Ruger SR-556: Ruger’s New Piston Driven AR-15

Ruger SR-556

The new Ruger SR-556 rifle.

Ruger announced a new piston driven AR-15 rifle: the Ruger SR-556.  Announced at the NRA convention, the SR-556 is a completely new line for Ruger, and part of an obvious effort to redefine the company.

The SR-556 has a host of quality features, the most significant of which is the two-stage piston system.  But, in a market that seems to have an overwhelming number of AR-15 makers, will the SR-556 be interesting enough to survive?

The “black rifle” market is clearly hot, as AR-15’s have been selling extremely well throughout the United States.  Some manufacturers have stated that orders are backlogged six months or more.  Bringing a new AR-style gun into the market now, may be good timing for Ruger, as a scarcity of all AR rifles may push more customers into their rifles.

Let’s take a look at some of the features of the SR-556.

The Good

I know this is entirely subjective, but I think the SR-556 is a good looking gun.  Obviously a gun that functions flawlessly beats a gun that only works some of the time.  But, all other things being equal, I’d rather have a good looking gun than an ugly one.

ruger_sr-556_031

The piston system promises enhanced reliability because you are not sending all of the by-products of a fired cartridge right back into your bolt.  While good weapon maintenance is still the best way to guarantee a functioning firearm, a piston system does, in theory, make sense.

The SR-556 features a hammer forged, chrome lined barrel, and is chambered for 5.56 ammunition (and will shoot .223 also).  The barrel is just over 16″, and has a 1:9 twist, helping to ensure the stabilization of heavier bullets.

Sighting is handled by flip up/down iron sights from Troy Industries.  This is the same style sights that I have on my own AR.  I much prefer a front and rear I can flip down, rather than the more common AR sights.  However, the SR-556 is a true flat top rifle, so adding a EO Tech or other optic is extremely easy.

Unlike the Mini-14, the SR-556 accepts all standard AR-15 magazines.  Plus, the SR-556 ships with three, 30-round Magpul PMAG magazines.  I have found the PMAG to be an extremely good AR-15 magazine, and I think this was a great choice by Ruger.

The SR-556 also offers a number of other nice add-ons.  For example, the rifle comes standard with a quad rail from Troy Industries and a Hogue grip.

The Bad

Retail is set at $1995.  While there are some nice features on this rifle, even in the currently inflated market, I don’t think this is a terribly aggressive price point for Ruger.  First, there are already a lot of AR-15 manufacturers on the market, with a great number of them selling rifles that are half as expensive.

Second, Ruger is not known as a “tactical gun” manufacturer.  The closest thing Ruger has in their line is the Mini-14.  While the Mini-14 does fill a niche, it is not known for great accuracy, especially when stacked up against a lot of standard AR-15’s.  While I suspect the SR-556 will prove to be very accurate, Ruger will have to overcome the accuracy shortcomings of the Mini-14 in some peoples’ minds.

ruger_sr-556_02Another negative for me on the SR-556 is the plain M-4 style buttstock.  I’ve never been a fan of the six position, collapsible buttstock found on the majority of AR’s out there.  I much prefer the Magpul CTR-style buttstock.  As Ruger is already working with Magpul on this rifle, the CTR seems to be the no-brainer addition to the SR-556.  And, at almost $2000, having a nice buttstock would be more likely to get my wallet out of my pocket.

My overall, initial impression of the SR-556 is that it has a lot of nice features, including a piston system, which will make it attractive to a lot of potential buyers.  I just don’t know if a $2000 price tag on a new, untested firearm will scare off most of the buyers.

Interview with Todd Wilkinson

Eric Shelton at the Handgun Podcast (no longer produced) has a great interview with Todd Wilkinson, the Chief Engineer for Rifles at Ruger.  The interview covers the new Ruger SR-556 that was introduced last week at the NRA Meeting in Arizona.

Ruger SR-556 review

For those just hearing about it, the Ruger SR-556 is Ruger’s new AR-style rifle that uses a two-stage piston rather than direct impingement, which promises greater reliability.  In the interview, Wilkinson states that they have been running one of the SR-556’s without cleaning or lube for 15,000 trouble-free rounds.

