The Best Rifle For Beginners

A basic rifle is the best choice for a beginner...

The midterm elections are upon us. The usual talking heads are pontificating and offering their opinions about guns. Which leads to a lot of people looking to buy their first gun, specifically an AR-15 rifle. But, is an AR the best for a beginner?

In not so many words, yes, an AR-15 pattern rifle is the best rifle for beginners. I’ll differ from my colleagues and also suggest that an AK-pattern rifle can be suitable for a beginner, and I will delve into that later. My criteria here is very basic - a sub-$1000 rifle that can be used effectively right out of the box by a beginner. It goes without saying that prior to purchase, one should educate themselves in firearms safety with a qualified instructor, of course.

My Recommendations For The Best Beginner Rifle

RifleCostBuy Now
Aero Precision AC-15$599Buy Now!
Ruger AR-556$553Buy Now!
Century C39v2$857Buy Now!

Aero Precision AC-15

Aero Precision, based out of Tacoma, Washington, got their start in life making aerospace components for big customers like Boeing. Production contracts being what they are (a flurry of activity and then periods of downtime), Aero Precision decided to take their expertise and start manufacturing AR-15 style rifles and components, using the same high-precision machinery they used to produce high-strength aircraft components. The experiment worked, and propelled Aero Precision into the forefront of the minds of cost-conscious firearms enthusiasts around the nation. I often use their components in my AR rifle builds, even.

Though they target the knowledgeable enthusiast, Aero Precision offers several complete rifle packages, including the AC-15.

The AC-15’s core upper and lower receivers are forged from 7075-T6 aluminum (aerospace-quality) and utilize military-specification parts such as the trigger, bolt carrier group, and takedown pins. One specific advantage of the version I am recommending is that it uses Aero’s Gen 2-style receivers, which sport a flared magazine well for easier magazine changes and is slightly lighter than the older version.

The 5.56mm barrel is a standard 16-inch length, 1 in 7 twist rate (which means you can use a wide variety of ammo) made out of chrome-molybdenum (chrome-moly), and finished with a QPQ process for rock-solid reliability and a long life. This version sports a mid-length gas system (the process by which the rifle cycles for the next round) which is now regarded as the industry standard. The top of the upper receiver has a standard Picatinny rail, so one can easily add accessories in the future, such as a rear sight or a full-blown red-dot optic. A standard front sight gas block and classic-style two-piece handguard finish off the upper receiver.

Typically a lot of these features are only found in higher-end rifles, but Aero chooses to make a consistent, quality product at a budget-minded price, perfect for the beginner.

At the range, the rifle performs flawlessly, accepting pretty much any decent ammo you can throw at it. Being an AR-pattern rifle, it will accept any standard AR magazine, such as a Magpul PMAG.

As a beginner, you will sometimes think it’s your equipment, but most of the time, it is you. The AC-15 by Aero Precision is an accurate performer, straight out of the box, and is definitely worthy of being a best rifle for beginners - and seasoned users!

Pros

  • Price. This rifle is amazing quality for the price. I use Aero components and am happy to see a budget-minded complete rifle from them.

  • Mid-length gas system. This is a feature normally found on rifles costing a lot more. A mid-length gas system increases the “dwell time” slightly as the rifle cycles a new round, which means more reliability. A shorter carbine-length gas system is reliable, yes, but the little extra percentage “tick” is nice.

  • Fit and finish. Aero Precision is definitely “precise”. The rifle is pristine.

Cons

  • The rifle doesn’t ship with a rear sight or a magazine. These parts are cheap, and you can usually pick them up at your local gun shop though.

Ruger AR-556

One of the great American firearms manufacturers is Ruger. Founded in 1949 by Alexander Sturm and Bill Ruger (the company’s formal name is Sturm, Ruger & Co, Inc), Ruger is actually one of the few firearms companies to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Known for their legendary products such as the 10/22 rifle, often used by Boy Scout troops, and their Mini-14, Ruger finally got into the AR-15 game a few years ago, with the latest being the AR-556.

