There are many concerned maternal types who stomp their feet and bray about the obvious fact that no one needs an AR-15–for anything. Hard stop. And Forget about using AR-15s for hunting.
No self-respecting hunter, they say, would ever use a weapon-of-war to put meat on the table. You couldn’t possibly need a semiautomatic rifle because, they reason, you’ll never be able to take more than one shot. And the .223 is too small for hunting.
Yet here you are, reading an article about the benefits of using an AR-15 to hunt. And there are clear benefits. You won’t ever convince a politician or any of the demanding mothers about the fact, but there are some types of hunting for which the AR-15 is ideal.
Where to begin with hunting ARs
The first may be the one they hate the most: Speed. The semiautomatic action of an AR will allow you to put rounds on target fast, and sometimes that’s crucial.
The second is capacity. This is a close second on the list of reasons why the AR is so often vilified, even though capacity is determined by the magazine and not the rifle.
The third, if you needed an additional reason, is that the AR platform is so versatile. The same rifle that will allow you to hunt can also be used for training on the range, or plinking, and the rifles also are a go-to for self-defense.
Hunting with an AR-15
“Hunting” is a vague term, so we’ll break it down a bit. There are some basics, though, that cover the gamut. Consider these:
- How far away will you be hunting?
- How large is the animal you will be hunting?
- How fast will you need to be?
- How fast might your prey be?
AR-15 deer hunting
New hunters often ask what’s the best AR-15 caliber for deer hunting. In many states, you aren’t allowed to hunt deer with a .223, and some outlaw deer hunting with an AR-15 completely.
But there are exceptional .223 loads that are ideal for hunting deer. If you’re hunting at reasonably close range, the .223 and 5.56 loads that are engineered to expand will provide plenty of stopping power for whitetail, mule deer, antelope, and more.
If you want a dedicated AR for deer hunting, look for a heavy barrel profile, and add length to the barrel. A carbine is fine, but not optimal.
AR-15 hog hunting
The most popular use of the AR-15 for hunting has to be for hunting hogs. Pigs vary wildly in size, and the AR provides the speed needed to put multiple rounds on an aggressive hog. AR-15 boar hunting—depending on the size of the boar—can be an adrenaline-fueled experience.
Most AR-15s for pig hunting are set up for speed. After the first shot is fired, the passel of pigs is going to bolt in every direction. Any follow-up shots will be made on moving targets, and that’s when the speed of the AR platform comes into play. A red dot sight is ideal for shorter engagements, where accurate shots need to be placed quickly on target.
Some want more penetration potential and heavier bullets. An AR-10—or any .308 AR patterned rifle—may be better for areas with really big hogs. If your pigs are creeping up above that 300-pound point, the .308 is a great option.
Hog hunting often is hours of boredom punctuated by an all-out mag dump. Shorter ARs work well as distances are typically much shorter.
AR-15 for hunting coyote
Hunting coyote with an AR-15 is a close second to hogs. The ideal coyote hunting AR-15 will be set up with optics and iron sights, or a red dot. The animals often respond well to calls and can come in quite close.
There’s little chance of a coyote attacking a person, which can’t be said about boars. Most coyote hunters fine-tune their rifles for exceptional accuracy and rely on the lethality of the .223 to drop their prey fast.
Many varmint hunters prefer a bull barrel on their coyote guns. Long, heavy barrels typically produce better accuracy at longer distances.
AR-15 elk hunting
Hunting elk with an AR-15 is growing in popularity, though the caliber becomes much more important. If we’re defining anything in the AR family as an AR-15, then it makes sense. Many, though, look well beyond the .223 for a caliber and projectile that can offer more effective terminal ballistics.
The best caliber for elk hunting may be up for debate. If you want an all-around rifle that can do anything, start with the .308. With the right .308 load, elk are in range—if you are.
There’s a balance here that’s important. Heavy rifles may be more accurate, but you still have to carry them. Practice often in order to ensure that you can make an ethical shot.
