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ARs Rock

ARs Rock

What makes the best varmint rifle? Try an AR.

The author swears by ARs for varmint hunting. His two favorite varmint rigs are a DPMS in .204 Ruger (top) and a Rock River A4 Varmint with MagPul stock in .223 Remington (bottom).

Red-Hot Wildcats for Varminting
Sometimes there's simply nothing on the shelves of any gun store that does what needs to be done. That's where wildcats come in. Layne Simpson, wildcatter extraordinaire, drew up the following list of sensational yet proven wildcats for varminting. Choices range from light, quiet, recoil-free zappers to long-range high-wind heavy-hitters.

.17 Mach IV
Parent Case: .221 Remington Fireball
Bullets: Berger and Hornady
Reloading Dies: Lyman, RCBS, Redding
Case Forming: Neck down and neck-turn Fireball brass
Optimum Bullet Weights: 20 to 25 grains
Velocity Range: 3,700 to 4,100 fps
Comment: Most popular cartridge of its caliber, recently made less practical by Remington's introduction of the similar .17 Fireball.

.20 Tactical
Parent Case: .223 Remington
Bullets: Same as for .204 Ruger
Reloading Dies: Redding, RCBS, Lyman, Hornady
Case Forming: Neck down .223 Remington case
Optimum Bullet Weights: 30 to 45 grains
Velocity Range: 3,600 to 4,100 fps
Comments: Great cartridge in its day but now made less than practical by the introduction of the .204 Ruger.

.22-250 Ackley Improved
Parent Case: .22-250
Bullets: Standard .224 inch
Reloading Dies: Redding and RCBS
Case Forming: Fireform .22-250 brass in .22-250 Improved chamber
Optimum Bullet Weights: 50 to 55 grains
Velocity Range: 4,000 to 4,100 fps
Comments: Equals velocity of .220 Swift. Extremely accurate in a good rifle. Will safely shoot standard .22-250 ammo in a pinch.

Parent Case: .223 Remington
Bullets: .243 inch
Reloading Dies: Redding and RCBS
Case Forming: Neck up .223 Remington brass
Optimum Bullet Weights: 55 to 70 grains
Velocity Range: 3,200 to 3,400 fps
Comments: Ex-benchrest cartridge. Low recoil and especially effective on coyotes. Excellent in bolt guns and AR-15s.

Parent Case: .284 Winchester
Bullets: .243 inch
Reloading Dies: Redding and RCBS
Case Forming: Neck down .284 brass from Winchester or 6.5-284 brass from Nosler, Hornady and Lapua
Optimum Bullet Weights: 70 to 85 grains (lighter bullets are faster but do not buck wind as well)
Velocity Range: 3,400 to 3,500 fps
Comments: Excellent choice for long-range varminting, especially on windy days.


.257 Ackley Improved
Parent Case: .257 Roberts
Bullets: .257 inch
Reloading Dies: Hornady, RCBS, Redding
Case Forming: Fireform .257 Roberts brass in improved chamber
Optimum Bullet Weights: 75 to 87 grains
Velocity Range: 3,300 to 3,600 fps
Comments: About 100 fps faster than standard .257 Roberts. Quite accurate. Deadly on larger varmints at extreme ranges.

Like many hunters, I grew up shooting bolt guns at everything. There is no denying the turnbolt's accuracy, but today's semiautos have narrowed the accuracy gap. In fact, a quality AR-15 with a good trigger and match-grade barrel is every bit as accurate as any bolt action. That accuracy, combined with the AR's fast follow-up shot and reasonable price, is why I have come to rely almost exclusively on AR-15s for varmint hunting.

When it comes to accuracy, the bolt-action's advantage, at least compared to heavy-barreled, match-grade ARs, is a thing of the past. In fact, I own ARs from several makers that group about as tight as my custom bolt action varmint rifles.

Accuracy may not quite measure up to the best of my bolt guns, but the difference between a .4-inch AR-15 and a .25-inch bolt gun is more theoretical than practical. When you consider that my best bolt guns cost much more than any factory AR-15, any miniscule accuracy advantage is well beyond the point of diminishing returns and pretty much irrelevant in the field.

A fast follow-up shot is a big asset on windy dog towns. With a good call from a spotter, second-round hits on distant targets are almost automatic with an AR. Also, I don't have to change positions in order to manipulate the action or reload my AR-15 to get off that second shot. Being able to stay in position between shots is, in my opinion, a boon to consistency, which is the key to getting the utmost accuracy from any gun. The AR simply is a superior instrument for the task.

I use two AR-15s for the majority of my varmint hunting. The first is Rock River's A4 Varmint in .223 Remington. With a Leupold 3.5-10 LR/T riflescope in Mark 4 mounts and Hornady's 75-grain hollowpoints, it is a quarter-minute gun. It also bucks the wind well and shoots flat enough for me to hit distant dogs as long as I do my part.

My other varmint rig is a DPMS LR-204 in .204 Ruger. This rifle has a 24-inch, fluted, heavy barrel and a 4.5-14X Leupold scope. With Hornady's 32-grain V-Max load it's very accurate, shoots laser-flat and carries authoritative downrange energy. It also bucks the wind surprisingly well.

Despite its peppy performance, the little .204 Ruger's recoil is almost nonexistent. It is easy on barrels and cools quickly. Its mild manners are courtesy of a tiny powder charge; light bullets don't require a canister of powder to generate impressive velocity figures.

Cling to your bolt guns if you like, but you'd better reload fast when you're varminting with me.

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