AR-15s

Best Practices for Hunting with an AR-15

Hunting with AR-15

The AR-15 has become one of the most popular firearms on the market.

Why? It’s:

  • Compact
  • Affordable
  • Customizable
  • Easy to maintain

So, while this deadly weapon was originally designed for combat, many hunters are welcoming its compact size and powerful precision into their ground blinds.

From coyotes to whitetail, from hogs to elk, the AR-15 has earned its place in the predator’s hall of fame.

Let’s take a look at the best practices you can adopt when using your AR-15 in the field to affordably and accurately take down any type of game.

Customize Carefully for Hunting

One of the most popular benefits of the AR-15 is its modularity. You can literally customize every component of your gun from the barrel to the trigger.

Here are some ways you can make that modularity work for you to get the most out of your AR while hunting.

Barrel

Most AR users go with a standard .223 Remington barrel with 16, 18 or 20 inches of length.

To use your AR most effectively, you’ll want to choose a barrel that works best for the type of prey you’re after.

For faster, smaller varmints like coyote and ground squirrels, you’ll want to opt for a smaller barrel.

It’s lighter and easier to carry, but the trade-off is that it’s LOUD, has less velocity, and won’t hold up as well as a longer barrel because of the increased pressure on the gas venting system.

One exception is if you’re planning on using a suppressor. That would take care of the noise and make a shorter barrel preferable to minimize overall length.

A longer barrel, on the other hand, increases accuracy and has more penetrating power to take down larger game like deer and hogs, but will get much heavier on your shoulder.

AR-15’s can be chambered in lots of caliber options, but as a general rule, I use .223 Remington for coyotes, .300 AAC Blackout for deer, and 6.5 Grendel or .300 HAM’R for elk and bear.

Ammunition

Another huge benefit to hunting with an AR is that some states allow the use of a large 30-round magazine (always be sure to check if this is legal for your state)!

You can get just about any type of ammo you want in a fairly affordable package.

However, as a general rule, the heavier, longer bullets tend to shoot more reliably because of their faster twist rate.

The added weight means they’ll get deeper penetration into the animal, so you’ll want to go heavier for larger animals for the most humane kill.

Smaller, lighter ammo is more explosive out of the barrel, making it the perfect choice if your goal is to startle pests like coyotes.

Upper and Lower

The modularity of most uppers on an AR-15 are perfect for adding high-quality rails for all your accessories.

What’s better?

You can switch out your upper for a quick caliber change to fit the type of animal you’re after.

The serialized lower portion of your AR is what most law-makers consider the actual weapon, so be sure when you’re choosing your weapon to check the conditions created by your local and state government to be sure you’re operating within legal limits.

Handguard, Trigger and Sights

With an AR-15, you can get some of the most accurate shots of your life… if you choose the right hardware.

Here are some of the top ways I get exceptional accuracy from my rifle:

  • Use a free-floating handguard. This eliminates contact that could throw the bullet slightly off as it leaves the barrel.
  • Add a trigger with somewhere between two to three pounds of pull weight.
  • Avoid fixed tactical front sights. They’ll just get in the way of your higher-quality scope.
  • Get a good red-dot or laser sight like the Trijicon VCOG.

By carefully customizing your rifle, you’ll be taking down every animal in your sight with the best accuracy in the field.

AR-15 with rifle scope that is on the forest floor

Shop Sensibly

You can’t go wrong by following these tips to get the most out of hunting with your AR-15.

Now, check out some of my favorite products for AR hunting:

Because of its affordability, accuracy, customization options and ease of use, the AR-15 will always be my favorite hunting rifle.

Have you ever tried hunting with your AR-15? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. @ Loughsun, Your research is just a tad faulty. When I did some checking, I found this from the 2020 regs for Oregon, (I am quoting directly from their website,) “Centerfire Firearm (Rifles and Handguns) It is unlawful to hunt game mammals with:” And it has a short list of things and the last item on that list is… “Tracer or full-metal jacket bullets.” After a very quick perusal on the other state’s websites, I saw nothing in their regs that delineate what kind of ammo may or may not be used for large game, other than being centerfire rifle. But, as I said, it was a very quick perusal and hardly in depth.
    Now, since the author has chosen to use a .223 for deer, I did find that he would be in trouble in Washington for that caliber as the regs state “Big game, except cougar, must be hunted with a minimum of .24 caliber (6mm) centerfire rifle.”

  2. Several years ago while I was still a deputy, two of my other deputy buddies and I went on a buffalo hunt in southern Idaho. Both of my friends chose a 300 Winchester Magnum whereas I opted for my DPMS AR-10 in 7.62 NATO. That rifle along with the ACOG and my hand loaded 165 grain Nosler Accubond really did the trick on a very large bull. That rifle initially raised eyebrows in camp until two quick shots accurately placed at close quarters anchorEd the bull.

