12 Best AR-15 Rifles Reviewed: Everything You Need to Know to Buy an AR-15

Last Updated on May 17, 2022.

No matter what you want to do with your rifle, there’s an AR-15 that will do that for you. And, since you’re here looking for the best AR-15, this guide will show you which configurations give you the performance you want and which are the best AR-15’s to invest in.

Looking to buy an AR-15? We’ll show you the 12 best AR-15 rifles and everything you need to know to get an AR-15 of your own

Why get an AR-15 (and a brief history of the AR-15)

The AR-15 has gone through several stages of evolution. And today it stands as the most popular tactical and sporting rifle in the United States. The customizable modular design makes the AR 15 a bit like Legos, but for adults.

That’s what makes it such a great platform.

The modularity, aftermarket support, and shootability make it an ideal rifle for just about any context. The AR-15 can do everything from long-range precision to short-range competitive and tactical shooting. And it’s pretty good for backyard plinking, too.

Additionally, the AR-15 design has been around for a long time. So the performance and reliability have been fine tuned and proven. Though, it took a few years to get there.

The AR 15 was originally designed in 1956 by Eugene Stoner, and manufactured by ArmaLite. Stoner first submitted the ArmaLite AR-10 for military trials in 1956. But the rifle was rejected. Eventually, ArmaLite sold the AR-10 and AR-15 designs to Colt.

Colt redesigned the rifles slightly for mass production. After redesigning the rifle, Colt rebranded the AR-15 the M16. Ultimately, the military completely adopted the M16 in 1964.

While the civilian model is still labeled “AR-15,” the rifle sports the same reliability and simplicity that you’d get from its military counterpart. You just don’t get any full-auto or burst-fire operation from an AR-15.

Now that you’re sold on the platform (as if you weren’t already), here’s what all the configuration options mean.

AR -15 specs: What do they mean?

Almost every aspect of your AR-15 can be tweaked and adjusted to make it perform how you want. You can even add attachments to fit your primary context.

These are the specs you’ll see on the product pages and what they mean for your experience shooting the rifle.

Muzzle Devices

Muzzle devices can affect how your AR-15 recoils. And they can serve as suppressor mounts.

Muzzle brake

Muzzle brakes reduce felt recoil. The stronger the muzzle brake, the less the rifle will push against your shoulder when you fire your rifle.

However, they produce a lot of muzzle blast to the sides of your muzzle. Be mindful when using a muzzle brake on a firing line.

Compensator

Compensators vent the muzzle blast upward to keep your rifle level during rapid fire. But most compensators do not reduce felt recoil. Some compensators offer some flash suppression.

However, they don’t reduce flash as much as this next muzzle device.

Flash Hider

Flash hiders reduce the muzzle flash from the end of your rifle when you shoot. And some flash hiders have some compensation built into them.

Flash hiders are probably the most common muzzle device to use as a suppressor mount.

Barrels

The barrel is arguably the most important component in your rifle, since it has the most impact on precision and ballistics.

Length

A longer barrel produces more muzzle velocity. That gives you better terminal ballistics at longer range.

As a general rule, a barrel longer than 14.5 inches is best if you regularly shoot further than 300 yards for things such as hunting. And 16 to 20 inch barrels are common on long-range AR-15 rifles.

However, a shorter barrel can be precise enough for longer shots. Just be aware that shorter barrels will deliver less energy on distant targets.

Twist

The mil-spec AR-15 rate of twist is one full twist every seven inches (1 in 7 twist). This works well enough for most shooters.

However, heavier bullets (62 and heavier) perform best from a barrel with a 1 in 7 twist. A barrel with a 1 in 8 rate of twist will work better if you usually shoot 55 grain rounds.

But don’t be alarmed if you usually shoot 55 grain bullets and the rifle you want has a 1 in 7 rate of twist. It will work fine with 55 grain ammunition. It’s just not perfectly optimal. And there’s no safety issue.  

Steel

The most common barrel steels are 4140 chromoly vanadium steel and stainless steel (usually 416 or 416R stainless steel).

Chromoly vanadium steel barrels are usually chrome lined or nitride finished. They deliver good precision. And they last a long time.

Stainless steel barrels are generally regarded as being more precise. And they’re less likely to show a shift in point of impact as they wear. However, a stainless steel barrel will have a slightly  shorter lifespan than a chromoly vanadium barrel.

