Battle of the Black Rifles: AR-10 vs AR-15

A tale of two rifles- AR15 vs. AR10 (courtesy ammoland.com)

So…you want a black rifle to make some pews with, leading you to consider an AR-10 vs. AR-15. But you hear that one of the two flavors of ArmaLite Rifle (because that’s what “AR” stands for, after all) is better than the other. What, pray tell, is a person to do?

Get both…duh.

We HAVE to choose? Oh, alright.

The answer is that you should think about what you’re going to do with your rifle. Both the AR-10 and the AR-15 are excellent rifle platforms, but the differences betwixt them will usually mean you’re better off with one compared to the other depending on how you intend to use it.

Both rifles are the brainchild of Eugene Stoner, developed under the ArmaLite company. Stoner had an idea for a rifle system that was simple, but reliable, lightweight, but easy to control. The AR-10 actually preceded the AR-15 as Stoner and ArmaLite first created rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm for service rifle trials in the late 1950s.

The M14 was chosen instead (for a number of stupid reasons we won’t get into) but were practically obsolete on arrival in the early 60s. The conflict that our armed forces found themselves in at the time demanded a lighter rifle with a synthetic stock and an intermediate cartridge. Stoner adapted the platform for .223 Remington (standardized by NATO as the 5.56mm) and the AR-15 was born.

Both rifles were made with select fire capability for military purposes and semi-auto only for civilian sales.

ArmaLite, of course, was a small company that didn’t have the capability to manufacture at scale, so the design was sold to Colt. The AR-15 in military guise was designated the M16, which became the standard service rifle of the US military until it was replaced with the M4, which is basically the same gun with a collapsible stock, a shorter barrel and a few other features.

So, what are the differences between the AR-10 and the AR-15?

Mechanically? Nothing. Both use the same direct impingement gas system, which cycles exhaust gases from the barrel back into the receiver to cycle the bolt rather than exhaust gases actuating a piston-based system. Both also have a rotating bolt design. The trigger group is the same.

Both are lightweight, both have a pistol grip and both have an adjustable stock on most models.

Barrel length was initially the same at 20 inches, but today you’ll find that, generally speaking, the typical AR-10 you find in stores has a barrel length of 18 to 20 inches, compared to 16 for the standard AR-15.

Obviously, both fire different cartridges.

The AR-10 chambers 7.62x51mm NATO/.308 Winchester.

The AR-15 chambers 5.56x45mm NATO/.223 Remington.

What does that mean in real world terms?

The AR-10 has a longer effective range. How you define that is relative (scoped/unscoped, a 1,000 ft-lb of energy threshold) and depends on specifications (barrel length affecting accuracy and velocity, what bullet and loading you’re using) but the AR-10 is presumed to have an effective range somewhere between 600 and 1,000 yards, depending.

On the other hand, the AR-15 has an effective range closer to 300 to 500 yards, again depending on how one defines that, the rifle and load specifications and so on. In that regard, the AR-10 vs AR-15 debate favors the bigger round.

Muzzle velocity for .223 is higher, typically in the 2700 to 3200 fps range for typical loadings. Typical .308 loads push the .30 caliber pill a bit slower, with typical velocities between 2600 to 2800 fps. However, the .308 also brings a whole lot more wallop, with muzzle energies between 2500 to 2800 ft-lbs compared to 1200 to 1300 ft-lbs for garden variety loadings of .223/5.56mm.

With the greater muzzle velocity and barrel length, the AR-10 is better suited to long range use and – for lack of a better term – has more stopping power, which is kind of the crux of choosing between the AR-10 vs AR-15.

The AR-10 is a better all-arounder. In this respect, it’s actually one of the best rifle designs on the market. It’s useful for long-range target shooting out to 1,000 yards, far better than the AR-15. Since it’s lightweight but also chambers the .308 Winchester, it’s also an excellent hunting rifle. The .308 Winchester is capable of taking any game in North America short of the large bears, and much in Africa and elsewhere.