  3. I believe there was a miss print on Mr. Douglas’ favorite load for hunting. It states that the 223 in FMJ is his favorite deer load. I believe he ment pests like coyote load. Interesting article on the whole.

  4. I have taken lots of jack rabbits and coyotes with my Rock River Arms Predator Pursuit rifle. It is a fantastic AR style set up that came from the factory with an oversized trigger guard for winter and cold weather shooting with gloves and a fantastic two stage RRA match trigger that pulls at three pounds for the first stage and breaks like glass at a crisp two pounds when taking a shot. It has an old school A2 style fixed stock and a smoother slightly knurled aluminum hand guard with sling swivel studs and a gorgeous free floated 20” medium contour stainless steel barrel complete with target crown. Although it is not a pencil barrel, the slim profile makes weight a non issue. Over the years, I have invested in a lot of higher end AR’s that cost upwards of $3000 plus before I purchased this rifle. At only $1100 before taxes, FFL transfers, and registration fees, it was a fantastic deal in my opinion. Once I got it set up and dialed in, it shot better than all other AR-15 pattern rifles and carbines in my inventory with consistent 5 round groups that measured .25” at 100 yards all day long. I slapped a Leupold VX-III scope that is 3-9 power and has a bullet drop compensator and an illuminated ballistic fire-dot reticle which is an illuminated dot in the center of the crosshairs making it ideal for snap shots if needed. The scope is great for varmint hunting due to its 40mm objective and 30mm tube which lets in lots of great light and allows the shooter to see more at distance than a lot of other scopes out there. I also installed a swagger bipod on it that is just a dream to shoot from as you can tilt and pan with ease and there is little restriction given its unique design. I used to carry shooting sticks or bog pods into the field which are nice but somewhat bulky in comparison to the swagger. Sticks and bog pods can also be more restrictive when it comes to panning smoothly if you are tracking a target on the run. The swagger scores more points again given it is attached to the rifle directly and is fully adjustable with legs deploying to almost four feet and collapsing down to 12 inches or so back into its housing which is ideal for uneven terrain. The Swagger bipod is a nice set up I came across while attending SHOT show years back. If you enjoy varmint hunting as much as I do and you have never seen one, you have got to check it out.
    I highly recommend the RRA Predator Pursuit rifle, just add a good piece of glass and a swagger bipod and you will NOT be disappointed with the way this rifle handles. It is an extremely smooth shooter that, with the right accessories, is just what the doctor ordered for this type of hunting.

  5. Great article! Thanks for the validation. I have been researching this for my first AR-15 hunt this year. I’ll start the year hunting elk with a Savage 110 in .300 WSM shooting Federal 165gr TSX tip and end hunting deer with a S&W M&P AR-15 in .223 shooting Remington 62gr V tip. I’m interested to see how the hunts end up. But I’m gonna guess it’ll be easier to scoot up and down the Oregon ranges with my AR.

  6. I’m a double amputee (above elbow below knee). I always had to use a raised blind stand to rest either my lever action or pump shotgun on. 2 years ago, I broke my one good hand. Hunting buddy let me use his AR. I was in a platform stand missed low, but deer walked in brush and gave me another shot brodeside about 70 out. I dropped her. Never would have gotten second shot with lever or pump. Since then I built my custom AR, 3.5 trigger somewhere around 1800 shots, 2×10 scope. Last year, dropped one about 40 yards. She flinched but never got up. I LOVE my gun.

