As the AR continues its steady march into the hands of a growing number of sportsmen and women, the platform’s ability to be readily customized to an individual’s personal preferences is a key attraction. These rifles are available in many different stock and caliber options, and can accept optics, lasers, lights and grips—though this can be overkill for many hunters. So what makes for the ideal “hunting” AR? The question sparks plenty of debate among serious modern rifle fans, and while nobody but you can decide what is ideal for your own hunting AR, here are some features that will make any rig spot on.
Manufacturers are working to meet the need to develop harder hitting chamberings for AR-15-sized modern rifles. Examples include Remington’s development of the .30 Remington AR, (a cartridge that has been slow to find an audience in the few short years of its existence), the development of the 6.5 mm Grendel, the 6.8 SPC and the more recent .300 AAC Blackout. Other deer-friendly cartridges available in some form of AR include the .243 and 7 mm-08. For smaller game, there is .204 Ruger and .17 Rem., and for bigger animals there is the .338 Fed. and even the beastly .450 Bushmaster. Pick your game, pick your caliber and roll.
Optics—Few hunters want to go it with the naked eye. Optics, either red dot or magnified simply aid in aiming, target acquisition and oftentimes, adequately viewing an animal at a distance or in low light. For most hunting, I like a variable scope, with a reticle, using ballistic compensating hash marks for distance and a lit aim point for better target lock-on. Even with perfect eyesight, magnified optics provide a better view into shadows or early morning and late evening situations when the light is low. If you’re a long-distance shooter or varminter using higher powered optics with larger bells at either end of the tube, be careful that the scope placement doesn’t interfere with the charging handle at the rear of the upper. A hunter may also want to mount flip-up sights or use see-through mounts with a low-profile fiber-optic front and rear open sight as a backup should a scope fog or suddenly be discovered “off,” but go with quality optics, keep it simple and you’ll be good. The only other exception is for dangerous game hunters, who may face both distant and extremely close must-make shots. In that situation, a front and side mounted laser sight or even 45-degree offset mounts on the upper with an open or ghost ring sight can allow accurate close-range shooting with a slight cant of the rifle.
Lights—A gun-mounted light is cool, and is certainly an aid in a tactical or home-defense situation, but unless you’re a raccoon hunter, calling predators or chasing hogs after hours, forego the tactical shiner. On a deer gun it’s going to make you look like you’re up to something you shouldn’t be, but on a nighttime predator or hog shoot, they’re a great tool. Mount one such as SureFire’s Scout Light to the side of the handguard and run a finger-operated momentary-on tape switch to a bottom mounted vertical grip or alongside the handguard.
Grips—While a vertical grip works great as an easy mount for the light switch, I’m not crazy about them for aiding my standard hunting/aiming grip. Some guys like them though. I recently read about where friend, fellow writer and SHWAT.com pro-staffer Brian McCombie was hunting hogs with a Daniel Defense M4V1 with a front vertical grip. He found it a great aid for steadying his shot from a box blind. That certainly could be the case and will work great in such hunts. However, if traversing thick brush is your norm, forego the grip, as it is one more thing to hang up on limbs and vines.
Also, watch out for too much rail. A lot of open rail, such as a tactical-inspired quad, that isn’t being covered with some useful furniture can really chew your hands during shooting. I like what Daniel Defense’s sister company, Ambush Firearms, is doing with their rifles. Ambush builds hunter-specific ARs that have a comfortable adjustable indexable foregrip to aid a hunter’s natural hold on the front of the rifle. The foregrip works in tandem with modular (typically meaning shorter) Picatinny rails that attach easily to the fore-end precisely where a hunter needs them to attach some other tool.