Both types of steel barrels will usually last for thousands, if not tens of thousands of rounds, though.

AR-15 Gas Systems

Gas system length determines how much gas pressure gets redirected into the AR-15 action to drive the bolt carrier.

Carbine

The carbine length gas system is one of the shortest. The shorter gas system pushes a lot of pressure into the action. Carbine gas systems are very reliable, because there’s enough pressure to push the bolt through carbon buildup and debris.

However, the higher pressure produces a slightly sharper recoil impulse. A carbine gas system can also cause more wear on the internal parts of your AR-15. They also tend to give a lot of gas blowback during suppressed fire.

Mid-length

A mid-length gas system is the middle of the road gas system. Mid-length gas systems deliver good reliability, with a slightly softer recoil than a carbine gas system. With a mid-length gas system, you’ll also get less gas in your face if you use a suppressor.

The mid-length gas system is the best option for most shooters. And most AR-15 manufacturers use this gas system. 

Rifle

The rifle length gas system produces the softest recoil. However, they only fit on longer barrels. Typically, you’ll find rifle length gas systems on 18 inch and longer barrels.

Also, AR-15s with rifle length gas systems can require a bit more maintenance, since the gas pressure is the lowest. It’s usually not an issue if you keep your rifle clean and oiled, though.

Gas piston

Gas piston systems vent gas out the front end of the gun, rather than directly into the action. They’re designed to reduce carbon fouling and maintenance requirements, without sacrificing reliability. They also work great on suppressed rifles, since almost no gas gets vented into your face.

The only drawback is that gas piston systems usually give a bit more felt recoil than a direct impingement gas system.

Handguards

(M-LOK, KeyMod, Picatinny, and all the rest)

There are two aspects to a handguard: how it mounts on the rifle and the accessory rail. 

Free Float

Free float handguards mount directly to the barrel nut and do not contact the barrel. This improves precision because the handguard doesn’t contact the barrel near the muzzle. So the barrel can flex (or not flex) naturally. This usually makes your barrel more precise. 

Drop-in

Drop in handguards fit onto a mil-spec barrel nut and delta ring. And they fit to a fixed front sight gas block. These handguards are quite easy to install.

However, the contact with the barrel near the muzzle can make your rifle a tad less precise. It’s not a huge difference in precision, though. And you probably won’t notice outside of benchrest shooting. 

M-LOK rails

M-LOK is by far the most popular attachment system for AR-15 handguards. M-LOK is relatively simple to use. And there are a ton of M-LOK accessories on the market.

M-LOK is also the most durable attachment system, aside from picatinny.

KeyMod rails

KeyMod is the direct competitor to M-LOK. It’s not as popular. But it is slightly more user friendly.

M-LOK did beat KeyMod in the military durability tests. But it’s still durable. Just not as durable as M-LOK.

Picatinny rails

Picatinny is the original rail attachment system. And it’s pretty bombproof. It’s also really easy to use.

Unfortunately, it’s rather bulky. And picatinny rails are often called a “cheese grater.” They can be a bit rough on your hands if you have to grip a picatinny rail. Consider using rail covers if you have a picatinny rail.

Bolt Carrier Groups (BCG)

Some argue that the bolt carrier group is the most important part of an AR-15, because a good bolt carrier group is what makes your rifle reliable. You can decide if you think the bolt carrier group is more important than the barrel. Then get a good bolt carrier group, no matter what.

Chrome Phosphate

These bolt carriers have a phosphate coating on the outside and a chrome lining on the inside.

Chrome phosphate is the mil-spec finish. It’s durable. But it requires more lubrication than the other finishes. And carbon sticks to the phosphate finish more than some of the other bolt carrier finishes on the market.

Nitride

The most common alternative to the chrome phosphate finish. It’s smoother and harder than a phosphate finish. Therefore, a nitride finish will work with less lubrication (you should still oil your rifle, though) and resists carbon buildup better than a phosphate finish.

DLC

DLC (Diamond Like Coating) is the smoothest and hardest finish for a bolt carrier group. A DLC finish can run with very little lubrication. And most carbon deposits will wipe off with a rag. Unfortunately, DLC finished bolt carrier groups are also the most expensive.

Triggers

AR-15 triggers come in two broad categories. There are nuances. But most AR-15 rifles come with one of these two trigger types.

