Bolt action rifles in general will overlap into other uses, and the semiautomatic AR-15 shares the same useful trait. The AR-15 has endured a rocky trail from its inception, but in today’s shooting climate, it has become one of the most popular platforms ever produced.
The AR-15 has been maligned by the media, attacked by politicians, and even some in the shooting world have assaulted the “black rifles.” They’ve come up with the misnomer, “assault rifle” to mislead and insinuate that these firearms possess some inherent evil. But every firearm’s sole purpose is to serve as a cartridge firing platform, and that includes the popular AR-15.
The history of the rifle in general has shown that it is a tool of multiple uses. The pioneer or settler killed game to feed his family. He used it to protect lives and property, and he in some cases, brought it to military engagements against a common enemy. In the American Revolution, the muzzleloader was the quintessential martial arm.
So why do men own AR-15’s or any other pseudo-military semiautomatic rifle? There are several valid reasons to own these rifles, but riflemen do not have to explain their ownership. The second amendment is valid today and attaches no distinction between black rifles or others.
The number one reason for owning an AR-15 carbine or rifle is for self defense. The original M16 was designed from the ground up as a military arm to be used by soldiers, and it had a bunch of problems that needed to be addressed. Since then, it has been studied, redesigned and refined. It has become an extremely accurate platform, and today it is better than ever. These refinements have transferred to the semiautomatic AR-15s in civilian hands.
So why are these arms purchased, accessorized and fired thousands of times in the United States every year? The AR-15 is acquired as a hedge against attacks by criminals or a rogue government. Whether this role is reality or imaginary is left up to the individual, but with the spread of terrorism, drug wars and hostile legislation, the prudent citizen prepares for defensive capabilities. The defensive task also includes the selection of the AR-15 for duty use by police officers. The role is similar, that of protecting lives. Though this article will deal specifically with the AR-15, there are great numbers of shooters who also choose the venerable AK-47, M1A, FAL, Garand, HK91 and 93 and other semiautomatic rifles.
The potential defensive role of the AR-15 defines its characteristics and further answers the question why? Because of features like collapsible stocks and short barrels, semiautomatic carbines can be maneuvered easily in tight quarters. Repeat shots are fast and simply accomplished with the press of a trigger. Recoil is minimal, and magazines can be swiftly changed. Maintenance and parts replacement can be successfully completed by a knowledgeable owner with a minimal assortment of tools.
The ergonomics of the AR-15 are unsurpassed by any other semiautomatic design. That does not mean the design is perfect. It means the controls are easily reached and manipulated. The platform is easy to shoot and transport. I have found in side by side testing, that a McMillan A5 stocked bolt action rifle is superior for pure ease of shooting off a rest or a bipod. That is due to the weight of the rifle and the ergonomics of the McMillan A5 -- namely the wide fore-end and the shape of the pistol grip.
But that’s not the AR-15’s role. It has not been purposefully designed for benchrest capability. It offers handling and shooting ease in a fairly light package for the moving rifleman, the citizen defending his property or the law enforcement officer. Fast handling, speedy shooting, light recoil and rapid magazine changes are four characteristics that make it suited for its purpose.
Still other motivations and “why” factors include the accuracy available within the parameters of the AR-15 design and the varied “style” options. We can have close range carbines, built up “game” guns, competition rifles and heavy-barreled varmint rifles. These are all reasons that help explain why the AR-15 has become so popular.
Both rifle and carbine models can be superbly accurate…probably more accurate than most field shooters. The accuracy of today’s ammunition and rifles is at its highest point in the history of the rifle. The most popular accessories and components have been battle tested in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shooters buy accoutrements in huge quantities. This giant market not only offers wide selection, it helps drive America’s economy.
With the defensive role as the most important, what other reasons could there be for owning the popular AR-15? What about pure enjoyment? There’s a lot of fun involved in firing cartridges whether it is one or a whole magazine…or several magazines! It offers the same type of satisfaction that a benchrest shooter experiences when all the bullets punch the same hole.
Semiautomatic rifles aren’t used in benchrest matches, so accuracy becomes relative. We want all the accuracy we can get without sacrificing reliability. A carbine does not need to be as accurate as a rifle used for long range, but the AR-15 can be very accurate with the right bullets.
As for accuracy, I have been firing a Colt HBAR Elite, which is Colt’s AR-15 answer for use as a varmint shooting tool. With a 1/9 twist and 24 inch stainless steel heavy barrel, it will easily keep most generic loads under one inch for five rounds. That isn’t anything special, though. With selected bullets, such as a 60 grain Hornady V-Max over 26 grains of Winchester 748, Winchester brass and Federal GM205M primer it will regularly punch .5 inch groups for five rounds and .6 or .7 inches for ten rounds. This load will yield around 3060 ft/sec. muzzle velocity.