Best Long Range AR Upper - Cover

The Best Long Range AR-15 Uppers in 2021

Michael Crites

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Long the domain of bolt-action tack drivers, the AR-15 can be a solid long-range performer, so long as you’re using an upper made for hitting targets at range. 

Granted, you can shoot any gun at long range, but some are certainly better suited for it than others! There are many AR-15 variants, chamberings, and barrel lengths available, and choosing the right one for distance shooting requires combining the right mix of those ingredients.

Barrel length, caliber, and other aspects all play a part, so you want to make sure you’re choosing the right tool for the job. 

And what are those tools? Here are six excellent choices of AR-15 upper for long-range shooting, suitable for anything from punching paper in match shooting to hunting the game of your choice.

In This Article:

Long Range AR Upper Comparison

Below is my list of the best long-range AR uppers for 2021. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of upper receivers.

Long Range AR Upper Reviews

1. Brenton USA

Brenton USA specializes in AR-15s for big game hunting, so long-range shooting is definitely in their wheelhouse. The Stalker Carbon Hunter starts with a free-floated railed handguard and flat-top upper receiver and a heavy 18-inch barrel. 

The handguard has M-LOK slots along the top and two Picatinny rail sections for mounting a bipod or tripod. The barrel is 416R stainless steel, with a 1:8 twist, an excellent choice for the 6.5mm Grendel chambering. 

You can choose one of several Cerakote finishes, giving you some options if a black “black rifle” isn’t your cup of tea. While the Brenton USA Stalker Carbon Hunter seems like a bit of an ask given the price, you’ll get your money’s worth in performance and then some…if you do your job as a marksman.  

2. CMMG

The CMMG Endeavor line now has uppers chambered for 6mm ARC, a very promising newish cartridge from Hornady, and the Endeavor 300 line is a marvelous upper for getting the most of it. 

The Endeavor 300 6mm ARC upper starts with a 20-inch medium taper 416R stainless steel barrel, then pairs it with an SV muzzle brake and 1:8.5 twist, an optimal choice for this caliber. The free-floated handguard is fully railed, with M-LOK slots at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. 

6mm ARC is a very promising chambering for taking an AR-15 to distances past 600 yards and has an excellent features list. While the price of admission is a tad steep, it’s excellent value for what you’re getting.

3. Stag Arms

The Stag Arms 15 Super Varminter Upper in 6.8mm SPC II is a solid choice if you’re looking for more of an entry-level AR-15 long range upper, with a great feature set at a reasonable entry price. 

The 20-inch barrel is 416R stainless, with a medium profile and a 1:11-inch twist. The railed flat-top receiver is joined by a 16.5-inch fully-railed M-LOK free-floating handguard, allowing for the use of any accessories, including a bipod and mounting of any optic one chooses. 

The entry price is relatively reasonable, so this is an excellent starter upper for long-range AR-15 shooting.

4. Palmetto State Armory

Are you looking to take advantage of the performance offered by the Valk? Palmetto State Armory offers a rifle-length complete AR-15 upper in .224 Valkyrie at a price point that’s hard to beat. 

The upper is complete, with the bolt carrier group, charging handle,  and mount. Inside the upper rests a 20-inch stainless steel barrel with a 1:6.5-inch twist, optimal for using heavy-for caliber .224 bullets, which are a superior choice for long-range efforts. 

Those 77-grain boat tails people keep raving about? That would be them. 

The M-LOK handguard is free-floated, lightweight, streamlined, great for mounting accessories, and easier to carry all day in the field hunting.

In terms of value for money, this is almost unbeatable. 

5. ODIN Works

The ODIN Works Billet Upper Receiver is configured for long-range use, making it a quality mid-shelf upper in 6.5mm Grendel, but also available in other chamberings, such as .223 Remington as well. 

The upper features 18- or 20-inch stainless barrels, with a rifle-length gas block, fully railed receiver and handguard. The free-floated handguard has M-LOK slots for adding accessories. 

ODIN Works doesn’t deal in meme-tier rifles, and the billet receivers offer good value for money if getting into a long-range AR-15 rifle build.

6. Aero Precision

The Aero Precision 6mm ARC AR-15 Upper is a collaborative project with Aero Precision, Brownell’s and Ballistic Advantage. 

Aero Precision provides their M4E1 upper receiver and Atlas R-One free-float M-LOK handguard. Ballistic Advantage supplies a stainless-steel heavy barrel with a 1.7-inch twist in your choice of barrel length in 16, 18, 20 or 24-inches. 

Also included are a matched bolt carrier group, charging handle and VG6 Gamma muzzle brake. 

Keep your eyes peeled. Aero’s Precision 6mm upper is a remarkable product in a hard-hitting long-range caliber, and they tend to go quick when in stock.

What's an AR-15 upper?

9mm AR9 Uppers - Unfinished Uppers
Unfinished upper and lower AR receivers fit together like a metallic glove.

The AR-15 is somewhat unique in that the rifle is composed of two halves, a lower and an upper. Or, more accurately, a lower receiver and an upper receiver assembly. 

The lower receiver has the magazine well, the stock and buffer/recoil spring assembly, and the trigger, hammer, and selector group. The upper receiver houses the bolt carrier group, the barrel, the gas system, charging handle, and the handguard. 

Now, the beauty of the AR-15 system is that it gives you a certain amount of modularity. You can change the rifle’s configuration almost at will; pop the two receiver pins, install the new upper on the lower, and you go from truck gun to long-distance fun with just a few taps of your non-marring hammer.

