The venerable AR-15 might be the most versatile rifle platform ever produced. A tweak here and there, and a rifle configured for home defense can be transformed for a coyote stand or a shooting competition. The AR-15's flexibility is arguably its greatest asset, and as time goes on it has only become more varied. In recent decades, manufacturers have vastly expanded chambering options in the AR, opening the platform to a host of new applications. Able to digest rounds from the demure 5.56 NATO up to the behemoth .50 Beowulf, there are few roles the AR-15 can’t fill, and fill well. On top of that, the AR-15 is lights-out accurate. Its direct impingement operating system essentially free-floats the barrel, giving it superior harmonics compared to many other semi-automatics. And the fact that aftermarket parts are thick as beaver fur, given Mil-Spec uniformity, you never run out of new ways of getting the most out of this gem. If you have a taste for a vintage model of this American Classic original Colt AR-15 Sporters can be found, but expect to pay collectors’ prices to procure one.
There’s little arguing that the 21st century has been the era of the semi-automatic rifle. The firearms world is awash in every conceivable style of gun designed to chew through ammunition as quick as your trigger finger can squeeze it out. But semis weren’t born yesterday.
Firearms innovators have been tinkering with the concept since the first self-contained cartridges were developed. Heck, the Danish Navy adopted the Madsen-Rasmussen all the way back in 1896, giving them the honor of being the first military force to formally adopt an auto-loading rifle.
With that sort of history, there is a slew of rare and common semi-automatic rifles that make dandy additions to any gun safe. But arguably there are some true masterworks — even in their modern iterations — that any diehard firearms enthusiast should pine after. With that in mind, here is a list of five classic semi-automatic rifles you’ve got to own.
A quick note about hunting down some of these guns: Do your research! There are many examples of some of the more vintage rifles on this list that look like the real McCoy, but don’t perform like them. Parts for many of these rifles abound and can be thrown together using less than desirable manufacturing processes. In turn, your hard-earned money can be wasted on what you thought was a functional rifle and turned out to be little more than an expensive wall hanger, if not worse.