Not all that many years ago, if you wanted to buy a modern sporting rifle (generally referred to as an AR), you could have any one you wanted as long as it was a Colt. Today there are numerous MSR makers, and choosing one can be confusing.
Today, if you’re in the market for an MSR, you first need to determine its purpose. Will it be for home defense, plinking, and general shooting? Will it be a hunting rifle? Do you want a competition gun?
Once you answer that question, you still have a lot of choices. I took a tour around the 2015 SHOT Show in Las Vegas earlier this year to find a good new MSR in each category. Here are those guns, and what stood out about each.
Home Defense and Plinking: Ruger AR-556
For defense, plinking and just generally banging around with an MSR, the new Ruger AR-556 is a good choice. This “general-purpose” MSR closely copies the popular M4 Carbine design, which is a shorter and lighter variant of the M16A2. The Ruger AR-556 has Ruger’s quality at a very affordable price. It’s a rifle that doesn’t understand it’s supposed to be entry level. I know of one shop that is selling them for $599.
The AR-556 has forged 7075-T6 aluminum upper and lower receivers and a cold hammer-forged chrome-moly steel barrel. There is a birdcage-style flash hider on the end of its 16-inch barrel, which is chambered in 5.56 NATO so you can shoot both that and .223 Remington ammo safely.
It’s a flat-top design, so mounting an optic is easy. The gun comes with the Ruger Rapid Deploy folding rear sight that is adjustable for windage, and it has the A2-style, milled F-height gas block with post front sight that is adjustable for elevation. The gas block also has an attachment point for a QR sling and a bayonet.
The gun has a forward assist, dust cover, brass deflector, and a six-position stock. The enlarged trigger guard allows you to shoot while wearing gloves. It comes with a 30-round Magpul P-Mag, and can accept any AR-15 style magazines. MSRP is $749.
Hunting: Remington R-25 GII
There are two basic sizes for the MSR rifles. The AR-15 is designed around the .223/5.56 cartridge. The larger AR-10 was designed around the .308 Winchester cartridges. Remington calls its version of the latter the R25. The Remington R-25 GII is available in .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington, and .308 Winchester, which are all popular hunting cartridges. AR-10-style guns tend to be heavy. But the new Remington R-25 GII is smaller and lighter than other guns in the class, weighing only 7 5/8 pounds, which makes it easy to carry in the woods and to pull up into a treestand. Remington accomplishes this weight reduction by using a new upper and lower receiver design, as well as a smaller, lighter bolt carrier. The GII bolt uses new geometry for the locking lugs, where every edge has a radius that ensures better reliability. There are two ejectors rather than the standard single. The extractor is almost indestructible and it mates with an elastic, polymer button that works as an extractor spring that is just about failure-proof.
The GII uses a new barrel extension to mate with the new bolt style, which also reduces weight. The feed ramp is made of steel and is an insert that is pinned into the aluminum upper receiver, which adds strength and durability.
The lower receiver has a beveled magazine well for faster reloads and an integral trigger guard. The forend uses a vented free-float tube that is made from lightweight carbon fiber. The gun has a Houge rubber grip and a fixed lightweight stock fitted with a SuperCell Recoil pad. The Teflon coated, stainless steel barrel is 20 inches. The gun comes with a two-stage trigger and is coated in Mossy Oak Breakup Infinity camo.
What does all this mean if you don’t understand gun geek speak? Simply that this is a new, cutting-edge design MSR with reduced weight and better performance. The Remington R-25 GII’s MSRP is $1,697.
**Competition: ArmaLite M-15TM 18-inch 3-Gun Rifle **
Three-gun competition is the fastest growing shooting sport in the world. As you might have guessed from the name, it requires the use of three guns—handgun, shotgun, and rifle. The AR-15 is used almost universally for the rifle portion, except for the Heavy class in which the AR-10 is preferred.
In years past, if you wanted a competition-ready rifle, you had to build one, or at least buy a gun and then spend a lot of money modifying it.
Anybody in this sport at a national level knows that Tommy Thacker is a top 3-Gun competitor and was the first winner of the 3-Gun Nation National Championship. So when he took over as the top dog at ArmaLite, it was a foregone conclusion that we would see some competition rifles.
I got a sneak peek of the ArmaLite M-15TM 18-inch 3-Gun Rifle while at the World Championship of Shooting last fall, where it was the featured gun in a speed-shooting side match. (I would like to say I won that side match, but my mother raised me not to lie.). The rifle, which was introduced at the SHOT Show, was very impressive and is no doubt tearing up the 3-gun competition circuit as you read this.
The gun has a low profile and long handguard, which is preferred by 3-gun shooters. Its 18-inch barrel has a 1:8 twist rate and is fully floated. It has an ArmaLite tunable muzzle brake and an adjustable gas block. The safety is ambidextrous, as is its “Raptor” charging handle. The gun is chambered for 5.56 so it can handle .223 or 5.56 ammo. The trigger is a Timney 3-pound, single-stage model. The stock is from Luth AR and is fully adjustable.
This is a gun that’s ready to win championships right out of the box. All you need to do is add optics and ammo. MSRP is $1,599.