The AR Platform: A True Jack of All Trades
A firearm is a tool and, just like with other tools, one type or style doesn’t take care of every job. Take a hammer, for example. There’s a heavier framing hammer for pounding larger nails, a finishing hammer for smaller nails and more intricate work, a tack hammer for delicate work that uses tacks instead of nails, and even a rubber or wooden mallet for jobs where you don’t want to leave any hammer marks.
Well, rifles work much the same way—there is not one rifle for every job. But one type of rifle comes close, and that’s an AR-style rifle. If you can only have one rifle, choosing one of these jack-of-all-trades platforms is a smart choice because they truly can just about do it all.
THE AR-15 Backstory
The AR-15 was developed by a company called ArmaLite in the late ‘50s, and the A-R combination in AR-15 is merely an abbreviation for “ArmaLite Rifle,” with the “15” designating the model number ArmaLite assigned to their new design. Unfortunately ArmaLite had limited success in selling the rifle, and ultimately chose to sell the design to Colt in 1959. In the 1970s, Colt’s patents on the AR-15 expired, allowing new manufacturers to get into the market, and from there the rifle’s popularity grew to its legendary status.
Shooting enthusiasts soon found the AR-15, chambered in 5.56 mm NATO, to be an extremely versatile and dependable rifle suitable for just about any use, including home defense, recreational shooting, competitive shooting, and hunting.
The Modern AR
Today’s AR-15s are lightweight semi-automatic rifles that are modular, customizable, highly accurate, and easy to shoot, with only a fraction of the recoil of a classic bolt- or lever-action rifle. Still primarily chambered in 5.56 mm (which is typically easy to acquire, another selling point of the AR-15), today you can find an AR-15 chambered in virtually any caliber, including .300 Blackout, .223 Remington, and larger hunting calibers like .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington and more—although larger-caliber versions are technically AR-10s, the predecessor of the AR-15.
Other factors contribute to the AR-15’s popularity as well. Parts and accessories for AR-15-style rifles are readily available and can be procured from most any gun store. And, because of its simplicity, it’s easy to maintain and work on an AR-15, which can be broken down in a matter of seconds. AR-15s have an extremely ergonomic design available in an assortment of barrel lengths and, if they have an adjustable buttstock, can typically be quickly adjusted for your size and build to be a comfortable fit.
Because an AR-15 is a soft-shooting semi-automatic rifle, it’s easy to put shots on target and rattle off follow-up shots quickly with one, which can be big advantage when competing or hunting since you’re not anticipating a big kick from recoil and you don’t need to recompose yourself before firing off another shot. While not as accurate as larger-caliber, long-distance precision rifles, an AR-15 chambered in 5.56 mm is still extremely accurate out to several hundred yards.
Finally, AR-15s do not need to be babied. While it is necessary to clean them regularly, they can withstand the elements, making them a good fit for most any environment. In short, the AR-15 truly is an incredible combination of accuracy, dependability, easy maintenance, and enjoyable shooting, which makes it a great choice for the one gun to have if you can only have one—no matter what your skill level!
The Flexibility that Bred Popularity
It’s definitely worth repeating:
An AR-15-style rifle can meet the needs of just about any type of shooter at any skill level, but here are a few (but certainly not all) types of shooters who have embraced this design—and for good reasons!
Shooting Enthusiasts & Skills Builders
AR-15s are just plain fun to shoot, so if you enjoy shooting, you will enjoy shooting this style of rifle. Shooting is an activity to be shared with friends and other enthusiasts, so if you shoot an AR-15, you already have something in common with other Americans who own the estimated nearly 20 million AR-style rifles in the U.S., according to the NSSF. So, you’re almost certainly bound to bond with fellow shooters over your love of this platform!
If you own an AR-15, you will naturally want to become more proficient with it, which means regular trips to the range or your favorite shooting area with friends and family who share your passion. And you’ll almost certainly get better with practice because the AR-15 is accurate and easy to shoot, which should only boost your confidence. Their light weight and ergonomic design—with easy-to-reach mag-release buttons, intuitive and often ambidextrous safety selectors, and one-touch bolt-release buttons—make AR-15-style rifles easy and intuitive to operate.
