Choosing the best semi auto rifle is a little harder than it used to be. The advancements over the last 20 years in the gun industry have pushed a massive portfolio of semi auto guns through from a ton of new makers with a plethora of calibers and designs. At this point, it’s more about finding a caliber and then choosing from a variety of different maker’s semi auto offerings.
There are literally thousands of semi auto’s to choose from. Just a few short decades ago it was a relatively small offering of guns that could be had as semi-automatic rifles. You could choose between mostly military surplus rifles in semi auto, for example, the AK47, SKS, M1(commercial variant). AR-15; G3 FAL or specialty items like a Steyr Aug (very rare at the time) and there were also a few hunting rifles that had made a name for themselves with a semi-auto build.
Such hunting guns included a few offerings from Remington and Browning like the Remington 7400 and the Browning BAR (the small caliber hunting model). This was a limited offering in the market, and the choice was easy. Now with thousands to choose from, having a bit of guidance to help navigate the market is important. That is the purpose of this article: to help you find some of the great semi auto rifles on the planet – based on specific best fits for tasks that most shooters will encounter.
Interestingly enough, some of the best choices, and many of the items on this list are those same offerings that were available back in the day too.
- Semi-Auto Rifle for Hunting
- Semi-Auto Rifle for Home Defense
- Semi-Auto Rifle under $500
- Semi-Auto Rifle under $1000
- Best Budget Semi-Auto Rifle
- Semi-Auto Sniper Rifle
- Semi-Auto Assault Rifle LOOK ALIKE
- .30-06 Semi-Auto Rifle
- .223 Semi-Auto Rifle
- .22 Semi-Auto Rifle
- .308 Semi-Auto Rifle
- Best Semi-Auto Rifle in California and Area Restrictions
Why or why not a semi-auto rifle?
First a couple of notes that need to be added for those who are new to the scene or who see a lot of debate online and in the news media about semi-automatic rifles for context and credibility purposes.
There is an important part to the semi-automatic discussion that is not entirely well vetted in the general population. Gun people feel like it is a pretty important part to the narrative, so we will cover it a bit here. Media, citizen journalists, politicians and some “internet experts” have started to coin some phrases about the firearm landscape that genuinely irk the gun community.
What is an assault rifle?
An assault rifle isn’t a thing that the general public has access to, first and foremost, so if you see an article entitled “The Best semi auto assault rifle” it’s a misguided (at best) and antagonistic and fraudulent (at worst) set of information aimed at undermining the healthy, highly regulated marketplace that deals in semi-automatic rifles.
An assault rifle is a very specific gun, highly regulated by the Federal government which alludes to a fully automatic (only a handful of these exist in private citizen hands) rifle with a small caliber platform, built for use in infantry combat where infantry soldiers would be “assaulting” opposing positions.
In short: there is no such thing as an assault rifle that is available to the civilian population, furthermore, there really isn’t a thing called an assault rifle really, even for military and law enforcement personnel, so you wont find any “best semi auto assault rifle” candidates.
Additionally, there is no such thing as a “fully-semi-automatic” rifle. It doesn’t mean that a gun can fire all on its own if a politician who is opposed to guns says something is a “fully semi-automatic rifle”. That said: this isn’t a political article, it’s meant to help people determine the best rifle that is semi-automatic for their needs.
A semi-automatic rifle is a long gun that is generally used with a shoulder stock to position the rifle in the line of view for the shooter which when you pull the trigger it fires and reloads the firearm once. Which means it is ready again to fire and reload when you next pull the trigger. A semi-automatic has many benefits over other platforms of rifles depending on your needs.
It is important to note that a semi auto is not always the preferred style of firearm; there are many times when a single shot or a bolt action or a lever action or a pump rifle is more useful. The value of a semi-automatic rifle is for the repeat shot when seconds count and you do not want to have to completely come off-target to reload the gun (through a mechanical function). Such times might be for when you are target shooting; hunting (only in pretty rare conditions); and for rapid shooting in plinking type scenarios.
