Ranking the 10 Best AR-15’s of 2020


The AR-15 is one of the great American firearms. It’s dependable, versatile, lightweight and can be fully customized. For all those reasons and more it has found favor with the military, range shooters, hunters and law enforcement. While Colt held the exclusive rights to produce the AR-15 until the late 1990s (and still owns the name ‘AR-15’) virtually every major gun manufacturer now produces their own AR-15 style gun.

So knowing which ones are worth the investment and which ones aren’t can seem a daunting task. That’s why we’ve done the homework for you and compiled the following list of the 10 best AR-15 rifles on the market today.

1. Ruger AR-556

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 34.4 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Black Anodized
  • Front Sight – Adjustable Ruger Rapid Deploy
  • Rear Sight – Adjustable
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 6.5 lbs

The Ruger AR-556 is an outstanding value that’s engineered to last, features high-quality materials throughout and comes with a telescoping M4 style buttstock that lets you tweak the fit to your body.

It’s well balanced, the action is smooth with minimal recoil and the stock pistol grip is one of the most comfortable around. There’s also an adjustable front sight and a folding, rapid deploy rear sight just to put a bit of icing on the value cake. A great hunting or home defense rifle.

2. Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 35 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Black
  • Front Sight – A2 Post
  • Rear Sight – Folding Magpul MBUS
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Plain
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 6.4 lbs

Here’s another outstanding value for first timers or those seeking a great value in a new hunting rifle. The M&P15 Sport II features a folding Magpul MBUS sight, a 16 inch barrel and has a no-nonsense look to it that’s going to appeal to a lot of people. Particularly hunters. A very dependable all-weather weapon that’s relatively light, very well balanced and reasonably priced.

3. Sig Sauer M400

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 30.8 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56mm NATO
  • Finish – Black
  • Front Sight – None
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash hider
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 7 lbs

With so many outstanding AR-15 style rifles on the market it was tough to decide which one to use to lead off our list. We chose the Sig Sauer M400 because it embodies all those things we like best about this type of firearm. It’s light, versatile, dependable as the sunrise and it’s all business. All components here are top-shelf, the finish is subdued and satisfying and it’s one of the more compact stock AR-15s, which makes it highly portable for hunters.

Unlike most of the AR-15s on our list this one features a direct impingement system which uses a tube instead of a separate cylinder to deliver gas to the bolt carrier. A tried and true system that works flawlessly. Considering the affordable price point it may be the best overall value on the market.

4. Daniel Defense DDM4V11

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 32.25” inches
  • Barrel Length – 18 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Matte Black
  • Front Sight – None
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 6.28 lbs

Daniel Defense may not be a household name like S&W but gun enthusiasts know the company produces some extraordinary firearms and their DDM4V11 is a great example. Handsome, light and featuring an 18 inch, 4150 CMV steel, chrome-lined barrel the firing action is smooth as buttah.

There’s a flared magazine well that enables smooth loading as well as a high end trigger, handguard and bolt carrier. Both upper and lower receivers are crafted from 7075 aluminum and the rifle has a very appealing weight of just 6.28 pounds. It’s not cheap, but it’s not likely to let you down in any respect.

5. Aero Precision AC 15 Mid-Length

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 32 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 mm NATO
  • Finish – Matte Blue
  • Front Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 6.25 lbs

If you’re looking for an affordable mid-length AR-15 style rifle the Aero Precision AC 15 is a good choice. While Aero is perhaps best known for providing parts for those intent on building their own AR their complete rifles are nothing to sneeze at.

This is a very handsome gun with a matte blue finish and classic military profile. With its 16 inch barrel the gun is beautifully balanced and very portable. And at just 6.25 pounds it’s a great option for hunters. You’ll have to supply your own sights but other than that you won’t be wanting for anything with the AC 15 from Aero.

6. Windham Weaponry R16 M4 FTT-C1

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 32.3 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Matte Black
  • Front Sight – None
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 5.85 lbs

Windham Weaponry is fairly new to the scene but they seem to be off to a good start. Their R16 M4 is a dependable, well-balanced firearm that’s not going to break your bank. It’s a good choice for beginners because of its very light weight, its smooth, dependable action and its adjustable butt stock.

Not something every AR-15 style weapon offers. It also has a manual lever safety that’s intuitive and it comes with a nifty storage case so you can keep your rifle clean and safe.

7. Bravo Company Recce 14/16

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 31.5 inches
  • Barrel Length – 14.5 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Black
  • Front Sight – None
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Synthetic
  • Weight – 6.3 lbs

The Recce 14/16 from Bravo Company was designed to meet the needs of SEAL team members who required a high degree of utility and ballistic performance. As a result, ergonomics and accuracy here are top of the line. As are the PNT trigger mechanism, KMR Alpha 13 rail and the chrome-lined bolt carrier.

