Hunting with the AR-15
Pat Cascio 06.12.13
While the AR-15 platform is an outstanding choice for self-defense, most people don’t give it a second thought as a hunting gun. That’s too bad, because the AR, in its many guises, can be had in a variety of configurations that are fantastic for hunting different types of game, from small varmints all the way up to some very large and dangerous game. In this article, we’ll take a look at the considerations involved in hunting everything from ground squirrels to bears with the AR-15.
The main thing that determines what kind of game you can take with an AR is the size of the round that it’s chambered for. The standard AR-15 is chambered in for .223 Remington or 5.56mm, but many AR makers offer are quite a few different caliber variations, including, but not limited to: 7.62X39, 6.5 Creedmore, 6.8 SPC, .243 .300 Whisper, .50 Beowulf, .458 SOCOM and more. You can even find AR-15s chambered in common handgun calibers such at 9mm, .40S&W and .45ACP to name a few. So, there are many options when it comes to caliber for a wide variety of hunting purposes.
Furthermore, many ARs allow you change calibers by switching out the upper receiver and bolt carrier group. This flexibiblity makes the AR one of the most versatile rifles there is for hunting all manner of critters. Smaller rounds take smaller game, and larger rounds take larger game — it sounds simple enough, but there are some complexities to this picture that must be taken into account when outfitting your AR to go after specific game types. In this first installment, we’ll look at smaller calibers that work with smaller game; in Part 2, we’ll talk about hunting the big boys with an AR.
Barrel twist and bullet selection
Let’s take a look a the .223 Remington/5.56mm, as most ARs are chambered in these calibers. The first thing to know about these two calibers is that they are not the same! I couldn’t tell you the number of gun shop clerks I’ve heard say that they are the same caliber. You can shoot .223 in an AR chambered in 5.56mm, however, you should not shoot a 5.56mm round in a .223 — you are only looking for trouble, as the 5.56mm is more powerful and can create very dangerous chamber pressures. Many hunters who hunt varmits use some type of bolt-action .223 rifle – and that’s fine. However, I know a lot of folks who use an AR to hunt this type of game – and I’m one of ’em. Many AR-15s come with a 1/9″ barrel twist, and that’s great for most ammo up to 69-grain bullets. For heavier bullets, up to 77-grains, you’ll want a 1/7″ barrel twist. I’ve also found the 1/8″ barrel twist to be a good compromise for different bullets weights, too. So, you have to take into consideration what kind of game you are planning to hunt, and then what type of ammo you’re going to use – if you have a too heavy of a bullet, and your AR only has a 1/9″ barrel twist, the round won’t stabilize and you won’t have very good accuracy, and the same is true of a too light bullet weight. I don’t know of any ammo maker who is producing more different types of .223/5.56mm ammo than Black Hills Ammunition and I have been using their ammo for more than 22 years, and I’ve never once had a bad round in any caliber. BHA hand inspects each and every round of ammo that leaves their plant – no other big-name ammo company does this! Here is the latest list of .223/5.56mm ammo that BHA offers to the hunter:
- 36-gr Varmint Grenade
- 40-gr Hornady V-MAX
- 50-gr. Hornady V-MAX
- 52-gr Match Hollow Point
- 55-gr Full Metal jacket
- 55-gr Soft Point
- 55-gr Barnes MPG
- 55-gr Barnes TSX
- 62-gr Barnes TXS
- 60-gr Soft Point
- 60-gr Hornady Varmint
- 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point
- 69-gr Sierra Matchking
- 75-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point
- 77-gr Sierra Matchking
Black Hills also produces a special 5.56mm round for the US military Special Forces guys. I believe I’ve used every type of .223/5.56mm round that Black Hills makes. The smaller rounds on this list are lighter, so they’re for smaller game. And, as mentioned above, the smaller rounds are also best when when paired with a 1/9″ barrel twist. The higher-grain bullets are for bigger critters, and you’ll want a 1/7″ barrel twist for anything over 69 grains.