How Far Can an AR 15 Shoot Accurately? Effective Range in 2023

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When the .556 cartridge was developed by Remington Arms in 1964, its primary assignment was to serve as a military round for the M-16 rifle. In the past several decades, this cartridge has become commonly used across the United States and in foreign countries as a service rifle.

When discussing the .223 /556 NATO cartridge, be mindful that this cartridge has a vast availability of both factory loads and hand loads. This round carries many different performance levels. In effect, not all variants in .223 cartridges are the same.

Since the goal is to shoot your rifle accurately at long distances, you will also want to be sure to have one of the best AR-15 scopes. The rifle and scope combination provide the accuracy you're looking for. The precision is up to you!

effective range of ar 15 with 16 inch barrel

AR-15 600-yd steel, Easy with low wind conditions

When making a ballistics study of this cartridge, I select the factory offered 55-grain bullet in Hornady V-Max or some other primary design. These bullets/loads are a common standard and can best illustrate the relative ability of this round to stay true and on target downrange.

ar 15 shooting range

AR-15 in the company of heavy bolt guns long-range shooting to a maximum range of 1000 yards, Coyotes tell the tale here

When working as a consultant and using actual warm target applications, I have used this cartridge and paired weapon for over 40 years. The performance associated with the .223 Remington round can be classified into two primary groups--hunter or general field shooter.

The first group uses lighter weight bullets from 36 grains through 55 grains. The second group uses bullets with 60 grains through 75 or more grains.

The primary difference in these two groups is that the lightweight bullet travels faster downrange and shoots flat to long distances of about 300 to 400 yards.

The heavy bullets won’t move as fast but carry more kinetic energy for longer ranges when stopping bad guys and game animals. Military bullets are always produced in this second classification.

Another very important element in this discussion is the rifle twist rate. Rifle barrels are not at all the same when it comes to the number of times the rifling makes a full turn in a series of inches.

Lightweight bullets used for a general-purpose in the AR-15 require a 1-10 greater twist. This is what we call a slow twist barrel.

The heavier the bullet, the greater the number of twists that are required. In this case, military and civilian heavy bullet AR-15’s usually required a 1-7 or 1- 8.

how far can an ar 15 shoot accurately

Shooting 801 yards on steel with heavier bullets (.224 Valkyrie) This is a game-changer for the AR-15

If you do not live near a big box store with a gun department, the problem here is finding heavy bullets in factory loads. However, the standard light grain weight bullets are very common and found easily wherever ammunition is sold.

Being a licensed dealer myself (Ballistics Research & Development), the most requested .223 Remington ammunition requested by shooters are the 40-55 grain loads.

How far can an AR15 shoot accurately?

The AR15 is an extremely accurate rifle that is flexible due to innovations in load development, barrel length and quality, and well-machined receivers. The answer comes down to marksmanship. The rifle shoots more accurately than the riflemen behind the buttstock.

Effective Range & Accuracy

ar 15 long barrel

Effective range and accuracy depend on the direction the shooter takes regarding bullet weights and barrel twist rates. I could give you detailed data; however, hands on, live-fire events tend to tell the story the best.

Shooting steel targets at 600 yards with good wind conditions confirmed that when using the .223 round, my AR-15 delivered the mail on target. Shooting Wyoming’s Big Horn mountain range on rock chucks and other varmints further illustrated the ability of the rifle/cartridge.

Shooting three DPMS rifles and using eliminator II’s, I leveled rock chucks at an easy 650 yards in good weather conditions.

ar 15 range

Bullets in the 69-70 grain group were most effective and accurate with fast twist barrels. The 55-grain bullets and slow twist barrels, the most widely used of the weight groups, illustrated the ability to stay on target when wind conditions were following or as headwinds under 5 mph.

Just how much shooting has been done in the case of illustrating these results?

In a single Winchester Sponsored event, a group of five other shooters and I fired 38,000 rounds in two and a half days against Richardson ground squirrels that had decimated a rancher's grazing land.

Not all shots were .223 Rem rounds, but much of the ammo was!

Advancement

long range ar 15

Valkyrie makes the AR-15 platform a true big-game rifle cartridge system

What we have not discussed is the fact that viewing the AR-15 as a short action semi-auto platform, the rifle has changed greatly over the past decade.

Today, it is not all about the .223 Remington round, but cartridges like the .224 Valkyrie and many others that have slipped into the magazine well of the rifle as well.

Valkyrie, one of my favorites, pushes the 22 caliber bullet out to 1000 yards and more with a redesigned cartridge case, increased grain weight in the bullet, and a steady twist rate in the barrel.

ar 15 effective range

Valkyrie has been a game-changer for the AR-15 rifle

In order to answer the question regarding how far the AR-15 platform rifle shoots accurately, we must consider several things about the most popular American hunting rifle ever produced.

What Determines the Effective Range of A Rifle?

It might be quicker to list the things that don’t determine the effective range of a rifle, but here we go.

The Ammo

Some calibers are going to have a longer effective range than other calibers, even within the same size classification. We’ve mentioned the .224 Valkyrie and compared it to the .223 Remington as an example of this. Another example would be 6.5 Creedmoor vs. .308 Winchester.

As we mentioned earlier, not every cartridge of one caliber is the same. There are variations of just about every caliber that come with different projectiles and powder loads. Some bullets are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, so they maintain a flatter trajectory over long distances. Others are designed to hit harder at shorter distances.

