At a Glance: Top AR-15 rifles under 1000
- OUR TOP PICK: PSA PA-15 16″ Carbine-Length 5.56 NATO Classic Rifle
- Smith & Wesson – M&P15 Sport 16in
- BEST BUDGET OPTION: Ruger AR-556
Comparison of the Best AR 15 rifles under $1000
Our Top Pick
|PSA PA-15 16″ Carbine-Length 5.56 NATO Classic Rifle||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Smith & Wesson – M&P15 Sport 16in||View Latest Price|
|Ruger AR-556||View Latest Price|
The AR-15 is not only one of the most popular firearms in American but also one of the most prolifically manufactured firearms in the world, with many manufacturers to choose from. That makes it extremely difficult for a buyer to decide which AR-15 to buy. To complicate things even further, there is a vast offering of accessories with which to personalize and upgrade your AR-15.
Our List of the 6 Best Budget AR-15’s for Your Money
In this review, I looked at several AR-15 rifles that can be bought for less than $1000 to help you select the best weapon for your unique needs. We will highlight the different specifications of the best AR-15 rifles and the pros and cons of each rifle to help you make an informed choice.
Aero Precision AR-15 Mid-length Rifle
First up on our list of complete AR 15 rifles is from Aero Precision. This rifle is best for newcomers and anyone with a smaller budget. This is a high-quality mid-length rifle at an affordable price that will do everything you want from it. Beginners will find the rifle easy to shoot.
The reduced weight makes it ideal for lugging around or target shooting all day long. It can easily fire more than 2000 rounds without any malfunction. It is easy to disassemble when cleaning it which is great, particularly for new shooters. Aero Precision didn’t skimp on quality when they built the rifle yes remains a budget-friendly AR-15 option. The quality and performance compares favorably with higher-priced rifles.
A great base rifle with plenty of potential for those who’d like to upgrade. Comes optics-ready for the user to install the optics or iron sights of their choice. A high-quality pistol grip and buttstock ensure good control over your rifle and make it easy to handle.
Both upper and lower receivers are made from aluminum. The 16″ barrel is machined from 4150 CMV steel and coated with a corrosion-resistant finish. The barrel’s twist rate is 1-in-7 and has an M4 profile and a flash suppressor and is chambered in 5.56 Nato caliber. The rifle employs a mid-length direct impingement gas system and an M16 bolt carrier group with a properly staked gas key.
The bolt is machined of Carpenter 158 steel and is high-pressure and magnetic-particle inspected. The manufacturer builds its components mostly in-house and, coming from a background in the aerospace industry, its components are all mil-spec. The trigger was found to be gritty and a magazine would have been a happy addition.
- M4 profile barrel
- Aluminum receiver
- BCG is HP and MP inspected
- 16-Inch barrel with a 1-to-7 twist rate
- Corrosion-resistant finish
- A free-floating handguard
- Lightweight, 6.25lbs.
- A gritty trigger
- Ships without a magazine
- Not available for a Left-Hander
Smith & Wesson – M&P15 Sport 16in
Next up is the Smith & Wesson M&P15. A runaway success in the overcrowded AR-15 market despite being released kind of late in the game, in 2006. This is a manufacturer you look for classic, dependable handguns.
Most people don’t think AR when they hear S&W, but they should. The M&P15 is a workhorse of a rifle. This is the kind of AR you get if you run a security company and you need a few hundred weapons in the hands of your men to protect ships, property or the like.
This model is chambered in 5.56mm so you can use .223 if need be. Everything else about it is pretty classic, mi-spec, and what you’d expect of an AR with an eye to tradition. It has a round drop-in handguard and a front gas block A-frame sight paired with Magpul’s outstanding rear folding sight. The sighting system acts great on its own but is also set up perfectly to serve as a backup to your holo or red dot. The overall weight of this rifle is a nice 6.45 pounds, pretty decent for a serious combat weapon. The fit and finish and reliability have become legendary over the relatively short run this rifle has had. You just can’t go wrong with this unit.
- Great quality for the price
- Super affordable
- Magpul folding rear sight
Ruger is a legendary name for Americans who love affordable, ultra-reliable firearms. Like Smith & Wesson, Ruger took their time getting into the AR-15 game, but when they did, they shook the competition. The company couldn’t help itself, it had to add a few proprietary upgrades and innovations to make Ruger’s ARs stand out from the crowd. Mainly, their handguards are a lot easier to install as you don’t need a special tool or a crush washer.
