Black guns often get a bum rap. They can look a bit menacing, and their configuration and controls are radically different than those found on traditional sporting firearms. But the hunter who automatically dismisses AR-style rifles as legitimate sporting guns would be doing himself a major disservice. Why? Because the AR is one of the most capable, adaptable, and appealing firearm platforms on the market today. And these characteristics have helped it gain traction in the civilian market in its semi-automatic-only form.
So, what exactly is the AR and why is it so appealing? First, AR stands for Armalite, the company that created the guns back in the 1950s (not Assault Rifle as is commonly thought). However, it has now come to refer generally to all manufacturers' civilian versions of the design. What’s more, the AR is also now known as the MSR—or, the Modern Sporting Rifle.
When the first AR rifles were introduced, they were radically innovative compared to popular guns of the day. The classic Winchester Model 70, for example, with its wood stock and blued carbon-steel barrel, looked great, but it also had an action based on a 19th century design. The AR was something completely different: It combined advanced aluminum-alloy forgings and synthetic materials. It featured a modular design with a two-piece receiver that allowed users to easily swap out upper assemblies of different chamberings or configurations. The two-piece stock design let users reconfigure the AR with different stocks and fore-end systems. That kind of versatility has allowed the AR (which was born as the AR-10 and adopted by the military as the M16) to become the longest-serving rifle in our country's history.
Over the past 50 years, manufacturers have taken advantage of the gun's modularity to attach optics and accessories, add new operating systems, allow larger chamberings, and even create civilian-legal semi-automatic-only versions. These guns have proved capable and popular with shooters of all stripes, especially varmint hunters. And recent developments have expanded the platform to big-game hunters as well.
This is because the qualities that make AR rifles so successful as a military design also make them highly capable as hunting firearms. Many models boast sub-MOA accuracy right out of the box, with some variants featuring performance that rivals that of custom target rifles. What follows is our list of the top 30 ARs, which we have broken down into three categories: Big Game Hunting, Varmint Hunting, and Personal Defense.
The 10 Best AR-Style Rifles for Big-Game Hunting
Mossberg MMR Pro
Though primarily considered a shotgun company, Mossberg has gotten serious about rifles and are turning out some gems. Now they’re offering the MMR Pro chambered for the .224 Valkyrie, which is the best big-game capable .22-caliber cartridge compatible with the AR-15. The rifle features a trigger designed by the fastest gun alive—Jerry Miculek—that’s crisp, with a creep-free break, and is even user adjustable for over-travel. With its 1-in-7 twisted 18-inch barrel, this rifle will handle the most aerodynamic .224-caliber bullets, and the suppressor-ready Silencer Co. muzzlebrake dampens recoil so you control the gun when trying to take out multiple feral hogs at once. The 15-inch slim-profile handguard is M-LOK compatible, and the rifle comes standard with an ambidextrous AXTS Raptor charging handle.
JP Rifles SRC-11
You simply cannot appreciate a JP Rifles by looking at it. Yeah, you can see right off that it has a side-charging handle, but you simply have to handle and shoot the rifle to realize why its actually worth more than the $2,700 price tag suggests. The SRC-11—with upper and lower receivers machined from billet 7075-T6 aluminum—chambered in the 6.5 Grendel is ideally suited to big-game hunting. It comes standard with the incredible JP Fire Control System and a Supermatch 416R air-gauged, button-rifled, cryogenically treated barrel, that’s Thermo-Fit to the receiver. It also has a JP compensator, various butt-stock options, and the JP MK III hand guard system. And, if you’re just not sold on the 6.5 Grendel, it’s available in .223, .300 Blackout, and get this, the .22 Long Rifle. Those with deep pockets will probably buy two.