  7. I have taken lots of jack rabbits and coyotes with my RRA Predator Pursuit rifle. It is a fantastic AR style set up that came from the factory with an oversized trigger guard for winter and cold weather shooting with gloves and a fantastic two stage RRA match trigger that pulls at three pounds for the first stage and breaks like glass at a crisp two pounds when taking a shot. It has an old school A2 style fixed stock and a smoother slightly knurled aluminum hand guard with sling swivel studs and a gorgeous free floated 20” medium contour stainless steel barrel making weight a non issue. Over the years, I had invested in lots of higher end AR’s that ran upwards of $3000 plus before purchasing this rifle. At only $1100 before taxes, FFL transfers, and registration fees, it was a fantastic deal in my opinion. Once I got it set up and dialed in, it out shot all other AR-15 pattern rifles and carbines in my inventory with consistent 5 round groups that measure .25” at 100 yards all day long.I slapped a Leupold VX-III scope that is 3-9 power and has a bullet drop compensator and an illuminated ballistic fire-dot reticle which is an illuminated dot in the center of the crosshairs making it ideal for snap shots if needed. The scope is great for varmint hunting due to its 40mm objective and 30mm tube which lets in lots of great light and allows the shooter to see more at distance than lots of other scopes out there. I also installed a swagger bipod on it that is just a dream to shoot from as you can tilt and pan with ease and there is little restriction given its unique design. I used to carry shooting sticks or bog pods into the field which are nice but somewhat bulky in comparison to the swagger. Sticks and bog pods can also be more restrictive when it comes to panning smoothly if you are tracking a target on the run. The swagger scores more points again given it is attached to the rifle directly and is fully adjustable with legs deploying to almost four feet and collapsing down to 12 inches or so back into its housing which is ideal for uneven terrain. The Swagger bipod is a nice set up I came across while attending SHOT show years back. If you enjoy varmint hunting as much as I do and you have never seen one, you have got to check it out. I highly recommend the RRA Predator Pursuit rifle, just add a good piece of glass and a swagger bipod and you will NOT be disappointed with the way this rifle handles. It is an extremely smooth shooter that, with the right accessories, is just what the doctor ordered for this type of hunting.

  8. I have two AR-15s in 6.5 Grendel.
    Is this a good Whitetail deer and Hog cartridge/caliber for the Southeastern U.S, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida?

    If so, what grain and bullet would be recommended?

    Thanks!

    Barrett

  9. I use my 18” 6.5 Grendel exclusively now for the past 5 deer seasons. Nice light weight package with no recoil and very quick follow up shots if need be but to date it’s put everything down with one round that I hit. Love the 120gn federal fusion but Barnes just released its 115gn grain tac-tx that I’m going to try this season. Definitely wouldn’t want to use a fmj on game other than pest not sure why he’s recommending that when there’s so many great hunting loads for the 223/5.56. I personally like the 62gn core-lokt 64-75gn Speer gold dot and hornady 75gn sbr interlok to name a couple. I see a comment about not using the Grendel on anything larger than coyotes, well everyone can make their own judgment call on that but from my 18” barrel that 120gn federal fusion is going 2600fps along with the Barnes 115gn tac-tx. I’ve also used the 110gn Lehigh controlled chaos the name says it all and it’s getting down range close to 2800fps. Not sure why you would need anymore than that for a white tail or mule deer. I’ve taken deer out to 240yds with mine and would trust it could get the job done even farther if the shooter does his/her part. Never had a deer get out of eye sight after shooting them. Most were drt with a couple maybe taking a few steps never any farther than 50yds. All shots were either behind the shoulder in the shoulder or neck.

  10. As Bo said, FMJ is illegal to hunt with in most states. Also worth noting that .223 is too small to legally hunt big game with in some states. Know your regs.

  11. I don’t know in what state the author resides, but I do know that in some states, of which Oklahoma and Tennessee are just two, using FMJ centerfire ammo on game will get you in a heap of trouble, like possible jail time, loss of your hunting license, your vehicle, any weapons your have on you and any and all game you took kind of trouble.
    For example, Tennessee regulations specify for allowable ammunition; and I am quoting here, “Rifles and handguns using centerfire ammunition (full metal jacketed ammunition prohibited)…” That is from the 2020 TN regs.
    Oklahoma regs are written a bit different but with the same idea, Again, I am quoting here, “Rifles: Centerfire rifles firing at least a 55-grain weight soft-nosed or hollow-point bullet…” Soft-nosed or hollow-point bullets are not FMJ.
    I grew up in Nebraska and back then and there, FMJ was illegal. Now, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I have been around for a while, 69 years, to be exact. I have been hunting since my age was still in single digits. I was taught that no ethical hunter would use FMJ as a hunting round, that it was to be used for the military, and yes, all the ammo I carried overseas was hardball, and for civilians, just for target shooting or plinking.
    I am not aware of any state in the US that allowed FMJ for any hunting unless it is a .22 rimfire. I think the author needs to do some research on what is allowable.

    1. My bad, I thought that he meant the 6.5 Creedmoor. My bad, I only had a public school education LOL! I however would not use 6.5 Grendel for anything bigger than a coyote. Thanks for catching that.

  12. I like the article indeed. Although you had one error in the article. If it is chambered in 6.5 creedmoore then it will no longer be an AR15 it will be an AR10. Because it will still need to utilize the AR10 bolt which is made with .308 which will require it to have a different sized upper and because the 6.5 creedmoor bullet is bigger than the 223 and 5.56 that means it will need a bigger lower receiver and magazines. It will be an AR10 in essence and not an AR15.

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