Guns > Muzzleloaders

Black Gun, Camo Heart

The AR-15 is evolving, and so is hunters’ view of it.

I remember too well the first time I used an AR-15 on a hunting trip. I was in Texas on a coyote hunt, and I spent a week of hell enduring smart-mouth remarks about my “Rambo” gun that stopped being funny by lunchtime of the first day. But that was a long time ago, and a lot has changed. I am betting my as-yet-unborn grandsons will grow up hunting with AR-15s because of what is happening today. Right now is the genesis of that future result.

Historically, most rifle designs come from the military side. That’s probably because that’s where the money is found for research and development. Even the lever-action first saw use during the waning months of the Civil War. The single-shot, bolt-action and semi-auto all started life as military guns, too. I suppose we might include the pump-action if we fudge a bit and allow that early pump-action shotguns were used by the military. The point is, they all went on to become popular civilian hunting guns. After every war, the guns used by our fighting forces found favor with soldiers when they came home and went back to life and deer hunting.

That is, until Vietnam. That was the conflict that introduced the AR-15. Well, theirs was the M-16 select fire with full auto capability, while the AR-15 is the semi-auto civilian version. But, until recently, the rifle never caught on with hunters.When our warriors came home from Southeast Asia they were the first generation to reject the rifle they used in war. I believe that’s because the Vietnam War was the first to become so controversial and political. Once Vietnam became a political swamp, our boys fought a war many citizens didn’t believe in, which tore this country to pieces. Those lucky enough to come home wanted it all behind them. I have a buddy who was drafted and served his tour of duty in Vietnam. Today he is a hard-core gun guy, a hunter, shooter, collector, gunsmith and reloader. But he wants nothing to do with “black guns.” When I show him one, he will not even touch it. Forty years later, the emotions are still that strong.

But the wars today are different. We have an all-volunteer fighting force, and warriors are coming home and buying the civilian versions of their fighting guns and they are taking them hunting.

Another big factor in why the AR didn’t catch on for hunting was the drive to ban “assault weapons,” which helped turn society’s thinking against these rifles. The media and politicians said they were evil guns because of how they looked, and far too many believed them. The stigma stuck and was part of why I took so much grief from other hunters during that Clinton-era coyote hunt in Texas. That stigma remains today, as I recently heard about a shooting industry group organizing a push to refer to the AR-15 as something more politically correct. We have never had a reason to apologize for any rifle, but the media and politicians have been so successful that even our side sometimes buys into the “assault rifle” lie.

That thinking spilled over into the hunting world, and over the years several prominent hunters have come out in opposition to the rifles, based on the media-developed stigma. During the Clinton years, before the Internet took off, these guys, including one well-known editor of a major hunting and fishing magazine, were virtually unnoticed. But a more recent blog by a big-name hunting celebrity ignited a firestorm on the Internet. He paid a high price for that article, but it brought awareness of the rifles to the forefront and ignited a revolution that was primed and ready. The result brought the AR-15 rifle into acceptance in the hunting fields today.

This is a complicated issue with plenty of sub-plots and underlying issues that were all on a path of convergence. For example, for a long time the AR-15 suffered from the Henry Ford approach to product development. You could have any color you wanted, as long as it was black. You also could have any cartridge you wanted, as long as it was .223 Remington. There were always a few hard-core hunters who recognized the value of these guns, mostly for predator and varmint hunting. But with the media demonizing them and society a bit frightened by their looks, plus the lack of diversity in products, the AR-15 just didn’t excite mainstream hunters.But then it started to change, and the trickle-down effect kicked in as a catalyst for more change. A new generation came home from war and bought the rifles. At the same time, changing political power made a lot of other people buy black guns who might not have otherwise done so. When President Obama kicked off his “guns and ammo sales stimulus plan” on Nov. 4, 2008, sales of AR-15s shot into the stratosphere.Now many are realizing what they’ve been missing. That’s caught the attention of manufacturers of ARs, and they have started ramping up the drive to add guns that look less military and cartridges better suited for hunting.

