June 11, 2013
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.
Based in Virginia, Alexander Arms
should be looked at by hunters searching for the utmost in cartridge capability from an AR-15. Like many other manufacturers, it offers rifles chambered for 5.56 and .300 AAC Blackout. But what makes Alexander Arms different is they offer two proprietary cartridges, the 6.5 Grendel and the .50 Beowulf. Ideal for deer and antelope, the 6.5 Grendel packs impressive performance into a small cartridge that operates through a standard AR-15 magazine. For pig hunters, timber elk hunters, or those looking to target big bears, the .50 Beowulf is a cartridge worth examining. It spits out a 300-grain bullet at 1,800 fps, generating 2,300 foot-pounds of energy, all from a compact AR-15.
If you haven't heard of Ambush
, it is because it is a relatively new brand. No, Ambush is not from some Johnny-come-lately AR assembler, but the hunting brand from the renowned AR manufacturer Daniel Defense
out of Black Creek, Ga. Realizing there was a market for hunters as well as tactical folks, Daniel Defense decided to create an offering that would appeal to the camo-clad contingent.
We had an Ambush 6.8 SPC in for testing and have to say it is an impressive bit of machinery. It sports a 16-inch barrel — 1:10 or 1:11 twist available — with no flash suppressor (thankfully), although the muzzle is threaded 5/8 x 24 TPI and covered with a functional cap in case you want to add a flash suppressor or a sound moderator. The upper features a monolithic upper rail with three Picatinny rails, so optics, lights and a bipod can be placed wherever desired. The trigger is a clean two-stage Geissele Super Semi-Automatic (SSA) with a factory break of 4.5 pounds — 2.5 first stage, 2 final stage. Tipping the scales at only 6 pounds, the rifle is downright feathery and well balanced. The adjustable Magpul stock is fantastic for fitting the rifle to different sized shooters, or clothing thickness for cold or warm weather hunting. We really liked the shotgun inspired fore-end handgrip, as it provides a natural pointing position for the off hand. But if it isn't your style, it is easily removable. Unlike Henry Ford's models, the Ambush is available in Mossy Oak, Realtree, or black.
Long known for their ultra-light bolt-action rifles, when MG Arms
got into the AR business they brought years of hunting rifle construction and know-how with them. While they make two main hunting models and tons of variations within, one model in particular is of interest for the accuracy conscience: the K-Yote. Being a semi-custom rifle, the K-Yote is available in a multitude of calibers, barrel lengths and colors/camo schemes. At the heart of the K-Yote is a machined billet upper and lower, match grade stainless steel barrel in a variety of lengths, a match trigger set at 2½ pounds, an adjustable stock and a free-floated quad rail handguard. Accuracy achieved has been stunning — unless you don't consider half-MOA stunning.
offers AR-style rifles in two action sizes, the R15 and the R25. In the R15 model, multiple variations and several calibers are available, including some exciting offerings like the .204 Ruger
, .30 Remington — a fantastic cartridge that hasn't really caught on — and .450 Bushmaster. Jumping up to the larger R-25 platform, it can be had in some serious game getters, including .243, .308, and 7mm-08. Tipping the scales at 7¾ pounds and available in Mossy Oak Treestand, the 20-inch barrel of the R-25 makes a handy package for hunters pursing nearly anything in North America.
Rock River Arms
In addition to its tactical offerings, Rock River Arms
makes a wide range of hunt-capable rifles. I have used or owned over a dozen different Rock River rifles over the years and have plied them in the field with great results. I shot the biggest buck of my life in Texas with a LAR-8 in .308 Winchester
. I carried a LAR-458 in .458 SOCOM through the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in southwest Montana for elk and mule deer. I have hunted half a dozen states for pigs and predators with the Coyote Carbine. One thing I have found to be true of all Rock River rifles is they work — and work well. What sets Rock River rifles apart from the crowd is they are held to a high standard of component tolerance. Every Rock River I have shot produces sub-MOA groups, and some of the best ones have shot groups as small as quarter MOA when I have done my part. In a nutshell, they are accurate, reliable, and a great value for the money.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson
, better known for handguns than rifles, came onto the AR scene a few years ago with the M&P line aimed at the tactical market. But with its wild success and the subsequent success of their .22 Long Rifle M&P15-22, the company has come out with a dedicated big-game hunting platform: the M&P10. Available in the proven .308 Winchester with Magpul furniture and an ambidextrous safety, bolt release and magazine release, this camo-clad 8-pound rifle is impressive. The stainless steel barrel sports a target crown and 5R rifling, which has proven extremely accurate and less prone to fouling in Thompson/Center's
Icon and Venture rifles, so users should expect nothing less in an AR.
recently announced a line of Hunt Ready rifles, and the name really says it all. Available in more variations than we can count — actually, at last check it was something like a dozen, which is higher than we can count — the Hunt Ready rifles are sold as a package and are ideal for hunters looking for a turnkey solution into the AR world. All models come equipped with a Bushnell scope
, YHM rings, sling, sling swivels and hard travel case. All models are based off the AR-15 platform and are available with either a 16- or 20-inch barrel. Calibers available include: .223, 6.8 SPC, and 7.62x39. Free-floated handguards, scallop-fluted barrel, A2 style stock and a quality trigger round out the package. Dipped in either Realtree AP or left black, this rifle appeals to all tastes. Our test rifle shot with the best of ARs, producing MOA groups — far more than adequate for any hunting application you can think of.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.