At a Glance: The Best Budget AR15s in 2020
Comparison of Best Budget AR15
Our Top Pick
|Brownells – BRN-605 5.56||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Brownells – BRN-601 Rifle 5.56mm 20in Green||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Aero Precision – M4E1 5.56 Collapsible Stock||View Latest Price|
Purchasing your first AR15 rifle is an exciting experience however, it’s common to feel a bit overwhelmed and unsure of where to start.
There’s a lot to consider before making your choice. Therefore, in this ultimate AR15 guide we will share with you the eight best budget AR15’s available today, along with all the information you could possibly need to make a confident and informed decision.
Our pick of the top budget AR15’s on the market
Buying a new rifle does not have to break the bank. Nowadays there is a large range of high quality yet affordable options. I tested out and reviewed all the following rifles. For each one, I’ve compiled a breakdown of the pros and cons. This will help you understand which budget AR15 meets your needs the most.
Brownells – BRN-605 5.56
The Brownells BRN-605 is designed around Brownells’ replicas of the XM16E1 upper and lower receivers. The lower has a partial “fence” around the magazine release, while the upper has a forward assist, but no shell deflector.
Many users of Brownells original 605 reported reliability problems with the short dwell time caused by the truncated barrel. Taking this feedback on board, the team at Brownells has eliminated that problem by enlarging the gas port to ensure the BRN-605 carbine runs smoothly
For best results, Brownells have recommended using M193-type ammunition with 55-grain bullets, and avoiding steel cases and underpowered ammunition.
The BRN-605 is built with a black reinforced polymer that replicates the look of the original but is much more durable. It also features forged then final-machined 7075 T6 aluminum receivers, and a chrome-plated bolt/carrier group machined from 9310 carbon steel.
Moreover, it includes a fixed “Type D” buttstock and a triangular cross-section handguard, giving it that iconic M16 look. The hider is pinned and welded in place so you don’t have to contend with NFA short-barreled rifle (SBR) regulations when you purchase a 605 upper.
Other than the upgraded performance and reliability, this new model is much more aesthetically pleasing. You can tell it has been well made with good attention to detail as the finish is superb. Plus, I found the short barrel and A-1 stock to compliment each other perfectly, making a very well-balanced carbine.
It’s also very lightweight and easy to adjust. I was able to accurately zero it straight out of the box and did not experience any problems zeroing it while shooting. Overall it works very well with 55 grain, the only issues I did experience were minor ones with the mag catch/release.
- Made with high-quality, durable materials
- A lightweight rifle
- Very easy to zero
- Looks great – has the iconic M16 look
- Quick and easy to adjust
- Slight issues with the mag catch/release.
- Cannot use steel cases or underpowered ammunition with this AR15
Brownells – BRN-601 Rifle 5.56mm 20in Green
Brownells BRN-601 AR-15 rifle stays true to the design of the iconic Model 601 rifle, making it a popular choice for many faithful AR15 enthusiasts. Keeping to tradition, the BRN-601 is constructed from all new parts and features green furniture and slab-sided receivers that are close to the original design by Eugene Stoner.
The BRN-601 features a 20-inch barrel. Part of the original plan of the AR-15/M16 rifles was to break that 3,000-fps barrier with small and light bullets, and those extra four inches make a big difference.
The BRN-601 is chambered in 5.56 NATO and includes one 20-round magazine. It measures 40 inches in length and weighs in at 6lbs 11oz, making it a lightweight gun. The rifle also features a triangle-shaped charging handle, a three-prong flash hider, and a slick-side bolt-carrier group. The slab-sided receiver has an integrated carry handle with an aperture sight.
When I first took the rifle out of the box, I was impressed with how incredible it looks. The grey anodizing, green furniture makes it a magnificent looking rifle. Inspecting it closer I could see the BRN-601 has been constructed with quality workmanship with all parts fitting well.
The gun works smoothly, rates high for accuracy, and the factory trigger pull is above average. I did experience a few problems shooting the 601 initially. For the first few rounds the bolt would not fully close and chamber. However, after that, it ran fine so it seems that it needed to be broken in.
The buttstock is fixed, keeping the overall length of this rifle at 40 inches, which may not be seen as a good feature by many shooters.
Overall, this a great, high-quality AR-15 that is accurate and reliable and as close to the original as you can get. Because of this, it’s easily one of the best budget AR15s for shooters into the retro thing.