The AR-15 compared to hunting rifles
That point can’t be stressed enough. All ammunition loses power at distance. The AR can be an accurate rifle at distance, but 90% of them are not. You have to practice.
And you might want to swap out some parts to ensure accuracy. AR-15 barrel profiles handle heat differently, for example. Are you just looking for one accurate shot, or do you need to carry the rifle for miles and shoot fast while moving?
- Bolt action rifles typically offer much less capacity.
- Bolt action rifles are typically capable of better accuracy.
- At long distances, bolt actions are definitely the way to go.
- AR-15s can be lighter, shorter, and more maneuverable.
- AR-15s are infinitely faster.
- AR-15s are much easier to set up to your specific needs.
What’s the best AR-15 hunting caliber?
There are two logical choices. If you’re hunting big game, the .308 is a solid choice. There are so many tested, proven .308 loads that are ideal for hunting. There are also great deals, still, on .308 ball ammo, making this an affordable and versatile platform that won’t break the bank.
From a whitetail deer on down, you can confidently hunt with a .223. There are much faster rounds, true—but there’s something to be said for the availability and cost of the venerable .223 round. And with so many rounds designed for hunting, the days of ball ammo passing through your prey are behind you.
AR-15 hunting scopes
If you are going to be hunting close, magnification is a hindrance. If your forend is stable, you can mount a scout scope in front of the receiver. But the proliferation of 1-4 and 1-6 scopes has opened up options for working with more traditional mounts.
The higher end of the magnification spectrum is limited only by the rifle’s ability to connect. And if you are hunting elk, or hunting coyotes or prairie dogs, having a scope with increased magnification is even more important.
Consider what kind of field-of-view you might want. For scopes with big bells, you’ll need a high mount. Low-powered scopes can be mounted lower on the rifle, which favors an aggressive shooting stance and can be much faster for target acquisition.
For a solid mid-range option, nothing beats a good 3-9×40.
Red dots for hunting with an AR
There’s another logical option: red dots. Red dots are even faster and the fastest way to shoot on the move. Your range is limited, at least when compared with a scope, but that’s not always a hindrance.
Red dots and reflex sights are ideal for hog hunting. Any time that the light is low, a red dot becomes even easier to use.
AR-15 hunting accessories
What else will you need to outfit your AR for hunting? This can be a long list. Remember that everything you add to your gun (to a point) will increase functionality. The flip side, though, is that it will also increase the weight.
You’ll appreciate the advice if you are going to carry your rifle any distance. While a good single-point sling may be ideal for defensive purposes, you’ll appreciate a two-point sling for walking in the woods.
Weapon lights for hunting at night
Lights can get you into the woods, and out if you’re hunting at night. They’re great for self-defense, too. There are countless options available—the easiest to use are the dedicated lights that mount on the forend.
Look for lights with wide cones of light rather than those that focus on a beam with the little spill. Consider combining light with a laser, or with a red dot.
Suppressors for hunting
If you’re wanting to take this to the next level, look at suppressors. There’s a wealth of opportunity out there for keeping guns quiet, and the benefits for suppressing when hunting hogs or coyotes are obvious.
The last thing to consider is likely to be camo. Most AR-pattern rifles and pistols are black. That’s not as bad as you might imagine for being seen.
A good paint job might make the camo a bit more effective. There are numerous guns that come hydrodipped on. Others may prefer the protective qualities of a Cerakote finish in FDE or OD green.
Hunting with an AR-15 should be legal everywhere. Hunters should practice more than they do, too, to ensure ethical kill-shots. Both of these are our responsibilities.
And know that you don’t have to spend a fortune on different guns. Depending on your goals, you can build one AR that can tackle a wide variety of purposes.
Or build out mission-specific uppers. You can have a hog hunting upper and a whitetail upper and a self-defense upper–all on one lower, and all on one transfer.
One Last Tip
If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.