Musings on the Budget AR15: Or why PSA is Better than Budget Rifles of Old.

Musings on the Budget AR15: Or why PSA is Better than Budget Rifles of Old.

When I hear “for the poors” I can’t help but reflect on how good we have it these days. For now. Take a look at PSA as a prime example. A $300 PSA kit with an Anderson lower receiver is the poster child for internet mockery. “Poverty pony”. “For the Poors.” Etc. Etc. I can’t help but think back on the on the AR15 market circa 2002-2004 and I can’t believe how good we have it. In those days, if you told me that I can buy an AR15 for $300-$400 I would expect the following:

  • A cast aluminum lower
  • Mystery bolt
  • carbine gas system
  • Poor/no staking on the half moon carrier
  • 4140 1/9 twist barrel without chrome lining
  • Non-F marked FSB
  • Basic mil-spec furniture
  • gritty trigger
  • A2 flash hider

There were less manufacturers, and less options… standard Bushmasters retailed around $900+ dollars. Getting a kit back then for sub $400 was a recipe for range disaster and frustration. Fast forward to today:


  • A PSA kit for $289. Hmmm.
  • Nitrided 4150 1/7 twist with 5.56 Nato chamber
  • Mid-length gas system
  • Carpenter 158 bolt, shot peened, MPI
  • Bolt carrier staked well, grade 8 fasteners, full m16 weight
  • F marked FSB
  • Basic mil-spec trigger
  • A2 flash hider

Something like this was not possible and not probable in the immediate post AWB market. It took a demoncrat president and EIGHT YEARS of panic buying to fan the flames of the AR15 market. This hot market caused numerous manufacturers to enter the arena and they produced some amazing advancements in the AR15 platform… rails, triggers, optics, furiniture, etc. etc. we could go on all night! Most importantly, in my opinion, was the competition and ensuing price reduction… making it cheaper to enter the AR15 market with a higher quality firearm than we had in years past.

A rifle which, according to Henderson Defense, keeps going and going on their rental line.

That averages out to 39,000 rounds of use for that upper assembly until the bolt broke and suffered a complete catastrophic failure. Because the bolt did break, the armorers checked the throat erosion (no issues) because they wanted to see for themselves how well it’s handled. – Ron shares his notes on PSA at AR15.c0m

That’s right. His PSA went 39k rounds before a bolt broke. That’s roughly $10k in ammo costs that rifle ate before it failed. To be fair, Ron says elsewhere that Colt bolts last the longest, but also elsewhere he noted that a HK416 was a waste of money due to it key holing well before it should have. Se le vie. I would be pretty happy with my budget blaster going 39k rounds.

So, in all honesty, today’s budget AR15 has closed the performance gap between basic and premium AR15’s quite a bit. I recognize that quality control from unit to unit may favor a higher priced AR15… that’s life. Every manufacturer has a lemon, and possibly more PSA’s may leave the line and need to be returned for QC issues… but they also produce something like 700+ serialized firearms and or receivers per day. That’s clown shoes. That’s nutso. I hope during the great igloo that PSA airdrops shovels AR15s out the back of their mass produced B57 bomber nockoff to arm the resistance. They have the capacity.


Wrapping Up:

The “poors” are getting some good gear these days. I stand by them and this blog has never frowned upon shooters with a budget. We are all in this together. A new shooter can grab a two PSA rifles, optic, mags, ammo, and some decent level IIIA ceramics for the price of a Daniel Defense DDM4. We are in a race to be equipped and ready for whatever the future may hold. It’s not a smart move in some areas of the USA to save for over a year for the rifle you want as they may be banned before you can get one.

For shooters who do frown upon lower tier brands, get some perspective. If you spend more than 5k-10k a year shooting and training, and can really appreciate that KAC and high end gear… Good for you. You are statically alone. Look around you. Look at normal people. Who does what you do? You are the anomaly. If you have knowledge of the gun, then part of your mission will necessitate on getting people educated and squared away, regardless of their budget.

Appreciate what shooters on a budget have these days. It’s far better than what they had in years past. We are lucky a company like PSA has streamlined the AR15 production process to the point where they can deliver a high quality product for the price. Without the sub $400 AR15, many shooters would have never looked at the black rifle as it was too expensive. Once they take the leap… They become one of us.

The infected.

Once you start, you just can’t stop.

