Popular AR Calibers for Deer Hunting

AR-10 rifle with a scope

Fall is just around the corner. School is back in session, evenings are starting to cool down, and that distinct Fall smell is just slightly in the air. This also means that deer season will soon start. Of course, bowhunters and black powder hunters get first dibs, but centerfire rifle season will be opening soon enough. It’s time to think about dusting off that classic .270, .30-06, or .30-30.

Or, you could give your AR-15 a go this year. While more and more states are allowing deer hunters to use .223s, we are thinking about calibers that are a little stouter. This isn’t 2005 anymore; there are a bunch of larger-bore, hard-hitting calibers on the market that you can buy either as a whole rifle, or as an upper receiver to simply swap onto your lower. Let’s look at some of the best calibers out there.

Whitetail Whitetail Deer buck - silhouetted in prairie landscape
For years, the Winchester Model 70, Remington 700, Savage Model 10, and others chambers in proven calibers such as .30-06, .30-30, and .308 have ruled the woods. Today’s the AR platform is showing it too has a place in a deer hunter’s hands.

Why Use an AR-15 for Deer Hunting?

A long-time staple of the U.S. military, the AR-pattern rifle, has the distinction of being the longest-tenured service rifle in U.S. military history. It’s been around the block a couple of times. However well the .223 does against enemy combatants, it is unarguably lacking for hunting medium-sized game — especially when you can easily buy a budget rifle from Savage, Mossberg, and a handful of other manufacturers for about the price of an upper receiver.

So why buy another AR-15 or upper?

The AR-15 platform — caliber aside — is an incredible platform to work with. There has never been a weapons system so widely available that is also as modular as the Stoner AR-15 design. The same lower receiver can be paired up with a high-velocity varmint killer (.204 Ruger), or a big bore hog hammer (.50 Beowulf), and a whole lot of in-between.

ARs are a great platform for short- to mid-range deer hunting for a few reasons:

  • Light weight: Some builders have taken ARs well under six pounds.
  • Low recoil: Most of the calibers have extremely low felt recoil, although the big bore calibers (.450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf) do hit a lot harder. But the bulk of the deer hunting-oriented calibers have minimal felt recoil. This is a great selling point for young hunters and small-statured hunters.
  • Accuracy: AR-15s are accurate rifles. They are stable, simple to operate, and easy to shoot. Pairing your AR-15 with a high-quality free-floating handguard.

What Are the Rules for Using an AR-15 to Hunt?

The rules are not universal, so you’ll need to check your home state requirements to ensure you are in the right.

Generally speaking, the rules come down to these factors:

  • Bullet diameter/caliber: There are more states okaying the use of .223 for deer hunting.
  • Magazine capacity: Some states have magazine restrictions, so you’ll need a magazine that conforms to any applicable laws.
  • Straight wall cartridges: There are a few states that have opened lands that were once open only to shotguns or muzzleloaders. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa, among others, are allowing straight-walled cartridge calibers, which there are a couple of options in the AR-15 now.
Box of Winchester .450 Bushmaster Deer Season ammunition
Currently, the .450 Bushmaster is arguably the most popular straight-walled deer hunting ammo for AR pattern rifles. The concept of the .450 Bushmaster is credited to Col. Jeff Cooper. Cooper was not only an icon of modern tactical applications. He was a serious hunter too.

Again, we do not and cannot answer the questions about every state. What we can do is strongly suggest that you visit your state’s department of wildlife regulations and ensure you are following all the rules to the letter.

How About Straight-Wall Cartridges?

We talked a little bit about this, but there are now a handful of AR-specific calibers that are larger than usual bores (.350 Legend, .450 Bushmaster) designed for short- to mid-ranged hunts. They are used in similar ways as a muzzleloader or a shotgun with slugs, but in a lightweight and easy-shooting AR-15. Granted, there are a few bolt-action options, but the lion’s share of rifle in .350 Legend are AR-pattern rifles.

