With nearly 60 years of testing, proven deployment, and widespread availability on the civilian market, the AR-15 rifle has set the standard in performance and reliability for semiautomatic rifles.
Originally commissioned for military trials in 1958, the select-fire Colt AR-15 became the standard-issue infantry rifle to all branches of the US Military in 1964. It quickly overcame a crucible of reliability issues and continues to serve as the standard US Military infantry rifle.
In 1964, the semiautomatic CAR-15 Carbine was also marketed toward the civilian owners. The semiautomatic AR-15 omits the military’s select-fire capability has been commonly sought for home defense, varmint control, hunting small to medium game, and recreational shooting sports.
With 5-10 million rifles in private ownership, the AR-15 is one of America’s most successful rifles used for practical and recreational marksmanship. It is valued for its accuracy, reliability, and ergonomic profile.
The AR-15 rifle is chambered for .223 Remington and/or 5.56 NATO cartridges that feeds from a detachable magazine. It uses a semiautomatic action and has an effective range of approximately 500 yards (457 meters) when firing .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO ammunition.
Rifles chambered in 5.56 NATO can also chamber .223 Remington, but the opposite is not always true. Always check the barrel markings before loading rounds into an AR-15. The compatible ammunition types will be marked on the barrel itself.
The M16 (Rifle, Caliber 5.56, M16) is the select-fire assault rifle version of the AR-15. In addition to Safe and Semiautomatic, the M16 can be fire in Automatic and Burst-fire modes where multiple rounds are discharged per trigger pull.
The civilian version of AR-15 is a semiautomatic carbine or modern sporting rifle. This version omits Automatic and Burst-fire fire mode. This version is used for shooting sports, hunting, and home defense.
The AR-15 was designed to blend precision shooting and efficient handling characteristics into a lightweight rifle platform. Its symmetrical, in-line design create an inherently accurate, reliable, and versatile rifle platform that can fulfill a wide variety of roles.
Accuracy and Precision
The AR-15’s fires the fast moving .223/5.56 mm rifle rounds which travels with a flat trajectory. This equates into less bullet drop per shot; this aids in accuracy and precision. The AR-15 is effective and accurate up to 500 yards (457 meters) when firing its standard ammunition.
The AR-15 was developed in parallel with .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition. The ammunition is designed to fire smaller bullets at high speed to deliver an ideal mixture of accuracy, range, and stopping power. Because they represent standard ammunition for the US military and NATO forces, ammunition is affordable and available in large quantities.
The AR-15’s inline layout of major parts (barrel, action, stock) helps reduce felt recoil for greater precision and accuracy. This inline symmetric layout also adds to the AR-15’s inherent accuracy capabilities.
Modular and Ergonomic
The AR-15 is built around around intuitive and well-designed controls that enable accurate fire, an efficient manual of arms, and safe handling. Controls can easily be switched to accommodate left-handed and ambidextrous users. Adjustable furniture enables one rifle to adjust to multiple body-types and heights.
Manufactured with aircraft aluminum, the AR-15 is weights 7 lbs when fully loaded. Its light weight and adjustable profile make it suitable for women and small-framed individuals. With the use of a stabilizing wrist brace, the AR-15 is also used by the injured and physically handicapped.
When the first issued to soldiers in 1964, the M16 experienced catastrophic stoppages and failures on a consistent basis. Early malfunctions were a result of out-of-spec ammunition being issued with the rifle. This ammunition used a propellant that generated excessive fouling and carbon build-up within the rifle’s gas system. To exacerbate these issues, soldiers were informed that rifles would not need cleaning (and were not issued proper cleaning kits).
Despite widespread issues upon initial adoption, reliability issues were largely resolved by 1968, with mechanical upgrades, proper ammunition, and the issue of cleaning kits and cleaning instructions.
The AR-15 has since proven itself to be reliable under a wide range of extreme conditions being deployed in the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan. US Army tests in 2002 and 2006 showed rifles being capable of firing an average of 5000 rounds between stoppages under adverse conditions.
Due to its modular design, the AR-15 can adopt alternate calibers, various barrel lengths, and customized grips and stocks. The ability of an AR-15 to become many different types of rifles has helped to popularize the rifle platform.