Mil-spec

A mil-spec trigger simply uses the original-three piece trigger design. Mil-spec triggers are designed to maximize reliability, which usually comes with a heavier, grittier trigger press.

However, there are variations of the mil-spec trigger that make the trigger press shorter, smoother, and make the break cleaner. It’s common for manufacturers to use some sort of mil-spec trigger in their rifles.

Drop-in

Drop-in triggers are a single, self-contained unit that slides into your lower receiver, without any assembly.

Drop-in triggers almost always have a better trigger press than a mil-spec trigger. The downside is that drop-in triggers require anti-walk pins. And it’s very difficult to rebuild a drop-in trigger if a part wears out.

Buffers and receiver extensions

The lower receiver extension and buffer control the rearward movement of the bolt carrier group and help mitigate recoil. However, changing the buffer or upgrading the buffer tube won’t have as much impact on felt recoil as a strong muzzle brake.

Carbine buffer tubes and buffers

The carbine buffer system is the most common. It uses the shortest lower receiver extension, buffer, and spring. You can use a heavier buffer if you find that the gas system in your rifle is delivering more pressure than you want.

The carbine buffer system is by far the most common.

Rifle buffer tubes and buffers

The rifle buffer system is the longest buffer system. And most adjustable carbine stocks will not fit a rifle length receiver extension.

However, a rifle buffer system delivers the smoothest recoil impulse, because it has the longest spring. So the bolt carrier group slows down more gradually.

VLTOR A5 System

The VLTOR A5 System is a compromise between a carbine length and rifle length buffer system. The VLTOR A5 receiver extension and buffer are slightly longer than a carbine receiver extension. And the VLTOR A5 system uses a rifle length buffer spring.

Manufacturers rarely use the VLTOR A5 system on their rifles. However, it’s a solid upgrade that gives you a smoother recoil impulse than a carbine buffer system and that’s compatible with standard carbine stocks. 

Furniture

On most rifles, the furniture is the stock and pistol grip. Most manufacturers use a proprietary handguard, then simply purchase the furniture from MAGPUL, B5 Systems, or another manufacturer.

Most modern pistol grips and stocks are comfortable and ergonomic. Watch out for the “A2 pistol” grip. It’s the original mil-spec pistol grip. And it’s uncomfortable for a lot of shooters.

Controls

When they say “controls,” most manufacturers are talking about the safety selector, the magazine release, and the bolt catch. Some manufacturers also consider the charging handle to be one of the controls.

Standard

“Standard” doesn’t always mean mil-spec, though that’s often the case. Usually, standard controls are just controls that have no features for ambidextrous operation.

It should be noted that an ambidextrous safety selector is increasingly considered a “standard” control, since it’s useful for both right and left-handed shooters.

Ambidextrous

Ambidextrous controls have some sort of design enhancements that enable the shooter to access the controls from both sides of the rifle.

In principle, ambidextrous controls are a good idea. However, not all ambidextrous controls are well executed. If a manufacturer specifies ambidextrous controls, zoom in on the lower receiver and get a look at them, so you can see if they’ll work for you.

Enhanced

There’s a wide variety of “enhanced” controls. Every manufacturer has their own design. Some of them are good. Some of them are not so good. But usually, enhanced controls amount to some sort of extended magazine release, a larger bolt catch paddle, and ambidextrous operation features.

Quality control

Many aspects of quality control are left unstated, because they tend to be overly technical and not very exciting. However, you’ll often see two key acronyms in product descriptions, which are related to quality control: MPI and HPT.

These terms apply to the bolt carrier group (BCG) and barrel.

In most cases, the type of quality control inspection will be stamped on the barrel. And most bolt carrier groups have the quality control procedures listed in the product description.

Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI)

Magnetic Particle Inspection (MPI) is a relatively standard quality control process, where a magnetic field and iron particles are used to inspect bolt carrier groups and barrels for microscopic cracks and imperfections.

MPI is the most common quality control process because it’s efficient and affordable. It also does a good job of weeding out defective parts.

High Pressure Testing (HPT)

Most of the time, High Pressure Testing (HPT) is just a technical term for test firing. The standard HPT procedure is to fire a single, standard military round through the rifle once it’s been assembled and MPI tested.

It’s a good quality assurance step to have in place, because it verifies that the rifle functions properly. However, it’s time and resource intensive.