- Features a 20-inch barrel
- The design makes it very similar to the original AR15
- Aesthetically, this is probably the best looking AR15 on the market
- Great accuracy and factory trigger pull
- Runs smoothly and is reliable to use
- There may be a few initial teething problems with the bolt and chambering
- Fixed buttstock
Aero Precision – M4E1 5.56 Collapsible Stock
The Aero Precision M4E1 rifle features a 20-inch barrel and all the up-to-date features of a modern AR15 carbine, as well as the excellent reliability and accuracy of a full rifle.
With the M4E1 you have the benefit of the standard rifle-length gas system’s greater reliability, plus a gentler recoil impulse. This results in a better ability to stay on target for more rapid, accurate follow-up shots. The longer barrel of this rifle also gives you extra velocity to reach out to targets beyond the “safe” range that a 14.5″ or 16″ carbine has.
This rifle is chambered in 5.56 NATO, making it compatible with civilian .223 Remington ammo. The barrel is constructed with 4150 chrome-moly-vanadium and finished with tough QPQ.
The M4E1 was built using Aero Precision’s most popular upper receiver with its integral handguard that provides exceptional rigidity, and no flex between the guard and the receiver. The free-floating barrel improves the accuracy further.
Aero used their Gen2 lower receiver which boasts a flared magwell for fast mag changes, and an integral trigger guard that bolsters the structural rigidity of the entire lower. Furthermore, there’s an M4-style adjustable carbine stock and a standard A2 flash suppressor.
The MAE1 allows you to mount plenty of accessories with its numerous M-LOK slots. It also has Picatinny rail sections up top at the front and the rear. The rifle length is 39.5 inches and it weighs 8.2 lbs.
Although the M4E1 is not the most aesthetically pleasing rifle on our list, I believe it’s one of the best budget AR15s. This is because it gets back to basics in AR15 design, which results in excellent reliability, accuracy, and shooting comfort. At the same time, you experience the benefits of a modern tactical carbine.
You’ll be able to operate the M4E1 straight out of the box. All Aero Precision rifles are assembled by Aero’s professional gunsmiths and are tested before leaving their facility, giving you complete assurance to confidently start using your new firearm straight away.
- Rates high in reliability and accuracy thanks to its simple but high-quality AR15 design
- The 20-inch barrel gives you extra velocity
- Features an M4-style adjustable carbine stock and a standard A2 flash suppressor
- Ability to mount multiple accessories
- Not the most aesthetically pleasing rifle
CMMG – Resolute MK4 350 Legend Black
CMMG’s Resolute rifle offers a lineup of three tiers, Resolute 100, Resolute 200, and Resolute 300, catering to each shooter’s personal needs and allowing for extra customization.
This AR15 is equipped with an aluminum RML15 M-LOK handguard and a Geissele SSA 2 stage trigger. It has a CMMG RipStock 6 position collapsible stock that offers effortless lighting-fast deployment and an endplate with ambidextrous sling loops.
The Resolute MK4 is a premium rifle from CMMG featuring a 16 inch 4140 chrome barrel with a CMMG SV muzzle brake. It is chambered in the new .350 Legend cartridge, one of the most versatile cartridges available. This makes it a great choice for a day on the range or as a home defense firearm.
The MK4 includes one 10 round proprietary steel magazine. This Resolute rifle comes with a 16-inch barrel, carbine length gas system, and is designed for balance, accuracy, and maneuverability, making it a strong contender as the best budget AR15.
Other features include an enhanced receiver extension with an Ambi sling plate, a Magpul MOE pistol grip, and a cerakote finish on the receivers and handguard. The MK4 is constructed with a 7075-T6 aluminum M4 type upper receiver and an AR15 type lower receiver.
Overall, this is a light and very short rifle, but it still supports standard field shooting positions. I found it very easy to use and maintain, and it played well with a suppressor.
- Offers 3 different models to meet shooters individual needs
- Boasts effortless fast deployment
- Very versatile AR15 – chambered in the .350 Legend cartridge
- Top-notch balance, accuracy, and maneuverability
- Constructed with high-quality materials
- Easy to use and maintain
- Least appealing option here in terms of look and design
Savage Arms – MSR 15 HVY BBLE 2 Stage Trigger 224 Valkyrie
The semi-automatic MSR-15 Valkyrie rifle gets its name from the long-range .224 Valkyrie cartridge and it is built for maximum performance. The low-recoiling, flat-shooting, tack-driving .224 Valkyrie is the first AR-15-sized cartridge that retains supersonic velocity beyond 1,300 yards while producing far less recoil than .308 Winchester or similar long-range cartridges.
The MSR 15 is a great rifle for long-range competition. Its features include a precise two-stage target trigger, a free-floated 18″ barrel, a mid-length gas tube, and an adjustable gas block that lets you match the gas flow to each load for reliable cycling.
