Best Hunting ARs for 2015
May 08, 2015
Stop us if you've heard this before: Choosing the right AR-15 specifically for killing predators (coyotes, foxes, and bobcats) and other hunting purposes can be damn tough. Judging the features and performance of the top guns on the market before dropping big dollars is no easy task.
Buyer's remorse on an AR can mean time, money, and ammo wasted. We're here to help you choose one scary-accurate, smooth-handling gun for the gig.
To do so we collected five top ARs from industry-leading manufacturers in predator-effective calibers: .223/5.56, 6.5 Grendel, and 6.8 SPC. Each gun represented a corner of the market (lightweight, bargain, and so on), giving this field test something for everyone. We scored each AR on five categories worth five points each for a total of 25.
The rifles were tested for accuracy (100 yards) with four three-shot groups using three different factory loads, and the results were averaged. We weighed, measured, and handled each AR to
determine the overall ergonomics and tested each trigger five times using a digital trigger gauge.
We tested reliability by cycling as many rounds through the action as range and field time would allow. Finally, we judged value based on quality versus price.
All in all, we spent nearly a month burning ammo and checking targets in the frigid Illinois winter. The results, we think, speak for themselves.
Rock River LAR-15 X-1
This rifle had only one downside during testing: It was the heaviest of the group. But that doesn't figure to be a huge downside for Rock River's X-1. The extra weight made for a stable shot and the 18-inch, stainless-steel Cryo Treated barrel helped produce miniscule groups at the range (0.52-inch average).
We turned in the best three-shot group during our testing with the X-1, and it was only after several double takes that we came to grips with the 0.25-inch cluster. Any gun that can produce damn near a single hole from three factory-loaded rounds at 100 yards is one you keep in the safe.
The two-stage trigger broke clean and crisp even in extremely cold temperatures, while the Hunter Muzzle Brake eliminated excess recoil and barrel rise to allow for rapid and accurate follow-up shots.
An extended trigger guard, ergonomic Hogue grip, and TRO-XL extended free float handrail allowed for comfort and efficiency with gloved hands — all features that were highly useful during our sub-freezing testing.
HIT: The X-1 was insanely accurate, producing 12 sub-MOA groups.
MISS: We had one small gripe with the X-1: weight. It was the heaviest rifle tested.
Caliber tested: 5.56/.223
Unloaded weight: 7.64 pounds
Barrel length: 20 inches
Overall length: 36.75-40.5 inches
Length of pull: 11-14.75 inches
Trigger pull (avg.): 3.8 pounds
MSRP Price: $1,369
MG Arms Taranis
As soon as we picked up the Taranis, it was obvious this rifle was unique. It won hands down for aesthetics with its PTFE Resin Sand Camo finish, billet machined upper and lower receivers, and sleek lines, while also taking the title for lightest weight at 5.64 pounds.
MG Arms cuts poundage with a pencil-thin, match-grade, 16-inch barrel and a lightweight, carbon fiber handguard. So much so, that the rifle almost feels too light.
After several hours behind the gun, though, we warmed to the diminutive Taranis with its ultra-feathery, 2.9-pound custom trigger, which played a pivotal role in accuracy.
The Taranis did struggle, though, with maintaining solid groups as we switched factory loads, which was a worrisome outcome for this otherwise stellar AR.
But with solid results all around and plenty of flare, this gun will feel right at home on your next predator venture.
HIT: The Taranis was predictably the lightest in the test and features an ultra-crisp trigger.
MISS: Accuracy varied with different factory loads.
Caliber tested: .223/5.56
Unloaded weight: 5.64 pounds
Barrel length: 16 inches
Overall length: 32.75-36.5 inches
Length of pull: 10-13.75 inches
Trigger pull (avg.): 2.9 pounds
MSRP Price: $2,195
Alexander Arms Lightweight Hunter
This rifle is just about the perfect balance between weight and power.
