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The AR-15 rifle is America’s most popular firearm. And why not? It’s a reliable, accurate and versatile firearm that can be configured to fill any role, from home defense to long-range hunting. Not everyone can afford a top-of-the line AR — at least not right away. So here are three entry-level AR-15 rifles that are damn fine straight out of the box and upgradeable should a new shooter decide to enter the Barbies-for-men world of rifle customization.

#3. Springfield SAINT

Springfield came way late to the AR-15 game, but they brought their A game. Their first black rifle entry is a hit — a solid starting point for any new AR-15 owner. The SAINT is blessed with all the standard features you’d want as standard, from a slick-looking hand guard to a more-than-merely adequate trigger. Read the full review here. The long and the short of it: the Springfield SAINT is a budget-priced entry-level AR-15 done right.

MSRP: $899

2. Mossberg MMR Tactical

Mossberg has added a couple of features to their AR that make it a great option for first-time buyers. Instead of a standard hand guard, Mossie’s MMR fits a free-floated version (the barrel doesn’t touch the hand guard, which improves accuracy and heat dissipation.) The MMR’s hand guard is also covered in rail sections for attach all your mission critical, fashion-forward and entirely superfluous accessories. It’s a solid rifle for the money.

MSRP: $950

#1: Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport

Smith & Wesson announced their M&P line of AR-15 rifles roughly six years ago catering to budget-minded shooters. Popular much? The Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport rifle review reigns supreme for TTAG traffic. In all that time we’ve never heard of a single dissatisfied customer. And we’ve heard from plenty who wouldn’t trade their gun for a pricier piece. The M&P-15 Sport is the dictionary definition of a “basic” rifle: good components, decent trigger, no forward assist. For newbie AR-15 owners or budget-minded buyers that’s really all you need.

MSRP: $709

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  1. The Ruger AR-556 and the S&W M&P Sport II have everything you need in an entry-level AR-15, and can be had for under $650.

    • S&W M&P Sport II found it $499.99 shipped on a certain site that is slick for firearm stuff.
      To build one or even buy a built lower and upper I would think would be as cheap if not more. I think there is 11% federal excise tax on firearms. So a stripped lower at $50 has $5.50 tax paid and passed along. While a $1000 has a hidden $110 tax in there, that can buy a goodie or two for a build.

      • If you want to do a good cheap built without doing the barrel get a Palmetto upper with the FNH hammer-forged barrel they have on sale all the time for $350ish. Get a lower from your LGS put a AR Stoner nib trigger and JP enhanced reliability red spring set and you’ll be in love for way less than a grand. Just check the headspace on whatever BCG you choose.

        • Springfield Saint???? Shameless plug much?

          Dozens better and hundreds more proven. Maybe next year.

        • Home builds are always the way to go IMO.

          Also, headspace in the AR is set by barrel extension, not the BCG. Well, as long you use good quality (mil-spec or equivalent) parts.

    • Exactly what I was thinking. Is this omission a ‘DI’ versus ‘piston’ thing? I’m not an AR guy, but must admit I’m sorely tempted by the Ruger AR-556 at ~$600.

      • Adams Arms make conversion kits/uppers with pistons, their XLP has 5 settings. I’ve even used them twice on 16″ 7.62×39 builds. They do not advertise that they will work. Was talking with them on a minor tight gas block issue and was told it could work, no guarantees. I tried it and worked fine, even built 3rd one for a friend. Not sure if Osprey Defense is still making their piston kit. Their’s could be adjustable using Odin or Superlative Arms gas blocks. I think Superlative Arms also has piston kits that lets the builder use any handguard/barrel bolt setup.

    • Found the Ruger with bipod, scope, sling and bag for $699.99 on internet site.
      That makes it hard to justify building my own except for the anonymity.

  2. I guess you could make this list as long or as short as you want, but the Ruger AR-556 deserves a spot. MSRP around $700. Solid rifle with a crappy trigger that you’ll want to upgrade.

    Mossberg is on the right track with their free float handguard, but the market has long since moved on from quad rail cheese graters. They should have put a rail on top and M-LOK slots around the rest of it.

    • I have the M&P Sport four rail cheese grater. Nice gun, but I’d love to dump the rails other than the top. Is that even possible?

      • It’s possible:
        Option #1: Remove the cheese grater handguard and replace it with something a bit more ergonomic.

        Option #2: Go after it with an angle grinder, follow up with black paint. No one will ever know the difference.

  3. Aero Precision $560 on sale at Brownells right now. Or for $530 get the one minus stock and Handguard and pick your own. If I didn’t build frankenguns that’s what I would do.

  4. Thanx for the Ruger love, guys! I was just gonna jump in here to point that nice rifle out as overlooked.

  5. Yeah plenty of other AR’s could be added. My LGS has Delton Sport on sale for 459. I really didn’t think I’d get an AR but now I’m seriously thinking considering it. Thanks President Trump?

