If you are considering getting a new rifle and wondering about the comparison of an AR-10 vs. AR-15 you’re in the right place. From collectors and plinking enthusiasts to serious hunters, the AR platform is unbelievably solid and has a reputation for reliability and power that can’t be ignored.
Many people are still on the fence about which one might be right for them, especially when you consider that the capabilities and uses of the AR-10 vs. AR-15 are very similar. However, we’re going to dive into some differences and hopefully take a lot of the confusion out of the question of which one may be the best rifle for you.
AR-10 vs. AR-15 Overview
The AR platform was initially born in the 1950s by ArmaLite, as a potential lightweight paratrooper sniper rifle. This initial model was the base for the AR-10 and eventually the AR-15, which we know and love today.
The AR-10 is the heavier rifle of the two and can weigh anywhere from about 7 pounds up to nearly 9, before the magazine and any ammo is added. The AR-10 is gas-powered and air-cooled and sends NATO 7.62x51mm by default. The detachable magazine holds 20 rounds and empties at the maximum rate of 700rpm.
The AR-15 uses the same gas impingement as the AR-10 which results in a slightly faster rate of fire when combined with the smaller 5.56mm average caliber. The AR-15 is magazine-fed and generally has a capacity of 20 to 30 rounds. The weight of the AR-15, at less than 7 pounds with a full 20-round magazine installed, is one of the reasons it is so different from the AR-10.
AR-10 vs. AR-15 Pros & Cons
When looking at the AR-10 vs. AR-15, it’s important to get a general look at all of the benefits and drawbacks for each one. Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of the AR-10 vs. AR-15.
- Lighter than many other rifles of the same caliber
- 7.62mm round gives it a superior range
- A bigger bullet means more kinetic energy
- The modular build makes maintenance & upgrades easy and affordable
- Manageable recoil
- More expensive than the AR-15
- Lower capacity
- Lighter than the AR-10
- Less recoil and climb than the AR-10, making target reacquisition faster
- Higher capacity
- A faster rate of fire and projectile speed
- Better penetration rates
- Lower effective range than the AR-10
- Physically smaller rifle, making maneuverability easier
- More ergonomic shape and feature set
- Easily managed recoil
- Modular build
- Cheaper, on average, than the AR-10
- Lower weight comes from softer construction materials, increasing the risk of mechanical damage
- The gas venting ports can result in soot build-up when using sub-optimal cartridges
- Must be more carefully cleaned and maintained
The Most Significant Differences In An AR-10 vs. AR-15
As you might suspect, while there are some incredible similarities on one hand, on the other hand, there are also some stark differences. Those differences are enough to completely delineate these two rifles from each other. Here is a deep dive into how and why those differences are important. You can also check our guide on the best AR-10 scopes.
Both rifles can be customized, more or less, into whatever their owner needs them to be, and that includes the caliber. That being said, the most common caliber for the AR-10 is 7.62x51mm NATO, or alternately, .308 Winchester. Since the .308 Winchester round creates several times the pressure of the 7.62x51mm, even though the rounds measure incredibly closely, using .308 cartridges in a 7.62x51mm can easily result in mechanical damage and personal injury.
The AR-15 is most frequently found in the 5.65x45mm or .223 Remington flavors. This creates a similar situation to the similarity between the AR-10’s two most common calibers. In this case, it’s the 5.65x45mm that shoots hotter than the .223 Rem, and getting the two similar cartridges mixed up can result in damage to the firearm or the shooter.
Since both rifles are relatively light, it creates the perfect opportunity to beef up the magazine capacity. This lets you fire more rounds before having to find time to reload. This results in a give-and-take on ballistics. While the rounds the AR-15 fires are faster and offer more penetration, they are also less effective at longer ranges.
The AR-10 will have larger rounds that are going to carry more kinetic energy to the target. This means the AR-10 will have an overall higher knockdown factor than the AR-15. This doesn’t make the AR-15 any less effective, and in many cases, it contributes to the lower perceived recoil that some people choose it for.