Granted, you can only swap uppers in the same caliber family; an AR-15 cannot use an upper for an AR-10, nor vice versa. However, you can pivot between an SBR in .300 BLK and a long-range upper in, say, 6.8 SPC II, 6.5mm Grendel, 6.5 PRC, 5.56mm NATO, or .224 Valkyrie with relative ease.

Long Range Uppers - Bushmaster AR Upper Diagram
The AR upper houses all the components that deliver the bang.

Why choose a long-range AR-15 upper?

AR Upper Group Shot Alternate
Not all uppers are created equally.

There are essentially three reasons to select a long-range AR-15 upper instead of a more standard or general-purpose variety. 

First is for laughs, so to speak; you want to shoot your AR at extended range. This requires a specific configuration of barrel & caliber.

The second is because you’re going to shoot the rifle in competition, especially Service Rifle matches. You won’t take home many trophies without an adequately configured kit.

The third is for hunting or varminting. 

Granted, big game hunting at extended range (say, 300 yards and beyond) is arguably the domain of the AR-10 more than the AR-15 platform. 

Calibers of the short-action class (.308, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08) are better game harvesters (with proper placement) at longer distances. Still, some AR-15 chamberings are effective on mid-size game to 400 yards, and perhaps beyond, with good shot placement. 

Placement is everything, sure, but an ethical hunter still wants their bullet to arrive with enough velocity and energy to do vital damage and kill their quarry as quickly as possible. At 400 yards, a shot from a .308 is better suited for that goal than one from a 5.56 NATO. 

If your intended use for a prospective long-range upper is hunting, select an appropriate choice for the game and area you’ll be hunting. Whitetails in the South are small, and shots are close; the mule deer in the West is larger and usually shot from a distance. Plan your build accordingly.

The Best Long Range Calibers For AR-15s

Long Range Uppers - SR25 Rifle at the Range
Maj. Gen. Douglas V. O'Dell shoots a 7.62mm KAC (Knight's Armament Company) SR-25 sniper rifle.

Some calibers are engineered for long-range shooting; others are not. You’ll want a cartridge with a high ballistic coefficient, which is how well it cuts through the air at high speed. 

Bad news: .300 Blackout is not that cartridge. While other .308-caliber cartridges are top-notch performers (.308, .300 Win Mag, .30-378 Weatherby, and God’s Own Cartridge of .30-06), .300 BLK lacks the velocity needed for serious long-range use. It’s 7.62×39 in different camo. 30-30 in a tactical vest. A great cartridge, but not for long-range.

But what is? 

6.8mm SPC II is an excellent candidate. 6.8mm SPC, or Special Purpose Cartridge, was designed for better down-range lethality than 5.56mm. It’s a .270 caliber bullet, meaning it can use most bullet weights of .270 Winchester — and it benefits from the higher ballistic coefficient.

The same is true of 6.5mm Grendel. The 6.5mm family is renowned for long legs due to high ballistic coefficients from its long and thin design, enabling it to slice through wind. That’s why .260 Remington, .264 Winchester, and 6.5mm Creedmoor are such proven performers in long-range shooting.

6mm ARC, a new proprietary cartridge from Hornady, is very promising, with high ballistic coefficients and longer legs than plain ol’ 5.56mm. Ammunition choices are limited but don’t sleep on this one. 

.224 Valkyrie and .22 Nosler are also excellent choices. Both cartridges send a .224 caliber bullet at higher velocities (typically an extra 300-400 feet per second) than 5.56mm does, so they have some long legs.

Choosing a 6.8, .224/22 or 6.5mm Grendel Upper

To get the best of a long-range AR-15 upper, start with a long barrel. Eighteen inches is a good start, but 20 inches is even better. The longer the barrel the better your powder burn will propel the projectile & increase muzzle velocity.

Second, a quality barrel. Meme-tier AR-15s need not apply; you want tight, consistent clearances. 

The handguard must be free-floating to allow for unimpeded barrel whip (the barrel’s vibration when fired), ensuring nothing will disturb the bullet’s path after it hits the rifling. 

As to barrel contour, HBAR and bull barrel contours are considered the top flight long range barrels as the extra mass and material between the gas block and receiver absorbs heat better than a thin profile — .but it matters less if you’re taking slow, deliberate single shots. 

If you’re serious about long-range shooting, you’ll want to pick a twist rate that’s engineered for the specific round you plan to shoot. Heavy-for-caliber bullets benefit from faster twist rates; slower twists are best for light-for-caliber loadings. 

The upper should be a railed flat-top for mounting optics, paired with a railed handguard. You’ll almost certainly be adding a bipod (foregrip bipods are trash, don’t do it), so that’s a must. 

Muzzle devices aren’t so impactful unless you’ll be adding a suppressor. If so, look for an upper that has a muzzle device compatible with suppressors (or be prepared to pick on up.)

Parting Shots

We’ve highlighted excellent examples of AR-15 uppers for long-range shooting applications, but ultimately it’s up to you to pick one that best fits your purposes. 

For game hunting, the 6mm, 6.5mm, and 6.8mm examples are your best choices for ethical game harvesting — not to mention they make great long-range target rifles. 6mm ARC, in particular, has a lot of promise as a real-deal long-range cartridge in a mini-length action. 

However, .22 Nosler and .224 Valkyrie also work well for hunting at responsible distances –don’t sell them short in that regard — and they’ll ring steel with the best of them. 

Like anything else, an upper is a tool for accomplishing a task. Make a good choice for what you’ll be doing with it, and you’ll never regret your purchase.

Sources

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