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In recent years, the AR-15 family of firearms has come to dominate the US sport shooting market. Yet, it wasn’t always this way. Although the rifle and arguably its pistol version has been around for over 60 years, a good two thirds of that time kept it somewhat out of the mainstream in favor of more traditional bolt-action and lever-action rifles. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a gun owner in the United States that doesn’t own at least one version of the two.

The reasons for this are multiple. Toward the end of the twentieth century there may have been less than a dozen manufacturers of AR-pattern firearms. The rifle was definitely popular among military veterans as it was the civilian equivalent of the M16 and later M4 rifles used by the military since the days of the Vietnam War. A draconian restriction against the purchase of AR-15s and all assault weapons was enacted in 1994 and this ban had a sunset provision in 2004 in the midst of the Global War on Terrorism. It seemed as if every veteran who came home from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as their admirers, had to have the rifle that they counted on for protection in the absolute worst of circumstances. Only this time, there were over 100 manufacturers of the rifle as opposed to a handful.

This rifle became a staple in movies and video games as opposed to bolt action or lever action rifles in your grandfather’s westerns. Popularity inevitably soared.

Add to that the versatility of the platform, its inherent accuracy, light recoil impulse, ease of customization and the fact that it is downright easy to maintain; all makes for a system that caters to the average person as opposed to a specialized shooter.

Traits of the Best AR-15 Rifles


The AR-15 rifle is a lightweight, direct impingement, gas-operated weapon which is fed from a detachable magazine and is fired from the shoulder. The weapon system was developed with a .223 Remington but due to military contracts and NATO, the 5.56 and 5.56x45mm cartridges were developed for standardization. Thus 5.56 NATO hit mass production.

The caliber can be changed with a simple conversion kit and upper assembly made for the desired caliber you want to run. Simply push out two retaining pins and replace the upper receiver group with one of a different caliber. For safety reasons, you should only use the caliber engraved on the rifle barrel.

Maximum effective range for an AR-15 chambered in 5.56 NATO with a 20-inch barrel is 800 yards. This can change significantly with longer or shorter barrels, different twist rates and number of rifle grooves, grade of ammunition, different calibers, and of course, the shooter. The primary advantage of an AR-15 rifle as opposed to an AR-15 pistol is an increase in velocity as well as accuracy due to better stabilization of the projectile as a result of a longer barrel length.

Because a rifle is fired from the shoulder using a rigid shoulder stock, the shooter has a very stable platform which also contributes to accuracy. The 5.56 NATO or 223 Remington cartridge is optimized for the 20 inch barrel length as the powder has more time to burn before the bullet exits the muzzle.

Traits of the Best AR-15 Pistols


An AR-15 pistol resembles an AR-15 rifle and functions in the same manner. The three differences are a shorter barrel that is less than 16-inches in length, a shorter gas system, and the addition of a pistol brace in place of a rigid, adjustable butt-stock.

The very first AR-15 pistols exhibited an exposed buffer tube and they were seen as more of an oddity than a serious weapon. This changed in the mid 2000’s when the pistol brace came on the market. Originally designed as a shooting aid for disabled shooters, the pistol brace spread throughout the firearms community and was shipped from many companies already attached to the AR-15 pistol as opposed to being sold as an aftermarket accessory.

Advantages of the AR-15 pistol include the fact that it is generally lighter overall than the typical AR-15 rifle. Being lighter with a shorter profile makes the AR-15 pistol more desirable for close quarter combat shooting, as it is more maneuverable. This has another advantage with regard to adding suppressors, as it keeps the weapon’s overall length closer to a standard rifle while still being suppressed.

AR-15 Pistol vs. Rifle

When it comes to choosing between an AR-15 rifle and an AR-15 pistol, the correct answer is always, “both”. In all seriousness, that decision ultimately depends on the shooter’s personal preference and their final intended use. However, it is easily said that many gun owners own both to use for different purposes.

Some of the other calibers such as 300 Blackout and 338 Spectre have been actually noted to perform better than a full-sized rifle when in their shorter configurations as a pistol or short barreled rifle (SBR). However, traditional rifle calibers such as 5.56 NATO or 223 Remington tend to perform better out of a full-length rifle barrel due to the characteristics of the round. It should also be noted that calibers such as this often have limitations regarding suppressors due to higher muzzle velocity.

U.S. Arms Company


U.S. Arms Company offers a variety of configurations for their M4 UTAW weapon systems. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, competitive shooter or entirely new to the shooting sports, U.S. Arms Company offers an AR-15 rifle or AR-15 pistol to suit those needs.

Known for having some of the closest tolerances within the firearms industry, U.S. Arms Company has the best fitting upper and lower receivers. Years of research, development, and testing culminated in a patented lower receiver that has no slop and provides a strong, secure receiver fitment that is lightweight, accurate, and durable.

USAC’s M4 UTAW base tier rifle features a nickel boron bolt carrier group and a nickel boron barrel extension to provide smooth and reliable cycling with every shot. A state of the art 4150 chrome moly, cold hammer forged chrome lined barrel promotes accuracy, barrel longevity, and consistent performance. The hand guard is free floated and the charging handle is ambidextrous. The mil-spec trigger group is a two-stage nitride coated offering.

Stepping up from the base rifle to U.S. Arms Company’s M-4 UTAW Pro Series reveals more Cerakote finish options and an upgraded drop-in Elftmann SE trigger. This trigger features an extremely short take up, with a clean and crisp break. The trigger breaks at 3.5lbs and has a very short and positive reset. This provides for an outstanding experience for the shooter at the range and in the field. Further upgrades include an ambidextrous Radian Raptor charging handle and a more ergonomic pistol grip by ERGO.

The top of the heap has to be the M-4 UTAW Champion series. The barrel used in the Gen I Champion series is constructed from a cold hammer forged 4150 chrome moly blank. This barrel is phosphate coated on the exterior and chrome lined on the interior with a nickel boron barrel extension.

A USAC nickel boron bolt carrier is installed in order to provide consistent smooth cycling. The gas system is engineering artwork taken to the bleeding edge of rifle technology by using a .750” SLR titanium gas block paired with an SLR mid length Melonite gas tube.

The trigger in this rifle is second to none in the form of an Elftmann Match Trigger, which is adjustable from 4lbs to 2 3/4lbs without having to remove the trigger from the rifle’s lower. It provides a custom trigger squeeze that is crisp, clean, and even with every shot.

Other upgrades include factory iron sights in the form of Magpul MBUS Pro steel sights. It is additionally outfitted with Radian’s Raptor charging handle, Magpul’s ACS butt stock and the option of going with either an M-905 Talon Muzzle Brake or a Strike Industries Venom flash hider. This rifle ships in a hard rifle case made by SKB.

The newest addition to the lineup of M-4 UTAWs in the Gen II UTAW Champion. This weapon mirrors many of the same features as the Gen I but sports a 16” or 20” .223 Wylde 416R stainless barrel, Magpull ASAP-QD back plate, ambidextrous safety selectors, and an upgraded trigger. This rifle has a planned release of January 2023.

As with any AR-15 rifle or pistol, there are options out there, but the offerings from U.S. Arms Company represent some of the best choices a shooter can make when choosing an effective, reliable, lightweight, and accurate platform.