Savage Arms MSR 10 Long Range
Savage is a newcomer to the world of the MSR (AR-15/AR-10), but they bring 125 years of firearms manufacturing to the platform—and it’s prevalent when you examine and shoot their rifles. Their MSR 10 Long Range is an ideal big-game hunting AR that is available in 6mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor and .308 Winchester. It features a 22.5-inch barrel with 5R rifling and a QPQ Melonite finish to reap as much of the velocity out of the cartridges as possible, and a uniquely shaped, custom-forged, upper and lower receiver is standard—as is a free-float M-LOK handguard, two-stage target trigger, and Magpul PRS Gen3 buttstock. One of the coolest features is the non-reciprocating side charging handle. At 9.5 pounds, the gun is a little heavy for the hand, and at $2,284 it will tug on the wallet too. But, you’ll fall in love with this rifle when you shoot it.
DPMS Prairie Panther
The availability of AR-15s in 6.8 SPC is not as ripe as it once was, but DPMS has it covered with their Prairie Panther. Some still regard the 6.8 SPC as the ideal deer and hog cartridge for the AR-15, and the Prairie Panther is configured just for the hunter, especially one who likes a more traditional buttstock. This rifle features a 20-inch lightweight, fluted, Teflon-coated 416 stainless barrel, two-stage match trigger, carbon fiber free-floating handguard, and forged 7075 T6 flattop upper and lower receivers. Even though it has the fixed A2 style stock, with an overall length of only 38.5 inches, it is compatible for even the most compact shooting blinds. Light, accurate, and rugged, the Prairie Panther has been a mainstay in the DPMS line for a long time.
Daniel Defense Ambush 300 Kryptek Highlander
If you‘re looking for the ideal platform for the 300 Blackout in a hunting version of the AR-15, this is one of the best options. Accurate, tough, and hard-hitting, the Daniel Defense Ambush is tailored to the modern sportsman. Built around a 16-inch Cold Hammer Forged barrel, the Ambush 300 Blackout offers precision and accuracy with a wide variety of projectiles. Shielding the barrel is a Daniel Defense MFR 15.0 free-floating handguard, with a continuous Picatinny rail with M-Lok compatibility on the sides and bottom. For suppressed work, the barrel is threaded at 5/8x24 and capped with a knurled protector. Like all Ambush hunting rifles, this one comes from the factory with a Geissele Super Semi-Automatic, 2-stage trigger, and an ambidextrous safety selector. Ambush Rifles also ship with the Daniel Defense Enhanced Pistol Grip, a 6-Position adjustable buttstock, and are backed by a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. At 6.55 pounds this rifle is configured to offer the best supersonic and subsonic performance for the 300 Blackout.
Wilson Combat Ultralight Hunter
Some argue that an AR suitable for big-game hunting is too heavy. Well, those behind that rumor have never seen or held a Wilson Combat Ultralight Hunter. Chambered for the 300 HAM’R, this rifle weighs just a gum wrapper less than six pounds, but it will match the ballistics of the iconic .30-30 Winchester, making it suitable for every non-dangerous big-game animal. It has a lightweight, flattop, billet upper receiver, match grade barrel, TTU trigger unit, low mass Nickel Boron bolt carrier, BCM charging handle, and a 43 coil Chrome Silicon flat wire buffer spring. Finished in woodland style camo Armor-Tuff finish, this rifle looks as good as it shoots—and it shoots so well you’ll swear it was a bolt-action match rifle. Custom scope mounts and alternative colors are optional. This is a custom gun, after all.
DPMS GII Hunter
If you want more power than you can get from an AR-15, then an AR-10 style rifle is your only MSR option. These rifles are traditionally very heavy but a few years ago DPMS solved all that with their hybrid AR-10, which is called the GII. With a 20-inch, 416 stainless, Teflon-coated barrel, and chambered for the 308 Winchester, the GII Hunter weighs in at an astonishing light 7.75 pounds. It has a carbon fiber handguard, Magpul MOE rifle stock, two-stage trigger, and an anodized finish. In addition to all that coolness, there’s a monolithic bolt carrier, steel feed ramp, enlarged ejection port, and a bolt with dual ejectors. The best part? The suggested retail price is $1,699.
