Today’s AR-style rifles are different in design than bolt-action or even other semi-automatic hunting rifles. Although the basic function of the semi-automatic design is the same, the layout of the rifle is different. There is a bit of a learning curve associated with new hunters using AR-type rifles.
Once you understand the gun’s characteristics, it’s not a problem. Perhaps it is even an asset, as long shots are more common than extremely close opportunities when hunting.
The guns can also be a little noisy if they are bumping against a metal pack frame or if the sling swivels are clicking on the fore-end. Again, a little duct tape and ingenuity can solve the problem. I should note that the same problems are pretty common with any other style of hunting rifle; they are all noisy when they click against a pack frame. The difference here is that my beautiful walnut stock is not getting gouged as it did recently on a backpack hunt with a bolt-action rifle.
Some complain that the safety on an AR-type rifle is too loud and, to be honest, I believe they have a point. The safety is designed to use a strong detent spring and to click solidly into the “safe” or “fire” positions. This ensures reliability and the audible confirmation can be important in some tactical situations. But a noisy safety is a bad thing while hunting. As with any safety, the technique used to push it on or off makes a difference. Putting pressure on the safety lever as you move it can quiet it down. I just did an informal check of 16 different AR-type rifles from six different manufacturers to see how well this works. On all but four rifles it was possible to manipulate the safety to allow it to go into the “fire” position silently, or nearly silently. Of the four rifles that failed, three were from the same manufacturer. The odd thing is that I did this same test with 16 different bolt-action rifles with about the same results; three rifles were noisy no matter what I did. But, even if you have a noisy safety on a bolt-action or an AR, odds are a good gunsmith can quiet it down for you without much of an investment.
I checked with one AR maker, and he told me that taking some tension out of the detent spring and polishing some parts will usually solve the problem. For a good AR gunsmith, that’s about 30 minutes’ work.
One other issue that an AR-type or any other semi-automatic rifle will have is that they are a bit noisy to load. The bolt should be allowed to slam shut when loading the first cartridge to ensure the gun goes into battery. If you hunt with a guide who insists that you chamber a round only when you spot the game, this could be a problem.
But, the pros far outweigh the cons if you ask me. The removable box magazine is a notable convenience. If you are doing a lot of getting in and out of vehicles, such as when calling predators, it makes loading and unloading the rifle simple. For the big-game hunter, an extra loaded magazine in a pocket provides a fast reload. Where it’s legal, the ability to use a higher-capacity magazine is helpful, for example, when shooting prairie dogs. If you pre-load a bunch of higher-capacity magazines you will get in a lot more shooting than your buddy who is loading his bolt-action again and again.
The pistol grip design is another advantage for some hunting situations. For example, when calling predators it is a smart policy to keep the rifle up and ready. Sitting with the gun on your knee or on a bi-pod, (which is easy to do with the round fore-ends of AR rifles) and the stock on your shoulder can tire your trigger hand with a conventional stock design. The pistol grip puts the hand in a more natural position and reduces hand fatigue. It may sound trivial here, but after a long day of coyote hunting it is anything but. The pistol grip also provides a handle for an alternative way to carry a shorter-barreled rifle.
Speaking of predator hunting, I have seen some elaborate and odd systems to mount a light on a bolt-action rifle for hunting at night. But, with an AR, you simply attach it to a rail mount. Most AR-type rifles have several locations either with a rail or designed to add a rail. These rails offer lots of options including said flashlight, secondary sighting options, extra ammunition and just about anything else you would wish to attach to the rifle. They also provide the option of quickly switching scopes. More than once I have seen a hunt ruined by a damaged scope. It takes less than a minute to switch to another pre-zeroed scope and you are back in the hunt.
If you are like me and hunt a lot in the north where it’s cold during predator hunting season, the adjustable buttstock that is a common option on AR-type rifles is a great addition. With short arms and thick shoulders I find it hard to shoot with a full-length stock and enough clothing to keep me warm in a sub-zero wind. But, by shortening the length of pull with the adjustable stock, things are cool again. (Pun intended.)
Finally, I see two more big reasons to use these rifles for hunting. One is that they are fun. I have always been attracted to guns that are a “little different,” and with an AR-style rifle you can be the guy in camp with something on the cutting edge. The second and more serious reason is to make a statement to misguided politicians—who would take these rifles away from us—that they are wrong.
There are no bad guns, only bad people.
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