If you are considering purchasing an AR-style rifle, you've no doubt heard of both the AR10 and AR15 models. Of all the AR variants, these are the two most popular and successful designations. To understand the differences between the two models, let's take a quick look at the history of these rifles.
The History of AR10 and AR15
The first of these two variants to be released was the AR10. The AR10 was introduced in the late 1950s and was designed to be an easier-to-control, lighter option when compared to other infantry rifles available on the market at that time. Following WWII, the U.S. Army was actively working on replacing the aging and obsolete M1 Garand. The AR10 was one of several options the military explored to act as a widespread replacement. The AR10 was viewed favorably in field tests as it was reliable, accurate and considered relatively lightweight for a 7.62mm rifle at under 7 pounds empty.
Despite receiving high praise from several testers impressed with the design, ultimately the AR10 was not selected. Production of the AR10 was limited, and only several thousand units were produced for use by a few foreign militaries. Despite this, it became the archetype for AR-style rifles, and shortly after its release, the AR10 was rescaled and modified.
This modified version of the AR10 would eventually become the AR15. The AR15 would go on to become the M16, which became a standard service rifle. The AR15 design remained very similar to its precursor, with the main difference being the caliber and weight. The AR10 accommodates the .308W/7.62x51mm round, larger than the .223R/5.56x45mm caliber used by the AR15. Because of the smaller caliber, the AR15 could be produced with lighter parts since it didn't require the stress resistance that the .308 round demanded.
The AR15: Fast, Lightweight, Tactical
Of the two variants, the AR15 is by far the more popular and widely available on the market. The AR15 is well-known for its modularity, mobility and reliability. It is incredibly easy to clean and maintain, with all parts easily interchangeable and upgradable. Since it is so widespread globally, parts are abundant and finding affordable replacement parts is incredibly easy. Compared to the AR10, it is typically up to 2 pounds lighter depending on how it is configured. This makes it the more viable option of the two to carry over long distances.
Because of the rifle’s lightweight design and smaller caliber, a shooter is very easily able to click off several rounds accurately over shorter distances at a very high rate of fire. With is mobility and modularity, the AR15 can be adapted to fit a wide variety of situations and performs well in a tactical environment. Because of its lighter build, it consequently has less stopping power than higher-caliber rifles and may not be the most suitable choice for hunters or long-distance shooters. This is not to say the AR15 is not a choice for hunters; it just depends largely on the type of game the hunter wishes to pursue.
The AR10: Power, Distance, Accuracy
While the AR15 is essentially just the upgraded version of the AR10, there are still many reasons a shooter might opt for an AR10 instead. The most obvious accolade in the AR10’s favor is its higher caliber. The .308 has a greater range and flatter trajectory than the .223, making the AR10 a better distance rifle than the AR15. Whereas the AR15 is a lightweight tactical rifle, the AR10 could be considered more of a sniper rifle. This accuracy over distance, combined with its greater stopping power, makes the AR10 a much more suitable option for larger game.
The higher caliber doesn't come without drawbacks. The internal mechanics of the AR10 have to be sturdier and able to handle more stress from the .308 round; the rifle is consequently heavier. The larger cartridge also reduces magazine capacity, with a standard mag holding about 20 rounds compared to 30 in the AR15. The longer length of the AR10 limits its performance and viability in tactical situations; however, it is still a very manageable weight and still suitable for tracking game. The AR10 features the same modularity as the AR15; however, since it is not as popular of a variant, finding the right parts can be more difficult. Because of this, and when combined with the higher price of ammo, the AR10 can be considered less affordable overall than the AR15.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing between the AR10 and AR15, it’s not simply a case of "one is better than the other." Choosing between the two simply comes down to the needs of the shooter. The AR10 is powerful, accurate and reliable at the expense of being heavier. The AR15 is fast, accurate, tactical and lightweight at the expense of having less stopping power. Since they are chambered differently, trying to compare the two is as useful as comparing apples and oranges. Both are great options, and you can't go wrong selecting one over the other. In fact, it is not uncommon for the avid marksman to own both an AR10 and AR15 to easily be able to switch according to whatever a situation calls for.