Ruger AR-556 450 Bushmaster Model 8522
The .450 Bushmaster was almost a forgotten cartridge until several previously shotgun-only states started allowing it for deer hunting. It’s now seeing a comeback—and if you like big bullets lumbering along and knocking the stuffing out of stuff, well, Ruger has an affordable and reliable option. Their AR-556 chambered for this thumb-size cartridge has an 18.63-inch chrome-moly barrel with 5R rifling, free-float M-LOK handguard, 6-position collapsible butt-stock, and a Type III hard-anodized coating. It weighs in at 7.4 pounds, and comes standard with the Ruger Elite 452 AR trigger. The Ruger muzzle brake substantially reduces the recoil of this big bore cartridge, and the threaded 11/16x24 muzzle allows for suppressor attachment. Yes, Virginia, you can silence a beast.
Wilson Combat Ultimate Hunter
There’s never been a question that the MSRs from Wilson Combat are some of the best in the world, and their ultimate hunter rifle is just another example of the excellence this custom shop can deliver. But, when chambered for the 458 HAM’R, this rifle becomes a dinosaur killer of the highest order. This cartridge exceeds the ballistics of the .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, and even the .50 Beowulf; it will generate 3,000 foot-pounds of energy from an 18-inch barrel! Built on a hybrid receiver that’s ¾ inch shorter than standard AR-10s, this beast buster weighs only 7 pounds, 4 ounces. An NP3 coated bolt carrier, match grade barrel, TTU trigger, custom buffer, and a Smoke Composite Carbon Fiber Closed Shoulder Buttstock are standard, just as is Wilson Combat’s wear forever Armor-Tuff finish.
Big Horn Armory AR500
Big Horn Armory’s AR500 was built specifically for a rimless version of the 500 S&W cartridge, and it features a 1-in-24 twist, 18-inch barrel, with an adjustable gas block, full Picatinny rail, M-LOK compatible handguard, flash suppressor, five-round magazine, and comes in its own plastic case. With the power to put down a pachyderm, this rifle roars at the muzzle and bites at the butt-stock.
The 10 Best AR-Style Rifles for Varmint Hunting
S&W Performance Center M&P 15-22
The 22 LR cartridge is often overlooked when it comes to varmint hunting. It shouldn’t be; you can have a lot of fun on a prairie dog town with a 22. Especially when it’s a semi-automatic built by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. The Performance Center M&P 15-22 comes with an 18-inch threaded barrel, two-stage match trigger, and a slim M-LOK compatible handguard, Magpul MBUS sights, VLTOR adjustable stock, Hogue grip, and a match grade precision barrel and chamber. Not only will it be a delight on a dog town, it’s ideal for rats at the dump, and squirrels in the trees.
If there ever was a dedicated varmint cartridge for the AR-15, it’s the .204 Ruger. Because it shoots fast and flat, it’s ideal for prairie dogs or coyotes. There’s not a wide selection of AR-15s chambered for this cartridge, but one of the best is the DPMS LR-204. With a fluted, 24-inch bull barrel, the LR-204 will reap all the velocity possible out of the 204 Ruger. The barrel is married to a 7075 T6 forged upper receiver with an integral top rail so you can mount the optic of your choice. The rifle has a fixed A2-style stock, A2 pistol grip, and an aluminum handguard that allows the barrel to free-float over its entire length. If you have a need for speed, don’t overlook this rifle/cartridge combination.
Remington R-15 VTR Predator MOE Fixed Stock
Decked out in Mossy Oak Brush camo, the Remington R-15 VTR looks more like a varmint/predator rifle than just about anything else on the market. It has a Magpul grip, trigger guard, MOE fixed stock, and accessory rail sections on the MOE handguard for the attachment of lights and lasers. The 1-in-9 twist, 18-inch barrel, is ideal for varmint/predator loads in .223 Remington, and the competition two-stage trigger will help you make those tough shots coyotes present when they come in hot or hang up at a distance. And if you have to shoot fast and often, the AAC 51-Tooth Blackout suppressor ready muzzle brake minimizes recoil and keeps muzzle rise to a minimum.