The .223 is effective on deer in expert hands and at close range. However, many jurisdictions impose a .24 caliber minimum on big game, so you’re limited to varmints and predators in many states anyway. Some believe use of .223 on game is unethical to boot…but that’s for another time.

As a military rifle, both have advantages. The AR-10 has a longer range and more – if one must use the term – stopping power, but is more awkward in close quarters. The AR-15 also offers faster followup shots, which – in a military/law enforcement/defensive capacity – matters a lot.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Gluyas, 99th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, fires an M4 carbine at a target at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Sept. 19, 2018. The M4 is now the standard issue firearm for most units in the U.S. military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)

Depending on whom you get it from, you’ll have to shell out a little more for an AR-10. Usually, expect to part with an extra $100 to $300 for an apples-to-apples gun in 3.08/7.62mm.

The AR-15 is going to be a bit better to run for competition because the rounds are cheap(er). If the target shooting you’re doing tends to be at closer ranges (say within 300 yards) the smaller round is going to give you more bang for the buck. At that, if all you’re going to be doing is target shooting, the AR-15 is probably the better buy for those reasons.

However, if you’re after a black rifle that you can get some serious use out of with more punch, AR-10 rifles are the way to go.

comments

  1. avatar anonymoose says:

    Never post that gif of the DI operating system when talking about how great the AR-platform is. It’s intentionally made to steer people towards the HK416 and other expensive piston platforms. It also does not show where the gas actually goes once it gets back into the receiver.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      what’s the difference?…the original AR-10 had a cheesy paint job…and the AR-15 didn’t….

      1. avatar YellowMyDevil says:

        Er, what?

        1. avatar frank speak says:

          stock and forend were painted brown on the original AR-10…it never held up well and I don’t think I ever saw one that wasn’t chipped and peeling…the charging handle was actually a ring-like affair located within the carrying handle…more awkward to use then the ones you see now…

    2. avatar arc says:

      Will take piston over gas any day. If I ever have to go full auto in a SHTF, the piston platform runs cooler and is more reliable. Parts are easily improvised…

      1. avatar New Continental Army says:

        Huh? I have both an AK and an AR, and the AK gets WAY hotter, and faster, then the AR does.

        1. avatar Hornet says:

          I have an AK47, AK74, AR10, four complete AR15, and a SCAR 17s (all semi auto only). I am not impressed kid.

        2. avatar New Continental Army says:

          Your not impressed? Ok cool. Wasn’t trying to impress anybody. My point was my experience is different. I own far more then that, and I don’t rub it anyone’s face like the child you are. If your goal is to impress someone with your collection you failed, boy.

        3. avatar Jack says:

          Hornet!! Is that just what you carry on your truck? Seems light.

    3. avatar john says:

      I always thought of DI like sh!tting in your own mouth…or the human centipede if you will.

  2. avatar Cucamonga Jeff says:

    Firepower VS. mobility, I choose mobility.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      “mobility” doesn’t appear to be doing us much good in the open country of afghanistan…

    2. avatar arc says:

      I prefer to train my body to be stronger and faster, carry more firepower and go faster still. Also, range, a .308 will hit harder, further.

      1. avatar kid is funny says:

        Internet warrior talking like he is the real deal. LMFAO

      2. avatar Jack says:

        Carry more of the smaller stuff or move faster with the smaller stuff with your “trained body”. You do you, man but physics is still a thing.

      3. avatar Jeff in CO says:

        I prefer and choose an M1A65 Abrams with a 655mm Creedmoor main gun…Train for the worst…By the way, this is my EDC 🙄

    3. avatar JFS says:

      I choose mobile firepower.

  3. avatar Mike Oregon says:

    I’d recommend start with a AR15in.223/5.56 shoot a lot, then if you like the platform and desire a bigger boom, get a AR10.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      select-fire is a desirable feature on the AR-15…but totally useless [except for increasing its value] on the AR-10 which,..much like the M-14 …is uncontrollable in that mode…

      1. avatar peach please says:

        Did you ever shoot in full auto? If it is totally uncontrollable you have issues somwhere in your upper body.

