The land of shelf-bought AR-15s is massive, so it's the perfect time to pick up the best AR 15 for under $1000.
Hundreds of thousands of configurations exist which can be really confusing.
We’re here to change to that.
Now, before we get into our top 5 picks, we need to clarify that we are not going after the cheapest ARs possible.
What we are attempting to do is find the most well-equipped, accurate, and reliable ARs for under $1,000.
Because all of the rifles in our list satisfy these requirements, we are still focusing on price. We’re also focusing on the minor differences between each one so that we can show where the price differences come from.
That said, with any of the rifles we picked below you can expect a rugged, rough-n’-ready black rifle that’ll hit a good shot group at 100 yards without failure.
If you are still on the fence between whether or not you should build your own or buy a manufacturer's rifle, check out our guide on building your own AR-15.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Best AR 15 Under $1000 - Top 5
The least expensive rifle on our list, the Olympic Arms Plinker Plus, comes in just around the $600 mark and features all the standard “A2 USGI stuff” you would expect on a good, middle-of-the-road AR.
It eschews fancy features for a lower price while retaining reliability, thanks to proven goodies.
Equipping the Plinker Plus is a good ole’ A2 two-piece handguard and A2 Birdcage Flash Hider, which is basically every standard-issue M4 or M16 in the service today.
To keep costs down while maintaining reliability and functionality, Olympic Arms gave up the A2 front sight post and gas block combo, in favor of a simple, no-frills (and no-guesswork) low-profile gas block.
Sitting beneath all that furniture is a super-accurate, button rifled barrel made of 4140 Chromoly Steel.
In lieu of the chrome lining and cut rifling processes that more expensive rifles require, the Plinker Plus still affords plenty of barrel life and accuracy with savings.
Olympic Arms didn’t skimp out on general durability, fitting the Plinker Plus with a forged flat top upper and lower. Inside the lower sits a crisp, simple, single-stage trigger that suffers from little creep or overtravel.
Mating rifle with shoulder is another good ole’ A2 treatment, the standard M4 6-point collapsible stock. Overall, the Olympic Arms receives high remarks from users and it makes one of the least expensive, most reliable, and most accurate black rifles available.
If your budget is tight, then this is going to be the best AR 15 for the money.
4. Ruger AR-556
Number 4 on our list is the hugely popular AR-556 by Ruger.
This best-of-both-worlds black rifle is perhaps our most affordable AR 15 combination of some great, gold standard features, costing around $650 to $700.
Of course, the AR-556 has all the goodies you expect: A 7075 T6 forged upper and lower, standard M4 collapsible stock, A2 front sight post and gas block, and 16”, 4140 Chromoly Steel barrel.
Where the AR-556 gets a little more fanciful is with its upgrades.
You’re getting some surprising features that you wouldn’t expect for this price (or this popular brand).
They include M4 feed ramps, a chrome-plated bolt carrier, chrome-plated gas key, and Ruger’s Rapid Deploy folding rear sight.
Where similar sights alone would cost a premium, the Rapid Deploy sights are included at a great price.
They offer windage and elevation adjustability with a USGI-like sight picture when working in tandem with the A2 front sight post.
An enlarged trigger guard allows for gloved shooting and protects a durable and well-honed single-stage trigger that breaks perfectly.
We particularly like Ruger’s upgraded version of the standard barrel nut and delta ring found on so many A2-equipped AR-15s.
A knurled exterior on the delta ring provides a little more grip than the standard version, and while it accepts nearly every carbine-length handguard on the market, it can be easily swapped with a mil-spec ring if issues arise.
The AR-556 features cut rifling that guarantees accuracy and easy cleaning. A 1:8 twist rate reliably and accurately handles popular .223 and 5.56 loads, from 35 grains up to 77 grains.
Ruger’s patented muzzle device acts as an A2-like flash hider, albeit with some minor design and aesthetic improvements.
This is another great contender for best budget AR 15 given its price and performance.
Number 3 on our list is a seriously cool rifle that gets rid of many common AR features and replaces them with some truly premium upgrades.
We’re talking about the Model 3 Carbine from Stag Arms. At around $700 to $750, this rifle is priced well for what it includes.
