Gun Digest

The Sporting AR: Ideal for Hunting?

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From the Mauser to the AR-15, hunters are following the historical trend of applying military rifles to sporting purposes. Patrick Hayes Photo
From the Mauser to the AR-15, hunters are following the historical trend of applying military rifles to sporting purposes. Patrick Hayes Photo

Today’s battle-tested tactical rifle is more than ready for the woods.

Many of the increasing features that make the AR-platform ideal for combat are also lending themselves to sporting purposes as well. For instance, the Colt LE6920MPFDE, which boasts flat dark earth colored furniture, blends great with the woods and most outdoor environments. Chambered in 5.56 and topped with a variable magnification optic, it’s a great varmint gun and with the right loads, will do serious damage or hogs as well.

Predator Performance

With their ability to deliver tack driving performance, cycle rapid follow-up shots, cool quickly and shoot heavier bullets in a .223-sized caliber thanks to the higher barrel twist rates most ARs have over more traditional arms of the same caliber, it is no surprise that ARs first found a home in the hunting world among predator and varmint hunters.

The fact that much of that type of shooting and hunting revolves so keenly around ballistic performance and fine tuning of a particular firearm to work in concert with optics, rests and the shooter’s own abilities also played a significant role in the varminters' embracing of tactical rifles.

Whether a shooter is perched in the bed of a pick-up truck and settled on a bench overlooking a troublesome prairie dog town or hidden among the brush, working coyotes to the gun, the end game for the predator shooter is to be able to fire a lot of shots. Predators and varmints are not bound within bag limits like much larger and even some smaller game. That means a guy also has to be able to afford to shoot.

Before ARs became all the rage and demand soared for the guns, .223 ammo was relatively inexpensive when compared to some of the more specialized cartridges. This also enhanced the rifle’s popularity.

However, when AR demand soared, ammo costs for the rifle rose with it as the rounds became scarce. Don’t forget that our military was also embroiled in battles on two fronts at this same time, requiring a significant demand for much of the same materials and production facilities that produced ammunition for civilians.

Fortunately, for today’s tactical hunter, ammo makers have been able to ramp up production so that .223 ammunition is once again easily obtainable and available at a reasonable cost.

Built for Bigger Game

With the light recoil, simple operation and reputation of reliability, the AR plstform appeals to shooters of all kinds, and the customizations are almost limitless. Patrick Hayes Photo

Few hunters are so specialized that they don’t hunt other types of game. While the growth in predator hunting and interest in tactical rifles seemed to have moved in lock step with one another, arguably making predator hunting the fastest growing type of hunting today, its number of adherents is still far dwarfed by those who pursue the king of all game animals—the white-tailed deer.

Of course, check any shooting website message board and you will find those sportsmen who advocate the .223 as a dependable caliber for deer-sized game, but most hunters feel the cartridge leaves too little room for error. It’s not a great caliber for breaking through heavy shoulders or other bones. Even a lung shot can fail to deliver the penetration and transfer of hydrostatic shock essential to depressurizing a deer’s circulatory system and spreading rapidly terminal damage. The .223 caliber is even illegal for deer hunting in many areas.

But that isn’t hindering big game hunters from going tactical. For the deer hunter, there is, and always has been, the heavier AR-10, Eugene Stoner’s original AR creation that shoots the 7.62 mm or .308.

The .308 has long been one of the more popular cartridges among deer hunters and one of the most effective. It’s a proven performer and readily available in nearly any gun shop. Ammo choices are abundant with bullet offerings ranging from 125 to 180 grains. The .308 also delivers excellent down-range performance, shooting flat out to 300-plus yards—and even farther for those capable enough.

While it didn’t pull much of the early attention of the .223-chambered rifles, the AR rifle capable of pulling big game duty has always been available. In addition to the .308, there are ARs available in .243, .260 Rem., .338 and more recently 6.8 SPC II and 300 AAC Blackout. There are even calibers as heavy as .450 and .458 capable of bringing down all manner of truly large game.

Indeed, following the insane rush to purchase AR rifles of the past four to five years, the market has regained some sanity. In fact, while overall demand for AR rifles continues to drive the long gun market, there is a current trend of interest in larger caliber AR rifles by sportsmen particularly interested in taking these tools hunting for deer and other large critters. It is a trend that is unlikely to slow any time soon.

This article is an excerpt from Modern Shooter Spring 2014 presented by Gun Digest.

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