The muzzle brake located upfront helps to redirect gases, keeping the muzzle down and helping you stay on the target for rapid, accurate follow-up shots. Moreover, the comfortable Hogue pistol grip makes the Valkyrie an easy rifle to shoot.
The MSR 15 Valkyrie comes with a fitted Magpul UBR buttstock. I found this gives plenty of room for a good cheek-stock weld, plus the adjustable length of pull is stepped enough to give plenty of options. During testing, the stock maintained a tight fit too.
The upper and lower receiver and the machined aluminum handguard have been finished with tough Cerakote, protecting all parts from any wear and tear while out in the field. I particularly like the look and feel of this AR15 and at 7 lbs, it’s fairly lightweight too.
The only aspect I dislike about the Savage Arms Valkyrie is its trigger. For me, the trigger pull was a bit too light, but if you like it like that, then this rifle may be for you. I also found the charging handle to be a bit too small and would have preferred a bigger latch.
- Uses high performance .224 Valkyrie cartridge
- A great rifle for long-range competition shooting
- East to maintain the target for rapid, accurate follow-up shots
- High-quality buttstock that maintains a tight fit
- Looks great
- Trigger pull may be too light
- Charging handle gets in the way of scope rings
Mossberg – MMR Pro 224 Valkyrie
The MMR Pro 224 Valkyrie came about when Mossberg combined their popular MMR Pro AR-15 with the innovative 224 Valkyrie cartridge, creating the target shooters’ perfect AR15 firing a cartridge purpose-built for competitive long-range accuracy.
The MMR Pro has a typical direct-impingement gas-operated action. Significantly, it has a rifle-length gas system which resists wear and tear. The muzzle has a suppressor-ready ASR mount and comes fitted with a SilencerCo muzzle brake. It also has a Raptor ambidextrous charging handle, which is a vast improvement over mil-spec versions.
The MMR Pro 224 features a stainless-steel barrel free-floated and topped with a suppressor-ready ASR muzzle brake. The 18-inch barrel has a 1:7-inch twist, which is necessary to stabilize heavy 90-grain bullets. The handguard measures 15 inches and comes complete with M-LOK accessory attachment slots.
Inside the receiver of this AR15 you’ll find the excellent JM Pro trigger. This trigger was designed in collaboration with champion shooter Jerry Miculek. It is adjustable, enabling you to fine-tune your trigger pull for the cleanest, lightest break, maximizing your downrange performance.
The six-position buttstock has an interchangeable FLEX recoil pad that allows the length of pull to be adjusted from 11 to 14.25 inches.
The rifle is a handy, lightweight firearm, weighing just 7 pounds, 9 ounces without sights, and with an empty magazine. The rifle comes with one removable 28-round magazine. The overall length of the .224 Valkyrie cartridge is held to 2.26 inches making it compatibile with standard ARs.
Because of its long-range shooting abilities, the MMR Pro could be the best budget AR15 for cost-conscious competitors. Moreover, because of the long list of features, it also makes a nice allround hunting rifle as well as a great option for those looking to up their home-defense game.
- Uses the .224 Valkyrie cartridge making it great for long-range shooting
- Features a SilencerCo muzzle brake for reduced recoil and less muzzle jump
- Raptor ambidextrous charging handle
- JM Pro adjustable trigger
- Rifle-length direct-impingement gas system
- Free-floating 18″ stainless steel barrel for superior accuracy
Alex Pro Firearms – 224 Valkyrie Varmint 22-inch
The APF Varmint .224 Valkyrie rifle has been purpose-built to provide hunters with the ultimate precision firearm they need to go after coyotes and other game. Thanks to the cartridge choice, the APF Varmint boasts supersonic speed and high ballistic coefficiency with low-recoil.
The thing I like most about the Valkyrie Varmint is the rifles barrel-twist rate. The 22-inch stainless steel barrel is optimized for the Valkyrie round thanks to its 1:7 inch twist. This is actually optimized for use with a range of bullet weights, suiting both heavy rounds for long-distance use and lighter rounds for flat shooting. The dual-port muzzle brake mitigates what little recoil is generated.
The Varmint sports an upgraded CMC 3.5-lb. Flat blade trigger that provides a crisp pull with minimal take-up and a fast reset, aiding in long-distance accuracy.
Other features of the APF Varmint include a Magpul ACS 6-position stock with a friction lock for a wobble-free fit, an ERGO SureGrip pistol grip for comfortable control, and a 15.5″ M-Lok handguard providing plenty of accessory options.
