An Everyman’s AR? The Ruger AR-556 – Full Review.

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For more information, visit http://ruger.com/products/ar556/models.html.

To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.htm?T=AR-556&ltid-all=1&as=730&cid=4&ns=0&numberperpage=50&.

When it comes to rifles in the U.S., none has ever been more popular than the AR-15.  I personally think that one of the reasons for the mind-numbing popularity of the AR-15 is because the platform has a military-proven pedigree, can be had at a reasonable price, and is ear-to-ear-smile fun all day long. It makes perfect sense then, that Ruger would make it a point to market an AR rifle for everyday Americans – because providing quality affordable guns to mainstream America is what Ruger does. And it did it with the AR-556.

The Ruger AR-556 brings a quality black rifle to the “every home” market at a sweet price. Photo: Ruger.

That said; one concern I had when I heard that Ruger was going to produce an AR-15 was that they might Ruger-ize it mechanically, by adding extra safeties or creating some sort of proprietary aspect. They have been known to be a bit overzealous in those areas in the past. Either of those would have rendered the rifle good for propping open doors, but little else in my opinion. Thankfully, the engineers at Ruger seem to have agreed. This rifle is essentially a mil-spec basic kit in a box. Don’t worry, if you are a Ruger fanatic there is nothing to fear – Ruger stamped their name and logo in just about every spot they could think of on the AR-556, but tastefully. What Ruger has given us is as close to a generic direct gas impingement black rifle as anyone, but with just the right amount of Ruger “flavor.” And, when I say ‘generic’ I mean it in a positive way. There is literally no shortage of AR builders in the marketplace that each try to separate from the pack by customizing the rifle, or adding more bling, or both. What they do, in reality is the opposite, especially when it comes to the new buyer. Buying a firearm can be intimidating for the unseasoned, and the AR platform is likely the most so. Ruger did what very few others have done by making the purchase of an AR-15 easy and comforting. They make it easy by building a “just what you need” rifle that doesn’t intimidate your skillset or wallet (with an MSRP of $799), and they make it comforting because – well, simply because the box says “Ruger”.

The gas block, milled from billet, has a serrated ramp leading up to the front sight post, and below includes a bayonet lug and QD socket.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

I said before that Ruger didn’t “Ruger-ize” this rifle. What they didn’t do was negatively change the specifications of the rifle in such a way that would either detract from its usefulness, or create a proprietary parts list. One thing Ruger did do that impressed this writer, was created a Delta ring that one person who has only two hands can remove – without tools or a vise. The Delta ring was designed so that one person could easily remove the handguard. Traditional AR Delta ring removal requires pulling rearward against some significant resistance, while simultaneously turning the ring, which can be tight. Unless you have a vise handy this can sometimes require the help of another person. With the Ruger AR-556, all you need to do is simply twist to loosen, and twist to tighten. It works wonderfully, and unless Ruger has a patent on it, we might start seeing this copied a lot.

The barrel of the AR-556 is topped with a Ruger-style flash suppressor and has a 1:8-inch rate of twist. Photo: Ruger.

A cold hammer-forged 4140 chrome-moly steel barrel with 1:8″ twist rate should handle bullets from 35 to 77 grains nicely, and the chamber is 5.56 NATO. The barrel is finished off with matte black oxide which reduces glare and provides corrosion resistance.  The barrel is not lined, nor is it coated. No chrome, no Melonite. In part, this keeps costs down. You can’t build a frills gun and sell it at a no-frills price. It is very likely too that the people at Ruger understand the reality that very few rifle owners are going to shoot out the barrel. It’s fun to put on tactical pants and skip a shave and talk about whether chrome lining or Melonite coating is better for accuracy and long barrel life – but in the real world, very few people will use their sporting rifle to the extent that it matters. And frankly, those who will are not looking at this rifle – except as a gift idea for a family member.

The pistol grip and other furniture bear the Ruger logo and are good quality.

Ruger did put money into the rifle in several places – just the right places, I think. The gas block that is milled from billet was one of the first things that caught my eye. The ramp up to the front sight post (which is adjustable for elevation) is nicely serrated to eliminate glare. It also has a quick-disconnect (QD) socket and the always necessary bayonet lug. Just rear of that is the most lackluster piece of furniture on the rifle in my opinion, the plastic handguard. It is the epitome of “no frills”, but it serves its purpose. Again, money saved here lets you take the rifle home cheap and upgrade later. The gas tube runs inside that, taking us back to the upper receiver. This is where Ruger cut no corners. The fit and finish is nice, and the parts are high quality materials and well made.  The bolt carrier’s inside diameter and the gas key’s inside diameter are both chrome-plated, which should provide very good resistance to hot gases. The gas key is staked so that it will not loosen after extensive firing. Once again, a matte black oxide finish on the exterior of the bolt carrier provides corrosion resistance. The bolt itself is machined from 9310 alloy steel and is shot peened and pressure tested to ensure strength, structural integrity and durability.

