Hunting with an AR15 versus an AR10 style rifle.

December 19, 2023

Hunting with an AR15 versus an AR10 style rifle.

A question that has been floating around gun forums for a long time is, "Can I hunt with an AR15?" However, the question should be more specific. For example, can I hunt with an AR15 in this specific cartridge for this specific animal up to this specific range? Cartridges have their limitations. Someone hunting from a tree stand shooting whitetail at 50 yards or less will not need a long-range heavy bullet like someone hunting Mule deer in the open country of Montana or Wyoming, where they can be seen at further distances.

Nosler 223 and 308 cartridge .223 next to .308

Someone may boast they have shot a lot of deer with .223, but one must consider how abundant the deer are, how far they will be shooting, and how good of a shot they are. I was reading in a forum about how hard it is to hunt blacktail deer in Oregon, and one guy boasted about how easy it is and how he gets one every year. He was poking fun at the other hunters who were commenting with useful advice. Well, everyone found out later that he had a landowner's permission to be the only hunter hunting on a private apple orchard.

It's about having the right cartridge for the job. If you must hike several miles over hills and down into valleys, hoping for at least one opportunity for that one shot at a buck deer or bull elk, then be sure you have what is right for you to get the job done.

The Evolution of the Hunting Rifle

Had the first musket been designed with a protruding pistol grip we may have all be hunting with AR15 style rifles. The AR15 is a modern sporting rifle with modern features, which is in the current stage of the evolution of sporting rifles.

There is nothing new to using semi-auto rifles for hunting. What sets the Ar15 apart from traditional hunting rifles is the protruding pistol grip, which allows for better control and handling of the rifle, and its modular design, which allows it to be accessorized. There are more choices of slings available that can be mounted on the forearm that just cannot be used on a traditional wood stock rifle. Some manufacturers are now making chassis for bolt action rifles that have some of the features of AR-style rifles, such as protruding pistol grip, Picatinny rails, and M-Lok slots for attaching accessories like sling studs, bipods, and ARCA rails.

Many precision bolt action rifles used for competition use chassis with popular features originally used on AR15-style rifles. I wouldn't be surprised to see these features on more bolt rifles used for hunting in the future. 

bolt action rifle in AR15 style chassis

Christensen Arms Bolt action rifle in a Chassis.

Advantages of Hunting with an AR15 or AR10 style rifle.

hunting with an AR15

One of the reasons I hunt with an AR15 or AR10 rifle is its compact size and portability using a collapsable stock making it easier to stow and adjustable for when I am hunting with or without a pack, I can adjust the stock position for perfect eye relief.

And my favorite reason for hunting with an AR rifle is the ability to hunt with a tactical sling. Using a tactical sling like the V-tac 2-point sling, I can carry my rifle hands-free in a ready position. Using a tactical side sling allows me to move through thick and rough terrain, making less noise. Having a rifle in the ready position can allow you extra time when you spot a deer, allowing you to pull your rifle up with less movement than pulling it off your shoulder. For this reason, some hunters will not use a sling, so they hunt without a sling, but a rifle can become fatiguing to carry all day long without a sling. Being hands-free with the rifle in the ready position also leaves the hands open to push brush and branches out of the path and allows the hands to be free to glass areas. 

The AR15 versus the AR10 for Hunting.

ar15 versus AR10

Top AR15 bottom AR10

Hunting with an AR15

The AR15 in .223/5.56 is probably not the best choice for the big game, but it is great for varmints, coyotes, hogs, and smaller deer with proper shot placement. They make larger calibers for the AR15 style rifle such as the 6.5 Grendel and 6.8 SPC, which are quite suited for deer and hogs. Bump up to the large receiver AR10 style rifle, and you can hunt anything in North America with more powerful cartridges like the .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor, which are great for larger deer like Mule Deer and good for Elk. Some AR10/SR25 rifles even come in .300WSM, allowing you to hunt longer ranges for Elk.

Another thing to consider is that some states have ammunition restrictions. The use of FMJ (full metal jacket) ammo is usually not legal to use for hunting. And in some states .223 is considered too small of a bullet to use for big game. In the photo below the .223 and the 6.5 Creedmoor are FMJ competition cartridges which would not be legal for big game hunting in most states so be sure to check your local hunting regulations. 

   popular ar15 ar10 hunting cartridges

From Left to Right for AR15 6.8SPC, 6.5 Grendel, 5.56/.223. For the AR10 .308, .300WSM, and 6.5 Creedmoor.

I use an AR10 in .308 for mule deer hunting in open country where I may find myself hunting in timber and open country. I use an AR15-style rifle in 6.8SPC, and my daughter uses an AR in 6.5 Grendel for blacktail deer hunting. This is because the terrain is thick and rough to hike through, full of branches and sticker bushes. The AR15 is easier to maneuver in thick brush using a hands-free 2-point tactical sling with the rifle in a tactical position. It seems to handle faster because the grip feels more solid and natural. The safety control is positioned where I can keep my thumb over it while aiming to keep the safety on until I am ready to squeeze the trigger.

