Part 2. The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)

Part 2: (History) In order to better understand the capabilities of the modern AR style rifle and how it can be an invaluable tool in the right situations, it’s important to understand its origins and history (both good and bad).

This article is Part 2 in a series of posts.  Read Part 1: (A Little Background)

Knowing these facts can help you make a more informed decision as you purchase or build your ultimate survival carbine.  The history of the carbine in our society and the part its played in military applications has a very long and sordid past.  


During Vietnam the military switched from the tried and true M14 platform to the M16 platform.  There were a lot of complaints from the soldiers on the ground using the new weapons (often with good reason), many of these were related to reliability and functionality of the direct gas impingement system and the terminal ballistics from the new smaller 5.56×45 NATO cartridge the M16 used; as opposed to the larger and more formidable 7.62×51 NATO cartridge that was fired from the very reliable M14 rifle.

Some of the positive aspects of the M16 were the lighter configuration, ergonomics and expanded magazine capacity.  

The most modern variation of the U.S. combat rifle is the M4 carbine.  It was adopted by the U.S. Army in the mid 1990’s and replaced the M16.  Both the M16 and M4 carbine use the same 5.56 mm NATO round with similar design and functionality.  

The M4 carbine is available in a number of M4variations depending on the specific military or law enforcement applications it is used for.  One of the interesting notes is that the M16 and the M4 carbine have about 85% of the same parts compatibility.

Some of the nice features of the M4 carbine are that it is lighter, more compact and has a number of attachment options which allows for greater flexibility in use.  In comparison with the AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 -Soviet-Made 7.62×39 mm Assault Rifle) the modern M4 carbine has a reputation for being more accurate at a greater range. 

The civilian version of the U.S. military M16 / M4 carbine is usually referred to as an AR15 or simply AR and in most variations is almost identical.  Other than being semi-automatic, if it is constructed according to MIL-SPEC, it’s almost completely interchangeable with the military M16 / M4 carbine select fire variations.

Quick Fact

An interesting fact is that ArmaLite sold the rights and designs of the AR10 and AR15 to Colt in 1959, from which Colt started designing the M16 assault rifle and later the M4 carbine.  This is where we got the name AR (from ArmaLite).

The AR

From Wikipedia:

“The AR-15 is based on the 7.62mm AR-10, designed by Eugene Stoner of the Fairchild ArmaLite corporation.”

Some attractive features of the AR style rifle is that: with a simple barrel and receiver switch,SEAL using the MK12 Sniper Rifle Firing 5.56mm round this rifle can fire numerous different calibers and sizes of ammunition.  It is almost completely customizable.  

This rifle can be a personal defense firearm at less than 30 inches long or a sniper rifle (MK12) over 50 inches (read “Lone Survivor” for a good book about a SEAL team using the MK12 sniper rifle in Afghanistan; also see Video of Blackwater Snipers in Iraq using MK12). The standard magazine is 30 rounds, but aftermarket 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, 90, and 100 round magazines and drums are also available.

The boutique options of the modern AR carbine such as those listed above make it a very attractive survival rifle.  With companies offering upper receiver/barrel options capable of accepting and accurately sending a number of different caliber rounds downrange, the flexibility is unsurpassed by other platforms.  

Also, the compatibility of parts between the AR15 / M16 / M4 carbine type systems and their availability mean that they will probably be able to be maintained (one can acquire replacement parts as needed) without much trouble in the future (unless there are new legal obstacles put in place).


There has also recently been a re-emergence of the Springfield Armory M1A / M14 battle rifle, typically with a shorter barrel, synthetic/lighter stock and with modular configuration options (i.e. MK14 and SOCOM 16) that allow it to accept many modern accessories (scopes, laser sights, weapon mounted lights, etc.).

 This platform enjoys a legacy as a durable and reliable weapon, has excellent performance in both arctic and desert conditions and fires a round that is about twice the weight and size of the typical 5.56 AR15 / M4 carbine system.  

