Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Best Buy AR15 Rifle

Best Buy AR15 Rifle

The fact is that I have started this article about a dozen times now and it always seems to end up in the waste basket because I feel I have left out this or that brand. For the purposes of this article, I do not feel compelled to list every brand I have ever tested or available because we are lucky that a large variety of quality AR15 firearms are available. In most cases almost every AR manufacturer use all the same parts made by the same six to twelve OEM manufactures; some domestic and some overseas. There are obviously various levels of quality and finish as well, so that $650 AR15 generally will have a lower quality and/or lower surface finish bolt, barrel, handguard, gas block, etc... than a $1200, $1500, and $2500 AR15. In most cases that does not make an expensive AR15 significantly more reliable, however that pricier AR may make function longer before malfunctions or parts failure.

The beauty of the Eugene Stoner design is that even with the "value line" parts an inexpensive AR15 will function and rattle along just fine for the average citizen or even patrol rifle.  That noted, the higher end AR15 parts will generally net you better reliability, more consistent and better accuracy, maybe look aesthetically a little better, fit a little tighter, and ultimately function for a longer period of time without problems. 

For the purposes of this article, I am skipping the "build from parts" and "separately purchased uppers and lowers pinned together” options and focusing on complete manufacturer assembled rifles. Yes, in either of these build vs buy scenarios, you might be able to piece together a better buy or one which fits your wants more closely than just buying a complete rifle, however in the vast majority of cases a complete rifle is the best bargain and are backed 100% by a manufacturer warranty.

Over the last two years, I have tested and reviewed well over twenty AR15s and they all worked great and those I still have, just keep running and running. Some of those AR15s include Smith and Wesson, Delton, DPMS, Spikes Tactical, Black Rain Ordnance, Double star, Ruger, Yankee Hill Machine, ASA, JP Rifles, Houlding Precision, Barnes Precision Machine, and more.
Delton DTI-15 - Midlength Gas System
with Magpul frutniture kit


In the current political gun banning environment and the resulting buying frenzy, you may be lucky to just get any AR15. I know most manufacturers are doing their best to fill orders as quickly as possible, but supplies are very limited at this time. If you are thinking about your first AR15, the time is now my friends.

This question really comes down to your intended purpose and how much you plan on shooting. In recent days, it may also come down to whether you will be able to get any ammo for the caliber you choose.  The vast majority of AR15s are chambered in 5.56 Nato or .223 Remington which for all practical purposes are the same ammo. The 5.56 Nato is a smidge longer.  Almost every manufacturer will say their .223 Remington chamber will also shoot 5.56 Nato round safely, however you should check to make sure.  Many times 5.56 Nato surplus rounds can be found at a lower price and it is good to have that flexibility of the gun to be able to safely shoot either cartridge in the same barrel. 

.223 Wylde is an in between chambering which will safely shoot either cartridge and is considered to deliver more accuracy for match shooters - personally this is my prefered AR15 chambering for target and match rifles and a 5.56 Nato chamber for more high reliability rifles. The AR15 can also be had in a number of other cartridges including the 300 Blackout, 7.62x39 AK 47 round, and even a .50 Caliber Beowolf round, however if you are reading this article attempting to decide on an AR15, I would stick with the basics of a 5.56 Nato or .223 chambered AR15.


Unless you are going to upgrade to an adjustable gas block at some point on a carbine length gas system, I am a huge fan of mid-length gas systems on 16”-20” barrels and rifle-length gas systems on 20”+ barrels. 

I have written articles on this for Syrac Ordnance which explains the intricacies, however in the end, mid-length and rifle length gas systems will deliver a softer shooting rifle than a carbine-length gas system plus a lot more real estate for your support hand to work with. Your choice, however my recommendation for a first AR15 would be a 16” Mid-Length gas system. If all you can find is a Carbine length gas system, don't worry you can add an adjustable gas block later on to soften down the recoil impulse just like the 3-gunners do.

