D.S. Pledger: AR rifles gain popularity among modern hunters
The picture got your attention, didn't it?
The sight of a scary, all-black rifle with a big magazine that everyone likes to call an assault rifle always raises eyebrows.
While the fully automatic version of the true assault rifle (which is not available to the general public) is used in combat, the civilian form, the AR-15, is the shape of things to come in the sport-shooting and hunting world.
Think of the compound bow. There is very little resemblance between today's bow—with its wheels, pulleys and cables—and the simple stick-and-string bow it replaced. Indeed this radical redo of the traditional bow four decades ago has all but replaced its forbearer. The AR platform might not completely eclipse the traditional sporting rifle, but the fact that such weapons are now referred to as MSRs (modern sporting rifles) reflects their growing popularity.
The civilian shooters often take their cues from the military. After World War II, there was a huge bump in the sales of the 30-06—America's main military round of that conflict.
Seven decades later the 06 is probably the most ubiquitous cartridge among hunters today. Likewise, the military's .45 caliber model 1911 sidearm continues to be arguably the most used handgun among serious target shooters. It's not surprising, then, that another military-style weapon should be finding a permanent place with civilians.
A few facts you might not know about AR-style rifles:
1.“AR” stands for neither “assault rifle” nor “automatic rifle.” The acronym stands for Armalite, the name of the company that designed it. Armalite sold its patent and now dozens of gunmakers turn out their own versions.
2. Part of the interest in these firearms is that unlike traditional arms that require a gunsmith's skills to modify, the AR platform is modular and easily customized to fit the owner's needs. Just about every part of the gun can be replaced without refitting or drilling anything. This is true even between different manufacturers.
3. While the rifles were first chambered in only two military calibers (5.56 mm and 7.62 mm), they can now be had in a growing number of popular sporting rounds. Some of the barrels and chamberings are interchangeable. By simply popping two pins and replacing the upper unit on your rifle, you can go from a deer cartridge such as the .308 to an elk round such as the .338 Federal.
4. The old rap on semi-auto rifles was that they were inaccurate. This has changed dramatically with the MSR, and today's well-tuned AR-type can compete with the most accurate bolt guns.
5. Civilian users of the AR usually stick with low-capacity magazines. Firepower is not needed when hunting (unless you're a lousy shot) and the higher the number of rounds the magazine holds, the greater the chances are of malfunction. Big magazines also make the rifle heavier and clumsier to handle.
6: The AR-15 platform is both rugged and dependable, and in the unlikely event that anything does go wrong, it can be taken apart and usually be fixed in the field.
7. ARs are lightweight and have excellent all-around ergonomics to make for easier carrying and more accurate shooting for both hunting and competition. The stock is fully and instantly adjustable without tools, allowing the rifle to fit any size shooter.
Traditionalists still might scratch their heads when they see a deer hunter toting an AR-style rifle, but it's a sight that is becoming more prevalent each fall. I'll admit to being a little put off by those black rifles initially. In fact, I believe I wrote a column a number of years ago questioning why in the world anyone would use a military-style rifle for any kind of hunting. Times have changed, though. Today they're becoming mainstream—and for a lot of sound reasons.
D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.