Most Popular AR-15 Deer Calibers

There are a few common AR calibers that are better suited for deer hunting than the classic .223/5.56x45mm. Here’s an overview:

Several AR pattern rifles on a table
The versatility of AR Pattern rifles makes it easy to customize the rifle to the shooter and the style of hunting/shooting you want to do.

.300 AAC/Blackout

The .300 Blackout is probably the second most popular caliber for the AR-15 platform. It is designed as a subsonic rifle cartridge to use with a can, and it does it really well. These loads use a heavy 200-plus grain projectile and deliver performance similar to a .45 ACP.

However, the .300 Blackout can also be loaded as a more typical supersonic with deer-specific loads. For instance, the Winchester Deer Season XP packs a 150-grain polymer-tip bullet with ballistics that are only marginally lower than the venerable .30-30 Winchester.

The .300 Blackout is common enough that you can find the ammunition everywhere, and there are dozens upon dozens of complete rifles and upper receivers to choose from. The recoil is negligible making it an ideal first rifle for small and young deer hunters, but they won’t outgrow it anytime soon.

6.8 SPC

While not as popular as the .300 Blackout, the 6.8 SPC represents a good complement to your AR-15 collection. A lighter caliber than the .300 Blackout or the .350 Legend, the 6.8 SPC has a substantially flatter trajectory than these. It gives you an option for a light, nimble rifle that is deadly out to several hundred yards.

Federal Fusion MSR 6.8
Federal Fusion MSR 6.8

It is important to note that, unlike the .300 Blackout, rifles, and uppers in 6.8 SPC use a different bolt carrier group (BCG) and magazines. The .300 Blackout uses the same BCG and magazines as the standard .223.

6.5 Grendel

Hotter than the 6.8 SPC which is another caliber well suited for suppressed operation, the 6.5 Grendel is a high velocity, medium-range caliber that deploys a roughly .25 bullet. The 6.5 Grendel is well-known as a tack-driving caliber used in precision shooting. However, the .25 caliber, 130-grain slug is no slouch and is certainly capable of dropping a meat doe.


A stalwart of the shooting world, the Russian 7.62x39mm, i.e., the AK-47 and SKS standard, holds its ground just fine in short- to medium-range deer hunting. It does drop off substantially after about 150 yards. However, for short range, it is a serious contender against deer.

Ballistically, the 123-grain bullet is almost identical in muzzle velocity to a 150-grain .30-30, but the energy is a little lower. In the field, though, you can expect it to perform comparably in brushy, short-range hunts.

Red box of Hornady 7.62x39mm SST ammunition
While the 7.63×39 is a .30 caliber round and works well in AR pattern rifles, ensure you select ammunition designed for hunting. Hornady’s SST is a choice that would be hard to beat.

The main advantage of using 7.62x39mm? It is inexpensive, steel-cased target ammunition. With the importation ban of ammunition from Russia, local manufacturers are ramping up production of brass cased 7.63×39. If you already have some AKs in your collection, chances are good that you already have a stockpile of Wolf or PPU laying around. There are plenty of reasonably priced AR-15 rifles in 7.62x39mm, and complete, ready-to-use upper receivers aren’t hard to find, either.

Parting Thoughts

The AR-15 has proven to be utterly versatile, reliable, and easy to use. With little felt recoil and great natural accuracy, it is a natural for hunting duty. However, the .223 is not a natural fit for deer hunting. Thankfully, due to the modularity of the design, there are plenty of options out there for larger calibers that are more than adequate for deer hunting duty. We’ve covered some of the most popular choices, although there are a few more calibers that are worth a look. We are sure you will find whatever you need in our broad selection of AR-15 rifles, uppers, or raw parts to build your own dream rig.

Have you ever used an AR for hunting? What are your favorite AR calibers for deer hunting? Let us know in the comments.

