Gear, Parts and Accessories

Why Your Budget AR-15 Could be Too Expensive in the Long Run

Close up of BCM AR-15 receiver

It’s far too easy to get caught up in AR-15 brand loyalty wars, often with a diminishing rate of return on your time investment. I’d like to take a step back, and look at the big picture to the question: “Is there a place for budget AR-15 rifles?” Thankfully, the answer to this is far simpler than some would have you believe.

First, let’s establish that there really is a difference between a cheaply-made rifle and a properly assembled one. The AR-15 is a simple design, but that doesn’t mean there’s no right or wrong to putting one together. Things like quality control checks on vital parts really do matter.

What’s Your Ultimate Goal?

Truthfully, asking whether a budget rifle is a good buy or not isn’t even the real question. It really boils down to what you want to do with your rifle. Like most purchasing decisions, whether it’s a new dishwasher, computer or vehicle, it’s important to consider what your true needs are. And this isn’t that difficult if you’re honest with yourself.

It’s Okay to not be “Tacticool”

Do you want a rifle to play around with, impress your friends, or own just because AR-15s are cool? Will it see limited paper-punching duty from the bench on a square range, once a month or even less frequently? If that’s the case, you’ll be fine with the most inexpensive rifle available, and don’t let anybody on all the Internet gun forums tell you differently.

A cheap rifle with bottom-of-the-bucket parts leans against a wall the same way a “Tier One” blaster does. Parts can’t wear out if you don’t use them very much, so be realistic about your needs.

For range duty and most hunting needs, the cheapest AR on the rack is perfect! Modern manufacturing and quality control processes has made even inexpensive guns very reliable for the average user. Rifles like the Del-Ton Echo 316M even include iron sights, so you’re good to go right out of the box.

It’s also Okay to be Dead Serious

On the other hand, what if you want to actually become proficient with your equipment? Do you want to take multiple training classes, practice what you learned at them regularly, and be as prepared as possible for the toughest shooting matches?

Close up of BCM AR-15 receiver
Bravo Company Manufacturing has a stellar track record for quality and reliability.
Are you serious about using your rifle for personal defense, or other “serious” purposes? If so, you owe it to yourself and others to buy a quality gun like the Bravo Company Manufacturing MID-16. It just doesn’t get any better than Bravo Company when it comes to selecting a quality rifle. These guys simply do it right. It’s a rifle you could literally take to a warzone (and many have done so).

Saving money on your rifle is a poor choice

Let’s think about this critically for a second. Buying a budget AR-15 with serious purposes in mind might save you around $300-$500, perhaps more if you’re really lucky.

The total costs of competition or tactical training classes quickly adds up. Travel expenses, hotel stays, gun club membership dues and range fees, class tuition, and the never-ending need for a literal mountain of ammo will put that measly $300 you saved on the rifle into perspective rather quickly.

And, do you really want to invest such large sums of time and money into your training goals, only to have them hampered by a manufacturing flaw or defect in an inexpensive rifle? Sure, there is anecdotal evidence of that Black Friday special running for tens of thousands of rounds without a problem.

Hanging your hat on those reports is asinine, however, when reputable trainers repeatedly report issues with lower quality guns in their multi-thousand round classes. These classes will show a rifle more rounds in a day than the average user will see in a lifetime. Do your research and choose wisely.

Realistic expectations

Bottom line: The associated costs of dedicated practice and training make the few hundreds of dollars saved on the initial rifle investment paltry in comparison. If you don’t plan on dedicating the real time and money towards becoming proficient with your long gun, then a budget gun is perfect.

Glock pistol and SureFire hand-held flashlight
Quality gear is usually worth it in the long run, but not for everybody.
Again, there is nothing wrong with genuinely evaluating your needs and determining that a hobby-level gun is right for you. Don’t listen for a second to anybody that tells you otherwise.

Basically, if you find yourself asking the question “Is a budget-priced AR-15 for me?” buy the low-end gun. Because if you’re serious about spending serious money on training, you already know what you have to do.

How would you classify your shooting needs? Do you love plinking at the range, or have you had any advanced training? What’s your go-to gun? Let us know in the comments!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (8)

  1. This article smacks of elitism. The line “On the other hand, what if you want to actually become proficient with your equipment? ” implies that people who don’t have big incomes are just simply screwed.

    This is total BS!

    I have worked high risk security everywhere from Iraq to Kenya, and Afghanistan and the West Bank in between. Do you need good equipment? Absolutely. But to write an article and tell people they’re not serious unless they spend the equivalent of their family’s living budget for two or three months on a rifle is just not accurate.

