One Gun To Rule Them All—Team AR-15

Mike's AR-15

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 ammo. 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.

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Comments (16)

  1. As a civilian, I would go for a carbine length AK-47 chambered in 7.62x39mm. I guess the logical way to justify my choice is to respond in kind, point-by-point.

    First of all, the caliber. When compared to the 7.62x39mm, the 5.56x45mm has many obvious advantages for a military caliber. It is lightweight, allowing you to carry 50-100% more ammo, has better accuracy past 100 yards up to about 300 yards, and it CAN (but not always will) cause horrific flesh wounds. However, the 7.62x39mm has some advantages over the 5.56x45mm as well, mostly owing to its size. It has the invaluable ability to pierce cover (car doors, brick walls, some concrete), absolutely demolishes bone, is a more capable hunting round, suffers less of a performance drop in shorter barrels, and has greater overall range. Also, due to the relative popularity of the 5.56x45mm, 7.62x39mm ammo is actually cheaper to come by in many parts of the country, so it’s a greater plinker (and how about that 5.45x39mm?).

    To be honest though, many of these advantages will not be too important (unless we are resisting foreign occupation or something). It’s unlikely that a civilian will be carrying enough ammo for weight to come into play. It’s unlikely that we will be engaging targets past 100 yards, much less 300 yards. If society breaks down, virtually any bullet, even a 22 LR, can inflict a fatal wound. As far as “stopping power” goes (in my opinion, a silly term, given the variability of ballistics and human endurance), any hit to a vital organ with a rifle is likely enough to incapacitate a target; a round of 7.62x39mm can easily do what a .45 ACP or .357 Magnum can as well.

    Second, the issue of parts. For the most part, an AK-47 will not need replacement parts over the service life of its barrel. However, one huge advantage is in maintenance; the AK-47 does not need to be cleaned as often as an AR-15, and it is much easier to clean; irregulars in the Middle East apparently take a rope, tie some knots in it, dip it in motor oil, and take turns running it through their barrels. Anyhow, despite saying all this, I still think the AR-15 has an advantage in the long run (say 30+ years of SHTF); contrary to popular belief, an AK-47 is not indestructible.

    Also, while we’re on the issue of availability of parts and ammo, something that is not always considered: If society falls apart, it is likely that your local “friendly” paramilitary force will be interested in your NATO ammunition and AR-15 for uniformity’s sake, but not your AK-47, M1 Garand, or Mosin Nagant. (We see this in third world countries all the time; ironically, it happens to AK-47s and AKMs there.)

    Third, as far as how the guns shoot, this seems to purely be a matter of preference.

    So, in summary, if you’re intending to form or join some paramilitary group when SHTF or the Canadians invade, then the AR-15 is your best bet. It is clearly the better military rifle in this part of the world. But if you’re just looking for a rugged and simple gun that can tackle a variety of tasks well, then I would really consider an AK-47.

    Oh, an honorable mention goes to the M1A. Another superb rifle for “do everything”-ness.

  2. I’d pick the AR-15, too. What tips the scales for me is that a 5.56-chambered AR is actually two guns in one – with the drop-in conversion, it will shoot 22lr. Bug in or bug out, SHTF or ROL, buy or barter or scrounge, you are able to use two of the cheapest and most common rifle cartridges in the USA. Resupply will be less of an issue than with any other rifle. Further, while any number of rifles will outperform in a specific task or scenario, the AR can still do that pretty well while doing everything else better. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one. Nobody knows what the future holds, so it’s unwise to specialize – pick a rifle that will serve in the most varied circumstances, and use your grey matter to make up the differences. Adaptability is why we’re here, and the neanderthals aren’t.
    If two guns, my second choice would be a Glock or M&P in .40, with extra drop-in conversion barrels for 357sig and 9mm, for much the same reasons.
    Of course, thankfully unless we ever had to bug-out, we aren’t limited to so few choices.

