If I Could Only Have One: AR-15 Edition

AR-15 Rifle with Bipod and Scope on Grass

The house is on fire and you only have time to grab one AR-15.

This is just a thought exercise and your answer can be very, very different from mine.

We should probably start of by looking at what is available.

Caliber Considerations

I will make this list much shorter than it can be and only count the calibers I own, not all possible options (read as almost half all available non-magnum calibers).

That gives me a good spread of choices and covers all of the most popular options.

I have been really jonesing for an AR in 10mm and Quarter Circle may be making one I like, but up to now most of the options have been direct blowback and that isn’t my favorite. 

Of these, the short-range options are immediately off the table.

I know .300 BLK is awesome and great for suppressed use, as are the .458 SOCOM, 9mm (especially with Seismic 185-grain bullets) and .45 ACP.

The thing is, if I only have one AR it needs to do more than just CQB work with a suppressor attached.

The .22 LR option goes away as well. The round is awesome fun and death on bunnies and squirrels, but that is a rather limited role too.

The awesomeness of the 6mm FatRat is sending 100+ grain bullets down range at +2,800 fps.

The disadvantage is it is a true wildcat and has ZERO factory support.

I may end up getting a 6mm ARC just to have something similar in factory trim, but even then it wouldn’t be my only AR.

That leaves us with 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem, .223 Wylde or 6.5 Grendel for my one AR-15.

The .223 Wylde may not count as a distinct chambering for some of you, but in a precision rifle it sure should be.

Although I really like the 6.5 Grendel and it is more damage/distant capable, the ammo supply factor nudges it out of the running.

This means the much better designed chamber of the .223 Wylde wins out for me.

It can shoot standard 5.56 or .223 and with proper ammo gives a precision advantage the other two do not.

One AR-15 Rifle for CQB

Platform Options

Without getting into brand-specific wars on if Aero Precision, Anderson, Spikes Tactical, KE Arms… uppers and lowers are the best, let’s look at the do-it-all functionality of some setups.

My White Oaks Armament 24-inch upper is a superb piece of kit, but it is huge and heavy and is a poor choice if I am not using it in its designated role of sending 75+ grain bullets long distances.

It is a fairly inexpensive method to practice for long-range shooting and is even better for learning by failure at wind reading, but it is not the best all-around choice.

Several of my guns run a fairly lightweight 16-inch carbine setup.

One has the classic clamshell and is immediately out of the running, as optic and other accessories are too limited for quick and easy swapping.

Even the quad-rail versions are just too short for great velocity and can’t reliably reach very far.

That leaves my 20-inch heavy-barrel quad-rail gun for my one AR-15.

She runs the .223 Wylde chamber, is super accurate and provides a significant velocity gain over any of her 16-inch siblings and the thicker barrel provides much more rigidity and thermal regulation even with prolonged rapid firing.

It helps that this is my 3-Gun primary, so I have a lot of time running her and the Geissele SSA-E trigger is my go-to.

That trigger is perhaps a bit slower on the close work than my Geissele 3-Gun trigger, but the two-stage SSA-E is so much better on the 200-yarders thrown into some go-fast stages.

The SilencerCo muzzle brake does increase the noise quotient quite a bit, but it is effective at mitigating muzzle rise and gives the option of adding the Omega can.

I have run that setup a few times in matches just because, and it works great.

It also confuses the people in the other heats, as to what I am shooting and why it sounds weird.

Mine is set up with a Magpul ACS stock, which works well for me.

I like the storage for backup batteries, a very basic cleaning kit and the simple flexibility of LOP adjustments for when I am wearing armor or not.

The GunSkin wrap doesn’t just make it better looking and express my personality, it also helps to protect the anodizing from 3-Gun’s wear and tear.

AR-15 rifle on barrels

Conclusion: If I Could Only Have One AR-15

In summation, at one end of the extreme, I could run one of my braced pistols with a 14.5-inch or shorter barrel, but that gives up too much for an all-in-one.

At the other end, my 24-inch barrel precision rifle is the most accurate AR I have, but it is long, clunky and heavy, and really gives up too much in the other direction.

My 20-inch 3-Gun rifle was set up for CQB work with offset irons and a Swampfox Arrowhead 1x6x24 scope to extend out.

For close work, it lives at 1.5X so I can still run that with both eyes open.

For the 200+ yard tangos, the 6X setting brings the target close and clear, but still retains a steady image.

With the 20-inch heavy barrel, velocity is very good if I need to stretch out to 400 yards and long shot strings don’t deviate from heat buildup.

Long Range One AR-15 Rifle

I realize that I am biased as it is the AR I have the most time behind.

It is also comforting as I know in 6000+ rounds the only mishaps have been user-induced. Reliability is a very solid plus in an “only one” scenario.

What’s your pick for AR-15 if you could only choose one? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
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 (12)

  1. This is an easy choice for me as I only have one, Smith&Wesson MP- 15. Works every time I pull the trigger.

  2. You left out one of the most important factors in decision making. What is the threat profile I’m protecting against? Home defense against an angry ex-husband? Drug deal gone sour? Overthrowing a democratically elected government? Aliens?

    Your threat profile changes the calibre, barrel length, and a host of other details. For example, if you’re planning an insurrection, calibre is whatever you have the most of. You won’t be running to Walmart to restock in the middle of the fight.

    Appreciate the thought exercise. Looking forward to more.