The six-position telescoping stock includes a sling mounting ring, and of course – the Ruger logo.

The upper receiver is a flattop, made from aerospace-grade 7075-T6 aluminum forging, and  includes a forward assist, dust cover and brass deflector, and is Type III hard coat anodized for maximum durability. The flattop includes an adequate portion of 1913 Picatinny rail, some of which is occupied by the flip-up rear sight. Mounting a short electronic optic can be done without removing the rear sight, but if you want a full-length scope on it, that rear sight has to come off. It’s easy if you have the right sized hex wrench, but the nut is not captured and easy to lose if you’re not careful. A scope mounted with just medium height rings easily clears the front post for a clear look down range.

Moving back along the mil-spec buffer tube, Ruger has equipped the AR-556 with a six-position adjustable stock. It proudly bears the Ruger logo, so the question of who supplies it remains a mystery for the moment. It is the essential stock we’ve come to expect on our sporting rifle, and though the cheek weld is a wee bit sparse, it’s a nice stock and it locks firmly into each position. It also includes a sling mount ring, an appreciated touch.

The lower receiver is also well built from top material and the fit between upper and lower on our test rifle was nice and snug. The pistol grip is a polymer material with some stippling for grip. I found it comfortable and practical, and as it does not have that annoying A2 protrusion for giant-sized fingers, I was pleased! The trigger is a single stage mil-spec type, and nothing to write home about. It is heavy and gritty, just like single-stage-mil-spec triggers are – but I found it to be consistent and it did not really prevent me from shooting respectable groups. If the buyer wants to sink $100+ into a new trigger, I have no doubt it will improve the rifle – but the average new buyer doesn’t need to pay for a trigger they can’t appreciate right off the bat. Once again, Ruger made smart choices with respect to which elements to spend the money on.

Ruger didn’t skimp on the important parts. The AR-556 has quality components throughout. And yes, the gas key is staked… do we really have to say so?

SHOOTING THE RUGER AR-556

The AR-556 is a shooter. During extensive evaluation and testing with this rifle, I put somewhere around five-hundred rounds through it. And the ammo ran the whole spectrum – from bargain bulk buy stuff, to the “holy crap, they want how much… for how many!?” exotic brands. I shot everything from 40 grains to 77 grains, and at varying distances and with different sighting systems. The rifle performed well through all of it, proving beyond any doubt that it can perform better than I can.

Starting with the open sights, it’s an easy rifle to get acquainted with. The front post is adjustable for elevation, and the rear flip-up sight is adjustable for windage. I didn’t make any adjustments to them because they were “close enough” out of the box for the ranges I’d be using them. Putting on a quality electronic optic like the Aimpoint PRO, allowed me to stretch the distance a little and increase the precision of my aim. But where I really started to learn that this Ruger rifle is serious was when I mounted a good quality scope. I was fortunate to have Burris provide their excellent AR-5.56 4.5-14x 42mm scope, which paired beautifully with the rifle. With the adjustable telescoping stock set to the ‘just right’ position for my hold, the cheek weld and eye relief of the Burris was perfect. Now, with a tack sharp view of my target, I could do some 100 yard tests and see how she groups. Of course, whenever I make such elaborate plans, the forces of the Universe get together in a huddle, point at me and giggle, and then unite against me. The first time I did my 100 yard tests, the wind was gusting and swirling at speeds up to 35 mph. That’s part of it – as they say, but I’m not skilled enough to do the hardware justice in those conditions. Those groups were understandably larger, but surprisingly impressive.

The AR-556 showed a preference for heavier bullets, like this Norma Match 77-grain ammo.

The rifle really liked the 69-grain Australian Outback load.

The next outing provided only ‘breezy’ conditions and yielded more consistent results. What I learned during both sessions was that I could trust the AR-556 to perform consistently. It likes the heavier bullets a little better, but across the range of ammo the results were good. The trigger is fairly pedestrian – basic mil spec single stage. I measured the break at about 8 ½ lbs. and it does have some grit. But it remained consistent, which was the important thing.

Testing the accuracy of the AR-556 was made much easier with the Burris AR-5.56 scope, which fits nicely on the Picatinny rail provided.

Ruger didn’t eliminate expected components like a forward assist, included sights or dust cover in order to keep the price down.

