There are few firearm platforms that are as versatile and fun to shoot than modern sporting rifles, or AR-15s. Originally designed by Eugene Stoner more than 50 years ago, the AR is light-recoiling, accurate and reliable, and more and more shooters are purchasing these firearms for competition, personal defense, hunting and target shooting than ever before. This surge in the popularity of ARs has also prompted gun manufacturers to develop their own versions of the vaunted AR, and some of these guns are great bargains. Here’s a look at five of the best modern sporting rifles that cost less than a grand to own.
1. Springfield Saint The Saint is a brand-new addition to the Springfield line, and for a budget AR it’s loaded with features. Like the Expanse it has an A2-style front sight, but the Springfield comes with a folding rear sight as well. It shares many of the same features as other rifles on this list—a direct-impingement gas operation system mated with a 16-inch barrel—but the really impressive feature of this rifle is the furniture that comes standard, notably the Bravo Company Buttstock and PKMT KeyMod Handguard with plenty of attachment points for adding vertical grips, rails, and so forth. This gun also has one of the best triggers in this class. MSRP: $899. Springfield-armory.com
2. Colt Expanse M4+ Expanse The Expanse M4+ is a very basic AR, perfect for the first-time owner who wants an affordable entry gun or a more experienced shooter looking for a rifle they can customize. At the heart of this rifle is Colt’s time-tested gas impingement system, and the upper and lower receivers are made from 7075-T6 aluminum which is light and durable. The barrel measures just over 16 inches and the stock is collapsible. There’s an A2-style front sight and no rear sight, but there’s plenty of space to mount a carry handle, and optic or a traditional rear sight if you’d like. At 6.44 pounds the Expanse is a light rifle, too. MSRP: $749. Colt.com
3. Ruger AR-556 The AR-556 utilizes a carbine-length (M4) gas system and comes with a six-position stock and a 16.1-inch barrel. The front A2-style sight is adjustable, and this rifle is equipped with Ruger’s Rapid Deploy folding rear sight as well. The barrel nut and Delta Ring are designed so that one person can quickly remove the handguard, a bonus if you like to swap out parts and customize your AR rifle. The 4140 chrome-moly steel barrel has a 1:8 twist rate, which means this rifle will stabilize .223/5.56 bullets ranging in weight from 35 to 77 grains. The AR-556 weighs in at around 6.5 pounds, making it a light AR rifle that is perfect for a wide variety of applications. The AR-556 now also comes in a state-compliant model for those who want to own an AR but are limited by local laws. $799. Ruger.com
4. Mossberg MMR Carbine Mossberg redesigned their MMR line last year and the first rifle to break cover was the MMR Carbine. One of the features of this rifle not found on other guns listed here is the flat-top full-length rail system that comes with adjustable sights pre-mounted. This generous top rail space provides plenty of room for adding any combination of lights, magnified optics, red dots and magnifiers that you would like. Other features of this rifle include a Mossberg M-Lok fore end and a six-position stock with three quick detach swing swivel points. At seven pounds this rifle is slightly heavier than some of the other guns here, but it comes with a number of great features. MSRP: $910. Mossberg.com
5. Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport II The Smith & Wesson comes in as the most affordable rifle on the list, barely sliding under the Colt’s $750 price tag, but it’s a great option for anyone who simply wants a do-all AR with a host of basic features and excellent accuracy potential. It has an adjustable A2 front sight and folding Magpul MBUS rear sight, a six-position collapsible stock, and an Armornite protective finish on the 16-inch, 1:9 twist barrel. Smith & Wesson engineered the M&P 15 Sport II for a variety of applications from hunting to defense, and like any true AR the beauty of this gun is its outstanding versatility. $739.smith-wesson.com