If you hunt, it’s not fair to keep your AR all penned up at the range.
How the AR is on target for hunting:
- Easily configured for the field.
- Switch uppers to match caliber with game.
- Overall light rifle to carry.
- With right caliber appropriate for everything from varmints up to big game.
- Proven accurate platform.
The AR is a versatile platform. Its modular design allows the user to configure the AR to do almost anything, from self-defense and patrol work to long-range precision shooting to run-and-gun competitions. In recent years, the AR has been gaining popularity with hunters. You can truly have one rifle — the lower receiver — and by exchanging a few parts use it for small game and varmint shooting, putting food on the table and defusing the “pig bomb.”
The .223 Rem./5.56 NATO is a great round for mid-size game. This caliber is a descendant of the .222 Remington, or “triple duce,” which was introduced in 1950. The .222 Rem. is a flat-shooting, accurate round that immediately found favor with bench-rest and varmint shooters. (The first recorded “one-hole” group — five shots at 100 yards measuring 0.0000 inches — was shot by Mac McMillan in 1973 using the .222 Rem.) In Europe, where military calibers are prohibited, deer hunters put it to good use: The .222 Rem. was stretched out to create the .223 Rem., which leads to the 5.56 NATO military round.
The “modern sporting rifle” concept introduced a new generation of hunters to the AR platform. They discovered that the AR is useful for much more than defensive/combative applications: It’s an easy rifle to shoot, it’s extremely accurate with low recoil and it allows for immediate follow-up shots. The AR is easy to transport, too — just separate the upper receiver from the lower and you’ve got a compact package for travel. And, hunters have learned that the precision AR is something they could assemble, as opposed to spending a lot of money and waiting for a gunsmith to complete a custom build.
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It also motivated the design and development of alternative caliber ARs: It’s no secret that you can have a “black rifle” in a variety of calibers and colors. New products, such as free-floating handguards, match-grade barrels and specialty optics, have been specifically designed for hunting and thusly were brought to market.
And again, the AR’s modular design is a big plus for hunters. Push out the two takedown pins and the upper receiver group — the actual receiver, barrel, bolt group and sights/optics — is easily separated from lower receiver group (lower receiver, trigger group, buffer assembly and stock/grip).
The part considered to be the “actual rifle” is the lower receiver, which is has a serial number. So, you can actually have one rifle — the lower receiver — that you can pair with a variety of calibers simply by swapping out the upper receiver.
From Range To Field
Your .223 Rem./5.56 NATO AR will work for mid-size game … with the correct bullet. As mentioned above, the .222 Rem. was a popular cartridge for deer hunting in Europe, and the .223/5.56 works just as well here in the States (some states or areas you hunt might have restrictions/limitations on caliber size, so check the laws).
Hunting with the .223/5.56 is all about bullet selection. The standard 55-grain round will function well, but most hunters will step up in bullet weight, using a hunting bullet designed with a hollow-point or ballistic tip. As with any ammunition, you’ll need to test fire for function and to confirm accuracy, making any adjustments required to get a hard zero. Remember, switching ammo — from one weight/type ammo to another — can cause a significant shift in point of impact.
Your AR can also be used for small game hunting. It’s an extremely accurate round, even at long distances, and a favorite for varmint hunting. But, it’s a little too “hot” for small game such as squirrels or rabbits, where you want to harvest the meat.
The solution is to pick up a .22 LR conversion kit. The .22 kits have a bolt group and modified magazines, so converting your AR to .22 LR is easy. Like always, the secret to shooting accurately and reliable functioning is ammo selection. Test fire a variety of .22 LR ammunition until you discover what works best in your kit. At the same time, adjust the sights as required. Also, after using a .22 kit, be sure to clean everything well. The .22 LR rounds can foul the barrel heavily and will sometimes leave residue in the gas system. Clean well, then test fire with your centerfire cartridge to confirm function.
Maybe your hunt needs a little more punch or distance than the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO provides. You can swap out upper receivers and convert your AR to a 6.5 Grendel. Now you’re pushing bullets from 90 to 129 grains with velocities from 2,900 fps with the light bullets to 2,500 fps with the heavier bullets. This provides more thump on target, especially at extended distances. And, you’re using the same .223/5.56 magazines you already have, although mag capacity will be slightly reduced due to the diameter of the bullet’s case.
Another option is converting to the .300 Blackout round. This round is a favorite among pig hunters, especially those using suppressors. The .300 BLK is available in a wide variety of weights, ranging from 70 to 90 grains at around 2600 fps, to heavier bullets in the 220-grain weight moving at around 1,000 fps.
Of course, you also have the option of getting the AR in .308 Win., the original AR caliber used in the AR-10. This caliber is definitely big enough for mid-sized to large game. Or, there are a variety of offerings in different calibers. But, this gets away from the one-rifle concept.
The “modern sporting rifle” is a perfect platform for the modern hunter. It’s easy to use, reliable, accurate and available in a variety of calibers. By easily swapping out parts, you have one rifle that will do and hunt almost everything — and you can even build it yourself. And, if things get really bad, you can still use it for self-defense.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.