Did you know, there are a reported 19.8 million AR-15 rifles in circulation in the US, up from 8.5 million in circulation since 2004 after the federal assault rifles ban expired?
That’s an increase of roughly 628,000 AR15 rifles… every year since 2004.
That’s a sh#t load of rifles.
With the explosion of demand over the years, hundreds of manufacturers have released thousands of AR15 rifle models, scrambling to keep up with demand. Many times at the expense of quality.
More on that later…
But don’t worry, you’re in good hands. Our team has of industry experts has 50+ years of collective professional firearm experience.
So rest assured, every AR-15 Rifles on this list is quality… something you can count on when you need it most.
So let’s get into it.
Best AR-15 Rifles
Our Top Pick – Best Gas Piston AR 15 Rifle – POF-USA P415 Edge
POF AR-15s are just built different. The company Patriot Ordnance Factory has been making gas piston AR-15s since 2002. They looked at the most popular rifle in existence and thought how can we improve it.
They started with using a gas piston instead of the direct impingement system that most ARs use. This increases reliability by relying on the operating rod to eject the spent round instead of compressed gas.
The gas piton system also reduces need of regular cleaning and gas residues won’t be passing through a tube in the AR to shoot the round out.
Furthermore, the gun stays considerably cooler, further improving operability and reducing wear because there is no heated gas of the fired round being passed through the interior to the AR.
It also allows suppressors to be used without gassing the shooter. Gassing happens when the increased flow of gas from the bullet blows back through the gas tube at the user’s face from an improperly calibrated system.
Adding a suppressor further increases the pressure causing the gas to flow at an increased rate. With the gas piston, the piston itself is ejecting the cartridge. Problem solved.
The AR-15 or ArmaLite Rifle Model 15 is Both The Most Popular and Most Vilified Rifle in The United States.New York Times
They added a massive barrel heat sink to increase accuracy especially during rapid fire and mag dumps.
Less heat on the barrel increased barrel life and accuracy by reducing the steel from inevitably warping from the thermal stresses.
Then since I’m guessing every employee wanted a rifle they started adding quality-of-life improvements: flared magwell, ambidextrous controls, tension screws for the receiver, roller Cam Pin and an anti-tilt buffer tube.
Features that would normally increase the cost of any AR-15 but built to a much higher standard than even most aftermarket parts could reach.
For instance let’s take the ambidextrous controls. Unlike most rifles, the POF has a bolt hold open control inside the trigger allowing you to engage the bolt catch evenly from both sides regardless of which hand using the pistol grip with the ambidextrous design.
Normally this is something that can only be achieved with an after-market upgrade.
Same thing when you need to charge the rifle, you can hit your slap paddle or just tap your finger on the ambi-bolt release and keep firing.
We can just keep going down the list of features but there are so many that you won’t notice several until after you go back to a regular AR, like the oversized trigger guard and the grip relief, the grip relief is a small area machined out of the lower for the index finger when you don’t want your finger on the trigger.
Let’s take the monolithic railed upper. It’s built to reduce weight while providing a few extra inches to mount optics at the correct eye relief. The Rail uses M-Lok for attachments while using Picatinny rail for collapsible sights and a bipod mount.
Due to the extreme popularity and “supply chain issues” the P415 edge has been on backorder for the better part of a year. But as of February 15, 2024 they got a new shipment and have been fulfilling their backlog.
The rep told me he’d expect to be sold out again within a few weeks, so make sure to get one now.
Oh and the best part?
Our preferred supplier also happens to have the lowest price out there for the P415, so make sure you’re using the link below to be sure you get the savings:
Best Direct Impingement Rifle – POF-USA RENEGADE
If you loved everything that I just told you about the Edge, but you’re looking for a direct impingement rifle, the POF Renegade is the one for you.
We all know that impingement rifles do have some advantages over gas pistons… most notably being the weight.
The Renegade comes in at a light 6.4 pounds compared to the Edge’s 7 pounds.
Other than that, they’re basically the same rifle.
The real downside of impingement rifles is that they’re more prone for misfire and need to be cleaned more regularly. Impingement rifles rely on the gas tube remains open for free flow, if that gets blocked you’re going to know it quick.
Historically impingement rifles have been more accurate as there is less recoil in the rifles as well.
Though this is still an argument, the incredible engineering at POF have been able to reduce this difference down so small where as the difference is essentially negligible.
For these reasons, my vote still goes to the Edge. But if you’re looking for an impingement AR15, then the Renegade is the way to go.
Mid-Range AR-15s are something of an odd duck.
They are fantastic rifles, shoot around 1 MOA, have most of the bells and whistles you want in a rifle but they struggle to carve out their niche.
They aren’t cheap plinkers, nor are they solid tack drivers, they perform and perform well but if I had to choose I would push through and grab the POF or buy better parts for the PSA builds.
