Ruger AR-556 .223 Carbine

By Randy Wakeman

Ruger AR-556 Carbine

Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger.

The Armalite AR-15 rifle is hardly news. It was designed in 1957 as a downsized version of the AR-10 for the Remington designed .223 cartridge and has been around since 1958. It was originally a target rifle for the U.S. Air Force, impressing General Curtis LeMay by destroying watermelons at a Fourth of July picnic.

Over the years, the AR-15, adopted by the US military as the M16, earned a poor reputation from a tragic comedy of errors: ammunition issues, cost-cutting issues, jamming issues, penetration issues, stopping power issues and so forth. The original versions just plain sucked. Its primary virtues were very little recoil and the high velocity/flat trajectory of its original 55 grain bullet.

The AR design was filed for patent by Eugene Stoner back on Aug 14, 1956. In September 1960, US Patent #2951424 was granted. Meanwhile, Fairchild Armalite sold its rights to the AR-10 and AR-15 back in 1959.

In the last fifty years, the select fire (full auto and semi-auto) M16 has seen its ups and downs, with more downs than ups. With all of the military modifications over the years, the M16 went from a light, sub-six pound rifle to a bloated nine pounds or more with all the goodies hanging off of it. The original AR-15 had a 1:14 rate of twist barrel, changed to 1:12, and changed again to 1:7 in the M16A2 (Colt Model 645). The last change was made to accommodate heavier bullets (62-77 grains) intended to increase sectional density and thus penetration.

Unfortunately, this change to heavier bullets negated the cartridge's primary advantage of high velocity and flat trajectory. The .223/5.56mm NATO cartridge depends primarily on high impact velocity for its wounding effectiveness in soft tissue, so the trend toward heavier bullets and barrels shorter than 20 inches significantly degrades its stopping power.

Now, over 55 years later, the military AR-15 in M16 (rifle) and M4 (carbine) versions has been designed, redesigned, modified and re-modified over 47 times. Semi-automatic versions of the AR-15 have become the most popular civilian rifles in the United States, as service rifles and their cartridges traditionally do. Ruger, the designer and manufacturer of the Mini-14 (a carbine that competes directly with AR-15), has now introduced their own version of an AR-15.


  • Model Number: 8500
  • Caliber: .223 Rem. / 5.56mm NATO
  • Stock: Black Synthetic, Collapsible
  • Front Sight: Adjustable Post
  • Rear Sight: Adjustable Ruger Rapid Deploy
  • Barrel Length: 16.10 in.
  • Thread Pattern: 1/2 in.-28
  • Twist: 1:8 in. RH
  • Grooves: 6
  • Magazine Capacity: 30 rounds
  • Metal Finish: Type III Hard Coat Anodized
  • Height: 8 in.
  • Weight: 6.5 lbs.
  • Overall Length: 32.25 in. - 35.5 in.
  • Length of Pull: 10.25 in. - 13.5 in.
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • 2016 MSRP: $799.00

The Ruger Rapid Deploy folding rear sight provides windage adjustability and pairs with the front sight for a solid, reliable aiming system. The rear sight can be folded out of the way to make room for optics, but can be instantly redeployed if needed. The front sight post is elevation adjustable and a front sight tool is included. The A2-style F-height allows co-witness with many optics.

A telescoping, six-position, M4-style black synthetic buttstock and Mil-Spec buffer tube is fitted. This allows the carbine to be properly sized for different shooters, or varying levels of outerwear or defensive gear.

Made from aerospace-grade 7075-T6 aluminum forging, the flattop upper receiver includes a forward assist, dust cover and brass deflector. It is Type III hard coat anodized for maximum durability. The bolt is machined from 9310 alloy steel and is shot peened and pressure (proof) tested to ensure strength, structural integrity and durability.

The patent pending Barrel Nut and Delta Ring are designed for one person hand-guard removal and installation. The design accepts standard carbine length hand-guards. The barrel nut uses a standard wrench and can be swapped with a Mil-Spec barrel nut if desired.