    2. avatar New Continental Army says:

      I’d like to see a review on the 30-06 AR by Noreen. If TTAGs already done one I missed it.

  4. avatar Nanashi says:

    “ArmaLite Rifle (because that’s what “AR” stands for, after all) ”

    Incorrect. It’s just “ArmaLite”. AR-9 (shotgun), AR-13 (not even small arm) and AR-17 (shotgun) are not rifles.

    1. avatar RA-15 says:

      Nice try NANASHI. Look it up , AR stands for Armalight Rifle. That’s a fact !!

    2. avatar BLAMMO says:

      I think Armalite’s first rifle was the AR-5 survival rifle commissioned by the USAF. A bolt-action version of their later AR-7 (now built and sold by Henry and much improved). They probably just stuck with the “AR” designation throughout their entire line.

      All rifles were designated AR, short for Armalite Rifle.

      https://www.armalite.com/history/

    3. avatar peach please says:

      It stands for Armadillo Rojo

      1. avatar Mike in OK says:

        I hear there’s an Armadillo Rodeo in Amarillo

  5. avatar RA-15 says:

    Get 1 of each , just in case the leftnuts win in the midterms ” God forbid ” get em while the getting is good. Also 11/6 is fast approaching. Get out and vote , in N.Y. vote for Robert Antonacci for state Senate , District 50 and vote for Marcus Molinaro for N.Y. Governor. We need to vote for those that will not try to dissect our 2nd Amendment rights.

  6. avatar Craig in IA says:

    I have quite a number of AR 15s from the pre-ban 20″ days to modern, even one of the then-cheap CMP (maybe it was DCM at the time) rifles for service rifle match. I’ve never really considered ARs my go-to weapon of choice but kids love to shoot them and feeding them is cheap. About a month ago a completed a .308 build. (I’m told I can’t really call it an AR 10 since it isn’tmade by DPMS or one of the others who’ve copyrighted the name. BFD) Anyway, I chose to go with a 20″ full profile stainless bbl, a regular weight M LOC fore end, and once I put a scope on it, it’s too damn heavy to drag around anywhere. Much more enjoyable to shoot my M1A, my SSG or Steyr Scout. I’ll probably hang onto it but it is cumbersome. WTH? It won’t be the only gun lying around the armory not being used…

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      was offered one of the early ones (AR-10’s)…opted instead for an hk-91…that sucker will match accuracy with any of my bolt action rifles…

      1. avatar bobinmi says:

        Glad to hear that, I’ve got one on its way to my FFL right now.

  7. avatar billy-bob says:

    Well obviously the AR-15 is better, 15▶10 right?

  8. avatar FedUp says:

    Both are lightweight,

    I thought we were talking about AR-10s here?

    1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

      I mean, it’s still a .308 semi auto rifle. You can only take so much metal away before compromising things.

    2. avatar Quasimofo says:

      Yeah, right. If I was going to lug around a semiauto 308 for hunting, I’d probably go with something like a (modern) BAR – at least a pound lighter with a 20+” bbl, not as snaggy in brush, and probably less expensive.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        You could also go with a Remington Model 742, 4 or 7400. They work fine.

  9. avatar AJ says:

    Why is there a shell case coming out of the barrel in the picture of the Staff Sargent shooting the M4? 🙄

    1. avatar Matthew says:

      There’s a whole article somewhere on this site about that picture. Two months ago maybe? Long story short, TTAG and most others called BS on the picture b/c it’s a casing. They reached out to the Airman? who took the photo. It turned out to be a hilarious coincidence that the ejected shell ended up exactly in that spot, still flying through the air, when he snapped the picture.