If I had an M1A battle rifle variant as my primary weapon system early on in my career as a gunslinger, I would probably be more partial to it, however it emerged as an option for me late in the game.  I found it slightly heavier and a bit more cumbersome and ergonomically challenging to carry and manipulate than my M4 carbine and MK12 sniper rifle, so I decided to stick with what was familiar and comfortable.  

It’s personal preference.  The M1A may be a good alternative to those folks who don’t like the AR style rifle platform for various reasons.  Although it didn’t work for me and what I wanted in my primary weapon system, it may be the best survival weapon choice for others.

Wrap Up

As I mentioned before, I am partial to the AR platform, I have been conditioned to like it.  I lived with it, slept with it, spent nearly every moment with it within arms reach for months at a time.  I like the weight and the balance in my hands. I know what types of problems it is partial to having and how to avoid a majority of them based on maintenance, proper usage and configuration.

Recently, several manufacturers seeking to create a more reliable M4 carbine have revamped its legacy direct gas impingement system into a gas piston operated alternative.

In addition to the U.S., there are around 35 countries that have also purchased and are currently using the Colt M4 carbine system, in some capacity, in their military and / or law enforcement ranks. 

There is quite a bit of information out there on the history, controversy, and future direction of the modern U.S. carbine rifle. Individuals interested in reading more about modern developments on the M4 carbine rifle should read the following link(s):

The USA’s M4 Carbine Controversy
M4 Carbine Good Enough for US Army (Counterpoint)

Marine Corps Rifleman’s Creed
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…..

Continue Reading:  Part 3: (Direct Gas Impingement (DI/DGI) vs. Gas Piston Operated)

photos from:

Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

38 thoughts on “Part 2. The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)”

  1. I'm a tactical newbie, but have some basic objections about this as a "Survival" weapon.

    1) hunting: 5.56mm/.223 is too big for a rabbit and too small for a deer
    2) home defense: I hear it's great for not over penetrating, but so would a $300 shotgun with buckshot
    3) property defense: assuming it's legally appropriate/necessary – if I had acres of property and a need to engage beyond 300 yards, is a 5.56 NATO round from a carbine the best choice? Grandpa's .30-06 would travel further and make a bigger hole upon arrival.
    4) price: For the price of a decent AR, you could get guns to fit roles 1-3 above.

    To a military or other large organization there are many logistical advantages to the platform. It is ideal for many modern missions. Equipping an infantry has little in common with defending your ranch.

    I love this website. Please keep it up.

    • I agree, every upbeat thing I've seen about the Stoner cloners always say they are reliable as long as you keep them clean.
      Shame on me if I don't keep my weapon clean but durned if I like that restriction.

    • I have harvested many deer (the largest a 225 pound Ohio whitetail) and rabbits, squirrels and turkeys without destroying the meat with my M4 clone with an aimpoint. It takes some skill to not destroy the meat on squirrels, turkeys and rabbits, but it will take down a deer with trophy bonded bear claw ammo at 62 grains.

  2. Wow. What a heated debate. I made this comment in the .45 vs 9mm debate months ago. Whille I have a 12g for serious up close and personal issues with large game or other humans, I have a Glock 19 and a Kel Tec sub 2000 for other SHTF issues. The Kel Tec takes glock mags, so I save on weight and space. Plus, with 9mm I can hunt small game and kill bad guys if necessary. In a strictly survival situation, I would like to have the least amount of weight for the most overall punch that I can carry. Don't get me wrong. I would love to have a Kel Tec su16c for its long range accuracy. I think .308 is great for long range accuracy and one shot one kill. I know this forum is based on gear. When my family and myself are on the line, I want to be able to do the most with the least amount that I can carry, and trust my skills to take up the slack. Feel free to give me constructive criticism or flak, but where I stand right now, I am confident that I have less than 25 lbs. worth of stuff to carry with a shotgun, a carbine, and a handgun, and 500 rds.for each, and when I have two kids and a wife to worry about, that's a big deal.