    • I have two of the delton sport. Got both of them a year apart for $499. Fantastic accuracy out to 200yards and light as a feather. No shell deflector or dust cover, but I keep the workings wet and have not had a problem yet. Moneys saved over buying a name brand bought me a bunch of accessories for them.

    • I have a Delton upper to match my home build lower. Absolutely zero problems with it and good accuracy too with the right load.

    • Grabagun has them for $399 right now. Picked up 2 for my boys just because. They aren’t high end but they stand behind them for life.

  6. There’s more than one brand of AR? lmao.

    Seriously though … Ruger and Smith have it sewed up for folks like me who want a ready-to-go AR.

    Colt for the folks with extra money they need to spend.

  7. Conspicuously absent from the list: the DPMS Sportical. Any noobs out there considering it- yes, it’s SLIGHTLY cheaper than the Ruger or Smith but believe us when we tell you you’re better off just saving a bit more money in another week or two and getting a rifle you’ll never regret instead of going as cheap as possible.

    • I’ve never seen one, but Savage’s new MSR found online for $644 shipped. Higher than some of the others named here in comments. Has a different grip and stock, 1:8 twist, .223 Wylde chamber barrel. Nice overall package for ready to run setup.

      • Savage MMR.
        Guns and Ammo cover article April 2017.
        0.58 inch group at 100 yards
        .223 wylde chamber, mid length gas system, better tham mil spec trigger, free float.
        just run it.

  8. Gotta echo the Ruger AR556. I have the SR556E and love it.

    I handled a Saint today at my LGS. Amazing value, and probably the first rifle I would turn to if looking for an affordable AR. I don’t need another AR but I’m seriously considering getting one.

    I’ve never actually seen a Mossberg MMR in person, to the point I forget it exists.

  9. I ran a couple thousand rounds through a brand new Ruger in a class without a hiccup. One issue I did notice was that the barrel nut was finger-loose, send it back to Ruger for evaluation/adjustment/replacement if needed, they had that issue squared away but did something to the gas tube where the rifle would no longer cycle. Another trip back, some additional repair and replacement work, the rifle runs beautifully now. I think as a budget rifle, the Ruger is outstanding, but I get the feeling that they may have ramped production up a little too quickly in new manufacturing facilities and their QA suffered a bit. Outstanding customer service as always, if there is an issue with Ruger they will make it right.

    • Y’know, thats actually a very important point: Ruger states very clearly in their owner’s manuals that they make no warranty or guarantee either written or implied on their products. When customers look askance at this I point out that what Ruger does have instead of a warranty is a reputation – if something is wrong they’ll make it right… because their name is Ruger and that’s all that needs be said.

  10. There’s always Palmetto State Armory completed lower to FFL+completed upper to your door on a sale.

    Hell, PSA upper and lower kit on sale+stripped lower from local FFL is a great option. You’ll just need a punch set and masking tape to assemble a lower, and you want that anyways .

    • This is the right mindset. PSA has got to be the best “cheap” option. The only downside is that the daily deals have to be shipped to your house. The same uppers cost an average of $100+ more in the store.

  11. Yeah, PSA has the budget price on lock. Next, would be the Ruger AR556. CHF barrel and all. Not getting that in any other brand. If we’re talking price-quality, PSA, Ruger, then the Saint.

  12. I’m curious what criteria folks use to delineate between “entry level” and whatever other levels there are?

    • Usually so called entry level ARs lack bolt dustcovers and forward assists. Might have cheaper barrel steel too.

      Except for the saint that is. The only reason the saint was included was because of advertising $$. So like the liberal media, filter the lists through the lens of wisdom. If its popular but nobody has one, then keep walking.

      Oh, and placing it number one just made it worse.

      • Of the three models mentioned, the Saint has both the forward assist and a dust cover, the mossberg has a dust cover, and the M&P Sport has neither (but the M&P Sport II has both).

        The Ruger AR-556 mentioned by several people has both. The Del-Ton Sport has both. The DPMS Sportical has neither.

      • Forward assist necessary? Not so much. If you need it then you probably shouldn’t use it. It was more a last ditch effort where if the shot didn’t go off you might die.

        The dust cover, however, is something I find quite useful especially when running the AR in a blizzard which does happen. A dusty environ with a little wind will make you wish had you have one, and of course it is another piece of Barbie clothing you can dress your AR doll in.

