Throwback Thursday: What I Love About the AR-15, America’s Rifle

No rifle is more recognizable than the AR-15. Folks who know little about firearms know what an AR is. They sometimes make misidentifications, calling it an M16 or M4, but they recognize the black rifle.

The American sporting rifle is not a military rifle at all. With all due respect to economy rifles, most civilian-grade AR rifles would never hold up to the rigors of military service. They are just fine for recreation, hunting, and home defense, but they are not military-grade, with a few exceptions.

AR-15 Disassembled bolt and receivers
The AR is easy to fieldstrip, maintain, and modify.

A lot of soldiers returning home like to have a good AR in the safe. The rest of us like handling the rifle, cleaning it, chasing accuracy, and hunting with the rifle. The AR is a great small game and varmint rifle. It handles so well, so smoothly, with such good ergonomics, it begs the question of why we need another rifle.

In some ways, the AR is a symbol of the American fighting man from the Mekong Delta to Afghanistan. Some don’t understand this, they don’t get it, but then, they do not get American values at all.

Humble Beginnings

Military rifles have always had a great appeal to Americans. Springfield, Krag, Mauser, and Lee Enfield rifles have been sporterized and used for hunting. The bottom line is reliability. Although cheap, availability was once an attraction.

Today, folks are willing to pay good money for a high-quality AR-15 rifle. The AR is the Mr. Potato Head of rifles. You may change the barrel, trigger group, stocks, and grips without any trouble. The flat-top design allows mounting an optic or different types of iron sights. Slap a TruGlo Eminus on the rail or a good quality red dot and you are good to go. The result is a versatile rifle that allows a wide range of use, even quickly reconfiguring the same gun for different chores.

AR Rifle
Colt’s AR is among the most respected.

Gaining Popularity

The funny thing is, when I was growing up, I never saw an AR-type rifle, save on TV. No one seemed much interested in a Colt sporter. They were expensive and what good were they? The Army Ordnance division almost ruined the rifle with poor powder choice and other mistakes, but the basic design was sound, and survived and flourished.

Most of the rifles we use now are the M16A2 heavy-barrel type modified for civilian use. Perhaps the rifle was designed before modular was a catch word, but it has proven versatile and effective.

Without going too deeply into politics, the Assault Weapons Ban or Crime Bill actually served to stimulate AR popularity. Cottage industries rose up to modify and improve the rifle — kind of an “in your face” to the Clintons and Feinsteins of the world. The result was some of the finest rifles ever made in America.

Ar Trigger
The author has used the Elftmann trigger in several custom builds.

Customization Opportunities

Many of us have bent toward custom guns. This is expensive. We have custom-grade 1911 handguns from the factory and high-end AR rifles as well. But a working Joe — that’s me — armed with only a few hundred dollars and a kitchen table toolset may put together a rifle that suits well.

As an example, the rifle illustrated was built from Aero Precision. I used an Elftmann trigger. Some of the hardware is MagPul. The result is one of the best rifles I have owned. I have owned most of the big names and I have to admit that this piece is right up there with them in reliability and accuracy.

AR Rifle
This rifle is built from quality aftermarket parts and topped with a TruGlo red dot.

AR-15 for Competition

Over the years, the AR-15 has become a first-class competition rifle and even sparked a new type of shooting known as 3-Gun. The AR is at home in the fields as well. The .223 Remington is an ideal pest and varmint round. With the proper loads, it will take deer given good shot placement. The Hornady Full Boar load, as an example, is a good medium-sized game load. The .308 versions are even better for medium game.

A virtue of the ArmaLite system, is that whatever the caliber — .223, .204, .308 Winchester or others — the rifle offers moderate recoil. The system is not only reliable, it helps to control recoil. Any number of modern muzzle brakes aid to the comfort.

.223 Remington Hornady Ammo and Box
Hornady ammunition provides an edge in quality rifles.

A move I am not as fond of with AR rifles, is the move to heavier and heavier setups — a heavy long barrel, large scope, bipod, all the gear you think you need but maybe you don’t. That’s fine if you are interested in long-range accuracy. I like a finely-tuned rifle that is less than seven pounds if possible, but holds MOA at 100 yards. With modern ammunition and the AR rifle, it isn’t that difficult.

AR-15 for Home Defense

The AR-15 is also a great home defender. With the prospect of takeover gangs and multiple threats, the AR-15 offers a fighting chance for the good guys. A high hit probability and an instant second or third shot if needed makes for a fine defensive firearm.

Public safety is high because there are less wild rounds riding around. Load the rifle with Hornady Critical Defense, mount a TruGlo red dot and rest easy. The AR-15 is America’s rifle and worthy of respect and affection.

Why do you love the AR-15? What’s your favorite AR-15 rifle and setup? What do you use your ARs for? Let us know in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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