While the AR-15 rifle platform has been used for hunting for a number of years, it has only recently begun to gain wide acceptance from hunting traditionalists as a good platform for hunting medium-sized game. The AR rifle as a hunting platform has a number of advantages, including low recoil and fast follow-up shots, not to mention the inherent modularity and adaptability of the AR rifle. Within minutes, you can swap optics, or even entire upper receivers, to adapt the rifle to whatever role suits you best. According to the NSSF, “AR-15-platform rifles are among the most popular firearms being sold. They are today’s modern sporting rifle.”
The NSSF quoted one hunter on the AR saying, “Modern sporting rifles in a wide variety of chamberings are accurate enough for prairie dogs and powerful enough for grizzly bear. They’re also utterly reliable and nearly indestructible, which is why I’ve been hunting with them ever since Colt introduced the first AR-15 Sporter over 30 years ago.”
The AR rifle initially made the transition from military-style rifle to hunting rifle when farmers and ranchers, along with returning veterans already familiar with the platform, began using it for varmint control. The fast .223/5.56 round has an extremely flat trajectory out to 300 yards, making it ideal for engaging game ranging in size from prairie dogs to coyotes at unknown distances. Heavier bullets in the 62- to 79-grain range are the most popular for predator control.
Close cousins of the AR-15, the AR-10 and LR-308 are both chambered in .308 Winchester (among other calibers) and are perfectly capable of taking larger game such as deer and even elk, caribou or moose.
Of course, these two calibers aren’t the only available to the AR. A number of rounds have been created for the rifle over the years as hunters and shooters demanded more performance and greater versatility.
Seizing on the popularity of the AR-15 platform as a varmint rifle, Ruger and Hornady teamed up to develop the hyper-velocity .204 Ruger cartridge. Based off of a necked down version of the .222 Remington Magnum, Ruger claims that its .204-round is the fastest commercially-produced cartridge with a muzzle velocity of over 4225 FPS with a 32-grain projectile.
This extremely flat shooting round is incredibly effective on small game such as prairie dogs, squirrels and groundhogs.
The Remington 6.8 SPC was initially developed to meet the need for a heavier bullet than was currently available in the 5.56mm platform. The U.S. Military sought a bullet with better terminal ballistics than its M855 SS109 ammunition and the result was the 6.8 SPC designed by the United States Army Marksmanship Unit.
Based off of the .30 Remington, the case length was shortened to fit existing M16 magazine wells and adapted to fire the 6.8mm 115-grain bullet. Experimentation showed the 6.8mm round to be the best compromise between the accuracy of the 6.5mm round and the stopping power of the 7mm. When it was released to the commercial market, the 6.8 SPC gained enormous popularity with hunters in states that required hunting ammunition be larger than a minimum caliber of .243 as it allowed them to legally use the familiar AR platform for hunting medium-sized game.
Initially developed by Tim LeGendre of LeMag Firearms LLC, the .450 is a straight-walled cartridge and one of the largest available for the AR platform, second only to the .50 Beowulf. LeGendre licensed his creation to Bushmaster who contracted with Hornady to mass produce the round. Hornady shortened the case to 1.7 inches, loaded it with their 250 grain SST bullet and designated it the .450 Bushmaster. The .450 Bushmaster doesn’t have a particularly long range, although it is very effective at dropping large game out to 250 yards.
It is also a natural choice when it comes to hunting in thick cover or heavy brush as the heavy bullet can bust through most light twigs and leaves with only minimal deflection.
No matter what type of game you hunt, you can find an AR-15 available in a caliber and configuration well suited to that quarry. You can find it in a variety of finishes, from Realtree Hardwoods to ATACS camoflauge, and with metal, synthetic or carbon fiber components. The large availability of parts and accessories make the AR rifle easy to customize, and there are limitless options when it comes to optics that can be mounted on the rails of most AR-15s. Combine this with the familiarity of a sporting rifle that has been on the market for 50 years, and you’ve got a fantastic hunting rifle able to be adapted to perform well in almost any role.