Hunting with an AR-15: Legality, Best Calibers, & More!

How to Hunt with an AR-15
September 28, 2021 Edited September 18, 2023 20980 view(s)
Hunting with an AR-15: Legality, Best Calibers, & More!

Reliability, accuracy and agility make today’s modern sporting rifle a solid choice for home defense, informal firing-line fun, action shooting sports and other competition. Hunting with an AR-15 harnesses those same soft-shooting and semi-automatic virtues, and more sportsmen than ever before at putting those assets to work on opening day. Here’s a look at how, and why, that nimble handling platform should be your companion this fall.

There’s no denying bolt-action rifles still dominate most seasons that require a centerfire, but the pendulum is quickly swinging. Many claim veterans returning to the sport—fresh out of uniform and intimately familiar with the nearly identical operation of their issued M4s—are fueling that trend. The volume of hunters too young to have served and older enthusiasts now regularly hunting with an AR-15, however, indicate there’s more to the trend. Regardless of the catalyst, more people than ever before recognize the reduced weight, performance, reliability and adaptability are valuable assets on the range, at home and in their blinds.

AR Hunter


Advantages of Hunting with an AR-15

It's Cheaper

Pressing that home-defense or competition modern sporting rifle into hunting duty makes sound financial sense. Why own a separate firearm when the AR-15 you already have—or are considering purchasing—performs both missions with enviable dexterity.


It's Modular

Reconfiguring a home-defense AR-15 for opening day is fast, easy and takes minimal effort. Flashlights and lasers take seconds to remove and attaching a bipod is equally effortless. Reverse the process when the hunt is over and it’s ready for guard duty by the time you’re home. That benefit, of course, hinges on your rifle having MLOK rails in all the right positions—like these AR-15 rifles offered by Bear Creek Arsenal.


It's Familiar

Perhaps the biggest advantage, though, is familiarity. You’ve practiced, plinked and competed with that gun throughout the year. You know how it performs, operation is intuitive and you’ve developed the muscle memory to work the trigger smoothly for precision. That confidence pays big dividends when it comes time to fill a tag, and more comforting than refamiliarizing yourself with that bolt action that collected dust for the past 11 months.


It's Easy

You may want to mount a higher-power scope on that AR-15 upper, but that upper receiver rail minimizes effort. Getting the gun on target takes about the same time as you would invest in checking zero on another, rarely used rifle. Keep backup sights mounted, if possible. The quarry we pursue have a habit of appearing up close, unexpectedly, where it’s almost impossible to located with a high-powered optic before it vanishes. Those “irons” will get you on target, fast—another modern sporting rifle advantage.


Ammo is Widely Available

The popularity of 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem. ammunition also increases the availability of appropriate loads and the odds are it’ll be less expensive. Compared to the 7 mm Rem. Mag. load I once preferred, it’s a downright bargain and nearly always on the shelf.


Acceptance: Will People Look at Me Weird?

Many firearm owners were somewhat skeptical about AR-15s when they were first growing in popularity, but today it’s widely accepted as America’s favorite rifle. It’s a rare range that doesn’t have several on the firing line.

My attendance at a pair of hunter safety courses put that change on full display. Years ago I attended one in North Carolina with my very young grandsons. The volunteer instructor asked everyone to state their name, what and where they were going to hunt that fall and the gun or bow they would use. A college student from out of state, with a full baseball scholarship as it turned out, said he was going after deer with his AR-15—legal in the state. There was an uncomfortably long pause followed by advice to, “Keep the gun in its case until you’re in the blind—some people don’t like those things.” Perhaps it was my age, but the response wasn’t the same when I answered elk, Colorado with an AR-10 in 7.62 NATO. The grandkids still laugh at the exchange.

I suspected the atmosphere would be the same when I chauffeured the youngest grandson to his class two years ago. Rather than commuting back and forth I monitored from the back of the room. This time there were ARs on the table each attendee had to safely handle. There was no urge to keep their presence discrete and advice about their operation and application was dispensed and accurate.

You will not be alone if you go hunting with an AR-15, but there are some considerations. First and foremost is to ensure you are in 100-percent compliance with regulations.

Hunting with An AR-15 State Map


Is it Legal to Hunt with an AR?

In this day and age this sounds strange, but you need to determine if the use of a semi-automatic rifle is legal in your area. There are some sportsmen and states that frown the practice. Pennsylvania, for example, considered allowing them afield during the 2019-2020 big game season, but has yet to modify its regulations. Check if you live in such a restrictive region, or if your club or lease has a similar rule. The restriction is a rarity, but worth confirming rather than risking a citation and fine. [Find your state's hunting laws here!]


