updated by Chad Nabors on Apr 23rd 2018The AR-15 is currently the best-selling rifle in America, and for good reason. It’s practical both for hunting and defense. Its modular nature allows it to be configured for a variety of roles, and its light weight and excellent ergonomics make it easy to use for shooters of any stature.
For these reasons, the AR-15 is 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 should be a semi-automatic rifle with a large magazine capacity: The AR-15 fits this requirement perfectly.
However, can you afford an AR-15 if you’re on a tight budget? Many AR-15s on the market are not known for being inexpensive. Fortunately, though, the days where you would have to shell out $1,500.00 to buy a decent AR are long gone.
A lot of people want or need an AR but laying out nearly $2,000 for one may be too much of a financial stretch. Several manufacturers listened to chatter from potential customers and gun dealers and the result has been a category of AR-15s that are less expensive, but still of high enough quality to serve as defensive guns.
These “entry-level” AR’s come with basic equipment and sometimes pared-down features or materials compared to more expensive rifles. So they won’t come with some of the items more expensive AR’s include, things like railed, MLOK or Keymod handguards, high-quality BUIS, or enhanced stocks and pistol grips. No, it will likely be USGI furniture and fixed or Magpul sights, if they include sights at all. They likely won’t be as smoothly finished either, however, they are reliable and they offer a lot of value for the money.
Considering we are probably shopping for a defense quality gun on a tight budget, that is what matters. In this article, we’ll discuss a few 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.
A Word on Quality
No one wants to pay too much for anything, but often times it is worse to pay too little. In that case, buying something too cheaply made, you’ll find that the item cannot even do the thing it was purchased to do, and you’ll have wasted both time and money. Do not believe the propaganda that all AR’s are the same, they aren’t: higher-end manufacturers use better materials and processed in the manufacture if their guns that amount to higher performance, especially in areas of reliability and durability.
There is a price point at which obtaining a quality AR is impossible, and such guns should be relegated only for recreation. Before you convince yourself that one of these cheapest of rifles is all you can afford, consider that purchasing a higher quality gun is only the matter of a few hundred dollars and a little more time spent saving.
All of the rifles on this list have been selected after a careful analysis of their features, materials and assembly processes that are important for fighting guns. I have endeavored to choose only rifles with a street price of $1,000 or less. Other guns in their price category may be vastly inferior. Do your homework before you believe the slick PR on a cheap gun offering as much performance as a more expensive model. “Just as good as,” isn’t.
Colt Model 6920
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 AR’s. In fact, for many years, Colt was the only commercial manufacturer of AR-15 rifles. That’s hard to imagine today because it seems that every gun manufacturer is making 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. For a long time, the 6920 was seen as the standard by which other AR’s were judged, and it was priced accordingly. Now, it is possible to get a stock 6920 for right at a $1000, even a little less!
While it will have only basic furniture, it will also be a rifle made to the standard, and include all the hallmarks of a well made gun, including a chrome lined barrel, well staked gas key and castle nut, M4 feed ramps and a properly sized gas port. This rifle will also allow you to add any accessories you may desire as finances allow and objective dictates, making it an excellent, high-quality base rifle.
In short, the Colt 6920 is a solid, basic AR that represents one of the highest-quality affordable guns on this list. For that reason, the 6920 deserves your consideration if you’re in the market for an entry-level AR. It is a solid rifle for anyone.
Armalite DEF-15F Defensive Sporting Rifle
The original Armalite company is world famous for their creation of the AR-15. The Armalite of today, while no longer the same company, is still turning out quality AR ‘s. In fact, while more than a few people think that “AR” means “Assault Rifle”, it actually means “Armalite Rifle”. At any rate, the Armalite of today has plenty of experience making AR rifles over the years, and so I am more than pleased to include one of their newer rifles on this list.
The DEF15F sports a chrome-lined bore, (which many budget rifles lack), standard furniture and A2 flash hider. Again, another “bare-bones” setup, and one without a rear sight, but also one that is a little cheaper than the 6920 above. A lifetime warranty rounds out the package, and while a good warranty on a crap rifle is cold comfort, that is not the case with the Armalite offering; Armalite is a reputable maker with strong customer support.
Like the 6920, it is a standard carbine configuration, and one can easily add accessories as you see fit.
