Looking at the offerings from the classic 'big box' sporting goods stores like Bass Pro Shop, Cabelas, Academy Sports, Sportsman's Warehouse and others, there is a flood of AR-style modern sporting rifles available in several price points*. I spent a few days comparing popular models at these retail meccas and found that there is something for everyone.
One of the most cost effective offerings for a modern AR platform is the Bushmaster .223 SuperLight Carbine. These are available from a few big box sporting goods stores for around $699. True to its name, product weight on this handy carbine with a telescoping stock, flat rail, and 16-inch barrel is 5.1 lb. (without magazine), 6.1 lb. (with loaded 30-round magazine.)
Windham Weaponry is placing themselves ahead of the game with their warranty program. Photo by Windham.
One of the new players in the AR-market is Windham Weaponry, which is the resurrected old Bushmaster factory under new management. The $799 Windham Weaponry R16M4FTT uses a 16" M4-profile barrel of chrome-lined 4150 moly vanadium steel with a 1:9" RH twist, M4A4-type, flat-top upper receiver of forged 7075 T6 aircraft aluminum with a black anodized finish. Unlike many of the other manufacturers of ARs in the country, Windham offers a lifetime limited warranty (that is transferrable!). Bushmaster notably just offers a 1-year on most of their modern sporting rifles.
Bushmaster offers an upgraded version of their entry-level rifles with the ORC rifle. The ORC adds a chrome-lined bore and chamber to a M4 profile with A2 birdcage, milled gas block, and receiver-length Picatinny optics rail with two 1/2" optics risers for $899. If a more old-school look is desired Bushmaster offers their XM-15 A1 14M4 Telestock model with a fixed carry handle, A1-style fixed front, and magnesium phosphate barrel with phantom muzzle break for about $50 less than the ORC.
Remington's series of R-15 rifles is marketed more to hunters than anything else. Even on their website, the company lists it not under their 'Tactical Rifle' section (which are all bolt-action!) but under their center fire rifles. (photo by Remington)
Remington seems to be marketing their R-15 VTR-CP rifle to those who prefer to use the AR platform as a hunting and sporting arm. While most offerings in this platform type use a 16-inch carbine style barrel, the R-15 VTR-CP features a 18" free-floating ChroMoly barrel with a flattop design that screams 'put a full sized scope on me.' Coupled with what Remington calls a single stage hunting trigger and a 5-round shorty magazine, the company is all but asking that your next deer rifle be in .223Remington.
Core, a new name in ARs has several designs including a piston-rifle (seen above) however all I can find listed at the big boxes of theirs is the MOE M4. (photo by CORE)
Core, another new name in the AR game, distributes their Core 15 Moe M4 design for $879. This flattop features a stainless steel, Match Grade 3 Grove barrel and Magpul MBUS front and rear sights. The rifle is complemented by a gray Magpul Moe hand guard and a hard-coat, anodized black metal finish.
Smith and Wesson's basic M&P15 platform comes optics ready with a Picatinny-style rail for sight mounting over a 4140 steel barrel and 7075 Aluminum receiver. The facts that the barrel, gas key and bolt carrier are chromed are also useful. However, like Bushmaster, Smith only offers a 1-year general warranty on this firearm that retails for $949 at the big boxes.
$999.99 and Up
The Bushmaster M4A2 Type Patrolman's Carbine is a good representation in this price region at right at $999.99 as shown on Academy's page. Weighing in at 6.22 pounds with chrome lined 16 inch 1:9" RH twist barrel, the rifle is 34.75inches overall. It looks and feels like a semi-auto M4 variant with its old school fixed carry handle, Dual aperture M16A2 rear sight, mil spec finish, and composite furniture.
In further effort to make sure you are using your AR to its best capability as a sporting rifle, Remington offers their R-15 VTR Predator Rifle through big boxers like Bass Pro for right at $1149.99. With a nice long 22" fluted barrel, Realtree MAX-1 HD camo stock, and standard five round mag, it's a good choice for those four legged targets while still keeping your options open for a tactical rifle if needed in the same platform. For those proponents of having 'a single firearm' there is certain elegance to that concept.
Red Jacket Firearms, well known for their TV show Sons of Guns, has rapidly become a big name on the AR scene. Their KMP Direct Impingement 5.56mm Semiautomatic Rifle runs at the big box stores for about $1,199. Billed as having Mil-Spec components, 7075-T6 aluminum upper and lower, Magpul MBUS rear site and P-Mag magazine, chrome firing pin, MOE pistol grip, chrome lined 16-inch barrel with 1;7" twist, and nirtrocarburized gas tube, it is accessory loaded. With such well-chosen parts, it is easy to see why they have a lifetime warranty on both parts and labor. However, with the size of Red Jacket when compared to such giants as Ruger and Smith and Wesson, you have to roll the dice on if you may outlive the company.
There are several $2000+ AR designs available that are outside the scope of this article including the $2500 Red Jacket KMP-MkII Monolithic piston drive AR with Magpul UBR/CTR systems.
With these as comparison, keep in mind your small local gun shops, which often have better advice and firearms knowledge than uniformed instant sales clerks. Another good comparison is checking online prices through internet firearms auction favorites Gunbroker and others. With more styles of AR than flavors at Baskin Robbins, there is something out there for anyone.
(*Disclaimer- Of course these prices are a blend of the retails that are currently available and are not the MSRP nor special sale prices, are subject to change, can be had cheaper in used condition, you may know a guy that knows a guy, et al)