How to Buy an AR15 Rifle, AR-15 Pistol, AR10

How to Buy an AR15 Rifle, AR-15 Pistol, AR10 So, you want to buy an AR15, AR10, or some other AR platform rifle or pistol variant (there are LOTS of […]
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2016 Gear Report Custom AR15

How to Buy an AR15 Rifle, AR-15 Pistol, AR10

So, you want to buy an AR15, AR10, or some other AR platform rifle or pistol variant (there are LOTS of them), but you aren’t sure which one you should buy?
We are here for you. The Gear Report team have a wide variety of AR-15 and AR-10 style rifles. Who better to help you sort out what to buy?

Quick recommendation:

If you don’t want to read lots details or make a series of decisions… you just want a decent quality, general use AR at how to buy an ar-15 rifle - ap-15 aeroprecisiona good price… buy one of these:
Aero Precision Complete Rifles

Our Armorer, Jason, builds a LOT of ARs for Law Enforcement agencies and is a loyal Aero Precision advocate. They are not the cheapest ARs you will find, but the Aero Precision Complete Rifles are well built, reliable, and the AC-15 comes with iron sights and a 30 round Magpul P-Mag. So, the only other thing you need is ammo. In my opinion, it is worth spending a little more to get the higher quality of the AERO AC-15 Complete Rifle. If you keep it and shoot it, it will serve you well. If you decide to sell it, it should hold it’s value better than the bargain basement brands. Click here for full specs or scroll to the bottom of this page.

Deeper look at YOUR needs:

Quad rail AR15 handguards are TacticalThe AR15 platform is like an adult set of Legos. With so many options it is easy to get sucked in to all of the latest high tech, tacticool “upgrades” without really understanding the options or why you might/might not want them on YOUR AR-15.
To make an informed decision you need a logical process, just like in our handgun purchase guide (How to choose the right handgun for personal protection or concealed carry). By answering the right questions you are less likely to blow your money on cool stuff, just to find out later that the latest tacti-cool accessories are useless to you, or worse, detract from how YOU intend to use YOUR AR15.

Steps to choose the best AR (each step is explained in more detail below)

  1. What is your AR15 budget?
  2. Short list of AR manufacturers
  3. How will you use your AR?
  4. clipart0279_moneyWhich ammunition cartridge is right for your AR?
  5. Which AR configuration can you shoot effectively and comfortably?
  6. Practical usage test
  7. Where to buy?

Step 1: What is your AR15 budget?

Set your budget FIRST, then narrow down to the right AR platform rifle or pistol within your budget. Write down the maximum that you are willing to spend on an AR platform rifle… if you write it down it is harder to fudge on the number later and make an emotionally driven poor decision. The good news is that even if the perfect AR15 for you is not within your budget today, you can likely start with a quality basic AR that can be upgraded later. Keep in mind that most new AR users have ideas of what setup they want, but as they gain AR experience they tweak the setup to better meet their needs. Starting basic, then upgrading as you get more AR experience makes more sense than stretching your budget for features that you might not really need.

Step 2: Short list of AR manufacturers

180px-Bushmaster_Firearms.svgThere are a bazillion AR makers these days, but not all ARs are created equal. Narrow the list to brands of AR15 that are considered reliable enough to bet your life that they will work when you need them to. I generally recommend sticking with the bigger brand names like:

Testing the Gibbz Arms side charging AR15 upper

Testing the Gibbz Arms side charging AR15 upper

Or premium specialty brands like:

While many folks are happy with bargain options like polymer receiver ARs, I recommend that you consider a forged aluminum lower receiver to be your minimum requirement and avoid polymer receivers until you know more about ARs and are sure that it will be sufficient for your intended uses.

Jeff took this mid sized white tail buck with the WMD Guns WMD-10

Jeff took this mid sized white tail buck with the WMD Guns WMD-10

Step 3: How will you use your AR?

With so many options on how to configure an AR-15 you really need make sure your rifle is configured appropriately for your needs.
To do this you MUST define how your AR will be used. Are you buying an AR for home defense, coyote hunting, deer hunting, hog hunting, dynamic competitive shooting, static competitive shooting, as a truck gun, for a SHTF situation, your LEO duty weapon, something else?
Be honest with yourself. If you really just want one because they look cool and you don’t like the government telling you not to get one, then the rest of the considerations below aren’t really going to matter for you. Just get an Aero Precision Complete Rifles and be done with it. It will do everything you need at a reasonable cost.

Step 4: Which ammunition cartridge is right for your AR?

best hunting ammo best hunting ammunition hornadyI believe that some holy wars have been fought with less disagreement and conviction than ammo debates concerning which cartridge and caliber are favored among gun owners. However, I’ll make this easy for most people… choose an AR chambered in 5.56×45, or .223 Wylde because it is the most common AR chambering (notice I left .223 Remington out), making ammo generally more available and available in more types. However, the AR platform has been adapted to a variety of other cartridges, often with specific uses in mind.

