If you had to choose one gun to fill every role that you need a firearm to fill, what would you choose? This question came up at the office the other day and quite a few of us immediately responded with “AR-15 of course.” The others don’t get to explain their reasons for being on Team AR-15, but I do; that’s why my job is awesome. Take a quality 5.56 NATO caliber, 16-inch AR-15 carbine with a red dot and a flashlight, and that gun will be ready for (almost) anything.
Caliber 5.56: Sure you can buy AR-15s in different calibers, but 5.56 is by far the most common and the least expensive choice, and it does get the job done. Per dollar spent I can buy a whole lot more 5.56 than .300 Blackout or 6.8 SPC or whatever whiz-bang caliber they will come up with next week. This means I can train with the gun more often, making me a better shooter. If I own the coolest .458 SOCOM setup you’ve ever seen but I’ve only put 50 rounds through it in the past six months, I’m not as good a shooter as I should be, and I’m not going to be very effective no matter how good the gun is. But what about its terminal effectiveness? What about all those stories about Somalis getting shot and then getting back up in Mogadishu? The truth is, 5.56 has a good track record of stopping power when the velocity of the round is high enough and shot placement is good. The citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan (both friend and foe) view the M4 carbine with almost superstitious respect. One returning soldier said that they think our troops are equipped with “magic death rays”, partially because our guys actually hit their targets and Taliban/insurgent medical capabilities are so poor. Back here in the states, they knocked the 5.56 round for many years as being too small to hunt with, but that’s simply not true. A friend of mine in Missouri has been taking deer every year for over a decade with an old 16-inch Colt A2, and he says new hunting ammo choices available for the past few years make the round more deadly than ever before.
Parts is parts: If I could only have one gun to depend on, I would want to be able to get quality, standardized replacement parts easily and cheaply from a variety of sources. I would also want a high degree of certainty that those replacement parts wouldn’t be needed for a long, long time. A quality AR-15 with a chrome lined barrel gets me both of those things. Everyone likes to talk about how robust the AK-47 is (and yes, it’s an excellent gun), but the AR-15’s design is also very easy on its parts. I like to keep an extractor and extractor spring on hand but honestly I’ve never worn those pieces out, I’m doing it “just in case.” AR-15 parts will last an incredibly long time, especially if you actually bother to maintain them. Here come the AK-47 fans again—what about the legendary reliability of the AK in dirty environments with no cleaning at all? Well, if I suddenly found myself transported to a West African jungle firefight with a muddy weapon, ok, I might opt for an AK, but weapon selection would be pretty low on my list of worries at that point! Fortunately I live in the USA, where we have plenty of gun oil to go around and no shortage of shop rags and paper towels either. Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that the AR-15 will run with good reliability even in awful conditions, especially if it is well oiled.
But how does it shoot: I’ve covered caliber, parts availability, and reliability, but those things can be said of a few other guns as well, (the Ruger Mini-14 comes to mind). What sets the AR-15 apart is how it shoots. Even the standard single stage trigger is crisp with a relatively short travel and light pull. You can upgrade the trigger to “amazing” if you want to sacrifice some parts commonality, but a good quality standard one is fine by me. The AR-15’s safety is located in the perfect position to be easily moved both “on” and “off” by the shooter’s thumb or trigger finger. It is the fastest, most intuitive safety on any rifle, and that’s why so many newer designs are now copying it. Correct specification magazines will drop free from the magazine well without having to be pulled out, and the AR-15’s bolt hold open feature and straight-insert magazine design makes reloading faster than any other rifle design. In carbine form, the AR-15 doesn’t weigh much, and a collapsible stock makes the rifle short and compact. A weight of around ten pounds is pretty standard, with a few accessories added. An AR-15 carbine with a 16-inch barrel is a handy, light rifle that can be carried around for hours and then brought into action very quickly. The in-line stock design means that felt recoil is minimal, especially in 5.56 NATO chambering. The last aspect of “how it shoots” is accuracy, and again the AR-15 really shines. Sure, there are heavy-barrel “target” or “varmint hunting” variants built to squeeze maximum accuracy out of the design, but even a standard chrome-lined carbine barrel should hold a group of no more than two inches at 100 yards with quality ammunition. I’ve seen good shooters with hand-loaded ammo and quality scopes hit man-sized targets at 600 yards using good quality 16-inch barrels (if you’re reading this, hi Don!).
The AR-15 is enjoyable and rewarding to shoot. Ammo and parts for it are affordable and easy to get. It has a proven track record with military forces using it in conditions I hope I never find myself in. It is a proven choice for recreational target shooting, self-defense, hunting, competition, and defeating tyrannical governments around the world. It is my heartfelt endorsement for One Gun To Rule Them All.