A milled gas block is located at a carbine-length (M4) position for improved balance and handling. Multiple attachment points include a QD socket and bayonet lug for many sling and accessory mounting options. Serrations on the angled face of the gas block provide a low-glare surface.

The medium contour, cold hammer-forged barrel with precise rifling provides very good accuracy, longevity and easy cleaning. The 1:8 inch twist rate stabilizes bullets from 35 to 77 grains and the chamber allows the use of both 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem. ammunition. M4 feed ramps provide improved operational reliability and the matte black oxide finish reduces glare and provides corrosion resistance. A Ruger flash suppressor is provided and the 1/2 in.-28 threaded barrel allows standard muzzle accessories to be installed.

A chrome-plated bolt carrier inside diameter and chrome-plated gas key inside diameter provide exceptional resistance to hot gases. The gas key is staked so that it will not loosen after extensive firing. A matte black oxide finish on the exterior of the bolt carrier provides corrosion resistance.

The Single-stage trigger provides durable and reliable fire control. An enlarged trigger guard is designed to allow gloved shooting.

The Ergonomic pistol grip features an extended trigger reach for more precise trigger control. Handguards are made from heat-resistant, glass-filled nylon for shooting comfort and durability. Also included is one 30-round Magpul PMAG magazine.

Originally, the AR-15 had a 1:14 rate of twist, generally considered good for 40-55 grain bullets at normal ranges. The twist was changed to 1:12, ideally suited to the 55 grain service bullet at maximum range and excellent for varmint bullets weighing from 40-60 grains. For 77 grain (SOCOM) bullets, 1:7 is considered a good choice. This Ruger has a 1:8 rate of twist, called optimum for M885 Ball ammo (a 62 grain projectile).

The tested Ruger AR-556 weighs 6-1/4 pounds without a magazine. The trigger has no take-up whatsoever, it just breaks, but it is exceptionally heavy for a sporting rifle at eight pounds, which is repeatable. The first order of business for any AR-556 owner who is a serious shooter will be to lighten the trigger pull.

The AR-556 is well-machined and well-finished. About the only thing the very finicky might want (aside from a lighter trigger pull) is a hard chrome lined barrel to make cleaning a bit quicker, but this is not important to me.

The factory sighting system is fine for close quarters. The A2 front sight is coarse, covering a lot of real estate, even at 50 yards. I have not done the calculations, but it is something like a 14 MOA front sight post, covering roughly seven inches at 50 yards. While it is easy to hit a silhouette at 50 yards with the supplied sighting system, for anything approaching a decent group at 100 yards you will likely want to add optics. This is easy enough using the built-in rail, if you choose to go that route. Of course, the folks that are really into ARs and want a specific configuration would likely get a second upper, anyway.

The AR-556 can be an excellent home defense rifle, easy to use for women, senior citizens and most everyone else. The recoil is low and it is easier with which to hit than a handgun. Given the questionable stopping power of much 5.56mm/.223 ammunition, especially from short barreled carbines, multiple hits on a single perp might possibly be necessary, so plenty of ammo on tap is good insurance.

The persons who have the most need for 30 round magazines are those who would have difficulty changing magazines, such as the very elderly, or persons with arthritis or disabilities. Although one can quickly change magazines, someone being attacked by a gang of criminals will typically prefer not to waste even a few seconds for a magazine change.

The AR-556 is a lightweight, well-balanced rifle. With the adjustable stock, it will fit most anyone and its function with 62 grain Federal American Eagle rounds proved to be flawless. Like essentially all .223 rifles, recoil is exceedingly mild. Normally selling for about $700 at your local sporting goods store, the Ruger version is clearly a lot of AR for the money.

Back in 2013, Armalite rifles were hard to find and prices soared past $2000 for a time. If the AR-15 platform appeals to you, now is a great time to buy and this Ruger AR-556 is a solid choice. As AR-15s go, it is an excellent value.

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Copyright 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.