    • I have a copy of the document that outlines the testing for the changes made from the M16A1 to the M16A2, and I can tell you there was some real flaws and some real changes made to address them (and they were tested vigorously to ensure the M16A2 was a good improvement). You can google all day about people who are bad at using the AR pattern rifle system; they aren't trained, use crap rifles, don't understand maintenance. The AR pattern is a system, and like any system there is always a weak link, for most shooters it's the shooter. The rifle needs to be cleaned and lubed once a day, and that's with heavy use in a poor environment. Not knowing how to clean and lube it properly is usually the problem.

      You can also google all day about FAL issues (bad mags, parts kit guns) M1A issues (non-USGI parts, SA INC assembly and QC, SOCOM gas system, mags). Those weapons systems have room for failure as well. I'm very familiar with the M14, and there is no good optic mounting solution. The ARMS mount is probably the best, but that is if you're working with USGI M14 receivers. Once you start working with SA INC M1A receivers, your optics mounting solutions are even worse, and thanks to that IMBEL receiver you can damage it and have to work with a scout setup of some kind. Sadlak makes a good one, but they make it clear that they're made to USGI spec and M1As don't follow that spec.

      The AR platform is extremely ergonomic, modular, and has an amazing amount of accessories available to help accomplish your given mission. Finding a good optics mount is not a problem. Finding good mags is not a problem (mags are expendable). Once you have a weapon system squared away (rifle, ammo, accessories, TTPs, shooter), you will have the same end result with either rifle/caliber. The difference is cost, weight, and speed.

      I would also like to add that the focus on one shot, one kill is noted. This is an issue with basic rifle marksmanship, not caliber. During the first Fallujah engagement, in April 2004, when the Provisional Gov't requested Marine ceasefire for negotiations that the insurgents were requesting. The first thing the insurgents requested was that the Marines withdrawl the "hundreds of snipers" imbedded in the city. What they didn't know was that although there were around 1,000 Marines operating in the city, only 25-30 snipers were in the city at any given time. What a study later showed was that it was infantry Marines making kills at over 800 yrds and headshots at 500.

    • Your obviously an idiot and are a wannabe warrior. I have used an m4 in real world combat situations and never had an issue. Get a life posser.

  3. Now this is why its great to have people post opposing thoughts. It gives others that have never used or handled these systems a chance to hear from professionals that have used and continue to use these systems in real life and for extended times and conditions. How a weapon system preforms in or at a range does not compare to use in the real world. Fore warned is fore armed when your at the gun store and the sales guy starts his pitch.

    All the extras that you can add to a weapons platform/system just help to weight you down causing you to have a weapons system that is harder to use, care for and maintain. Also when you become to dependent on all of those nice little goodies and they start to break or become useless you'll be back to iron sights. Remember windage and elevation, windage and elevation.
    So i would suggest before you buy and mount all of the neat heavy items to make you a more proficient shooter. Learn to shoot with your iron sights, you might just be amazed what you can hit with practice.

  4. It's great to have all the input from folks on the pro's and con's of different weapon systems, limitations and opinions. I have no doubt that, much like a conversation on religion and politics there is merit to all viewpoints however what you choose at the end of the day has to be what feels right for you. It has to be the weapon you will pick up and feel comfortable with, have confidence in, understand how to manipulate, understand the limitations and maintenance of the system. The shooter determines the best platform for them. If someone goes out and buys a weapon, never trains on it, never takes it to the limits and understands how it and they will perform with it in moments of stress, they will not utilize it properly when the time comes and it will be useless regardless of whether it's an AR, M1A, AK-47 or other platform. If you know how to use grandpa's .30-06 and feel uncomfortable with anything else… then I daresay that you should keep that thing close by and at the ready…. work on your reloads though!