Sport and Competition
The AR-15 is a popular choice for high-speed competition shooting. Its light weight, ergonomics, and inherent accuracy facilitate quick acquisition and tracking of targets. Numerous external and internal components of the AR-15 are often replaced with components tuned for a specific shooting sport, including aftermarket triggers, charging handles, and magazine-release handles.
The AR-15’s barrel can be swapped for various bores and lengths to accommodate various calibers while the overall weight of the AR-15 can be reduced for faster handling in practical shooting competitions such as 3-gun. Many aftermarket sights and optical scopes are designed to be readily mounted onto an AR-15 for enhanced target acquisition and sighting.
Standard .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO are highly effective defensive rounds. With a high velocity, they produce large amounts of stopping power while minimizing over-penetration due to its lightweight projectile.
Testing by the FBI and independent testing have repeatedly shown .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO to penetrate in-home barriers less than 9mm handgun ammunition and other rifle calibers.
From R.K Taubert, a retired 20+ year FBI veteran experienced with SWAT and Special Operations:
… the FBI recently subjected several various .223 caliber [the standard caliber for the AR-15] projectiles to 13 different ballistic tests and compared their performance to that of SMG-fired [similar to pistol-caliber carbines] hollow point pistol bullets in 9mm, 10mm, and .40 S&W calibers.
In every test, with the exception of soft body armor, which none of the SMG fired rounds defeated, the .223 penetrated less on average than any of the pistol bullets.
If an operator misses the intended target, the .223 will generally have less wounding potential than some pistol rounds after passing through a wall or similar structure.
… in most shootings, the round would probably strike something, hopefully a hard object, break up and quickly end its potentially lethal odyssey.
This is due to .223 Remington’s (and 5.56 NATO’s) lighter profile and high velocity creating a tendency for its bullets to fragment upon impact.
The AR-15 platform is often equipped with rails and locking systems to equip essential home-defense equipment such as a tactical light and optical sighting system.
Hunting and Conservation
The AR-15 is employed to hunt vermin species, especially dangerous animals that threaten local safety and cause property damage. Coyotes kill pets and livestock, and the AR-15 is often considered the ideal rifle platform to efficiently control populations of coyotes in semi-rural areas to prevent their spread to suburban and semi-urban zones.
The AR-15 is also used to hunt feral hogs, an invasive species that causes $4-5 billion worth of crop damage on an annual basis. With approximately 6 million feral hogs have spread across America, efficient and widespread hunting is required. In states such as Texas, feral hogs have been classified as a destructive pest and can be hunted year-round with no tag limit (a huting permit is required).
Due to caliber requirements in many states, the AR-15 is often not suitable for hunting medium game such as deer or elk when using standard .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO ammunition. By swapping the upper assembly, the AR-15 can change its caliber to meet a wide range of caliber or bore specifications.
The semiautomatic AR-15 has been a popular American sporting carbine since its release in 1964, and it has continued to evolve and refine itself to achieve greater durability and reliability along with accuracy and precision.
The AR-15’s modular design makes it adaptable to multiple roles which potentially consolidates multiple firearms into a single rifle platform. A quality AR-15 with iron sights can be purchased for $700-800, and its standard ammunition is both is effective while being affordable enough to practice and train with on a regular basis.
Both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition are widely available as the standard for over 80 countries including 15 NATO countries. Both factory-made and military surplus ammunition are abundant. For moderate amounts of shooting, 1000 rounds of ammunition can keep most people supplied for a year, and will cost $250-300 if purchased in bulk or online. Larger amounts can easily be found for cheaper for those who train frequently with high volumes of live fire.
With 5-10 million rifles in private ownership alone and more than 55 years on the civilian market, the AR-15 has created an industry of spare parts, caliber swaps, repair solutions, and aftermarket tools and accessories, maintenance, and upgrades. This includes a wide market for spare magazines, cases, cleaning supplies, and gun locks.
- Taubert, R.K. “About .223 Penetration.” Olypmic Arms. Olympic Arms Inc. Web. 11 June 2019.http://www.olyarms.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26