The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

“Inexpensive” ARs – what about this one?

There are some very nice AR15s out there. While purchase price does not necessarily guarantee quality, it’s a pretty good indicator. Conventional wisdom indicates the more a gun costs, the better it must be. Is the reverse also true?

I recently ran a review of a Daniel Defense DDM4 – it was an excellent rifle. Its retail price was also roughly $2,000. That’s a lot of shekels for many people, myself included. These days I am in a somewhat better position to spend a little money on a “higher end” rifle if I want to, but that wasn’t always the case. 20+ years ago I wasn’t able to afford an AR at all (and like the vast majority of small LE agencies, my police department did not issue more than basic equipment). Throughout the mid-90s my patrol rifle was actually a well-used wood stock Mini-14 I bought from another officer who was going through a divorce.

The financial limitations of interested gun owners haven’t changed in the intervening years. Cop or responsible armed citizen, lots of people who would like to buy a decent quality AR feel like they can’t because of cost. Alternately, they want to pick up a “cheap” AR (meaning inexpensive, not poorly build) but they’re scared to pull the trigger on it (see what I did there?). This often due to all the interwebz punditry out there.

So how does one go about overcoming those hesitations and purchasing a reasonably priced, reliable rifle? My first qualifier would absolutely be need. Ultimately a rifle is a tool. What do you need your rifle to do, beyond the basics of going bang when you pull the trigger? Do you need a 2 Vets Arms Alpha or a Hodge AU-Mod 1 or can you get by with a Rock River LAR-15A4? Now we look at the definition of reasonable when it comes to the term reasonably priced. Can you spent a thousand dollars on a rifle without having to eat Ramen through Spring and give plastic Wal-Mart flashlights to the kids for Christmas? Does it need to be less? Is a lower cost rifle even worth the trouble?

Make a candid evaluation of your need and your priorities – can you afford a better rifle if you give up a few rounds of golf and one night eating out each week?

Inexpensive AR - a subjective term and maybe hard to find Cowan's rifle

Once you know your price range, your need and your priorities there are as I see it two more steps.

1) First is to look for reliable reviews by reputable people. That can be more difficult than it sounds, and one must always be wary of possible agendas on the part of the reviewer. I do not count any social media commentary (re: quality and performance) as a reliable review. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from comments (there are many knowledgeable people out there) but they should do no more than provide some ideas of where you could look further (I’ve learned many things from readers over the years, here and when I was at Military.com – I just never treat it as gospel).   Seek the opinion of people you trust regarding their experiences. That’s how I wound up with a Rock River once upon a time, and never regretted it. Again – don’t base the entirety of your decision on this.

2) Shoot that breed of rifle if at all possible. In this the choice of a rifle is no different than that of a pistol. Never, ever base your decision solely on any one (or three) people’s opinion.  They may tell you “The BR55 in 9.5 x 40 is the best gun out there. Wouldn’t shoot anything else. The Lancer Mk 2 has a terrible trigger,” but you can bet the next guy will say, “The BR55 is awful. Prone to malfunctions and hard to disassemble. You can’t go wrong with the MA37, Special Forces use it!”

If you are going to buy a firearm upon which the lives of you or your loved ones might depend, do your level best to shoot different breeds of different models before making your decision. Visit a range or a gun club where you can rent one, head to the range with friends who already own some and try theirs. This isn’t always possible, of course, and that’s why you look for reliable reviews by reputable people who are not gun or gear snobs. They’re out there, and if you’re operating under tight financial constraints, you don’t need to be listening to a reviewer who automatically discounts a certain brand or price range “just because”.

Inexpensive AR - a subjective term and maybe hard to find Merrill's gun

So what reviewers do you listen to, and what brands do you look at? Well, there’s the rub. I can tell you what I think, but I’ve already told you not to base your decisions on internet punditry! You have to start somewhere, though, so here’s what we’ll do. I’ll list off some of the places I go to for weapon, gear and TTP op-ed, then as a community we’ll determine some makes and models of rifles that can be obtained (new) for around $1,000. Once we’ve done that I’ll see if I can’t get a couple of our freelances to take a candid look at some of them.

Evaluations – I’m blessed to be in a unique position. I can post a technical weapon-related question on my Facebook page and very quickly receive a lot of candid feedback from many people who are far more knowledgeable and experienced than I. However, there are still a number of good sites and reviewers I tend to look over.  I subscribe to The Tactical Wire (I refer specifically to the “Editor’s Notebook and op-ed sections), because Rich Grassi, Chuck Haggard and the TW crew is experienced and no-nonsense. I also follow Active Response TrainingModern Service Weapons, Rockwell Tactical Group’s blog, Black Sheep Warrior, ITS and Gear Scout. There are of course several other sites and YouTube channels worth keeping an eye on. Though they’re not always firearms specific, I frequently check Death Valley Magazine and Soldier Systems Daily. I’ll add more as I remember or as they come up on my RSS feed in an edit later. I also ask the opinions of my acquaintances, as you no doubt do. Although I am friends with several SMEs whose opinion I respect, I don’t necessarily look to them for input on anything they are specifically attached to (like an eponymous rifle, or gear from a company for whom they work as “pro staff”). From this angle I will often see what Nate Murr, David Merrill, Kim Heath, Aaron Cowan have to say, in person or on their social media. I often solicit the opinions of some squared away “civilian shooters” who don’t have websites or public Facebook pages, and as you can imagine I also consult my boss, Iain Harrison.

I make no decisions based solely on any one of their opinions.

Inexpensive AR - a subjective term and hard to find

Weapon breeds – DPMS, Colt, Adams Arms, Norinco and Smith & Wesson all have sub-$1,000 rifles. I’ve seen Rock River Arms and Bravo Company go for less than $1,000. There are no doubt many others. As I have not been looking for a new rifle lately, I don’t have my finger on the pulse of exact pricing. Hopefully some of you reading this will weigh in.

Remember while you’re deciding what to buy, you can also choose to build a Frankengun over time – the cost may go over a thousand, but it might not hurt as bad if it’s stretched out over several months.

One final thought for what it’s worth, and this is just my opinion. When asked recently by a buddy what rifle he should choose, and what accessories it should have (within his budget of $2,200), I gave him the advice about shooting multiple rifles you read above. I then told him I’d rather he spend half that on a reliable weapon and dedicate the other half to ammunition and professional instruction to increase his proficiency.

Doesn’t matter how awesome your rifle is, what color it’s Cerakoted or how badass your furniture looks – if you can’t manipulate it under stress and hit what you’re aiming at, you might as well be carrying around a really expensive rock.

Sound off in the comments. If we can come to a consensus, I’ll make sure we get some samples of sub-$1,000 guns into the hands of guys who’ll give it to us a straight in a review.

Inexpensive AR - sighting in a Frankengun


Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Click here to get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to a digital PDF of this target pack!



Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter