Best AR-15 Under $1,000 [2021]

AR-15s aren’t always the cheapest rifles you can buy for personal use. But if you don’t want to go for premium models, you can still find fantastic value if you know where to look. Some of the better AR-15s for under $1,000 may definitely surprise you with longevity, performance, and feel. If you’re in a rush and just want to see our top options, here they are.

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Consider Your Favorite Ammo

AR-15 rifles fire a wide range of bullets, depending on their specs. If you favor a particular caliber, make sure the rifle you’re looking at can shoot it.

You’ll notice that the majority of AR-15s fire 233 Remington and 5.56 NATO rounds. Others feature 300 Blackout barrels and excel with BLK bullets. You can even find 7.62×39 caliber AR-15s.

There’s enough variety to make your head spin. Personally, I think there’s a good reason why 5.56 bullets are so popular in this niche. It’s a powerful enough bullet for many applications.

And there’s a great selection of rifles that cater to it, as well as the 233 Remington rounds.

Known Handguard Issues

Even the best AR-15 brands sometimes fall into the same trap. On their budget or entry-level rifles, they don’t always pay attention to details.

Case in point, the melting handguard problem. It’s something as common in cheap ARs as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

Many rifles require a handguard upgrade if you want to dump mags safely. But I’ve also found some interesting factory solutions for this common issue, which I’ll share in the review section.

Accuracy vs. Reliability

This is an interesting debate point among gun enthusiasts. Yet, I have a very simple approach to it. You want the best of both worlds, almost all the time.

If you want a competition AR, you’re probably not shopping outside the premium range anyway. And yes, reliability is more important than accuracy in self-defense situations that require a civilian to use a rifle.

But if you can find a balance of both, why not spend the extra dollars to get it?

Don’t Stress Over Extra Perks

Everyone knows by now that the real power behind an AR-15 rifle is its modularity. It’s one of the most customizable and upgradeable guns on the planet.

That’s where it’s true strength lies. So while you have many options with sights, handguards, barrels, and so on, keep in mind you can always upgrade those to fit your preferred shooting style.

Round Capacity

You’ll get a better deal on a rifle if you buy one with a 20+1 or 10+1 capacity. I’d say don’t settle for less than 30+1.

Whether for defense, practice, competition, or anything in between, more rounds make the gun more dangerous and reliable.

Recoil Considerations

In general, the AR-15 doesn’t pack nearly the punch of a government issue M4, let alone an M16. But don’t assume that it has no recoil.

As you’ll soon find out, some manufacturers try to squeeze as much power as they can out of this civilian rifle. Using something like an H buffer can create a much sharper kickback than you expect.

Sure, it’s a lightweight rifle, but each model has its own unique quirks. A sharp recoil is often one of them.

Best AR-15s Under $1,000

PSA Bushmaster XM-15 Standard A2 Patrolman Carbine

PSA is one of the best AR-15 brands for many reasons. The manufacturer makes reliable weapons and reduces costs by not using too many stylish and unnecessary design features.

BUSHMASTER XM-15 STANDARD - 16 A2 PATROLMAN'S CARBINE 5.56 SEMI-AUTOMATIC AR-15 RIFLE - 90216

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The six-position stock and single-stage trigger make this a comfortable and rapid semi-automatic rifle. One of my favorite features is the 4150 CMV barrel. It increases both durability and accuracy. Plus, it makes it much easier to maintain.

The fact that it comes with an A2 flash hider and an M16 bolt carrier sweetens the pot. I also like the dual aperture sight system. This model allows for both wind and elevation adjustments.

You may also appreciate the simple and functional design. It’s one of the easiest rifles to take apart and reassemble. And you can make lots of customizations in grips, stocks, triggers, mounts, and so on.

It’s also unnecessary to look far and wide for accessories. Bushmaster provides varied kits you can use to enhance the performance of your XM-15 model.

Pros

  • Reliable enough for government work
  • Highly customizable
  • High-end 4150 CMV barrel
  • Dual aperture rear sight system

Cons

  • The handguard may pose issues after continuous use

Ruger 556

The Ruger 556 is not your garden variety best budget AR-15. It’s a uniquely designed weapon with impressive stopping power and robust construction.

Ruger AR556 AR15 Semi-Auto Rifle

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From the start, you may notice a different front sight. It’s not cast-made but actually an aluminum component. It takes some getting used to. But it also offers the benefit of allowing you to attach a quick sling.

The bolt works exceptionally well. I find this comforting as it compensates for the tight slot. Another impressive design feature is the overall mechanism. Unlike many other Ruger firearms, the AR-556 actually follows AR-15 specs to a tee.

This gives it that easy to customize allure. I also appreciate opting for a 1:8 twist barrel as it caters to both heavy and light rounds. If you’re a true outdoorsman, you may also appreciate saving a few bucks on a dust cover.

Yes, the Ruger AR-556 already comes with one that keeps it safe from dust and dirt. The rifle lacks ambidextrous features, so it’s not for everyone. But it’s still comfortable enough to shoot due to the adjustability of the buttstock. What you may not like is the non-adjustable two-stage trigger.

Pros

  • Customizable AR-15 mechanism
  • Dust cover included
  • 1:8 barrel twist for heavy and light rounds
  • Very reliable bolt

Cons

  • Heavy trigger action
  • Not ideal for lefties

Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport II

One of the most versatile rifles, the M&P 15 Sport II makes a strong argument for the best AR-15 under $1,000. It’s a rather basic gun, but it’s enjoyable to shoot and surprisingly lightweight.

Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II Rifle

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It follows a classic platform and shoots 5.56 or 223 Remington rounds with ease. The 1:9” barrel twist offers a reasonable twist rate for both heavy and light caliber bullets. However, it’s a smidge slower than other AR-15s on this list.

While I’m a fan of this rifle, I’m not keen on its handguard. The absence of a heat shield is not ideal for continuous shooting. Luckily, an upgrade won’t put you over the $1,000 threshold.

A detailed analysis of the M&P 15 Sport II shows that the manufacturer used high-quality components. It ticks most checkboxes, which is surprising for this price point. Even though some users may prefer a heavy chrome lining, the Sport II does well without it.

The rounded winter trigger guard and the 4lbs weight offer a pleasant shooting experience. And although slightly barrel-heavy (due to the M4 profile), it’s still an effortless rifle to use.

Pros

  • A2 flash hider included
  • Versatile 1:9 twist rate
  • No sharp recoil
  • Very reliable components
  • Doesn’t lack modularity

Cons

  • No lining or handguard shielding
  • A bit barrel-heavy

Springfield Armory Saint Free-Float

When Springfield introduced its first entry-level AR-15, it made a big splash. The second model, the Saint Free-Float, improves on many aspects of the original design. All while still remaining one of the best budget AR-15 rifles.

Springfield Saint 5.56mm NATO 16in Black Semi Automatic Rifle

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With its 1:8” twist rate, it hits the sweet spot for most round weights. It easily dispatches 223 and 5.56 ammunition at incredible speeds.

The M4 feed ramps and forward assist make it a comfortable-to-use weapon. I think its standout feature is the Accu-Tite Tension System. It’s a proprietary Springfield mechanism that reduces trigger play to increase stability and accuracy.

The rifle is a top contender for the best AR-15 for the money title. Furthermore, it also has very low recoil due to a heavy H buffer. A fine addition, given that most alternatives in this price range use standard carbine buffers.

I also recommend this model for its free-floating handguard. The single-point attachment design solves heating issues and makes it better for dumping mags.

Pros

  • Free-floating handguard
  • Accu-Tite Tension System
  • Heavy H buffer
  • 1:8” twist rate

Cons

  • Slightly heavier despite its outstanding balance
  • Right under the $1,000 limit

Armalite M15 Light Tactical

You can find this AR-15 rifle in a few variations. I recommend the M15 Light Tactical model with a 30+1 round capacity and barrel length of 16”.

Armalite M-15 Light Tactical Carbine Rifle

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It offers the best price to performance ratio in the Armalite M15 lineup and sufficient firepower. Its design follows the factory AR-15 blueprint to a tee. There’s nothing too innovative about the engineering of this gun, with one exception.

I would argue that the 10” KeyMod handguard is a nice feature. It solves some comfort and heating issues.

The A2 trigger guard is ok, but nothing to write home about. For the money, I would’ve loved to see this upgraded to something better. You may also notice some stiffness when clearing an unfired round.

Luckily, Armalite designed a reliable rifle, so misfires don’t happen often enough for this to become a problem.

The six-position stock allows the same adjustments as most AR-15s. So why recommend this rifle at all?

It’s among the most reliable shooters for under $1,000. If you want a close-to-factory, unmodified AR with sustainable accuracy and well-machine components, Armalite delivers.

Pros

  • Hard anodized aluminum
  • Innovative KeyMod handguard
  • 30+1 capacity
  • 16” barrel with a 1:9” twist

Cons

  • A2 trigger guard
  • Slower to clear misfired rounds

Conclusion 

In my opinion, all rifles on this list are great to shoot and are reliable. But if you have to pick just one, you have two options. Either go with the cheapest that will do the job or the best under the $1,000 mark.

I’d recommend the latter, so you ensure you squeeze every ounce of performance. By that logic, I put the Springfield Armory Saint Free-Floating model up there as the best AR-15 under $1,000.

Its cost to performance ratio may not be ideal, but its accuracy and comfort level are almost unmatched. It exceeds expectations in real-world scenarios and makes some interesting choices for a budget AR rifle. The heavy H buffer and handguard alone give it an excellent feel.

Add to that an innovative trigger system and the 1:8” twist rate, and you have yourself a very versatile civilian rifle for practice, home defense, and more.

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