Embrace the Rifle — An Argument for the Full Sized AR in SHTF

The civilian AR market is dominated by the 16-inch AR 15. It’s the most common configuration out there for the average Joe. Sure plenty of 14.5 carbines, SBRs, and pistols exist, but the carbine dominates. I’ve been recently thinking about the best variant of the AR 15 for a serious survival, world ending, societal collapse, SHTF situation. I came to the conclusion that the AR 15 in a rifle configuration was the way to go. 

By most definitions, any AR 15 is a rifle, but when I say rifle configuration, I’m talking about the version with a 20-inch barrel—versions that are similar to the original M16. The shorter variants are considered carbines. For the sake of this article, when I say rifle, I’m specifically talking about the AR with a 20-inch barrel. 

Why the rifle? 

I don’t think a carbine would be a bad choice. The intention of this article is not to put down anyone else’s choice. I just want to make my argument for the rifle. There are specific advantages the rifle offers that carbine variants do not. I’m also six foot five inches tall, and as a shorter friend pointed out, that certainly makes it harder for me to see all the disadvantages of the rifle. 

For a serious survival situation, I don’t see a lot of instances where the carbine offers a significant advantage over the rifle purely based on the situation. First and foremost, I’m not going to be engaging in CQB in an SHTF situation. 

Trijicon ACOG atop an M16A4, c. 2010 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan
The M16A4 long served the Marine Corps.

Room clearing is a great way to become a casualty, and even with a group of people, we don’t have the same logistics as the military or police to treat casualties. We also don’t have machine guns, frags, rocket launchers, or other handy weapons for clearing rooms. 

Vehicle travel will also likely be very limited with clogged roads and dead supply lines. So working in and out of vehicles might not be a realistic scenario. My main tactics in a fight will likely be retreating while laying down fire. If I want to survive, that’s the reasonable thing to do. 

With that said, let’s look at some of the reasons I think the rifle version of the AR is best for SHTF. 

5.56/.223 is designed for a 20 inch barrel. 

When Remington came up with the .223 cartridge, they intended it to be fired from a 20-inch barrel. When fired from a  20-inch barrel, you get a smooth operating weapon. Concussion is minimized, as is recoil and muzzle rise. A 20-inch rifle is much easier to control and a much smoother shooter. 

SHTF AR-15 rifle
A good rifle can take you a long way.

Muzzle flash is also reduced, and that can be valuable when firing in low light. It’s less likely to create muzzle flash issues for you as a shooter, and also, the flash signature is reduced, making you harder to target. 

The rifle offers better ballistics.

To piggyback on my first point, the AR 15 with a 20-inch barrel offers better ballistics than the most common forms of 5.56 ammo, the M855 and M193. Sure, there are plenty of great rounds designed for shorter barrels that are fantastic, but they are nowhere near as common as M855 and M193

The rounds fly faster with a greater velocity which translates to a slightly longer effective range. This longer effective range and the higher velocity of the round help ensure it yaws when it hits the body and fragments. These two events occur best at 2,500 feet per second, and a 5.56 fired from a 20-inch barrel holds that velocity out to 200 meters, giving it about 50 more meters of effective range. 

Full-size AR-15 rifle
It might be big, but it offers a lot of advantages.

From a defensive perspective, it’s nice, but it’s also nice for a clean kill on an animal you intend to eat. Having a little extra range and dropping a deer efficiently is valuable. You want to avoid having to trail the deer and expend extra energy, so a little more guarantee with non-soft point ammo is a nice thing to have. 

Punches Through Stuff 

That extra velocity with M855 and M193 can also add up to better penetration. The 5.56 isn’t well known for its hardcover penetrating capabilities by any means, but with a 20-inch barrel, it does poke through things a bit better, even with standard rounds. Glass, light barriers, car doors, etc., tend to be easily penetrated by 5.56 and typically retain their energy better when fired from a rifle due to the longer barrel and higher velocity. 

Travis Pike aims full-size AR-15 with 20-inch barrel
The 20-inch AR is more reliable and hits harder.

Most famously, M193 from a 20-inch barrel will punch through a plate of AR 500 armor. Ar 500 plates from various manufacturers are extremely common inside and outside of the greater gun community. These plates are made everywhere by everyone in various degrees of quality. With that said, being able to punch through an aggressor’s armor can be quite handy. 

Better Durability 

A rifle-length gas system means the gas has to travel through a longer tube, and this lowers its velocity. This translates to less force and violence when the gas strikes the bolt carrier group. Less force and violence result in less stress on the internal parts. This makes it more durable over long periods of time. That might be a pretty important consideration in a long-term SHTF survival scenario. 

Longer Sight Radius 

Admittedly we live in the age of optics, and an LPVO would be the perfect choice for a rifle-sized AR 15. A good 1-6X will take you far. Most optics are also incredibly durable. However, should one break, your backup iron sights will have a longer sight radius than a carbine is capable of. This helps you shoot more accurately at longer ranges. 

AR-15 rifle for SHTF
A thing of beauty.

Problems With the Rifle Version of the AR 

The carbine exists because the rifle isn’t perfect. It’s a little heavier and a good bit longer. I would certainly suggest a shorter LOP stock like the Magpul rifle stock. Another great option is an M16A5 stock setup with a collapsing stock. 

Even then, the rifle is still a bit long. As such, you’ll need to deal with its hanging and banging while you try to work, do chores, and go about other tasks. If you are forced to clear a room or fight in a building, the longer rifle can be more difficult to maneuver. To deal with admin chores, I suggest a modern sling with a good overtighten mechanism like the Arbor Arms Dual Adjust Weapon Sling. 

For fighting in close quarters, learn to short stock and realize Marines cleared Falluajh mostly with M16A4s. You can do it too. It’s not perfect, but it can work. To me, the rifle offers you some advantages worth considering for a long-term SHTF scenario. Even if you don’t agree, I hope I’ve given you a few points of consideration. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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