I friend just asked about getting a new economical AR. “What I’m looking for at first is pretty much everything the S&W M&P15 Sport II has – short barrel, adjustable stock, magpul flip sight and sling mount points. BUT, I would want to replace the hand guard with a rail system so I can mount a flashlight. I’d also want to eventually accessorize with a red dot sight.”
So first let’s looks at the S&W M&P15 Sport II , it has a very inexpensive, with street price of $619. There are a couple of items that I’m not a big fan of like the carbine gas length which is not as soft shooting as the mid-length and provides less room for hands and accessories. The barrel is 1 in 9 twist, makes 77gr a no go, and really ideal for 55gr. On the positive side, 1 in 9 should be good got .22lr plinking with a 22 conversion kit, if that is a future choice he might make, and makes the gun a do everything, but nothing well rifle.
I really like Palmetto State Armory as my go to vendor for AR-15 crap. They do a lot of daily specials, and it really pays to get there email blasts daily and just keep an eye out. What I did today was look at what they have today, if I was going to put a budget AR-15 together today (October 2, 2016).
I found a complete lower with, Moe Magpul furniture, PSA enhanced trigger which is a GI trigger that has been polished on the contact surfaces and coat in a slick nickel finish. This is a significant upgrade. It’s not my favorite MOE stock, as it does not have the friction lock, but the trigger is a great no nonsense, better then GI trigger upgrade.
Now, if my buddy just wants to hang a flashlight on his rifle, then there is no needs to go with an aluminum rail, a MOE hand guard that takes m-lok rail pieces could easily hold his flashlight. With a white light there is no need for the perfect alignment that a laser needs, so being off a degree or two is OK. This has a 416R stainless steel mid-length 1 in 7 twist barrel. Read this article on steels used in AR-15 barrels, the short version is go with the 416. 416 is rust resistant and more accurate, the only time I would go chrome lined 4150 would be if it’s a go to war rifle, never going to get cleaned and going bang and ejecting is more important than accuracy.
Now we are still missing a couple of parts, a charging handle, bolt carrier group and a rear sight. The S&W M&P15 Sport II says nothing about it’s charging handle (can’t tell if it is 7075 or 6016, which would not be as good) or BCG, but both seem of good quality from what I can tell from other reviews online. This is what we care about in the BCG: Properly Staked Gas Key, Extractor Spring and proper insert, Shot Peened Bolt, (HPT) High Pressure Tested & (MPI) Magnetic Particle Inspection. In the charging handle we want it to be forged, not extruded.
A boron coated BCG with forged charging handle, this would be easier to clean and MAY require a little less lubrication, it contains the o-ring insert that helps with tension on the exactor, and seems to have what we want in a good BCG. Charging handle is good to go.
So, we are at $520 and still need to purchase a rear BUIS (Back up Iron Site). You could pick up a Magpul MBUS Gen 2 for $55 from PSA. You could also consider a carry handle if you want to be able to quickly zero it for different ammo or do any “appleseed style shooting” and you are not going to put a red-dot or other optic on it, or a least a fixed rear sight that still leaves room for a red-dot, like the Green Blob 🙂 for $17.
So for less than $600 you can get a better rifle than the S&W M&P15 Sport II and not have to assemble anything other then 2 push pins that hold the lower and upper together.
If you are already paying shipping you can pick up your M-LOC accessories from PSA also and just be done with it, or go the Chinese e-bay route, a rail for airsoft is a fine place here to cut corners. If you go with the Green Blob you will have about $550 in a great rifle, that will need optic/sight upgrades in the future, but the rifle itself is a serious upgrade from the S&W and you will have something that you can shoot right away as you research optics……