  • Dave Dolbee with a steel target showing bullet impacts at 1,000 yards
  • Several AR pattern rifles on a table
  • Federal Non-Typical ammunition box
  • AR-10 rifle with a scope
  • Box of Winchester .450 Bushmaster Deer Season ammunition
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 (45)

  1. 6.5mm Grendal is 26 Calibur, .264 bullet diameter to be precise. It is capable for ranges out to 250 yards for deer with the right bullet. That is if you have the shot, can make the shot, or you shouldn’t be taking the shot.

  2. Never will understand using an AR platform for deer, I don’t care what caliber it’s chambered in… several mentions of “ballistically such and such round is basically equal to the 30-30″… so why not just use the 30-30?! Sorry, but not taking my AR platform in the woods for Bambi. I’m plenty accurate enough with .223/5.56 to make kill shots but it Just seems silly to tote a semi-auto for the purpose. I’ll stick to my old Winchester Mod ’94 with Williams Fire Sights. More than accurate and powerful enough for the areas around the Uwharrie Mtns where most shots aren’t hitting out to 100 yards anyway. It’s light, fast handling, low recoil… What more do you really need in the dense Eastern woods? No special magazine capacities or worrying about straight wall cartridges or anything else. Guess it’s just me.

  3. 30 Remington AR. Nearly impossible to use unless you already have loaded rounds or have brass and load your own, but I do. Took two deer last season with two rounds. They were short-range shots (under 100 yards), but devastating hits. Both fell where they had stood and didn’t move.

  4. This was a great article and lots or AR-15 information, Sorry for the people that couldn’t read it was a AR-15 discussion. I have AR-15s in .223, 6.5 Grendel, 7.62X39 and .458 Socom. They all have there applications..

  5. I enjoy my AR 15’s, but I build all my big game rifle on the AR10 platform, I have two chambered for 243 Winchester. I love the AR platform, I really wished the author had included the AR 10. It really expands the possibilities for big game hunting, especially at longer distances.

  6. i’m a 68 year young or old hunter….have used a 223,22 hornet to kill Texas hill country deer when I was young,,started when I was 9 years old
    Then went to a 6mm Remington and 270
    Ive killed whitetails and mule deer in 5 states…and elk….used that 270 and 300 magnum
    out to 150 yards the 300 BLK is my favorite now….larger whitetails and wild hogs
    300 BLK is also great for home defense
    we are blessed with better bullets today than 59 years ago when I started deer hunting
    I did drop a buck at 180 yards last year with a 300 BLK
    remember a 270 30-06 are great
    most important ….put the bullet where it belongs in that deer and you can forget that blood trailing
    OH,,,,yes… I say keep the 300 BLK within 150 yards unless you practice practice and practice more

  7. I have used AR pistols for hunting hogs, deer and bear for several years. They are light weight, accurate and perfect for covering a lot of ground in thick cover, at least for shots under 100 yards. I harvested over a dozen hogs and deer with my 300 blackout from 10 to 75 yards and have not lost an animal. For black bear, I use a .308 AR pistol and am very happy with the results.

  8. I am a handloader for 35 plus years.
    I use the 300 blackout loaded with data from a published loading manual and using Nosler 125gr.Accubond bullets. Works very well for me out to 200 yards!!!

  9. What about the AR-10, 308 cal ?? Deadly accurate at short or longer ranges, with plenty velocity and energy to boot .

  10. Don’t forget about the 300 Hamr from Wilson Combat. I bought a 300 Hamr barrel from them and got some ammo from them too. Nothing about it is cheap on the wallet but it definitely hits harder than 7.62×39 or 300 blackout which I have uppers in also. Ammo at WC is as expensive as Barnes ammo but it works great like Barnes Tac-TX do.

  11. Your first photo is a Noreen. I’d call it overpriced garbage that I hope people don’t waste money on. I have 2 and it’s a terrible company to deal with. You ever hear a company say “it won’t feed hornady because the brass is to soft”… that’s if they even answer at all.

