Best .223 Rifle for the money: Bolt Action – Semi-Auto – Varmint Rifle

No matter your use case, there is a sufficiently well refined rifle on this list that can be applied to your needs.
Best .223 Rifle - Featured Image

The best .223 rifle will be a versatile and capable firearm that will allow you to legitimately use it for plinking, target shooting, hunting and even for home defense if you are inclined to use a small caliber high powered rifle for home defense (see our notes about that a little lower in the article).

The .223 Remington is substantially similar to the 5.56x45mm and therefore the AR-15 platform has become a premium place to find the .223 Remington and has led to the massive popularity of the round. We also cover the specifics of this “substantial similarity” between the two cartridges later in the article which may be enlightening to many readers about how they work together.

Having such a wide availability to the .223 Remington in the form of very interesting and fun firearms, complete with the other aspects of the caliber, like the low recoil, high power, and low cost of cartridges, has combined to make the .223 Remington one of the most popular cartridges of all time. The caliber and the firearms that support it are known as some of the most fun, most customizable, and therefore the most interesting (to a broad range of shooters), firearms of all time.

As we move through this article, we are confident you will find a lot of new information about the .223 Remington, the firearms that support it and ultimately be able to find a new, high-quality rifle that is perfectly built for the cartridge and harnesses the best attributes of the caliber.

Best .223 Rifle Comparison

LWRC International - IC-SPR

IC-SPR - LWRC

The quintessential gas piston driven AR-15 rifle, this is among the more well proven rifles on the market and if you need a gun that can run nonstop for a very long time in adverse condition, then this is one of the best you will find. It is also a 100% solution from factory that literally does not need any upgrades (unless you want to add optics) and you can expect exceptional ergonomics, accuracy and thin and light maneuverability.

It’s an end solution from factory. That’s the deal with the LWRC guns in general, and this is the flagship version of that. If you are sick of trying to cram more things onto your gun and want something that is minimalist, but still feels complete, this is the one gun.

It’s pricey, yes, but it’s just a well put together, completely reliable and great looking version of the AR-15.

Pros:

  • Factory end user solution
  • Well appointed but feels lean and minimalist
  • Well balanced
  • Ridiculously reliable

Cons:

  • Hard to find anything wrong with this gun (it’s a bit more expensive than other AR’s)

This is best for:

People who actually need to know their AR will work every single time.

Ruger - American Ranch

RUGER - AMERICAN RANCH AR-MAGS

Super simple design with the obvious benefit of the reliable magazine integration from the AR platform. You are likely to already own and use the AR15 magazines, so why not put them to good use for the bolt action that Ruger offers that can enhance overall accuracy; reliability and ease of use by new shooters or by veterans in the field for hunting.

This is a beautiful combination of a bolt action with a high capacity magazine, which makes it ideal for the hunter, and the person who wants to play at the range. Use smaller magazines when you are hunting and larger ones when you are at the range. A great design for those who don’t realize the inherent accuracy of the best .223 bolt action rifle; even better for those who already do.

Pros:

  • Simple
  • Durable
  • Accurate – more than most of the other rifles on this list
  • Takes the AR15’s magazines

Cons:

  • No padding

This is best for:

Ranch use, hunting use and the target range.

IWI US - Tavor XB95 Left Hand

IWI US - TAVOR XB95 LEFT HAND

One of many great battle rifles, this is a newer design on the tried and true bullpup carbine that was made famous by the Steyr AUG, which incidentally is a contender here on the list for one of the best .223 rifles on the planet. IWI is a proven company that produces top tier firearms and is a major innovator in the firearms industry as well as on more specifically the military stage.

Simple, compact and offering high power and high capacity, this is a very powerful little tool that lends itself well to close quarters combat and yet, has the accuracy and capability to be a hunting rifle, a target rifle and most importantly a fun gun for going through large volumes of .223 ammo.

Pros:

  • Compact
  • Reliable
  • Accurate
  • Nice functionality for the non-AR segment of the market

Cons:

  • Not being like all the others from a controls perspective means you will have to re-learn the functionality aspects of the carbine/bullpup

This is best for:

As a battle rifle or for playing around and utilizing the special features that are only inherent on a bullpup design.

Arsenal INC - SLR106

ARSENAL INC - SLR106

While it is exceptionally reliable, the .223 Remington is not the most reliable cartridge in the world. And a legitimate argument could be made in favor of the 7.62x39mm over the .223 Remington as far as pure reliability goes – from feeding, to ignition to extraction and repeated exposure to dirt and environmental detractors. An almost equal argument could be made for the value of the AK towards the propagation of that reliability.

Here you get the best of both worlds, you get the incredible reliability of the AK platform, and the better performing small caliber cartridge between the AK74’s 5.45x39mm and the 5.56x45 (~.223 Remington). Not only that, you are getting one of the best versions of the AK ever built from a durability and functionality perspective, with this being an excellent variant that retains the resiliency of the stamped receiver.

Pros:

  • It’s an AK
  • It’s a very well-made AK

Cons:

  • No real Cons

This is best for:

Defensive and tactical shooting where reliability is paramount.

