AR10 vs AR15: Which Rifle is Better?

The AR-15 rifle might get the most coverage, but it isn’t the only AR platform out there. It’s all too easy to forget the AR-10, the rifle made to handle bigger cartridges and longer-range shots (as a general rule). Which one should you get? Which is the better gun?

AR15 vs AR10: here’s what we have to say about it.

AR-15 and AR-10 on bipods
The AR-15 is a ridiculously popular platform. But what about the AR-10? (Photo credit: Team Never Quit)

Love the AR-15 platform rifle? You might like the AR-10 rifle even more. (Photo credit: ARGearJunkie.com)

AR10 vs AR15 — Which Came First?

It’s a rather common misconception that the AR-15 was designed before the AR-10. In reality, Eugene Stoner created the gas operating system for the AR-10 before the AR-15 had even begun. Early prototypes of the AR-10 platform rifle appeared in 1955 and it was sometime in 1956 when the AR-15 was designed (and 1958 when the design was fine-tuned for production). So not only is the AR-10 literally bigger, it’s also technically the older of the two.

Two AR-15's set up on bipods on the ground.
The AR-15 has been around for almost seven decades. (Photo credit: Team Never Quit)

What’s an AR-15 Good For?

The great thing about the AR-15 is how versatile it can be. It doesn’t matter if you want a gun for home defense, hunting, range use, or to carry as a truck gun; the AR-15 does it all. Part of what makes it so multi-purpose is the wide array of calibers and barrel lengths it’s offered in, but it has a lot of accessories that broaden its use as well. That means that even within each category of use there are practically endless sub-categories.

Man standing with AR-15 on truck bed with woman sitting beside him with an AR-15.
Yes, you can hunt with AR-15s. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

A good example of the platform’s versatility is the use of an AR-15 for close quarters (CQB) work. The AR-15 platform gives you quite a few options from carbine-length barrels of 16 inches to set up a short-barreled rifle (SBR) which involves tax stamps to get the sub-16-inch barrel length approved (along with the suppressor you’d probably want on it). In addition, 300 BlackOut was specifically made for CQB with an AR-15, making it an ideal setup if you have the means and patience to get an SBR going. Of course, you can stick with a carbine and not worry about getting or paying for a stamp for a short barrel.

AR-15 ready to go
The AR-15 is a cool platform that can be used for just about anything. (Photo credit: Axelson Tactical)

And if you’re a hunter, you’ll find out the classic 223 Remington chambering in the AR-15 is very well-used among hunters chasing smaller game and varmints. If you want to go after a slightly bigger game, just get a larger caliber AR-15 like one in 450 Bushmaster or 50 Beowulf.

 
AR-15 platform close up.
Infantry typically uses the AR-15 platform.

What’s an AR-10 Good For?

As a larger, heavier rifle, the AR-10 is often used for long-range, precision shooting, and hunting. Snipers in the military lean more heavily on the AR-10 due to its greater ability to reach and touch distant targets with stunning accuracy, while infantry guys typically use AR-15 platforms. (It is vital to note the guns the military uses are not the same AR platforms you get at the gun store, they’re M16s and M4s, which have a full-auto option and cannot be owned by a civilian without a lot of money, paperwork, and approval steps).

AR-10 with riflescope and two extra magazines
AR-10s like this Ultralight Ranger from Wilson Combat are a thing of beauty. (Photo credit: Wilson Combat)

Yes, an AR-10 is noticeably larger and heavier than an AR-15, but it’s for good reason. AR-10 rifles have longer barrels and are chambered in bigger, harder-hitting calibers. They’re also legal to hunt game in states where the AR-15 is not legal in its traditional caliber. With an AR-10 you might sacrifice some degree of portability, but that doesn’t mean they’re that difficult to carry, because they’re not. The AR-10 has a lot of uses and things to recommend it, not the least of which is the kind of precision you can get from it.

What Calibers Does an AR-15 Come In?

When the AR-15 rifle was originally created by Eugene Stoner it was chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO/223 Remington. Today that remains the chambering a lot of people associate with the AR-15 rifle, but there are actually a lot of other options out there. Some possibilities for AR-15 rifles include:

  • 56x45mm NATO
  • 223 Remington
  • 300 BlackOut
  • 243 Winchester
  • 224 Valkyrie
  • 22 Nosler
  • 204 Ruger
  • 350 Legend
  • 450 Bushmaster
  • 50 Beowulf
  • 458 SOCOM
  • 6mm ARC
  • 222 Remington
  • 30 Remington AR
  • 50 Action Express
  • 223 Winchester Super Short Magnum
  • 8 SPC/SPC II
  • 5 Grendel
  • 300 HAM’R
loose 308 Win cartridges in a pile
308 Winchester has been around for a long time and remains a relevant, useful cartridge. (Photo credit: Ammo by Pistol Pete)
.223 Remington cartridges
(Photo credit: Ammo by Pistol Pete)

What Calibers Does an AR-10 Come In?

The AR-10 is bigger and so are the calibers it’s offered in. That means you can go for a classic like 308 Winchester or get one in 6.5 Creedmoor if you’re more interested in precision rifle shooting (PRS). This isn’t a complete list but it gives you an idea what’s out there:

  • 308 Winchester
  • 5 Creedmoor
  • 220 Swift
  • 22-250 Remington
  • 6mm Creedmoor
  • 7mm Winchester Short Magnum
  • 300 Winchester Short Magnum
  • 338 Federal
  • 6 BlackOut
  • 458 HAM’R
  • 260 Remington
  • 7mm-08 Remington
  • 500 Auto Max
  • 45-70 Auto (not to be confused with 45-70 Government, which is a lever-action cartridge)
Acme Machine AR-10 in 6.5 Creedmoor
The Acme Machine AR-10 in 6.5 Creedmoor is an awesome rifle that’s very precise. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

AR10 vs AR15, Which is Better?

It might be infuriating, but the answer to this is “it depends.” Whether the AR-15 or AR-10 is the correct platform for you depends on what you’re using it for and what you want. Would you want the bulk and length of an AR-10 for home defense use? Probably not, you’d want an AR-15 in something like 300 BlackOut or 223 Remington. Conversely, would you want an AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel for long-range shooting? No. Even cartridges like 224 Valkyrie can’t keep up with the trajectory and precision of an AR-10 in 6.5 Creedmoor.

man aiming AR-10
Yes, it is possible to shoot an AR-10 offhand. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

Guns are tools, and that includes the AR platform. The AR-15 and AR-10 are both tools and should be selected for the job you need to handle, whether that’s defensive, hunting, or range time. This is fantastic because it gives you a logical reason to own numerous ARs from both platforms. Now, that said, if what you want is more of a jack-of-all-trades rifle, you’ll want an AR-15 so you are not sacrificing maneuverability and ease of use.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens aiming AR-15
450 Bushmaster is just one possible chambering for the AR-15. (Photo credit: Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

It’s accurate to say there are a lot of ways the AR-15 has an edge. It has more customization and modularity options, the parts are far more interchangeable than on an AR-10, and it is offered in a larger number of calibers. The AR-10 is no slouch, though; AR-10s are ideal for long-range work and hunting larger game and predators. When you want to be truly confident that one shot will do it, the AR-10 is your gun. And when your goal is making 1000-yard precision hits, you want an AR-10. It isn’t that both platforms can’t do it all—because they can. But they both offer a lot of pros for specific applications. Choose wisely, but in the end, why not both?

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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