Other information that Wilkinson provided:

  • Even though the SR-556 uses a AC556 flash hider, the barrel is threaded to the standard 1/2″x28 so all of the aftermarket flash and sound suppressors work.
  • The adjustable gas regulator has an “off” position, allowing for shooting it off the bench like a bolt action rifle.  Additionally, this would make for a very quiet supressed gun, as the action would not cycle when set to this position.  The only noise would be whatever the suppressor did not dampen.
  • Parts are mil-spec, not commercial, which means just about any buttstock, etc. will bolt right on.
  • The SR-556 also comes with a rifle case.  The Ruger concept was to provide you with everything you need for the gun, except the ammo.  Hence the three magazines, Houge pistol grip, Troy quad rail and other upgrades.

Shelton also notes that Ruger is not making the lower receiver (no surprise, as a lot of manufacturers are not).

Something that may be of interest to a lot of current AR owners: Ruger may sell the upper assembly alone in the future.  This would allow the average guy to bolt on a pistol system with little fuss.  (Yes, I know other companies are selling retro fit kits, etc., but I think Ruger would be the only major manufacturer to do so.)

Update – Ruger Introduces the Rifle in 6.8 SPC

Ruger announced the release of a new SR-556 rifle chambered in 6.8 SPC.  The rifle is based on the original SR-556 design, using a two-stage piston for improved reliability and clean running.  The design has proved to be quite popular with the buying public, and the new 6.8 SPC version has the potential of really opening up this cartridge to a broader audience.

Wow.  I knew Ruger was ready to release a new product, but I believed we would be seeing the rumored SR40 pistol, not another rifle.

What I find to be very interesting about this product launch is two-fold.  First, Ruger making a major product announcement for a 6.8 SPC rifle really gives this cartridge a big push into the mainstream.  Secondly, Ruger has undoubtably sunk a significant portion of their money into this product meaning they believe there is a strong market for this gun.

The Ruger SR-556/6.8 SPC will ship with a five-round magazine and two 20-round magazines.  The 16.12″ heavy barrel is chrome lined and has a 1:10 twist.  Additionally, the barrel is threaded and outfitted with a regular SR-556 flash suppressor.  This is the same flash suppressor used on the Mini-14 and has proved to be quite effective at reducing the muzzle flash.

Standard equipment includes:

  • Troy Industries Folding Battlesights,
  • Quad Rail and rail covers
  • Hogue Monogrip,
  • six-position stock,
  • sight adjustment tool, and
  • a padded carry case.

MSRP is $1995, but ‘street’ prices are likely to be significantly less. Here is the SR-556 in 6.8 SPC being tested over at GunBlast:

6.8 SPC Update

At some point, Ruger ceased offering 6.8 SPC chambered SR-556 rifles for sale.  I can only assume this is because they were not selling well.  However, the company still offers a 6.8 SPC upper.  The upper specs are the same as they were when the rifle was being sold complete.  The upper ships with the folding sights and retails for $1,499.

Update – Ruger Adds Varmint Model to Line

Another of Ruger’s new product announcements for 2013 is the new SR-556VT rifle.  A variant of the company’s piston-driven AR platofrm, the SR-556VT appears to be set for long range accuracy shooting with a fixed stock and 20″ barrel.  As you might guess, the VT stands for “Varmint Target.”

Ruger SR-556VT review

Since this model is designed for hunting, it sells with three, fice-round magazines.  However, the mag well is standard, meaning the shooter can add his or her own 10, 20 or 30-round magazines.

The SR-556VT comes without iron sights, but has a full length Picatinny rail for adding any kind of optic or sight system you might like.  I imagine most people would want to add serious glass on top of this one.  Some type of back up iron sights might be a good idea as well.

Ruger SR-556VT photo

The barrel is 20″ long and has a 1:8″ RH twist, which is generally good enough to stabilize heavy .223/5.56 bullets.  The stainless steel barrel is cold hammer forged with a target crown.

The bolt and carrier are both chrome plated.  The trigger is a two-stage that Ruger describes as having a short “take up” and a light, crisp break without creep or over travel.

As with the other guns in the SR-556 line, this Ruger rifle uses a piston system and has a four position gas regulator.  The adjustable regulator allows the shooter to tailor the rifle performance to the type of ammunition being used.  One position even allows the shooter to effectively “turn off” the system, allowing for manual cycling of the action only.  While this might be puzzling to some, anyone running a suppressor knows that the action cycling can create a lot of unwanted noise.

Ruger SR-556VT

Ruger SR-556VT Specifications

  • caliber:  5.56 NATO
  • magazine capacity:  five rounds (accepts other AR/M4/M16 magazines)
  • barrel length:  20″
  • barrel twist rate:  1:8″ RH
  • overall length:  38.25″
  • length of pull:  13.75″
  • finish:  black oxide, hardcoat anodized
  • weight (empty magazine):  8.5 pounds
  • sights:  none
  • MSRP:  $1995
  • CA/MA Approved:  Are you kidding?
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About Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing in Combat Handguns, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, on The Firearm Blog and at BlueSheepdog.