There’s nothing wrong with MPI tested AR-15 rifles. Many quality AR-15 rifles are just MPI tested. But, if you’re willing to pay a little more, a rifle that’s checked with both MPI and HPT can offer a little more peace of mind.

However, solid quality control does not replace function testing your rifle yourself. Even the most stringent quality control is imperfect. And you should always shoot a new rifle and make sure it works.  

AR-15 manufacturers

There are a ton of AR-15 manufacturers out there. Too many to list here.

However, I do have a good listing of a few of the most popular manufacturers, based on my experience shooting AR-15 rifles and working on them in the gunsmithing shop.

Before I get into that list though, here’s what I’ve noticed about the relationship between an AR-15 and its price:

Most of the time, higher priced AR-15s last longer than less expensive AR-15 rifles (to a point. I’ll circle back to this). The AR-15 system has been thoroughly developed and tuned to the point that even budget AR-15 rifles usually run reliably.

However, a higher price usually gets you better manufacturing and quality control. Basically, paying a little more for an AR-15 helps ensure that you don’t get a lemon that doesn’t work out of the box and reduces premature parts failure from subpar production.

That’s good. But just understand that more expensive rifles rarely perform noticeably better than a budget rifle. So far, no high-end AR-15 has really wowed me in terms of performance. They’re nice. But no super expensive rifle has lured me away from my $700 home build.

Yes, some really high end guns will produce tighter groups than a budget rifle if you shoot it from a vice.

But when the bullets aren’t going where you want them, it’s almost never a problem with the gun. They all shoot good enough for government work. And you can’t buy your way out of being a sucky shooter.

With that, this is a brief rundown of the AR-15 manufacturers that deliver the best quality for your dollar. 

Bravo Company Manufacturing

If I left Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM)  off this list, somebody would probably come after me. And that’s fair, because they’re one of the most revered AR-15 manufacturers in the U.S. (maybe the world).

BCM is known for thorough quality control and workhorse rifles. And their prices are reasonable. A BCM rifle might be the best AR-15 for the money.

They also have a pretty hearty dedication to the original AR-15 design. Almost all the components in a BCM rifle are built to mil-spec (phosphate finishes, mil-spec trigger, etc.). And there are almost no creature comforts.

However, if you get a BCM, you’re getting a no-nonsense rifle that will run reliably for a long time.

Daniel Defense

Daniel Defense is another company that produces bombproof rifles.

Similar to BCM, Daniel Defense takes a no-frills approach to building AR-15s. And they stick to mil-spec in most areas.

Daniel Defense rifles are a bit on the pricey side. But they’re incredibly well-made.

The Daniel Defense picatinny rails are considered one of the best ever. And Daniel Defense rifles are known for being rugged, reliable, and pleasant to shoot with a suppressor.

Geissele Automatics

Geissele Automatics are mostly known for their triggers. But they also make excellent rifles. Geissele handguards are incredibly durable and well-designed.

And Geissele controls offer meaningful improvements over mil-spec controls, without being bulky or gimmicky (the Geissele Airborne Charging Handle is considered one of the best ever).

Geissele rifles are also known for being well-gassed and pleasant to shoot with a suppressor.

Springfield Armory

This one usually surprises people, because Springfield Armory isn’t really known for their AR-15 rifles.

And they really only produce different variations of the same rifle: the Springfield Armory Saint (more on this one in the review below).

But the one AR-15 they make has been a good one, so far. They’re really well-built for such an affordable rifle. Springfield Armory may not have the reputation and cool factor that some of the other manufacturers do. But their first attempt at producing an AR-15 seems to have been a success.

Ruger

Ruger is another one that tends to surprise people. And, again, that’s because they only really make one AR-15: the Ruger AR556.

However, so far, the Ruger AR556 has been a great rifle. It’s an affordable rifle that comes with a few nice features. And it works.

JP Enterprises

JP Enterprises is known for their competition rifles. And they make great competition rifles. They also offer a lot of sensible upgrades that fit on just about any AR-15. But those upgrades come standard on a JP Enterprises rifle.

JP Enterprises rifles are one of the few high-end rifles that deliver really meaningful performance improvements. If you suck at shooting, you’ll still suck. But JP Enterprises has managed to produce one of the softest shooting AR-15 rifles ever.