        I too concur. The Saint is not an entry level AR due to price and marketing hype. Perhaps those who frequent malls in their 5.11 pants might find the Saint more attractive because their buddies are hot for the spokeswomen. Kind of a real life Laura Crofts with tiny…

        • I agree that the Saint is not an “entry level” AR, it’s a few steps up in features. This is because of the features it has, a lot of them, that nearly all of the truly entry level ARs don’t have. Midlength gas system, upgraded and very nice furniture, nickel boron coated and polished trigger, melonite 1:8 twist barrel, shot peened and magnetic particle inspected bolt and carpenter 158 steel bolt carrier group, 7075 T6 aluminum receivers, and probably more I’m not listing. I have both the Saint and the S&W M&P Sport, love them both. Both highly accurate.

    • So if I got everyone’s opinion just about averaged correctly, an “entry level” rifle is basically just cheaper and lacking in features.

      Personally I find the forward assist to be stupid, but whatever.

      • My limited experience with a few not-properly-resized reloads that failed to chamber has led me to the conclusion that the forward assist makes it easy to turn a minor problem into a major one.

      • I would say that an “entry level” has a lot of mil spec items in it and little to no extras. Mil spec triggers are awful, an entry level won’t have a nice, or even cheap drop in trigger. Iron sights are ok, an entry level won’t come with a nice scope. If it does have a scope, it’ll be a really cheap one and then you won’t get the iron sights. An entry level rifle won’t have nice furniture, or a match grade barrel, a nice rail, nickel boron BCG, extra magazines, a nice muzzle brake, a nice finish like cerakote, or any number of upgrades that people would put on such a modular weapon to make it better.

  13. Two for the price of one (almost)

    Put an hour or so of labor into a Palmetto AR kit and you can have a
    pair of rifles with forward assist, dust cover, upgraded furniture, and more for a bit more than the price of one of the three in this list.

  14. Too narrow a mindset.
    Gotta include pre-loved guns also.
    MY entry level AR was a used DPMS LR-10 AP4.
    .308 goodness.

    Shooters gotta shoot…

  15. I really want a di ar 15 (the sr 556 is great but a bit heavy with the quad rail and piston) I was thinking the M and P sport or the Ruger but can’t decide between the two.

  16. $50ish Anderson lower, Delton upper with forward assist and dust cover for $450 max, iron sights of your choice and you’ve got a reliable low cost AR. I’ve built two in this pattern – one a 16″ carbine and the other a 20″ fixed stock model – and they’re solid low cost rifles.

  17. These are good ARs although my “entry-level” is the Ruger AR556.

    But these are not necessarily budget-minded entry-level. PSA’s AR passed the AK Operator’s Union 5,000 round test and is cheaper than anything on this list. Del-Ton, DPMS, and Radical Firearms also make decent budget-minded entry-level ARs for under $500. So if you need your entry level under $500, there are some acceptable rifles out there.

  18. The AR-15 rifle is America’s most popular firearm. And why not? It’s a reliable, accurate and versatile firearm that can be configured to fill any role, from home defense to long-range hunting.

    The AR pattern rifle is quite simply the state-of-the-art of the modern rifle. That’s not to say that nothing better has come along in the past 50-60 years or that it makes any thing else obsolete. But alternatives are not so compelling as to prompt us to abandon a system that has been refined, improved and extended over that same period of time.

    It’s open-source. It’s in the public domain. Nobody “owns” it. Not Colt and not the Government. The American people own it. The Great American Rifle can be built by the user and customized by the user, FOR the user. Of the people, by the people and for the people.

  19. I own two AR’s and they are both S&W M&P Sports. The first one is from 2011, has never had a glitch and its accuracy exceeds my abilities. The second is the Sport II and it is still in the box until I give it to my son in the next couple of years.

  20. I Bought a BCA ar15 for 499 on classic firearms a couple years ago, shoots well and fit my budget better. Added some new furniture and I’m pretty happy with it for plinking.

  21. I’m still amazed that people buy pre-assembled AR-15s. Just buy the lower and build what you want. It’s basically legos for adults. I think I put my first one together in 30 minutes only armed with a hammer and a youtube video.

  22. Bought a Colt first and love it. Still have it too. I stepped up to a Daniel Defense with a VCOG and what a difference. Definitely not entry level.

  23. I paid $650 after tax for my Palmetto State AR, which is about $100 (after adding tax) less than your cheapest option. I think you should have looked at few more rifles.

  24. Grabagun has the Deltons for $399. For that price you could spend another $200-300 on accessories and come out ahead on all three rifles listed.

    • I saw that price yesterday, too. At that price I thought about getting one as my backup to my backup’s backup.

  25. While not an AR the keltec su16 is worth a look as a value 556 semi auto that takes the same mags. It is also lighter and uses a gas piston.

  26. The Mossberg has issues if you’re an AR purist. As I recall, it’s neither milspec or properly staked, but I’m reaching off memory here on the subject matter experts reviewing the rifle. It seems to fluctuate in the $550 to $650 range, and as the guy above me said, you might as well look at a SU16 at that price since they’re back in common circulation.

    Or you can wait for a _______ day special sale and build one up for less than $500 like I did.

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