Rifles have a long and illustrious history. Their early development is somewhat hazy, but rifles have come to dominate the battlefield ever since their debut.
This list will be based on the basic definition of a rifle, which is as follows:
"A gun, especially one fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved barrel intended to make a bullet spin and thereby have greater accuracy over a long distance."
Other sources expand on this by defining a rifle as a portable long-range precision shooting firearm that is usually held with both nads and braced against the shoulder when firing. A rifle's barrel will usually be rifled (hence the name) which consists of a helical pattern of grooves cut into the barrel bore walls.
For the purposes of this article, the following firearms will be those that fit these definitions. In this sense, we will include any kind of rifle inclusive of, but not limited to, assault rifles and rifle-barreled carbines.
Please note that this is not meant as a definitive list of the 9 best rifles ever, it's just a collection of some of the most notable ones around. It is also in no particular order.
1. You do not want to be in the Accuracy International AS50's sights
Design company and country of origin: Accuracy International - The United Kingdom
When was it first used?: 2007
What makes this rifle one of the best?: The AS50 is considered one of the best sniper/anti-materiel rifles in the world.
The AS50 is a massively powerful .50 BMG sniper and anti-materiel rifle. It enables snipers to engage targets at a very long-range (effective range of 1.5 km) and can fire an impressive 5 rounds every 1.6 seconds.
Not only does it have a long range, but the rifle is incredibly accurate. It can deliver pinpoint accuracy using explosive and incendiary ammunition if required.
The sniper rifle was specifically designed for use by the British Armed Forces and American Navy Seals and uses a gas-operated action. It is not only deadly accurate but is noted for its relatively small weight, and can be assembled in less than 3 minutes.
This firearm is considered highly effective against enemy combatants and military equipment.
2. The SA80 is one of the most reliable military rifles in the world
Design company and country of origin: Royal Small Arms Factory - United Kingdom
When was it first used?: 1985
What makes this rifle one of the best?: The SA80 is almost universally liked by its regular users, and is considered one of the most reliable rifles in the world.
The SA80 is the standard issue rifle for the British Armed Forces. It was first fielded in the 1980s and replaced the L1A1 variant of the FN FAL.
It is an example of a bullpup-configuration weapon with its action and magazine positioned behind the trigger, allowing the weapon's overall length to be decreased without reducing the barrel length. This setup allows for the weapon to be relatively compact making it easier to wield and use in combat zones like urban environments.
It fires a 5.56 mm round and can use the same magazine as the American M4. Whilst early models had some issues, modern variants (upgraded by Heckler and Koch) have made it one of the most reliable firearms ever built.
It is widely loved by those who use it on a regular basis.
3. The AK-74 replaced the AKM
Design company and country of origin: Kalashnikov - Soviet Union
When was it first used?: 1974
What makes this rifle one of the best?: The AK-74 replaced the AKM, itself a version of the AK-47
The AK-74 is the standard issue rifle of Russian Ground Forces. It was developed in the late 1970s by Kalashnikov, who also developed the iconic AK-47 assault rifle.
The AK-74 differs from its venerable predecessor by the fact that it uses the smaller, and lighter, 5.45 mm rounds. It saw extensive during the ill-fated Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
This rifle has a side-folding stock, a 16.3-inch barrel, and a total length of 37 inches. It has recently undergone some modifications to include a skeletonized stock, and rail accessory mounting system to name but a few.
4. TrackingPoint Rifles could be the future of military rifles
Design company and country of origin: TrackingPoint - USA
When was it first used?: 2011
What makes this rifle one of the best?: These could change the world of rifles forever by making them "smart".
Whilst not specifically a single rifle, TrackingPoint is an American company that has made the world's first precision-guided firearms (PGF). PGF is a long-range rifle system that effectively turns rifles into "smart rifles".
This system calculates the range, tracks a target, and provides a firing solution for the user. It includes a HUD that also provides the user with information on things like wind direction as well as an automatically adjusting aiming reticle.
Whilst they do have their own firearms, the system is currently under testing by the U.S. Army. It has been installed on their XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle for evaluation.