What’s more, an AR-15 is a rifle that continually improves as you improve. As your skills progress, you will be amazed at how your rifle keeps up with you! With the proliferation of accessories out there, including optics, bipods, lights, furniture, and rails, you can customize your rifle to be exactly what you want it to be for exactly the type of shooting you enjoy. And, should you ever completely master your AR-15-style rifle, you can always move up or down in caliber. So, if you feel like you’ve done it all with your 5.56 mm rifle, move up to an AR-10-style rifle chambered in a larger, longer-range caliber and start moving those targets farther downrange.
Serious Competitors & Competitors Looking to Get Serious
If you’re shooting for points, and every shot or second counts, an AR-15 is the rifle for you. Its light weight, ergonomics, adjustability, customization, and modularity make it a natural for competition. With the right rifle, accessories, and amount of practice, a good AR-15 becomes an extension of your arms, and shots fired consistently hit where you’re aiming.
One of the most popular and fastest-growing competitions in the U.S. is 3-gun, which, as the name implies, is a competition involving three guns: a pistol, a shotgun, and a modern sporting rifle (MSR), which is an AR-platform rifle.
There’s a reason competitors use an AR-style rifle instead of, say, a bolt- or lever-action rifle. It saves a lot of time. With a semi-automatic AR-style rifle, every time you pull the trigger, a round fires, ejects the spent shell casing, and chambers another round. This saves major time over having to manually unlock, draw back, push forward, and lock down a bolt or cock a lever. The lighter recoil of an AR-style rifle also allows a shooter to focus on their target without anticipating a big kick and get back on target quicker for follow-up shots.
If you’re serious about becoming a serious competitor, especially in 3-gun competitions, you need to seriously consider which AR-15- or AR-10-style rifle is going help you onto the winner podium.
Some hunting purists would never consider anything other than a traditional bolt-action. That’s certainly their prerogative, but most of them don’t know what they’re missing. But if you’re a hunter, you should consider an AR-style hunting rifle because it could make your hunt more successful and enjoyable a number of ways.
- AR-style hunting rifles fire follow-up shots quicker than a bolt or lever or other manual action. Not only does this increase the odds that you’ll bring down a game animal, it can also be more humane for the animal to finish it off right then and there rather than wound it with your first shot, not have time to get off a follow-up shot, and have to track it down while it suffers.
- Recoil is significantly less with an AR-style hunting rifle, allowing you to concentrate on your shot. If you’re not thinking about the punch in the shoulder you’re about to get from a bolt- or lever-action gun, especially with some of the larger, more powerful calibers out there, you can focus all your attention on making a well-placed kill shot.
- Many AR-style hunting rifles feature adjustable buttstocks. By pushing a release latch and pulling out or pushing in the buttstock, you can adjust an AR-style rifle for the perfect length of pull and maximum comfort. This is especially convenient if you’re borrowing someone else’s rifle or lending yours to a hunting companion. With a traditional wood or polymer stock, it’s one length and stays one length.
- An AR-style hunting rifle readily accepts accessories to make it more effective. With an AR-style rifle, you can easily add sling attachments, a scope or other optic, a bipod to stabilize the rifle, and more. You can also easily swap out the furniture to make the rifle fit your body and shooting style better. With a traditional bolt gun featuring a wooden or polymer stock, unless you’re willing to replace the entire stock, what you buy is what you have for the firearm’s life.
- AR-style hunting rifles come in a wide range of calibers. While 5.56 mm is the most popular caliber for AR-15s, you can get virtually any caliber in an AR-style platform. Some of the more popular hunting calibers for North American game animals include .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington, and more.
No matter which type of shooter you are, there’s an AR-style rifle that fits you and your needs. So, if you can only have one rifle, consider making it an AR-style. But don’t be surprised if, after you start to use and appreciate that one jack-of-all-trades rifle, there are additional AR-style rifles in your future. It just sort of seems to work out that way.