There are three main AR rifle styles. This guide will help you figure out which is best for you.
The AR-15 is one of the most popular rifles ever created. Walk into any gun shop and there is no shortage of ARs adorning the walls and racks (most of the time). The rifle’s popularity comes from the many things it does well, which is everything from home defense to a fun day at the range. Figuring out which AR rifle style is best for you can be confusing. Here’s a look at the most common AR classes and where each shines.
This should be the first AR-15 anyone purchases because it offers the most utility and it makes the best generalist. The AR-15 carbine has a 14.5-inch to 16-inch barrel that is either a light or medium contour with a handguard that is 10 to 15 inches in length. Optics that make the most sense for this type of AR include a red dot optic, like the Sig Tango 4T or just about any Aimpoint. Low-powered variable optics in the 1-10x to 1-6x range are also good candidates.
The carbine is suitable for home defense, training courses, plinking at the range, or wartime service (this is what our military issues the troops). The reason it is so versatile is the carbine is light and easy to carry while still having a long enough barrel to give good muzzle velocity and a handguard comfortable across a wide range of uses with any necessary accessories.
AR-15 Pistol (AKA: Short-Barreled Rifle)
This model looks the best in the gun shop and makes everybody’s head turn at the range. It is small and sexy and promises to make all your dreams come true. Like most Sirens, this sweet little thing comes with some baggage.
AR pistols will usually have barrel lengths anywhere from 7.5 to 11.5 inches with suitably short handguards. There will also be a shoulder brace in place of a stock on the AR pistol variants. Red dot optics pair best with AR pistols in their intended application of self-defense and shooting targets inside 200 yards.
AR pistols are the kings of portability, so anytime there’s a need for a small but powerful firearm, this is a prime contender. One thing to remember is the AR pistol’s short barrel offers less muzzle velocity than the longer barrel lengths. For best performance, stick to bullets weighing 62 grains or less when using an AR pistol for anything other than dinging steel at close range. Also, the short barrel serves up louder than normal muzzle blast, so over-the-ear muffs will be more comfortable than just stuffing in some ear plugs. The short handguard can make mounting a light and sling a crowded affair.
AR-15 Recce Rifle
The Recce Rifle is for all those times a shooter feels like stretching his or her legs. Cartridge selection plays a big role in this class of rifle with 5.56x45mm NATO (or .223 Remington) being the most common and offering an effective range of about 600 yards. Choosing the 6mm ARC or 6.5 Grendel will extend that range to out past 1,000 yards.
These rifles have longer barrels, usually 16 to 18 inches, because longer barrels offer more muzzle velocity and that’s helpful getting out to longer ranges. With the longer barrels comes longer handguards that can wear a bipod or make life easier when trying to use rocks, fences, or tree branches to support the rifle while shooting from field positions.
Stocks on recce rifles are usually fixed, lacking the collapsible stock found on the typical carbine. However, recce rifle stocks can adjust for comb height, so they support the shooter’s head when firing from the prone and greatly increase comfort. Recce rifles are the longest, heaviest, and most cumbersome of these three AR classes.
Regardless of which AR class best suits the shooter’s needs, they all function and operate the same. However, know that owning one AR of any class quickly leads to owning ARs from other classes. That’s encouraged, though. Class restriction is a concept of yesteryear.