Guns > Rifles

Outfitting Your AR For Hunting

Turn today’s modern sporting rifle into the ultimate hunting rig.


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.

Stock Options
When researching my book, the “Shooter’s Bible Guide to AR-15s,” I interviewed a lot of tactical rifle shooters, from current and former soldiers to competitive shooters and hunters. One thing I learned is that when one guy swore “this” was the way to go, another would say “no way.” Disagreement even extended to something as simple as the buttstock. The AR’s original design, when it first saw service in the form of the M16, included a fixed buttstock, much different from the more prevalent six-position collapsible stock common to today’s M4. Some ARs are designed with the hunter in mind, such as the Mossberg MMR Hunter, and have fixed stocks for a more solid cheek weld during precise shooting. Some even say that the fixed stock is lighter and quieter than the six-position adjustable stock that is so popular with shooters. Even though the collapsible stock is designed with tactical battle applications in mind—a situation I honestly hope I never find myself in—I still like the design for hunters. The collapsible stock makes for a more compact profile when working through thick brush, climbing in a blind and for storage, and it provides a more comfortable and adjustable length of pull depending on how thick your clothing during warm and cold weather. When hunting with a young shooter, you can also adjust the length of pull for the smaller stature hunter and then slide it back out when it is your turn to shoot.

While the small, but accurate, .223 is deadly on coyotes, smaller varmints and even hogs with a properly placed shot, it falls short (and in some cases is outright illegal) for use on larger game such as whitetails. The AR-10, the AR-15’s older cousin and original variation, is typically chambered in the long-shooting, ample hitting .308, and certainly a more formidable whitetail cartridge. The trade-off? The AR-10 is often heavier (typically by 3 to 4 pounds), larger and somewhat clunkier than the preferred compactness of the AR-15.

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.

Rails seem to be what everyone loves about the AR. Most uppers come with a Picatinny rail, full length or partial, for the ready mounting of optics, as well as rails down the fore-end that can be found along the top, bottom and even sides. There are full-length rails and partial rails. There are even quad rails that provide the shooter with four planes of attachment surrounding the barrel and allow all manner of attachments (I’ve even seen a bottle opener). But keep in mind, all of this cool stuff adds weight, and more weight is typically what a hunter bound for a distant stand or stalk doesn’t want. Hopefully, you’ll have enough of it on the way out when you’re toting or dragging your game. So let’s look at the essentials.

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 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.

The most common barrel-end attachment will be a muzzle brake, which helps tame muzzle flip for faster follow-up shots. Remember, if shooting a smaller caliber, even the .223, recoil is going to be comparatively modest to heavier hitting calibers or shotguns. A muzzle brake also increases shot noise, particularly behind you and to either side, so if most of your shooting will be done with other hunters at your flank, the benefits of the muzzle brake may be negligible, other than helping protect the crown of the muzzle. Suppressors, where legal (and they are in 37 states), are a better option as, depending on their design, some control recoil and flash but all reduce the noise signature of each shot, keeping game more at ease should a follow-up be required. This reduces pressure on the area through reduced sound and also spares your fellow hunters’ from having to hear every shot. Suppressors can add ounces to the end of your rifle barrel, but no so much that it should affect your aim.

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9 Responses to Outfitting Your AR For Hunting

Greg wrote:
January 06, 2013

Yeah John The 6.8 uses the 270 bullet...but I would like heavier .270 bullets in 6.8

Ben wrote:
December 22, 2012

I kill deer and hogs all day long with my ar-15, I just use the right kind of ammo to get the job done nicely. I use 79gr. DRT ammo (great ammo, look them up) and have never had a deer go more than 30 yds. Every hog I shoot drops on the spot when hit in the lungs.

Jim Fusie wrote:
December 18, 2012

Looking for AR 15 platform,that converts from 12 ga. to high power hunting rifle.Please Help JNF.

Richard Wince wrote:
December 17, 2012

Love my 300Blackout! Still trying to find ideal ideal ammunition/load for white tails. Any one best cartridge?

NRA Outdoors wrote:
November 10, 2012

Cody is right 6.5 Grendal is awesome, just hard to get ammo for.

Cody wrote:
October 22, 2012

6.5 Grendel..140 Grain Hornady A-Max bullet....Knocks a deer down in its steps, all with the AR platform.

john wrote:
October 22, 2012

The 6.8 uses the 270 bullet

Bruce wrote:
October 17, 2012

Would be nice if the RA platform was chambered in a common mid to large size game caliber like .270. Great for mule deer and elk if placed right

jack ashe wrote:
October 15, 2012

no mention of the 458 socom???