Now “black rifles” come in camo and other colors.The rifle designs evolved, too, with longer barrels, lighter weight, better triggers and other changes directed at hunters. What’s more, hunting versions usually lack some of the more common AR features like a collapsible stock, a bayonet stud, a flash hider on the muzzle or the A2-style front sight on the gas block. But what really kicked this trend into overdrive was when Remington announced its R-15 rifle in 2008. Now, with the power, gravitas and visibility of America’s largest gun company behind it, the AR-15 has arrived as a hunting rifle.

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17 Responses to Black Gun, Camo Heart

Ron wrote:
January 07, 2014

I grew up with guns. My first high power rifle was a $13 British 303 to shoot deer with. for 50+ years I have shot a Remington 700 in 30-06. I also own a 243, a 270, a 7400 in 30-06 and a few 223s like an AR15 and a SU16. I would shoot a deer with any of them. Hopefully all deer will fall dead with one shot but sometime they don 't even when they should with any sized bullet. anyone who doesn't believe that hasn't shot enough of them yet. The Second Amendment isn't a hunting license. It is a political recognition of my right to be armed for combat.

Odin wrote:
February 06, 2013

Not to sound like a jerk but I HAVE hunted with several carbines including an AR-15, but I was always taught that regardless of what you are carrying you should NEVER need more than a single shot. The diffrence between a bolt action rifle and this at least for me is really the mag, 30 rds of 5.56 or 7.62 makes you feel alot safer when you are hunting deer and you notice a bear down the trail even more so for me because I don't use a blind and generally like to hunt on the ground.

Jeff wrote:
January 11, 2013

I love hunting with my DPMS .308. Its the most practical and humane way to make a follow up shot or take down multiple big game humanely if needed. I wont ever go back to a shotgun again. I'm spoiled now with the effectiveness of this tool. I live in NY so 5rd mags must be used contrary to Cuomos statement during the state of the state, but that's not a problem.

Jingle wrote:
January 10, 2013

Maryland, Sorry for any confusion but the above article is written about the acceptance of the ar15 for "hunting" I didn't think this was a debate about gun laws? Maybe we can keep on topic?

Maryland_Shooter wrote:
January 08, 2013

The 2nd Amendment has NOTHING to do with hunting. It's the Bill of Rights, not the bill of needs. Get a clue!

Jingle wrote:
January 07, 2013

doshel, with all due respect I never said or implied that we shouldn't have the right to own an ar15 if thats what floats your boat... I simply stated, hunting with a ar15 is a bit silly..IMO The key here is "hunting" not target shooting! Common sense and respect are just two things that I feel some lack when out in the woods hunting.. Again, to shoot at a coyote 8 times with tracer rounds out of an ar15 is just plain ignorant IMO, pure lack of respect for the animal. So to bunch me in with the "typical" is so typical of a blog comment, to each his/her own. I completely stand behind "the right to bear arms" So don't get confused Sergeant Sir!

doshei wrote:
January 06, 2013

I hunt quail with high end Beretta two 20ga. I shoot long range precision with a $12,000 all in Accuracy International setup. I shoot handgun with two Beretta Model 92s, two custom 1911s, two Glocks (a 17 and a 22). I also have a SCAR 17, a SCAR 16 an M4 clone and an LWRC M6A2 SPR. I was also a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant. on the whole I would say I am more into shooting and hunting than average. Chris and Jingle reflect the typical "I'm a hunter not a shooter" attitude. Thanks Chris for feeding the gun grabbers at Slate. Are you comfortable being the poster child for taking away the rights of others?

Creeping Incrementalism wrote:
January 04, 2013

Chris has been quoted by Slate in an article pushing for the new semi-auto ban, not just for hunting, but for all purposes.

Gerald wrote:
January 04, 2013

@Chris "These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors, they intimidate other hunters and society as a whole as they want to look aggressive and al a Rambo and that is the problem…." They also contribute the lion's share of Pittman-Robertson taxes that help to keep public land open to hunting and shooting. Without them, hunting would be an exclusively wealthy man's hobby.

reader wrote:
December 22, 2012

The AR in AR-15 stands for Armalite Rifle, the original maker of the gun.

