Hunting and Outdoors

The AR-15 Platform As A Hunting Rifle

hunter with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle

It’s hard to say where the trend started. Perhaps some Vietnam veteran in the Deep South struggling with a feral hog invasion decided the best way to eliminate the varmints was the AR-15 he picked up after returning from the jungle.

Maybe it was a rancher in the Midwest who liked the flat shooting, 40-grain round for taking out coyotes. Wherever it began, it started a years-long transition from traditional wooden stocked, bolt-action hunting rifles to the eventual production of Remington’s R-25 AR-platform rifle, chambered in anything from .243 to .308 Winchester.

Now, before you dismiss the traditional 5.56mm/.223 caliber AR-15 rifle as a usable hunting weapon, let’s go over some ballistics first.

I know many will dismiss this rifle/caliber combination as a “poodle shooter” unsuitable for use in a war zone, much less as a hunting rifle for use on medium game, yet let’s look at what the numbers say, starting with one of the most popular deer cartridges in the United States, the .30-30.

Traditionally, the .30-30 used cast lead bullets with most weighing in around 160-grains. Though it was one of the first cartridges designed from the ground up to use smokeless powder, black powder was simply more available at the time and was commonly used when the .30-30 was introduced.

Sitting atop a compressed load of FFF black powder the muzzle velocity of a 160-grain cast lead bullet was only around 1,600 feet-per-second, giving it a muzzle energy of just under 1,000 ft-lbs. While this performance pales in comparison to a modern smokeless powder propelled .30-30 bullet, it was more than adequate to take down what amounts to probably millions of deer over the decades.

Moving on to the modern version of the .30-30 round, we find that using smokeless powers a somewhat lighter 130-grain copper-jacketed, round-nose, flat-point bullet is easily propelled to a muzzle velocity of 2,500 fps, which results in a muzzle energy just a hair under 1,800 ft-lbs: much more than the older black powder version.

How does this traditional deer cartridge stack up against 5.56mm/.223 caliber ammunition? In fact, they are surprisingly similar. A standard 62-grain FMJBT round fired at 3,050 fps has a muzzle energy of 1,300 ft-lbs., more than our traditional 160-grain black powder-propelled bullet and slightly less than a modern 130-grain smokeless propelled .30-06 bullet.

Still, that gives the 5.56/.223 round more than enough energy to drop a good-sized mule deer.

“But…” I hear you cry, “The .223 round has far too much penetration, it will just shoot through and through without doing much damage.”

Not quite.

It’s true that the standard M855 round used by our military does have some overpenetration issues due to variations in the neck length, yet heavier 69- and 75-grain hollow point or OTM bullets (both of which should easily by stabilized by most 1:9-1:7 twist barrels) have superb performance and fragmentation in less than 12 inches of ballistic gel.

While ballistic gel is not a direct substitute for a deer, it does give us a rough estimation of the round’s performance on a game animal. This evidence, when coupled with the thousands of anecdotes from wild boar and deer hunters who swear by the .223 AR-15 rifle/cartridge combination, should be more than enough to prove the usability of the .223 cartridge as medium game ammunition.

For those of you who still feel the need to step up to a larger caliber, there are plenty of AR-15 platform rifles out there chambered in calibers such as 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and even 7mm-08.

DPMS and Remington, both owned by parent company Freedom Group, have a line of rifles dedicated to these larger calibers. From DPMS we have the LR-308 platform and from Remington the R-15 and R-25 rifle, both dedicated hunting rifles available with a camouflage finish.

While the larger caliber AR rifles were initially dismissed by many traditional hunters as “overkill” or “not suitable for hunting” it didn’t take long for many to realize that there simply isn’t much difference between a Remington 750 or Browning BAR and an R-25 or LR-308 chambered in .308 Winchester.

While some undoubtedly prefer the traditional look of a walnut stock or the increased precision of a bolt action, it appears the AR platform is here to stay as an option for small, medium and—with the .308 or 7mm-08 chambered R-25—large or dangerous game such as moose or bear.

The modularity of the AR platform makes it able to be quickly swapped over from an iron-sighted .458 SOCOM brush gun to a scoped 6.8 SPC caliber rifle capable of much longer shots.

No other rifle platform demonstrates such versatility. Combine this with the wide availability of aftermarket parts, and you can build an AR rifle to fill just about any role you can conceive of.

You ready to take that AR out and use it for hunting your favorite game? Share with us what your plans are now that you know how many hunters are enjoying it for taking down their favorites.

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 (20)

  1. I wonder why nobody talks about the Sharps 25-45?
    Comes in the AR/modern sporting rifle configuration, is flat-shooting, and delivers quite a wallop!
    I had the pleasure to shoot one, and since I already had the basic .223/5.56 package, and couldn’t afford the complete Sharps rifle, I bought the barrel and bolt carrier and relia-bolt to reconfigure my existing rifle.
    Big mule deer in the west are perfect for this round! I’m planning a south Texas hog hunt this fall, and I’m betting this round will be perfect for bringing home the bacon.
    Anyone else had any experience with this?