5. The mighty M4 Carbine is a deadly rifle
Design company and country of origin: Colt - USA
When was it first used?: 1993
What makes this rifle one of the best?: A variant of the venerable M16A2, this rifle has largely replaced the M16 in the US Army and Marine Corps.
The M4 carbine is effectively a lighter and shorted variant of the M16A2 assault rifle. It was developed between the mid-1980s and early 1990s and was accepted by the U.S. Army in 1994.
It is shorter than the M16, hence being called a carbine, and fires the same 5.56 mm rounds from 30 round magazines.
This carbine is capable of being modified by attaching M203 and M320 grenade launchers. The rifle has various fire modes from semi-automatic to three-shot bursts.
Its extensive battlefield use has led to recent upgrades in the M4A1 variant. These include thicker barrels, better triggers, and ambidextrous safety controls as well as full-auto fire mode.
6. The impressive Heckler and Koch 416 assault rifle
Design company and country of origin: Heckler and Koch - Germany
When was it first used?: 2004
What makes this rifle one of the best?: This gun has become famous as the one used to kill Osama Bin Laden in 2011
Designed by the famous German weapons manufacturer Heckler and Koch, the HK 416 is widely considered one of the best rifles in the world. Whilst it looks ostensibly similar to the American M4, it uses a short-stroke gas piston action and can fire around 900 rounds per minute.
It fires the standard NATO 5.56 mm round.
This weapon is the standard issue for the Norwegian Armed Forces and has been selected to replace the FAMAS for the French Armed Forces.
7. The FAMAS assault rifle is a very popular rifle model
Design company and country of origin: Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Étienne (MAS) - France
When was it first used?: 1978
What makes this rifle one of the best?: The FAMAS has a very high fire rate of 1,100 rounds per minute. It is also one of the most distinctive rifles in the world.
It is more popularly called "Le Clairon" (The Bugle) by the French military, due to its distinctive shape, and has been in use since 1978. Like the SA80 it has a distinctive bullpup configuration and also fires the NATO standard 5.56 mm round.
The FAMAS-G2 and some F1's use standard NATO Accessory Rail, which allows a variety of sights to be mounted, including red dot sights and night vision units. Some models also feature a built-in bipod.
A G2 variant was developed in the mid-1990s but French serviceman prefers to use the older F1 as their primary rifle. It is currently being replaced with the Heckler and Koch 416 F rifle.
8. The M16 is a classic rifle model
Design company and country of origin: ArmaLite Inc - the USA
When was it first used?: 1964
What makes this rifle one of the best?: The M16 is the most-produced 5.56 mm caliber rifle in the world
The U.S. Army was on the hunt for a new assault rifle in the 1950s. It needed to be lightweight and chambered for an intermediate charge.
Armalite soon answered the call and replaced some traditional steel parts with aluminum and also used fiberglass in place of wood for other parts of the rifle. It was ergonomically designed and had many new features never seen before in a rifle of the age.
It entered service in 1964 and was almost immediately tested in combat in the Vietnam War. A few years later it was replaced with the M16A1 and has undergone various upgrades over the decades until its widespread replacement by the M4 in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Worldwide, it is still widely used today with over 8 million units made over the years. This makes it the most-produced firearm for its 5.56 mm caliber.
9. The AK-103 is an incredibly durable military rifle
Design company and country of origin: Kalashnikov -Russia
When was it first used?: 2001
What makes this rifle one of the best?: This is widely renowned for its stopping power and incredible reliability
Derived from the AK-74M, the AK 100 series are some of the best rifles in the world. Foremost among them is the AK-103, which offers superior penetration and stopping power thanks to its use of 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition.
It has earned its name for its reliability and ability to withstand punishment in the field. Whilst not the most accurate weapon, it will remain operational in poor environmental conditions.
Like its notable ancestor, the AK-47, it is made from common materials and doesn't require the kind of precision engineering other rifles on this list demand.
This rifle has been exported all over the world. Including its predecessors, the AK series of rifles are in service in more than 100 countries around the world.