Shooting an AR-15 carbine well takes practice, and practice costs money. A lot of money. Even a modest level of shooting (say, 200-300 rounds per week, across assorted drills and distances) will eat up your disposable income like candy.
If only there was a way to get trigger time on your AR without all the hassle...Something chambered in the cheap and plentiful .22 LR, but with the same controls and sights as a full-size black rifle...Something made by an established American company, with customer service and accessories...Something like the S&W M&P15-22 MOE.
Overview and Features
Smith & Wesson's line of M&P15-22 rifles have been hot sellers since their introduction, thanks mostly to smart design. The guns are essentially .22 LR polymer AR-15s, with identical controls (the safety, charging handle, mag release, and bolt release all work exactly the same), close ergonomics (the size and balance are much like a regular AR), and even similar disassembly (the gun splits into upper and lower receivers). For someone looking for a gun that mimics the AR manual of arms, it's really one of the only choices.
The M&P15-22 MOE is easily the best version, and the one to seek out. The MOE edition comes equipped with Magpul MBUS sights and MOE grip and stock; if you use Magpul furniture on your main rifle, there'll be very little difference in how the M&P15-22 looks and feels. For me, though, the biggest feature of the MOE version is the rear QD sling swivel attachment point, which allows you to easily throw on a tactical sling for practicing transitions:
Like other versions of the M&P15-22, the MOE comes with an integral polymer quad rail for mounting grips, bipods, lights, and other accessories. Here's mine with my old Primary Arms weaponlight and a DD vertical foregrip.
The magazines work well. They're shaped much like AR mags, and readily fit inside a Blade-Tech Kydex pouch. They should be 100% compatible with the mag pouches on a typical pack or LBE vest.
Here's another inside look at the Shangrila Towers testing process: before I actually shoot a new gun, I log which ammo types I'm going to use and my anticipated course of fire. I find that it helps to put it all down in writing beforehand, especially if I encounter problems or malfunctions.
The log wasn't really necessary on this occasion, because the MOE performed flawlessly. Through an admittedly abbreviated range session of 500 rounds, I noticed no problems in feeding, firing, extraction, or locking back when empty - the gun even fed the Remington target ammo that the manual expressly warns against. Fantastic reliability isn't needed since this isn't something you'd use for self-defense, but it's nice to know that you won't have to clear jams every other mag.
Other parts of the gun felt right, too. The gun's trigger is fairly comparable to a military AR trigger - a bit heavy and mushy, with a little creep. I didn't notice any problems with the polymer quad rail, though it's certainly not designed to take the beating that an anodzed aluminum rail can take. The shooting experience, overall, was very close to an AR-15, except with no recoil and almost no strain on my personal finances.
Here are some typical ten shot groups at 25 yards. I only shot standing and with iron sights, which introduces a lot of shooter error - put the M&P15-22 MOE in a benchrest with a decent optic, and I'm sure it could do much better.
There's a bunch of rimfire practice options for the AR guys out there. If you just want a plinker, the conversion bolt kits allow you to switch to .22 LR without even changing your upper. For people that need accuracy beyond 25 yards, a dedicated .22 LR upper is a great choice, since it allows you to train with the trigger and stock you use on your working gun.
The MOE represents a good compromise between these two options. For about the cost of a dedicated upper, you're getting an entire .22 LR, one that functions as well or better than any conversion. You also get a fun way to use your AR-specific equipment, especially if your optics/grips/etc. have quick-detach levers. So, if you like to shoot your AR but hate paying for it, you should probably give the M&P15-22 MOE a try.