These are some of the key players. And there are other manufacturers that make great rifles:

  • Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT)
  • Yankee Hill Machine
  • Rainier Arms
  • Larue Tactical

Choose whatever manufacturer has a rifle that suits your needs. But, for a solid AR-15 backed by precise manufacturing, quality materials, and quality control, you can expect prices to start around $900.

There are more affordable AR-15s out there. You might get a great deal. But it’s a good idea to give a more budget friendly AR-15 a reliability check before you use it for anything serious.

12 Best AR-15 rifles and carbines

These are the AR-15 rifles that I’ve found to work really well. They come with all the features you’d expect from a modern AR-15. And we rarely see them in the gunsmithing shop for problems related to the manufacturing quality.

Best Overall Choice

Daniel Defense DDM4V7

  • Handguard

Daniel Defense MFR 15.0

  • Muzzle Device

Flash Suppressor

  • Trigger

Standard mil-spec curved trigger

Here’s another fun story from the range:

We had a Daniel Defense MK18 in our rental inventory for about seven years. The gun lasted for literally hundreds of thousands of rounds. And it probably would have kept going if not for some bad ammo that damaged the upper and lower receiver.

The Daniel Defense DDM4V7 is just the full-length variant of the MK18 (minus the quad rail). Given that the DDM4V7 has a longer barrel and a longer gas system, it will likely last just as long as a MK18, maybe longer.

Also, the DDM4V7 is much more pleasant to shoot than the MK18. The longer barrel and gas system produce a less felt recoil. And you don’t get the muzzle blast right in your face.

Also, even though the DDM4V7 doesn’t have the quad rail, it still mounts using the same bombproof barrel nut assembly.

But, if there were a complaint to make about the DDM4V7, it’s that there are no anti-rotation tabs on the barrel nut. I’ve never actually seen one rotate. But I just feel better with some sort of anti-rotation stop. Probably not a big deal, though.

Otherwise, this is a tough AR-15 to beat for the money.

Ruger AR556

The Ruger AR556 surprised me a little bit. It was much better than I expected.

The B5 Systems pistol grip and stock are a nice touch. And all the finishes—the anodizing and the nitride—are impressively smooth. The upper receiver, lower receiver, and the bolt carrier group look a lot like Aero Precision hardware (though I’m fairly certain that Ruger does not contract Aero Precision to make their parts).

The AR556 is also decently tuned out of the box. You could soften it up a little bit with a heavier buffer or a muzzle brake. But it’s not as terribly obvious as it is on some other rifles that they gassed it for reliability.

My only complaint about the AR-556 is the free float handguard. There are only a couple of short sections of picatinny rail along the top. And there don’t appear to be any anti-rotation tabs.

The handguard might have an internal anti-rotation insert, similar to an SLR Rifleworks handguard. But, from the outside at least, the handguard appears to be friction clamped to the barrel nut and retained with anti-slip screws.

But, handguard aside, the platform as a whole shoots better than the price tag suggests.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The Springfield Armory Saint Victor is a nice upgrade from the standard Saint rifle. All the key operating parts are the same. But this one comes with a muzzle brake and an M-LOK freefloat handguard.

The handguard has a ton of M-LOK slots. If you’re into mounting a lot of M-LOK attachments, the handguard will work. And it’s a nice slim handguard that’s comfortable with any grip technique.

Unfortunately, there’s no full length picatinny rail on top of the handguard, just a small section up front for mounting backup sights. This might not be an issue for you.

But a full length picatinny rail is pretty handy for mounting pressure switches, sling sockets, and the like. And it doesn’t really grate on your hand the way a quad picatinny rail does.

However, picatinny rail complaints aside, we’ve had this one out on the rental counter, too. And it runs like a top.

Geissele Automatics Super Duty Rifle

As far as high-end duty rifles go, the Geissele Automatics Super Duty Rifle is about at the top of the heap.

Geissele rails are legendary for their durability and versatility. And this rifle is precisely tuned right out of the box.

Even with a suppressor, you don’t get much gas blowback. And the recoil is noticeably tamer than something like an M&P15.

Also, you get a Geissele SSA-E trigger and the Geissele Maritime Bolt Catch, which are both best-in-class parts.

I’m not a huge fan of the Geissele pistol grip. It’s a bit too much like an A2 grip for my taste. But it’s easy to replace, if you happen to dislike it.

This rifle is a bit expensive. But Geissele really nailed it with this one. 