  • arealpatriot

    Yes the price will knock off many considering that most others have the same style rifle at about half the cost. Even a Colt is less and I have an original Colt Government Carbine that I bought in 1988 at $640.00.A green label at serial number 1094 at that! This will never go big at that price no matter the field. I would love to have one but for that price the SIG-556 looks better!

    Ruger needs to get the cost down to a realistic level big time.

  • Dino915

    This gun will go for less than the MSRP. So the price will be a little better than what Ruger is saying.

    I own a Mini-14 and it is way more accurate then any AR I have ever shot. Not sure what the author is talking about on this one.

  • Wayne

    Why not just buy an Adams Arms Retrofit Gas Piston System? Save $1500.00 and get the same reliability!

  • Charlie

    The basic idea of a piston-driven gas system is good. In my opinion (and yep – everybody has one!), the biggest weakness in the AR system was the direct gas system. Good for Ruger – now they just need to get the price point more realistic! I agree with Wayne – the Adams gas piston retrofit sounds like the way to go.

  • http://nugun.wordpress.com N.U.G.U.N. Blog

    Note there is a significant accuracy difference between old Mini14’s and the new 580 line of Mini14’s.

    Also, I agree, Rugers usually sell for a bit under MSRP. And I wager this will go for around $1,695. Which is NOT all that bad a price when base generic ARs are going for $1,100.

  • ar15fan

    The Mini-14 is a piece of crap. Get a real gun. Hope Ruger will make a 308 version. If so, I will take two.

  • captainah

    nice rifle, however the prices are out of hand. for about a third of the cost you can purchase an ar15 and add a gas piston conversion kit for $249.00 and achieve the same results for less money. if ruger and any other manufacturer wants to make a serious ” bounce back ” then they should make their products more affordable for purchase by the general public. after all the second ammendment is guaranteed to all american citizens who can legally own a firearm , not just the wealthy who can afford them. the message the firearms manufacturers are putting out there is you have to be able to afford your freedom to have your freedom. well i’m sorry to say, i’d rather build my own firearm than shell out thousands of dollars to protect myself and family. in an economy like ours when the unemployment rate is high and jobs are so few and far between , it truly is an insult to the american public to have to pay outrageous prices for safety and freedom. you would think by now an american company would do right by the american people, but apparently freedom still has a price tag. funny i don’t recall the federal government bailing out the gun makers, what i do remember is they tried to sue them and hold them responsible for crimes committed using their firearms. does anyone know whose side they are on? the cost should tell us!

  • ddearborn

    Hmmm….

    The new ruger looks interesting. As far as the mini-14 goes, it is hardly a “piece of crap”. While it lacks a bit in accuracy, it is far more reliable than ANY standard AR. In dirty, dusty environments the mini will continue to fire long after the AR quits.

  • herbyhunter

    When the gun companies get suid it cost them money, win or lose. In effect our costs go up to purchase those same guns. Before the last elections I payed $749.99 for an Ar 15. I went to buy the same one for my father from the same place and it cost me $1089 for the exact same thing. So I order it on 11/3/08 and it still hasn’t come. I called the manufactor and the said that I won’t see it before the end of August based on my order date. So I ordered the Ruger SR 556 for $1437 out the door. I like the price considering the cromed parts, quad rail and sights. Know the question is how long until it gets here? I excited but that’s just me. Just enjoy the shooting sports!

  • Eugene Stoner

    I got excited for a minute, then I saw the price… c’mon Ruger – seriously? $2K for this thing? WTF…

  • Doug

    Who pays retail? I got mine for 1499.00. Add up all the standard features, compare to the competitors and they loose. Ruger wins.

  • gunrunr72

    i got a chance to look at the new sr-556 this weekend at the local gunshow. i agree with the review that all things being even on reliability…i will take good looking gun also. it has a nice heft to it and a great choice of components and features. its not just your entry level ar rifle like most companies start with . piston uppers are a drastic improvement…in my opinion. owning a standard ar15 first is something to consider as parts availability and commonality are very important! the sr556 was $1399 at the show…and i thought it was a great deal…and i am very frugal, but i came home and started looking for what i wanted to sell to pay for one. i like everything about it. as far as the mini-14 goes…ruger has improved them over the older ones. the accracy was horrible. mags were hard to come by and expensive that were functional and dependable. to me, the mini 14 is over priced with what you get & for old technology. isn’t it great to have choices though?