You’re going to spend more on this rifle but you’ll feel every penny of that investment the first time you pick it up and fire it.

8. Colt LE6920

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 32 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Matte Black
  • Front Sight – A2 Fixed Sight
  • Rear Sight – Magpul MBUS
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 5.95 lbs

20+ years after their exclusive rights expired many people still associate the AR-15 with Colt. To their credit they have continued to make some of the highest quality, best value AR-15s on the market. Their LE6920 is a fine example.

This is a highly accurate weapon despite its short barrel and comes with integrated front and rear sights. 4150 CMV steel is used for the barrel, 8620 steel for the bolt carrier and receivers are fashioned from 7075-T6 aluminum. Everything is built to last and machined to exacting tolerances. A very dependable, light and well-balanced weapon.

9. Bushmaster XM-15 M4

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 35 inches
  • Barrel Length – 16 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Black
  • Front Sight – None
  • Rear Sight – None
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 7.3 lbs

The XM-15 from Bushmaster features a sleek, aggressive profile and outstanding accuracy. It’s a little bit heavier than some other ARs but therein lies some of the reason for that outstanding accuracy. The manganese phosphate finish is handsome and durable.

The receivers are fashioned from aircraft grade aluminum and overall balance is spot on. It might be a bit heavy to be an ideal hunting rifle for some. But if you can deal with a couple of extra pounds you’ll reap the rewards.

10. Colt AR15A4

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Specs

  • Overall Length – 36 inches
  • Barrel Length – 20 inches
  • Cartridge – 5.56 NATO
  • Finish – Matte Black
  • Front Sight – Fixed
  • Rear Sight – Adjustable
  • Magazine Type – Removable
  • Muzzle – Flash Suppressor
  • Stock Material – Polymer
  • Weight – 7.7 lbs

The last of our best AR-15s is our second entry from Colt. The AR15A4 features the iconic military profile with a 20 inch barrel and fixed sights. This is a rifle oozing the DNA of its Vietnam War-era grandaddy but without the quirks that caused so many issues during the early years of that conflict. It’s reliable as the sunrise, highly accurate and features an agreeable trigger action along with very modest recoil. It’s not your grandfathers M16. It’s better.

FAQs

How Did We Get Here? A Short History of the AR15

In 1958 the first AR-15 was manufactured in the US by Armalite. Contrary to popular belief the designation ‘AR’ is not short for ‘Armalite’. Instead it stands for ‘Assault Rifle’. The AR-15 was a variation on the company’s AR-10 (1) and fired a slightly smaller round than its predecessor. The idea was that soldiers in the field could carry more rounds and so increase both their odds of survival and the odds of taking out enemy combatants.

A decade after inventing the AR-15 Armalite hit a tough financial stretch and was compelled to sell the rights to the design to Colt. Colt held onto those rights until the late 1990s when they expired. But while the design patent expired Colt retained the rights to the name AR-15. And so, even today they are the only company with the legal right to produce these firearms under that name. Which is why a lot of people are under the impression that Colt is the only company that produces this type of semi-automatic rifle. When in fact many now produce AR-15 style rifles.

While the military variant of the AR-15, the M4, is fully automatic the civilian AR-15 is semi-automatic. That of course means that 1 trigger squeeze produces 1 shot. The ‘auto’ refers to the way the gun automatically ejects the spent cartridge and loads another round. Which differs from a bolt action rifle where you need to perform those tasks manually. Today, the AR-15 is the focus of intense political and media efforts to have it banned (2). Ironically, this misplaced campaign to blame the firearm for the actions of people has only spurred sales. And today the AR-15 has taken on the designation “America’s rifle’.

Why is the AR-15 So Popular?