  12. I hunt with a 300 BLK that I assembled with an American Tactical lower. Although I have several guns to choose from for deer hunting, I seem to be able to get on target faster with an AR15 due to 26 years in the military and two deployments. The Winchester Deer Season XP has worked really well the last three deer I’ve taken. I haven’t had one run more than 20 yards before it dropped, much like my 30-06.

  13. You kinda make the 6.5 Grendel sound like it shoots a .25 cal bullet & not a 6.5mm like it does. Could be confusing to a new shooter.

  14. Other than a passing mention, you blew right past the 350 Legend. Quite a deadly round for 250yds and under. Plenty of selections available in my neck of the woods, even available in the Big Box stores with choices in 150 and 180 grains Deer Season loads among others.

  15. Except in Pennsylvania where semi-autos can’t be used for deer. This state is so backward in so many ways. A few years ago it was passed that using a semi-auto for big game would be legal EXCEPT the Game Commissioner wouldn’t put it into effect. Us, and Delaware are the only 2 stares that don’t allow it. So, what’s the problem?

  16. I can’t afford to buy an AR-15 but here I am anyway. In the olden days we used to consider semi-auto rifles as not accurate enough for long range. OK for deer in the woods: the 2 best deer hunters in my gang liked their Model 8 Remingtons, from 100 years ago, .32 or .35 Rem, plenty good enough in the Adirondacks. But recently the American Rifleman has shown semi-auto accuracy as good as a lot of bolt actions. We all know the .222 is a good woodchuck gun, and the .223 is hotter than that, no reason we can’t use it. Just be prepared, if you comment like that on the unsociable media, you may need to reply that this is not a machine gun, we only get one shot at a woodchuck with any kind of rifle. And in reply to a comment below about excessive penetration: if a bullet goes through a deer without doing a lot of work, probably it did not expand much; might be good to try partition bullets, designed for just that problem – let the front part blow up, and the rest will still penetrate. Hope that helps.

  17. I switched from a Stevens bolt action 270 that I have used with great success for years for deer hunting to a Radical Arms AR 15 chambered in 7.62×39, a few years ago. I feed it Winchester Deer Season and it loves it. It is a devastating a round, as I had already found out shooting it in the 270. The AR is topped with a LPVO scope, good for longer distances or close up, have killed deer from 150+ t0 40 yards, one shot they drop, just like the 270. The AR is much easier to manipulate in the confines of a box stand and lighter to carry. thus, the AR is now my go to deer rifle chambered in 7.62×39 it is my favorite combo for deer hunting where I deer hunt.

  18. I have a 25WSSM and 35 WSSM for my AR-15 platform. Both are good. 35 WSSM is in the 35 win range and of course the 25 is in the 25.06 range. Both great in the AR. Custom uppers are expensive but you can hunt anything in NA with the 35 and the 25 is good for Elk and below. Both Shoot 1 inch groups or a little better.

    WSSM cartridge is getting hard to find, but worth it in the AR.

  19. I have many AR’s that I feel are for defence only. Tempted to use my 300 Blackout Aero Precision build. But Ive been hunting over 55 years now. For deer I never use but one of my 3006 rifles. When you hunt in heavy brush and do not want to track a wounded deer in canyons through brush on your hands and knees you learn the importance of a well aimed single shot that takes the animal down. For Elk I prefer my longer range 300 mag. Reasons are common sense. The talk of using a 22 or 25 caliber bullet of any design are just ignorance for large game.

  20. I have many AR’s that I feel are for defence only. Tempted to use my 300 Blackout Aero Precision build. But Ive been hunting over 55 years now. For deer I never use but one of my 3006 rifles. When you hunt in heavy brush and do not want to track a wounded deer in canyons through brush on your hands and knees you learn the importance of a well aimed single shot that takes the animal down. For Elk I prefer my longer range 300 mag. Reasons are common sense. The talk of using a 22 or 25 caliber bullet of any design are just ignorance for large game. We actually have to hunt in the West. I have lived in Missouri and found the deer there want to commit suicide rather than being eaten alive from Ticks. If you really want to call yourself a hunter go for a Western Mulie or an Elk. Then you can say you are a hunter. Better to be in good shape. The whimpy city boys dont have a chance here.