The complete rifle length is 40 inches and it comes with one 25-round removable magazine. This rifle is built extremely well and functions perfectly with a variety of .224 loads. I found the barrel to deliver precision accuracy and I appreciate that it’s threaded 1/2×28 for muzzle devices.
- Perfect choice for hunters
- Gives extreme precision and speed
- Long 22-inch stainless steel barrel
- 1:7 inch barrel twist allowing use for a range of bullet weights
- Dual-port muzzle brake
- Flat-blade trigger for crisp pulls with minimal take-up
- Wobble free Magpul 6-position stock
- Compatible with every brand of .224
Alex Pro Firearms – 224 Valkyrie DMR 18-inch
The second APF rifle on this list is the 18-inch 224 Valkyrie DMR. This AR15 was created to be easily handled and maneuvered while still taking full advantage of the precise accuracy of the .224 Valkyrie cartridge.
The Valkyrie DMR is loaded with all of the features you’ll need for a versatile range of shooting styles such as close-up shooting, long-range plinking or varmint hunting.
The full length of the rifle is 37 inches with a barrel length of 18 inches, Just like the Varmint, one 25-round removable magazine is included.
Features of the DMR include a polymer black finish, 3.5-pound CMC Flatblade trigger, Magpul ACS 6 position mil-spec stock, an ERGO SureGrip pistol grip, an APF 15.5-inch MLOK rail, a BUTCHER-16 flash hider muzzle, and a 1-7 barrel twist.
Both the DMR and the Varmint are built on a standard direct-impingement action, are made in the USA, and carry the company’s lifetime warranty
- One of the most versatile rifles on the list – suitable for all styles of shooting
- Easy to use
- Offers precise accuracy
- 1:7 inch barrel twist allowing use for a range of bullet weights
- BUTCHER-16 flash hider muzzle
- 3.5-pound flat blade trigger for a crisp pull with minimal take-up
- 6-position mil-spec stock
- Jack of all trades, master of none
What is an AR15?
- An AR15 is a lightweight semi-automatic rifle developed in the 1950s by gun-manufacturing company ArmaLite. During the Vietnam era, the full-auto version, the M16, became the US military’s standard-issue assault rifle.
- It is based on the ArmaLite AR-15 design.
- “AR” actually stands for “Armalite” and not “Assault Rifle,” as many people think.
- AR15 rifles are NOT “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” An assault rifle is fully automatic, like an M16.
- In 1959, Armalite sold the AR10 and AR15 rights to Colt who modified the weapons and supplied them to the US military as the fully automatic M-16. Colt then developed a semi-automatic, civilian version also known as the AR15
- The main difference between the M-16 and AR15 is that the M16, a fully automatic rifle, continuously fires when the trigger is held down.
- With a semi-automatic gun, you pull and release the trigger after each shot, firing only one round with each pull of the trigger.
- Colt’s patent on the AR-15 expired in 1979, and many other manufacturers have since begun making their own variations of the model.
- The AR15 is legal to own in all 50 states, as long as the buyer passes the mandatory FBI background check required for all retail firearm sales.
- These rifles are used for many different types of hunting, from varmint to big game.
- They are also used for target shooting in national matches.
Why is the AR15 America’s most popular rifle?
The AR15 has been described as “America’s most popular rifle“, by the NRA with millions of Americans reporting ownership of such a rifle across the country.
The NRA explains that the AR15 is popular among gun users because it is customizable, adaptable, reliable, and accurate, and can be used in sports shooting, hunting, and self-defense situations.
- They also stated that “one of the things that makes it so unique” is the ability to modify and personalize so many of the AR15’s components.
- Here are 7 reasons why the AR15 is so popular today:
- Self-Defense – The AR15 is one of the most accurate and reliable rifles and is easy to learn and use, making it a great gun to have at home for self-defense.
- Hunting – Both the AR15 along with the AR10 are excellent rifles for hunting as they are perfect for varmints and medium game hunting, respectively.
- Teaching/learning – Its simple operation also makes it a good choice for beginners to learn the art of shooting as well as to teach novices and youngsters how to shoot accurately.
- Recreational purposes – The AR15 is one of the most fun rifles to take out onto the range. Because it’s so easy to shoot, it’s easy to hit targets, from short-range plinking to longer-range precision shooting.
- Farm and ranch use – The AR15 is also a good choice for farmers for predator control. The rifle’s excellent accuracy combined with good magazine capacity can help to keep coyotes at bay.
- Customization – Another reason the AR-15 is so popular is because of its ability to be customized and tinkered with. The gun’s operating system is simple to work on and parts can be easily purchased from various online and offline sources.