Beyond the understandable desire of people to stay ahead of the vagaries of gun legislation the AR-15 has found favor with many gun enthusiasts for a variety or reasons. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Familiarity – As of today there are some 18 million veterans among the civilian population. Many of them first became familiar with the AR-15 during their military service when they used its fully automatic variant, the M4. When those veterans returned home they decided to purchase an AR-15 since they already had experience with it.
  • Customization – The AR-15 is also a fully modular weapon and any of the main parts can be swapped for variations. This ability to customize the rifle to suit one’s personal needs and tastes, and the fact that those former military personnel are familiar with how to break down and reassemble the gun, is another factor driving its popularity. There are literally hundreds of different parts (3) from different manufactures that can be used to customize your AR-15.
  • Ease of Use – Over the years all the minor kinks have been worked out of the AR-15 design. As a result today’s AR-15 is a stable, reliable, ergonomically sensible gun that can be wielded effectively by just about anyone. It’s purpose built to be light and accurate and – as we mentioned – highly customizable. This combination of accuracy, dependability, customizability and portability explain why it has also found favor with untold numbers of hunters.
  • Light recoil – The light recoil of the AR-15 is another big selling point. Part of the reason it doesn’t kick like a mule is the gas impingement recoil system (4). Another reason is the nature of the .223 cartridge that is typically chambered. This light recoil is a major reason why the AR-15 is popular with everyone from Special Ops forces (5) to big kids out on their first deer hunt.
  • Supply and Demand – Several times a year the news media get to screaming that some tropical depression in the Atlantic is about to lay waste to the Eastern Seaboard. People then start thinking they might need some water to survive the coming apocalypse. As a result there’s a rush on bottled water, because who knows? Maybe running water will be scarce in the post-apocalypse. Same with the AR-15. The more politicians and their media allies clamor for a ban on AR-15 sales the more people start to think they’d better buy their rifle now before the supply dries up and The Man takes away their 2nd amendment rights.

Is Building Your Own AR-15 a Realistic Option?

We’ve touched on the modularity of the AR-15 and how this makes it one of the most widely customized firearms in the world. But the obvious next question is whether the modular construction makes building your own AR-15 from the ground up a realistic option. And the answer for some folks is ‘yes’.

That said, we’d advise any first time user of this type of rifle to buy one that is already assembled by a reliable manufacturer. No doubt, the longer you use it the more the notion of building your own AR-15 will percolate inside your head. Even so, we’d advise that before you go ahead and build one from scratch, that you try customizing your existing AR-15 first.

Try different barrels, muzzles, triggers, buttstocks, handguards, gas systems and more (6) and get a feel for them and how they influence operation of the gun before going ahead and trying to build one from the ground up. You may even find that with just a few tweaks your current weapon is everything you want it to be.

There are other compelling reasons to make your first AR-15 a stock rifle, including the fact that it will come with a warranty. Whereas a custom built gun will not. A stock rifle from a reputable manufacturer is also likely to have much higher resale value than a gun you built yourself to accommodate you own tastes and physiology.

All that said, and to get back to the original question, it is entirely possible and really pretty common for gun enthusiasts to build their own AR-15 style rifle. In fact, Brownells has developed a microsite that will allow you to do just that in a few minutes (7). The company will then assemble the gun according to your input and ship it to you.

Again, though, unless you are already familiar with the different components and their variants and know which work best with which and how they’ll influence the operation of your gun, you could very well wind up with a Frankengun (8) that’s an ergonomic nightmare.

Which Gas System is Best?

AR-15s use gas recycled from the firing event to power the bolt carrier mechanism. There are three different gas systems available for use with the AR-15 and they are the carbine-length system, the mid-length system and the rifle-length system. The different systems influence how quickly the spent cartridge is ejected after firing. In a nutshell, the closer the proximity of the gas port to the chamber, the greater the pressure from the recycled gas and the faster the ejection. Here is a quick overview of the three gas systems:

  • The carbine length system – The distinguishing feature of the carbine is its short barrel (9). Because of this the gas port is very close to the chamber and the shell will be extracted faster than with one of the other gas systems. The system provides pressure to actuate the bolt carrier mechanism which draws the spent cartridge back so the spring-loaded ejector can do its job and clear the chamber for the next round. Although this system will typically result in the fastest ejection of the spent cartridge it’s considered a somewhat harsh system.
  • The mid-length system – You’ll typically find the mid-length system in play on a 16 inch barrel. This system taps into the gas exhaust further up the barrel meaning it will take that gas a tiny fraction of a second longer to reach and activate the bolt carrier. In addition, the greater length from the bolt carrier means pressures aren’t quite so high when the gas finally gets there and the ejection is a somewhat smoother experience.
  • The rifle-length system – The rifle-length gas system is typically found on 18-20 inch barrels. Because of the added length gas from the barrel will take longest to reach the bolt carrier. This pressure will also be less than that produced by the carbine and mid-length systems. As a result, the ejection of the spent shell by way of the rifle-length system is typically the smoothest of any of the three gas systems.

Final Thoughts

The AR-15 has come a long way over the course of its 60-odd years. Today it’s one of the most popular firearms in the world and the subject of equal parts admiration and scorn. But regardless of what short-sighted political opportunists say those who know the gun appreciate its easy functionality, its outstanding reliability and its unmatched customization potential.

Any of the high-quality AR-15s on our list will serve both the seasoned veteran or complete novice well for years to come. So whether you’re looking for a potent home defense weapon, an outstanding range weapon or a rifle to enhance the quality of your hunt, one of the above AR-15s should be on your wish list.

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