Here at CTD we often get the question “which AR-15 is best?” That’s a dangerous question to ask a bunch of gun nuts like us. Pretty soon one guy is ranting about which guns the Navy SEALS use now, another guy is trying to explain about which barrel twist rate is best, and a third guy is talking about boycotting a company because they supported a politician he didn’t like ten years ago. It’s hard to get a straight answer, we know. But the invisible hand of capitalism provides us with one kind of answer—perhaps the “best” AR-15 is the one that gun owners purchase the most. We ran a computer report of our best-selling long guns, dug into it looking for the AR-15s, and here are the results. Some of these are out of stock right now, but fear not: we’ll get more soon. All of them represent an excellent value for the money, as proven by the fact that they were chosen most often!
#5 Stag Model 3
The Stag Model 3 comes with a chrome lined barrel, but the twist rate is 1/9, not optimal for shooting the heavier 70 grain and up 5.56 rounds that are currently all the rage with hunters and precision shooters. If you’re just going to be shooting 55 grain pills you won’t notice a difference. The great value of the Stag Model 3 is that it comes with a railed forend and railed gas block from the factory, so it’s completely ready to be accessorized. The disadvantage is, you HAVE to accessorize it immediately—with no factory sights included you’ll need to sink extra money into some way to aim this thing before you ever tote it to the range.
S&W M&P 15X
The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 X is a lot like the Stag, but with iron sights! A traditional A-frame sight up front and a high quality Troy unit in the rear which folds down out-of-the-way so you have a clear view through your optic of choice. Again we have a chrome-lined M4 style carbine barrel, and again we have that pesky civilian 1/9 twist rate. The M&P comes in at just under a thousand bucks. Not bad but as you’ll see, not enough to make it quite to the top in terms of value either.
Coming in at number 3 on our list is the Bushmaster ORC. I personally think it would be cool if they tied it in to Lord of the Rings somehow, but I’m a dork that way. ORC stands for Optics Ready Carbine, which is shorthand for “hope you don’t like iron sights at all” because there’s no way to put irons on this gun without at least buying a railed forend. So why does it outsell the Smith & Wesson and Stag Arms guns? Because its less than $800 while still featuring a chrome lined, 1/9 twist (sigh) barrel and quality components throughout. If you know before you buy that you’ll never want to shoot this gun using iron sights, why not save a couple hundred bucks over its competitors?
The Colt 6920 is the closest thing the American citizen can get to the rifle issued to our soldiers fighting around the world. It is the highest quality rifle on this list, and yet we briefly had them in stock for only $933 when we were able to lower our prices last month. Barrel twist rate (finally!) is 1/7, one complete bullet revolution per seven inches of barrel, which is the military specification and which will effectively stabilize bullets from 55 grains to 77 grains in weight. They say the devil is in the details, and a detailed analysis of this gun will show it to be made of superior materials and workmanship. For nearly two decades now the 6920 has stood as the epitome of the “M4 Carbine”, and the loyalty to Colt and their design shows in the sales of this model.
CMMG M4 LE
The number one selling AR-15 at Cheaper Than Dirt for 2011 was the Central Missouri Machine Gun M4 LE. This proves the wisdom of its customers, because the CMMG is built to exacting specifications yet saves over $200 compared to the Colt 6920. The M4 LE comes with a folding back up sight from Magpul instead of the Colt’s detachable carry handle, and there are a few other differences. For example, instead of chrome lining the barrel is nitrided in a process CMMG calls their “WASP” finish, which provides for excellent corrosion resistance and improved accuracy over a chrome lined barrel. Right now we have them in stock for only $703, and I honestly can’t think of an AR-15 that’s a better value per dollar spent. Maybe I’m biased, since I have owned many CMMG guns over the years, but obviously I’m not the only one who feels this way—more CTD customers bought CMMG rifles than any other AR-15 this year!