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Sporting ARs

Sporting ARs

Stoner's brilliant battle design is following tradition by heading into the woods.

("The following article was prepared for press prior to the current controversy concerning AR rifles used in hunting, and will appear in the May/June issue of Petersen's Hunting.")

Virtually every type of centerfire sporting rifle in existence started off as a military weapon. The classic lever-action deer gun, long the most popular type of hunting rifle in America, began as the Henry Rifle of the Civil War era, designed to bring rapid fire against the enemy. The lever-action was succeeded in universal popularity by the bolt-action--the standard hunting rifle of today--which we owe to Paul Mauser's classic battle-rifle design.

Sporterized military guns have always found their way into the hunting fields--and always with resistance from traditionalists.

Now another rifle of military origin is moving rapidly into prominence in the hunting and sport shooting world: the AR15 .223 and AR10 .308. And, like its predecessors, the AR platform is meeting resistance, even outright opposition, from many hunters who are personally wedded to earlier gun designs. No surprise there; when the lever action was first used for hunting, traditionalists, whose idea of a "real" hunting gun was a single-shot muzzleloader, distained the need for a repeat-fire tool.

First-generation bolt-action military surplus rifles were also disparaged by many sportsmen as "inappropriate" for hunting. But the AR design's proven capability has already made it the rifle of choice for top-level civilian high-power rifle competition. It is also increasingly the rifle of choice for serious long-range varmint and predator shooters, and it's appearing in increasing numbers in the big-game hunting arena, as well.

It should. ARs are not all just .223 caliber. In fact, most people are probably not aware that the AR design originated as a .308 (7.62mm), not as a .223 (5.56mm).

To get your AR to match the accuracy of the best hunting rifles, swap out its barrel for a match-grade version.

Technically speaking, it makes all the sense in the world that proven military rifle designs should be inherently appropriate for hunting use. All successful military rifles are specifically designed for rugged, reliable function and durability under extreme conditions, which translates automatically into use under even the most extreme field-hunting use. They're also designed for reasonable weight, portability and ease of fast handling by people who may be carrying other heavy gear and wearing bulky clothing. They have an inherent capability for follow-up shots, and they must be deadly accurate against targets of the same basic dimensions and at the same distances typically encountered by hunters.


The AR in particular is a superb hunting design, due primarily to its lightweight synthetic and corrosion-resistant alloy construction. And, it's surprisingly accurate, due primarily to the fact it's an "assembled" gun rather than a "fitted" gun. Its major components essentially snap together. Unlike a traditional bolt-action rifle, which generally requires close-tolerance, hand-work receiver/barrel mating and precise bedding into the stock for maximum accuracy and consistency, a hunting-grade (or even competition-grade) AR can readily be assembled from modular components literally on a kitchen table, by anybody with a modicum of ability to use relatively simple hand tools. Likewise, a service-grade "standard" AR15 can readily be brought up to minute-of-angle performance by selective replacement of key modular elements with match-grade parts. And, once tuned, an AR stays that way, due to the fact that its entirely nonorganic components (nonwood) are not susceptible to environmental distortion (warpage or swelling). All an AR really needs is a quality barrel to shoot as well as the best hunting rifle you can buy.

Hunting versions of the AR design, in a wide variety of chamberings, are currently offered by several manufacturers. One of the early leaders in AR hunting rifle and sport configurations has been ArmaLite, which offers both lightweight and heavy-barrel configurations in .223 (M-12A series) for long-range varmint and predator hunting, .308-chambered versions (AR-10 series) for deer hunting and competition and even a super-accurate .300 Remington Short-Action Ultra Mag (AR-10T Ultra), which is as good an elk, moose or general heavy game chambering as you can get.

Because of its modular design, an AR is very easy to "sporterize" at your home workbench. The range of available quick-install AR accessories is nearly infinite, including a wide variety of precision-adjustable metallic sights, a diversity of optical sight-mount options, many different designs of adjustable or fixed buttstocks and forends (handguards), and attachments for varied styles of carrying and/or shooting slings and bipods for long-range precision shooting. A growing number of AR users are also taking advantage of the basic design to have different upper receivers in different chamberings and/or barrel lengths/weights made to attach to the same lower receiver (legally the serial-numbered actual "firearm"), making an AR nearly as versatile as a T/C Encore.

Other manufacturers offer complete AR rifles and AR upper receivers chambered for such excellent hunting cartridges as the 6.8mm Remington SPC, up to big-bore dangerous-game chamberings such as the .458 SOCOM or .500 Beowulf.

ARs are legal for hunting anywhere any other semiauto centerfire hunting rifle (such as a Browning BAR or Remington 742 or 7400) is legal--except in states that may have passed laws banning specific models and configurations of semiautomatics by calling them "assault rifles."

As for the "black rifle" issue...well, I like wood as much as the next guy, but the most popular hunting rifles in America these days, of any type, all have black or gray synthetic stocks, dull matte surface treatments or camo finishes, anyway. Black or camo bolt-action rifles, or black or camo ARs--what's the difference? If hunting with a "black gun" bothers you, don't. If you oppose others using a hunting tool simply because it doesn't "look right," you're standing on the same political platform as the California state legislature. Hunters should not do the antigun, antihunter groups' work f

or them.

The AR platform is a hunting rifle, and anyone who says differently simply doesn't know history.

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