For these reasons, the AR-15 is also one of the best rifles for preppers to own. If you’re preparing to defend your home and family from multiple assailants, at least one gun in your arsenal needs to be a semi-automatic rifle with a large magazine capacity. The AR-15 fits this bill perfectly.
However, can you afford an AR-15 if you’re on a tight budget? Historically speaking, when it comes to military rifles, AR-15s have not been known as the cheapest. Fortunately, though, the days where you would have to save up to a grand to buy an AR are long gone.
The marketplace for a budget AR-15 has expanded greatly in recent years because of the market demand for it. A lot of people wanted or needed an AR but just weren’t financially able to lay out the money for one. Reputable manufacturers listened to chatter from potential customers and gun dealers and the result has opened up a new class of AR-15s. These are called ‘entry level ARs.
Entry level ARs are AR-15s you can buy for less than six hundred and fifty dollars. They come equipped with the basic features of an AR-15 rifle. No, they won’t come with some of the upgrades the more expensive AR rifles include, and they won’t be as smooth either; however, they’re reliable and they offer a lot of value for the money, and that’s what matters.
In this article, we’ll discuss five of the most viable options for an entry level AR rifle, and then reveal our recommendation for the best budget AR15 rifle on the market.
COLT EXPANSE AR-15
Colt is not only one of the most well reputable firearms manufacturers in history, they’re also one of the leading manufacturers when it comes to ARs. In fact, for many years, Colt was the only manufacturer of AR-15 rifles. That’s hard to imagine today because it seems almost every gun manufacturer is producing them.
The LE6920 model from Colt in particular, is held in high regard and considered by many to be the closest thing there is to the military M4A1 rifle on the civilian market. But while the LE6920 is many things, it’s not cheap.
As a result, in early 2016 Colt introduced the Expanse into their line-up, which is essentially a cheaper and more basic version of the LE6920. The Expanse, available for $600 – $700, is sold with many standard AR rifle features such as:
- Classic direct impingement gas system
- A2 style grip and front sight
- a collapsible stock
- a single stage trigger
The lower price of the Expanse is due to the fact that it lacks some of the features you would expect from the high end model. You’ll find the dust cover, forward assist, and a rear sight missing from the Expanse model. The average person doesn’t exactly require these features (at least not the cover or assist), which is why Colt opted not to include them in their basic model. If you find you desire any of the missing features, they can easily be added on later.
In short, the Colt Expanse is a solid, basic-feature AR that represents a more affordable variant of Colt’s more famous LE6920 rifle. For that reason, the Expanse deserves your consideration if you’re in the market for a budget AR. It will be an excellent choice for an ordinary user who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend. It would however, be a disappointment to AR aficionados who require a more complete rifle.
DEL-TON SPORT AR-15 SEMI AUTOMATIC
Another highly respected basic AR is the Del-Ton Sport. While it’s not the most common AR model on the market, it certainly delivers on quality. Both the upper and lower receivers are constructed of aluminum with a protective anodized coating, to greatly enhance the durability of the weapon.
What’s better, Del-Ton accomplishes this while keeping the overall weight of their rifle at just eight and a half pounds. This means it’s perfect for carrying over long distances where you wouldn’t want the weight of your rifle to drag you down.
The Del-Ton Sport boasts additional features such as an M4 collapsible stock, mil-spec design, and A2 flash hider. On the down side, it doesn’t come with sights, so you’ll need to buy and install those on yourself.
Del-Ton Sports can be purchased in the marketplace for anywhere from $500 to $600, a very attractive price point if you want quality for less money. If you’re willing to buy and add the sights yourself, you’ll have a solid rifle in your hands that will last you a lifetime if you maintain it properly.
ARMALITE DEFENDER 15
Armalite is best known for their bragging rights on being the inventor of the AR platform. While most people think that “AR” means “Assault Rifle”, it actually means “Armalite Rifle”. This magnificent company has by all means perfected the AR platform over the years, so it’s only natural that one of their models would make this list.
