AR-15: America’s Next Iconic Firearm?

Samuel Colt’s Single Action Army. John Moses Browning’s 1911. The Winchester Model 1894. These iconic guns are legends in American firearm history. They all have been lionized in print, film and pop culture. Even people who are not familiar with guns easily recognize them.

From John Wayne’s lever actions of the Wild West to General George Patton’s famous .45 caliber Single Action Army revolver, some guns have found themselves woven deeply into the fabric of America. Will Eugene Stoner’s ArmaLite Rifle design be the next?

The AR-15 and its military counterpart the M-16 have by far played the starring firearm role in both my childhood and adult life. As a kid watching G.I. Joe and his cohorts defend freedom on Saturday mornings or the evening news clips about real life soldiers doing it, there always seemed to be an M-16 in hand.

Television screens have been showing us the AR-15 for decades. The A-Team used them. Crockett and Tubbs on Miami Vice saw their share of them. Most recently, popular law enforcement based reality shows are full of troopers, game wardens and agents deploying AR rifles.

Similarly, feature films are awash in AR imagery. From Tony Montana’s “little friend” in Scarface to the US Army Rangers and Delta operators in Black Hawk Down, chances are if there is a firefight in a major motion picture, you can bet on seeing an AR platform rifle in action.

The explosion of modern action video games rounds out the saturation of the AR-15 in pop culture today.

Popularity as a sporting rifle

The AR platform of rifles has gained tremendous popularity as a sporting firearm. Texas hog hunters value the rifle for its ability to provide quick follow up shots during close encounters in thick brush. The larger capacity magazine allows for shots at multiple pigs quickly and provides enough ammunition in reserve if a 300 pound boar decides to turn and charge in at 30 mph.

Predator hunters here in Maine have noted the ability to easily customize the rifle for a variety of lights, night vision riflescopes and length of pull when dressed for cold February nights. Also, accuracy in the range of 200 – 300 yards is very attainable. This makes educated coyotes hanging up outside of a bait set fair game.

While stalking for hours through the forested hillsides and rugged mountain terrain of the west, hunters that choose the AR can break the rifle down into pieces and stow it in their pack both quickly and easily. This makes keeping both hands free to glass ridgelines and navigate deep cuts a whole lot safer.

Shooting sports and defense

Competitive shooting sports such as the wildly popular “3-Gun” incorporate modern sporting rifles as one of the mandatory guns to be used. In the majority of cases, the rifle of choice is the AR-15.

Bench Rest, Silhouette and Position sports all see their share of participants cradling an AR platform rifle. The modular design of the AR-15 makes it perfectly suited for shooters of all disciplines by way of customizing barrels, trigger assemblies and stocks for individual needs.

Even the most amateur of gun enthusiasts have shown interest in just plinking with an AR. The ease of operation, low recoil and adjustable length of pull on collapsible stock models are making this rifle even more popular with beginners and youth shooters.

Defensively, more and more gun owners are replacing the trusty shotgun with an AR-15 for home and property defense. A look at defensive firearm training around the country confirms this.

Legend or Trend

Only time will tell if the AR-15 secures a position in the ranks of America’s most legendary firearms or goes by the wayside as just another flash in the pan trend.

Either way, one thing is for certain. The AR-15 is as uniquely American as baseball and apple pie.


John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and an NRA Certified Range Safety Officer. He is a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and is the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as a freelance outdoors writer and is the author of “Life on the Ridge” for the outdoors section. He can be reached at or on Facebook @TuckerRidgeOutdoors

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