FN 15 DMR II
Reengineered for enhanced performance, the FN 15 DMR II features the all-new FN Rail System with M-LOK compatibility to provide extreme rigidity and less deflection ensuring that mounted accessories, such as lights, lasers, and night-vision devices remain affixed without shifting. It has a match-grade 18-inch barrel that’s cold hammer forged with a 1-in-7 twist so you can accurately launch those far-reaching, high-BC bullets to smack predators and varmints at stupid long distances. To help with that endeavor, a Surefire ProComp muzzle device aids in stabilizing those long and heavy bullets. A rifle-length gas system, low-profile gas block, Timney trigger, and Magpul MOE grip and buttstock are standard.
Savage Arms MSR 15 Competition
Available chambered for the .223 Remington or the .224 Valkyrie, the Savage MSR15 Competition is ideally constructed for varmint hunting. Most notably, it is teamed with a Proof Research barrel and a ported muzzle brake that will allow the shooter to tune the recoil impulse to stabilize the muzzle for faster and more accurate follow-up shots. Additionally, the custom-length gas block can be adjusted for optimal cycling for a wide range of bullet weights in either chambering, as well as for use with a suppressor. A nickel-boron bolt carrier, non-reciprocating side charging handle, Magpul CTR buttstock, two-stage trigger, ambidextrous magazine release, and a Hogue pistol grip are standard. With a suggested retail price of $2,900, it’s not cheap, but this gun is loaded with features.
CMMG Endeavor 100
With standard features like 7075 T-6 upper and lower receivers, a fixed rifle stock, M-LOK free-floating handguard, and CMMG’s lifetime guarantee, all the Endeavor 100 needs are high-performance varmint capable cartridges to choose from. And, they are there. It’s available in 5.56x45mm, .224 Valkyrie, 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester, and the screaming 22 Nosler. Standard in the 100 Series are 18 and 20-inch barrels, but if you step up to the 300 Series, the 24-inch barrel is standard except for the 6.5 Grendel, which is fitted with a 22-inch tube. Like all CMMG ARs, the Endeavor is known for its rock solid toughness and sunrise-like reliability.
Savage Arms MSR 15 Valkyrie
Developed to remain supersonic past 1,300 yards, the .224 Valkyrie is one of the hottest selling cartridges in the AR-15 platform since the .300 Blackout, and Savage was the first company to offer an AR for it. With a flat-dark-earth upper and lower receiver and forend, a two-stage trigger, Hogue pistol grip, Magpul UBR Gen 2 buttstock, tunable muzzle brake and an adjustable gas block, the MSR 15 Valkyrie comes out of the box with a host of highly desirable features. Add to those an 18-inch barrel with 5R rifling, and 40-grain bullets screaming out of it at 3300 fps, and you’ll be backing away from varmints, instead of trying to get closer.
LWRC Direct Impingement
Savage Arms is not the only manufacturer offering the .224 Valkyrie chambered in an AR-15. LWRC’s DI rifle is also available for the cartridge. Similarly equipped to the Savage, the LWRC DI also runs off the “direct impingement” system, has a 16-inch M-LOK free-float handguard, and a Magpul MOE fixed stock. However, the DI is fitted with a 20.1-inch cold-hammer forged barrel, ambidextrous controls, Ultra-Brake 4-Port muzzle brake, and LWRC’s unique MonoForge upper receiver. If you see one of these on your dealer’s rack, snatch it up; new one’s don’t hang around for long, and trying to find one used is as hard as finding unicorn poop.
Wilson Combat Super Sniper in 6mm Creedmoor
This rifle is one of the best varmint rifles ever crafted. It is built on a precision-machined billet upper and lower receiver, with a rifle-length gas system and low-profile gas block. It also comes standard with a 13.8-inch T.R.I.M. rail, BCM starburst grip, Rogers Super-Stock buttstock, a single-stage tactical trigger unit, NP3 coated bolt and carrier, and an Armor-Tuff finish. It has a 20-inch barrel and an overall length of 40.5 inches, and in addition to 6mm Creedmoor, it can be chambered for a wide array of other AR-15 and AR-10 compatible cartridges. You’ll be impressed by how smooth its operation is, as well as the on-target, one-hole performance. With fast follow-up shots and long-range reach, and weighing only eight pounds, is a varmint-predator hunter’s dream rifle.