  2. Hmm … it seems that SaintJRobinsons link terminates in a 404 error.

    But not to fear … it offers a rendition of “Hanging Tree” by Jennifer Laurence for your listening pleasure.

    Hanging Tree is a song about rebels who were hung in that tree … apparently they were disarmed and could not defend themselves against the thugs sent by The Capitol.

    Might there not be a lesson in this, after all?

  3. For the couple posting about convience or the AR is not for hunting BS to both of you.

    Frist off all weapons are covered under the 2nd Amend and no this is not for huntin. Ist to keep the government honest and for self defense against criminals and the afore mentioned government if they get more stupid then they are now.

    You can take it and shove it. No one has the right to take mine just so you can feel safer. Not you, not the government-no one. I didn’t spend 12 years in the Infantry for some lame politician to take a God Given Right to self defense. That’s why the 2nd Amendment is there. And it is not about Hunting. Its about keeping the government honest and self defense, period.

    I had family that lived during the “time” of Hitler. Those that survived had quite a story to tell. First they came for the guns so no one could resist. And lets not forget these were bolt action rifles holding no more than 5 rounds. Once they came for the guns then they came for the sick and the mentally defective. Then they came for the Jews. My Father helped to liberate one of those camps. It haunted him for the rest of his life. So yeah the Hitler defense is valid.

    First they came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Communist.
    Then they came for the Socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

    When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.
    Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”
    Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers
    I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.

    The sooner you liberal nuts see the world for what it is the better.

  4. I have never been hurt by people who had problems with the law. But I have been hurt by some who were taken to be checkout for medical mind problems or drug use. I have never been a person who liked the AR-15 rifles but this year my grandsons shot with them. They used these rifles because the stocks were adjustable. Both made one shot kills, so by good training and with me and their father with them I see no reason to do away with these rifles. I cannot understand why some people want to take my right to use a rifle I like, but tell me that it is ok for same sex to marry and have the same status legally as my wife and I have. Do what they may but leave my world alone.

  5. It’s funny, 5 to 10 years ago if I was to joke around and say that I was going to use a AR-15 or AK-47 for hunting then I’d have been frowned upon and told that there would be no sport in that and that it would almost be considered cheating. But now days since a Ban is being spoken about all these big Hunters and Gunman are all “no no no no no, wait, it’s cool, you can hunt with those guns” ,, give me a break, how predictable can you get. And most like to say “we’ll it’s more convenient” ,,, Ha!,, ‘Convenient Hunting’ that’s a good one, where is sport in convenience??

  6. 6.5 Grendel. Covers all the bases for dog sized deer on the east coast, any vermin you care to shoot, and is flatter shooting than any 5.56 or .308 round, with more retained energy past 325 yards for any long shots. For hog or bear, drop on a 50 Beowulf upper with the exact same bolt and carrier. Buy one lower, take any game short of grizzly bear.

  7. AR-15 hunters should check out .223 ammo from DRT (Dynamic Research Technologies). The copper jacketed bullet contains a mixture of powdered metals that dramatically expand after penetrating, creating an interior wound about the size of a baseball. A well placed shot brings down a deer or a hog on the spot, earning DRT the nickname “dead right there”. I was looking for a .308 bolt rifle but now don’t need one.

  8. I took down a doe this last week with my Ruger SR556 and using a 55grain particularly nasty hand load from about 75 yards. Granted, I did shoot her in the neck but it was a clean kill and she fell practically where she was hit (11 paces). The vertebra was shattered, spinal cord, both carotid arteries severed and the exit wound was the size of a quarter. I killed another one years ago with a headshot using this same cartridge but it was out of a bolt gun. Shot placement is paramount no matter which caliber you use to make a clean kill. I would not hesitate to use this same bullet/rifle configuration to take a trophy buck with a heart shot, providing I was sure of the shot.

  9. meratol
    The modish fathering today is piquant to descry ways of simplifying their lives in this unsettled, undeterminable, stressed-out cosmos, be tough, lunch painstakingly and hitherto to be expert to against with the “watch over rake” mantra. The imbroglio is that people absolutely like to eat their carbs too much to on one’s own trade them up, and in this obliging of a theme of feeling a carb blocker may be the clarification that has so indubitably eluded all.

  10. I just got back from Iraq and after handling my M-16 (AR-15) everyday, I decided to get one for personal hunting use. This is the first time that I’m hunting and having to use a rifle that I’ve very familiar with helps out a lot. I did all my research of course before I decided to use it as my hunting rifle. My AR-15 has a 1:7 twist which allows me to use a heavier grain bullet. I’m going to purchase a 6.8 SPC upper receiver if I ever choose to hunt larger sized deer. The deciding factor for me is the familiarity that I have with the rifle, plus I can use it for home protection.

  11. HOGS. How would the .223/5.56 stack up against feral TX hogs?
    I am saving my pennies for an AR…I don’t have a hunting rifle, and was wondering if I should look into a .308 version as a more versatile rifle…

    1. The AR-15 rifle in .223 or 5.56 is great to use on Texas feral hogs. As always, shot placement matters: you’ll still need a good solid it on the head or neck (I prefer just behind the ears) or on the heart or lungs. I’ve yet to have a hog get up and run after being hit in either of those areas.

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