Hunting with a AR15 in 6.8SPC

6.8SPC AR15

Also, with AR15 and AR10 style rifles a hunter by adding Picatinny rails to their handguard can have multiple optics like a magnified scope mounted in a cantilever XSKEL scope mount while hunting open areas using a 45-degree angle mount like the A645 with a red dot reflex for fast target acquisition in thicker, denser areas.

Also, AR style Rifes have the ability to use a Picatinny rail handguard or a M-Lok Rail which has optional Picatinny sections. This feature allows a hunter the ability to use a detachable bipod, which allows the hunter to use it when needed or remove it when it's not. This is a big advantage for many hunters who don't like having a bipod attached when on the move but like having one when sitting watching clearings. 

On a safety note, hunting with an MSR can make you faster on the draw, allowing you more time to identify your target and ensure it has an adequate backstop behind it. Make sure to use that extra time for that purpose. When I hunt, I am constantly looking at my surroundings and noting if there is a backstop. I don't draw my rifle on movement unless I see it's an animal, and then I can draw quickly.

If you are considering hunting with your AR15 and it has an LPVO, check out our post about hunting with an LPVO.

Disadvantages of hunting with an AR15 style rifle.

AR15s are lightweight rifles, which is a big advantage; however, you may be limiting yourself to how far you can shoot an animal ethically, so you may have to bump up to an AR10/SR25 rifle. Unlike the AR15, the problem with AR10/SR25 rifles is they can be heavy unless you buy or build one specifically for hunting. The extra weight can wear on you if you walk a lot while hunting. There are lightweight versions made specifically for this purpose. Using an adjustable gas block, one can tune their rifle to use a lighter-weight bolt carrier group, the second heaviest part of an AR10/SR25 rifle. Also, seeking out other lightweight parts can shave off ounces, and every ounce adds up.

Warne makes a durable, lightweight one-piece mount called the XSKEL. This mount is stronger than it needs to be made of aircraft aluminum with steel inserts to hold the screws in place. This scope mount is the choice for many 3-gun shooters who abuse their rifles in competition, making it a perfect complement for a hunting AR.

AR10/SR25 rifles have a longer receiver and Picatinny rail, allowing traditional scope rings like Warnes aluminum Mountain Tech rings that can shave a few more ounces off over a slightly heavier one-piece cantilever mount. The Mountain Tech Rings were designed for hard backcountry hunting. 

lightweight scope rings for AR10 Stag-10 AR10 with Atibal 1-12 MPVO in Warne 35mm Scope Rings

Most, if not all, states have magazine capacity restrictions for big game hunting. Usually, they are five rounds or less. AR-style rifles were designed to work 20 and 30-round mags. Most states will allow blocks to be used in the magazine, restricting the magazines to 5 rounds. When buying 5-round magazines, check out the reviews and test them at the range. Check your magazine's reliability before taking them out hunting.

Hunting with a Bolt Action Rifle versus an AR15 or AR10

Another consideration of hunting with an AR15 or AR10/SR25 over a bolt action rifle is most bolt action rifles come with a longer barrel giving the bullet more velocity for less droppage and more down range energy. Granted there are longer barrels made for AR15/AR10 style rifles but that would be sacrificing some the portability by making it longer and heavier.

Bolt-action rifles come in a wider range of cartridges. Even though the AR15 and AR10 cover most of the most popular cartridges they do not cover them all so you might not be able to get one for your favorite hunting cartridge. 

Cambering a round is a lot quieter with a bolt action rifle. If you are a hunter who chambers a round when going into the woods to hunt, pushing the bolt release releasing the spring-loaded bolt carrier group on an AR-style rifle is loud enough to let all the critters within a hundred-yard radius know you are there. There is also the problem of the firing pin under inertia putting a dent in the primer and doing this too many times, you could end up with a dud at the most critical moment. What I do is before I insert the magazine, I put a cartridge in the chamber and manually bring the bolt down by holding the charging handle and close the bolt on the cartridge. Then I give the forward assist a good push to make sure the extractor locks and then insert the mag before going into the woods.

One thing to note with many bolt action rifles is if the barrel wears out or gets damaged it may be the end of the life of that rifle or expensive repair cost. Replacing a barrel on an AR15 or AR10 is simple enough that a lot of shooters can replace the barrel themselves in their own garage with only the cost a new barrel and few tools. 

Shot placement within effective range is everything.

It boils down to shot placement within the effective range of the cartridge being used. So, practice and use the right cartridge for the game you are hunting. AR-style rifles with a suited cartridge are very suited for hunting. Several advantages to their tactical and modular design make them a great choice for some hunters based on the terrain and the game they seek.