As I look back at the above brands, I would buy and recommend any of them again and again. There are some stand out AR15s to me from a build quality, included extra, performance and of course high percentage of US made components. I believe it is important to note that of the AR15s I have tested, only Spikes Tactical, Black Rain Ordnance, Doublestar, Yankee Hill Machine, ASA, JP Rifles, Houlding Precision, and Barnes Precision Machine specify that they only use USA made parts... all others kind of do or do not specify at all.

That said, 100% US Made ARs are a little more expensive than the bargain rifles which contain a higher percentage of imported parts. Of that list, only Barnes Precision Machine is making nearly every single part in house, yep even the tiny little detents, with the exception of the springs, trigger, and Magpul furniture which are all still US manufactured.

After more thought than I would care to admit and numerous articles tossed into the recycle bin, here is the narrowed down short list of my top US Made AR15 rifle choices for various purposes.
JP Rifles

BEST 3-GUN AR15 - If you are serious about 3-Gun competition, then you are serious about accuracy which means you want a match quality rifle barrel with 1:8 twist and a .223 Wylde chamber. 
You cannot go wrong with Barnes Precision Machine's Patrol Rifle, or anything from Black Rain Ordnance, however I will say that my JP Rifle upper is the most stupid accurate barrel I own and the softest shooting.  

With some of the upgraded extras like the JP Compensator, match trigger, ultra-light BCG and adjustable gas block, it shoots blisteringly fast all while delivering the recoil of a .22LR rimfire. If you look at the top spots on the 3-Gun podium, most are using JP barrels and compensators. Priced in the $2000-$3000 neighborhood.
Houlding Precision

BEST CUSTOM COMBAT AR15 - There are combat rifles and then there are premium custom combat rifles which use the best of everything in the industry all magically executed in way like being fitted for a custom made suit. In this case Houlding Precision would be my choice for a custom combat rifle.  If you want precision, they can do that. In my case I had a pretty well defend vision of what I wanted in a top end combat rifle and was willing to see what they created. 

In the case of my Houlding Precision custom "#4" rifle, it is the single lightest 18" AR15 I have ever held and has a mile long list of the best military combat parts in the industry like Troy, Daniel Defense, Noveske, and Magpul all built around Houlding’s gorgeous billet machined and CeraKoted upper and lower receivers. Priced in the $1200-$2800 neighborhood depending on options.
Black Rain Ordnance

BEST FULLY CUSTOM OFF THE SHELF AR15 - If you want both the show and the go of a fully custom AR15 with the accuracy of a precision varmiter, then Black Rain Ordnance is your best deal. Initially Black Rain grabbed attention with their skull and other crazy cool aqua transfer dipped custom billet machined receivers, however when you look closer it is far more than just flast, no other AR15 is packing more custom parts in an AR15 than Black Rain. 

Nickel boron BCG, match polygonal rifled 1:8 twist .223 Wylde chambered stainless barrel, Geissele match trigger, custom extended quadrail forend, anti-roll pins, custom compensator, ceramic coated receiver, high end soft case, single point sling and mount, and on and on. They best part is you can now walk into most Sheels, Cabelas, or other gun shops and pick it up and go shoot. Priced in the $1500-$2200 neighborhood.
ASA - American Spirit Arms

BEST BENCH & VARMINT GUN - Any of the 3-Gun recommendations will work here, however I am especially fond of the Side Charge ASA receiver from ASA - American Spirit Arms.  This makes operating the bolt, charging, and weapon clearing exceptionally easy and comfortable from the prone or benchrest positions we often find ourselves in a hunting environment.  

It does not hurt that the 16" Stainless Bull Barrel also delivers Sub-MOA accuracy precision for accurate shots on gofer sized targets out to 300 yards. The stubby little 16" barrel is compact and significantly lighter than your standard 20"-22" varminter bull barrel all without sacrificing any accuracy. Priced in the $1500 neighborhood.