  21. I’ve killed well over 100 Sika and white tail deer with AR/bold action making clean kill neck shots out to 200 yards. The .223 round I once considered ideally suited for nothing ! I’ve since changed my mind. The 55 gr. Serria HPBT loaded with 24.5 gr. of IMR 30-31 ain’t nothin but the Lords truth on deer !

  22. I have both the .450 and 6.5 Grendel calibers. Both are awesome. I also made an ultra lightweight 4.5 pound .223 for my wife. It’s a Wylde chamber and shots both 5.56 and .223 equally well. It’s also a fast twist 1:7 and can stabilize longer 75 Gr bullets.

  23. I just recently purchased a Wilson Combat ar in 300 Ham’r. And let me tell you…WOW! Super accurate and hard hitting! My new favorite round! Like the best of both worlds of 7.62×39 and 30/30!

  24. Hello,

    I have been seeing more and more people use calibers like the 6.5 creedmore for short range hunting and have never seen this many deer lost. It is just too fast and passes through an animal quickly allowing it to run a long ways before dying. While I understand and agree with most of your article, I ask that you not promote small grain deer hunting. The animal is almost always wounded and very difficult to find. I disagree with 223 being allowed in hunting scenarios and am worried articles like this may justify people using the caliber.

  25. 6mm arc is a new round and ammo is a bit hard to find but not impossible. It’s gaining in popularity and as it does ammo will be more readily available. I reload mine as ammo when you find it is expensive. The round is fun to shoot and has a good amount of Range too. While the 6 arc is very simular to the .243 (they actually use the same bullet) it is on a gas system gun so a lot of recoil is reduced. Add a good muzzle device and you can also see your deer fall in your scope.

  26. I agree whole heartedly with Alan. Know the Bore Diameter of your Barrel before Handloading for it!
    My SA-85M “Slugs-Out” at .311 yet it is pretty darned accurate with .308 Diameter Projectiles, particularly the Remington 150 Gr RNSJ that’s meant for 30-30 win. (And the Expansion is impressive Too!)
    As such, the only AR Platform I’m interested in is those chambered in 7.62x39mm.

  27. DeadArmadillo Yes A couple years ago I was In one of our local gun shops, Idaho Falls, ID as I looked up to scan the wall there was a Sig AR-10 308 (DMR) Designated Marksman Rifle FDE all set up brand new with a sig optic, It had come with a paper target from the factory that the armorer had sighted in! Well let me tell ya with a Silencer Co 30cal can the gun is xtremley accurate! For shit’s and giggles I’ve been online looking to see if I could get an idea of what they are selling for! Well haven’t been able to find one anywhere, GB, grab a gun no one has one! Photo to follow going going gone for the mulie hunt now! Be back tomorrow

  28. I’ve been using 223 for 20+ years now! Whitetail deer in West Virginia! Started out with a Ruger Mini-14. Now days I use a Rossi heavy barrel single shot. Only one time I remember it took more than 1 shot! I have a Tikka T3 300wsm and a 243 H&R single shot, but always grab the Rossi. It’s a tack driver, but definitely not a brush gun.