  • Sam

    Been in law enforcement since 1976 and have been a Ruger fan a little over half that. Just when I think they are about to disappoint me with not being current with their product line, Ruger has come out of the factory with nice surprises. By the way, I used the mini-14 in the field as an agent on the state drug task force and as being part of a federal task force. The gun never let me down in the field; reliable, accurate, intimidating. Plinking is one thing, having a firearm your life depends on is another. Though not a field officer now, I would love to get my hands on one to put it through a few paces. By the way, I haven’t yet bought any AR type. I still have my mini-14.

  • Chris

    Been looking and price checking this rifle for the past couple weeks. Most are charging $1350 – $1600. Nowhere near the $2k people are complaining about. When you figure that the Troy BUIS alone will run around $250, $1400 for this gun starts looking like a pretty sweet deal.

    • http://www.GunsHolstersAndGear.com Richard

      Agreed. $1350 is much better deal than $2k. At $2k, the gun doesn’t appeal to me, but at $1350 it does.

  • Phil

    $1499 here too…. the rifle is sweet.

  • pogotjs

    Just bought the Sig-556 for $1199 out the door. Much better deal.

  • Peter A

    I just purchased one, i think the price is reasonable, first because what you see from the factory is SUGGESTED RETAIL, they are going for around 1500. Also the rail does not cost the $29 for plastic handguards they cost around $200 or more. Now dont forget to subtract the cost of the front and rear flip up sights, cost about $250 so far subtract $450 from $1500 and you have the cost of a piston gun for a little over a thousand dollars.
    PS i purchased one and love it.

    Good luck mates
    peter

  • knarly

    I was seriousy looking at the Sig and picked up the Ruger at a gun show. Love at first touch. I paid 1470.00 out the door and love the thing. I have a Colt SBR gas gun and have owned several other para guns this one is my favorite. My son and I ran 300 rounds through it right out of the gate. The bolt had just a skiff of black on it but the gas piston had all of the crud from the Mylasian ammo caked to it. It cleaned up real easy and we were off and running. Buy it, you’ll like it!!!

    • Jim

      Don, I don’t hear much about the SR-566 with the 6.8 mm ammo version. I’m told the military is going to transition to this round as it is heavier, AND faster than the .223. I just got one for $1,500 including tax. Now I’m wondering if I moved on it too quickly . .would love your opinion. Thanks and stay safe, Jim Crotty

  • arealpatriot

    2Dino915
    The Mini-14 is not even close to the AR-15 as far as accuracy is concerned. It is the design of the Mini that is its downfall. They are nothing more then a plinker and I would never use one for a setting that demands a tack driver. ANY AR is more accurite then any Mini-14. That is a fact.
    The Mini’s barrel design causes it to invoke harmonics when ever it is fired, which means that the barrel vibrates. This causes bad accuracy. You cannot improve them much no matter what you do.

  • eric

    streep all the goodies off and it would be cheap…

  • Jerri

    I just bought a new SR-556 this weekend. $1,375 out-the-door, background check “et al”. Sighted in the BUIS and the scope at 25 yards with some inexpensive Bi-Mart ammo and got both sights in a nickel sized red dot stickie on used computer paper using a camera tripod with a rifle rest adapter and my boy friend, with a spotting scope called the placement so all I did was concentrate on shooting at the red dot. (I know – run on sentence). After that loaded up and used up the three magpull mags full, 90 rounds total, shooting, changing mags as fast as possible, chasing around some old coffee cans filled with sand (at least until they wouldn’t hold anything but air). Pulled the bolt carrier out as soon as the last mag was empty and it was clean and cool. Next dry weekend, I taking the match ammo out and adjust the sights 200 yards. By the way…not one malfunction, Nada.

    The rifle comes with everything that I’ve read, plus the really nice carry case, as described in Gun Blast.

    As for revenge for Bill Ruger’s liberal stance. I’m not really old enough to have every known the man, but he’s dead and buried. Ruger is alive, and turning out a really nice AR with 3 30 round Magpul magazines. Bury the past, live for today.

    Love my new SR-556.

    Jerri W.

  • ALEXORUS

    HEY Jerri W.
    Re your new SR-556. Outstanding price. Where?? Would order now at that price if I knew where. Lucky you.

    Alexorus

    • http://www.GunsHolstersAndGear.com Richard

      Agreed. That is an excellent price. At that price, I really like the gun.