This is a pretty standard option that comes with a 30-round mag and a very slick-looking freefloat handguard. The handguard gives you acres of M-Lok slots for accessories. It is a bit longer than the S&W given its 18″ barrel. It weighs just a touch more too, at 6.8 pounds. The barrel is chrome-moly steel, about the best you can get, with a twist rate of 1:8, perfect for most civilian shooters. This rifle is covered by Ruger’s warranty, one of the best in the industry. This is another great option if you need to arm a small army, or just need a great knock around rifle that will last a lifetime.
- M-Lok freefloat handguard
- Barrel Length 18″
- Chrome moly 1:8 barrel
- Great value
- Improved, proprietary handguard attachment
- Some AR-15 components may not be compatible
Primary Weapons – MK-116 Pro Rifle 223 Wylde
The .223 Wylde chambering is a unique chamber safe for both .223 Remington and 5.56 Nato ammunition. You can’t fire 5.56 in a .223 gun, and Wylde is better with .223 than a dedicated 5.56 chamber.
The gas-piston system and the different settings it offers are a great feature of this gun. The gas-piston system offers less fouling in the receiver and the ability to fine-tune the gas flow for different rounds. The long-stroke system allows three different settings to cater for suppressors and different ammunition loads.
The rifle is reliable with different ammunition loads. You can get this as a standalone upper receiver which can fit on any AR-15 lower, upgrading it to a long-stroke system. Also great are the Radian Raptor charging handle, pistol grip, and free-float M-Lok handguard which makes it easy to hold the rifle steady when firing.
This rifle is toward the top of the price range. It offers excellent quality and the variable settings of its long-stroke gas system make this a weapon more suited to the accomplished AR-15 shooter. Anyone who wants to move from a direct impingement gas system to a gas-piston system will find this rifle a nice option. AR-15 owners mixing civilian and NATO will like the Wylde chambering.
This is a great buy for the more accomplished AR-15 shooter who wants to have a rifle with a gas-operated piston system, the price is approaching the top of the range but this rifle offers great value and accuracy. The M-Lok handguards make it easy to attach accessories and customize the weapon. We like the Wylde chambering and the fine-tuning options of the gas system.
- .223 Wylde Chambering
- Variable settings on the long-stroke gas system
- Standalone Uppers -upgrade existing rifles to the long-stroke system
- 30 round magazine included
- Muzzle brake included
- Top-end of the price range
DPMS Oracle A3
DPMS has been around long enough to establish a name for itself as an outstanding option if you’re looking for great value for money AR-15s and components. The Oracle A3 is a great example of this. It gives you everything you need in a serious, combat-ready AR without any of the fancy show-off frills that you don’t really need. This rifle comes without any sighting system. Instead, it has a top rail and a length of rail above the gas block for you to pick what kind of sights or optic you want to put on it.
It’s a very classic looking AR, with a round polymer drop-in handguard in the classic style. The stock is also a pretty standard adjustable option from Pardus. The barrel is 16 inches with a nice little birdcage flash hider sitting on the end. It is a chrome-moly barrel with a 1:9 twist rate, great for civilian bullets. Everything about this rifle is pretty mil-spec. It comes with a 30-round mag and weighs in at a nice light 6.4 pounds.
Like all DPMS products, this rifle is made in the USA. If you’re looking for a nice little truck gun or a gift for a new shooter, you can’t go wrong here. Despite the low price, everything about this rifle is up to standard and is built to last.
- Only 6.4 pounds
- Bird cage flash hider
- Great adjustable stock
- Rail on the gas block
- Made in the USA
- Must choose a sighting system separately
PSA PA-15 16″ Carbine-Length 5.56 NATO Classic Rifle
Many shooters love this standard rifle without bells and whistles but that makes for a good blank slate. It is light, has great balance, and compact size. This is an affordable option Chambered in 5.56 NATO, with a 1/7 twist, M4 barrel extension, and a carbine-length gas system. The upper is forgesed and machined to MIL-SPECS. It includes forward assist and dust covers made in the USA.