The Defender M15 brags a chrome-lapped bore (which the Ruger doesn’t have), and zero proprietary parts! Some more specs include:
- Flattop forged receiver
- Mid-length handguard and gas system
- Chrome-lined 16” heavy barrel
- A2 Flash Hider
- Collapsible buttstock
- Phosphate-finished steel surfaces
- Two-stage trigger
You may be wondering what the downfall of this magnificent weapon system is, but there’s really not much. Like most entry ARs, this one doesn’t come with front or rear sights, but it does have the rail system compatible with aftermarket sights.
There have been people reviewing the Defender, stating that it jams quite often without lube. Well, no shit Sherlock. You need to lubricate your AR if you wish for it to fire properly. I’ve personally had no issues with the Armalite Defender 15, and I’m sure you won’t either if you take care of it.
Ruger certainly made a splash in the AR-15 market years ago with their high end SR-556 rifle, which costs well over a thousand dollars. But a couple of years ago they came out with an entry level sporting AR-15, called the AR-556, which can be purchased for less than half the price of the SR-556.
The best thing about the AR-556 is that it comes loaded with many of the same features that you would expect on a higher end AR-15 rifle. The dust cover and a forward assist make it ready for combat and tactical training. The barrel is cold hammer forged, with a chrome-plated bolt carrier. Another plus to the AR-556 is its grip, which is Ruger made, but strongly resembles a Magpul grip. It’s far more ergonomic than many of the more classic style grips that come with similar budget ARs.
If there’s a negative about the AR-556, it’s that it comes fitted very tightly. Swapping out the barrels or pushing out the pins to disassemble the gun will be a challenge at first because they will require a lot of force in order to be twisted or pushed out. They will loosen up over time, but you’re likely to be frustrated initially.
All in all, the AR-556 is a solid sporting entry level AR that comes with many of the features you wouldn’t expect on an AR rifle in its class. It also comes with Ruger’s excellent warranty and can be found at around the $600 mark.
SMITH & WESSON M&P15 SPORT II
The last budget AR15 we’ll look at is the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II. We’re specifically looking at the Sport II because it’s an improvement over the original Sport model. The original M&P15 Sport sold without the forward assist or the dust cover, which like the AR-556, the Sport II does have.
Even though it’s a budget AR rifle in the $600 range, Smith & Wesson has built the M&P15 Sport II to military specifications. The metal components come coated in a durable Armornite finishing with chrome plated firing pin. The 1:9 rifling twist means this rifle shoots very reliably and accuracy with lighter loads less than seventy-five grains.
It is for these reasons that the M&P15 Sport is one of the best selling ARs on the market right now. It also comes backed by Smith & Wesson’s excellent warranty and customer service.
So now we come to the big question: out of the five budget, entry level AR-15s that we have presented, which one is the best? Before we reveal our answer, we must say that all five of these AR-15s are of excellent quality and all of them provide a lot of value for the money. You’re not likely to be disappointed in any of them, so just because we chose one above the rest doesn’t mean that one of the other four won’t serve you just as well.
But if we had to choose a winner out of these five budget AR-15s, it would be the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II. It’s a battle ready AR-15 built to military specifications and comes with features such as a dust cover and forward assist that many other budget AR-15s require you add on yourself in order to keep the price down. Yes, the Ruger AR-556 also comes with these features, but the Smith & Wesson seems to be smoother in overall fit and operation.
The M&P15 Sport II is further reinforced by its extremely durable finish and Smith & Wesson’s stellar reputation for quality, which wasn’t easily earned. If you’re a prepper who wants an AR-15, that won’t fail you, for an end of the world scenario, the M&P15 Sport II is simply the most concrete choice for a budget AR-15 (with the Armalite Defender 15 coming in a close second).
So, what’s your opinion? What’s the best budget AR15 available?