      –Richard

  • Jerri W.

    I got mine through “Davidson’s Gallery of Guns”…picked a dealer I have bought from before who is listed in their dealers link. Price for the firearm is set on the web site…what you see is what you get.

  • Jerri W.

    I got it through “Davidson’s Gallery of Guns.” I have a local dealer I have bought from before, and he is listed with Davidson’s. What’s nice is the price quoted on the web site is my local dealers price out the door. Davidson’s even emails you and gives you shipping details so you know when your dealer is going to get it. No I don’t work for them. I’m a college student, and reservist type. But, I do like knowing what I’m paying up front.

    Davidson’s seems to be selling out of the sr-556, I missed one, but they got more three weeks later.

    Good Luck !

  • John Crow

    I’ve read alot of articles on ARs been wanting one for 4 years. Let my dad talk me out of buying one 3 years ago. Been kicking myself ever since. But they have got better, with LMT, Colt LWRCI,Stag, ect…But when I got to reading about the ARSR-15 5.56 I don’t see how you can go wrong. They have a great warranty and reputation. I’ll be buying one soon and won’t have to add alot just to have some of the upgrades. And about the mini 14 mine is a freaking great rifle.

  • the dude

    i want one of these guns so freakin bad. trust me when i say that ruger makes some nice firearms. i think that their sales pitch on this gun has to be that its one of, if not THE, best ar-style gun in the civilian market. ive shot a ruger mini-14 alongside a couple of less-expensive ar’s, and the ruger easily outperformed. i cant wait for a chance to try out an sr-556 as compared to the mini and other ar’s

  • derek h

    just got one from greatlakes outdoor supply located in middlefield, ohio. 1349.00 + tax ohio. no trouble finding a sr556 around here was told warehouse has over 1000 units available. also available at greatlakes 223 ammo at 167.00 for 500 rnds.

  • SCRuger

    I picked my SR556 up back in Feb and have ran 2800 rounds through it so far. The only issue I have had has been a few failure to feeds from the knock off Korean mags. Zero issues when using any of my 16 P-Mags. The rifle runs great with a variety of ammo. Shooting near MOA with 55gr hornady tap. Using and EOTech I can hit five inch steel plates at 300 meters all day.

    I have upgraded my rifle. First thing. Stock trigger is way to heavy. Dropped in a Wilson TTU and like magic the groups shrunk right down. A PWS muzzle brake has the rifle staying on target with little to no muzzle climb or felt recoil. Magpul Enhanced trigger guard, slim rail covers and a UBR butt stock. Also went with the BCM tactical charging handle.

    A weapon light with quick release mount and single point QD sling round out the upgrades.

    This has become my favorite action rifle.

    My HK416 SBR will always my choice for point defense and security work due it’s compact size but the Ruger is a better daily shooter and recreational rifle.

  • Doug

    Purchased a sr556 for$1575.00 Wanted a piston ar But nothing else is avalable. Had good luck with my other rugers,this is a great looking ar and has a lot of nice features included.So realy this purchase was a no brainer. Took it to the range and at 50yds was already on the paper. A few tweeks of the Troy sights and I was shooting nice groups.The weapon worked flawlessly and is a lot of fun to shoot.
    Can’t wiat to see how it works with some optics on it.For my money I could not be happier. Two thumbs up to Ruger.

  • adam

    Had my dad pick one up for me as im in afghanistan at the moment! Said the thing runs like a champ. Have used to gas operated systems for the last 11 years of my military service, am interested to see the other side of the spectrum.

    • http://www.GunsHolstersAndGear.com Richard

      Adam,

      I’ve been hearing good things about the SR-556, so I think you will be pleased when you get some time with it. Thank you very much for your service! Come home safe and soon.

      –Richard

  • adam

    Richard,
    thanks, i heard good things as well and did as much research as i could for where im at. I acquired a decent military grade aimpoint and some other goodies for it. One of the perks to my line of work free stuff!! Will deffinately post the outcome of my testing when i get a chance to put it through the paces.

    -adam

  • don

    A new upgrade system for the Ruger team (military/LE)…a new SR556 with longer barrel, 2 lb drop in the 7 lb trigger pull, carbon fiber to replace rails making it lighter(and to deal with the rising heat problem from excessive shooting), ceramic bonding in piston unit to deal with carbon there, opt for panther grips and match grade butt. Ruger, you have a great platform and the piston system sounds like a winner. [I have four Rugers…and, now looking at a fifth.