In decades past, an entry-level AR would set you back some $800 whereas you could pick up a decent AK pattern rifle for around half that. As a consequence, I became an AK enthusiast. At the time, they were cheaper to own, cheaper shoot (~$.20 a round vs ~$.35 for the equivalent 5.56 ammunition).
Accessories for the AK developed into a cottage industry, and before long, many of the features that used to be exclusive the to AR became available for the AK (e.g. railed hand guards, telescoping buttstocks, optics, enhanced triggers, AR-style grips etc.).
Even so, the utilitarian nature of the AK lacked many of the quality of life features standard on all ARs (e.g. magazine wells, last-round bolt hold-open, easier safety selector, better ergonomics… etc.). Do any of these features inhibit your ability to send lead down range, or appreciate the simplicity and elegance of a proven platform that has continued to serve its purpose for 70 years? Not at all.
So why consider an AR now? For the same reason I bought my first AK’s: price!
Over the last 6 months, we’ve seen a 180° shift in the market. AK’s (and other mil-surp imports) that used to run $400-800 are now selling for $900-1,600+. AR’s that were manufactured during the election scare that were fetching as much as $700-800+ for a basic plain Jane AR can now be had for as little as $300 with a stripped lower and parts kit.
For that reason, I decided to look into buying one, here’s what I settled on:
- Caliber: 5.56. Exotic uppers and ammunition get expensive and can come later (if ever).
- Mid-Length Gas System: Carbine-length (from what little I know) is intended for shorter barrels (14.5″ and less). Rifle-length barrels start at 18″+, and since I’m building on a 16″ barrel, mid-length was optimal.
- MOE Furniture: Magpul furniture is solid and comfortable. The basic MOE buttstock was designed to be light-weight and snag free. I was very happy with my last MOE lower, and they are still a good option today. While I used to like quad-rail hand guards, I found that I never used all that rail space, which most people would just end up covering with panels/covers anyway. If I wanted to mount a flash light, sling adapter, rail etc., that would still be an option.
The last AR I built was on a Palmetto State Armory complete lower, which cost me $300 in 2012, which I was very happy with but ultimately sold to buy a SGL41 (fun little shotgun my wife can shoot as Boris, my S12 will only tolerate 3″ magnum rounds).
Today, you can get the exact same thing for $160. I opted instead to buy a mid-length rifle kit for $330, and a $40 stripped lower. With a 30-round magpul magazine and shipping, my total cost was $399.58:
What am I expecting for $400? An entry-level AR-15 that cycles reliably under normal operation and is reasonably accurate (at least no less accurate than my AKs). Is that realistic? Ask me again once it arrives! The stripped lower has already shipped whereas the kit might take a little longer. My hope is that I receive both by next
weekend month, but we’ll just have to wait and see!