- Competitive shooting – The AR15 is a safe and accurate rifle for competitive sports shooting.
Is an AR15 the right choice for home defense?
Yes, the AR15 is certainly a good choice for home defense.
- It’s lightweight and the caliber choices are effective against armed criminals.
- Despite the wide variety of manufacturers and models, the AR15 provides a standardized platform. If you learn to shoot one, you can pretty much shoot any AR15 that you come across.
- It’s a relatively short and portable firearm. This makes it easy to maneuver in tight spaces like hallways and stairwells.
- The rifle’s lightness and ease of use make it comfortable for all members of the family to fire if need be. Of course, this means that all family members should be trained in operating a rifle safety and be authorized to use a firearm.
- This caliber used in an AR15 is probably one of the least expensive options. It can also be found in several different bullet weights. However, for home defense, a 55-grain soft-point load will be the best choice to minimize over penetration.
What can you hunt with a standard AR15?
A lot of people believe that the AR15 is not a good hunting rifle. There are two stigmas around this.
- Non-gun people tend to think it’s too powerful for hunting.
- Gun people sometimes think it’s too weak for hunting.
However, the AR15 is a great choice for hunting when used properly. Many hunters say they choose the AR15 for its versatility, accuracy, and customizable features for shooting animals. With an AR15 you can hunt a wide range of animals such as the following:
- Feral goats
- Feral pigs
Besides with these examples of medium and large game, AR15’s are especially used to shoot varmints. These are small animals that can cause damage to property such as woodchucks and prairie dogs, more commonly known as varmints, which also includes coyotes.
What types of shooting competitions use an AR15?
AR15 rifles are regularly used in 3-gun, one of the most popular and exciting action-shooting competitions in America.
In the 3-gun competition, competitors use three different firearms. The first is a modern sporting rifle, typically one built on an AR-platform, therefore, the AR-15 is commonly used rather than an AR10. The other two firearms are a handgun and a shotgun.
The matches generally involve courses where the shooter must move through different stages and engage targets in a variety of different positions. Each stage generally requires the shooter to transition between using the different firearms.
Aside from 3-gun, AR15’s can also be used at various NRA High Power and Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) rifle competitions, including F-Class and Palma.
Some of these competitions use service rifles which are AR15 rifles that meet military specifications. However, standard AR15 rifles can be used in many of the High Power matches in a division called “Any Rifle”.
A High Power match is shot at various distances up to 600 yards, where the highest scoring part of the target is a 6-inch circle, with long-range F-Class and Palma matches stretching as far out as 1000 yards. As you can imagine, a deep knowledge of ballistics is extremely important in these competitions.
Modularity: A key benefit of budget AR15s
- The AR15 primarily consists of two segments, the lower receiver, and the upper receiver.
- Each of these main parts can be easily and quickly swapped out as long as the user has basic knowledge and practice in field-stripping and reassembling.
- This makes the AR15 stand out as a weapon platform because it’s easy to clean, easy to maintain, easy to field strip, and easy to reassemble.
- This also makes it versatile. With the right parts and accessories, you can configure an AR15 as a DMR (Designated Marksman’s Rifle) high-precision rifle, an AR pistol, or as a hunting rifle, using a barrel chambered in a bigger caliber.
- The upper receiver and barrel can also be swapped out together to quickly and easily switch to firing alternative calibers.
Budget AR15s are incredibly customizable
You will find a wide array of customizable aftermarket products on the market suitable for the AR15. Any gun website you look at you will find listing after listing of aftermarket AR15 accessories and parts. This makes all AR15s including the budget ones extremely customizable.
Therefore, even if you initially purchase a low-cost AR15 as your first rifle, over time, you’ll have endless opportunities to personalize the look, feel, and performance of it, tailoring the rifle to suit your specific preferences and needs. The only downside to this is that customization can become a very costly hobby.
What to look for in a budget AR15
Even budget AR15s are significant investments, therefore there are certain things to consider before purchasing one. In general, you should look for all of the following features in your new rifle.
- A lightweight, mid-length chrome-lined barrel
- Either a quality plastic drop-in handguard or a basic freefloat one
- A quality adjustable stock
- A quality pistol grip
- A standard trigger or something close to it like the BCM PNT or ALG ACT
- Quality rear sight, with or without adjustment
We will cover some of these points deeper in the following sections
If this is your first AR15, you’ll want an easy to operate rifle. You should also look for a rifle that gives the right balance between price and quality. Generally speaking, you should expect to pay between $500 and $1000 for a high-quality budget AR15.