It is tough to judge them as rifles because they are solid, well built and usually boring and overpriced, you are paying for the brand name, worse because you can usually find every part that is unique to the rifle for a build without reaching the $1200-$1500 price range.
So I’m going to list them without much enthusiasm. Save your money and go with a POF or build a custom.
Best Varmint AR 15 Rifle – Daniel Defense DDM4V7
6.5lbs of Forged AR perfection.
It would be my favorite rifle if the POF P415 didn’t exist but between the accuracy, furniture and price.
It is a very high end Standard AR-15 and in a world where you can get a fantastic AR-15 like the POF or Wilson Combat for the same price it doesn’t quite stack up.
FN 15 SRP G2
The FN 15 SRP is a classic law enforcement rifle.
Meaning it is well built, accurate and no frills.
This is your high end basic bitch rifle, suitable for any law enforcement or military use, the problem is that it has very little to justify the high price over the PSA CHF with the same barrel other than the product support FN would offer Law Enforcement.
Springfield Armory Saint Victor
Springfield managed to find some of the best aftermarket parts to include on their AR1-15 include a Brave Company Stock and an amazing free float rail.
Not bad for a company that has been keeping the M14 relevant for 60 years. It is a great truck gun, but it doesn’t compete with a similarly priced PSA for accuracy or accessories.
Thanks to Mike Berg for letting me test this rifle. It delivered everything it said it would on the box, but what do you expect from an ArmaLite Rifle, AR-15.
Unfortunately, ArmaLite is behind the curve with the keymod rail system, since the Army and Marines are going to go with the M-Lok rails this rifle will quickly become a relic.
The muzzle brake was one of the more interesting of the rifles, I shot. Deadly accurate, can’t wait for them to release an M-Lok variant.
Palmetto State has really turned up its game with the custom series.
They will beat most other manufacturers where it matters bang for the buck. The innovation that comes from being one of the best suppliers of AR parts in the US isn’t lost on PSA.
The customs look and shoot like a high end FN or Daniel Defense while keeping their flair. The current favorite of the custom shop is the 16 inch with 13.5 cross cut M-Lok Rail and a 3.5lb Flat trigger.
The POF P415 is the an incredible rifle, but with anything top of the line, it comes with a slightly higher price tag.
Thankfully budget ARs, while not having the bells and whistles of the high end rifles are still worth buying, especially if you are looking at upgrade as you go.
The best budget ARs are going to be the ones you build yourself, there are several ways to do this, buy a full kit and a lower and build the entire rifle yourself.
Slap together a complete upper and a complete lower, or buy a completed upper and build your lower.
We’ll get to that in a bit…
I know that building your own rifle doesn’t interest everyone, you can buy a solid platform like the Ruger 556, M&P Sport II or PSA rifle, then change parts as you go.
In the long run, this is going to be slightly more expensive but it is much more difficult to end up with an incomplete rifle, since the largest changes will be barrel, furniture and trigger. But if you’re looking to buy something now and build as you go, it is a great option.
So here are the best “budget” pick AR15s on the market:
Top Budget “Cheap” Choice – Ruger AR556
The Ruger AR-556 was my first AR, well… my first not issued by Uncle Sam.
Ruger is famous for the 10/22. But with the Mini14 they decided that they wanted to break the price point of entry-level AR-15s, and they did.
They built a rifle perfect for the first firearm purchase, for when you moved out of your parents’ house and need to feel safe, that first rifle before you know anything, at a price point that lets you fuck up and fix it.
It’s not smart to get caught without a gun.Dan Bilzerian
The AR-556 is just what a new shooter needs when they don’t know they want.
Let’s start with the free-floated barrel in a 1:8 twist. Basically, heavier bullets require tighter twists in order to keep the bullet accurate.
A 1:8 twist allows you to shoot 55gr bullets with more stability than the standard 1:7 yet still be able to shift up to the 77gr. Essentially it’s a perfect “middle ground” barrel twist, allowing you to shoot a great range of the most popular rounds.
The free floated barrel is M-Lok rail that is becoming the standard instead of the heavy quad rail.
Ruger uses heavy contour, cold hammer forged barrels that can shoot into sub-MOA territory.
But the beauty of what Ruger has done with the AR556 is that for the price of most budget ARs you get all the features you shouldn’t be able to afford.
Instead of using fancy furniture or sights the Ruger is built on a budget focused on accuracy, heavy barrel that is free floated. That’s particularly relevant if you’re planning on mounting a bi-pod or a laser sight to the barrel.
The free floated barrel makes AR15s more accurate by keeping the barrel detached from the hand guard, keeping the added weight off the barrel and therefore not affecting accuracy.
But simply, the Ruger AR556 is the classic “no thrills” AR15 rifle. You’re getting a reliable, high quality rifle that is going to get the job done at an excellent price.
It’s our pick for a pre-assembled budget AR15.