FN - SCAR 16S

FN - SCAR 16S

Special operations credibility and more than enough reliability and versatility to make this the quintessential battle rifle for the modern civilian (or operator). There is literally no tougher rifle on the market for general use and the overall performance is among the best in all of the semi-auto .223 Remington world

You simply cannot go wrong with this rifle for any purpose, including hunting (though you’ll need some accessories like a low capacity magazine and a scope to make it better suited to the task), target shooting and tactical uses. If you want a gun for home defense and you want the 5.56/.223, then this is among the best choices, even if it is a bit heavier than some options. The low overall length and the extreme reliability make it a significant performer.

Pros:

  • Exceptional reliability
  • Great accuracy
  • Built to an impossible durability standard compared to most competitors.

Cons:

  • Costly

This is best for:

Home defense if you are ok with the cartridge; for tactical battle scenarios.

Daniel Defense - DDM4 V11 Lightweight

DDM4 V11

A slim, skeletonized, high end AR-15 with great ergonomics and a short swing. Daniel Defense makes great guns, and for all that you are getting it’s not too tough to justify the price point. It’s anything but standard, but it is THE standard in the industry for the factory AR-15. A fine example of what is possible for those who have a well-built rifle that results from a harmonious group of component parts.

The flattop upper and the well-integrated components make mounting optics easy and the lightweight build and shorter barrel make this rifle so easy to use for so many different applications. It is a particularly good gun for target use for smaller individuals, even though it doesn’t seem to comport to the “longer barrel is better” mantra of most target guns. It is very accurate at 100-200 yards.

Pros:

  • Great harmony between components
  • Excellent brand name and build quality

Cons:

  • It’s a little small for the longer distance shooting some users may want to shoot at

This is best for:

As an all-purpose AR-15 for use in any arena. This is a great all-purpose choice for someone who isn’t yet sure what they want to do with their rifle.

Remington - 700 SPS Tactical

Remington - 700 SPS Tactical

A spectacular hunting gun or target gun for those who want tack driving accuracy and don’t need high capacity magazines or a ton of accessories. This is a perfect core for a top-level varmint gun or a legitimate 400-yard gun for the .223 Remington. If you want a deer gun or a varmint gun, this is a perfect choice. You don’t have to remember to carry the smaller magazines, because you have the built-in magazine; and it is not a complex rifle.

This is a tactically styled bolt action rifle that is utilizing a heavyweight contour for the barrel but is overall, nicely lightweight to handle.

One of the best .223 varmint rifle you can own.

Pros:

  • Great accuracy
  • Well built and made to last a very long time

Cons:

  • Plain, and bare-bones (too much for many shooters)

This is best for:

Hunting; longer range target shooting when fitted with a high-end scope and factory ammunition.

Fightlite Industries - SCR SPTR 5.56 KEYMOD

Fightlite Industries - SCR SPTR 5.56 KEYMOD

A seriously cool rifle, this is hybridized approach to the standard AR-15 with a rifle style rear-end and lower receiver that offers hunters a better sight picture and more natural positioning for your cheek weld and other optic-related positioning.

This gun allows you all the benefits of a snag free, easy to swing rifle, with the same functionality and control set as the AR platform. This means you are familiar with the positioning and features, but also get the natural feel of a pure hunting style rifle. The cartridge is a perfect fit for the rifle, and the lockup ensures great accuracy. The low overall weight is a very nice perk.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight
  • Very comfortable for fast sight acquisition

Cons:

  • Sort of expensive for a gun that hasn’t been proven over the long term

This is best for:

Hunting a wide range of small and moderately sized game, when you need a simple, snag-free firearm

Steyr Arms - AUG A3 M1

Steyr Arms - AUG A3 M1

The original bullpup (at least the best received bullpup); and the internationally issued, high end, field serviceable battle rifle that is fun, accurate, capable of hardcore tactical use and ridiculously reliable. This is the semi auto version of what is an actual assault rifle. This is the civilian version in every way, including the high rail which supports better optic positioning; the semi-auto operation and the civilian action group.

A bullpup design that is timeless: as relevant today as it was in 1977 when it was first adopted by several European Militaries.

Pros:

  • Compact and easy to maneuver
  • Durable
  • Impeccable build quality fit and finish

Cons:

  • Starting to get a bit dated after being one of the most innovative and long-standing rifles of several generations

This is best for:

Close quarters combat and sporting use.

A Brief history of the .223 Remington

The .223 Remington has history with the American shooting public and has a major attribution to the .222 Remington and other parent cartridges. From 1957 until it’s SAAMI standardization in 1964, the .223 Remington was primarily developed for use as a replacement to the infantry rifle for the United States Military.

Initially, the .223 Remington was used as a target and small game hunting cartridge in the civilian shooting market, and the endorsement in 1963 of the M193 cartridge from the Military went a long way to solidifying the performance potential for the cartridge.

It has been a trajectory of exponential growth since then, despite pressure in the 1980’s and 1990’s from certain media outlets in the firearms industry that called it “underpowered” and “outmoded” relative to the innovation of the day and other military standard issue rounds, particularly the favorite civilian plinking cartridge of the era, the 7.62x39mm.

