Full Length Love: Why Get an A1 or A2 Rifle?

Let’s be honest, with the added barrel length and weight, the rifle length AR is all but obsolete. The US military has reflected this sentiment, as the USMC was last to replace their M16s with M4s in 2015. However, with each passing year, my love affair with the rifle length AR has stayed true. Sure, it’s not exactly the most lightweight or handy, but it has its own charm. The market for AR15s is vast, so it’s easy to get exhausted by the seemingly endless options. There’s always a cool new hand guard, stock, or grip to try out.

Nowadays it’s rather common for me to feel ‘incomplete’ with a build. So when range day rolls around, my M16A2 clone is almost always the first out of the safe. Despite its antiquated features, like nine inches of unnecessary barrel length, or a stock too long for manlet arms, it remains one of my favorite rifles.

M16A2 Clone

A Different Shooting Experience

The weight and feel of a rifle length AR is surprisingly balanced, despite the front heavy impression. It wears it surprisingly well, balancing between your shooting and support hand. Coming from modern ARs, where you would shoot with a tucked and tightened up shooting stance, this is the opposite. If AR pistols or carbines are karate, then rifles are tai chi; lending nicely to more relaxed shooting positions. Granted, I am probably in the narrow demographic the A2 rifle was designed for. With plenty of handguard space and a long stock, the gun can conform to me in nearly any shooting stance without the need for accessories. Shorter guns obviously have limited space, and shooting comfort can be really dependent on hand stops, rail covers, or stabilizing braces. No where is this more apparent than from the prone or kneeling position.

I find AR pistols to be a bit uncomfortable from prone. With a shorter length of pull, my cheek weld is far closer to the gun. The fixed stock provides a noticeable difference, as you have more usable space to get comfortable. Sure, carbines outclass A1/A2 rifles. However, in terms of pure shooting experience, the A2 rifle is still the benchmark I hold all other ARs to. Because of the flat shooting nature and silky smooth recoil impulse, most shooters are surprised how easily you can stay on target. Indeed, controlling this gun while shooting fast is rather simple.

Still Runnin’ In The 90s

In the world of modern optics, iron sights seem relegated to the likes of bolt action rifles. That said, when you consider the sheer number of pistols, rifles, and shotguns that only allow for iron sights, it still remains a relevant skill. Hitting torso sized targets at 100 yards with iron sights is straightforward. Couple that with a longer sight radius and the follow up shots become simple as well.

M16A2 Sight Picture

The open ghost ring aperture on the A2 is pretty quick at shorter distances, while the narrow aperture allows for longer distance shooting. If you have the chance to shoot one at extended ranges, do it. There’s nothing quite like the simple joy of ringing steel at long range with iron sights. Sure, you could mount a red dot on it and call it day, but you probably have an AR with a red dot on it already. Why not spice things up with an A2 carry handle?

Oh You Want One? Let’s Talk Price

When it comes to the budget ARs it can seem like a race to the bottom. Sure you could put together a new AR for as little as $400. However, with the consideration of other non-AR rifles, the rifle length AR still remains a budget friendly option. From Aero and Brownells to BCM, there are a variety of manufacturers and price points to choose from. If A1 and earlier is more your thing, Brownells offers an impressive line of retro ARs, complete with rifle length gas systems, carry handles, and nostalgia. If detachable carry handles don’t bother you and you’re really strapped for cash, maybe consider PSA’s A4 style rifle. Just expect to be bullied on the range or online.

For those with a bit more self respect, Aero Precision also makes a complete A4 style rifle. Of course if you like to assemble ARs, parts should be readily available. Maybe you want some cool history, or something more clone correct. My personal M16A2 clone sports a Colt M16A2 upper with a Nodak Spud A2 lower. I finished it out with a White Oak Armory parts kit, nitride carrier, and Rock River two stage trigger. In terms of pricing, it came in at $950 for everything, which I would consider middle of the road for rifle length ARs.

Full length rifles offer a break from the modern AR scene. Their smooth shooting, utilitarian simplicity is a nice palette cleanser from the never-ending ‘tacticool’ market. Sure, it may not be your home defense or patrol rifle, but if you’re a shooter I’m sure you’ll appreciate the experience. I will admit though that it might be a bit difficult with the ammo shortage, but in the meantime, start collecting parts. You can always pass the time building guns and telling people how cool they are.

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