BEST BASIC AR15 - Just a basic AR15 without the fancy barrel, handguard, and furniture is VERY hard to come by these days. Not many of these end up on the shelf which are produced and tend to be sold before they are even off the UPS truck at your FFL dealer. Personally I like my Spikes Tactical ST15 Mid-Length AR15 simply because of the very lightweight barrel.  

A light basic AR15 is a good thing. The problem is that Spikes is 12+ months backordered, so an equally good recommendation is to pick up a Doublestar DS-4 Carbine $950 or Daniel Defense priced in the $1000-$1600 neighborhood.  

Doublestar Constant Carry Carbine
During the 2013 Shot Show I handled the stunningly light 5.85 Doublestar Constant Carry Carbine which is far from basic with Ultralight Ace 7" entry length stock (9" Ace stock option available at not extra charge), Samson handguard, and slim profile barrel make this my top pick for a super light all around basic AR15 that you can actually get shipped within the month or two.

OVERALL BEST BUY UPGRADED BASIC AR 15 WINNER - Not to diminish the quality and capabilities of any of the other custom manufacturers mentioned, but often I am asked what is the best buy in AR15s for an upgraded basic off the shelf AR15. My answer is always the same; BPM - Barnes Precision Machine Patrolman’s Carbine.  After visiting Barnes Precision Machine, I saw things there that changed my mind about other AR15 manufacturers “basic rifles”. 
Barnes Precision Machine

For less than $1300, the Barnes Precision Machine’s CQB Patrolman’s Carbine MOE Package delivers a Mil-Spec upper and lower receiver, very accurate match grade .223 Wylde 1:8 twist barrel, precision made carrier, and bolt which has a reamed vs peened bolt retainer pin hole, a tensioning screw on the receiver, a captured rear spring detent, an excellent flash hider, and a free-float forend which can accept simple and inexpensive Magpul rails; all made on site. It has more nice touches than many custom AR15s all for $1275. The only thing missing to make this rifle stellar is a Geissele SSA-E trigger and you can hang shot for shot with the high dollar rifles.

For each rifle you purchase from BPM, they have an agreement with Leupold and Eotech that they will sell you your Eotech or Leupold optic of your choice for BPM’s dealer price as a pass through.  You do not need to order the optic with the rifle, however you do need to order a BPM-15 rifle and there is a limit of one optic at the special price per BPM rifle purchased. This alone could pay for a third of the rifle price in the optic savings and hands down makes the BPM AR15 the best buy winner.

WHAT ABOUT MY X BRAND AR15 THAT I LOVE? - Arguably, you may have a brand you like or love more. At this stage of gun buying frenzy, it may not matter what AR15 you own, but that you do own something.  

Support the US economy and go buy an US Made AR15.


Shop the complete selection of AR15s at Brownells.com 

Spikes Tactical -

My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2011/08/spikes-tactical-st-15-mid-length-ar15m4.html

Doublestar - http://www.star15.com
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2012/04/doublestar-ace-ar15-review-with-custom.html

Houlding Precision - http://www.houldingprecisionfirearms.com
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2012/08/houlding-precision-custom-ar15-review.html

JP Rifles - http://www.jprifles.com/
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2012/01/jp-enterprise-ar15-barrel-kit-review.html

Black Rain Ordnance - http://blackrainordnance.com/
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2011/10/black-rain-ordnance-fallout15-ar15.html

American Spirit Arms - http://www.americanspiritarms.com/
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2012/10/ASA-American-Spirit-Arms-Side-Charge-16-Bull-Barrel-Review.html

Barnes Precision Machine - http://www.usamade-ar15parts.com
My review - http://www.majorpandemic.com/2012/09/barnes-precision-machine-bpm-15-ar.html

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Extremely helpful information and very well written. Seems all comments were honest and unbiased. I am curious if you have any thoughts about the Sig AR rifles since they are put together in the USA. How would you rate your preferred USA AR's vs the HK's? Any thoughts on the Wilson Combat AR's? (Trying to compare apples to apples of course.