    I’ve worked in extreme hostile environments and carried genuine Colt M4s with Eotech sights and a Kimber .45 handgun as my sidearm. Yup, great stuff that someone else paid for. But my home go-to rifle is an M&P with the usual rails and mid-cost optics and it has never let me down. It works, every shot, every time. What did it cost with all the nice rails and such? $770 on a special from CDNN.

    These articles that tell people they are not serious unless they spend the cost of a good used car really burn me up. People can only buy what they can afford. How many people will deny their children milk in order to buy a rifle? Any one who says they would simply hasn’t had children to care for.

    I’ve been there. Back in the day I needed my own personal weapons to work security for a national guard ammo supply point (ASP). All I could afford was a used Argentine 1911 and a Ruger Mini-14. I took care of them both and they took care of me. They were good guns, but all the Internet gun gurus would have dissed me for them.

    You know what I say? So what? The bottom line is do some research, buy the best weapon you can afford, and learn to use it to its fullest advantage to protect you and yours. I own Hi-Points and within the parameters of their capabilities, they are a great value in guns. Are they my first choice? No, I prefer my Glock and M&P, but that’s not because the Hi-Points are bad guns, just that they are what I prefer.

    To all elitists I say . . get over it. Yes, people need to do what they need to do to take care of their loved ones.

    1. Hi Mikial. As usual, your comment hits a truth cord with me. I go out of my way to let people who may read my comments that I am not an LEO or retired LEO or current military. I did serve, but I didn’t carry a weapon in my duties; a pen, yeah. For the last twenty or so years since I woke up to the possibility of trouble coming for me or my wife due to a bad situation right off the strip in Las Vegas (yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a spit hole and I now try to avoid going anywhere near it) I go to self defense classes and keep my meager skills as sharp as I am able. There is a lot of bluster and blather on these boards and I certainly add my two blathers to the pile.

  2. My basic AR is the Daniel Defense DDM4v7 at around $1200. I have added a scope if I need over 100 yds and I usually have a Mepro 21M Reflex on it. Now, my main home defense weapon that is at hand when I am in bed is a Remington 870 shotgun, and my Sig Sauer P226 SAO just in case the 870 isn’t enough. I suspect that if I need more that a fully loaded 870 that I and my wife would be in pretty deep do-do. I practice with all of these at least once a month with ammo on the range and I dry fire all of them from various positions in my home once a week. My wife calls it crazy time when I run around clicking away in various scenarios. I wish she was right behind me or covering me, but that’s not in the cards for now. Because I live on less that a quarter acre in a standard suburb situation, I am not planning on using the AR for home defense because I don’t want those rounds flying out down the street and I’m to blame.

    1. Hi Sean. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. I am glad you that you have mentioned not to use your AR15 in home defense. Makes so much sense to me. All of my buddies bragging about their homes defense with it in the big city like LA. They will kill some body if they missed the target are very high state. Shotgun is the best choice to me too

    2. Hey DD922! Thanks. I think many people don’t think through a possible home defense scenario very well or deeply. I don’t know about you or anyone else (we are all different) but when I wake up quickly to an anomalous noise or my alarm, I roll out of bed, grab my shotgun, rack the slide and my heart is beating pretty darn fast. This has only happened twice in a lot of years. Honestly, even though I train regularly and my wife and I have a general plan, I don’t think many of us suburbanite warriors are really ready for a fire fight. My core plan is to be behind some concealment protecting my wife. If someone is robbing me I have insurance and an emergency fund to make me whole. Roaming around my house in the dark with my shotgun at low ready is not fun; I know, I do it occasionally unloaded and in the mostly dark with light from the street. There aren’t many lights in my neighborhood, so it’s pretty dark. Back to our plan. We stay in our bedroom behind a very heavy chest of drawers, my wife is dialing 911 on the mobile phone, I’m loaded for bear and pointing at the doorway. ROE is that anyone who comes through the door without convincing me they are the Police is going to get several loads of 00 buck. I dearly hope this never, ever happens. Life is uncertain at all times. Most Americans live with a normalcy bias that cloaks the real world from their eyes. I try very hard to be awake to all possibilities. I live in a nice place; a home invasion is definitely a possibility.

    3. @SEAN KENDALL

      Your comment is just pure common sense.

      There is a comment on another TSL post (about training) that said “How much training doe (sic) you need with a 100 round drum?” That comment made me cringe. I can just see someone with an AR or AK spraying away with that drum until it runs dry, with no idea where most of those rounds are going. Absolutely no common sense or desire to actually learn how to make the most of the right equipment and do the job right.

      And hang in there getting your wife on board. Mine does run around the house with me with our Airsoft guns, and anytime I hear a sound and go to check it out (always an armed response) she is ready to back me up. What more could a guy ask for? 😉

    4. You are indeed a fortunate man Mikial. Here’s hoping you, your wife and all your loved ones had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.

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