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Guns & Loads

The AR for Deer Hunting?

by Dick Metcalf   |  April 30th, 2012 1

Samantha Simonton favors her AR-platform gun -- in this case a Bushmaster lower and a DPMS upper in 6.8 Remington SPC -- over her bolt-action guns because of its pistol grip, adjustable stock and manual safety convenient to her thumb position. Photo by J. Guthrie.

Who would ever want to hunt whitetails with a “black gun?” After all, no deer hunter — or waterfowler or upland bird shooter or squirrel or rabbit hunter — really wants to hunt with a shotgun or rifle having a non-reflective matte black finish or black synthetic stock, right? They all prefer bright-polish blued or stainless actions and barrels and highly reflective, glossy, lacquered wood stocks. Don’t they?

Semiautos? Come on. Who needs them? That’s why you never see any “real” waterfowlers or upland bird shooters using semiautomatic shotguns like a Remington 1100 or 1187, or a Benelli Super Black Eagle, or the new Browning Maxus. Or small-game hunters using Ruger 10/22 semiauto rifles. Or whitetail hunters using rifles like the Remington Model 742 and Model 7400, or a Browning BAR.

And then there’s that magazine capacity thing. Why would anybody want a hunting gun that has the capacity for more than two follow-up shots? Federal and state hunting regulations already limit magazine capacity for hunting with many types of arms. That’s why shotguns come with magazine tube plugs. States that allow semiauto firearms for big game already restrict the number of rounds that can be loaded in them.

I don’t know why shotgun and rifle makers don’t just quit making hunting models that will hold more than two rounds in their magazines in the first place. Can’t they take a hint? I guess it’s because they figure that just because a gun can hold more than 2+1 rounds doesn’t mean that a hunter will load more than three rounds. But hunters can’t be trusted. So we ought to just outlaw high-capacity magazines entirely.

Okay, I’m being ridiculous.

The real reason that there has been so much resistance and opposition in recent years from established, long-time whitetail hunters to the growing use of AR-platform rifles in the deer woods is not because they’re black. And it’s not because they’re semiautos. And it’s not because you can put magazines into them that hold more than three or four rounds, if you want (regardless of what the hunting laws might say). It’s because AR-15 and AR-10 rifles just don’t look like these hunters think a deer rifle ought to look. It doesn’t look like the kind of deer rifle they grew up with and have been accustomed to using thus far in their lives.

It looks like a “military” gun.

There is nothing really new about any of this.

Virtually every type of centerfire hunting and sporting rifle in existence started off as a military weapon. The classic lever-action deer gun, long the most popular type of hunting rifle in America, began as the Henry Rifle of the Civil War era, designed to bring rapid fire against the enemy. The lever-action was succeeded in universal popularity by the bolt-action, still the standard hunting rifle of today, which we owe to Paul Mauser’s classic battle-rifle design. Does anybody out there still remember the converted surplus “Sporterized Mausers” that were the most economical route to a good hunting gun for most ordinary shooters from the 1920s to well into the 1950s?

Now another military-origin rifle design is moving rapidly into prominence in the hunting and sport shooting word. And, like those predecessors, the AR platform is meeting resistance, even outright opposition, from many hunters who are personally wedded to earlier gun designs.

That should not come as a surprise. When the lever-action first emerged among hunters, traditionalists whose idea of a “real” hunting gun was a single-shot muzzleloader disdained the need for a repeat-fire tool.

First-generation bolt-action military surplus rifles were also disparaged by many sportsmen as “inappropriate” for hunting.

The AR design has encountered the same resistance, in spite of the fact its proven capabilities have already made it the rifle of choice for National Championship high-power rifle competition. Serious long-range varmint and predator shooters were perhaps the first group of hunters to really catch on to its benefits, but it is rapidly spreading into big-game hunting and the deer-hunting arena as well.

Fact is, continuing surveys by the National Shooting Sports Foundation emphatically demonstrate that semiauto AR-platform rifles are well on their way to becoming the most popular type of centerfire long guns in America for everything from casual recreation to serious competition to home defense to big-game hunting, with rimfire versions now joining this wave in increasing numbers. The AR rifle is a deer rifle, and anyone who says different simply doesn’t understand history.

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