First, let’s clear up what an AR is. Many outside of shooting culture often mistakenly refer to “AR” as an assault rifle or army rifle, which is not true at all. Both rifles were products of a small arms engineering company called ArmaLite. The AR designations refer to the manufacturer: Armalite Rifle.
Established in 1954, the ArmaLite company was originally a subdivision of Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, which means its engineers had access to modern aircraft technology and materials.
A Historical Overview of AR-10 and AR-15
Regardless of its rough start in the ’50s and ’60s, the AR-10 has earned a special place in small arms history as a foundation for the AR-15/M16/M4 family it spawned. Today, the AR-10 is a category of modern sporting rifles with a reputation for being accurate, reliable and chambered for full-power cartridges.
The AR-15 can be considered an evolution of Stoner’s original AR-10 concept developed to answer the Army’s request to replace older guns dating from World War II. A few years after the AR-15, Armalite engineers Jim Sullivan and Robert Fremont developed a scaled-down rifle chambered for the lighter .223 Remington (M193) rounds and submitted it for testing by the U.S. CONARC (Continental Army Command).
Unlike its big brother, the AR-15 won the military contract in 1962, when the new owner of Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC started the mass production of the AR-15 for U.S. Air Force troops. The new rifle and cartridge were re-designated as M16 and were baptized by fire in the jungles of Vietnam, where ground troops found the 5.56 (M193) AR-15 was much easier to carry and shoot effectively than the M14 battle rifle 7.62mm in service at the time.
Like its predecessor, AR-10, the AR-15 was built using an alloy mix of steel, aluminum, and glass-reinforced plastics. Originally, both rifles used the direct impingement (DI) system that reduces the overall weight of these guns compared to rifles utilizing a gas piston-driven system.
Being a lightweight and compact rifle, the AR-15/M16 immediately became the most versatile small-arms system as full auto in the military and semi-automatic in the commercial market.
AR-10 VS AR-15: A Basic Comparison
Though the AR-10 and AR-15 rifles use an innovative in-line barrel/stock configuration, a rotating bolt design and produce relatively light recoil, they are different classes of weapons intended for opposed tasks.
Let’s review the fundamental technicalities of these two formidable weapons first.
|Bullet Diameter||0.308 (7.82mm)||0.224” (5.7mm)|
|Unloaded Weight||18-10 lb||6-8 lb|
|Overall Length||42 inches||39 inches|
|Standard Magazine Capacity||20||30|
|Muzzle Velocity||2,700 fps||3,150 fps|
|Effective Range||600-1,000 yards||300-500 yards|
|Rate of Fire||650/min
|Manufacturer||Armalite, Artillerie Inrichtingen (A.I.)||Armalite, Colt, FN, H&R, Remington, Daniel Defense|
|Designer||Eugene Stoner||Eugene Stoner|
- Chambered for a full power cartridge 7.62x51mm/.308 Win
- Available in other powerful hunting rifle calibers
- Excellent round for hunting all North American large game
- Very accurate over long distances
- Produces a sharp, powerful recoil
- Not very handy due to longer overall length
- Not as modifiable and modular as the AR-15
- Chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO and .223 Remington ammo, which are widely available and cheap
- Perfect rifle/cartridge system for target shooting, plinking and varmint hunting
- Low recoil — ideal for recoil-sensitive people and follow-up shots
- High magazine capacity allows plenty of firepower
- Easy to maneuver and shoot
- Highly customizable
- Not suitable for hunting of large game
- The effective hunting range limited to 200 yards
- The 5.56/.223 Rem can be quite loud
- Potential over-penetration through objects
AR-10 vs. AR-15: More Detailed Comparison
The first eye-catching difference between the ARs is the caliber. AR-10 rifles are designed to fire full-sized 7.62×51 ammo, whereas the AR-15 are initially chambered for smaller .223/5.56 ammunition.
As a direct successor, AR-15 shares several interchangeable parts with the AR-10, such as triggers, buffer tubes, gas tubes, pins and springs.
Side-by-side, there is a noticeable physical difference between .308 and .224 caliber rounds. You can easily carry your AR-15 over long periods loaded with more ammo when it translates to weight. Standard AR-10 magazine is a 20-round capacity, whereas the AR-15 maxes out in a 30-round high-capacity magazine. Due to the smaller dimensions and because it’s loaded with lighter ammo, the AR-15 offers lighter weight and less recoil paired with faster, more accurate follow-up shots.
On the other side, the AR-10 fires bullets roughly three times the weight of the bullets coming out of an AR-15. Furthermore, it fires the standard 7.62mm NATO round loaded with a 147-grain projectile around 2,800 feet per second with 2,559 foot-pounds of energy.
The AR-15 shoots 5.56x45mm NATO M855 topped with a 62-grain bullet at 3,110 feet per second and will generate 2,559 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. As such, the AR-15 is suitable for shooting targets at typically under 500-yard ranges.
With an overall length of 42 inches, the select-fire battle rifle AR-10 is slightly bigger (3 inches precisely) and heavier, 7.25 pounds vs. 6 pounds.
What Do You Want to Use the Rifle For?
When purchasing any type of firearm, the main factor would be what you are planning to use it for. Speaking of an AR-10 vs. AR-15, if you are planning long-distance shooting or big-game hunting the AR-10 chambered in 7.62×51 NATO or .308 Win is an obvious choice.
For fans of high-volume shooting and plinking or small-game hunting the AR-15 and 5.56mm/.223 Remington is a win-win combination.
Compared to the .30-caliber big brother with reddish-brown furniture, the small black rifle (AR-15/M16) allows operators to carry more rounds of ammo. But the flip-side of lighter ammo is a somewhat limited efficient range. For the military, it’s about 500 yards, but for an ethical hunter, it’s up to 200 yards for shooting at varmints and predators. The effective hunting range of an AR-10 and its significant power 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester cartridge is around 600 yards, making it better for hunting large game.
Your choice will depend on your intended use and budget. The AR-15 is more suitable for hunting small varmints or for 3-gun competitions and plinking, while the AR-10 is better designed for big game hunting or engaging in extreme long-range shooting. Generally, the AR-10 is more expensive with more pricey ammo.
The keyword for AR-15 success is modularity, particularly regarding rifle calibers, different configurations and purposes. The main advantage of AR-15 in comparison to AR-10 is modularity. A massive influence on the AR-15’s popularity has been its widespread standardization, while the modern AR-10 just started in recent years to use some common patterns for AR-10 parts.