Meet Ruger's AR-556: The Best 'Affordable' AR-15?

Warrior Maven

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One of the best that money can buy.

by Richard Douglas

Ruger’s first AR-15 debuted with the impressive SR-556 model. However, with its hefty price tag, the SR-556 was out of reach for many. With the AR-556, Ruger attempted to provide a bare-bones, functional AR-15 at a budget price. While the idea of owning an AR-15 may be intimidating, knowing some facts about them can ease some fears. Let’s break down the specifics.

Accuracy

The Ruger AR-556 delivers when it comes to accuracy. The AR-556 comes standard with a 16.10-inch barrel with a 1:8 rate-of-twist. The barrel length is typical for a carbine (better for medium range than long-range). The 1:8 rate-of-twist means that the gun can stabilize a wider variety of ammunition (anything from .33 grains to .77). The AR-556 has a front post, serrated to prevent glare. A “Rapid Deploy” rear sight can be flipped up with a button on the side. The front post can be adjusted for elevation changes with a sight tool, while the rear sight can be adjusted for windage. When taken to the range, the AR-556 excelled from zero-to-one-hundred yards (typical for a carbine sized rifle). At one hundred yards, the AR-556 shot an average of 1.51-inch five-shot groups. In a self-defense situation, accuracy is critical. The AR-556 provides just that. And if you want to boost accuracy, I recommend using an optic.

Reliability

When looking at a budget rifle, reliability is one of the most crucial factors to consider. (For another budget AR-15, consider the JR Carbine Gen 3). The AR-556 uses a direct impingement gas system. Direct impingement systems generally cost less, are lighter weight, and have a softer recoil. However, if you don’t clean your weapon, it can degrade more quickly than alternate systems. The AR-556’s barrel doesn’t have interior chrome lining. Chrome lining can prevent wear-and-tear. Unless you’re going to take your AR-556 to the range every weekend, you’re unlikely to shoot enough rounds through it to degrade the barrel. The AR-556 also comes equipped with M4 feed ramps. M4 feed ramps are a reliable way to feed bullets into the chamber without jamming. During testing, I encountered no issues with misfeeds or jams. While not the sturdiest gun on the market, the AR-556 is reliable for its price point.

Trigger

The weakest part of the AR-556 is the trigger. The trigger felt heavy and gritty. Heavy triggers need lots of force to pull, which can lead to inaccurate shots. The trigger pull weighed an average of seven pounds, eight ounces across ten measurements. In response to critiques of its trigger, Ruger released the Elite 452 AR-Trigger. The Elite 452 is a two-stage, 4.5-pound trigger that allows much more accurate shooting. You’ll most likely want to replace the trigger, either with Ruger’s Elite 452 or another aftermarket trigger.

Magazine & Reloading

The AR-556 comes with a single thirty-round Magpul PMAG. Magpul magazines have become the standard for AR-15 magazines. States with laws prohibiting 30 round magazines come with a smaller 10 round magazine.

Handling

The AR-556 has several features usually absent in AR’s at this price point. The gun comes with a brass deflector, which prevents hot casings from flying into your face when shooting. It also comes with a dust cover. Dust covers prevent the workings from getting jammed up by dust. The AR-556 also comes with a six-position adjustable shoulder stock. This allows you to adjust the gun to be shorter or longer to fit you. Ruger’s new delta ring (which holds the handguards in place) can be quickly removed, allowing you to customize or break down your gun with ease. The pistol grip is made of polymer and is covered with stippling to prevent slipping. The controls (fire selector, magazine release, etc.) are standard. It also comes with a QD socket (for attaching a sling) and a bayonet lug (if you want to get up close and personal with your targets). All in all, the AR-556 handles very well.

Length & Weight

The AR-556 weighs in at a light 6.5 pounds with an overall length of 32.25-35.50 inches (depending on the adjustable stock’s position.) The barrel, as mentioned earlier, is 16.10 inches. The gun’s size is typical for an AR-15 variant.

Recoil Management

The direct impingement gas system means the recoil on the AR-556 is low. In general, AR-15’s have very little recoil due to the small ammunition they use and their design. The AR-556 is no different.

Ammo Recommendations

The AR-556 is chambered for 5.56 x 45 mm NATO and .223 Remington. I recommend Winchester 5.56 NATO 55-grain full metal jacket loads as they turned in the best single grouping in my testing. Hornady Superperformance .223 Remington 55-grain GMX with ballistic tips and HPR Black Ops .223 Remington 62-grain open-tip frangible (OTF) also performed well.

Price

The AR-556 has an impressive price of only $700-$800. That’s very affordable. In fact, the AR-556 boasts some of the lowest prices you’ll see for an AR-15.

My Verdict?

The AR-556 is a budget AR-15. If you want a beginner AR-15 or a solid platform to customize, you can’t do much better than the AR-556. If you’re looking for a high-end AR-15, check out the Daniel’s Defense DDM4V11. Perfect for hunting, self-defense, and recreational shooting, the AR-556 does it all. It’s reliable, accurate and won’t break the bank. So jump on the AR-15 wagon and pick up an AR-556! You won’t be disappointed.

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared in large publications like The Armory Life, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.

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