5.56/.223 Hunting Legality

The vast majority of AR-15s owned today are chambered in 5.56 NATO or .223 Rem. It is not legal in some states to take big game with those cartridges. That’s changing quickly, thanks to improved bullet performance, increased popularity and the above-mentioned acceptance by game and fish biologists. Check a current set of regulations before heading afield and, if in doubt, contact a state wildlife office.

When it comes to predators, fur bearers, varmints and small game, nearly every state in the nation allows the use of 5.56 NATO- and .223 Rem.-chambered AR-15s. In fact, the platform and cartridges have likely eradicated more destructive prairie dog towns out west than any other. The soft-shooting rifles reach distances with an accuracy that defies most rimfires, and doesn’t put the kind of strain on an ammo budget other centerfires do.

The fast-paced action of predator pursuit is another place hunting with an AR-15 shines. Those coyotes often require a nimble gun and that describes the modern sporting rifle perfectly. The minimal recoil makes follow-up shots fast and the gun provides enough accuracy song dogs hanging up at 200 to 300 yards—beyond with practice—are in range.

The 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington cartridge is not a great choice for rabbit, squirrel or other small game if putting food on the table is the goal. Rimfires or shotguns do yeoman work there, and the ammunition is usually less expensive than centerfire.


Magazine Capacity

Regulations may also limit magazine capacity. That varies widely, although most regions with a rule allow no more than five rounds. There’s no shortage of aftermarket versions in that size, in a wide variety of cartridge choices. Order before the season opens to ensure it functions properly, though. Many state-compliant or hunting-specific ARs ship with them and it’s common to find them offered by those manufacturers as an accessory.


Other AR-15 Calibers

AR-15s chambered in 5.56 NATO or .223 Rem. are not legal for the pursuit of big game everywhere, but that plays right into another AR-15 asset—the fact that with a change of the upper receiver the gun can run a bigger-bore cartridge. The lower, along with its trigger, safety, pistol grip and even stock stay the same. It’s, once again, like having two guns in a single, familiar one.

There’s no shortage of chamberings available and different models, some of them exotic, come out every year. A trio of the most popular choices today include the svelte 6.5 Grendel, .300 Blackout and even .50 Beowulf. The latter is big enough to put down a black bear with proper shot placement. Keep in mind, however, the AR-15 isn’t renowned for delivering enough downrange energy to ethically take big game when distances start to stretch.

Practice is required, regardless of choice, along with knowledge of the ballistics. For the brushy and up-close hunts across most of the nation it’s ideal, but if you know you’re going long it may be time to step up to an AR-10.


The Best AR-15 Calibers for Hunting

5.56 NATO/.223 Rem.

5.56 and 223 ammo

The diversity of loads and bullets capable of stopping up to medium-sized game from an AR-15 is staggering. The performance they deliver is lightyears ahead of what was available only a few years ago, even from .223 Rem. cartridges. Federal Premium, for example, offers a line specifically for predators and varmints. Its offerings include cartridges with 43-grain Nosler hollow-points, 53-grain Hornady V-Max bullets and 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips.

If whitetail deer is on the schedule, Federal offers .223 Rem. with its 62-grain Fusion Soft Point bullet, another Premium load with 55-grain Barnes Triple Shok-X bullets, one wearing a 55-grain Trophy Copper bullet and more. Owners of AR-15s in 5.56 NATO, which can safely run .223 Rem., have no shortage of options when it comes to ammunition and bullet selection.


6.5 Grendel

6.5 Grendel Ammo

The 6.5 Grendel is soft-shooting, accurate and a great AR-15 choice when shots enter at the 300- to 400-yard zone. Don’t let the cartridge’s diminutive size fool you. It delivers match-winning precision with enough downrange energy for one-shot stops on whitetail.

Federal offers a 120-grain load in its Fusion line—cartridges tuned for deer hunting—and it’s a great choice. At 500 yards it hits with 588 foot-pounds of authority. The difference between it and the 62-grain .223 Rem. load at that distance is significant—204 foot-pounds to be precise. The additional energy significantly increases the odds of one-shot stops.