The most important components of a budget AR15
The following four components are without a doubt, the most important aspects of an AR15. Therefore, it’s vital to have an understanding of each one to be able to choose the best budget AR15 rifle for you.
There are three different types of barrels for your AR15. These are:
- Chrome-lined barrels – These barrels give the most rust and corrosion resistance making them the most durable and long-lasting. However, due to the inconsistencies that can be made when applying the chrome to the bore, it is not the most accurate choice.
- Stainless steel barrels – This type of barrel is more accurate than a chrome-lined one but it doesn’t last as long.
- Nitride-finished carbon steel barrels – Nitride barrels are often used on budget AR15s as they are far cheaper than the other two styles. They don’t have the longevity of chrome-lined or the stainless steel barrels, but they offer excellent performance for their price, usually better than stainless, making them a great affordable option.
The two most popular trigger designs on AR15 rifles are single-stage and two-stage triggers. These triggers are both designed to have a light and effective trigger pull, but they function slightly differently.
A single stage trigger is what the military uses. It gives you a consistent pull from start to finish. A two-stage trigger is better for competitive shooting. It has an initial pull to take up the slack until you reach a ‘wall,’ after which you pull for a snappy, accurate brake without much chance of twitching your muzzle off target.
Most budget AR15s will use a typical single-stage mil-Spec trigger. Although cheaper than two-stage triggers, they are still incredibly reliable and have a very positive break and reset.
BCG (Bolt Carrier Group)
The most common type of bolt carrier group material for AR15s is carbon steel. However, there are three different types of carbon steel for you to consider as well: 8620, 9310, and carpenter 158 steel.
- All of these alloys are rugged and will fit your needs well. However, 8620 steel is the most common for bolt construction. It has been proven to work excellently and is favored by the US military for all their M4s and M16s.
- 9310 steel is stronger than 8620 and is the best at resisting wear and tear. Many shooters who own an AR15 with 8620 steel, will upgrade to 9310 because of this. 9310 steel can be further case hardened to give it almost equal strength to the Carpenter 158 steel.
- Carpenter 158 steel is a proprietary alloy renowned for being extremely hard, strong, and resistant to wear. Carpenter 158 will continue to function the longest and as a result, is considered to be the gold standard of BCG alloys.
An AR15 rifle works by hot gas being directed down the barrel and into the gas tube. The gas is then used to either move a piston working on the BCG (if using a piston system) or to directly push the BCG (if using a direct impingement system).
Either of these systems cause the bolt to unlock and eject the spent casing before the buffer spring forces the BCG to move back forward, catch a new round and insert it into the chamber.
Both a piston and a direct impingement system will successfully do the job, most budget AR15 rifles will use a direct impingement system. This is because it’s cheaper and more accurate than a piston system, and has a greater commonality of parts too.
On the other hand, a piston system is inherently cleaner because the gas is vented out of the receiver, making it a more reliable choice in adverse climates.
Besides as the type of gas system, you’ll want to consider it’s length, too. For AR15’s there are three gas system lengths, carbine length, mid-length, and rifle length.
- A carbine length system will extract the spent casing faster than a mid-length or rifle length system. This means that the extraction process has to work harder which could reduce the reliability slightly. The sharp action can wear out your internal components faster.
- A mid-length system will tap the gas from further down your barrel, lengthening the time slightly before the spent casing is ejected. This also means that there is less pressure spend before the spent casing is extracted, and less wear and tear.
- A rifle-length system gives the longest amount of time before the spent casing is extracted, but it also has the lowest case pressure, and less force applied to the gun.
Comparing the three, the rifle length system was the original design of the AR15 platform and gives the best performance out of the three in terms of reliability and muzzle velocity.
Rails and other mounting systems on budget AR15s
An important factor to consider when choosing the best budget AR15 is the type of rail/ mounting systems it has. First, let’s cover what rail systems are and why they are important.
- Rail systems on firearms are mounting brackets that are usually made of strips of metal or polymer.
- Rails are important components of rifles as they allow you to attach various optical sights and accessories such as tactical lights, laser sights, vertical/angled foregrips, and bipods.
- The term rail has evolved to cover both the actual rail piece(s) and the styles of handguards (or forearms) that are made with rails on their external surfaces.
- A handguard is essentially a guard attached to the front of your rifle to grip the weapon from the front. It provides a good grip and protects you from the barrel, which may become very hot when firing. It also gives options to attach more accessories to the weapon itself.
- Because AR15s are such customizable firearms, rails of some form are a must for AR15 users.
- An AR15 rail/handguard can define the functionality and appearance of your rifle, and allow for further accessorization.
