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Is the AR Pistol Suitable for Competition Shooting?

AR Pistol for Competition

Is the AR Pistol Suitable for Competition Shooting?

The AR pistol has stirred quite a bit of interest and, admittedly, some confusion in the competition space – especially when it comes to definition or legality. At its core, an AR pistol is essentially a variant of the AR-15 rifle but with a shorter barrel and without a traditional rifle stock. Instead, it sports a stabilizing brace or a buffer tube at the rear end, which is technically not designed to be shouldered (although let’s be honest, it often finds its way there).

Most Match Directors have adopted a ruleset that either forbids or does not recognize an AR Pistol as a qualifying rifle that fits the criteria for divisions in the competitions they host. It wasn’t until recently that we’ve seen entities such as The Tactical Games or PCSL with a more relaxed definition of qualifying equipment, and to some extent, we’ve seen competitors be very successful in their utilization.

What is an AR Pistol?

An AR pistol is a firearm that shares many characteristics with the AR-15 rifle but is classified legally as a pistol. It’s a variant of the popular AR platform, known for its modularity and versatility, but with several key differences that set it apart from its rifle counterpart. Let’s break down what makes an AR pistol unique:

  1. Barrel Length: One of the most distinguishing features of an AR pistol is its barrel length, which is typically less than 16 inches. In contrast, standard AR-15 rifles usually have barrels that are 16 inches or longer.
  2. Overall Length: The overall length of an AR pistol is also an important factor. They are generally shorter than 26 inches in total length, which is a significant size reduction compared to a full-sized rifle.
  3. No Traditional Rifle Stock: Instead of a rifle stock, AR pistols are equipped with a stabilizing brace or a buffer tube at the rear. The stabilizing brace is designed to strap to the shooter’s forearm for support when firing the pistol. This feature is crucial in defining the firearm as a pistol rather than a rifle under U.S. law.
  4. Firing Mechanism: Like the AR-15 rifle, AR pistols operate on the same basic firing mechanism, often utilizing a direct impingement or gas piston system.
  5. Caliber: AR pistols can be chambered in various calibers, with the most common being the 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington, the same as many AR-15 rifles. However, they can also be found in other calibers like 9mm, .300 Blackout, and more.
  6. Use of Buffer Tube: In the absence of a traditional stock, AR pistols still include a buffer tube as part of their design. This tube, which houses the recoil buffer and spring, extends from the rear of the receiver but is not intended for shouldering like a rifle stock.
  7. Legal Classification: In the United States, AR pistols are classified as handguns. This classification has specific legal implications, particularly regarding ownership, transportation, and usage regulations, which vary by state.
  8. Versatility and Customization: Like AR-15 rifles, AR pistols are known for their modularity. Owners can customize them with a wide range of accessories, including different types of sights, grips, and muzzle devices.

The Competitive Edge: Pros and Cons

When considering AR pistols for competition, it’s a tale of adaptability vs. regulation.


  1. Maneuverability: Their compact size makes them exceptionally agile, ideal for courses requiring swift movements.
  2. Customizability: Like their rifle counterparts, AR pistols are highly customizable. You can tweak them to your heart’s content.
  3. Caliber Options: They offer a range of calibers, providing flexibility in ammunition choice.


  1. Range and Accuracy: The shorter barrel can limit long-range accuracy. It’s like trying to thread a needle while riding a unicycle – doable, but requires skill.
  2. Recoil Management: The lack of a traditional stock can make managing recoil a bit more challenging, akin to taming a feisty pony.
  3. Legal Restrictions: The legal landscape surrounding AR pistols can be as complex as a Shakespearean play. Always check local laws and competition rules.

Competitive Use Scenarios

  1. Short-Range Bay Multigun Matches: Their compact design makes them ideal to maneuver around stages and quickly engage targets in shorter bays, especially when a majority of the shots are taken on the move or off-hand/free-standing.
  2. The Tactical Games: With the right setup, they can be a viable option, especially in stages where agility trumps long-range accuracy. Do note that they are becoming less and less practical or desired at these events now that your primary firearm or rifle is grounded at the firing line of each stage. Since you don’t have to carry it with you 90% of the time, a longer-barreled rifle is quickly taking over the field.

Training and Adaptation

To effectively use an AR pistol in competition, training is key. It requires a blend of rifle and pistol shooting skills. Imagine a ballroom dancer learning hip-hop – it’s a different rhythm but with the right moves, it can be graceful and effective.

Final Verdict

Are AR pistols ideal for competition? They can be, in the right context. Their adaptability and compact design offer advantages in certain types of competitions, especially those involving close-range engagements and rapid movement. However, they might not be the first choice for precision long-range shooting.

In essence, choosing an AR pistol for competition is like picking a sports car for racing – great in certain tracks, but maybe not the choice for a cross-country rally. Always consider the specific needs of your competition, and their ruleset, and, of course, stay within the bounds of legal regulations. With the right preparation and understanding, an AR pistol can be a formidable tool in your competitive shooting arsenal. Just remember, like any specialty tool, it excels in the right hands and the right conditions.