Springfield Armory Saint

A few years ago, Springfield Armory decided to try their hand at making an AR-15. And it seems to have worked out pretty well.

We’ve run a few of the Springfield Armory Saint rifles at the rental counter as rental guns. And they’ve held up really well to the hard use, despite having to feed them scraps during the ammo shortage.

Springfield wisely contracted BCM (or B5 Systems, in some cases) for the handguard, furniture, and some of the internal components (the trigger appears to be a BCM PNT trigger or something very similar). The result is a rifle with great ergonomics and a better than average trigger press.

However, there’s not a ton of rail space on the handguard (enough for a flashlight and a vertical grip). And I’m not terribly impressed by the included flip up sights.

They work well enough for backup sights. But they wiggle in the up position more than I’d like. They’re not bad if you’re planning on using them strictly as backup sights, though.

But, overall, it’s a well-gassed rifle that shoots pretty pleasantly for a middle-of-the-road AR-15.

Stag Arms Stag-15

Stag Arms often gets pigeon holed as a budget AR-15 manufacturer. But I’ve used a lot of their components and rifles. And they’ve always been very well made.

The Stag Arms Stag-15 is kind of their flagship rifle. And it runs well. Though, it’s quite mil-spec in terms of the finish and trigger. I think that’s probably why people peg Stag Arms as a budget manufacturer: the anodizing and phosphate finishes are comparable to something like an Anderson Manufacturing rifle.

However, the handguard is nice. The anti-anti rotation tabs contact the top and bottom of the upper receiver. And the barrel nut and retaining mechanism is similar to an Aero Precision handguard. It’s super secure and easy to install.

The only real downside is that Stag Arms uses a standard weight buffer in this rifle. And the recoil is a little bit sharp. A heavier, H2 buffer would probably be appropriate for this rifle. But a heavier buffer is a cheap upgrade.

It would also be nice if the Stag-15 came with backup sights. But that’s a nitpick.

The Stag-15 is a solid rifle for the money.

S&W M&P15 Sport II

Here’s a fun story about the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport:

We were running a carbine class, and a friend of mine showed up with a brand new M&P15. He literally took it out of the wrapping at the range just before the class started.

At the same time, a couple of other students showed up with AR-15s that cost about three times as much as the M&P15 (not naming any names here. No need to put anyone on blast).

Both of those more expensive rifles broke during the class (broke bad. Needed a gunsmith to fix them). But the M&P15 ran like a top through the entire class—about 1000 rounds.

This is an anecdote. But it’s been representative of my experience with a whole bunch of M&P15 rifles.

The trigger is a bit gritty. They could do with a heavier buffer, because the recoil is a little aggressive. And I’d replace the mil-spec furniture, if I had one of my own. But they work.

My only hesitancy with this rifle is that it seems like Smith & Wesson may have recently changed their manufacturing a little bit. Within the last year or so, we’ve had a few of them in the shop because of gas system issues.

It’s been the gas block every time. That may be a coincidence. But it’s worth checking when you get your first shots with this gun.

It’s also worth noting that these rifles sell really well, because they’re so affordable. And only a few of them have come back with an issue. It may have been a hiccup in manufacturing that cleared itself up.

Primary Weapons Systems MK116 MOD 2-M

There are a few rifles out there that use a gas piston system. The Primary Weapons Systems MK116 Pro is one of my favorites, as far as true AR-15 pattern rifles go (the Sig MCX Virtus is also great, but with a few more proprietary parts).

One of the drawbacks of a piston driven AR-1Primary Weapons Systems MK116 Mod 2-M5 is that you get a more aggressive recoil impulse. This is true with the MK116. However, PWS uses a progressive venting system that gradually vents more gas as the bolt moves to the rear to smooth out the recoil impulse.

It’s not perfect. Still more aggressive than a direct impingement gun. But it’s better than most of the competitors.

However, the reason I like this one just a little bit more than something like the MCX is because it’s compatible with most standard AR-15 parts.

The bolt carrier and gas piston are proprietary. But just about everything else on this gun is compatible with standard AR-15 parts. That makes it much easier to get replacement parts if something breaks.

It might be rare that a part does break. But it’s a huge bummer if your gun is down for weeks because you have to get a replacement part directly from the manufacturer.

