The Best Budget AR-15s
Are you considering joining the millions of Americans that own an AR-15 rifle? Due to its reliability, versatility and ease of use, the AR-15 is our country’s most popular rifle by far with an estimated range of 5 to 10 million owned. (National Shooting Sports Foundation) No other firearm in America has developed such a reputation, not even the 1911.
It’s no wonder—the AR-15 kind of does it all. This well-rounded powerhouse is equal parts fun gun, varmint hunting rifle, excellent home-defense weapon and perfect for new shooters, youth and women.
Many major firearm manufacturers offer ARs. There are thousands of smaller mom and pop shops cranking them out as well. Prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars for custom builds. One of the most appealing aspects of the AR-15 is how adaptable it is. You can spend as much or as little as you’d like on accessories, optics and other parts depending on your primary use for the rifle. Upgrades abound and retailers, as well as gun owners happily oblige in setting up their rifles.
Due to its popularity and availability, you now have a plethora of choices of ARs that cost under $1,000. But, if you are a casual shooter or first-time AR-15 owner, you might not want to spend that much. Surprisingly, there are numerous ARs for under $500!
At the heart of the AR is the lower (the part that makes the gun go bang) and the upper—including the barrel and bolt carrier group. As long as you find a rifle with decent guts, you can upgrade all the rest. Hell, you can even upgrade all those parts down the road if you want. So, unless you’re going to do some serious competing or plan to use it professionally, you can go ahead and skip the high-end AR-15 brands and focus on the bare-bones rifles that get the job done without forcing you to take out a second mortgage.
Palmetto State Armory
PSA is known for its incredibly good deals on lower receivers for those who want to build their own AR, but the veteran-founded company also sells complete builds that retail just shy of $500. The Freedom rifle is a standard AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel, chambered in 5.56mm NATO and has MIL-SPEC parts. The upper receiver is made in the U.S.A. to meet PSA specs. Palmetto State Armory guns shoot straight, are built tough and are as accurate as you and your optic can be. For $499.99, choices include FDE and gray finishes, Magpul furniture, longer and shorter barrel lengths, front and rear sights and even a model chambered in .223 Wylde. PSA rifles have no problems feeding and firing any ammo and keeping it well-maintained (ahem…cleaned and lubed) makes sure it won’t be too picky about which magazines it prefers. From plinking steel to tactical training, the Palmetto State AR won’t disappoint.
DPMS has been making rifles since the early 90s. It claims to be the second largest AR-15 manufacturer in the country. Every component of a DPMS AR is designed and made in the U.S.A. Some of the best shooters in the world have been on DPMS’ professional competition shooting team. Listed for less than $400 on online firearm dealers’ sites, the value-priced, optics-ready Panther Oracle has all the standard features of an A3 flattop AR with DPMS’ own GlacierGuards handguards. Chambered in 5.56mm NATO, the Panther Oracle has a 16-inch barrel, Picatinny rail, telescoping stock and weighs only 6.4 pounds. DPMS has an edge up on many budget AR manufacturers, as they have been making rifles for a long time. This means DPMS has perfected the ultimate solid and reliable budget AR-15. Even though DPMS eliminates some of the more finely-detailed aspects that some AR shooters are looking for, like a properly staked gas key and forward assist, the Panther Oracle does have tight tolerances, a smooth and consistent trigger and surprising accuracy—that’s all a budget-conscience gun owner can ask for.
Anderson lowers are so low-priced, you might be hesitant to consider it, however, these aren’t cheaply made guns, in fact, they are capable of achieving 1 MOA groups. They even offer a specialty Nano-technology treatment which allows the Anderson AR to run dry without issue—a problem for some ARs. Anderson has been manufacturing for 50 years and the supplier of parts to other AR companies for years. The components are made in-house. The optics-ready AM15 is listed for sale for less than $500 and features a 16-inch 4150 Chrome Moly barrel, 5.56mm/.223 Remington chamber, adjustable stock, and A2 handguard. Paying attention to details, the Anderson value AR-15 has an MPI-tested bolt and a staked gas key. It’s rare to find that at this price point. The quality machining is impressive and matches any of the other bigger name brands.
The Del-Ton Sport Mod 2 includes a forward assist and dust cover, which is something many value-priced ARs are missing. Another positive about Del-Ton is all its rifle components are made in the U.S. and assembled in North Carolina. The Sport Mod 2 has a 16-inch barrel, 5.56mm chamber, flip-up rear and A2 front sights and an adjustable stock. It weighs only 5.8 lbs. Built on a MIL-SPEC upper and lower, the Sport Mod 2 AR is an upgrade to previous models featuring a CAR handguard, enhanced triggerguard and Mako rear sight. A properly staked and sealed gas key rounds out this quality gun. It shoots any ammo reliably without issue through Magpul PMAGS and achieves sub-MOA. You really can’t ask for much more out of an AR-15 that costs less than $450.
Diamondback’s entry-level DB-15 AR-15 is anything but. The company purposely built a rifle that feels like you aren’t sacrificing features for the price. Not just a base model, it features a 16-inch chrome moly barrel, shot-peened, magnetic particle inspected bolt and is made entirely in the United States CNC-machined by Diamondback. The DB-15 is easy to handle and accurate right out of the box—especially with top-quality ammo. There is an adjustable ATI MIL-SPEC stock, Diamondback handguard and A2 flash hider. A trigger and optic upgrade can really take a Diamondback AR to the next level.