When it comes time to picking a battery of firearms to use in a survival scenario, the choices can be overwhelming, particularly to those who don’t have any prior experience with firearms. Here at RedTea we’ll be starting a series of articles examining many of the most popular options for equipping yourself when the stuff hits the fan, whether it’s to hunt small and large game, defend you and your family, or whatever purpose you need them for. We’ll start off this series by taking a look at what is probably the most popular firearm in the country right now: the AR-15-style rifle.
Nearly 60-Year-Old Design
The original AR-15 rifle was a select-fire (fully automatic and semi-automatic) rifle developed by Armalite and its chief engineer Eugene Stoner in the late 1950s. A scaled-down version of the 7.62x51mm AR-10 rifle, the AR-15 was chambered in .223 Remington. Armalite sold the rights to the AR-15 design to Colt, which then shopped the rifle to the US military, where it was eventually adopted as the M16. The M16 and its derivatives, such as the M4, remain the primary rifles in US military service to this day.
Colt’s patents to the AR-15 expired in the late 1970s, after which time numerous other manufacturers began to enter the marketplace, producing their own versions of the AR-15 as semiautomatic rifles for the US civilian market. While they were always a popular rifle for many shooters, the popularity of the AR-15 has really exploded over the past 10-15 years. It is estimated that there are now at least 10-12 million AR-15 rifles in existence in the United States today.
Modularity = Popularity
One of the reasons the AR-15 became so popular was its modularity. The rifle has separate upper and lower halves. The lower half includes the lower receiver, which is considered the firearm, the part that is subject to background checks when you attempt to purchase one. The lower receiver contains the magazine well, fire control group, bolt hold open, and magazine release. The buttstock assembly and pistol grip also attach to the lower receiver.
The upper half consists of the upper receiver, bolt carrier, bolt, barrel, charging handle, gas system, forearm, and sights. The upper half attaches to the lower half through the use of captured pivot pins in the lower receiver that keep the upper receiver attached to the lower receiver.
Should you wish to use a different upper receiver assembly on your lower receiver assembly, you need only push out the pins, remove the upper receiver assembly, place a new one onto the lower receiver assembly, push the pins back in, and you’re ready to go. That allows a shooter to use barrels with different lengths, and even upper assemblies with different calibers.
New Calibers, New Optics, New Options
Over the years, a number of different calibers have been created with the purpose of being used within the AR-15 platform. Some of those include 6x45, 6.5 Grendel, 300 AAC Blackout, 450 Bushmaster, 458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf, and now the .224 Valkyrie. With the variety of calibers available today, and ever more calibers being invented all the time, an AR-15 can now be used to hunt every type of game in North America, from prairie dogs to hogs to deer to elk. And while you might want something a little more powerful when facing down a charging grizzly, many people wouldn’t hesitate to use an AR-15 in the right caliber to defend themselves against big bears.
AR-15 rifles can also be customized with a vast array of features. There are numerous types of stocks available, both fixed and collapsible, to fit every shooter perfectly. Many different grips are also available, allowing users to find a grip that fits their hand most comfortably.
With the A3-style flat top upper receiver, shooters now are no longer limited to the iron sights that were standard on the AR-15 and M16. Most shooters now take advantage of that by using various types of optics on their AR-15, from simple red dot sights to variable-power scopes with ballistic drop compensation reticles, with iron sights only as backups.
The development of railed forearms allowed the attachment of accessories such as vertical foregrips, flashlights, lasers, and backup sights. The quad rails that used to be in vogue are now starting to be replaced with different attachment options such as KeyMod and M-LOK, as the marketplace for AR-15 accessories continues to innovate.
But How Much Does It Cost?
Demand for the AR-15 grew exponentially during the Obama administration, as people sought to stock up on guns and ammo. Now that fears of an assault weapons ban have subsided under the Trump administration, many manufacturers have found themselves overextended and are cutting prices on their rifles. In many places you can find a brand new AR-15 for less than $500, and if you’re willing to wait for a good sale or piece together your own AR-15 you could get into one for around $400.
Magazines are cheap, too, running $8-12 for the standard 30-round aluminum magazines. And ammunition isn’t too expensive either, with the standard 55-grain M193-type ammunition running around 30 cents per round.
A Word on Chamberings
One thing to watch out for if you’re purchasing a standard AR-15 is what caliber the rifle is chambered for. You may see AR-15s offered in .223 Remington, 5.56x45mm, or .223 Wylde. While many people consider .223 Remington and 5.56x45 to be identical, they are not. A rifle chambered in 5.56x45 can fire .223 Remington ammunition, but a rifle chambered in .223 Remington should never be used to fire 5.56x45 ammunition. While both .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm ammunition have the same dimensions, 5.56x45 is loaded to much higher pressures.
Rifles chambered in 5.56x45 have longer throats and generally looser chambers to accommodate the increased pressure, whereas rifles chambered in .223 Remington have shorter throats and tighter chambers. Shooting 5.56x45mm ammunition in a rifle chambered for .223 Remington could result in a severe pressure spike that could blow up your gun and cause serious injury or death. .223 Wylde chambers are a hybrid between the .223 Remington and 5.56x45, designed to be able to safely fire both .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm ammunition.
An AR-15 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that it’s a popular, lightweight, and affordable rifle for both hunting and home defense. It’s a shame that its use in so many highly-publicized mass shootings has given it a bad name in some circles and tarnished its reputation.
Many of those who own AR-15s swear by them. And in a survival-type situation, the AR-15’s widespread use among both civilians and police agencies means that there won’t be a shortage of parts, magazines, or ammunition. So if you’re looking to buy just one rifle to start off your battery of firearms, the AR-15 is well worth a look.