Of course, you’re getting a quality 16” chrome-lined, M4-profiled barrel, a forged flat top upper and forged lower, and a 5.56 NATO chamber with M4 feed ramps.
But that’s all standard stuff we expect from a reputable brand that often equips SWAT teams.
On top of all those goodies you’re getting a very cool, modular Diamondhead VRS handguard that is perhaps our most aesthetic, lightweight, and comfortable handguard in this list.
This unique handguard is technically a quad rail, but only if you want it to be.
Stag Arms sells modular, screw-on 1913 Picatinny rails (full- and half-size) that can be attached to all sides and the bottom of the rail.
This unique design allows you to outfit your Model 3 with just enough rail estate to equip your accessories, while retaining a comfortable hand grip and enjoying weight savings.
A low profile gas block with Picatinny rail is provided for front sights, and the handguard comes with a top rail and sling point by default.
Inside the upper, you’re getting a full auto, chrome-lined BCG and perfectly polished up, crisp trigger assembly in the lower.
Stag Arms even throws in a standard 30-round mag (or a 10-rounder if you live in a restrictive state). At just 6.1 pounds, the Model 3 is the best entry level AR 15 for features, weight, and accuracy with a premium barrel.
The Armalite M-15 LTC certainly lives up to its name. This ultra-light, premium-on-a-budget black rifle incorporates some seriously cool and modern AR-15 accouterments that are often only found on rifles with four-digit price tags.
Sure, it gets close to that breaking point with a rough price of $850, but it’s well worth creeping up to that $1,000 mark.
Built by the original manufacturer of the legendary AR series, ArmaLite’s M-15 includes plenty of standard features: chrome-lined barrel (4150 Chromoly with an M4 profile, of course), hardened bolt carrier, 7075 forged M4 flat top upper, forged lower, and M4 buttstock.
But the M-15 offers so much more, too. You’re looking at the latest and great in rail estate: a 10” monolithic, free-floating Keymod handguard with Picatinny top rail, and a two-stage target trigger.
These latter two features are most certainly premium AR bits, but here they are for less than a grand.
The Keymod handguard’s free-float design keeps things accurate, and its monolithic connection to the upper reinforces the weapon’s stability and solid, one-piece feel.
For a running and gunning professional, Keymod is a performer that stands above all those standard quad rails.
We love the two-stage trigger. In combination with the precision-rifled barrel and free-float handguard, the M-15 easily provides hole-on-hole accuracy at 100 yards.
The M-15 manages to keep its price in the 3-digit range by forgetting any accessories or sling adapter. The mix of value for the price caused it to make our list for best AR under $1000.
1. S&W M&P15T
Numero Uno on our list is a rifle that’s more often found in squad cars and private security firms than in your uncle’s safe: Smith & Wesson’s M&P15T.
At around $900, this is not an everyman’s black rifle, but it is certainly (by our measures) the best AR-15 you can find for under $1,000.
Starting at the business end of things, we find a very well-crafted, 4140 Chromoly barrel with chrome lining treatment.
The M&P’s 5r rifling is truly best in the class and guarantees 1 MOA of accuracy at 100 yards. It’s all protected by S&W’s unique Armornite finish, certainly a step up from your typical parkerized coatings.
S&W keeps things simple and takes the USGI-like quad rail and improves upon it. What you get is a 10” free-floating quad rail with standard Picatinny on all four sides.
The cut and skeletonized design of the handguard keeps things lightweight – much more so than a standard KAC RAS or similar quad rail.
Of course, the upper is your gold standard 7075 T6 forged construction with a forged lower housing and a very crisp and polished trigger.
S&W throws in a pair of hugely popular Magpul MBUS front and rear flip-up sights for good measure.
Out back, an M4 buttstock and standard buffer keeps the chrome-lined, full-auto BCG cycling reliably with any grain count and load 5.56 or .223, of course.
Polished m4 feed ramps and a 1:8” twist only further that guarantee. At 6.85 pounds, the S&W M&P15T is one of the best balances of features, weight, accuracy, and reliability for under $1,000.
It doesn’t do anything crazy, it just does every thing well. We could go on and on about the M&P15T, but you can just as easily find the thousands of 5-star reviews on most retail gun sites that’ll tell you why this rifle made number 1 on the list.
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