With so many semi-automatic rifles in ready circulation today, the question of picking the best rifle for a given caliber (and even deciding which caliber is right for you) can sometimes get confusing. We’ve got you: keep reading for a deep dive into some of the best semi-auto rifles today.
While the first factory-produced semi-auto rifles hit the market in the 1880s — those of Mr. Mannlicher of Austria — that European opening salvo was soon met by American-made autoloaders such as John Browning’s Winchester Model 1903 and 1905, which quickly began circulating around the United States and abroad.
Since then, semi-auto rifles in well over a hundred calibers have been produced ranging from such rare chamberings as .351 Winchester (which was very popular in the 1920s for a while), .30 Remington AR (yes, it was actually a thing), 7mm Meunier (which was only floating around France during the Great War) and .300 Fireball.
Seeking to avoid what could easily be a never-ending article, we highlight the 15 most common centerfire semi-auto rounds in U.S. circulation today and the top rifles for each.
The fabled Soviet-era round invented for use with the AK-74 series Kalashnikov in the 1970s has lots of potential but is pretty much still just used for Kalash clones today despite being around for nearly 50 years. The American-made value-leader when it comes to the type of rifle is Palmetto State Armory’s AK-74.
Then there is Century Arms’ “Project 74” gun, which was announced last year and hopefully will materialize soon. Going past that, Arsenal’s Bulgarian-infused SLR-104 series is going to be about the best you can lay hands on without traveling to the Northwest Frontier.
5.56 NATO/.223 Remington
When it comes to semi-automatic rifles chambered for the humble 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington, hands down the best choice is to go with the one that the round was designed for: Eugene Stoner’s AR-15.
With the ample magazine capacity and widespread availability of accessories, free floating components, folding stocks, and tribal knowledge of this platform — for everyone from law enforcement to the humble prepper — this is perhaps the most popular series of guns in the U.S. today.
If the AR is just too mainstream an offering– estimates are that something like 17 million are in circulation, earning the gun the deserved moniker of “America’s Rifle– there are some alternatives while sticking to the same caliber.
Going to a more domestic design, an all-time classic all-American carbine in .223 is Ruger’s Mini-14, which has been in circulation for more than 40 years with over a million produced.
This hot and spicy new cartridge, which is billed as being able to stretch the AR-15 style rifle out to long distance ranges with incredible accuracy, is off and running in popularity.
One of the most versatile (if sometimes forgotten) rounds available to sportsmen, the .243 Winchester can pinch-hit in that zone between a varmint rifle and taking medium-sized game like whitetail.
While several legacy AR10 makers such as ArmaLite, Bushmaster, and DPMS used to make .243-chambered rifles geared for hunters, those have largely gone the way of the dinosaur as MSR manufacturers have elected instead to move to more recently introduced tactical rounds specifically designed for semi-autos such as the .224 Valkyrie.
With that being said, Browning still makes models of their classic BAR in this caliber and up until very recently, Remington produced the Model 740/7400 with .243 as an option.
Alex Pro, an AR maker in Minnesota, from time to time also makes limited runs of their .243 Target and Field rifles, which are top-notch should you elect to snag one.
This excellent flat-shooting hunting round has been around for almost 100 years and, while typically used in bolt-action rifles by the millions, there are also a few long-action semi-autos around for the .270 Win.
This includes two rifles we mentioned before — the Browning BAR and Remington 740/7400. If you are a fan of the cartridge and want a semi-auto for those faster follow-up shots and more mild recoil, seek out one of these.
Today, the round is still going strong and even mainstream budget rifle makers are crafting guns for it– Palmetto makes several models of their PSA PA-15 chambered in the caliber. Stepping up from there, you can’t go wrong with a Larue Tactical LT-15 or Wilson Combat’s Super Sniper and Recon Tactical models.
There has probably been no greater boost to help rifle shooters break the traditional long-range 500-yard top out in recent firearms history than the 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Developed by Hornady in 2007 from, oddly enough, the Italian 6.5mm Carcano, the cartridge is optimized for semi-autos. With that, we have seen some beautiful 6.5CM sporting rifles released on the market in recent years.
