ar-15 for hunting

The AR-15 has become one of the most popular firearms in America, mostly due to its versatility, ease of use, and military look. It has even been adopted by hunters, who have embraced the AR as their rifle of choice in the field.

There are subtle differences as to how to best optimize your AR-15 for game of all sizes. Here’s what you need to know.

prairiedogs

Small Game

Rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs are some of the most common small game targets for hunters. The caveat with hunting smaller animals with an AR-15 is that you must have superior aim, and if you plan on eating your small game, the AR is not ideal for the takedown.

Many AR-15s come with 1:9 twist barrels, meaning the bullet spins one full rotation per nine inches traveled in the barrel. Most Remington .223 cartridges are 55-grain, and the 1:9 twist rate is ideal for maximum efficiency and stabilization with said cartridges versus 1:12 (slower) and 1:7 (faster). AR-15 barrels, like all parts of the rifle, are easy to replace and switching takes only minutes.

Your optics should also be made specifically for small game, paying close attention to clarity and resolution at less than 100 yards. A 4-12X40 variable scope is recommended for small game.

feralpig

Varmints

Whether it’s coyotes, javelina, or wild hogs, many jurisdictions not only allow but encourage hunters to take down varmints in the area. Hunting varmints require different hunting techniques than small game, so a few items must be considered to properly set up your rifle for these endeavors.

Most AR-15s specifically built for hunting nuisance animals have longer barrels and slower rifling—a typical stationary shooting setup. The longer barrel provides better velocity and range, perfect for animals 200 yards away or further. ARs for these animals are typically heavier than those built for small game, so you may need to experiment with different stocks for comfort. Some hunters prefer collapsible stocks and add cheek rests to them, while others like fixed stock styles.

Suppressors (silencers) are also a popular addition to AR-15s for varmint hunting, since you can potentially hit the target with a second shot if you miss on the first. Keep in mind, a “silenced” AR-15 is a relative term—it’s not like the silencers in the movies.

white-tailed-deer

Large Game

The upper receiver ultimately determines whether your AR-15 is built for small or large game. The standard .223/5.56 rounds are not ideal for large animals, but a simple switch to a larger caliber will work.

Though more expensive and heavier, the AR-10 setup is ideal for deer hunting. You can also simply buy an AR-15 already built for large game hunting, like the Ruger SR-762 and YHM HRC-200 6.8 SPC.

The best part about owning an AR-15 is that it’s never a finished product. You can always modify it with different parts and accessories for any hunting and target shooting activities.

Legalities

There is no federal law controlling the use of the rifle, though many states have regulations on citizens’ rights to purchase, own, and use it. According to TIME Magazine, AR-15s are used for hunting in several states, including hunting feral goats in Hawaii, feral pigs in Texas, jackrabbits in Arizona, and elk in Montana. Some states don’t allow deer hunting with .223 diameter bullets or an AR-15 rifle, according to Stag Arms. These states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts, require larger bullets. Many states have laws for hunting specific game with specific types of guns and ammunition, so it’s best to check your state’s current laws before heading out on a hunt.

Ed Beall has been a Montana bowhunter education instructor for 5 years, and owns Capital Sports, an outdoor sporting goods store. Though he is a life-long hunter, there was one hunt he’ll never forget: when he was nearly a mountain lion’s prey!

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I have enjoyed instructing bowhunter education for the last 5 years. Actually, I am surprised that it has been that long…it feels like I just started! The great thing about teaching is being around folks, young and old, who have an interest in hunting with archery equipment and the challenges and opportunities that come with the experience.

One of the experiences that I share in the class is about dealing with the top-tier predators that we have here in western Montana. We teach about “being bear aware.” We do this because grizzly bears have expanded back into more of our state—the whole western half and most of the southern area is known grizzly habitat. So, we teach students to recognize bear signs, defensive bears compared to predatory bears, and their characteristics. We teach them to carry and use bear spray.

