A reader asks:
I am a Vietnam Airforce Vet and would like to buy a very nice to excellent AR15 for tactical and self defense. Would you mind sharing with me your top 3 choices/picks with model numbers from $700-1500k..in top down order. I have considered building my own from top quality parts but would rather buy one fully assembled and under a lifetime warranty.
Thank you very much for your service during that conflict, and let’s see if I can find you an AR-15 that fits your bill.
When you say “self defense” and “AR-15” there’s a flag that instantly goes up in my mind that says to pimp the .300 AAC Blackout round.
Standard 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition does OK for self defense and tactical situations, but the versatility that is offered by .300 BLK (especially when you throw a silencer into the mix) makes it the ideal self defense caliber for AR-15 rifles. At the probable distances you’ll need to fire there’s nothing better, and I’m not just saying that because I’m trying to drive down the price of ammo with increased demand.
The ideal barrel length for a self defense AR-15 is somewhere around 9 inches, but in an effort to keep this list NFA-free I’m going to recommend 16 inch rifles only. 16 inches is the legal minimum for non-NFA rifles and will still give you a relatively compact weapon system to ease movement around your house or concealment in a vehicle (where allowed by local laws, of course).
I try to guide people into the “build it yourself” route with AR-15 rifles and put my money where my mouth is with my own self defense AR-15 (pictured up top), but there is something to be said about buying a rifle pre-built that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty on the whole thing. With that in mind here are my top 3 self defense AR-15 rifles for under $1,500.
For that reason this .300 BLK AR-15 by CMMG, the LE-M300-1603R, tops my list. It’s a 16″ AR-15 chambered in .300 AAC Blackout that has a free floating barrel for increased accuracy, an (almost continuous) full length top rail and quad rail system on the forward handguards to mount all the tactical accessories your heart could desire. All you need is a sight of some kind and you’re good to go, and I recommend a Primary Arms red dot to fit that bill. Just a note: make sure you specify the carbine length gas system (pistol length is also available) or else your rifle will beat itself to death.
If it were my gun I would also swap out the pistol grip for a Magpul grip and the stock for a Magpul MOE stock, but other than that it looks great to me. It does come with a higher than average price tag of $950ish, but it looks worth the money.
(Hat tip to Tyler Kee and his buddy for finding this one)
#2 on my list is a firearm chambered in the more traditional 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Despite my issues with the round it still works well, and Spike’s Tactical has a reputation for making reliable firearms and accessories. This Spike’s Tactical ST-15 LE Carbine with a mid-length gas system comes with iron sights already installed and a limited lifetime warranty, all for $769.
Again, the grip and the stock I would replace if it were my gun but other than that it seems to be a solid product. The flat top upper receiver allows you to pop on a red dot or other sight, and even though the barrel isn’t free floating it still should provide “minute of bad guy” accuracy.
A late addition (added after initial publication) is the Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport. Ben Shotzberger reviewed this rifle extensively for TTAG and gave it a five star rating, and if it’s good enough for Ben it’s good enough for me. The only question I have is why my brain neglected to remind me that S&W had an AR-15. $709 (MSRP) gets you one of these puppies.
This last rifle is just slightly out of your price range, but I’m including it because you would be hard pressed to find a better rifle.
Noveske Rifleworks makes some of the best barrels I’ve ever used and I wouldn’t trust any other company to make the barrel for my competition rifle. It stands to reason that if they can make a great 5.56 barrel they can make a great .300 BLK barrel, and that’s what they did. This 16″ Rogue Hunter .300BLK Rifle will set you back a pretty penny — about $1,665 before taxes — but it is the embodiment of perfection. The free floated barrel is encased in a comfortable rounded handguard, the full length rail along the top allows mounting of sights and optics, the Blackout flash hider provides an attachment point for your future silencer, and it even comes with a BCM Gunfighter charging handle (my favorite). I don’t think I’d even change out the grip or stock.
And that’s my list in terms of pre-built firearms.
If you’re looking to build yourself a custom AR-15 (which I highly recommend) then here’s my parts list for my personal self defense AR-15 (with some suggested improvements):
- Advanced Armament Complete 16″ .300 AAC Blackout Upper Receiver ($1080)
- Primary Arms Red Dot and Base ($118)
- Magoul MBUS Rear Sight ($58)
- Aero Precision Stripped Lower with Parts Kit ($135)
- Magpul MOE+ Grip ($23)
- Timney Trigger ($210)
- Magpul ASAP ($30)
- DPMS Milspec buffer tube ($36)
- Bravo Company Spring and Buffer ($16)
- Magoul MOE Stock ($60)
Total build: $1,766 + tax + shipping.
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