The actual mounting rail is now standardized along the Picatinny design, and usually appears on top of the receiver and handguard. Alternatively, there are mounting slot systems for mounting accessories on other surfaces of the handguard. M-Lok and KeyMod were in competition for a long time, but since the US military went with M-Lok, it is definitely your best choice.
So now you understand exactly what a mounting system for your AR15 does, you are probably wondering, are all AR15 handguards the same?
The short answer is no and understanding the different types can be a bit confusing. There are two main categories of handguards:
Which handguard/mounting system you choose will depend on numerous considerations such as:
- The type of look you want (e.g. classic, military, or tactical)
- How many accessories you want to mount, and what kind
- How lightweight you want to keep your AR15
- The price you are willing to spend
- How important ease of installation is to you
- Drop-in handguards are the classic, two-piece handguards that the M4 was originally designed to use.
- They are called drop-in because to install or remove them all you need to do is pull back
- the spring-loaded “delta ring” and drop in the new one.
- These types of handguards are very easy to install.
- They are the least expensive handguard option.
The drop-in category can be broken down further into two main types:
- Polymer drop-in handguards
- Railed drop-in handguards
Polymer drop-in handguards
- The 2-piece polymer handguards are the most classic. They have a metal heat-shield on the inside which helps them resist heat well.
- The polymer construction makes them very lightweight, and they are available in several lengths.
- The downside to polymer handguards is that they do not have many mounting options. However, Magpul has created some upgraded models that allow for mounting M-Lok attachments.
Railed drop-in handguards
- Railed drop-in handguards are usually made of aluminum.
- The most common type used to be the quad-rail, which has 4 rails that run the length of the handguard, but M-Lok systems have taken over.
- They allow mounting of all different types of accessories including bipods, foregrips, and possibly lights or lasers. However, it’s not recommended to mount optics on a drop-in rail because they are not the most stable systems and may have some wiggle.
- Aluminum drop-in rails can get hot after long periods of shooting. They are also heavier than polymer handguards.
Free Floating Handguards
- Free-floating handguards give better accuracy than drop-ins and offer great customization options for your AR15.
- Free-floating handguards are more accurate as the handguard doesn’t touch the barrel but is instead mounted directly to the upper receiver. This allows the barrel to “float” and gives better harmonics, resulting in improved accuracy.
- The accuracy difference is especially evident when using grips or bipods on the handguard.
- Free-floating handguards can be made longer than the length of the gas system, by using a low-profile gas block. For example, on a typical AR15 carbine, the drop-in handguard is about 7 inches long. However, with a free float plus a low profile gas block, you can use rails as long as 16 inches, which allows for a lot more accessorization.
- They are more difficult to install than a drop in handguard and require partial disassembly of the rifle.
- They are usually constructed with aluminum and most are vented well to prevent overheating. Carbon fiber is becoming more common.
There are two main categories of free float handguards:
- Free-floating railed handguards (free float rails)
- Non-railed handguards (free float tubes)
- Free float railed handguards are the most popular type of free-floating handguard, especially those with M-Lok slots.
- They are by far the most accessory-friendly handguard, allowing mounting of bipods, grips, lights, or lasers and optics.
- They are available in many different lengths, colors, and configurations.
- When used with a low profile gas block, you can make the handguard as long as you want.
- M-Lok handguards have machined cutouts attachments instead of the “ridge and groove” of the classic Picatinny rail. This reduces the weight and cost of the handguard.
- Free-float tubes give the accuracy benefits of free-float rails but have a much more basic design.
- Hogue is a common and well-known manufacturer of free-float tubes.
- They can be lighter than the free float railed handguards but still heavier than drop-in rails.
- They tend to be a bit cheaper than free-float rails.
Is it better to build an AR15 or buy a complete budget AR15?
The answer to this question will completely depend on your experience level. If you’re purchasing your first AR15, I would strongly suggest buying a complete rifle or at least get a complete upper and a complete lower.
For beginners, it’s not only best but also much easier to keep it simple. I say this because if you’re just starting out, you probably don’t know exactly what you like and want, so I recommend sticking with a standard configuration.
Although some shooters will say that building a rifle is cheaper, these days there is not much difference. Furthermore, you’ll get a better resale value for a complete gun if you ever decide to sell.
That being said, I do agree that there is something very satisfying about building your own AR15 and having complete control of the customization process. If you have already owned a couple of AR15’s and know what works for you, taking on the DIY project of building your own rifle could be a fun and rewarding experience. If you do decide to do it yourself, be sure to study up beforehand on how to successfully build a safe and effective firearm.
What is a featureless AR15?