JP Rifles LRP 07
The best way to describe most rifles is to list their features, but with the JP rifles LRP (Long Range Precision) 07, that won’t do it justice. Available chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington, and .308 Winchester, it’s the 6mm Creedmoor offering that best fills the varminting niche. Unlike most AR-15s, which are produced in mass and in a hurry, this rifle is built to both cosmetic and mechanical perfection, on billet-machined receivers you’ll swear Da Vinci designed. The Low Mass Operating System makes felt recoil as pleasant as a wet kiss, and the self-folding, left-side charging handle would make Eugene Stoner swear enough to be slapped by his mother. Pick this rifle up and you’ll swear its name is Excalibur.
The 10 Best AR-Style Rifles for Personal Defense
Unlike direct-impingement firearms that release gas into the upper receiver, the Barrett REC7 piston vents gas forward at its patented, chrome-lined, fluted gas block. This results in one of the cleanest and coolest running AR-15s on the market. Additionally, the gas block is adjustable for suppressed fire, and the one-piece piston—which strikes a TB-41 DLC coated, monolithic, anti-tilt bolt carrier—is easily removed for maintenance. The REC7 features a Type 3, Class 2, hardcoat anodized finish, topped off with Cerakote, M4 feed-ramps, and a lightweight, free-floating M-LOK compatible handguard, with a full length Picatinny top rail. This is a gas piston rifle available in 5.56 NATO or 6.8 SPC, that weighs only 6.1 pounds in the Flyweight version. Carbine and DMR versions are also available.
Stag Arms 15L B556 M-TAC
Left-handed shooters sometimes struggle with the AR-15 due to the empty cases being ejected into their face or personal space. With the potential of a gun battle raging in your living room, this is not a good time for that to happen. Stag Arms does not believe in discriminating against 10 percent of the world’s population, which is why they offer the 15L B556 M-TAC. While the lower receiver of this rifle is configured like most ARs—that is, for a right-handed shooter—the upper receiver is where the difference is: It’s a mirror image version of a common right-handed AR-15, which ejects empty cases to the left side. The rifle features a 16-inch, 1-in-7 twist barrel, with a free-floating 15-inch M-LOK handguard. Like all ARs from Stag Arms, the 15L comes with the company’s transferable lifetime warranty, and infinite shot guarantee.
Ruger AR-556 Model 8500
Not all great ARs have to be expensive. Ruger’s AR-556 Model 8500 is well equipped, reliable, and priced well under a grand. It has a fixed A2-style front sight, fully adjustable Ruger Rapid Deploy rear sight, six-position adjustable rear stock, milled gas block, carbine-length gas system, and even a bayonet lug. The medium contour cold-hammer forged barrel has a 1-in-8 twist that will stabilize bullets from 35 to 77 grains, and the 5.56 NATO chamber will safely fire .223 Remington ammunition. The rifle comes standard with a Ruger flash suppressor and the barrel is threaded at ½x28 for standard muzzle accessories. An enlarged trigger guard and a single stage trigger rounds out one of the most affordable and trustworthy self-defense AR-15s on the market.
Sig Sauer M400 TREAD
The unique thing about the new TREAD AR-15—and its Gadsden flag inspired logo—from Sig Sauer, is that it comes standard with the most sought-after features for a tactically configured AR-15. But, unlike most rifles in its class, the TREAD is easily customizable with a full line of purpose-built accessories, designed and manufactured in the same place as the rifle—in the USA. Standard are a Magpul SL-K6 buttstock, ambidextrous controls, free-floating M-LOK handguard, micro gas block, and a polished single-stage trigger. TREAD accessories—the most expensive of which is $179—include handguards, back-up sights, a Romeo 1x20mm red-dot sight, accessory rails, and a vertical fore-grip.
