The Beginning:

At first Colt called it their Model 601. Manufacturing began in December of 1959 and continued through 1963 with the production of over 14,000 rifles in the first run.

Eugene Stoner, began employment in 1954 as chief engineer at Armalite where he worked on a series of prototypical arms designated with AR, which stood for Armalite Rifle. His successes included the AR-7 survival rifle, adopted by the Air Force, the AR-10 and the AR-15.

The AR-15 was a small caliber, little brother of the AR-10, which employed a 30-caliber bullet. In original concept, the AR-15 was chambered for the .222 Remington.


The platform used aluminum for the upper and lower receivers and an aluminum magazine. The butt stock, pistol grip and handguards were made of plastic.

Military Use and Watermelons:

Dr. Stoner demonstrated the new rifle for USAF General Curtis LeMay, using a bunch of watermelons for targets, rather than paper or steel. LeMay was sold. It took more convincing before Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara made a purchase order, but he soon agreed to make a one-time buy.

Soon the new Colt was in service in southeast Asia, in the hands of the USAF, the Green Berets, Rangers and Paratroopers. The AR-15, in military use (with a select-fire system) received the designation M16.

Continuing a tradition that began with the Revolutionary War, soldiers transitioned out of service and back into society. They wanted to use the tool that served them so well in combat.

ARs and Hunting:

Hunters and target shooters began to buy the AR-15 in large numbers in the 1990s. After conflicts in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, the enthusiasm for the AR-15 has continued to grow. The AR-15 system is now widely available in 22 Long Rifle, 204 Ruger, 9mm as well as 223 Remington and 5.56.

Big game hunters have embraced the AR-15 as well, with offerings in 300 Whisper, 30AR, 243 WSSM, 458 SOCOM and the 50 Beouwulf. The list of available calibers is now close to 40 available in the AR-15 platform.

My own personal AR-15 is a Colt Competition gun that I use for hunting, competition and target shooting. The rifle was built in Canby, Oregon, I bought mounts from Warne Scope Mounts in Tualatin, Oregon and a Leupold scope from in Beaverton, Oregon. And the bullets I use are Nosler's Varmageddon Ballistic Tips, loaded in Bend, Oregon.

This rifle came with a standard capacity 30-round P-Mag. For competition and for hunting, I wrap the fore-end and the magazine with Camo Form. The tactile qualities of the Camo Form add a little cushion beneath the fingers and provide a reference point for making fast magazine changes.

The system is modular and adaptable for competition, military, law enforcement, varmints/predators, big game. With the increased popularity of rail mounts, shooters can hang a lot of hardware on their AR, or just keep it simple.

This seems to be one of the most popular aspects of the AR system, the ability to customize the gun to fit the user. ARs are customized to a higher degree than just about any other household firearm, to fit the mission, whether that means home defense, hunting varmints or big game or simply blasting watermelons in the back 40.



Gary Lewis is an outdoor writer, speaker and television host from Bend, Oregon. Contact Lewis at


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