Ruger’s take on the AR platform is in line with every other basic AR-15 out there, in the fact that Ruger chose to adhere to the specifications, rather than “Rugerize” it, which they have been known to do with their products in the past, i.e. making certain proprietary adjustments to lock you into their system. With the AR-556, you have a quality rifle that adheres to the specifications in every way, without breaking the bank. The core upper and lower receivers are machined from 7075-T6 aluminum for durability, with a military-spec trigger, takedown pins, and bolt carrier group. A standard six-position stock for adjustability is present, and the upper sports a classic-style handguard around the barrel. The upper has a short length of Picatinny rail in case you want to add an optic down the line. The barrel itself is 16.1 inches in length with a 1 in 8 twist and is finished on the outside with black oxide. The pistol grip is standard, though in a nice touch, lacks that irritating finger-rest that really just gets in the way on other basic AR-15s.

As shipped, Ruger also includes one 30-round (or 10 round if you live in a slave state) Magpul PMAG. You can unpack it, toss some lubricant (such as Breakthrough’s Battle Born - 305 4 Life, yo…) in the action, load up some ammo, and you are ready to go.

One thing you will note is that Ruger puts their logo on just about every component. The stock, the grip, the receivers, everything. It’s their branding, but some people might find it annoying. However, it obviously doesn’t affect the rifle’s functionality.

Ruger did step it up a little with this no-frills rifle. The firearm sports quick-disconnect sling mounts, which is usually something that is not included by a lot of other manufacturers.

At the range, the Ruger AR-556 performs without any malfunctions or issues. Users report running upwards of 500 rounds in a single session through the firearm, with no problems. The beginner will be absolutely pleased with the performance, with the rifle “digesting” just about any 5.56mm ammunition that can be thrown at it. This rifle may not be for competitive or precision use, but for a basic rifle for a beginner, the Ruger shines. Even if you gain scads of experience, I can see the Ruger being a favorite for years hence.

Pros

  • Price - at under $600 shipped, this is an amazing rifle by a storied American firearms manufacturer.

  • Included accessories - The AR-556 ships with both a rear sight and an included magazine. It’s ready to rock the minute you get it home.

  • Little touches - the QD sockets are a nice feature.

Cons

  • The inside of the barrel is not coated. This shouldn’t make a difference to the casual shooter, but for a high-volume user, the barrel will wear out faster. However, if you shoot out the barrel (i.e. 10,000 rounds or more…), you can probably afford to spring $200 for a replacement.

Century Arms C39v2

Some people just have to be different. While I always recommend an AR-15 style rifle for the beginner, some people just want to go another direction. But we are all free thinkers, so I can’t really stop people from going their own way. Hence, I have to toss in a recommendation for something different - the Century Arms C39V2 AK-style rifle. As the great warrior-poet Ice Cube once said, ‘If the day does not require an AK, it is good’.

However, if the day requires an AK, the Century Arms C39v2 will be there to serve.

Century International Arms got it’s humble start in St Albans, Vermont, by William Sucher. Originally just an importer of European weapons from both sides of the Iron Curtain, Century moved into manufacturing it’s own firearms when importation proved problematic at certain points in history, most notably in the late 1980s when George Bush chose to fix a problem that did not exist, and ban the importation of certain AK-style rifles.

One of their more recent offerings is, of course, the C39v2. Though, (obviously) based on the famous Russian AK-47 design, the C39v2 is 100 percent American made, at Century’s factory in Vermont. Staying true to the “AKM” standard, the C39v2 sports some very interesting tweaks and upgrades.

A major feature is the receiver. Most AK-pattern rifles utilize a stamped receiver, i.e. a basic piece of sheet metal stamped and cut by a machine. It is from this that an AK-pattern rifle gets it’s reputation as inaccurate. If one observes a slow motion video of an AK in operation, it is easy to see that the components are shaking all over the place, which obviously compromises accuracy. While a skilled shooter can overcome this, it is no easy task. The receiver is simply not strong enough to hold the parts to any degree of precision. Of course, this was a design feature to drive down costs, emphasizing the “good enough” ethos of the USSR.

However, on the C39V2, the receiver isn’t stamped, it’s milled (much like an AR receiver) out of a solid chunk of 4140-grade steel. It’s robust as hell, and keeps those components where they need to be, even during sustained firing. The receiver houses Century’s own AK trigger, the RAK-1, and provides a sturdy home for a 16.5 inch 1 in 10 twist rate barrel chambered in the AK-standard 7.62 x 39mm. The rifle’s bolt carrier is of a standard design, utilizing a long-stroke piston, just like pretty much every other AK out there. The safety selector is on the right side, and requires some authority to actuate. Of course, the C39v2 ships with AKM-style adjustable sights, which can be optimized for between 100 and 800 meter ranges. When handling, the term “overbuilt” comes to mind. This rifle is a beast. Depending on the iteration (the rifle can be purchased with classic wood furniture or more modern Magpul furniture), the rifle weighs in at a hefty 8.15 pounds unloaded.

