There are three options for acquiring and AR-15, it will be up to you to decide which method best suites you. Buy, build, and join the 80% club. In a nutshell buying from a reputable manufacture is the easiest, there are great manufactures that make great weapons. Building will let you get more involved in your rifle, and 80%er will give you the highest level of building most of us can get. If you are only going to own one AR style weapon, buying might be your best option. If you are hands on and will be owning more than one you will want to look at building.
Here are a few larger manufactures if you are looking to buy, this is in no way a complete list.
Colt: From their web site, “Colt’s rifles are the only rifles available to sportsmen, hunters and other shooters that are manufactured in the Colt factory and based on the same military standards and specifications as the United States issue Colt M16 rifle and M4 carbine. Colt customers want the best, and none of Colt’s competitors can match the quality, reliability, accuracy and performance built into every Colt rifle.” To me that statement means if you want what has been battle proven choose Colt. Just remember, battle proven might not be what you are looking for.
DPMS: Provides a very wide range of calibers for the AR’s to include .22, .223, 5.56 NATO, 308, 7.62, 204 Ruger, 243 WIN, 260 REM, 300 AAC Blackout, 338 Federal, 6.5 Creedmore, and 6.8 SPC II. That is a very wide range for one manufacture.
Bushmaster, SIG, Rock River Arms, Bravo Company Manufacturing, and the relatively new to the AR world Springfield Armory are all great choices for manufactured AR’s.
Here are a few pros and cons of both buying and building, we will start with buying:
- Easy: Buying a manufactures rifle that meets your needs is the easiest, quickest way to get into modern sporting rifles. You will be able to find a rifle you want and get it on the range without having to take the time to piece their firearm together.
- Less Worry: Buying an AR rather than building gives you peace of mind that as long as you follow instructions when using your new firearm, it’s going to work as advertised.
- Fit and Finish: When building, you have the option of picking components from different manufacturers. However, that assumed flexibility may not always come through, as some components have varying tolerances and dimensions, and may not fit or work properly with all parts. While AR systems generally share interchangeable pieces, you may wind up with parts that just don’t work together. Buying a complete rifle ensures the components fit together properly and work as advertised, taking out the guesswork and potential of making costly mistakes for prospective buyers.
- Plain: Buying off the shelf will give you a functioning, ready-to-shoot rifle, but depending on what you choose, you may feel underwhelmed at the features it offers. You can always upgrade parts as you go to give you the custom gun you want, but that costs more money and time, and could potentially wind up being more expensive than if you had built from scratch in the first place. Some manufactures may have proprietary parts that might not be upgradeable.
- Cost: Manufacturers offer endless options in the AR market offering what seems to be an overwhelming amount of options. Building allows users to construct similarly capable weapons where they have complete control over which components and brands they opt for, allowing them to also choose where and what to spend extra on to get the desired result in a time frame that works for you and your wallet.
And now building:
- Make it yours: Building your rifle gives you the features you’re looking for, and you’ll likely be stuck with fewer unnecessary extra parts when you’re done.
- Experience: One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with your AR is to disassemble and reassemble, learning the intricacies and minutiae of the system. Building an AR gives owners an education in how the rifles are constructed and how they operate, which can come in handy when it comes time to replace parts or help a fellow AR owner in need with quick fixes.
- Ease of Supplies: The parts, from the barrel to the buffer tube, fire control group to the upper receiver itself, can be shipped directly to you. The only part that requires a FFL is the lower receiver.
- Wallet Creep: It can happen if you’re not clear on what you want, keep opting for add-ons, premium components, or changing your mind mid-build.
- Tools: As assembling ARs requires some specialized tools to properly get your rifle together, something you’ll need to factor in when pricing your setup. Depending on what you have already you might still need an armorer’s wrench, a set of roll pin punches, a level, a vise and receiver vise blocks, a torque wrench, screwdrivers and more.
For the most adventurous builder there is the 80% lower. An 80% receiver comes partially completed with the trigger/hammer (fire control) recess unmilled, and the selector, trigger pin, and hammer pin holes often need to be drilled out. An 80% lower receiver can be purchased online, shipped, and received by the purchaser without a firearms dealer or FFL. In addition to the above tools you will need access to a drill, preferably a drill press, a router, and a good jig. Once you are done milling it out, it is just like a regular build.
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