Of course claiming a definitive list to AR enthusiasts is tantamount to using a .25 caliber to clear your sinus—but I thought it might get your attention and while you are here you might as well read on comment with your own list. Despite the efforts of the Antis, there has never been a better time to be a gun enthusiast than today.
Every famous model of gun in history got its start in the military or possibly law enforcement and filtered down to the hands of civilians and the AR-15 or MSR is no different. Which is better the Winchester Model 70 or Remington 700? At least the answer to that question is likely to bring a little more than a smile and few terse words. However, if you ask which AR platform is the best and you are likely to spark a conversation worthy of shaming the Hatfields & McCoys.
Never one to err on the side of caution, coupled with the fact Stoner’s design; the War on Terror; the explosion of 3-Gun competitions; the threat of another “Crime Bill” and a nation with a ravenous appetite for ARs here is my short list of must own ARs. In truth, while these are my top production models, it would really be hard to go wrong given the quality of today’s offerings. Here’s five in no particular order.
BCM M4 Carbine
The BCM M4 Carbine is chock full of features that make it worthy of being a Top 5. One of the simplest, yet critical is the BCMGunfighter Charging handle. On the surface it seem minor. You pull it and a round gets chambered. If we look a bit deeper though into modern training doctrines and practices, it has us working the charging handle with our support hand while the primary hand stays on the pistol grip of the weapon. Initially, the weapon was designed for the shooter to grasp the charging handle with their firing hand, and to pull directly to the rear. The straight-back method reduced the stress on the charging handle roll pin, but takes us out of a firing position. By switching to the flat of your support hand, or index finger off your support hand to pull back on the charging handle while pushing forward with their firing hand on the pistol grip.
Other notables include the factory machined M4 feed ramps on the receiver are hard coat anodized which adds significant strength to the aluminum. An independently certified Mil-Spec 11595E barrel steel, Carpenter No. 158 steel machined bolt and 1/7 twist rate. The barrel is chrome lined, which has become a standard for battle rifles around the world, increases velocity, resists fouling and corrosion from extended use in the field and a longer barrel life with less required time in maintenance and cleaning.
Nearly five decades, a half-century, have elapsed since Colt’s M16 was first fielded by the U.S. Military. Since that time, Colt has never surrendered its position as one of the world’s preeminent AR manufacturers. Simply put, Colt’s 6920 is the closest thing to what the military is using—minus the happy switch of course—‘nuff said.
Colt’s 6920 starts with a high-strength polymer, four-position, collapsible stock on the lower receiver assembly and a standard, semi-automatic AR-15 trigger assembly inside. The muzzle compensator reduces muzzle climb and helps eliminate flash and dust signatures.
Colt uses carpenter steel and tests each individual bolt to check for micro fissures or defects that could cause a failure down the road. As far as I know… Colt and FN are the only companies that fire a proof load on every bolt before it is inspected that I know of.
Daniel Defense M4 Carbine, V5 LW (Lightweight Barrel)
The Daniel Defense V5 Light Weight, is everything you need in a homegrown defensive carbine. Put one up against a military M4 though the DD will come up a bit light. Well, not actually a bit; it’s more like 10 ounces. One of the main reasons is the lightweight barrel. Let’s be honest, unless you have an M203 with ammo for it, you really do not need a heavy barrel. However, if you are going to carry the gun for professional reasons or while traversing the hills on a hunt, those ounces are going to make a ton of difference.
Beyond the weight factor, the DD M4 has much of the furniture you’d upgrade other ARs with after plopping down your greenbacks. Features include an Omega X Rail with low-profile covers, A2 flash hider, Magpul 30-round P Mag and MOE buttstock, Daniel Defense A2 pistol grip, and vertical foregrip. The upper and lower receivers are military spec with an M4 feed ramp, an enhanced/flared magazine well, and an H buffer. The bolt group is mil-spec and properly staked. Of course to be included in any list of top ARs, the DD V5 Lightweight has a chrome steel barrel with a 1/7 twist.
Lewis Machine & Tool CQB MRP Defender
Probably the best argument for the popularity of LMT’s guns is that it is constantly runs a backorder status. That being said, the CQB MRP Defender features a CQB MRP upper receiver with 16-inch chrome lined, 1/7 twist barrel. The Monolithic Rail is not separate from the receiver; it’s fabricated from a single block of aluminum. This allows the operator to quickly change the free-floating barrel using only a Torx wrench in a matter of seconds.
The free-floating barrel helps with accuracy and keeping the gun cool. When you look through the quad-rail forend, you’ll see the gas tube is slightly different from a standard AR gas tube. On the LMT CQB, it’s a straight shot from front to back, which I believe aids in the smooth feel and operation.
Other notables include the piston semi auto bolt carrier group, tactical charging handle assembly, defender lower with SOPMOD buttstock and standard trigger group. The LMT CQB MRP Defender comes standard with tactical adjustable rear sight, tactical front sight, (2) heavy-duty push button swivels, (1) thirty round magazine, torque wrench / driver and (3) rail panels, A2 birdcage compensator, low-profile gas block, cryogenically-treated barrel and electronically tested and recorded trigger pull.
DIY AR-15 on the Cheap
Of course a top gun in anyone’s book has to be a DIY gun on the cheap. I don’t care if it shoots minute-of-clay-pigeon or minute-of-coyote when you are finished. Three things are going to be certain. First, a bad guy looking at the bore of your home build is still going to need to change his shorts, and ain’t going to stick around to be the subject of your next accuracy check. Second, building your own AR is the ultimate erector set, and last—as an absolute-worst-case-scenario— it will make a great truck gun or something to tuck away in a bug out kit. It will certainly give you an appreciation and education of ARs when you sit down with a few boxes of parts and assemble one from scratch.
It took me a total of about five minutes to come up with everything you should need to put together an AR on the cheap.