The Rifle

The design and manufacturing quality of the rifle itself is going to have a big impact on its effective range. Generally speaking, the longer the barrel, the further its effective range will be. The interior twist rate of the barrel needs to also maximize the capabilities of the round you’re firing.

Spending the extra money on a match-grade barrel is going to significantly increase your rifle’s effective range.

The Shooter

You could have the best long-range rifle and ammo combination in the world and if you put it in the hands of an inexperienced shooter, the rifle’s effective range is not going to be any better than a cheap one.

How Far Can An AR-15 Shoot Accurately With Different Calibers?

Considering the sheer quantity of different calibers that an AR-15 can be chambered in, this is a pretty difficult question to answer.

Popular wisdom suggests that the .223 Remington loses a lot of its ballistic integrity past 300 yards. In other words, beyond 300 yards it gets harder to predict exactly where each bullet is going to impact.

While that is generally true, you can as much as double that effective range to 600 yards by using a match-grade barrel and either factory match-grade or hand-loaded ammunition. Other rounds like the .224 Valkyrie and the 6mm ARC can extend that accuracy out as far as 1,000 yards.

Other calibers lean into the sub 300-yard range, so they focus on maximum stopping power within that shorter distance. These are rounds like the .300 Blackout.

The long and short of it is you can probably get out as far as you want to with an AR-15 as long as you choose the right ar-15 ammunition caliber to chamber the rifle in and you pay the money for the match-grade hardware.

How Far Can A .223 Round Travel?

Hypothetically, if you were in a massive, flat, uninhabited landscape, and you held the rifle at angle between 27 - 35 degrees for maximum distance, a .223 round could travel between 2-4 miles depending on the projectile and powder load of the round and wind conditions.

As you might expect, this is a somewhat difficult experiment to conduct. Simply verifying exactly where in a 2-mile range of possibilities a tiny bullet impacted into soft dirt presents a massive logistical problem, in addition to finding a place where you can safely and responsibly fire a gun for maximum distance.

If you’re aiming downrange in a more typical fashion, a .223 round will continue traveling long after it can no longer be reliably accurate. Wind, gravity, even humidity can affect a bullet’s trajectory at long distances.

Choosing a Long-Range AR-15

The first question you need to ask yourself is why you are specifically wanting to use an AR-15 for long range. Is it because you want to save money over a more expensive platform? If that’s the case, then you may be out of luck because maximizing the ar-15 shooting distance can easily be as costly if not more than a platform intended for long range.

That said, there are a few scenarios where an AR-15 might be the best possible solution for you. If you want to shoot suppressed, want a fairly small, light round that will cause enough damage but not too much, and can reach out to those long distances, then going with an AR-15 chambered in Valkyrie or 6mm ARC could be the best choice.

A good example of that situation would be hunting coyotes.

Let’s assume you have good reasons for wanting to shoot long range with an AR-15. You’ll want to buy a rifle with a match-grade barrel (or build it yourself), and I would recommend chambering in Valkyrie or ARC, though you can get out to 600 yards with the right load of good, old-fashioned .223 Remington.

Frequently-Asked Questions

Who Makes the Most Accurate AR-15?

Well, that’s a loaded question (pun totally intended). The only thing more likely to start a fight than asking this question is answering it. 

The real answer to this question, though, is you. If you want to maximize the AR-15 distance accuracy and long range precision of the AR-15 platform, the best bet is for you to custom-build your AR from the ground up for the exact caliber and load you intend to shoot it with.

If that is not a realistic solution for you, then I am personally a big fan of Bravo Company Manufacturing, and their Recce-18 KMR-A is absolutely top-of-the-line when it comes to factory-made AR-15’s intended for long range precision. It is chambered in 5.56 NATO.

How to Shoot An AR-15 Properly?

Shooting an AR-15 properly is not substantially different from shooting any other type of rifle. Operating the action can be different, but shooting it is simply a matter of  anchoring the buttstock firmly in your shoulder, getting the same cheek weld every time, lining up your sight picture via iron sights or optic, and gently squeezing the trigger until the gun fires. There are many best ar15 triggers available in the market you can select any one of them based on your performance.

How Effective Is an AR-15 at 500 Yards?

Somewhere on a scale of “not very” to “highly” depending on the quality of your rifle and ammunition. If you want to use an ar-15 for shooting out to 500 yards, you absolutely can, you just have to be a little more choosy about the rifle and ammunition you purchase in order to do so.

What Is the Best Round for an AR-15?

If you’re just wanting something for 200 yards and under, .223 Remington is cheap, available, and effective. You could also look at .300 Blackout if you want something with a little more power. If you want long range, consider the 6.5 Grendel, the 6mm ARC, or the .224 Valkyrie. If you’re in a state that requires straight-walled cartridges, the .350 Legend may be your best bet.

Conclusion

If you’re willing to put in the time, research, money, and practice, an AR-15 can shoot out as far as you will probably ever need to. While the world record for long distance shooting may be much higher, 99.9% of us will never need to shoot out further than 1,200-1,300 yards, and there are configurations that can get you out that far.

If you already have an AR-15 and you just want to know how much range you can expect out of it, researching online can only do so much. At some point you’ll want to just take your rifle to a long distance range and see how it does. More than likely, the rangemaster will be more than happy to talk you through the results you’re seeing and how to improve them.

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