Every cartridge option is a compromise between a variety of complex factors including:

  • how many rounds of ammo you can carry in the AR (bigger, heavier rounds generally mean the gun will hold fewer rounds)
  • how many rounds can you carry to reload the AR after firing (bigger, heavier rounds likely mean that however you carry spare rounds will have to accommodate them)
  • 7.62x39 ammo

    7.62×39 is a relatively plentiful Comm Block cartridge in the US

    cost of ammunition

  • availability of the cartridge in general
  • internal ballistic characteristics of the round (how it behaves in the gun, mostly concerned with recoil)
  • external ballistics of the round (how it reacts in flight and upon impact)
  • availability of ammunition variants that meet your intended uses (personal defense, hunting, plinking, law enforcement, etc.)

Our goal is to help you pick the best option for your specific needs. If you aren’t well schooled in the pros and cons of all the different caliber options, then you should probably limit your choices to the most popular and readily available options until you learn more… .223 Remington/5.56×45, 300 AAC Blackout, 7.62×39 are relatively easy to find cartridges with a wide range of uses.

*When might .223 Remington / 5.56 Nato NOT be the best choice for you?

When you need:

  • a heavier or more powerful round for barrier penetration, taking large game ethically, shooting longer distances, etc.
  • a lighter or less powerful round to limit penetration, over-penetration, or barrier penetration
  • a more compact option
  • to share ammo with other weapons
  • you intend to shoot with a silencer

I found the following in a popular shooting forum post from 2010, so it is missing some of the newer options, but should give you an idea of the scope of options:

“AR-15, without bolt modification 

best hunting ammo best hunting ammunition.17 Remington
.20 Tactical
.20 Practical
.20 Vartag
.204 Ruger
.221 Fireball
.222 Remington
.222 Remington Magnum
.223 Remington (5.56x45mm)
.223 Remington Ackley Improved
6mm TCU
6mm Whisper
6.5mm Whisper
7mm Whisper
7mm TCU
.300 Whisper (.300/221, .300 Fireball)
300 AAC Blackout *Jeff added
.338 Whisper

AR-15, with bolt modification

1943 izzy mosin 9130 ex sniper ammo

7.62x54r is one of the few rounds you are unlikely to find in the AR platform

223 WSSM
5.45x39mm (.21 Genghis)
243 WSSM
6mm PPC
6mm WOA
6mm BR Remington
6mm Hagar
6.5mm PPC
6.5 WSSM
6.5 WOA
6.5mm Grendel
6.8x43mm SPC
.30 Herrett Rimless Tactical (6.8x43mm case trimmed to 41mm and necked up to .308; the 6.8mm version of the .300 Whisper)
.30 RAR
300 OSSM
.357 Auto
.35 Gremlin (necked up 6.5 Grendel to 358)
.358 WSSM (various names, but all are some form of a WSSM necked up to 35 caliber, some are shortened to make them big game legal in Indiana)
.458 SOCOM
.50 Action Express
.50 Beowulf

AR-15 using a simple blowback operation

mossberg 715 T Tactical .22lr rifle review video - fake charging handle & plastic sight adjuster

Mossberg 715 T Tactical .22lr rifle (click image for review)

.17 HMR
.22 LR
.22 WMR
30 Carbine
357 Sig
400 Cor-Bon
41 Action Express
10mm Auto
45 GAP
45 Super
45 Win Mag

This list is in no way complete.

This list does not include complete different uppers like the FN 5.7, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 Grendel or the one that shoots .410 shotgun, crossbow bolts or bolt action uppers like the 50BMG”

With your cartridge chosen you can narrow your focus to the vast range of AR configurations available.

Step 5: Which AR configuration can you shoot effectively and comfortably?

how to choose a concealed carry handgun - AR pistol in .300 Blackout

Yes. This AR in .300 Blackout is a “pistol” and might be a good personal defense choice

Every feature on an AR can impact fitness for use for any given activity. For example, an AR configured for static competitive shooting might benefit from a long, heavy barrel and have a high magnification scope for long distance shooting… which would make it really hard to use for home defense or as a general SHTF weapon due to reduced field of view, bulk, and optics durability. If you didn’t define your intended use in Step 3, you really can’t progress and make a logical decision on what to buy.