Written by lothaen


  1. Silence DoGood · December 6, 2019

    This mirrors something I have been saying for years. Since 1963 we’ve had millions of US service members (in essence) doing R&D on the AR-15 platform. The stink from the Vietnam-era criticisms that it was a piece of junk made by Mattel lingered for decades after the problems that plagued it then were resolved. It’s now the most scrutinized and most refined weapons platform on the planet. It bears mention that the preferred carbine of all the US’s Tier 1 Operators is some derivative of the M4, and those guys can use whatever weapon they want. And the SpecWarriors of a great many other countries prefer the M4 even if their country’s military use a different rifle which the Mall Ninjas claim is superior. To the point, it’s such a thoroughly de-bugged platform that now even the low-end guns are pretty decent firearms.

    • lothaen · December 6, 2019

      Good points! The industry activity around the platform is unprecedented and one for the small arms history books! No other nation with a internally developed small arm has any level of comparison with the advancement of the AR15 platform. They take a sluggish, expensive road to troubleshoot and correct their own small arms…

      Meanwhile in America, the citizens and associated companies pour money, research, and development into the AR15 and have made it into the most versatile small arm of the last century. Without the 2nd, this would not have been possible!

    • RSR · February 2, 2020

      Agree with one caveat — M16/M4’s mag issue wasn’t really resolved until after we’d entered the GWOT. Granted, had the US used mags as single issue as originally intended, there would have been substantially less mag-related malfunctions, but they nevertheless did exist.

  2. comradewhoopie · December 6, 2019

    I have a pre-ban Colt A2 that I paid $650 for new back in the day and just bought a Del-Ton M4 for $400 and both work just fine, indeed the Del-Ton seems a wee bit more accurate. Will the Del-Ton last as well as the Colt has? We’ll see, but replacement parts are cheap and user serviceable if need be.

  3. thebronze · December 7, 2019

    Excellent piece!!!

    I can’t recommend PSA enough!! The produce a very good product at VERY affordable prices. What’s not to love about that?!

    That and they 100% support the 2nd!


    • Stephen Yaw II · March 29, 2020

      PSa is garbage. I bought 3 kits from them in 2018. I had to send two back. The 1st upper was badly canted and you could barely zero it. They fixed it but the barrel is trash. Its shoots 6 moa with m193 and 5 with m855. The second one I had to send back the upper would not close on a lower. They replaced it and I made the mistake of including the BCG when i sent that one in. I received a used BCG with the upper i got back from them. That one fits on a lower, but again, the fsb is canted. Its also grossly over gassed to the point the upper is chewing up the buffer. I replaced their buffer with an H2 and I would say time will tell, but it won’t, i’m replacing the barrels on both uppers. The 3rd kit went to a friend and everything was straight. I spent $1800 with them that year and will never spend another dime.

  4. Geoff · December 9, 2019

    Never used a PSA lower, but have bought several of the rifle kits in 5.56 and one in .308/7.62X51 to use with my finished 80% lowers.

  5. cieran58 · December 10, 2019

    Another factor to consider is the widespread use of the Net, and the many firearm review/testing sites or forums which fairly rapidly appraise readers which companies put out substandard parts or rifles. (looking at you, Moore Machine, Hesse, Vulcan arms, I.O.Interordnance etc.)

  6. RSR · February 2, 2020

    For me, I have both higher end (mainly BCM) ARs as well as PSA rifles. For me, PSA guns are priced at a level that works for a truck gun or other such use where abuse and potential loss/theft are more likely, as well as for a replacement of the SKS in the role of “stock your armory with a few spares to give to family/friends in need when SHTF.” YMMV.

    Regardless, really appreciate this article as our 2A rights are also dependent on getting new folks into shooting, and cost-effective and reliable firearms that fill multiple roles for folks really helps to increase accessibility.
    Beyond that, an AR15 is generally manageable for teenagers and petite women to increasingly frail senior citizens. Combined with a good optic (personally, I like prism red dots like Vortex Spitfires) and a white light, then these folks are more than capable of defending themselves and their loved ones.
    Granted, pistol-caliber carbines also fit a similar role are w/in this discussion, but that does include AR9s.

  7. Dan · March 6, 2020

    Back in the late 80’s I would have called you a liar if you told me in 30 years you could get an AR15 cheaper than a SKS.

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