The C39V2 ships ready to go, with two Magpul AK-style PMAGs, and of course with the requisite front and rear sights.

On the range, the C39V2 is a true champ. The milled receiver extensively aids in accuracy and definitely helps the user stabilize the rifle during courses of fire. Unlike the competition, the trigger on the C39V2 is actually of acceptable quality. Beginners, after getting used to the weight, can achieve “minute of bad guy” accuracy at real-world distances of 25 yards or so, even on the move. It’s a fun gun with a very practical application. Maintenance is a breeze, and yes, one can leave the rifle “dirty” for awhile and it will still function to specification.

For the beginner looking to be “different”, the C39V2 is a definite recommendation.

Pros

  • The solid steel milled receiver destroys the notion that an AK is inaccurate. The bulk stabilizes everything. Accuracy then becomes a pure exercise of shooter skill.

  • Quality US-made components put this rifle on par with any entry-level AR offering.

  • The rifle ships complete, it’s ready to go out of the box with a quick application of lube and a function check.

  • If one gets the Magpul version, the C39v2 truly appears to be a modern rifle - because it is.

Cons

  • The milled receiver comes with a weight penalty. If you aren’t used to the bulk, it can prove slightly fatiguing to hold over time. You can always work out, though.

Keeping It Basic

If one looks around at the advertisements for the top-tier rifle manufacturers, you’ll see the typical copy and visual elements. Giant bearded guys (and badass gun girls even) jumping out of trucks and helicopters, emergency lights ablaze, smoke popping, with stylish black rifles, usually sporting some awesome accessories like ACOGs and suppressors. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have an ACOG and suppressors are my favorite accessory ever, but for someone who is starting out, spending many thousands of dollars on such equipment can be overkill. Precision components and high-tech accessories sometimes can get in the way of the fundamentals, especially for the beginner. If one looks to the military, one will find that the US Marines have to qualify with their M4s using only iron sights at 500 yards. And those M4s are built by FN, because FN managed to satisfy the military specification for around $640 per complete rifle.

While us regular folk probably aren’t in the business of hitting things at 500 yards, the premise of learning on and continuing to train on basic equipment holds a lot of water. Electronics fail. Not everyone has, or can get a suppressor. In a real end-of-the-world scenario, the rifle you find will probably be a beater with nothing remarkable in the accessories department. If you’ve grown up on the basics, then it shouldn’t present a challenge when you are handed a basic rifle.

The convenient thing is that if one learns on the basics, and becomes proficient on commodity gear, adding in higher-quality equipment becomes a more fruitful investment. I’ve known well-financed beginners whom have invested thousands into their first rifle, usually of a certain German marque. They get the gun, a $2000 optic, and $2.00 per bullet ammunition. They go to the range, and the experience isn’t what they expect. They usually miss. However, they missed accurately. The bullet went precisely where they pointed the rifle.

Which is to say that they lacked the fundamentals. I don’t have any über-rifles, mine are commodity units with some mid-tier accessories. I still can’t outshoot the gun. If you’ve got that kind of funding, buy a basic rifle and spend the rest on ammo and training. In the end, you’ll have more fun, especially if you can show up the guy in the next lane with the “BMW” rifle.

I’ve accessorized most of my rifles over time, however I keep some of them “as-is”. I keep the GNAR-15 AR by GNAR (RIP GNAR, you are missed!) as-shipped. Flip-up sights, non-adjustable stock, no suppressor. It’s a little chipped and filthy, but it runs and there’s few points of failure. I don’t have to worry about the optic fizzling out or anything. The basic AR will just work.

On the AK side, I’ve kept the C39v2 as shipped. It’s a beast and fun to shoot, but I know I can leave it alone for months and it’ll still be ready to go. There’s no optic to worry about the batteries on, no suppressor to be concerned about having a baffle strike on - it’s just there and ready to rock.

If you want to know about the best rifle for the beginners, it’s the basic rifle. Spend a few hundred on the gun, invest the rest in training and education. Besides, even shooting the cheap gun is fun.

The best rifle for a beginner is a basic rifle

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