  5. I wasn't gonna mention the AK group of guns since this forum is about the AR platform. But since it has been brought up I'll throw in my two cents. They AK type weapons in 7.62 X 39 are the most reliable weapons in the world. If they get gummed up with dirt and crud bang the butt on the ground (after unloading) to knock the big chunks out then if necessary urinate on the action to get it back in shooting order

  6. Though I don't own one I have had occasion to shoot the Mossberg 500. It is a good reliable weapon. I do have 4 shotguns of different manufacture. One thing I've learned about all survival guns is that mine are the best. They are the best because they are mine and are all I can afford. I'm sure a lot of us are in the same boat.
    Thanx for reading this (assuming you did)

    • I will chime in one more time in this debate to follow on to Mr. Smashy's comments: Like I said before, to each his own .308 / 5.56 / .22LR / 12 Gauge – all good choices – I like the 5.56mm Carbine, weight/recoil/ergonomics/ability to carry ammo, etc. To follow on to one of Mr. Smashy's comments – one of my good buddies in Iraq was a Company Commander (not in Fallujah) he was somewhere else – anyway, they got intel of a possible ambush on a Marine vehicle check point. They reinforced the checkpoint in the middle of the night – the ambush kicked off the next day by insurgents. After the ambush was driven off, he had to go through a formal investigation because there was an accusation that his Marines executed insurgents with head shots. After ballistics and eye witness accounts of the investigation, it was confirmed that Marine Grunts using the ACOG scopes were able to record head shots with the 5.56/ACOG system 100 to 300 yards out and further. I didn't get this second hand, I got this from the guy who went through the investigation.

    • Not to be overly contrarian, but head shots are just about the only way you're going to drop somebody with one round of .223 🙂

      On a more serious note, the major consideration is what you're actually expecting the weapon to do in terms of the targets you think you're going to be engaging. It is my opinion that if you're in an area where hunting large game/dealing with serious predators is going to be an issue, you're going to need something with a lot more punch than a .223. That's why I've got an HK-91 clone in .308.

      I will note that at one time my rifle for serious use was a bolt action .30-06. My preferred ammo IIRC was a 168 grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip. It retained as much energy at 500 yards as a .223 had the the muzzle with three times the throw weight. However, while bolt action rifles have a lot going for them if you're looking at the hunting end of things, they don't handle the "20 bad guys at 20 yards" sort of scenarios that well. Hence the shift to the battle rifle clone.

  7. I did, but I also qualified my statement, which you did not quote.

    The US Rifle, Caliber 30, M1 (Garand) also NEEDS to be cleaned and lubed once a day or MORE OFTEN, with heavy use or a poor environment. That is straight from FM 23-5.

  8. I hate like hell to bother you with this but do you know how to contact the people running this whole web sight. When I try to go to "contact us" it gives me one e-mail address that is bogus. I need help navegating around this darned place,I'm old and it is showing. Hope you can help me.Bob—

  9. 1) Hunting: 5.56/.223 is good for killing medium sized game and can kill larger game. Get a .22lr conversion bolt for small game. SHOT PLACEMENT

    2) Home defense: 5.56/.223 is an excellent self defense cartridge that has devastating effects. SHOT PLACEMENT

    3) Property Defense: 5.56/.223 can and will be effective out 500+ yards, assuming you can see your target from there. SHOT PLACEMENT

    4) Price: The price of a decent AR can be anywhere from 700-1000 dollars.

    Sure you could get 3 different guns for the price of an AR but we're talking the BEST survival carbine. You think you can lug around 3 different guns, all your gear, extra ammo for each gun and extra magazines for each gun? Why not just get one gun that can do it all?

    AR-15 in my opinion is the best survival rifle you can buy. Get a .22lr conversion bolt (very lightweight) a .22lr magazine for the ar and a brick of .22lr rounds and your set for 2-4 legged creatures of any size. SHOT PLACEMENT

    • Shot placement. Yes, I agree that the cartridge matters way less then the person. "It's not the gun that kills you, it's the man holding the gun that does that." However, we must be reasonable when it comes to which cartridge we choose. While you can hammer with a wrench, that's not the best idea I've heard. Right tool for the right job.