And if that wasn’t enough, The AR556 is currently one sale until March 1, 2024, so make sure to use the link below to ensure you’re getting the best price:
The One To Avoid – S&W M&P Sport II
The M&P Sport is very similar to the Ruger AR556, but it doesn’t come with a free float barrel.
It also uses standard sights and a 1:9 twist. The 1:9 twist is great for 55gr 5.56x45mm but it struggles stabilizing heavier bullets.
The M&P Sport II is a great rifle and was one of the leaders for entry-level rifles 5 years ago, but at the price it would be better to build your own or buy the Ruger.
Build a Budget
If you want the cheapest option that will run with the Ruger and the M&P Sport II if not surpass it pick any of the kits at Palmetto State Armory, just build it yourself.
While each of these kits has their own benefits and downsides, you will be building your own rifle, giving you a great excuse for when you don’t shoot as well as a POF or Daniel Defense.
But with careful choosing you can have a tack driver for a fraction of the cost.
If you can also go for the Cold Hammer Forged Barrels, The CHF are made for PSA by FN and are some of the best quality barrels for the money.
The EPT triggers are very smooth but since most kits come out $100 or $200 cheaper than even the Ruger, you can afford to throw in a Geissele or Timney trigger for match shooting. And because you built the rifle from the ground up you will know exactly how to build it, or just watch a bit of YouTube.
AR-15 Rifle Kits
PSA AR-15 Blem Stealth Stripped Lower Receiver
Geissele Super Dynamic Enhanced Trigger
Finding The Best Rifle
The POF-USA P415 is the AR-15 for under $2000 that we could find. It truly is an amazing rifle. But we might have missed some since supply lines during Covid-19 made it difficult to produce new rifles, combined with rifles always being scarce during democratic presidents, especially with President Biden’s push for a new Assault Weapons Ban. We want to hear from you if you found better AR-15 or if you disagree with our best rifle being gas piston. Comment below.
Why Is It So Popular?
The ArmaLite rifle fulfilled a need, a cheap, soft shooting, modular yet accurate rifle. It is wildly popular because every part can be changed by the user with a minimal amount of tools.
It is lightweight
The biggest reason for the existence of the AR-15 is the lightweight of the rifle and the bullets
The AR-15 weighs just right around 7lbs or 8lbs with a full magazine of 30 rounds. Much better than the M14 at 11lbs. Do those 3lbs make a difference to the average shooter who will drive to the range and then drive home of course not but it does matter if you are actually forced to use the rifle to defend yourself or others.
Why is the AR-15 so cheap?
It is cheap, due to a large number of militaries using the rifle in the standard 5.56x45mm, ammunition is fairly cheap compared to nearly any other caliber with the exception of the .22lr and with a simple modification your AR-15 can shoot .22lr
Why should everyone own an AR-15?
They are simple, many would argue simpler than an AK after training. The small caliber .223 or 5.56x45mm is softer shooting, more configurable, or the most realistic reason is that they are used by the United State Military and most of its allies.
Is it a good hunting rifle?
If it is legal to use an AR for hunting in your area it makes a great hunting rifle. Hunting and the military are intertwined and have been since the days of Agamemnon, US military frequently pulls individuals for sharpshooting or sniping because of their hunting background. AR-15s have been used for hunting for nearly 60 years, only gaining in popularity, as the light weight and soft shooting allow the old, the young, and females to take a more active role in the sport. (1) (2)
More Reading: Best AR 15:
Go here for our article on the best AR-15 hand guards.
Here is our article on the best AR 15 lower receiver.
If you’re curious as to rounds, check out our article on the best AR-15 calibers for hunting.
Triggers? We got those covered too in our article on the best AR-15 triggers of 2023.
What about optics? See our article on the best tactical scope for AR15 rifles.
For those looking to deck out your ARs, take a look at best AR furniture.
Barrels? No problem. Our best AR-15 barrels article will point you in the right direction.
For those of you who are interested in best AR upper brands for the money in 2023, we’ve got you covered too.
Bolt Carrier Groups
Don’t forget the bolt carrier groups, an often forgotten part of the ARs. Our article on the best AR-15 bolt carrier groups will point you in the right direction.
Last but not least, we have our article on the best charging handle for AR-15.
- Greg Myre, A Brief History Of The AR-15, From: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/28/588861820/a-brief-history-of-the-ar-15
- Tested: POF-USA Renegade Plus Rifle, From: https://www.americanrifleman.org/content/tested-pof-usa-renegade-plus-rifle/
Andrew Maurer is a Precision Rifle Series competition shooter and gunsmith and has been building competition rifles for over 12 years. He works as a big game hunting guide in Iowa, South Dakota, and Arizona. He is also a political scientist studying the effects of gun control on society. He teaches youth rifle shooting.
📧 Reach me via email at: Andrew@barrettrifles.com