Many semi-automatics enjoy an increased capacity magazine, and that allows more shots to be fired before you have to stop to reload. This is mostly a convenience factor. Many states have limited the amount of capacity that a given semi-automatic rifle can shoot. It has become a huge topic of debate. Generally, the semi-automatic rifle is a very useful, versatile and easy to shoot firearm that has an increased capacity in the standard configurations with standard capacity magazines.
The potential uses for a semi-automatic are varied and numerous.
A note about Special Considerations
We recognize that not all states in the USA citizens can own semi-automatic rifles. We have included a special rifle for those states below. We invite you to look through all of our choices for the best semi auto rifles and give us your feedback.
Best semi-auto rifles
Browning BAR Mark III Stalker
Best semi-auto rifle for big game hunting
This was chosen for its versatility of cartridge and proven reliability of the rifle. The Browning is a seriously proven rifle that has been in the field on countless hunts and performed without concerns. The cartridge can be loaded from 55 grains to more than 220 grains (though the extreme deviations admittedly are not standard loads you can buy in the marketplace).
(We included another versatile gun in the same vein as this below for dedicated hunters not interested in the .300 Win Mag.)
This means the round is about as versatile as you can get from intermediate game to the largest game in North America. Together we think that equates to a significantly good option for the best semi auto hunting rifle in the United States.
- Dead simple to use
- Exceptional accuracy while still providing light weight
- Proven reliability
- An excellent caliber for versatility on any sized game
- It may be too much gun for many shooters and for many situations
This is best for:
Shooting large game at intermediate and long ranges when you need to ensure a quick humane kill.
CZ USA - 512
Best semi-auto rifle under $500
This is a very tough option for us to pick because the conventional wisdom would say there are plenty of good choices in the AR-15 platform that hover around the $500 range. Unfortunately, none of the actually “great” rifles are sub $500 (we included one of excellent quality that is RIGHT AT $500 in another list slot). The obvious next choice would be the .22LR Ruger 10-22, but that is a more dedicated purpose semi-auto rifle and makes it onto our list later as the best .22LR rifle.
So, what we think makes the most sense is getting a very good combination of cheap ammo prices and heavy hitting performance, without sacrificing quality to meet a specific price point (in this case sub $500).
So, this became our next obvious choice given the history and build quality of CZ firearms and the potent .22WMR cartridge which is a nice round for anything that the .22LR will do and anything that the .223 will do up to about 100 yards, aside from tactical shooting. The fact that it would not have ordinarily been our first choice doesn’t detract from its significant value - You won’t be disappointed with this rifle in any regard.
- A great round that is proven for small game including game like coyote
- Great build quality
- Not a top choice for power given it is still a rimfire round
This is best for:
Those who want something different and like the idea of having something between a .22LR and .223 Remington for fun and practicality
Century Arms C39V2 MOE AK Rifle
Best semi-auto rifle under $1000
Since the earliest stages of this article, the best gun under $1000 was going to be a top end AK or AR variant. It’s just what the market dictates now, with all the customization and aftermarket support for these platforms. They are also the most reliable, most proven, most used guns in the world and they both offer ballistics to give you much of anything you need from plinking to big game hunting (within reason). The cheap and readily available ammunition and magazines are a helpful angle as well.
- It’s an AK variant We could stop there…
- Great aftermarket support
- Great caliber for versatility
- There are none
This is best for:
Shooting a lot of ammunition and loving it.
DRD Tactical KIVAARI 338 Lapua
Best semi-auto sniper rifle
The obvious choice here was the Barrett M82; after all it actually holds a record or two for some of the longest confirmed kills in history, including a 2300 meter kill in the Iraq War. However, the .50 Caliber is banned in certain states (California being one) and paired with the extreme cost of ammunition and the rifle, we decided to go down a tier to a gun that is almost as good ballistically at long ranges, like 1200 Meters +, but didn’t have some of the baggage of the .50 BMG. That said it’s not cheap to shoot or purchase a .338 Lapua rifle either.
