Ruger AR 556

Ruger 556 rifle leaning against a steel target

Ruger’s initial offering of a piston operated AR rifle, the SR 556, was a good rifle but an expensive rifle. The SR556 is also heavier than the standard AR-15. The gas piston design has proven popular but Ruger chose to offer a standard gas impingement operated AR-15-type rifle in the entry-level price range. Here is a tip, this is as reliable and rugged an AR-15 rifle as you will ever hold. It is easily upgraded with parts, stocks, and optics if necessary but as issued this is an effective and accurate rifle.

Ruger 556 right side with dust cover open
The Ruger AR 556 is an affordable but capable rifle.

The rifle is chambered in 5.56mm and weighs 6.5 pounds. Ruger has kept the price reasonable by intelligent manufacturing process and managed to make life easier to AR-15 shooters along the way. The receiver is aluminum and the rifle is a flat top design. It is supplied with a folding polymer rear sight and A2-type fixed front sight.

The 16-inch barrel features a 1-in-8 twist. This twist is ideal for most uses and has provided good results with a variety of loads in 40- to 77-grain weight. However, Ruger’s barrel isn’t chrome lined. A good touch is that the rear face of the front sight is serrated.

Ruger also modified the AR-15 handguard arrangement. The handguard is the standard M4-type with internal heat shield. In contrast to the usual spring loaded ring to secure the handguard, Ruger uses a polymer ring that makes changing the handguard much easier. The controls are all typical AR-15 layout—don’t mess with success.

AIM Sports Red Dot rifle sight
AIM Sports Red Dot provided interesting results.

The rifle retains the dust cover and forward assist. The six-position shoulder stock is a standard AR-15 type. The firing handle is comfortable to hold with serrations for adhesion when firing. The trigger action is good—breaking at 6.5 pounds. I checked the gas key is properly staked and the gas key opening is chromed. The bolt carrier’s interior is also chromed.

Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
Model: AR-556
Action: Gas Impingement
Caliber: 5.56 x 45 mm NATO/ .223 Rem.
Upper Receiver: Flat Top 7075-T6 aluminum
Lower Receiver: 7075-T6 aluminum forging
Trigger: single-stage
Front Sight: A-2 Style elevation adjustable
Rear Sight: folding polymer aperture
Hand Guard: M4-Style
Pistol Grip: black polymer
Buffer Tube: Mil-Spec
Shoulder Stock: 6-position adjustable
Barrel Length: 16.10″
Overall Length: 32.25″ – 35.50″
Length of Pull (LOP): 10.25″ – 13.50″
Weight: 6.50 lbs.
Capacity: 30 lbs.
Twist: 1:8: RH

Initial range work was accomplished with the Winchester USA 55-grain FMJ load in the ‘white box.’ Results were excellent. The first shots fired were at a plastic soda bottle at a long 100 yards and I connected! The rifle was zeroed to my eyes for 100 yards. The sights are a good design, and while they are not metal A2 sights, they do the business.

The rifle fired some 120 rounds without a stoppage, break-in, or malfunction of any type. The rifle was fired briefly with a Leupold scope that cost more than the rifle. I have also tested it with the Burris Fast Fire 3 and TruGlo Illuminated Reticle scope. In the end, I left the rifle as issued with the standard sights, but accuracy was good with all loads.

Flip up sights for AR-15
Sights are a bold post front and folding aperture rear.

As an example, my handloads using Varget Powder and the Sierra 69-grain MATCH bullet have given excellent results in all rifles and exhibited 1.5 MOA in the Ruger. The Nosler 64-grain Defense load also gave good results. I have fired a good quantity of the Winchester 55-grain polymer tip loading, an affordable but high quality loading with excellent performance. To assure the rifle was reliable and accurate with heavy bullet loads, I fired a box of the Hornady 75-grain BTHP.

I added the Aim Sports ‘Operator’ Red Dot to the Ruger toward the end of the test period. This is an inexpensive red dot ideal for introduction to red dot shooting. And while inexpensive, the Aim Sports sight proved useful in all drills and hasn’t failed in firing some 150 rounds of full power ammunition. It is delivered with a battery installed, spare battery, and Allen wrench. It easily installs. Be certain to properly tighten the sight down. I find it interesting that the AIM Sports red dot features settings for either a red or green dot. Plus, there are four reticle functions, a dot, arrows around a dot, arrow, and a ¾-circle with interior dot. This is a lot of electronics for the money.
Accuracy was good with this hard hitting load.

With over 640 rounds downrange with the Ruger, I find a likeable rifle with much to recommend. From the sights to the useful adjustable stock and a serrated post behind the front sight, the Ruger has good features. I will make a bold statement- in the below $800 AR-15 market, the Ruger may be the best buy and the rifle to beat by the competition.

What is your favorite Ruger or AR-15 in the $800 price range? Share it in the comment section?