JUST MY OPINION

Trying to sift through the AR-15 marketplace is like trying to find a blind date in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. That confusion is only amplified for new gun buyers, who often fall victim to the sales pitch at the counter and wind up either over spending for gear they don’t need or being fed some bargain junk the store owner stocked up on during the pre-election panic. For decades, Americans have come to rely on the name Ruger for good quality firearms that won’t break the budget. Not having America’s favorite modern sporting rifle in their catalog was curiously conspicuous. Perhaps realizing that the next logical step from the iconic Ruger 10/22 is the AR-15, there was a lot of money being left on the table. If Johnny or Susie cut their teeth on the 10/22, why not let their next Ruger rifle be the most popular style – the AR? Whatever their motives, I think it was a good move to put the AR-556 SKU into the catalog. I also think the team at Ruger did a fine job of outfitting this rifle to be just what the entry-level user truly needs. I think if there was a Norman Rockwell painting that showed a black sporting rifle leaning in the corner, a closer look with a magnifying glass would probably reveal the Ruger logo. I can count on one hand the number of ARs I would recommend to a new shooter. Rugged and affordable; accurate and reliable – the Ruger AR-556 is one of them.

For more information, visit http://ruger.com/products/ar556/models.html.

To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.htm?T=AR-556&ltid-all=1&as=730&cid=4&ns=0&numberperpage=50&.

The AR-556 comes standard with a flip-up rear sight mated up to a fixed front sight assembly. Photo: Ruger.

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • G Callen Sr April 10, 2017, 9:56 am

    I still don’t own a AR, I don’t think the round is good for much of anything I do or home defense. I know they have .308 but wish you could get in .243 or 7mm 08?

  • R.J. March 16, 2017, 7:46 pm

    Hey everyone I need help , Ruger 556 I have iron sights but I would like to put a scope on it but I wanted scope ring risers so I can shoot my iron sight with out having to take off scope has anyone does this with the front sight on the gas block?

  • Rocky from Reno March 15, 2017, 6:10 pm

    Didn’t think I was going to get an AR15 until the left wingnuts of California cranked up the fury and looked like a “big ban theory ” was about to get real. I started looking around and it made my head spin with all the choices available for the AR (I like the term: America’s Rifle) for this awesome platform (thanks Mr. Stoner!!!). All the brands, huge price ranges, build it yourself. Whoa! How does one choose with the clock ticking down to “Bansville”? Then I found that Ruger makes ’em. Search is over, no more debate, make mine a Ruger! I have a Security Six 357 and a 10-22 love em both. Went to my L.G.S., Riflegear in Fountain Valley , and bought my AR556 and loving life.

  • Joe McHugh March 7, 2017, 8:31 pm

    Would it be too outrageous to ask for a gas piston in the AR style rifle? Even the AK 47 had a gas piston and it could be made for $37.00 in American money value. The AR15/m16 rifle type has two drawbacks the direct gas impingement loading system and a problem with wind born grit in the receiver/piston area. The dust cover helps but does not eliminate the grit problem.
    OK, I wasn’t issued an M16 in the military.

    • Joe McHugh March 7, 2017, 8:50 pm

      Sorry, I meant to write “…receiver/bolt area.”

  • BrianNH March 6, 2017, 10:56 pm

    Wow! Major price drop. I bought a couple of these several years ago, and I believe the price was around $1200 then

    • Todd March 7, 2017, 2:49 pm

      No you didn’t.
      Your probably thinking of the sr556 piston ar.
      This gun has never been over $800

  • D1DAVE March 6, 2017, 8:13 pm

    Anyone know what scope rings those are? Thanks

  • FirstStateMark March 6, 2017, 11:41 am

    This was my first [and only] AR-15. I did add to the rifle by putting on the Geissele (G2S) trigger and the medium size Bravo Company charging handle. Never had a problem feeding or ejecting ammo. A real nice shooter.

  • Tommy Barrios March 6, 2017, 11:14 am

    My local firearms store sells this and the S&W M&P AR-15 like hot cakes!
    They don’t stay on the shelf very long 😉

  • Jim March 6, 2017, 10:47 am

    Last year I finally broke down and bought an AR Type firearm. I chose the SR556 from Ruger. The only thing I changed was the handguard so I could place attachments to it plus I put on a vertical grip, red/green dot optics and a couple of removable pic rail sections on the front of the handguard. A fine rifle.

  • Mike March 6, 2017, 8:35 am

    “Trying to sift through the AR-15 marketplace is like trying to find a blind date in Times Square on New Year’s Eve”
    Best analogy ever!
    Almost no more apples to oranges comparisons. GA has been writing about black guns long enough to rank them, why not do it? Cause you don’t want to piss-off the manufacturer who has been giving you guys free gear maybe?
    Good review!