This is one of the few available on the market and it is well made.
- Long range reliability and accuracy
- Known credentials
- Still expensive to shoot
- It’s a rare bird, this semi-auto precision tactical weapon in .338 Lapua caliber
This is best for:
Grimacing each time you pull the trigger not because of recoil but because of the amount of money you just spent on a per round basis. Also great for anything out past 1000 Meters that needs adequate ballistics.
FN M249S Centerfire Rifle
Best Semi-Auto Assault Rifle LOOK ALIKE
We need to be clear: this listed item is NOT an assault rifle but THIS IS (see below) in the classic definition of an assault rifle: [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heckler_%26_Koch_HK33]]
Specifically, we are adding this one to the list because there is some misinformation out there as to what is and what isn’t, and a look alike can be a fun gun to own. Again, to be clear, this is simply a lookalike rifle, not a firearm capable of firing in select fire mode, and it does not meet the other several requirements to actually be called an assault rifle.
There is a very proven Squad automatic rifle that is made in an open bolt configuration for military use only that is substantially similar in looks. The proven reliability and performance make this an easy choice despite the high price.
- Unbelievably good build quality
- Proven design
- Rare and fun to shoot
- Over the top expensive
This is best for:
People who want a close to military experience, without the difficulty of getting a bunch of licensing and background checks.
Browning BAR Mark II Safari
Best 30-06 Semi-Auto Rifle
A classy, refined approach to the modern semi-automatic hunting rifle, the Browning BAR Mark II is a classic choice with modern engineering and a robust build quality. It is unmatchable for the reliability in the larger, typically bolt-action cartridges. It is also one of only a handful of makers who focus still on building these guns – part of the reason is that Browning simply outperforms most competitors by a wide margin.
You will probably wonder why you see a few Browning rifles on this list and all will likely be the BAR – it’s not because we are fanboys, it’s because they are that good, and when you want the best, the best sometimes all come from a given maker because they are specializing in those segments.
- Gorgeous finishing on the firearm
- Top quality materials
- An all-in design that doesn’t disappoint for hunting
- Slightly pricey
This is best for:
The hunter who wants one of the most versatile guns on the planet for big game. Given the right ammunition or handloads, this is capable of taking a massive range of animals.
Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle
Best .223 Semi-Auto Rifle
Daniel Defense makes some of the best mid-range rifles on the planet in the AR-15 platform. From a mainstream production perspective, it is hard to find a more consistent maker of the guns in this market segment, and it is a very crowded market segment. These simply perform, and they look great without a bunch of frivolity too.
The reliability and performance are excellent and the price, while it seems slightly high, denotes the clear value over a gun that simply cannot perform as reliably. In this market segment reliability is everything. Daniel Defense just makes quality gear.
- Simple, refined but still tactically inclined and well built
- Great fit and finish
- Great customer service
- Getting up there in price
This is best for:
The shooter who wants to own a truly quality AR-15 clone. This is a spectacular specimen, and while expensive on the surface, you won’t have to dump another $1000 into it to get it to perform with the best in the market, it is among the best on the market in every facet already.
Ruger - 10/22 Target Rifle
Best .22 Semi-Auto Rifle
The best $500 you’ll spend on a single gun ever. This is destined to become the most shot, most turned to and most fun, gun you have in your shooting safe. This is the classic .22LR rifle that built the Ruger name, with the top end of the platform in the TARGET model. The barrel is a bull barrel design and it is a bit heavier, but still very portable and easily shot from a standing shoulder fired position with excellent accuracy.
- No more proven semi auto .22LR in production
- Reasonable price for the exceptional value
- Robust aftermarket accessory market
- It can feel expensive for a .22LR at first (until you use it extensively)
This is best for:
The whole family to use without spending a lot of money for ammunition or accurizing.
FN SCAR 17S
Best .308 semi-auto rifle
The most battlefield proven .308 in the modern builds. It was a toss up between the M1A platform and this gun for the best .308 semi auto rifle, but this FN SCAR has the benefit of being proven in the more modern era, and is just built so well for the weight that it edges out the heavy M1A.
