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How Far Can an AR-15 Shoot? Effective vs. Maximum Range

AR-15s are all the rage, and knowing their max and effective range dialed into your memory is necessary. By doing some research, you can become better acquainted with your weapon and learn how well it performs at all distances. So how far can an AR-15 shoot?

The maximum range for an AR-15 in 5.56mm with a 20″ barrel is 3900 yards, and its effective range is 600 yards for accurate stopping power. There are several calibers the AR-15 can be chambered in, and each caliber will have a different effective range.

Knowing the range of your rifle is critical information that will help you understand which targets to harvest and which are out of your reach. Don’t sweat it! Read on, and you can learn tons of new things about your rifle’s effective and max range.

The Effective Range of the AR-15

Some people often have difficulty distinguishing between the rifle’s effective and max range. The effective range is where the gun can still be used accurately. The AR is made for taking down targets in a fast manner while minimizing recoil and providing potent rounds.

Some facts about the effective range of the AR-15 are:

  • 600 Yards – The effective range of the beloved M-16, with a twenty-inch barrel, is just over 600 yards. Training for the Army and Marine Corps, the two most prominent users of AR-15/M-16/M-4 rifles, requires trainees to hit targets well under the rifle’s effective range. Max targets are stationed between 300 to 400 yards.
  • Barrel Length – Barrel length will have an impact on the effectiveness of the rifle. The shorter barreled rifles, like the M-4, can have reduced effective ranges because they have less time to build up power in the barrel.
  • Round Grains – The grains of gunpowder used in the rifle will also impact the effective range. More grains in the round means the bullet has more force. More force will equal kinetic energy that drags the bullet towards the target.

The effective range of the AR-15 is more than enough to make difficult shots on game in the dense brush. The shorter barreled versions were produced for close combat in the Middle East and not the dense jungles of Vietnam.

CaliberEffective Range (meters)
.308 WIN800
.338 Lapua1500
.50 BMG1600
.450 Bushmaster250

Maximum Range is About Terminal Collision

The rub with maximum range is about when the projectile reaches the point where it will no longer kill. Max range is much more extensive than effective range because the shot can move through the air for thousands of meters if nothing impacts the round.

There are lots of things that can impair max range, and knowing them is a good idea.

Some things that can impact the max range for an AR-15 are:

  • Climate – If you are in an area with a wild shift in climate, it will make your rifle’s maximum range much shorter. Heavier air and air quality can have a positive/negative relationship with range, and climate is a huge part of that effect. Rounds fired in a jungle environment are shown to have shorter distances than those in the desert.
  • Temperature – Firing rounds in an environment with subzero temps is another way to decrease the max range of your weapon. Often rounds below zero temperature can become lodged in the barrel. Excessive cold on a superheated piece of lead can cause swelling, creating an occlusion in the weapon.
  • Wind – You might have heard the term windage to describe wind’s effect on the bullet. The wind dramatically impacts max range as the farther the projectile travels, the more it will be affected by the wind. Therefore, if the wind is gusting, you can expect the round to have a much shorter range.
  • Altitude – Max range can be affected by the altitude you are firing. The air at higher elevations is thinner, allowing rounds to move through the air with less resistance. Therefore, you can see an increase in the max range while firing at higher altitudes.
  • Precipitation – Rain or snow falling while you fire your AR-15 is going to have an impact on its max range. Like with wind, the longer the round is out of the tube, the more time snow has to connect with it. Therefore, heavy rain or snow will hurt the max range of the weapon.

The list of things that can impact range isn’t finite. Odd things occur when firing, like mechanical issues, that could affect rifles’ max range and effectiveness. Ensure that all your equipment is cleaned and conditions are suitable if you want to make your own max range shot.

I use either Brownells, Palmetto State Armory, or Optics Planet to buy parts, that way I always know what I’m getting and that it will actually show up.

The Difference Between Max and Effective Range

When it comes down to it, the difference between max and effective range is the target. When dealing with ranges, it is essential to remember the purpose of the shot. If you are hunting and trying to take down game, you are dealing with an effective Range.

A few ways to differentiate between max and effective range are:

  • Target – Are you firing towards a small target? If you are hunting and your target must have the kinetic energy to penetrate, you are working with an effective range. Effective range means you must have the potential power to pierce and kill the target.
  • Limitations – The thing about max range is that people want to know the limits of their rifles. Unless you are working with a new ammo style or are an engineer or physicist, there is little reason to find max range on your own. Trusting the manufacturer’s information about the rifle is often your best bet to find the maximum range.

People have trouble separating the two, and with good reason. You often see websites that mix the two terms, which can cause confusion. First, you must consider the target in the max and effective range. The type of target is the key difference between them.


Knowing the capabilities of your AR-15 is vital before taking it out into the woods for a hunt. You must know how far out you can take down targets. The targets you select for harvesting must be killed with a single shot. Understanding the range the rifle will kill is the effective range.

Max range is the area where your projectile loses its ability to kill. Outside forces, like the weather, will also impact the max range. The bullet will begin to wobble when it loses its kinetic energy and falls harmlessly to the ground. Where it loses its kinetic energy is the max range.