Shooting ARs on a Budget

We are blessed to live in an era with such a profusion of AR-style rifles. Among the most fun to shoot are those chambered in .22 LR. They are also very useful tools to improve your AR handling and marksmanship skills at a fraction of the cost. (Yes, I know that rimfire ammo is still scarce, but that doesn't change the fact that it is cheaper than centerfire .223 ammo and the shortage won't last forever. At some point the shooters who are hoarding the stuff will find their stockpiles adequate and stores will once again be able to keep .22s on the shelf.)

Shooters have two options with respect to AR .22 trainers. One is to get a dedicated .22 LR rifle and the other is to purchase a rimfire upper for an existing AR lower.

The best buy in a dedicated .22 AR is the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22. The controls on these rifles are identical to those found on a regular AR. The bolt release, magazine release and safety operate are all positioned the same and operate in the same manner, meaning that training on the .22 platform will provide a seamless transition when it comes to handling a larger AR.

The throw on the charging handle is not the same - on the .22 it doesn't move very far back - but I don't consider that a serious limitation.

Best of all, these rifles run like a cat on fire. I've shot numerous M&P 15-22s over the years and own one and they all have functioned flawlessly. The only problem I have with mine is prying it from the hands of my children who have an insatiable appetite for trigger time with the S&W.

Speaking of which, they are great rifles for kids. With a collapsible stock, the ergonomics couldn't be more kid friendly. Also the weight of the rifle, which is lighter than a typical .223, makes it simpler for a smaller person to wield. The cost is difficult to beat, too. You can get them for $520-$560, depending on the model.

The other option is to purchase a dedicated .22 upper. Companies like CMMG, DPMS, Tactical Solutions and many others make them and, in theory, they should just snap onto your lower and shoot. That isn't always the case, however. Functionality can be spotty with some upper and lower combinations and they can be picky about the types of ammo they like.

But don't let this scare you off. Having an upper that attaches to your lower gives an added degree of realism to your training, as the rifle will have the same trigger pull and will be closer to the weight of your centerfire AR. (Though you will have to purchase and use special magazines built for .22s.)

And plenty of shooters have had great success adding on a .22 upper. Cost of these varies, but you can plan on spending at least $500. Most companies also offer complete rifles in .22 LR. Those start around $800.