  29. Such a small blip for the grendel the fact that it is so efficient merits more ink or pixels whatever this is. So you take a 123 grain 264 caliber bullet and push it between 2500 and 2600 fps it carries around a thousand ft lbs of energy out to 300 yards. Good sectional density means good penetration some guys have used it on elk. I have personally used it on whitetail deer and pronghorn antelope. One shot on them and the go down no tracking I have seen deer and antelope shot with 223 round specific for deer think 60 grain partitions it is adequate. but doesn’t carry the energy quite as well and our Wyoming winds effect it more than my grendel. Just my 2 cents

  30. I have taken a number of deer with AR 223. I would not do it unless I had a rifle I trusted as much as this one….RRA ATH. Even at my age and less than desired visual acuity i can shoot sub-MOA groups consistently. I had to go thru 10-12 different brands, styles, weights to find the ammo the gun liked best, Hornady 55 gr SP. Ragged one-hole 5 shot groups when i do my part. Others shot good too, just not that good. I don’t take body shots with 223, head and high neck only, confine my shots to 100-125 yards or less. No runners, no tracking. That 55 gr bullet punches a nice hole, usually thru and thru. Hogs taken with body shots are normally thru also, they don’t go far. I have a Winchester Mod 100 in 243 I love for hogs and varmints, and a 220 Swift I can use on friends MLD property but hesitate to use 243 if I don’t feel good about head shot at the time, just not anywhere as accurate as my 223. The gunsmith that helped me work up the 220 shot dime sized groups, I’m not that good but it’s a shooter, half dollar covers most groups.

  31. While the AR-15 platform is available in a number of calibers, the main consideration is SHOT PLACEMENT. Consider that several popular calibers used for hunting 100 – 125 years ago are not as powerful as those mentioned above yet were effective. The 44-40 is not even as potent as the .223/5.56 round, but nobody back then thought twice about using it for hunting. Still, a poor shot, even with a 30/06, is not as effective as a solid hit with a .233. Me – I have a MINI-14 in .223 and a SAIGA in 7.62×39, so I will pass on an AR-15 platform. (Well – Maybe an AR-15 in .300 Blackout???)

  32. When Oklahoma first start allowing the use of .223/5.56 calibers for deer, I was vehemently opposed. The bulk of my experience with that caliber went back to the early 70’s when it was the standard carry for most of the guys on the SAR/Recon Team overseas. (I carried a 1911A1.) I was familiar with the end result and did not believe the round was adequate for deer.

    Since that time, I have changed my mind about the efficacy of the round for use on deer. The round has been improved greatly over the last 50 years and I know more than a few who use it for deer in Oklahoma, most at ranges less than 200 yards. The deer in Oklahoma are not as large as the deer I have seen where I grew up in Nebraska and the .223/5.56 is more than adequate for the task. I have an AR that I will be carrying this next gun season, but I have not decided if I will use it yet. There are too many options available to me, be it carbines or handguns. I will decide closer to season which one I will use.

    I do not have an AR upper in .30 Russian (or 7.62×39 for those who prefer that nomenclature) but I do have an SKS, and a significant store of rounds for it, both in JHP and FMJ. As FMJ ammo is not legal to use for game in Oklahoma, those are out for me. But, that being said, that SKS has shown to be very effective at ranges anywhere from 75 to 150 yards. I have not attempted shots longer than that with that weapon as where I am hunting, I would be hard pressed to be able to see anything beyond 100-150 yards.

    As far as the 6 mm ARC, finding ammo is a major factor in buying any new gun, or in this case, an upper. I would posit that since the .243 is so similar in ballistics to the 6 mm, not to mention the .243 has demonstrated efficacy and reliability in taking for deer, what is the point of a new round that is not really a marked improvement, other than having a new gun that others may not? And .243 ammo is made by just about every major ammo manufacturer, not so much with 6 mm ARC.

  33. I have had some success in Missouri with the .223 caliber, it has dropped some of the bigger deer that I have harvested. About 5-6 years ago I built a new rifle with a Stoner 7.62 X 39 upper. I mounted a Bushnell Banner 3x9x40 scope and I get 1” groups at 100 yards with quality ammunition. One particular about the 7.62 X 39 that might be mentioned is the bore diameter. Some are .308 while others are .311 or .312. With safety and accuracy in mind make sure that you are using the correct bullet diameter for your bore.

  34. I have been using a 6.8 for over ten years. Always had a one shot kill. Almost no recoil. Able to watch the game fall through my scope.

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