Wilson Combat Protector Series AR Pistol
Down in the hills of Arkansas in a place called Berryville, you’ll find a company called Wilson Combat. They’ve been building the best 1911 pistols in the world for more than 40 years. Now they’ve turned all that experience and skill to an AR pistol. Built on a Mil/Spec forged upper and lower receiver, it’s only 30 inches long with the Tailhook Mod 2 arm brace fully extended. Chambered for the 5.56 NATO, .300 Blackout, and 300 HAM’R, the gun weighs less than six pounds, comes standard with a Wilson Combat 2-stage TTU trigger, operates off the direct-impingement system, and has a match grade stainless barrel for precision accuracy. This handful of wickedness also has a Q-Comp flash hider/muzzle brake that reduces muzzle rise and flash, without increasing muzzle blast, which will be much appreciated should you have to cut this demon lose to defend yourself inside your home.
Bushmaster XM-15 ORC
Bushmaster’s XM-15 ORC is a .300 Blackout-dedicated carbine that should fill just about any self-defense role. It’s built on a forged, Teflon coated, upper and lower receivers, and is fitted with a 1-in-7 twist barrel to handle subsonic and supersonic 300 Blackout loads. The aluminum free-floating handguard is knurled and vented, and beyond the A2-style flash hider, and grip, this rifle is mostly bare bones. However, to an extent that’s what makes it so special; you get Bushmaster rifle reliability, dependability, and precision, in a dedicated 300 AAC blackout package, at a suggested retail price of $929.
CMMG Resolute 100
No list of the best ARs could be complete without one chambered for the 7.62x39 Soviet cartridge. Made famous in Kalishnikov’s AK47, the 7.62x39 is a workhorse cartridge with a wide range of application. The problem has always been that the taper of the cartridge case necessitates a very specific banana shaped magazine. AR-15s in 7.62x39 have traditionally been problematic but the engineers at CMMG solved all that. Their Resolute 100, 200, and 300 Series guns are all available in 7.62x39, 6.5 Grendel, 458 SOCOM, and even the new Winchester 350 Legend, which was designed for deer hunting in states now allowing straight-wall centerfire rifle cartridges. With prices starting at $949 and going upwards of $2,300, you can simply build whatever your imagination tells you is the best personal defense carbine.
CMMG Banshee 300
If you’re measuring wickedness in the world of AR-15s, the CMMG Banshee 300 has to rank near the top of the list. Available as an AR pistol or short-barreled-rifle (SBR), either is the epitome of personal protection—particularly if chambered for the 9mm Luger. In that configuration this less-than-two-foot-long bundle of viciousness feeds from Glock magazines, which means its possible for your AR and defensive handgun to share the same magazines. There are lots of options to choose from, including 10 different colors, muzzle devices, and other chamberings to include the 22 LR, 5.7X28mm, .300 Blackout, and 7.62x39mm.
POF P308 Edge
Not all self-defense situations revolve around a bad guy. You might need to stop an angry bear or reach across the pasture to put down a marauding wolf or mountain lion. The POF (Patriot Ordnance Factory) P-308 Edge has ambidextrous fire controls, a modular M-LOK compatible free-floating rail, anti-tilt buffer tube, and is chambered for the .308 Winchester. It also has an adjustable gas system and a wicked-good trigger, pre-set to 4.5 pounds, with an A2 steel disconnect and hammer that have been Nitride heat-treated to a 70 Rockwell hardness. In reality, this could be a hunting AR, but it was built for fighting. So, if the Russians invade America or brown bears take over your back 40, with the P-308 Edge, you’ll own the fight.
Spikes Tactical Billet ST Compressor
Because the needs of individuals vary even more than the variety of ARs on the market, it is nearly impossible to identify the “best” personal protection AR; what might be great for one, will be lacking for another. However, when all the measuring, guessing, and pontificating are done, the Spike’s Tactical billet ST Compressor is probably as close to all-round perfection as you’re going to get. Chambered for the .300 Blackout, the Compressor is what’s known as a “two-stamp” gun: You’ll have to have one federal tax stamp for the suppressor and one for the lower receiver, because it is a dedicated short-barrel-rifle (SBR). The gas system on this gun is as radically engineered, the barrel is radially fluted, and all controls are ambidextrous. Everything about the compressor screams, “I’m ready for villains, demons, vampires, and werewolves!” If you want to defend your castle, or carry around the most badass truck gun made, this is the one for you.