Gun Control Myth: The AR-15 is Not Actually a Hunting Rifle

The AR-15 rifle has been the subject of extreme controversy and national debate in recent weeks.

Many gun control advocates such as CNN's Piers Morgan, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Former President Bill Clinton, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — whose proposed gun legislation would ban all AR-15's regardless of configuration — have argued that AR-15's are not hunting rifles, and should face significant gun control legislation. This contention is one that stems from ignorance or willful disregard for the facts. In reality, AR-15's make excellent hunting rifles and are normally used for that purpose. They are configurable via a separate upper and lower part that make it possible for the user to configure the rifle for various types of bullet cartridges. Depending on what game is being hunted, and what bullet the rifle is configured to fire, virtually all AR-15 rifles are useful for hunting.

The confusion may arise from the fact that the AR-15 rifle is what some gun enthusiasts refer to as a “platform,” which means it has modular components that can be swapped out. Rifles have what is referred to as a receiver. The receiver is the part of a firearm that houses the operating parts, like the trigger and firing bolt. AR-15 rifles have two major parts to the receiver, called an upper and a lower; the "upper" part can be changed on the same rifle. So while many AR-15's are chambered for .223 (5.56 metric), they can also be chambered for .204 Ruger, 5.7x28, .243 WIN, .260 REM, 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.8SPC, 7mm, .30 REM, 7.62x39, .308, .338 Lapua, .338 Federal, .450 Bushmaster, .458, .50 Beowulf, .50 BMG and even 9mm, .40 and .45ACP handgun cartridges.

The AR-15 platform is known for its accuracy, especially over longer distances. For some types of hunting, this characteristic is particularly useful for successful hunts. Each bullet type has varying effective ranges. The .223 is effective from 400-600 meters. An AR-15 chambered in .308 has an effective range to about 800 meters; .338 Lapua's effective range is about 1500 meters; and .50 BMG has the range of about one mile.

How useful are these various kinds of AR-15's for hunting? Well, Piers Morgan's claim that you wouldn't hunt a deer with one is only sometimes true — if, and only if, you are talking about .223 chambered AR-15's, and more critically, depending on where you live. In many states — but not all — it's not legal to hunt deer with this round because some believe the round isn't powerful enough to kill a deer, but just badly wound it. But some states allow deer hunting with .223 bullets for a variety of reasons and differing circumstances. At any rate, a .223 is perfect for small-game hunting, like coyote, fox, prairie dog, or other similar small-sized game. This is also sometimes referred to varmint hunting and many AR-15's are designed and marketed specifically as varmint hunting rifles. These typically have longer barrels to give the bullet better accuracy at the longer ranges typically involved when hunting this kind of game.

Besides small game and varmint hunting, larger-sized game can be adequately hunted with larger-sized bullet chambering. Boar hunters often use 6.8SPC or .308 bullets. Deer or Elk hunters may choose a .308 or .338 Lapua for large game hunting. Some hunters even hunt black bear with .338 Federal. The designers of .458 claim that it will stop or seriously impair anything that moves. Likewise, .50 BMG is an extremely powerful round, capable of taking out vehicles if fired into an engine block, and is quite suitable for large or dangerous game (think Safari hunting).

All AR-15's are useful for hunting some kind of game. AR-15's are capable of having the upper receiver changed so the user can hunt different kinds of game with the same rifle. So depending on what one wishes to hunt for, from prairie dogs and coyotes to water buffalo, and deer and elk in-between, AR-15's do in fact make excellent hunting rifles.