- Lighter weight .308 Win than most
- Built incredibly well
- Proven in many battlefield scenarios
- In such high demand it’s hard to get one
This is best for:
A single semi-auto .308 Winchester Rifle, when you need only one gun that can do it all well.
Here are some honorable mentions because the above gun is frequently unavailable due to massive demand for it.
Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM
Best for: Tactical .308 use where you want something built like a tank and don’t mind the weight (9lbs.)
LWRCI Rapid Engagement Precision Rifle (R.E.P.R.)
Best for: Legitimate long range semi-auto .308 tactical use, where every second and every MOA of accuracy counts.
Sig Sauer MCX 300 Blackout
Best Semi-Auto Rifle for Home Defense
More because of the great Sig Sauer quality and the caliber than for the specific Sig offering on this one, this is a gun built for general purpose .300AAC blackout use, though it can be adapted easily for use as a home defense gun. The short overall length, good handling; perfect indoor CQB caliber and the ability to easily add on a suppressor make this a genuine top choice for home defense work when you need to know you have the ballistics, the reliability and the ability to alter the sound profile significantly.
- A near perfect CQB caliber
- Ability to suppress sound very well
- Top quality build level from Sig
- No cons really – maybe a note about the odd choice of flash hider for a home defense gun
This is best for:
Dedicated home defense when you need to minimize wall penetration and risk of friendly fire concerns while maintaining incredible stopping power in short distances.
The lack of overpenetration risk is important relative to other calibers, considering the stout ballistic performance in short ranges. This is a legitimate home defense caliber and the add-ons and build out of the Sig carbine makes it easy to justify.
Honorable mention to the Q® Honey Badger Rifle too:
DPMS Oracle Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle
Best Budget Semi-Auto Rifle
Cheap, effective, proven and reliable. It’s very straightforward with this one: the gun, the ammo and the upkeep are inexpensive and still offer many benefits and a ton of value all-in.
- Ridiculously good value
- Proven brand (large military contract provider)
- Excellent caliber
- Needs some customization out of factory for those who prefer individuality
This is best for:
The person who needs a budget gun; or those who are new to the AR platform.
Troy Defense National Pump-Action Tactical Rifle
Best Semi-Auto Rifle in California and Area Restrictions
California could easily be substituted for any highly regulated state, and we believe the gun is 50 state legal as a result of its configuration. Note, there may be specific requirements to remain legal in certain states, for instance magazine capacity; ammunition types and other considerations can all affect legalities in certain states.
Plainly, this is not a semi-auto rifle, but it is close enough to one that it sort of makes sense to add to this list. The laws are quite convoluted in California, so much so, that having a gun that is semi-automatic and is able to have the magazine removable is not legal. If you desire to own any of these guns above (with very few exceptions) you can have a California legal version of it – though with the newest regulations you will have to jump through some loopholes.
So, we chose this gun, something that laughs at the regulations because in many cases they are laughable, and that is without getting political about it.
- Much easier to use than the highly restrictive bullet button or other designs that help to get semi-autos into the hands of civilians.
- While novel, and well built, it isn’t even a semi-auto
This is best for:
California, New York, New Jersey, and other residents who are living under extremely heavy regulatory restrictions surrounding Semi-Auto rifles.
A semi auto rifle is a good addition to any shooter’s gun safe. The best semi auto rifle is among those in the list prepared above. You don’t have to look any further than this. If you match your need to the specific sweet spot as outlined above you can with great confidence, feel like you are getting the legitimate best semi-auto rifle for that need.
What’s important to note: Semi-auto rifles are addictive. Once you buy one, you’ll want another soon after. So, make sure you are diversifying your list of guns, so you can extract the maximum value for the guns you are purchasing and have a wonderful array of options for whatever need comes up. We think you can find a lot of diversity in the above list and each can be customized through optics, accessories and ammunition, so you aren’t tied only to what you get in the box.