This rifle uses a direct impingement gas system. It has a 16″ barrel with an M1-profile and 1/2″ x 28 muzzle pattern. The gas port is enlarged to ensure smooth operation. The handguard type is an M4 with heat shields and reinforced hard coat anodized to further enhance the look. The barrel is made from chrome Moly Vanadium steel with a phosphate finish. The full-auto profile bolt carrier group and the fire control group is a PSA mil-spec finished, single-stage assembly. You can shoot .223 ammo through a rifle that’s designed to shoot .556 but never the other way around. It’s like the difference between a 38 special and a 357 Magnum, same caliber but different velocities/fps.
- Comes with a PMAG
- Very economical
- Uppers Made in the USA
- Not California Approved
- Doesn’t come with any rear sight
What is an AR-15?
The AR-15 rifle is a lightweight rifle with a semi-automatic action based on the original ArmaLite AR-15 design of Eugene Stoner. The rifle was designed specifically for use with the light 5.56 NATO/223-caliber ammunition and is constructed of materials like injection-molded plastic and aluminum.
The rifle was developed in response to the Pentagon’s drive during the 1960s to replace the then M14 rifle with a more modern weapon firing a .308-caliber cartridge. However, research indicated that a smaller 5.56/.223-caliber rifle would be better suited to the situation in Vietnam.
The many different manufacturers and a plethora of different styles and variants help to ensure that the AR-15 is one of the most recognizable rifles in the world.
Why is the AR-15 America’s favorite rifle?
The M16-rifle was a success in Vietnam but gained a reputation for being unreliable and was tainted with a bit of stigma for not being suitable for the Southeast Asian jungle. In 1994, assault weapons were banned in the US including the AR-15. The powerful NRA helped insert a “sunset clause” into the ban, so it expired after some years.
After the ban expired, the rifle became extremely popular amongst gun lovers. The National Rifle Association promoted the AR-15 rifle as “America’s rifle” and the media attention helped to turn the AR-15 rifle into one of America’s most favorite rifles.
Choosing an AR-15 that fits your budget
Before rushing off to go and buy that AR-15 it would be wise to ask yourself a few questions like:
- Why do you want to own an AR-15 and for what purpose?
- Do you plan to do target shooting, participating in competitions, hunting, or use it for personal home defense?
- What is your budget?
- Have you done any prior research or read any reviews on specific AR-15 rifles and accessories?
If not, speak to other gun owners, ask them about their experiences and what they recommend. Arm yourself with all the knowledge you can gain to make an informed decision. The basic AR-15 rifle performs well, has good accuracy, and is equally suited to target shooting, home defense, and hunting. The rifle carries comfortably on hikes, the weight won’t tire you out.
For beginners, we recommend the following specifications when buying your first complete rifle:
- A lightweight, chrome-lined barrel of mid-length, 16″ with a fixed front sight base. Select a twist rate that will suit most types of bullets like a 1:8 or 1:9 twist rate.
- Preferably chambered for 5.56mm because it can also safely fire .223 ammo. The opposite is not safe.
- Good quality drop-in handguards.
- Preferably a collapsible stock
- Standard trigger mechanism.
- A comfortable pistol grip of good quality.
- Adjustable rear sight.
- Ability to attach accessories like optics and light for home defense, a sling for carrying.
Individual needs, the purpose of use, and shooting experience will determine if you will need more or different features when selecting the best AR-15 for under $1000.
Gas operated versus direct impingement
The AR-15 is a semi-auto firearm. Pull the charging handle once and all you have to do is keep tapping the trigger once per shot. The following basic mechanical functions are required:
The direct impingement and gas piston operating systems differ largely on what happens with the propellant gas after the bullet is pushed through the barrel.
The direct-impingement model is the technology that Eugene Stoner originally devised for the AR-15 rifle. The propellant gas from the fired cartridge is moved through a small tube to directly impinge or contact the bolt carrier assembly. The gas pushes the bolt carrier assembly backward which extracts the cartridge and ejects it. A spring-loaded action pushes the bolt carrier assembly forward to push an unspent round into the chamber. The system doesn’t have a separate gas cylinder, piston, and operating rod assembly, thereby saving on weight and manufacturing costs.
Gas operated piston technology was first used in a standard-issue assault rifle in the form of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK-47. Gas systems operate by using the propellant gas produced when firing the bullet. The gas is captured in a separate cylinder where it forces a piston to push the bolt carrier system backward to extract and eject the cartridge case. The bolt carrier assembly is pushed forward by a spring to push an unspent round into the chamber.