Featureless AR15s are rifles that have been modified to remove prohibited features from assault weapons. The term is most commonly used with rifles manufactured to comply with gun laws in California.
To give you a clearer understanding, featureless rifles can be described as semi-automatic rifles that are missing any of the following features:
- A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon
- A thumbhole stock
- A folding or telescoping stock
- A grenade launcher or flare launcher
- A flash suppressor
- A forward pistol grip
A featureless rifle allows you to use detachable magazines and lawfully owned standard-capacity magazines.
What is the standard caliber for a budget AR15 and what alternatives are there?
- The most popular caliber choices for AR15s are .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO.
- AR15s can also be chambered in several other ammunition types, such as .22 Nosler, .224 Valkyrie, .204 Ruger, .6.5 Grendel, .6.8 SPC, .300 Blackout, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster.
- AR15s can shoot pistol ammunition, such as 9mm, .40 Smith & Wesson, and .45 ACP.
The key to choosing the right caliber is to find the caliber that best matches the purpose for which you will use your rifle. Here is a rundown of the most popular calibers used with AR15s.
With bullets ranging in weight from 35 to 75 grains and many styles available from frangible to monolithic, the .223 Remington is the most versatile AR15 caliber. It’s best suited for varmints, home defense, and game as large as feral hogs and deer.
With almost 25% more powder capacity than the .223 Remington, the .22 Nosler can push bullets extremely fast. In fact, it can be argued that the .22 Nosler is the fastest shooting AR15 cartridge. It can push a 55-grain E-Tip bullet to 3,300 fps, making it well suited for all types of hunting including deer, varmints, and coyotes.
If you’re looking for the best caliber for long-range shooting, the new .224 Valkyrie is for you. It is a great choice for varmints, as well as hogs, deer, and pronghorn.
What is the recoil like shooting a budget AR15?
The recoil of an AR15 is gentle to mild. I find AR15s have a lighter recoil compared to almost any other rifles, especially when chambered with a .223/5.56x45mm round. Moreover, they give relatively better ergonomics than other popular rifles, such as the venerable AK-47.
How and why to tune your AR15 using the gas system and buffer tube
Just like tuning a guitar, tuning your AR15 will improve its performance.Tuning your rifle with the gas system and buffer tube will improve its reliability, especially when it comes to the weapon’s ability to feed, extract, and eject.
Tuning can also reduce recoil, muzzle rise, and allow the gun to function with shorter barrels, suppressors, and other custom features.
The gas system
- To tune your gas system your rifle will need to have an adjustable gas block. This is a simple device that allows you to control the amount of gas that flows back to work the BCG.
- Typically, you rotate a small screw and the amount of gas that can pass through the gun is either increased or decreased.
- The amount of gas going through the gun affects both reliability and recoil.
- What you adjust your gas to will depend on many factors. This includes barrel length, muzzle devices, as well as the type of ammunition you use.
The buffer tube
- The buffer tube is important for ensuring that the gas block and BCG work well.
- Most guns come over-gassed, and most buffers are heavier than they need to be to work reliably.
- The combination of an adjustable gas block, lighter BCG, and lighter buffer will reduce recoil.
- On the other hand, a heavier buffer will increase reliability. A heavier buffer slows the cycle ensuring a more reliable extraction.
- A heavier buffer creates more forward momentum for returning the bolt to the battery as well.
Tuning an AR15 is most useful and necessary for competitive shooting. If you’re using your AR15 as a competition rifle, it’s best to tune it to reduce recoil and muzzle rise as much as possible. This will mean sacrificing long-term durability as less mass means shorter longevity.
So, what is the best budget AR15 on the market?
This list certainly had some strong contenders, and testing out each of these budget rifles was a lot of fun! As I mentioned earlier when choosing your new rifle, considering your use case is the key factor in finding the best budget AR15.
I have to say, the Alex Pro Firearms 224 Valkyrie Varmint suits my needs the most. I particularly like the long 22-inch barrel length and the long-range shooting abilities as this allows me to hunt varmint from a distance with superior accuracy and supersonic speed.
This is my top choice as it feels like the APF is a purpose-built and affordable but high-quality .224 Valkyrie AR15 suited perfectly to my needs. As I do a lot of long-range shooting, the 224 Valkyrie Varmint works well for me. However, if you tend to shoot more at close to medium range, the 18-inch DMR rifle could be a better choice for you because of its versatility.
Whatever choice you make, choosing an AR15 from this list will guarantee you a high-quality rifle. By following this guide, you will have an ample understanding of how to confidently choose your best budget AR15. Happy shooting!