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.


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.



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.


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.


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!
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.
Hunter Ed Instructor Ed Beall with elk

Montana bowhunter education instructor Ed Beall


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!

Theresa Vail, star of the Outdoor Channel show “Limitless With Theresa Vail,” accidentally shot a bear while hunting in Alaska and then conspired with her Alaska guides to cover it up by improperly tagging the animal, Alaska State Troopers said.

Vail was charged with two misdemeanor offenses in December: taking a brown or grizzly bear without a tag, and second-degree unsworn falsification. Her guides were also charged with failing to report a hunting violation and committing, aiding, or allowing a violation, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. The newspaper reported that one of the guides was also charged with second-degree unsworn falsification.

Vail pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to a year of probation and a $750 fine, according to a report from The Associated Press. The charges against the guides are still pending.

On Facebook, Vail wrote: “This May, during an Alaskan guided bear hunt, I unintentionally harvested a second bear while attempting a follow-up shot. I then followed poor advice and allowed the second bear to be improperly tagged. A few days later, the film crew and I reported the incident and have since fully cooperated with the proper authorities. I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.” (As of the time of this writing, Vail has removed her Facebook account.)

According to show producers, that hunt never aired on the Outdoor Channel.

It is the responsibility of an ethical hunter to report any infraction that he or she observes, including his or her own.

What Should You Do?

Vail’s case has brought game tagging and proper reporting to the forefront. What should you do in a similar situation?

First, you should always be certain of your target, which can help avoid an accidental kill in the first place. Remember, you should only shoot when you know the target is legal and you have a safe backdrop, with no people, animals, or buildings in the zone-of-fire.

Accidents do happen, however. So what is your next step?

Ethical hunters report game violations and abide by game laws and regulations. By Alaska state hunting regulations, no hunter may harvest game without previously having the appropriate license and tags, permits, or harvest tickets for that hunt. Out-of-state hunters like Vail must purchase a locking-tag when hunting big game, such as grizzlies, in Alaska. This type of tag is locked onto the animal immediately after a kill and must remain there until the animal is processed or exported. A tag needs to include the date of the kill and can only be used by the hunter who bought it.

In Vail’s case, one of her guides contacted someone to buy a grizzly tag and flew it by plane out to the site of the hunt, where the bear was tagged. Later, Vail signed the tag and back-dated it to make it appear that it had been purchased the day the bears were killed. However, Vail’s film crew had the second shooting on camera.

The Alaska Dispatch News reported that the Alaska State Troopers released a dispatch about the incident: “(I)nvestigation showed that Theresa Vail had taken a brown/grizzly bear without a tag, and that registered guide (Michael “Wade”) Renfro obtained a locking-tag under false pretense and then falsified paperwork to support and claim that the animal was taken lawfully. Guide (Joseph Andrew) Miller and client Vail were accomplice to these actions.”

The Alaska Hunter’s Ed Course teaches: “It is the responsibility of an ethical hunter to report any infraction that he or she observes, including his or her own. The penalties for violations that are self-reported are often less than they would be if the person tried to hide the violation and was later discovered by authorities. Hunters who report errors will have peace of mind that they are honest and acted responsibly, even if no one observed their violation.”

What’s Next?

Vail’s violation was brought to authorities’ attention on June 3, after the hunt that took place from May 18 to 27, according to the Alaska Dispatch News. While it is good that Vail and her film crew were honest about the situation, a better approach would have been to tell authorities immediately after the accident—it could have saved her both money as well as her reputation.

Vail is hosting the fifth season of “NRA All Access.” It is unclear whether “Limitless” will be shown or what the sentence for the two guides may be.