      1. avatar BLAMMO says:

        Yeah, what I said

        1. avatar Matthew says:

          Yeah, that’s what I get for pulling up multiple articles and commenting on one of the last ones I read. The comments section is already out of date

    2. avatar TFred says:

      Isn’t it obvious? It’s a cleverly staged split-second photograph taken to assure the gun-haters in the mainstream media that they really DO know what they’re talking about!! 😉

  10. avatar Darkman says:

    Neither one is better. Each has it’s field of use. In close and out to 50-75 yds. I prefer the AR-15. Beyond that the a scope mounted AR-10 in 308 fits the bill. Keeping in mind just what you are shooting at. As I use mine for hunting. It makes a difference just what you are shooting at. Distance and game size is often the determining factor in choosing which to use. As for the AR-10 being light weight. Once again it looks like the author of this article followed the copy/paste format of writing. Because anyone who has ever spent any time humping a AR-10 will tell you there is nothing light about this platform. Hence the adoption of the AR-15 has the general issue firearm of the military.

  11. avatar arc says:

    I want all three… AR15 for a backup rifle stashed out in nowhere. AR10 for the battle / DM rifle. 300AAC for <100Meter cluster fucks.

  12. avatar AnonWithGuns says:

    AR-10 lightweight? Mines over 11lbs without a scope and unloaded magazine.

  13. avatar AlanInFL says:

    Getting the AR-10 is not a bad idea. It just which parts pattern one wants to get: DPMS or Armalite pattern?
    For me, I wouldn’t mind the Armalite pattern.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      The differences have blurred over the years. Today, you need to do your homework to see what differences remain, and what issues matter to you.

      For me, I went with the DPMS pattern years back. That’s not a recommendation, that’s just the way it came down for me.

    2. avatar Scoutino says:

      LR-308 (DPMS) seems to be more popular, so I went that way with my build for more compatible parts to choose from. Of course in 6.5 Creedmoor! But .308 upper is on my short shopping list, right below decent glass for it.

      Ttag might consider running article about difference between the two platforms. I was surprised to see it wasn’t even mentioned how little standardized the AR 10 is.

  14. avatar GS650G says:

    Sold the AR15 2 days after I got the .308 and never looked back.

  15. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    “The M14 was chosen instead (for a number of stupid reasons we won’t get into) but were practically obsolete on arrival in the early 60s.”

    Uh, well, see, this is the version of events told by AR fanbois today. Trouble is, this is incorrect.

    The truth is: Stoner and Fairchild offers the DOD/USA the AR-10 design, but they didn’t have a completely tested rifle ready for the trials. Sure, it was light-light – but mostly because they had a “composite” barrel of an aluminum barrel with a steel liner. It was less than 7 lbs. The prototypes that ArmaLite gave to the Army for testing were hand-built.

    The composite barrel failed, and ArmaLite didn’t have time to iron out the issues before the end of the testing period. In other words, the AR-10 wasn’t even ready to go up against the M-14 at the time the USA was making a decision on “which rifle?” It was really down to the M-14 design vs. the FAL.

    Further, the only reason why the M-16/AR-15 became accepted was that Curtis LeMay ordered 8,500 AR-15’s for the USAF to do base security. I know USAF vets from that period of time, and many of them carried M1 Carbines (because they were light). I know one USAF vet of that period who carried a Garand specifically because he wanted a rifle that could truly drop someone at 200 yards – and he admitted that after standing post for several hours with a Garand, it got really old.

    The AR rifles had a hearing inside the DOD only because of Curtis LeMay. LeMay was a forward-looking leader, not hidebound to history and “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” LeMay also pushed the USAF to use single-sideband modulation in their long-distance HF radios, instead of the AM modulation that was prevalent. LeMay was a radio amateur who knew his stuff about radios as well as being a bona fide gun guy.

    Now, for a bracing bit of reality: The M-14/M-1A is lighter than the modern AR-10 – like about 2 pounds lighter. I have a couple of AR-10’s (DPMS pattern), and they work fine, but they’re not light rifles, and I would not want to hump one a long distance. I’d rather hump a 1903A3 Springfield than either a Garand, M-14 or AR-10. The 1903A3 is lighter than any of them.