Big options to consider:

  • Rifle vs Pistol: Will you need the more compact pistol and be able to use it effectively without shouldering it? Will the ballistics a short pistol barrel work for your intended use (generally, rounds designed for rifles are less effective when shot from shorter pistol barrels)? Hint: Most people should start with a rifle.
  • Weight: Will you always use it from a shooting rest where weight doesn’t matter, or will you carry it where lighter weight is desired?
  • Adjustable: Will you be the only one shooting it, and always the same way, or will you need the ability to adjust things like the length of pull, and cheek rest height?
  • Modularity: Will you set it up once and leave it in that configuration, or will you add and remove parts and accessories routinely for different tasks?
  • Radical Firearms .300 Blackout 16" upper

    Radical Firearms 300 BLK upper, Ergo grip, Blackhawk adjustable stock

    Aiming: Are you a die-hard iron sights user that will only ever use an integrated A2 carry handle sight, or would a flat-top upper with a rail to accommodate a wide variety of optics choices better suit your needs?

  • Barrel length: Is your AR for home defense, where a shorter barrel will make for easier handling indoors, or a varmint hunter that wants a long, heavy barrel to stretch the effective distance of your AR? Be aware of the 16″ minimum length for Short Barreled Rifles (SBR) in the USA. Any less than 16″ and it either has to be registered as an SBR with a $200 tax stamp, or mounted to a pistol lower and used only as a pistol (never shouldered).

Some examples: Minor differences in the shape or texture of the pistol grip, hand guard or buttstock can make a big difference in utility, comfort and functionality. If you will night hunt with an IR illuminator and Night Vision scope, then you will need a “flat top” AR with a Picatinny rail on top for mounting the scope, and likely also need the ability to attach the IR illuminator to the handguard via a picatinny rail, keymod slot, m-lock slot or similar modular

WMDguns Big Beast .308 AR10 stills side with spent cases

WMDguns Big Beast .308 AR10 with Luth AR MBA- fixed stock

attachment method.

When you have sorted out your desired options, shoot as many as you can since AR configurations that look similar often feel very different when you shoot them. Many ranges have rental guns that you can try. Some gun shops have ranges where you can test fire. Or maybe you just ask around at the range to see who will let you try their AR. Sometimes you can’t try before you buy. However, most of the time you can if you invest a little effort. Please don’t make the mistake of buying an AR that your life might depend on some day without at least putting a few rounds down it to be sure it works for you.

Step 6: Practical usage test

If at all possible, test the configurations on your short list for functionality as well as practical usage. Many folks make the mistake of only shooting their guns under low-stress, very tightly controlled range conditions. By this point in the process you should have narrowed your options to a relatively short list. Test how these ARs perform for you ar trigger upgrade review close range carbine shootingunder your intended usage conditions. ie. If you will hunt deer at 200-400 yards from a tree stand, then you should test by shooting 200-400 yards from a seated position similar to how you sit in your tree stand. If you will only shoot 50 yard paper targets from a shooting rest, then test in that configuration.

Step 7: Where to purchase

While I am a big proponent of buying guns online, I recommend that a first time AR buyer do a lot of research and hands-on evaluation (noted above) before making a purchase. If you use your local gun shop to do this research, then consider buying your AR from them to support their business and make sure they are around the next time you want to get your hands on something to physically see it before you buy it.
If you would rather buy online, here are some trusted retail shops that will ship to your local FFL to keep the transaction legal:

Let us know in the comments what you decided to buy and if this process was helpful.

Aero Precision AC-15 Specs:

Upper Features:

  • Upper: Standard M4 Upper Receiver
  • Barrel: 16″ 5.56 NATO, Carbine Length, 1:7 Twist, 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium, QPQ corrosion resistant finish, M4 Profile
  • Sights: Magpul MBUS® Rear Sight, A2 Front Sight
  • Handguard: Standard M4 Carbine Handguard with double heat shield
  • Gas System: Carbine Length Gas System and A2 Pinned Front Sight Block
  • Bolt Carrier Group: M16 Cut, 8620 Steel, Phosphate Finish, Properly Staked, Carpenter 158 Bolt, HP and MPI Tested
  • Muzzle Device: Standard A2 Flash Hider

Lower Features:

  • Lower: Gen 2 Lower Receiver with flared magwell and upper tension screw
  • Lower Parts Kit: Standard AR15 Lower Parts Kit
  • Buffer Kit: Standard Mil-Spec AR15/M4 Buffer Kit
  • Stock: Standard M4 Collapsable Stock
  • Grip: Standard A2 Pistol Grip
  • Magazine: Magpul 30 Round PMAG®


About Jeff

Jeff is the Editor in Chief of Gear Report and a National Shooting Sports Foundation Media member. He reports on the outdoor industry, reviews gear for camping, hiking, shooting, hunting, paddling, backpacking and other active pursuits. A USAF veteran, Jeff earned a MBA in Marketing and Health Services. He specializes in consultative selling and internet marketing. As the VP of BD & Marketing, Jeff provides sales and marketing leadership to MGECOM, Inc. and helps acquire new clients in need of solutions for online merchants in need of Affiliate Marketing program management. Jeff founded and manages Cress Sales & Marketing LLC, offering online sales and marketing consulting and services to online merchants and service providers.