At 6.42 pounds unscoped and unloaded, the Alexander Arms Lightweight Hunter in 6.5 Grendel was one of our favorites going into the test, and its performance did nothing to dissuade us from our continuing gun crush. We love Bill Alexander's guns — and his velvety British accent.
The rifle functioned flawlessly in cold weather and produced a damn fine .83-inch average group and a best of 0.6 inch of the 12 total three-shot groups.
The lighter, thinner Tactical Blade trigger broke cleanly at 3.45 pounds with no overtravel, though we would have benefitted from an enlarged trigger guard.
Our favorite addition to the Lightweight Hunter was the side charging handle, which makes it a cinch to silently close the bolt or get it into battery should it hang up.
HIT: The Lightweight Hunter featured the best bolt design with its side charging handle.
MISS: This rifle was above average in all facets, though ammo availability is certainly an issue.
Caliber tested: 6.5 Grendel
Unloaded weight: 6.42 pounds
Barrel length: 18 inches
Overall length: 33.75-37.25 inches
Length of pull: 11.25-14.75 inches
Trigger pull (avg.): 3.45 pounds
MSRP Price: $1,750
Mossberg MMR Hunter
Considered the relative bargain of this bunch, the MMR Hunter carries the lowest price of the rifles we tested. That being said, we still had high expectations.
Honestly, the MMR struggled to keep up with its competitors. The rifle we evaluated failed in two major categories: reliability and trigger performance.
It also placed at the rear in accuracy testing with a best group of 2.0 inches.
Much of that was due to a subpar trigger full of creeps and stops (tested at 6.4 pounds). Whether you chalk it up to icy temperatures or components that haven't yet broken in, we also had issues with rounds feeding properly and getting the bolt to go fully into battery...even with multiple magazines and lubricant applications.
There's no forward assist, either, so the only solution was to manually cycle another round.
HIT: This is the "bargain" of the bunch, though it still isn't light on the wallet.
MISS: This was quite simply the worst trigger we've experienced on any AR.
Caliber tested: .223/5.56
Unloaded weight: 7.26 pounds
Barrel length: 20 inches
Overall length: 38.75 inches (fixed)
Length of pull: 13.75 inches (fixed)
Trigger pull (avg.): 6.4 pounds
MSRP Price: $1,028
Ambush 6.8 SPCII
Chambered in 6.8 SPC, this AR from Ambush makes a great rifle for the serious predator hunter who wants more big-game knockdown power.
The two-stage Geissele Super Semi-Automatic trigger is near the top of the line and made easy work of the 100-yard target.
It breaks at around 2.5 pounds on the first stage and 2 pounds on the second and accurately averaged at 4.2 pounds during our tests.
The Ambush posted a best group of 1.3 inches, which isn't bad for the 6.8, a round that isn't known for refined accuracy.
Why? The caliber simply doesn't have a wide selection of factory loads available. At 6.9 pounds the 6.8 is both easy to carry and to hold on target.
Protecting the barrel is the free-floating Modular Float Rail (MFR) 12.0 with adjustable shotgun-inspired hand grip exclusive to Ambush Firearms. Included are three 3-inch modular rail sections for mounting accessories.
HIT: The two-stage Geissele trigger broke clean, with almost no overtravel.
MISS: The Ambush wasn't incredibly accurate, but that was to be expected.
Caliber tested: 6.8 SPC
Unloaded weight: 6.9 pounds
Barrel length: 18 inches
Overall length: 33-36.5 inches
Length of pull: 10.25-13.75 inches
Trigger pull (avg.): 4.2 pounds
MSRP Price: $1,800
In a comparative test such as this, accuracy can be one of the most flawed pieces of data collected. There are variances in conditions at the time of testing, loads used, benchrest used, and, above all, shooter ability.
To ensure that we could best overcome the latter, we topped each rifle with the ultra-precision NightForce ATACR 5-25x56 riflescope (removing and remounting it for each gun).
