I have a friend who likes to spend top dollar on his rifles. He also thinks you should buy expensive oil if you care about your car. Are you that type of a person? Well, I'm not. I am exactly the opposite. I used to design and build racecars in college, and raced cars as a hobby before I got involved in shooting. Never ran anything fancier than your standard Mobile 1 Synthetic. But I have to admit, his rifle IS really nice. But in the end, whats the difference between that rifle and my rifle? Well, for starters, his rifle upper costs much more than what my rifle cost in its entirety. Aside from that, how different is the end result? Both our rifles are accurate, both of our rifles are reliable. His rifle does have a cooler stock, cooler flip up sights, and is a bit more accurate because of the free floating barrel. But in the end, there isn't anything I can't do with mine what he can do with his. And mine cost almost three times as less as his rifle. So here is to you penny pinchers, economic value maximizers of the gun world. I salute you.
The goals of this build was to build a all-around, M-4 clone that I can run in multigun competitions. That meant it needed to be reliable first, decently balanced (i.e. not too front heavy), and decently accurate. Since most good AR's will shoot 1moa, I wasn't too concerned about accuracy. I had the choice between a 16" barrel and a 14.5" barrel with barrel extension; the latter would make the rifle easier to move from target to target. However, to save money I went with the 16" barrel.
There are some things in an AR-15 that is important for reliability. First is having at least the interior of the bolt group assembly chromed plated. This ensures that the parts glide easier and stands up to dirt particles and unclean conditions better. Having M4 style feedramps help too, though many run their rifles just fine without it. The key point here is to make sure that the feed ramps are properly machined into the receiver. For more details on M4 feedramps, check this link. This rifle build has both of these features.
Another important feature of a reliable rifle is the barrel. In fact, the barrel is the rifle's heart and soul. Accuracy and durability both depend on the barrel. This rifle comes with a nitride treated barrel. This process changes the chemical composition of the surface of the steel. So it isn't a lining or plating process, but a chemical process. The treated surface is much harder then bare steel, increasing the barrel's longevity. Another benefit of the nitriding process is that the layer of treated material is completely uniform, so accuracy is unaltered. This is in contrast to chrome lining, where uniformity of the lining thickness must remain perfect in order to ensure accuracy. That being said, most good chrome lined barrels have good lining and will be accurate enough, and chrome lining is more durable than nitriding. For the same amount of money I'd pick the chrome lined barrel. But its not for the same amount of money, so I picked nitrided barrel.
So what do you do to actually build one? Well, the best deals are found in packages. A package deal will have the upper already assembled, include a lower parts kit, and a stock. Basically, everything without the lower receiver. The reason the rifles are sold that way is to save on excise tax. Legally speaking, the part that counts as a rifle is the lower receiver which has the serial number. Without the lower receiver, the bundle of parts is not considered a rifle. On a rifle, the seller must pay a 11% tax, unless less than 50 of said rifles are made per year. That means if you are buying a rifle for 750 dollars, 82.5 dollars of that is actually just the excise tax. Also, you save a bit of money because the manufacturer does not have to spend resources to assemble the rifles.
I bought mine from www.surplusammo.com, but I am not sure if they have the same special. Last time I checked, Palmetto State Armory has a slightly pricier package but with a chrome lined barrel. Shop around!
As long as the parts are made to spec, and are hammer forged aluminum, you really don't need to shell out hundreds of dollars for an upper or lower receiver, so don't let the low price tag drive you away. As far as the lower goes, you can buy one for under 100 easy. Sometimes you can find one for 50 dollars. Don't forget the FFL transfer fee. Or if you live in a state like Florida, you can buy one from a guy trying to get rid of his with no hassle.
Well, there ya go. An easy, reliable, and cheap rear sight option is the MBUS flip up rear sight from Magpul. You can find one used for 40 bucks easy. If not, I discovered that the cheap carry handle from CDNN/Target Sports is 40 dollars new and holds zero very well. Just don't chop that carry handle; it'll move around if you cut off the front end of the carry handle.
Assembly is a piece of cake. Really. Quite literally, a 7 year old can do it. So if you are afraid to assemble your own rifle, don't be. Just go for it. Especially since the upper comes pre-made. And an assembled AR-15 will be an assembled AR-15, no difference in performance or reliability between two people assembling them. Plus, you'll learn all about how your rifle works.
DSA Arms ZM-4 Upper Receiver
16" M4 profile Nitride Treated Barrel
DSA Arms Bolt Group Assembly - Chrome plated interior
DPMS Lower Parts Kit
Tapco 6 Position Stock (works just fine, no issues with charging handle)
Total cost here: 570 dollars
Icing on the cake:
Magpul MBUS rear sight
Trijicon Reflex RX-06 with Polarization Filter
Troy Battlerail Quad Rail System
Blackhawk 3 Point Sling, modified to work on quad rail sling swivel
2 point sling I "sourced" from a bag
Conclusion? I've had this rifle since bar exam prep period (which would be July), and I've fired hundreds of rounds through it. And in my typical fashion, I go 2-4 range trips in between cleanings. Zero failures using brass ammo. Accuracy? I am not good enough to shoot anywhere near 1moa using iron sights, but when I was zeroing in my rifle at 50/200m, I was sure I could hit a quarter using iron sights within 3 shots at 50 meters. Good enough for me!