    • SkyNInja March 7, 2017, 8:11 am

      I just had this very discussion with some buddies. Everyone makes ARs.
      Colt, Bushmaster, H&K, Remington, Mossberg, Ruger, S&W, Savage, Sig, Springfield Armory. Rock River Arms and on and on. Then you have your high end “tacticool” makers. Noveske, Wilson, etc, etc. Each touting their relevance in the market. Then you have the builders, the home builders and the hobby builders. The funniest thing I have found is that “Joe” the hobby builder can put together a rifle for 1/3rd and sometimes 1/4th or 1/5th the price and the paper target can’t tell the difference! HAIL TO THE HOBBY AND HOME BUILDERS!!

      • Mike March 8, 2017, 9:22 am

        Sky, that’s what I thought too.
        Is there an honest article that advises which parts you can trust and which ones to avoid?

  • Brian March 6, 2017, 7:49 am

    If it was around when i bought my Bushmaster I’d have chosen the Ruger. Only thing i dont like is the pins being on top of the barrel, i dont see the reason for it

  • Frank March 6, 2017, 7:21 am

    My biggest complaint about AR platform guns is that the platform/design itself has been out a long time, and there is no real reason a mass produced version shouldn’t be producible for around/under $500 retail in a basic configuration. There are some at that price, most without even basic sites though — just a flat top receiver. Can’t complain too much… flip-up and reflex/red-dot sites aren’t expensive, but I would still prefer something ready to shoot out the box with the standard front site and some type of peep adjustable rear.

    The AR platform is so popular because that’s what almost everyone who has had any military service at all since the 70s has trained on. So you spent a few years in one of the services (or NG) where you had any weapons training at all — you were trained on an M-16 first. Want to buy a rifle? Get something you know how to shoot and clean — the AR-15. Or if you never served yourself, you have a buddy or three who has, and guess what gun they know best?

    • Aardvark March 6, 2017, 11:36 am

      I have seen the Ruger AR556 on sale at 2 sites this weekend for $449 and $499. Best pricing I’ve seen yet for this rifle.

      • Mark Verdoni March 6, 2017, 3:21 pm

        Would like to know what web sites had the Ruger AR556 for $449 and $499. Thanks, Mark V

        • S.H. Blannelberry March 6, 2017, 3:34 pm

          Check GunsAmerica.com.

      • Masterchief0 April 11, 2017, 10:46 pm

        $489.00 at Kentucky Gun

    • Louis March 10, 2017, 4:34 pm

      Quote “Want to buy a rifle? Get something you know how to shoot and clean”. Which is why I have a 1911 and M-1A. US Navy didn’t have M-16’s onboard and I served btw 1971-1994.

  • Cyrus March 6, 2017, 7:17 am

    Good review – I I didn’t already have a Bushmaster I would probably buy one of these. I have (3) 10/22’s, 1 being the first rifle I ever bought, and love them!

  • Andy March 6, 2017, 6:30 am

    Despite the fact that I own a disappointing 12 ga Ruger Red Label (replete with the world’s crappiest ventilated rib), when I pick up my first AR I think it’ll be a Ruger. I own the 10-22, Rancher 223, Ruger 1 in 204, and M77 in 7MM and find the engineering in Rugers outstanding (with the exception of my junky Red Label), the fit and finish likewise respectable. As an old wooden gun dinosaur I am reluctant to throw in with the ammo wasting throngs, preferring the measured one-shot-on-target at distance method as opposed to the Rambo style target painting method, but I am evolving. I think this could be my next coyote rifle, especially if the grouping comments are true. A group less than 1.5″ at 100 yds with a stiff breeze is going to be a lot tighter on a calm day and if this gun can work out to 400 yds with that kind of accuracy, I’m interested.

    • Bad Penguin March 6, 2017, 8:21 am

      Andy, Ruger did a great job on the SR-556. The trigger that comes on it from the factory is almost as and better than some aftermarket drop in triggers.

  • Jmh March 6, 2017, 5:51 am

    I compared Ruger to the Smith & Wesson and I preferred the smoother trigger on the Smith over the Ruger, and takedown was a bit easier on the Smith as well. The upper-lower fit on the Ruger was a bit on the tight side. As far as Barrel treatment, Chrome lining or Meloniting (Smith) is Handy if you plan on shooting cheap Steelcase ammo and don’t want to worry about premature wear or scoring of the bore.

    • Thomas M McGovern March 6, 2017, 2:48 pm

      The Smith MSRP is $100 more than the Ruger, so your comparison is somewhat apples-to-oranges. Do you know of an AR priced equal to or cheaper than the Ruger that you would prefer to have?

  • DRAINO March 3, 2017, 12:41 pm

    Hmm….I think I will have to go with the Savage MSR…..for the price I think you get more for your money with the Savage…..wylde chamber, melonite and more. I would rank this higher than the Springfield Saint, however. Good review!

    • Joe Gilbert March 6, 2017, 4:31 pm

      I agree with your assessment of the Savage MSR 15. I love the Recon model, and feel it will become my first AR.

      Joe

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