Dating back to the last half of World War II, the Soviet M43 round in 7.62×39 is the granddaddy of intermediate cartridges designed for autoloaders and first surfaced in the SKS-45 rifle before Mikhail Kalashnikov had his original AK prototypes off the drawing board.
Since then, the cartridge has gone on to be probably the most common rimless rifle round in circulation around the globe.
Here in the U.S., the best bet for a rifle chambered in 7.62×39 is pretty much always going to be some sort of Kalash and our favorites for the type include the Palmetto State AK47, the Vermont-made Century Arms VSKA and the Kalashnikov USA KR-103 which hails from Florida.
Outside of the AK box, the most common American rifle to use the round is Ruger’s Mini-30.
The .300 AAC Blackout evolved from shadowy origins for unnamed special operators before breaking the internet via the abbreviated Honey Badger AR platform in 2011.
Ideal for compact pistol and SBR builds, the round has room to move in a carbine format and our picks for the caliber include the PSA PA-15, Barrett REC7DI Rifle, and Daniel Defense ISR. While it excels in suppressed firearms, the round is no slouch without a can when it comes to home defense and performance under 300 yards.
.308 Winchester/7.62 NATO
Designed in the late 1940s by the U.S. Army for their next generation of combat rifles, the 7.62×51 round was established as the NATO standard for battle rifles and machine guns in 1954– three years before the iconic M14 itself was adopted.
Old reliable when it comes to American rifle cartridges, the “aught-six” has been clocking in regularly for well over a century.
The standard rifle round for Uncle Sam for over 50 years, it is a double World War winner and is probably the last cartridge that will ever go out of regular factory production. With that lead-up, the logical winner of the 30.06 semi-auto category is the M1 Garand.
As the gun has been out of production for the military since 1957, the best source for military surplus examples in the government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program which, although they have a lot of hoops to jump through.
But with the CMP, the juice is worth the squeeze as they have the best selection around– drawn right from the Army’s attic.
Moving on from the Garand, there is always the Browning BAR and Remington Model 7400 sporting rifles for a more Mossy Oak feel while Noreen Firearms a few years ago introduced their AR-style BN36X3 carbine in the caliber.
Do a mag dump on one of those bad boys and the person in the stall next to you on the range is going to know it for sure.
A new kid on the block that is seeing lots of love from rifle makers, Winchester’s .350 Legend came along as a solution for sportsmen in states where hunting regs allow the use of a “straight-walled” cartridge to harvest deer.
While most traditional straight walls in circulation today– calibers such as .38-55 Winchester, .444 Marlin, and .45-70 Government– were typically intended and made for single-shot rifles and lever guns, the .350 is ideal for semi-autos.
So much so that PSA and CMMG have teamed up for a series of Legend rifles while Ruger has a model of their MPR sporting rifle available in the caliber as well.
Speaking of straight-walled cartridges intended for semi-auto modern sporting rifles, back when Bushmaster was a household name in the AR game, they worked with Hornady to develop Tim Legendre’s old .45 Professional load into something more mainstream.
Able to fit in a standard AR lower and single stack in 5.56 NATO magazines, the Bushmaster has seen a bit of success in the past several years, catering to those who want a big thump from an M4-sized carbine.
Although Bushmaster itself has gone out of existence, Ruger makes an AR-556 MPR model in .450, complete with a two-stage trigger and Magpul SL stock, which is a safe bet.
For those with the spare green to burn, Windham Weaponry’s 450 Thumper is the way to play.
Springing from the military’s experience with the local khat-infused militias in 1993 Mogadishu (see= Blackhawk Down), the .458 SOCOM evolved from a lengthened .50 AE for use in modified M4s.
Another of Bill Alexander’s babies, the .50 Beowulf has been offering AR-15 users the ability to deliver a massive 400-grain pill from their carbines for almost 20 years. Today, Alexander Arms still makes a broad line of semi-auto rifles in the caliber.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ferdinand, knight von Mannlicher | Austrian arms designer
- The Trace, Alex Yablon, How Many Assault Weapons Do Americans Own?, September 22, 2018
- Wikipedia, 6.5×52mm Carcano
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