      The AR is almost perfect when it comes to ergonomics, and it has proven its place on the battlefield. But less I restate the wheel and go over stopping power etcwhich we have all heard, let's look at it from a slightly different angle.
      It was designed to support the fully automatic system, and the cartridge was built around that (most people found the 7.62×51 and the 30-06 to be too stout to control on full auto).
      Since we are generally not allowed to own full-auto weapons, why own a weapon designed around that system?

      Also note, I am fond of the saying "Right tool for the right job." Which is better, a saw or hammer? Depends on if you want to cut something up or pound nails into an object. Which is better, AR or M1A/FAL/HK91? Depends on the situation. Having been trained on CQB I know I would NEVER choose to lug around a 22" barreled M1a in an indoor shootout. Having been trained in marksmanship I know I would ever choose an AR to make a 500 meter headshot. Both weapons can be pushed to either limit, but they both have their home field.
      In a survival situation, what is 'right' depends. It depends on you, depends on your location, depends on your preference. Please note however that in a Survival situation your best hope of survival is to keep the fight out as far away from yourself as you can. (such an action requires a cartridge larger than the 5.56/223) If an engagement is occurring inside your home then you have already half lost (that's my philosophy, anyway) So I will go with the M1A, tried and true, accurate, simple, powerful. And if they get too close to use that then I pull out my backup tool, the one that goes on my hip and shoots a .40, until such a time as I can bring my rifle to bear again.

      Peace through superior firepower

  10. Oh no! AR "survival" carbines. [Hurridly genuflects at the altar to the mighty triumvirate of the HK-91 : Springfield Armory M1-A : FN/FAL and then lights a votive candle at the shrine to the M1-Garand. Deliver us from poodle poppers oh mighty weapons systems beloved of real riflemen. 🙂 ]

    The biggest problems are the cartridge the AR is chambered for and the AR's lousy reputation as far as reliability is concerned. You might be able to get around both of those issues by going to one of the gas piston variant ARs and switching the caliber to something like 6.5mm Grendel or 6.8mm Remington SPC, but then you'd have something that was nonstandard. I prefer to stick with things that have been proven to work, as opposed to things that have been proven to be marginal, or things that look like they might be a good idea but haven't been tried that much.

  11. I've heard of .22LR taking deer as well. Doesn't make it a deer rifle. Your skill and choice of ammo are what makes that possible. Not sure how wide spread the availability of your special ammo is which is one of the big arguments for the 5.56 round nor am I sure how hard it is to get the power supply for your aimpoint when TSHTF but that you can take deer with a weapon that can kill a man doesn't surprise me. Your skill just doesn't make the rifle a 'deer' rifle. That label belongs to a weapon that will routinely deliver a clean kill with a variety of factory loadings at regular hunting distances.

  12. If you are not worried about having a gazillion rounds of ammo or the ability to purchase it after TSHTF, you might look into the Moisn-Nagant in 7.62X54R. They are for sale locally for around $150 and were the Soviet Union's WW2 sniper rifle. By reputation, rugged and flat shooters. Ammo would have to be from the former communist block but should be fairly cheap if you're not buying thousands of rounds.

  13. Lots of good points brought up here. I would have to say that I do not like the M16 in 223 I just went through basic training this last summer and we were all issued one. Reliabilty sucked to put it nicely. and it is only obvious that they lack the stopping power of the larger caliber weapons. availabilty of ammo yes amount of upgrades many worth it no not in my opinion any way. I would not trust my life to one and in a SHTF situation that is exactly what you have to do you have to have complete trust in your equipment. I would argue that the round is not the biggest issue with this weapon thoughl. I am a firm believer in accuracy is the best policy. I understand that when you are getting shot at that it changes alot of things but just shooting randomly back in that direction seems a poor choice to me try to gain a vantage point then fire when you have a clear shot. but that is just my opinion.

  14. Hi. On my fouth tour in the sandbox. Concur completely with the weight/accessories argument here. I routinely see soldiers with M4's that include a quad-rail system, IR illuminator, ACOG or CCO, laser, foregrip (bi-pod style) and lately, suppressors. The amount of sharp edges/catchy things is nuts. I am a fan of keeping it simple. A2 or M4 rifles are great, and when you start calling it a 'system' it loses it's original intended utility as a carbine (light, easy to handle).

