Why hunters are trading in traditional hunting rifles for the AR-15

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A happy hunter downs a buck with an AR-15. (Photo: Wing Tactical)

AR-15s have long been a symbol of the tactical world, but black rifles are slowly creeping their way past military and law enforcement applications and into the world of hunting. Touting more caliber options, efficiency and modularity, the versatile platform is transforming the way hunters down prey, but what’s causing hunters to ditch traditional rifle set-ups in favor of modern sporting rifles?

The biggest benefit to the AR, or modern sporting rifle, platform has always been its modularity. Unlike traditional bolt-action setups, gun owners can easily swap between an almost endless sea of uppers and lowers. This ability to trade in and out parts allows hunters to fine-tune their hunting platform to desired specifications.

This modularity is especially useful for hunters who routinely stalk various kinds of prey, utilizing an array of calibers to do it. While the most common chambering on the MSR lineup is undoubtedly .223/5.56, an increase in popular cartridges like .300 Blackout and 6.5 Creedmoor have pushed parts manufacturers to offer more uppers and barrels outside the 5.56 realm. This caliber modularity advantage elevated the AR-15s popularity in the hunting world, making it a viable contender against bolt-action.

Mark Grimsley, a hunter out of Kansas and owner of the Fit’n Fire YouTube channel told Guns.com in an interview that the AR-15’s vast array of caliber options is one of many reasons he chose an AR setup for hunts.

“One rifle can be easily converted in to several different variants that will allow you to choose the right caliber for your hunt,” Grimsley said. “Going coyote hunting on Monday, use your .223/5.56 upper. Going whitetail hunting Tuesday, switch to the .300 Blackout. Going Elk hunting on Wednesday, change your upper again to a 6.5 Grendel. All of those upper receivers can be used with the same type of lower which gives greater flexibility for the hunter and the AR platform.”

Grimsley, an 11-year U.S. Army veteran, also pointed to the AR-15s widespread familiarity as a reason some hunters, especially those coming from military and law enforcement backgrounds, are choosing modular sporting rifles.

“One of the main reasons that I started using an AR style rifle to hunt with was because it was so familiar to me,” Grimsley said. “I have been around the AR platform for about two decades now, between my father’s influence and my military time, and I have become extremely comfortable with its feedback, loading/unloading, placement of the safety, and remedial actions to clear malfunctions should there ever be any.”

Aside from modularity, hunters say the AR-15 offers a level of versatility unparalleled in the bolt-action universe. MSRs easy disassembly and reassembly procedure in addition to the advent of the collapsible stock grants hunters the ability to hike in several miles on foot with the gun carried stealthily and safely in a backpack. Hunters traipsing through fields in unrestricted states are also afforded the luxury of 30 round magazines which increase the number of shots a hunter can fire in a given time period while decreasing follow-up shot time. This can often mean the difference between taking a trophy and going home empty handed.

“I believe in one well-placed shot,” coyote hunter Greg Sodergren told Time Magazine of the AR-15. “(But) if you’ve got multiple animals or you miss, you’ve got a quick follow-up shot.”

In addition, the speed in which the AR cycles its bolt as compared to the manual cycling of a bolt-action means more potential shots on target or multiple shots effortlessly carried out on multiple targets.

“A semi-auto changed my life,” Eric Mayer, who runs AR15hunter.com, told Time Magazine. “I’m able to make the (shot) because I don’t have to run the bolt (and) lose the target in my scope.”

Despite its advantages, the AR-15 has had its swath of bad press, earning it a bad boy reputation among its fellow rifle peers.

“I feel that the AR has previously received a bad rap as far as it being used as a hunting rifle,” Grimsley said. “Because of its military inception, it has been seen as an under powered, military application rifle only. Not until recently, with the popularity of the newer rounds have people started to consider it as a viable option for hunting applications.”

Regardless of its reputation, loyalists to the MSR point to its efficiency as the number one reason ARs are enjoying such success on the shoulders of hunters.

“It’s the most capable tool for the job at this time,” Mayer said. “Bar none. Period. It is.”