RgB wrote:
December 22, 2012

but the media and politicians have been so successful that even our side sometimes buys into the “assault rifle” lie. I'm a hunter and do not own an AR-15. How can you say the media has perpetuated the assault rifle lie. What does the AR stand for in AR-15

Big Pap wrote:
December 22, 2012

I must say I love my AR15 and my Flintlock,but when I was in Africa my choise was my Hoyt Carbine Extreme 65lb draw with 80% letoff. I took my Bless Buck at 60yrds and eberything I shoot was with my bow. So there you go to each his/her own don't knock it till you try it you may find a new sport. Just say-in Big Pap

Jingle wrote:
December 08, 2012

Pretty strong opinions from "Chris" But in all honesty I have to agree with him to a degree. AR15's and the likes of are for war not hunting! Hunt with a single shot break barrel action and take pride in the fact that you are a dying breed of people. I've seen video's on youtube that make me laugh, watching some dude blast off about 8 rounds with tracers out of an AR15 at a running coyote as if its a war going on, lol.. lame! Fair enough we all like toys and I don't feel its wrong to want to own a AR15 for the sake of our rights and to each his/her own, but to hunt with one is silly IMO... Maybe I'm just getting old? I do like me a beautiful walnut stock and blued barrel on a bolt or handi rifle. When I was growing up and would walk into gun shops you were hard pressed to see any assault/target black rifles etc, now that is all you see with a tiny section of traditional wood stocks. Bottom line is, as we evolve things change and you either accept it or ignore it!

Paul wrote:
October 23, 2012

@Chris 3/4/2012 8:34:16 AM "To each their own..." Apparently not then. Your tirade is elitist and you consider none but yourself in your shallow troglodyte-style rant. Firearms enthusiasts be they hunters or sportsmen of other types already have a common opponent. Divide us and we will all loose. I hunt with an AR and object to the narrow portrait you painted of me. It appears I have higher standards than you. Think before you again bite the hand that feeds you. To each their own indeed!

Jrsp wrote:
September 27, 2012

I agree with your post. It's along the same debate as silencers / suppressors. Movies portray them as assassinating someone but the main function is to suppress sound. How many grandfathers who have fought in the world wars have lost hearing? They scream what?! Come again!? Guns are loud and suppressors do what they are designed to do. I understand guns are weapons and I enjoy going to the range to test my marksmanship. Problem is anti gun people who have never shot a firearm in their life have to but in and make bias comments about guns. Criminals will always be able to obtain guns and what are the innocent civilians going to do to defend their family, a baseball bat? Even if there was a firearms ban, criminals will still get guns some way some how. Shooting is a sport just like NASCAR is a sport. Millions of Americans drive wrecklessly every day but don't realize their car is a bigger weapon than an AR15. Alcohol has had more related deaths than firearms... Anti gun people should go try and shoot a firearm. I bet they will miss the paper at 7 yards. They need to stop messing around with our amendment rights. I tell anti gun people, and what if they ban freedom of speech?

Mike wrote:
September 02, 2012

Good for you Chris, its pretty rare when you run into a guy that goes into the bush all buy himself and hunts DG with just a flintlock and a homemade knife!Keep up the good work!

Chris wrote:
March 04, 2012

To each their own, as a DG hunter in Africa, I love the nostalgia of the large calibre old school hunting rifles so do most of my colleagues. No dougt some idiot will one day try to chamber an AR in 458 Lott, determined to do away with all bolt actions in favour for being paid to promote the "AR Dangerous Game rifle", thankfully most serious hunters in the DG world know that with an AR you can "tell its from mattel" we still appreciate the history of the hunters who came before us. We could wear an tricked out kydex sheath with a combat knife, but we CHOOSE to wear old leather sheaths with traditional hand made knives, I wont have isuses if you want to hunt with AR's. youre choice. I do have issues with the hunting magazine, corporate crowd that wants to push this garbage on ALL hunters, and see the doing away with beautiful and traditional bolt action rifles the same way IPAD geeks want to do away with the printed book. I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. I see more men running around the bush all cammo'd up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR's. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors, they intimidate other hunters and society as a whole as they want to look aggressive and al a Rambo and that is the problem….the public sees anti-social nutjobs rather than socially responsible hunters...