver. It is pushed back by the gas or piston. It unlocks the chamber and moves backward ejecting against a spring ejecting the spent case. At the end of its travel, the spring will push it forward taking a new round from the mag and sliding it into the chamber locking it up.

To chamber the first round, you use the charging handle to do what normally the gas does. When you pull the trigger, the hammer is released and strikes the firing pin housed inside the BCG, the bolt carrier group. The firing pin hits the primer and sets of the round in the chamber.

Normally, a BCG is semi-auto. This means whenever you squeeze the trigger, you get one bang. BCGs of military rifles either come with a 3 round burst or a full auto option that is omitted in the civilian version.

A new trend is to apply some form of coating to the BSG. The intention is to make them easier to clean and allow them to work without having to lubricate them regularly. The materials used are Nickel boron, Titanium Nitride, Hard Chrome, and Black Nitride. However, to really benefit from a coating, you have to run your gun very hard using a suppressor. Anything else means your money spent for coating the BCG is simply a waste.

In the back of the gun is not only a stock, but also a fixed buffer tube on which the stock is riding. The buffer tube contains the buffer spring that is compressed by the backward motion of the BCG. This very spring is also the one pushing the BCG back forward chambering a new round.

Another thing worth upgrading is the trigger. For a good shot you need to align the sights and control your breathing. For this, you need to know when the trigger breaks. Standard triggers come with creep and are kind of sluggish. However, there are some fine aftermarket versions out there that make for a great feeling and equally great precision. We should also not forget the optics. Shooting with iron sights is ok, but once you really want to hit something further out there, you might want to use a scope. If you want to hit a target at close range faster, you might want to go for a red dot. If you are not that sure, you can go for a combo of magnifier and red dot or a low powered variable optic. The former allows you to be fast in close encounter and adequate at some distance. The latter allows you to be adequate in close encounters and better at longer distances.

The Use

In order to decide which AR15 to buy, you also have to think about what you want to use it for. One typical purpose is the so-called M4gery. This means, you want it to look like the military M4 or M16. There are many models out there that suits that come with the right look exactly for that.

You want to have precision or want to do some varmint control, the SPR, special purpose rifle, or DMR, designated marksman rifle, will suit you best. They have 18 or 20 inch barrels and a 1 in 8 or 1 in 7 twist rate. Thanks to the heavier bullet and precision, you can reach out very far.

You want something super handy, go with an SBR, short barrel rifle, or an AR15 pistol. Those are the super handy versions and are well suited when it comes to CQB, to close quarter battles aka defending yourself inside your home.

For competitions, there are special builds. They have longer barrels with big compensators to allow for precision and good follow up shots due to perfect recoil management.

Pistol caliber carbines allow you to play with something looking like an AR15 but shooting a pistol caliber at a reduced price. They often use pistol mags, but there are magazines out there, that allow to feed 9mm ammo and look like a standard AR15 mag.

Featureless builds are a result of some less fortunate laws in California and New York. They try to ban assault rifles and end up mutilating them with their stipulations. Let`s come to what you have been waiting for, to what I consider the best AR15. These are all recommendations solely based on my personal experience and my preferences having shot a plethora of guns and instructed people on their use. As always, all links are in the description.

Daniel Defense DDM4

The Daniel Defense DDM4 is an AR15 that allows you to get into the game and to develop in it. It comes at around $1700, is reliable and precise and works with a mid-length gas system. This gives it a nice soft touch when you pull the trigger.

DDM4
DDM4V1

As the version DDM4 v7 it comes with a free floating handguard.

DDM4 v7
DDM4 v7

There is also the DDM4A1 with a carbine gas system and a permanent muzzle device.

DDM4A1
DDM4A1

Bravo Company Manufacturing Recce 16

The BCM Recce 16 is another great choice at around $1200. With an MCMR handguard, you cannot go wrong with this rifle. It is built do military specification and will last you a long time with great precision and great comfort.

Bravo Company Manufacturing Recce 16

FN 15 Patrol Carbine

You want to have the feeling of holding a real classic? The FN15 Patrol Carbine will give you exactly that. It is also built to military specification and comes with a quadrail. This means, you can attach what ever you want on top, below, and on both sides. It is accurate, shoots very softly and is also very comfortable to carry. It comes at only $900.

FN 15 Patrol Carbine

Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport II

Yeah, smith and Wesson offers you a nice deal on an AR15 style rifle. They do not just offer revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. The greatest advantage is its price of less than $600. That makes it a good beginner model. If you see it, do not wait to long before you buy it. It sells like hot cakes. Its caliber is 5.56 NATO, so it shoots 5.56 and .223 ammunition.

Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport II

Lead Star Grunt

Lead Star Arms is a special tip for an AR15. It shoots 5.56 and .223 precisely, has a muzzle break, a nice trigger and a cool charging handle. All of this cost you less than $800.

Lead Star Grunt

Aero Precision AC-15M

Aero Precision is a well-known name and offers you with the AC-15M a really affordable priced model that comes with great precision and a 16” barrel. It costs less then $700, has free-floating handguards, and will not fail you when you need it the most.

Aero Precision AC-15M

Palmetto State Armory PA-15

The budget is really tight? Go with the PSA PA-15. It is completely manufactured in house, has a free-floating handguard and costs you less than $500. It can be described in 3 words: It just works. You can have it with a 16” or an 18” barrel. It can shoot 5.56 and .223 equally well. You can get it also as a kit with the upper and lower receiver separated. It takes you only one movement and one pin to connect them, but this can save you 11% on firearm taxes.

Palmetto State Armory PA-15

Stag Arms Model 2L

Are you a leftie? The Stag Arms Model 2L will suit you well. It has been designed and constructed specifically for left handed shooters. It has a standard front sight post and flip-up iron sights in the back.

Leave a comment