You may be wondering what the shortcomings are of an AR in the $800 price range. That’s a fair concern for most guns, but in this case Armalite has done an admirable job of nailing the sweet-spot on dependable quality vs. affordability. Per above, like many entry ARs, this one doesn’t come with a rear sight and your front site is the good ol’ A2 fixed tower, but like the 6920, it is completely compatible with all carbine-length handguards and parts.
I have seen a few stray reviews of this rifles predecessor, the Defender, stating that it malfunctions frequently without lube. Well, yeah… You need to lubricate any firearm, especially an AR, if you want it to run well. I do not believe these gripes are fair to any rifle, not just a budget AR,
Sons of Liberty Gun Works M4 MOE Patrol Rifle
A young, small maker compared to the others on this list, but a serious contender and rising star for those who desire a rifle built to the standard by people who do it right the first time, SOLGW has earned a reputation among AR connoisseurs for dead-hard rifles, a lifetime warranty, and the fact that anything is wrong with your gun you can call them and expect to talk to the CEO. That’s an unheard of level of commitment to the customer.
More importantly, their fanatical adherence to standards and best practices has lead them to detail every component, great and small, plus the specifics thereof that go into their rifles: properly sized gas ports, correct staking, heavy buffers, corrosion resistant barrel finishes, M4 feed ramps, every single element of a quality AR build are present. When you see a manufacturer go to such lengths to both inform and educate the customer about what makes up a quality rifle, you stop and wonder why other manufacturers don’t!
Their M4 MOE rifle is available from the factory with a plethora of options that could easily send the price over $2,000, but as-is stock it is the best equipped rifle on this list for less than $1,000. It includes great Magpul MOE furniture and sights from stem to stern and 3 high quality magazines. Their website declares the rifle ready for duty on day one, and that is not just a catchy slogan.
Well worth your consideration, and you’ll be supporting an American small business.
Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II
The last AR15 we’ll look at is the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II, specifically because it’s an improvement over the original Sport model. The original M&P15 Sport sold without the forward assist or the ejection port cover. While the forward assist is mostly useless at this point in the AR-15s life (it’s true!) the ejection port cover, though not all important for a patrol rifle or home defense gun, is nice to have when taking the gun into hostile climates, especially muddy or sandy ones. The Sport II has both FA and EPC
The barrel of the Sport II is not chrome lines, but is nitrocarburized, what S&W calls Armornite™ finish, for corrosion resistance and long life, an entirely acceptable alternative. It features a fixed A2 front post, with a folding Magpul MBUS rear, USGI stock and pistol grip. The only quirk here is the 1:9 rifling twist of the bore, meaning this rifle may struggle to stabilize with heavier projectiles weighing more than 69 grains.
The Sport II usually streets for around $700, and has developed a sturdy following among even devoted adherents of top-tier guns as a viable defensive rifle or backup to a high-end gun. It also comes backed by Smith & Wesson’s excellent warranty and customer service. It is for these reasons that the M&P15 Sport II is one of the best selling AR’s on the market today.
So now we come to the big question: out of the entry-level AR-15s that we have presented, which one is the best? Before I reveal the answer, I must say that all of these AR-15s are of good to excellent quality and all of them provide plenty of value for the money. You’re not likely to be disappointed in any of them, so just because I chose one above the rest doesn’t mean that one of others wouldn’t serve you just as well.
But since I have to choose a winner out of these five budget AR-15s, it would be the SOLGW M4 MOE. It’s a battle ready AR-15 built to top-quality specifications and comes with all the features one would expect on a fighting gun, and improved, modernized Magpul furniture.
The other budget AR-15s on this list would require you to add that yourself in order to keep their prices down. The fact that you can get excellent quality and a good feature set in one rifle under $1,000 and from a company as committed to real quality as SOLGW is nothing if not a no-brainer.
The other ARs are likely entirely adequate for the average user’s needs, especially the Colt, but if the matter of $200 or so is the make or break factor then the Armalite or Smith & Wesson either are worthy choices.
If you’re a prepper on a budget who wants an AR-15, one that won’t fail you in the moment of greatest need, there are reliable, well made rifles out there for less than $1,000. You might have to look a little harder to find them, but armed with this guide you are sure to pick one that is worthy of both your money, and the AR legacy. So until next time, keep it loaded, and keep it close!
So, what’s your opinion? Do you own one of the rifles above? What’s your opinion of the best budget AR15 available?