    Having said all that, I think the idea of a lower receiver and interchangeable parts allowing the shooter to change from .22 rimfire to .50BMG is tough to beat.


  15. Sig Sauer 556 Russian – 7.62×39 – takes standard AK mags – i will pick one up tomorrow. I have the sig 556 (5.56×45) and carry that daily. Sig is suppose to come out with a .308 on the 556 platform and that will be nice.

    • I've got a Saiga .308. It's an AK style, but it's a good shooter. Costs about half what an M14 would cost. But, it just doesn't feel like the gun an M14 is. I also want an M14 but the price drove me away too.

  16. I'm an armorer and arms instructor. I own an AK in .308, but I teach with and maintain the M16 series weapons. I've seen probably just about every malfunction and stoppage that these rifles can throw at a shooter…short of spontainious combustion. Having said that, I think the modern day "AR" is a good system…as long as they are properly maintained. Ammunition types are also a big factor. The old style M193 Ball is for the early M16/M16A1. M855 Green TIp Ball is for the modern M16A2/M4. The barrel rifling is a different twist ratio. Mix/matching the different types will cause the projectiles to tumble rather than spirral. When I switched from gun toter to armorer, we had some old M16's and GAU's (early M4's). They were full auto, but they were a real pimple on the butt. They weren't easy to zero and just didn't feel like the ones that we use today. The new style rifle will get you into and out of trouble…just make sure you clean it once you're out of harms way. And don't forget to clean the magazine!

  17. For those of you who prefer the 5.56 or .223 but not the AR platform the Ruger mini14 is an excelent choice as a survival carbine I have one in my arsenal and it has never failed me. I recently purchased a Sig556 and am very pleased with it for accuracy and reliability it is an amazing weapon, cost is high but a real big selling point was it uses standard AR mags!

    But after all is said about the AR vs AK it doesn't matter one iota what weapon you choose if you don't train with it and maintain it properly!

  18. I've often thought an AR- .22LR with a .22LR revolver would make a very good and practical survival combo. I've been lookin into the AR-22's lately, Sig seems to be the way to go from what I've learned so far, S&W's up there as well, but I don't think any semi auto could ever replace a good old bolt-action as a "go to" rifle.

  19. Hey FTW, I've been trying to track down a reasonable AK for 6 months or so to no avail. Any ideas? $400 sounds right up my alley. Thanks.

  20. You can't beat a bolt action for reliability.

    You do have to be much more disciplined with fire.

    The guys who expect a firefight to involve spraying lots of rounds around, who got that impression from selfie videos coming from iraq might be surprised. If you shoot move and communicate effectively you don't have to send a lot of lead downrange and you hear a lot less shooting that you'd expect from the movies or youtube.

  21. It is the methodology not the weapon.

    A lot of people, hell, a lot of units believe in grazing fire to 'keep their heads down'. As a result they will shoot at nothing, or more accurately, in the general vicinity of where they think a bad guy WAS, in hopes that he'll keep his head down while they maneuver or pop up and fall sick with a case of dead.

    I never saw it work out as planned. But I've seen a number of people who were visibly reluctant to move, look around a corner, etc, seconds after seeing someone shot with accurate fire after doing that.

    On the receiving end, there's three ways you know you're being shot at. Firstly, the sound of gunfire – but it is not a great way because you hear gunfire all the time, and hearing it doesn't mean that it was aimed at you, or that it was aimed at you accurately enough to be more dangerous than your grandpa's driving. Secondly, you know when you are being shot at because someone suddenly falls down and bleeds. Thirdly, (and most common I think) you know it is aimed at you because you hear little whistling noises around you and/or impacts in your immediate vicinity.

    However, in my experience, nothing says "Don't stick your head out" like number 2. That's why I don't prefer grazing fire.

    5.56 makes bleeding and incapacitating wounds where you probably have time to do a POW search before they die – if they die at all.

    .308 says, "Knock, knock. You're dead."


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