The history of hunting firearms in the United States started in 1860 with the introduction of the Spencer rifle during the civil war. After the war, Spencer rifles were well know and wide spread and readily available. These elements set the stage for “military” rifles to become the hunting guns. This trend continued again in 1903 when Springfield bolt-action rifles were developed for WWI. At the conclusion of the conflict, these bolt-actions became the standard among hunting rifle and the .30-06 cartridge went on to become one of the most used hunting rounds in the world. Because of this trend of sportsmen adopting military style firearms, for hunting purposes, it should be no surprise that the AR-15 platform rifles (also known as Modern Sporting Rifles or MSRs) are slowly gaining momentum and acceptance within the hunting community.
The evolution of modern day firearms, like the AR-15, has occurred through our well developed and informed understanding about what truly makes a rifle great. First built by ArmaLite in 1959, as a small arms rifle for the US armed forces, the design was later sold to Colt who modified and redesigned the rifle, later selling it to the US military as the M16. In 1963, Colt started selling the semi-automatic version of the M16 for civilians under the name AR-15 and AR-15s even today, are refined versions of the original M16 design.
Since its introduction to civilian service, the AR-15 has inherited a slew of nicknames, being called, "America's Gun", “the Black Rifle”, “Automatic Rifle” and even “Assault Rifle”. Some have even called it the “Barbie Doll” or “Lego Set” for men due to the rifle’s impressive “modular” design allowing it to be customized in a wide variety of configurations. This flexibility has spawned a huge number of aftermarket modifications, available for installation with just a few simple tools and a limited technical knowledge.
The AR-15 platform continues to evolve to advance our understandings about what a modern day rifle should look like and how it should operate. “Out of the box”, AR-15s contains many advance features that put them light years ahead of other older firearm platforms. Perhaps most impressive is the rifles straight forward and ergonomic design that places the charging handle, safety, magazine release, and bolt assembly all readily accessible by the shooter. This allows for superior fast handling, quick shots, light recoil, rapid magazine changes and makes the AR-15 unequaled by any other semiautomatic design. The almost unlimited available personalizations, along with the rifles modern design, have made the AR-15 the most popular rifle in the United States, with an estimated four million in circulation.
So given the widespread distribution of the AR-15, across a vast section of the US population, why is it that the AR-15 platform has been so slow to be embraced by the hunting community. In this world where everyone wants to “update”, update to Blue Ray, update to plasma TV, update Apps, update to the new iPhone, why is it that as sportsmen we seem so unwilling to embrace the “update” available to our hunting arsenal? Part of this apprehension, to adopt the AR-15, as the next evolution of the modern day firearm, is based on the rocky road it has endured since its inception. Frequently attacked by politicians, the AR-15 has been painted by the media as a vile harbinger of death and destruction, a firearm having no place in civilized society. In part this “bad press” that has forced the AR-15 to the hunting “fridge”, viewed by many sportsmen as more of a passing fad then serious hunting tool. In surveys of AR-15 owners, across the US, it was determined that the number one reason for owning an AR-15 is self defense. The second major identified reason, for owning an AR-15, was for the pure enjoyment and participating in shooting sports and competitions.
I have to admit that the self defense capabilities inherent in the AR-15 are impressive. While defense was never my major reason for purchasing one, I can see how that would be attractive to a large section of the population, considering our societies current attraction to the “zombie apocalypse” and “doomsday” scenarios. While occasional trips to the range with friends can be entertaining, I am not interested in going to the range and firing off 1,000 rounds of ammunition, mostly because I am much too cheap but also because I find that practice boring. One can only reduce so many cans and bottles into small fragments before the need for a greater challenge emerges. I would much rather fine tune my skills at the range and then move on as quickly as possible to “live” fire targets like squirrels, ground hogs, coyotes, fox, bobcats and other small game animals.
Regardless of society’s perception, the AR-15 platform is, at its core, simply a semi-automatic rifle. Being a semi-automatic, the AR-15 fires lead down range at a rate closely matching the Browning BAR, Remington Woodsmaster 742 or Ruger Mini-14. The only difference, between each of these fine hunting firearms, being the AR-15s more modernized shooting platform and compact design. What most don’t realize is that compared to its more “antique” brethren, the AR-15 actually shares many of the same design elements only in a more updated and modern edition.
The AR-15 is a good hunting rifle because of its proven history as a durable, reliable, versatile and accurate firearm. Made to handle combat, AR-15s are constructed primarily of polymer and aluminum, which is tough and corrosion resistant. In addition, few rifles shoot better with most AR-15s capable of putting three shots within an inch apart at 100 yards. Since AR uppers and lowers are easily swapped, it is common to have multiple uppers for the same lower, now hunters have the ability to transform their favorite varmint rifle into a deer rifle in less than 30 seconds. The AR-15 is available in a wide selection of calibers, including my favorites, the flat shooting .223 for predators and heavy hitting .308 for everything else. These reasons makes the AR-15 worthy of serious consideration by sportsmen as a primary hunting firearm.