    1. avatar New Continental Army says:

      With all this knowledge you often post, have you ever considered starting your own blog? I’d read it. I state that literally, not sarcastically.

      1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

        I started one last year, and then promptly proceeded to ignore it:

        https://dyspepticgunsmith.wordpress.com

        There are only three postings there. Perhaps this winter, I’ll start adding more material and some pictures.

        Putting up slick, well-edited content takes time – and time I have not a lot of.

        1. avatar HHH says:

          I just read your blog, it’s really good don’t give up.

        2. avatar Serpent_Vision says:

          Could put up less slick content; such as the long responses here. “Over on TTAG, the subject came up . . . ” – copy & paste the same text, and instant blog post.

        3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Serpent – that’s an idea. I could be less wordy here (where the formatting and ability to insert pics is limited) and expand on the subject there.

          Thanks for the idea. I will give it a try soon. I cannot promise a date certain, but I will give it whirl.

    2. avatar RVTMAV says:

      You seem to know what you’re talking about here, so between You and TTAG: I am surprised that You both seem to be Ripping OFF Credit, where Credit is due, and that’s with>>> Jim Sullivan, as that is who designed the AR15…??
      Eugene Stoner Definitely did the AR10, but from what I understand, he appointed Jim Sullivan to design the AR15.
      IF I am incorrect, please let me know(^_-)
      Peace MAV

  16. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    I was unaware of that bit of military radio trivia. Interesting. KN4KTX

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Here’s a more complete background on it:

      http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Technology/pdf/McElroy.pdf

      When I was a new ham in the 1970’s, I didn’t have a SSB transmitter for quite a while. I was too poor, and even a homebrew SSB exciter would have taken a fair bit of coin to construct, what with the filters, temp-compensated oscillators, etc. So I was a CW guy through most of my teens and into my 20’s, achieving about 45 WPM on a homemade bug. I copied on a manual Remington typewriter. Most all of my equipment was homebrewed, usually from parts scavenged from tube TV’s left on the curb by people upgrading to solid state TV’s.

      I learned quite a lot about rapid radio network operation from having two complete CW stations in my shack, and my experience with tubes served me well in my first job out of school. I was one of the last EE’s through my alma’s program who knew anything about tubes at all.

      Then I finally got a SSB exciter, and it was a blast. Had a homebrewed single 813 final. But voice operation wasn’t all that compelling. This was the era of the end of US-made rigs, sad as it was, and many of the Japanese rigs really lacked audio quality. I’ve been an audio quality/high-fi crank as well (a bad habit picked up by hanging around Deadheads – you can pour your life savings into chasing ever-better audio quality) since school – and many of the Japanese radios have horrific audio quality – some of them could make a guy sound like Yoko Ono.

      The best SSB audio on any rig (and into the mid-80’s, I had a chance to use all the big-name US and Japanese rigs) I ever operated was a Harris RF-280. Sadly, for most hams, the price is out of reach – over $10K for a military tactical radio. But the audio (both RX and TX) was … beautiful, even in SSB modes. Everyone I worked on the club’s RF-280 asked “What is that rig, and where can I get one?”

      Now, I’ve been inactive for 20+ years. I’m looking at the new digital modes and they look pretty interesting. I’ve thought about building up one of these SDR’s and having a go at radio again… and maybe I should buy some test equipment and restore the Collins S and A line radios I have in the basement.