When we bowhunt in Montana, we may forget that there are top-tier predators in this wonderful wild place we hunt. When we are crawling and calling, we expect to hear and see our prey. One fresh September day, I was alone, honing in on a herd of elk that had answered my calls in the dim pre-dawn light.  I felt the hair on the back of my neck creepily standing up! I was on one knee, looking at elk moving through the timber about 60 yards out. I craned my neck somewhat to the right and backwards and was shocked to see a mountain lion staring at me….a mere 30 feet away!

mountain lion on trail camera

30 feet you say? Yes, 30 feet …I know exactly because that is about as far as bear spray goes!

With the spray and the sound of the can going off, the cat ran back to what I think was more than 30 yards. Yeah! But it did not leave. There was a crosswind when I sprayed, and the spray appeared to barely reach the lion.

My next thought was that we teach hunters to look big to try to frighten a mountain lion off, so I tried that. I opened the zipper on my coat, stood up, and while trying to make myself look “big” by holding out both sides of my coat, I yelled “get out of here” at the mountain lion. I hoped I would shoo him away, but NO! Instead, it got in that slinking low cat crouch and “grwoowohled” at me!

I pulled out my Glock .40 and fired two rounds toward the cat. THAT DID IT! Off it went, to never be seen by this weak-kneed bowhunter again.

The point is, while bowhunting in Montana, ALWAYS be aware of what’s around you: look for sign, carry bear spray, maybe even carry a sidearm. Make sure you remember the possibility that something other than an elk may come in to your cow call. Think and practice how you should react if you are cornered by a predator. And maybe, just maybe—hunt with a partner! Your wife will be happier.

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Hunter Ed Instructor Ed Beall with elk

Montana bowhunter education instructor Ed Beall

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Do You Have a Hunting Safety Story You’d Like to Share?

Send your best hunting story, tips, and tricks to [email protected] to share your experience with hunters nationwide!

The number one best and easiest way to stay safe while hunting big game, small game, or upland birds is to wear blaze orange. And in many states, it’s the law. Watch the video below to pick the best blaze orange for your hunt.

Wearing blaze orange is the best way to ensure other hunters don’t accidentally mistake you for game. The more you wear, the more visible you’ll be. As the video shows, wearing a blaze orange jacket and hat provides far more visibility than a vest or hat alone, and that’s far better than any old orange shirt you have lying around.

Don’t worry about distracting game with your fluorescent orange hat, vest, or jacket: Deer can’t see it. In fact, hunters who wear blaze orange report better hunts, because they can see other hunters and fan out.

And you can probably leave that blaze orange blazer at home.

Winter is Coming: Are you safe from hypothermia?

Some of the best hunting happens during winter weather, but cold temperatures also increase the risks to hunters. A good hunter is prepared for extreme weather and knows how to prevent dangers like hypothermia.

Hypothermia is caused when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing your core body temperature to drop. You’re at risk for hypothermia in cold, wet conditions, but it can occur at warmer temperatures than you’d expect—as high as 50℉!

Even if there is no precipitation, moisture from your sweat, humidity, or dew can soak into your clothing, chilling your body in cool air. Wet clothing draws heat out of your body more quickly than cold air alone, and wind evaporates the moisture but also lowers your body temperature. You aren’t safe even when you’re in a shelter: Sitting or resting against a cold surface can also draw heat out from your body.

It all adds up to your body being too cold. And when that happens, you develop hypothermia. Symptoms include:

  • Uncontrolled shivering
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Irrational behavior (such as removing clothing)
  • Lack of body movement
  • Sleeplessness
  • Unconsciousness

How can you prevent hypothermia while hunting?

Preparation is the key to preventing hypothermia in the field.

Dress properly, in warm layers. Avoid cotton, which retains moisture.

  • Wear water-repelling outer clothing.
    • Bring rain gear.
    • Avoid going out in dangerous weather conditions.
  • Dry out as quickly as possible when you do get wet.
  • Bring high-calorie foods (such as chocolate or peanuts) as a snack. These foods help your body get quick energy to produce warmth.
  • Bring emergency supplies, including a thermal foil blanket and something to create a shelter, such as a nylon tarp.

Winter is coming. Stay warm, and stay safe!