Many love them, a few hate them, but whatever your feelings are, it is hard to argue the fact that AR-style rifles are the most popular rifles purchased today in America. This is due to many reasons: widespread pop culture combined with the current political environment doesn’t hurt, but there is another reason, too. Outdoorsmen, ranchers, and shooters have found ARs nearly ideal for a variety of tasks—even hunting.
Looks aside and ask yourself what makes a good hunting rifle? I would offer that it needs to be durable, reliable, capable of precise accuracy, and if it can provide a fast follow-up shot for the rare occasions one is needed, that is not bad either. The final criteria for any hunting rifle is it must be chambered in a caliber large enough to do the job. If we can agree on those standards, then it must be said that the AR fits this bill well.
Made to handle combat, ARs rely heavily on polymer and aluminum, which is not only tough, but rust proof and corrosion resistant. The limited amount of steel in an AR is often stainless or coated with chrome, likewise preventing rust. A little care goes a long way on an AR, and hunter’s rough on equipment will feel right at home with an AR.
Today, few can argue an AR’s reliability. Kept moderately clean and fed good ammo, ARs are as good as any other semi-auto, and a far sight better than most. When it comes to accuracy, few rifles—regardless of action type—shoot better. The hallmark of a “keeper” hunting rifle is one that can place three shots under an inch at 100 yards. Most ARs will do this with boring regularity, and some will do far better with the right ammo. As for power, it has long been established by hunting experts as well as game departments that 1,000-foot pounds of energy should be considered adequate for big game. With chamberings other than the .223 Remington, the AR can meet these power requirements quite easily (see the chart for a list of calibers).
If you have read this far and realize you do want to hunt with an AR, before going any further, ask yourself one question: What do you plan on hunting? This is the genesis of the AR selection process. If deer, hogs, predators, and varmints are on your list, than the AR-15-sized platform will work just fine. If are looking for a rifle for bigger game—say elk or moose or game at longer ranges—the larger AR-10 platform may be required.
Two Sizes, Many Calibers
The first realization that needs to be made is there are essentially two sizes of AR-style rifles. One is the common AR-15, which is designed to handle a 5.56/.223 Remington-length cartridge. Think of this “size” issue in terms of magazine-well dimensions and not caliber or bore diameter, as there are a whole host of calibers, including those half an inch in bore diameter that can obtained in the AR-15 platform. Common larger calibers for the AR-15 platform include the 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .300 Blackout, .30 Remington, .458 Socom, .450 Bushmaster and the .50 Beowulf. The larger platform AR is the AR-10, which is a significant step up in terms of overall action length, physical size, and weight unfortunately. Designed for .308 Winchester-length cartridges, the AR-10 has been chambered in a wide variety of very good hunting cartridges, such as the .243, 7mm-08, .338 Federal, and even the .300 WSM.
Since AR uppers and lowers are easily swapped by removing just two pins, it is common to have multiple uppers for the same lower, making it one of the most versatile guns you will ever own. For instance, if you bought a standard .223 AR-15 for target shooting and varmint hunting and wanted to create a more proficient deer killer, a 6.8 SPC upper is readily available. Pull the two pins and swap uppers. Now your varmint rifle becomes a deer rifle in less than 30 seconds. Going on a bear hunt and want a dedicated big bore for bruins? A .458 SOCOM upper will set you back about half the cost of a complete rifle, and the stock, trigger, and operation remains identical, so your summer target practice is still relevant. Keep in mind that as modular as ARs are, they cannot be swapped between frame sizes (except in very limited models). For example, AR-15 uppers do not fit on AR-10 lowers and vice versa. In addition to being versatile, due to the dual pin system, no other rifle is as quick to disassemble into two pieces, making either the AR-15 or AR-10 ideal for travel in a compact case.
Where To Begin
There are more styles and types and manufacturers of AR rifles than any other rifle type on the market, so where does a prospective buyer start? While our list is not even close to complete, it is a starting point. To wit: here are our seven of our favorite manufacturers of hunting-specific ARs.