      Interestingly enough, one of the things that sparked my serious interest in firearms was how many hams in the 70’s and 80’s were “gun guys.” Ham radio seems to attract the same sort of personality that believes in being prepared that exists in the POTG. It’s true even today – most all the members of the local ham club are gun owners, with interests in guns to one extent or another. At hamfests in the 70’s, I’d run into gunsmiths, gun cranks, benchrest shooters, etc – and they were fascinating guys to learn from. Sadly, they’ve all gone SK…

  17. avatar tdiinva says:

    When Justice Kavenaugh was confirmed I thought about finally getting an AR since there are 5 Justices who will likely kill any ban. First thought was building an AR-10 in .243 because the round has greater utilty than either 5.56 or 7.62. But my back is old so the 10 platform. Is too heavy for me to hump through the woods with it. If I can secure a good supply 6.5 Grendel I will probably go with the that. Otherwise, I guess I will go with what everybody else has.

    1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      .260?
      and, wouldn’t the likelihood of a ban increase your resolve to have an ar?

      build it, and they won’t come.

  18. avatar Mark says:

    Thoughts on the Daniel Defense DD5V2? Was thinking about picking one up.

  19. avatar 33Charlemagne says:

    “The M14 was chosen instead (for a number of stupid reasons we won’t get into) but were practically obsolete on arrival in the early 60s.” I suppose that’s why so many troops in Vietnam were displeased in giving up their M14s for M16s. Likewise that’s why some frontline troops traded with support troops for their M14s. And of course the reason it is still in service today is that it is such a piece of obsolete junk! (Sarcasm intended!)

  20. avatar Manny says:

    I wonder were the 6.5 CM would fall in this discussion.

    “If you didn’t hear the news: USSOCOM has adopted the 6.5 CM as their new Precision Rifle cartridge. It was a close call between the 260 Remington and the 6.5 Creedmoor, but the 6.5 CM won the day due to the military’s belief that the 6.5 CM has more room for innovation for the future.”

  21. avatar Edward Rogers says:

    I agree, each has their particular strong points – get one of each. Now, also get one each DI and piston variety. Me, being the lazy lunk I am, loves the SCAR’s ease of maintenance. They’re both LOUD, with the stock muzzle brakes.

    Now that you have four rifles, why not go for a suppressed PS90? Hey, you can lug 4 times as much ammo and not lose your hearing.

    I’ve successfully cost you upwards of $10,000.00. You’re welcome.

    1. avatar Moltar says:

      You forgot the CZ Bren 2 and the FAL…. oh and the G3 gotta have one of those too! now we’re around $20,000. Put the Ford Sedan on the auction block after the next election and start buying guns.

  22. avatar Mike H in WA says:

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned is the ability to swap uppers.

    With an AR-10, I’m generally pretty limited to swapping in a 6.5 Creedmore, and that’s it (I know, someone’s going to say that’s all one needs). With an AR-15, I have .300blk, 6.5 Grendal, 6.8 SPC II, .224 Valkyrie, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowolf, (with a magwell adapter) 9mm, and probably another half dozen calibers.

  23. avatar Greg says:

    Personal choice to what one wants to use.

    I would avoid any AR made by SOLGW. Poor customer service. They take your money with no comms on shipping etc.

  24. avatar Docduracoat says:

    I like that snow camo on the AR10.
    Should put jungle camo on the AR 15!

  25. avatar adverse5 says:

    AR-10 with the 7.62 NATO please. I haul it and the ammo around in the pick-up. Not like I got to hump the damn thing.

  26. avatar Anonymous says:

    I love my AR10ish, platform.

    I like the AR15 because everything is interchangeable, standardized. Wish there was something similar for the AR10. But the AR10 is like linux, and there are so many flavors, it makes building one tricky.

    That said, my palmetto state armory PS10 was obscenely cheap. The “value” (quality/price) was just phenomenal in this circumstance. It was so cheap, it was ridiculous. And despite that, it still came with a really nice Mlok small diameter free float handguard. Stainless barrel. 9310 bolt, looks QPQed (advertised as nitrided), and 8620 bolt carrier, also QPQ. Looks like gloss black, the bolt. A really nice package, that works great for me, and just ridiculously cheap. Packs a 308 punch, and magpul mags click right into place.

  27. avatar Ams says:

    AR 15 in 6.5 Grendel. Like an Ar10, but it’s a 15.

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