What can I use it for generally?

The versatility of the .223 Remington and a majority of the guns that are chambered for it, is exceptional. The high velocity, small caliber projectile and the significant powder charge behind the bullet makes it a very fast, flat shooting round for general purpose tasks.

The resulting use case in target shooting up to about 300 yards in calm conditions and the relatively high energy delivery on target at the same range makes it an ideal small game and intermediate game hunting cartridge.

Game animals from varmint like groundhogs and prairie dogs; squirrel, coyote, smaller pigs an hogs, and even intermediately sized deer can be taken easily with the cartridge. This is particularly true with the availability of a very broad grain weight offering spectrum which ranges from tiny 36 grain bullets to large 77 grain projectiles.

The larger projectiles lend themselves well to larger game and the resulting velocity differences are negligible considering the massive velocity to begin with of the cartridge. The larger grain weights hit with enough force to dispatch animals to 450 lbs. or so, realistically.

The extreme game variance availability with the cartridge allows a shooter with a proper rifle setup to hunt on one day form game that’s less than 15 lbs., with a cartridge that favors a 36-55 grain projectile; and then on another day with a larger 77 grain (or similar) projectile for deer or hogs.

The same cartridge (actually the NATO specification 5.56x45mm) has been used effectively on the battlefield for decades. This doesn’t mean it is a super effective home defense cartridge. Nevertheless, it has been adopted by millions of civilians and law enforcement professionals as a tactical defensive cartridge that has some legitimate backing for use against human targets.

The small caliber and the possibility for overpenetration can be a detriment to use as a fully effective home defense cartridge, but the sentiment in most of the civilian market is that it is acceptable. We will only voice our opinion that it is not an optimum home defense cartridge for urban settings due to the high velocity and potential for over penetration; paired with the relatively small stopping power by virtue of grain weight.

It pales in comparison to many other moderate and higher velocity cartridges with a heavier grain weight. That said, it is a high-powered cartridge and has been used in a wartime role for many years, and is by no means ineffective. So, our opinion is this: while not optimum, it is certainly an acceptable choice for home defense.

Plinking and general fun shooting is a perfect task for the .223 Remington, especially given the availability of the and price point of the cartridges.

A quick word about the .223 Remington and the 5.56x45mm

Surely most people believe the rounds to be interchangeable and for many practical matters, they are. But they are not the same thing, and they do have vastly different pressure ratings. Not only that, but they should be understood as to when they can be and when they cannot be used interchangeably.

First and foremost, the obvious: a .223 Remington is generally suitable for use in a firearm built to the specifications of a rifle that can handle the 5.56x45mm. The reverse is not true. Not only is the 5.56x45mm a much higher pressure loaded cartridge, it is also going to see additional pressure and safety concerns because of the complication of the throat and neck dimensions and angles.

YOU SHOULD NOT SHOOT ANY 5.56x45MM AMMUNITION IN ANY .223 REMINGTON (OR OTHER .223 CHAMBERING – LIKE WYLDE) FIREARM. PERIOD.

Now, for the purposes of this article, you can generally use the .223 Remington in the AR-15 platform and substantially similar builds. This article accepts this premise. And therefore, we have included AR-Style Rifles into this review article.

In many cases, it is acceptable and safe to shoot the .223 Remington in the AR platform. If you are unsure if your rifle can handle this cartridge, check your owner’s manual or engage the advice of a firearms expert or contact the company that built your rifle.

For the purposes of this article, we are accepting the idea that the “Multi Caliber” and “5.56/.223” designations on many of the receivers and barrels of the AR-15 components on the market are justified and accurate.

NOTE: YOU SHOULD NEVER FIRE ANY CARTRIDGE IN ANY FIREARM THAT IS NOT SPECIFICALLY MADE FOR THE CARTRIDGE OR ANY GUN THAT DOES NOT ALSO DENOTE IT AS A CHAMBER SAFE LOAD BY STAMPING IT ONTO THE CHAMBER/BARREL OF THE FIREARM YOU INTEND TO SHOOT IT OUT OF.

Now that that is out of the way, here are our picks for the Best .223 Rifles on the market.

Our final thoughts

The best .223 Rifle is one of these rifles or a very similar variant of them. That’s because they represent the best technology, the best innovative feature sets and the best delivery platforms for the venerable, proven .223 Remington cartridge. These are the finest available rifles for the money that perform general shooting tasks and can still be called, durable, mainstream and proven.

From hunting of small game to intermediate game. The rifles showcased here are excellent companions in the field. For target shooting from 100-300 yards any of these guns are perfect options. Some are better suited to even further with the right projectile and powder mix.

For plinking and fun shooting, these are all interesting, cheap to shoot and accurate enough to make any enthusiast proud to own any of them.

For home defense, if you are decided on the .223 Remington, every single one of these, with the exception of the bolt action rifles is an effective platform for home defense or close quarters battle, even if there are some limitations on the cartridge for optimized stopping power.

No matter your use case, there is a sufficiently well refined rifle on this list of best .223 rifles that can be applied to your needs.

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