  3. Al, thanks for your service! The military industrial complex treated you guys like lab rats going in and crap coming out. The Army torpedoed the M-14 because of logistics and passed on the FAL because it was a foreign design. The original FAL chambered a medium range cartridge that would have been ideal for jungle warfare. The US demanded that NATO use the .308 and then abandoned it. The Australian troops in Vietnam, Republic of carried the semi automatic version of the FAL and did well in the jungle. The M-16 was ill equipped for jungle warfare. To make matters worse, Winchester switched powders after the military trials to a dirtier powder and the M-16 had no chrome plating in the chamber and bore. Plus the powers that be who we should all fear over hyped the M-16 abd made no provision for proper cleaning and maintanance. Once they figured out the powder issue and chromed the internals and instituted regular maintenance intervals, the rifle became more reliable but the 5.56 round was still too wimpy for jungle combat. As an example of how inept the Pentagon people were back then, my dad was trained in Army Basic with an M-1 Garand. Then he went through jungle training and trained on the M-16. When he shipped over to Vietnam, they took his M-16 and gave him an antiquated smooth bore 1911 he had never seen in training. He was a doctor and spent the war in the 2nd of the 12th Artillary Batallion on fire bases.

  4. Your write up is spot on. In my opinion, the AR15 is the one firearm that can do just about anything, and it does it well. I can’t think of one single firearm out there that has evolved as much, or as well, as the AR15 Platform has. There are a Lot of Rifles out there, that are really good at what they were designed to do, but there aren’t many that are as versatile as the AR15. Accuracy, reliability, versatility, and Ergonomics. If I could only have one Rifle, it would have to be the AR15.

  5. Eric, it’s sad that you have to have a limit on your CCW. Even in my liberal state, I can carry any gun I can conceal. But if I had only one gun, it would by my Imbel FAL or my HK 91. Either one will go bang when I pull the trigger even if I bury it and dig it up. Plus I can hunt any game animal in this state with a .308.

  6. AS an old VN Marine I have never liked the AR!! I found it to be a pain to keep clean. Of limited range..100 yards is for kids…The old M14s and Garands were easy to clean and keep operating. I was part of the AR evaluation in Panama and we had 3 different versions of the M16 with M14s as baseline. We made 6 amphibious assaults in 3 days going up the beach instead of across it and then tried to fire 13 magazines (half fully auto). the pop guns never got passed the second magazine of full auto!! Same for the 3 days and 6 patrols in the swamps.
    That said I do own an AR so my 11 year old grandson has something to use (hits at 200) while I break out the 03, the Garand and the M1A.

  7. AR-15 is a great platform to train on and it does what it does very well. The pattern is great and I like the comments but the reason I don’t just have one hammer in my toolbox is the same as why I don’t have one gun in my safe. There is no getting past that you get the most out of your tools when you use the right one for the job.

    When all you have is a hammer all your problems start looking like nails. I have 6 guns on my CCW permit from a Walther PPK/S to a full frame 1911 with a lot in between – why? Because I like the feeling of reaching into the toolbox and pulling out the right tool.

    If I had to pick one rifle the AR-15 would be near the top of a short list… Thank heavens I don’t have to pick just one. That would make me sad.

  8. AR-15 is a great platform to train on and it does what it does very well. The pattern is great and I like the comments but the reason I don’t just have one hammer in my toolbox is the same as why I don’t have one gun in my safe. There is no getting past that you get the most out of your tools when you use the right one for the job.

    When all you have is a hammer all your problems start looking like nails. I have 6 guns on my CCW permit from a Walther PPK/S to a full frame 1911 with a lot in between – why? Because I like the feeling of reaching into the toolbox and pulling out the right tool.

    If I had to pick one rifle the AR-15 would be near the top of a short list… That heavens I don’t have to pick just one. That would make me sad.

  9. Also, Craig is exactly right. Mortars, Rockets and RPGs have much larger range then what most DM’s can handle with a high quality optic on a heavy barrel M4. I love me some .308 or 6.8 SPC, and always look for the guys carrying M14 EBRs, to be my friend.

  10. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sported an AR on the civilian side and a go-go-gadget M4 on the military side. What good is an accurate weapon that double feeds, or fails to fire? With the slow adaptation of HK’s 416 design, the AR/M platform is becoming much more fit for sustained combat in certain areas of the world.

  11. I completely agree. I have have both an ar and an ak and i would choose the ar without a second guess. Accuracy is to critical to compromise with, I need to know that my rounds sent are going to the intended destination.

  12. The 5.56 round is not stopping the Jihaddists past CQB range. There 5.56 round has too little sectional density and too little mass. Past 100 meters, the 7.62×39 round beats it. By contrast, the 7.62x51mm holds up out past 600 meters and still has enough energy to penetrate certain media and kill the enemy. The 5.56 round is dandy for home defense; especially with hollow point or fragmentary rounds but even then, if an assailant is hiding behind a vehicle, I’m clearing my AR-15 and loading my FAL.

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