My cousin, Jason Cleckner, and I decided to hold a rifle building competition. He had just finished building his precision AR-15 rifle and he was eager to start another project. His plan was to build a budget AR-15 and I told him he was crazy – surely you could buy a “cheap” AR-15 for less money than you could build one. As we discussed how cheaply an AR-15 could be built, our idea for the contest to see who could build the cheapest rifle was born.

To make it as fair as possible (we were both convinced that the other would cheat), we set up some ground rules for our contest.

“El-Cheapo” Build Rules:

  1. Lower must be “stripped.” No pre-assembled lowers.
  2. Upper must not have barrel installed. May purchase with ejection port cover and forward assist installed.
  3. If the part belongs, it must be used. e.g. if the barrel isn’t threaded, a muzzle device isn’t necessary or if there’s no space for a forward assist, then one isn’t necessary.
  4. Components must be available to the general public. No “buddy deals” and no home-made parts.
  5. No auctions – firm prices for parts only (sale items are ok).
  6. Shipping and tax are not included (this is to normalize our efforts in two different parts of the country).
  7. Must fire two 30-round magazines without a malfunction (including locking the bolt to the rear after each magazine)
  8. Must be able to shoot a 10″ group at 50 yards using bulk/commercial ammo.
  9. Cheapest complete rifle that meets ALL of the above rules wins.


Neither of us thought that we could build a rifle which conformed to the rules above under $500.  We were wrong.  Within a couple of weeks, Jason and I were finished and compared prices before range-testing.  Jason broke the $500 mark with a total build price of $449.69.  I was able to break the $400 mark, however, and built my rifle for $378.54.

Here are pictures of my entry into our “El Cheapo” contest:

Despite mine costing less, we needed to confirm each rifles’ ability to function on the range.  After-all, even though mine was cheaper, if it didn’t function and Jason’s did – I’d lose.  Here is some video I took of the rifle at my local indoor shooting range:


My rifle functioned flawlessly!  This means that I won a competition with no prize. 🙂

To be fair, I knew that I wasn’t going to keep my rifle.  I said on the podcast that I’d give my rifle away whereas Jason intended to keep his.  Therefore, where I went as cheap as physically possible in an effort to win even if my rifle was obnoxious (it is), Jason went cheap as possible for a rifle that he’d like to have and keep.

For your reference, at the bottom of this post is a build-list of the components we used in case you’re interested in building your own.  We both heavily used and Jason found some great deals on Palmetto State Armory and I found some on Wise Arms.  My secret to finding the lowest prices?  I used to search for parts and then sorted by lowest price!

As noted above, I am giving my rifle away.  I decided to start a contest on Facebook which ends on December 15th, 2016.  You can enter the contest by either making a donation to the Sua Sponte Foundation or by leaving a review for the Long Range Shooting Handbook.  Read more about the contest and ENTER HERE.


Jason’s Build Ryan’s Build
Lower Receiver $50.00 Layke Tactical Blem Lower $42.99 Tennessee Arms Co Hybrid
Lower Parts $44.99 brownells complete lower parts kit $37.99 Wise Arms
Buttstock $49.99 Primary Arms Rifle stock kit  $39.99 Target Sports Full stock kit
Upper Receiver $67.99 Sota Arms $39.95 Anderson Slick
BCG $79.77 Primary Arms Complete bolt carrrier group $74.99 DS Arms
Charging Handle $12.99 Primary Arms   Anderson charching handle $12.99 Anderson
Barrel $79.99 Palmeto State Armory $69.99 Wise Arms
Gas Tube $8.99 Primary Arms  Gas tube $8.99 Radical
Muzzle Device N/A $6.32 A2 Flash Hider
Handguard $26.99 Amazon 7 inch hand rail with barrel nut $18.95 Sniper Mini 4″
Sight/Optic $17.99 Amazon      red dot sight $8.40 NcStar Red Dot
Gas Block $10.00 Lake tactical $16.99 MAS Defense
TOTAL $449.69 $378.54