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (10)

  1. I bought an ‘entry level’ AR (different brand, built by former Bushmaster employees), and have been very pleased with it, especially because I didn’t have to shell out $1000 for a rifle.
    So my best friend decided to shop for his own ‘entry level’ AR, and bought the Ruger AR556. He’s very happy with the performance of his rifle, and has had no failures of any kind.
    We finally got together to do some comparisons, and as far are function, hardly any difference. Accuracy was fairly close, but I didn’t seem to do as well with his Ruger as I did with my own, but mine is a flat top, and his AR556 has the A2 front sight, and we’re both using magnified optics, and I could see his front sight in the scope, and it was distracting to me, but my friend doesn’t seem to have any issues with it.
    Overall, though, I can’t find any fault with the Ruger AR556, and I’m planning to buy one for my adult Son, for an early Christmas, or a late birthday gift. My Son prefers iron sights, and since the AR556 comes with the sights, this should work well for him.
    Remember, these are ENTRY LEVEL rifles, NOT match, or $1500 rifles! But, they can be upgraded after purchase.

  2. I own 4 of the same budget AIM Sports Red Dots with very mixed results. Interestingly the one I use on my Mossberg 500 tactical shotgun has held up fine, yet gets the most abuse. But another is on a Sig Sauer 522 with very little recoil and yet it shuts on and off or dims intermittently with the lightest tap.

    The other 2 are mounted on an AR and an AK, but sometimes require a few rotations of the settings knob before they stop flickering. I’ve even had one or two replaced under warranty but aside from the mossy I already mentioned, the rest are still flakey. These are sub-fifty dollar sights so I can’t really complain.

    I like this type of sight because when working properly they give a fantastic wide field of view, have a low profile, are able to co-witness through iron sights, and work well through flip-to-side magnifiers.

    However, I would never depend on one of these in a real-world scenario. I mainly use them for training. If the kids bust one doing drills at our range, they don’t cost much to replace. On my non-trainers I use EOTech, but with recent recalls I will probably be getting my refunds and switch to Aimpoint.

    1. I recently tried another brand’s inexpensive reflex sight on an AR-15, and while it was functional I found that all the reticle settings were blurry (as if there were multiple overlapping images) unless I flipped up the rear sight. If the AIM Sports model doesn’t have that issue I might try that one next.

      However, the model pictured in the article seems to be the RT4WF1 that only has red reticles rather than the red/green model described. I wonder if the author was using the RT403 model or another model not pictured.

    2. @ Adam,

      Do you wear prescription lenses? If so, put them on and see if the affect goes away. I returned one of my first purchases for the same problem, but the replacement did the same thing. But then one day I had left my glasses on while peering through the sight and was surprised to suddenly see a very sharp reticle.

      I rarely wear my glasses unless I need them for driving to see long distances, so I never would have suspected my glasses, or rather my failing far vision, would significantly affect a reticle sitting as close as 6 inches from my eye. I would never think to wear these glasses given I can see sharp as a tack up to 50 feet and these glasses blur things that are close up.

      It’s been years since this realization, and throughout those years I’ve since experienced the same effect with even the most expensive units (ACOG-Trijicon, EOTech, Aimpoint). The biggest problem for me since then is experiencing this issue in CQB situations where I never wear my prescription driving glasses.

      The military has been gracious enough to issue me prescription lens gasmask inserts and desert goggles that go over my prescription glasses, but since I rarely wear glasses this is no real help. My dilemma will always be that to see a sharp reticle in close quarter battle I’d have to put on my prescription lenses used only for far distances which then would blur everything immediately around me.

      Anyway, maybe my post will help you and others assuming you wear glasses.

  3. Looks a lot like the M&P Sport II from S&W – except the M&P comes with a nitride finish on the barrel and a lower MSRP.

  4. I have always liked Ruger firearms. I purchased the SR556 with mechanical impingement a few years ago and was not terribly impressed. The rifle is great overall and accurate but there are issues with the bolt carrier “canting” in the receiver causing strange wear patterns to the point of malfunction. Mechanical impingement rifles often have this problem. After allowing the wear to continue the rifle started to perform fairly reliably and I haven’t experienced a malfunction in the last 800 rounds put through it but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. If the direct impingement version here is built as well as mine it should be a winner.

  5. Being an AR-15 shooter, builder, modifier, & competitive shooter, I consider Ruger’s offering of their AR-556 is too little, too late, nothing special in the saturated market of AR-15’s. Their attempt at marketing their AR-556 appears to be standard AR-15 parts put together with the “Ruger” names & logo.

    Ruger tried to be innovative with their piston-fed SR-556, but like others – until the system is standardized – falls by the way-side of the AR-15 platform.

    I think Ruger would be better off accessorizing and/or improving on their Mini-14/30, and continue to fill & dominate that niche, rather than, as mentioned before, enter the saturated AR-15 market.

    To me, Ruger is a good company & brand, but far superior firearms are available in the same price ranges. I have built sub-MoA AR-15’s from individual & kit parts for far less money than any pre-built AR, and superior components.

    I do rank Ruger above S&W with their “M&P’ line. I take exception to the “M&P” branding, because no military procures S&W firearms, nor do very many law enforcement agencies either. The “M&P” branding is a marketing gimmick, like “tactical”, “SOG”, etc.

    1. In the good old days the S&W Model 10 was known as the .38 M&P.
      Personally, I got my fill of the AR platform while I was in the Army. Having said that, I think that body who can legally have one should have as many as they can afford. My .223 is a single shot.

    2. It took me almost 20 years after I retired, to finally break down and buy an AR, and it was amazing how I still knew the manual of arms for the rifle, and could still field strip it in 60 seconds!
      Shooting it was a little different, though, since I carried the M16a1 and A2 rifles, and having a 16″ barrel, flat top receiver, and collapsible stock took me an extra 10 minutes to get used to! LOL

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