We also tested each of the entrants at 100 yards with four three-shot groups with different factory loads commonly used by predator hunters. Each rifle was also cleaned after the first round of testing, and we most definitely noted the below-freezing temperatures (an average of 22 degrees) as we sent round after round downrange.
Finally, groups were measured and recorded using a Lyman dial caliper.
As mentioned earlier, the Rock River X-1 was by far the winner in this critically important category. In fact, the consistent sub-MOA cloverleaf groups that the X-1 doled out (an average of 0.52 inch overall) put it over the top as our Editor's Choice.
Right on the Rock River's heels, though, was Bill Alexander's outstanding Lightweight Hunter in 6.5 Grendel. The 416R stainless barrel and Tactical Blade trigger helped produce an overall average of 0.83 inch with unreal consistency. This rifle was a pure pleasure to shoot.
The Ambush Arms 6.8 SPCII didn't wow us on any of its groups, but we knew that wasn't a likely outcome given the ammo options. The Ambush didn't produce any sub-MOA groups, with a best group of 1.33 inches, but the worst group of the 12 was only a 1.45-inch cluster.
Simply put, this rifle was almost completely uniform with all factory loads and would likely do better with specifically tailored handloads.
The MG Arms Taranis, with its jewel of a trigger, shot quite well using the Hornady loads, with an average of 1.33 inches for four three-shot groups. In basically the exact conditions a day later, the rifle produced an average of 1.8- and 2.1-inch groups respectively with Winchester and Nosler loads.
Group size within those averages varied, with a best of 0.5 inch and a worst of 2.9 inches. The Taranis's lightweight barrel was likely susceptible to heating, which may have caused the drastic changes.
The Mossberg offering did not instill much in-the-field confidence. At an average of 2.13 inches with some groups breaking the 3-inch barrier, the MMR Hunter was an underperformer at best.
There are a number of factors that might have played a part in our results, but given the poor trigger quality on the MMR, it's safe to say that it warranted a low score.
We tested each rifle five times using a Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge and averaged the results. To complete the final score for trigger quality, we factored in overall feel and function during accuracy testing.
If you've followed our tests in the past, you know that we love Rock River. And that's primarily because of their exceptional triggers. The X-1 averaged a trigger pull weight of 3.8 pounds, which wasn't the lightest, but it certainly was one of the smoothest. (Just refer back to the astounding accuracy.)
The only rifle to surpass our lust for the Rock River was the buttery-smooth, 2.9-pound trigger on the MG Arms Taranis. There was no creep, no overtravel...just a clean break every single time.
On the other hand, the MMR Hunter had a heavy trigger with plenty of peaks, valleys, creeps, and stops. It was simply, well, unpleasant.
If it seems like we're being hard on the MMR, we might be, but one positive note might be the availability of low-cost, aftermarket triggers. A better option can be had for $50 to $250.
During our test, we maintained a very simple barrier for reliability. If the rifle failed to function in any way at any time, it was docked one point. If the problem persisted, we continued to dock points. There was only one rifle that failed in any way, shape, or form.
The MMR Hunter repeatedly failed to go fully into battery while at the range, even with multiple magazines and lubricant applications. There's no forward assist, either, so the only solution was to manually cycle another round.
Ergonomic considerations during testing included weight, overall length, best design elements, and general shootability based on our experience at the range.
The MG Arms Taranis came away with the crown for lightest and most compact, which definitely added to our confidence in bringing this rifle on our next cold weather hike in coyote country.
The shootability factor heavily favored the Alexander Arms, primarily for its subtly brilliant side charging handle. No other rifle carried this feature, which made the Alexander easy to use.
We wanted this test to be a true buyer's guide. We wanted it to have something for everyone. We think these five guns passed those tests with flying colors. Whether you want to spend big dollars and go custom or save some cash and go bargain, there's an AR-15 out there for you. Just don't break out your wallet before doing your homework.