  3. Old fashion 5.56 with 20 inch 9 twist barrel.
    5.56 for commonly available ammunition.
    20 inch for higher velocity, which translates into more range.
    9 twist for best accuracy with m855a1 (per NRA), and m855.

    Shorter can be more maneuverable, but if just one AR,
    the longer barrel is better.

    If allowed two, then 20 or 24 inch in 308 Winchester

  4. My choice would be my Windham Weaponry R20GVT. Also stamped as the WW15.
    The reasoning behind that choice is the distance factor of the 20” barrel, the fact that I mounted a low power scope on top of the don’t-you-touch-that-handle, and that the WW15 is as close as I can get to the M16A2 I trained on without a $200 tax stamp and registration with BATFE.
    When you’re good with a particular setup, why change it?

  5. Colt 1974 issue replica. The original Colt was much better than the Army version, but this one comes off the latest tooling and is worth the price.

  6. Ideally, you would have all of your guns in a fireproof safe so if your house caught on fire that you can concentrate on getting your family out safely…

    Though, it’s fun to read these articles –>what if: fire, hurricane, tornado, Antifa “so-called” protest is in your neighborhood, etc. it’s good to go through the thought process.

    I agree a 5.56 in the AR platform is an ideal all around good choice. I prefer folding stocks to allow the gun to be used in tight spaces (home, car, etc.), storage, in your backpack or for concealment under a jacket. A 16″ barrel may be better suited than the 20″ for concealment…

  7. The point of the article is the best all around AR.. he addressed what you said and yeah a sniper rifle wont be good in doors obviously, but for one AR if you had to just choose one, you can build one that comes close. Mine is set up to shoot targets from point blank range out to like 500M without having to make any adjustments at all, his is similar but a slightly different optic setup and I think 16 inch barrel works best for this… thanks for the fire tip though, not something I have really thought about

  8. I was surprised that this article did not address an AR-10. It is no longer economically viable to reason that .223 or 5.56 ammo is cheaper to acquire in today’s shooter’s environment due to the increase of weapon owners. It is also a factor that ammo is in itself becoming hard to come by unless you have stored a “Stash” of your own. It is true that the 5.56 is more common due to them being a military round, but so is .308 and 6.5 creedmore. Probably the most common caliber owned by the general public that is both a long range and CQB in my OPINION would be the .308. Yes the 6.5 is known to shoot a greater distance, but does not provide the same knock down power, nor the availability of ammo at a reasonable price. A .308 AR-10 with an 18 inch barrel would fit the role of both long and close combat, as researched by Smith and Wesson over a long period of time. After all, it was the Armalite Company that designed the AR series just for that purpose. IMHO.

  9. My multi-barrel H&R handy-rifle cones about as close as I’ve found for this. My primary barrel, which is on at almost all times is my .45-70. I also have a 12 ga TDC barrel (vent rib with removable choke tubes, a .22 LR Versapack barrel, a .410 full choke, a .410 cylinder bore slug barrel, a .45 colt barrel, a 50 call muzzleloader barrel and finally a .30-06 barrel. It is not a light kit and the ammo bag to go is very heavy also, but if I can bug out with a vehicle all can come.

    Otherwise, I have a smaller version with just the. 410 slug, .410 full choke and Versapack .22 only that I can grab. I have 250 bread shells for this setup and a hand loader to reload the shells. I can carry this load out in my big out bag on foot and around here, it covers all needs from small to big game. The slugs I load are made from ,41 pistol bullets and weigh 235 gr, so not a typical. 410 slug.

  10. Well your analysis confirms much of my thinking on this matter. My latest project is an AR-15 5.56/.223 build. I placed an order for a 20″ Proof Research carbon wrapped Wylde barrel. I wanted a left charging handled upper so I went with Bear Creek since that’s all I could find. I’m right handed but my right eye is useless for long ranged shots and I was never a fan of rear AR charging handles. I also bought a JARD AR set trigger. I’m deciding what to get for the rest of the lower build.

  11. I was thinking this was more of a reference to the Highlander movie. “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.”

    My end of days apocalypse weapon would be one that most of you have never heard of. HM Defence Camander chambered in 5.56. Sporting the following force multipliers: Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8×24 , 45 degree Holosun 507c, Blackhawk quick adjust two point sling, and a Magpul VRG. Everything else Completely stock. This weapon is the pinical Battle Rifle. Prove me wrong.

    Second and third runners up:

    I was also thinking Maybe…just maybe one of my ARs with a Leo Takedown attached when I have the option of any barrel I want to put in it, on the fly. I have one of those with 350 Legend, 300 BLK, 5.56, and .223 Wylde.

    Or maybe just one of my trusty Ak47s.

  12. The only analogy that works for this article is a Lord of the Rings reference! one ring to rule them all. However for guns is doesn’t work. You can rarely get one gun to do every job. You might grab a gun to avoid the proverbial house fire , but it won’t satisfy every mission! Even the military has failed after decades to recognize this problem. A rifle Capable of shooting from one side of a mountain to another won’t work for CQB at all correctly. There are units that should be issued multiple weapons for the assignment of the day! If the house is on fire grab the one that has sentimental value(Dads old gun) or actual a really valuable gun to replace the collection. This Also brings up two other important points. If you have any type of gun collection you should have a quality gun safe that is fire rated for at least 45 minutes! The other point is to have the right type and enough homeowners insurance to replace everything in case of a total loss! Having 25 years in the fire service has shown me this is often not the case. Nothing sadder than opening a gun safe that wasn’t up to the job and seeing melted and browned firearms that are now junk!

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