We all know that the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America. Specifically, it’s the 16-inch barreled M4 Carbine with its collapsible stock that is actually making the AR-15 so popular. The original AR-15/M16 rifle with the 20-inch barrel in A2 (fixed carry handle) or A3 (removable carry handle) has fallen on hard times in the popularity contest.
Why? Primarily, I think it is due to three reasons. First, the transition of the U.S. military to the M4 carbine. Second, the handiness of the M4 with its shorter barrel, adjustable stock and lighter weight. Third, the “cool factor.” (The latest iterations of the M4 from various companies just look so 21st Century compared to the dated looks of the AR rifle.) But, do these reasons justify the carbine over the rifle for every use or user? I don’t think so.
The 5.56mm caliber adopted by the military for the original M16 was optimized for use from 20-inch barrels. Velocity is nominally 3200fps with the 55-grain bullet. The standard quoted muzzle velocity for a 55-grain bullet from a 16-inch M4 barrel is in the range of 2900fps. If you are shooting an M4 that has a 14-inch barrel with a permanently mounted flash hider, then the velocity loss may be greater. Clearly, a 20-inch barrel maximizes the ballistic potential of the 5.56.
If you have never fired an AR rifle, or have been using M4’s for a while, you will notice a big difference in blast and activity when shooting the rifle. The M4 has a more abrupt firing cycle. The tube that brings gas back to cycle the bolt carrier is shorter than the rifle-length tube. The gas blasting into the bolt carrier is hotter, with more unburnt carbon in it, which makes the carbine dirtier to shoot than the rifle. The rifle also feels smoother to shoot due to it having a bit more weight and less muzzle blast—the muzzle is farther from your face and most of the powder is burnt within the barrel, not outside it. When using iron sights, I can wring a bit more accuracy from the rifle due to the increased distance of the sighting plane.
So, where does the AR-15 rifle fit into the overall scheme of things? The Del-Ton Alpha 220H is the rifle I carry secured in my truck for emergency use or call outs. It is of A2 configuration with standard round military handguards. No extras are hung on it, and 20 round magazines (for compactness) fuel it. Its iron sights give me the ability to hit most targets near and far, with a bit more authority than a similarly equipped M4. The stock is fixed, guaranteeing quick action, and it contains the standard military cleaning kit—or anything else you need to stow. The Alpha 220H is a ranch/trunk do-anything gun that you won’t be afraid to bang up, and the fixed carry handle provides carry flexibility if you trek with it over a long distance.
While the M4 wins the beauty and popularity contests, there is much to commend the original AR-15 rifle, especially if you don’t need it as a room-clearing gun (although it does work for that). The Del-Ton Alpha 220H has a beautiful price tag though: $780 MSRP. When combined with the advantages over the carbine, an AR-15 rifle may better meet your needs.
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