The difference in effective range of the AR-10 vs. AR-15 is not enormous, but it isn’t insignificant either. The AR-10 can reach out and touch reliably to about 600 yards, while the AR-15 will be most effective at 500 yards or less. The AR-15 can certainly be outfitted to drop targets at 600 yards, but the AR-10 will be more effective at the same extreme distance.
Overall Shooting Situation
Since the AR-10 is better for reaching the top-end of the range more reliably, it is better for long-range competitive shooting and hunting. The power of the projectile also makes the AR-10 better suited to hunting game larger than deer. The maneuverability, rate of fire, and lower recoil make the AR-15 better for close to mid-range competitions, hunting deer and anything smaller, and plinking.
This is where you may need to think a little further down the road, regarding what kind of parts maintenance and availability you may need to deal with. The AR-10 has two different types of sub-platforms, there is the original ArmaLite form factor, and the DPMS version.
The ArmaLite design can only accept the classic magazines, while the DPMS version can take several types of aftermarket styles. The AR-15 was designed for military use so all of the magazine fits are standard.
The AR-10 puts heavier loads downrange, but that adds weight to the construction. The AR-15 weighs an average of 5-6 pounds less than the AR-10. Once you factor in all of the attachments that you might use like scope, laser, tactical light, foregrip, or bipod, you could be looking at a significant addition of weight.
The recoil is something that each shooter will have to consider heavily. While the AR-10 is heavier and that mass helps reduce the felt recoil, it also fires more powerful rounds which push back harder. The AR-15 has less mass to mitigate recoil, but it also fires smaller rounds that don’t kick as hard.
Rate Of Fire
The rate of fire is another category in which there is only a small degree of variance, but that can make all the difference to some shooters. The AR-10 can fire at a rate of 700 rounds per minute, and the AR-15 can fire at 800 rounds per minute. This is a challenging compromise to weigh, since the AR-10 fires slower but kicks harder, while the AR-15 fires faster but with less recoil.
When looking at the compatibility of AR-10 vs. AR-15, the bolt catch is different and largely incompatible with each gun. There are a few exceptions, but in the majority of cases, an AR-15 upper will not join correctly with an AR-10 lower.
There are plenty of shooters out there that will tell you that the general rule of getting a rifle is “you get what you pay for”. This may be true occasionally, but it also implies that lower-cost guns are somehow lower quality, which simply isn’t true across the board. The prices of AR-10 vs AR-15 can vary quite a bit, and both are excellent rifles.
An AR-10 will generally set you back about $800 or $900 on the low end, to some incredible builds that can cost upwards of $8,000. With an AR-15, you can catch a little bit of a break, bottoming out at around $500, and hitting a ceiling at $3,000 or so, depending on build and attachments.
AR-10 vs. AR-15 Use Case Scenarios
Both the AR-10 & AR-15 are excellent, well-rounded rifles. Here are some general uses that the average shooter may have for either one.
Personal, home, and property defense are some of the most common reasons that shooters are looking to increase their equipment. If you are looking to protect your home or family, you are probably looking for a good AR-15. The gentler recoil and lower-mass rounds make over-penetration less likely, ideal when kids or other innocent bystanders are near.
The lower recoil of the AR-15 and the cheaper ammo makes it a great option for those who like to go plinking. No matter what kind of targets you’re using, the AR-15 will be cheaper and more comfortable to fire for long periods.
If you are hunting and want reliable performance no matter the distance or game, you are probably looking for a robust AR-10 build. Not only will the heavier projectiles give you better knockdowns and cleaner kills, but the longer effective range is good for unpredictable animal approaches.
Which Rifle Is Right For You?
There is no single right answer, however, when you are looking at the AR-10 vs AR-15, they are both solid rifles. Be sure you take into account what you’ll need it for, and the information in our comparison here, and you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision about whether the AR-10 or AR-15 is right for you.
Mike Fellon is an experienced firearms enthusiast and optics expert. He delivers unbiased and detailed rifle scope reviews. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He inherited his hunting passions after his father John – he was fascinated by his stories, hearing how much attention, focus, dedication and patience he invested in shooting every animal. When he was old enough, his father first allowed him to shoot some cans and bottles with his shotgun, and then took him hunting – it was love at first sight. Mike has never stopped shooting ever since.