April 2018

Affordable Home-Defense Rifles: AR-15 or M1 in 30 Carbine?

We wanted to see how the Carbine matched up with a more-modern home-built AR-15 for home and short-range defense. Both will do the job for men and women, but one has an edge.

Affordable Home-Defense Rifles: AR-15 or M1 in 30 Carbine?

The home-built AR-15 which cost $600 to assemble.

When we evaluate firearms, there are guidelines we follow. Some of the projects are a result of market forces, where we are guided by what is new in the market place. Then there are reader requests. The following evaluation combines those arenas. Readers have shown interest in the M1 30 Carbine because it is a lightweight, handy rifle with historical overtones that shooters of a certain age respect. Accordingly, we have done comparisons of the rifles head to head and also ammunition testing.

Likewise, we have extensively tested AR-15 rifles and ammunition. So, coupled with experience in handling both rifles and the preference of some of the raters, we cooked up an AR-15 versus M1 Carbine shoot-out, with a slant toward inexpensive rifles for home defense. The M1 Carbine is fairly inexpensive in most examples, including good-quality modern reproductions such as the Auto Ordnance. Until very recently when regulatory bans began pointing anew at the semi-auto rifle, the AR-15 had been increasingly affordable, and we even saw something of a price war going on as late as January 2018. So, with a budget theme in mind, we chose two rifles for a new shooter on a budget and limited the spend to $800, including a reasonable number of magazines and a credible ammunition supply. Counted in this evaluation were the opinions of inexperienced and female shooters, the latter of which we listened to carefully to find a combination of recoil, muzzle blast, and firearm weight the distaff gun owner might prefer.

Some prefer a long gun for home defense for its power and accuracy, and the fact that handguns require time and inclination to master, a rifle can be an easier-to-learn tool, especially if area defense is also a consideration — that is, your yard is pretty large or if roaming predators, such as coyotes and feral dogs, are a consideration. A hard-hitting but light-kicking rifle can give results much beyond what a handgun can do for most shooters, if the rifle is reliable and accurate enough.

The ammunition testing we have previously done in each caliber is an important part of the summary of facts in this feature. In terms of power, the 30 Carbine round in its most-common size, 110 grains, runs slightly behind the standard 223 Remington in a 55-grain bullet. But power isn’t the only consideration for someone using a rifle inside a home. Too much penetration is a problem. Choosing the right round is crucial to balance what’s needed to stop the fight and what’s too much. In previous tests, we found the Hornady 110-grain Critical Defense 30 Carbine round produced 1980 fps and the resulting energy of 957 foot-pounds. Shot into water, that round terminated with an expanded width of 0.47 inch and weight retention of 100%. It penetrated 20 inches of water. A Hornady V-Max 223 Remington load with a 55-grain bullet sped along at 2890 fps and produced muzzle energy of 1019 foot-pounds. That might worry the home defender, but this particular round finished with an expanded width of 0.44 inches of the largest fragment. It retained 50% of its weight and only penetrated 10 inches in water. The AR, again, has the edge because it’s possible to tailor the load to the home, and that’s not as feasible with the 30 Carbine rounds.

How do these rifle rounds stack up to some common handgun loads? They’re much more powerful. As noted above, the 30 Carbine Hornady FXT generates muzzle energy of 957 foot-pounds and the 223 Hornady V-Max 1019 foot-pounds. In comparison, a Double Tap 10mm 135-grain round generates 1555 fps and 725 foot-pounds of energy. A Black Hills 357 Magnum 125-grain round running 1430 fps makes 567 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, and a Black Hills 45 ACP 230-grain JHP clicking along at 850 fps makes a paltry 369 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

So with those facts in mind, we compared an Israeli Arms International M1 30 Carbine and a home-built AR-15. Average price at outlets was $480 for the 30 Carbine. Also, we found a Universal Carbine in a local shop for $425, and average price for a new Auto Ordnance 30 carbine was $775. We found a new Del-Ton AR-15 for $399 new in the shop. There are many good AR-15 rifles going begging at the beginning of the year for $600 and less. This is a turnaround from a year ago. So, a clear winner on the price scale goes to a budget AR, at least until a new buying boom changes that. For more stable pricing, we chose to test a gun we built ourselves. The test AR-15 rifle consists of an Aero upper and receiver, Brownells barrel, and Brownells bolt. The parts priced out to $600, and we got what we consider to be an average rifle with good components. We realize you can go as high as you want on the AR-15 and spend several thousand dollars, but that isn’t what we are doing in this report.

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