Also, the MK116 is a pretty gucci rifle that comes kitted out with ambidextrous controls, Bravo Company furniture, and a Radian Raptor charging handle right out of the box. It’s not cheap. But it’s super nice to shoot.

Rise Armament Watchman LE

Rise Armament is primarily known for their triggers. But the Rise Armament Watchman LE is an impressive rifle.

It comes with a Rise Armament LE145 Tactical Trigger right out of the box. And it comes with a couple other nice upgrades: an ambidextrous safety selector and fluted barrel (though the fluting is only in front of the gas block).

The charging handle is not ambidextrous. But it’s got a wide latch that makes it bearable for left-handers.

However, they did a pretty solid job of tuning this rifle out of the box. The casings consistently ejected to 3 o-clock and it felt like the recoil was about as soft as it could be without doing anything crazy with the recoil system.

Also, it’s surprisingly affordable for a gun that comes with a drop in trigger and upgraded controls. Rise Armament may not have the clout that some other manufacturers have. But their gun shoots really well. 

JP Enterprises JP-15

The JP Enterprises JP-15 is the AR-15 to get if you’re into competitive shooting.

Sure, the handguard might be a little bulky and the muzzle brake packs some punch.

But, between the muzzle brake, the silent captured spring system, and the trigger, you get an impressively smooth shooting gun, right out of the box. It also has a heat sink to keep the barrel cool during rapid fire.

JP enterprises is known for producing some of the smoothest rifles on the planet. And this one lives up to its reputation.

The recoil impulse is incredibly minimal. And the gun stays flat, almost on its own. The parts may be proprietary. But they work.

The only downside is the price. This is a pretty spendy gun. But most competition guns are pretty spendy. No surprises there.

Colt AR-15A4 Patrol Rifle

Colt is the original AR-15 manufacturer. And the Colt AR-15A4 Patrol Rifle is a cool rifle if you want a full, 20-inch AR-15. It’s not compact. But it’s got classic looks and Colt quality.

It’s not the most ergonomic rifle ever. The rifle stock and A2 grip are pretty old school. But the carry handle can be removed, so you can modernize the sighting system.

However, this is a relatively heavy rifle. And the rifle length recoil system makes for light recoil. Colt also makes nice mil-spec triggers. It’s still a mil-spec trigger. But the trigger press is manageable for long-range shooting.

The barrel is excellent for long range shooting, though. A 20-inch barrel drives a 5.56mm round quite far, and carries good velocities out to about the maximum range of the round.

It’s not the most space age rifle around. But it’s an affordable base platform that can be easily upgraded.

Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) Recce-14 MCMR

We’ve already talked about BCM a bit. And the BCM Recce-14 MCMR is comparable to the Daniel Defense DDM4V7 rifles, in terms of build quality.

As a direct comparison, I actually prefer the Recce-14, despite my rather outstanding experience with Daniel Defense rifles.

The main reason is the handguard. Bravo Company handguards are one of my favorites. They mount incredibly securely. And they have great ergonomics.

Also, the BCM PNT trigger feels a little smoother out of the box. Not that I’m much of a stickler for triggers. But I know some people are. And the polished nickel finish on the PNT feels a little better than the more mil-spec finish on the DDM4V7 trigger.

And, let’s be honest, the Recce-14 is less expensive than the DDM4V7. That probably counts for more to me than it should.

I will admit that the Recce-14 has a slightly snappier recoil impulse than the DDM4V7. I suspect that BCM might err on the side of having more gas to drive the bolt for reliability. But the Recce-14 rifle is one that definitely benefits from a heavier buffer.

In the end, though, BCM has a reputation for a reason. And the Recce-14 is just about at the pinnacle of value. The build quality and ergonomics are hard to beat without spending more money.

What about building an AR-15?

Building an AR-15 is a great way to get a rifle that’s built exactly the way you want it. And, if you’re careful, you can save yourself some money by building your own AR-15.

But that’s a story for another day. Check out our AR-15 builders guide for the full rundown on how to build your own AR-15.

Final words

The AR-15 can be a do-it-all rifle, without a doubt. And the nice thing is that it’s easy to make modifications and tweak your AR-15 to suit your needs, if you find that the base configuration isn’t quite right for you.

But the key is starting with a solid rifle that will give you a reliable foundation for building out your AR-15 to be the rifle of your dreams. Choose wisely.

Read our other related articles here:

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