The arguments for and against the different systems can be summarised with the following:
- The Direct-impingement system’s replacement parts are easy to get, inexpensive, and made to a set standard.
- The parts become dirty from direct contact with the gas and get very hot quickly. This makes it difficult to handle and will require a cool-down period.
- The Gas operated piston system’s parts cannot be interchanged because of manufacturers using proprietary components.
- Piston system parts remain clean longer and will remain cool even after firing many rounds in quick succession. This makes it easy to restore a jam without burning yourself.
Drop-in versus free-float handguards
An AR-15 handguard’s purpose is to protect your hand from the heated barrel, particularly during sustained fire. With AR-15 rifles, you have the choice between two different types of handguards, the drop-in or the free-float handguard.
The two types differ in their point of attachment on your rifle.
The drop-in attaches to both the front-end cap and the receiver while the free-float handguard attaches onto the front of the receiver only. Generally, drop-in handguards will be lighter and cheaper than the majority of free-float handguards. Both types have benefits, however, there are other considerations when deciding, which we list briefly below.
Consider using a drop-in handguard if you prefer the following:
- Weight saving
- The use of the rifle’s front sight block
- Quick and easy installation of the handguard without modifications.
- A classic look.
- Affordable price and easy installation.
Consider using a free-float handguard if you prefer the following:
- A low-profile gas block
- A more solid grip that won’t move around.
- Improved accuracy.
- Improved heat dissipation.
- Modern, customized look with accessory mounting options.
- Less concerned about costs.
Both types of handguards make it possible to attach various accessories like flashlights, bipods, different optics, and lasers for a customized look and functionality. You can also decide to change the type of handguard on your AR-15 rifle for greater versatility at any time. The selection will depend on your personal preference, priorities, and budget.
Fundamental parts to check for quality
The barrel of your AR-15 rifle is the main functioning component of the rifle and determines its performance more than any other component. The barrel affects the handling, reliability, and accuracy of your AR-15 rifle.
Keep in mind that you must ensure a balance between weight, handling, accuracy, compactness, durability, and recoil in your selection of a barrel. Your choices on the following aspects of the barrel will play a pivotal role:
- Type of barrel: lightweight, mid-weight, or precision.
- Barrel Length: determines the velocity.
- Profile of the barrel
- Material & lining
- Rifling method & twist
- Chamber dimensions
- Gas system
The rifle’s bolt is housed inside what is known as the bolt carrier and together they form the bolt carrier group (BCG). The typical AR-15’s BCG consists of 17 different parts and in total, up to 8 different basic operations take place between the insertion of a round into the chamber, firing of the shot, and when the next round is inserted into the chamber.
There are semi-automatic and full-auto BCG’s available for use with your AR-15. As is the case with barrels the steel used to manufacture the BCG can make a difference in the working and longevity of your BCG. Different steel grades like 8620, 9310, and Carpenter 158 exist and differ in hardness, durability, and price. There are a variety of coatings used to reduce wear and improve the functioning of the BCG. For instance, military-spec option for coating is chrome plating but several others exist like nitride, phosphate, and nickel boron coatings.
The trigger group is a key component of the lower receiver for the AR-15 rifle
This is one of the most customizable parts and many shooters believe that it is one of the first things to upgrade on their rifles. There are 4 different types of AR-15 triggers:
- Single-stage or military spec option.
- Two-stage – which is a safe, accurate, and light option.
- An adjustable trigger – which can be either two-stage or single-stage.
- A drop-in trigger – which is available in many varieties and is easy to install.
The single-stage trigger is the military spec trigger as designed originally by Eugene Stoner and differs greatly in the pull required to fire the shot. The two-stage trigger requires a lighter initial pull before the second heavier pull required to fire the shot. The adjustable trigger and the drop-in triggers can be either single or two-stage triggers.
For more info on the AR-15, read our post on How to Build an AR-15: A Beginner’s Guide
Our Pick: Best AR 15 Rifle Under 1000
There is strong competition in the market for AR-15 below $1000 and the six AR-15s we reviewed all offer some excellent features and value for money. None of the AR-15s we reviewed will disappoint. In the end, it comes down to finding a balance between features, affordability, and planned usage. Many of the AR-15’s reviewed will outperform the others in certain aspects but in our view, the best all-rounder based on our criteria would be the Aero Precision Mid-Length AR-15 Rifle.