I’ve tested a variety of guns chambered in 6.5 Grendel and it wasn’t long before I became a big fan. It runs fantastic from bolt rifles and just as well, if not better, from an AR-15. I have the utmost confidence in its performance and given a choice consider it the hands-down winner from AR-15s if things may get long.


.300 Blackout

300 Blackout Ammo in Magazine

Low recoil and accuracy combine in the .300 Blackout. When shots will be 200 yards and in, the Federal Premium 150-grain Fusion load has all the energy required to fill a whitetail tag. It doesn’t launch with the same energy as the 6.5 Grendel—1,202 foot-pounds at the muzzle, compared to 1,801—but the larger wound channel makes up the difference.

Its knockdown power bleeds fast with distance, though, a factor that limits its effectiveness in most cases. Sticking with Federal’s ballistics results—rather allowing differences in manufacturer testing protocol to cloud the picture—at 200 yards the .300 Blackout bullet hits with 730 foot-pounds of energy. At the same distance the lighter Grendel load is carrying 1,183. At 500 the Blackout’s figure drops drastically to 388.

If your hunting area never presents shots past 200 yards and/or noise is a concern, a .300 Blackout could be the ideal solution. There’s no shortage of subsonic loads that eliminate the characteristic “crack” when the bullet breaks the sound barrier. As a result, game may not spook as quickly, which makes neighbors happier and follow-up shots easier. Add a suppressor and your quarry may not even move.

With that setup a good friend of mine secured permission a few years ago to eliminate some problem deer on an alpaca farm. The arrangement was a good one for the owners, who were worried about the noise stressing their domestic herd. He filled a freezer with venison and has been invited back every opening day since. Those slower-moving bullets, however, further reduce effective distance.


350 Legend & 450 Bushmaster

350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster

[Certain states have regulations regarding straight-walled cartridges. To quote Travis Pike in his article about 350 Legend, "Some states regulate cartridges and cartridge design. Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and likely some states I'm missing regulate cartridges down to their designs. These states prohibit bottleneck cartridges, which make up the vast majority of rifle calibers. 5.56,308,6.5 Creedmoor, 30-06, and more. You’re limited to shotgun slugs or straight walled cartridges.

The reason these cartridges are restricted is due to the proximity of homes near hunting areas. Bottleneck cartridges travel and travel and can create some risk. Straight walled cartridges like the 350 Legend are not made for a substantial distance and are considered safer and legal for these states." Check hunting laws in your state here.

350 Legend is a fantastic low-recoil option for deer and medium-size game in these regulated states, and 450 Bushmaster works great for taking large game at short distances (although your shoulder will feel it a bit more). Read more about 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster in these blog posts!]


.50 Beowulf

50 Beowulf Ammo

The .50 Beowulf has heavier recoil than the other cartridges, although the AR-15’s gas operation keeps some from reaching your shoulder. Add a muzzle brake and it’s comfortably stout, although not exactly ideal for novices.

Its big advantage is in sheer size, power up close and the wound channel it creates. The bullet has a half-inch diameter—much wider after impact. It’s big enough to handle a bear, assuming proper shot placement at moderate to medium distances.

Not many companies are making the cartridge, however, not even Federal Premium. That makes securing ammo well before opening day mandatory and the lack of competition means it’s rarely on sale.

The energy it generates is eye opening, though. With a 350-grain bullet you can expect energy at the muzzle to be somewhere around 2,350 foot-pounds, nearly double that of the Grendel. As the distance reaches 200 exterior ballistics take their toll, though, and the figure drops below 1,000—where 6.5 Grendel retakes the lead.

If you’re filling a bear tag in thick brush, or deer hunting in bruin territory where shot distances rarely extend past 150 yards, the .50 Beowulf is a solid choice. Add semi-automatic operation on the familiar and reliable AR-15 platform, and it could be the optical freezer filling/self-defense combo. [See our article about 50 Beowulf here.]


AR Hunting

There is no one-size-fits-all advice as to which AR-15 chambering is ideal for deer hunting—another resounding endorsement of the modern sporting rifle’s versatility. From thick brush and large bears, to ethically taking a trophy whitetail deer reliably out at 500 yards, it’s all possible.

The right decision requires an honest inventory of your hunting area, shooting preference and even current regulations. There are, however, more reasons than ever before to use that AR-15 for deer hunting. This year give it a try on opening day—I’m confident you’ll be glad you did.

[We would like to extend a huge thank you to Guy J. Saji for his hard work on this article! Shop our selection of related products by clicking the links in the post and check out other helpful guides like 308 vs 5.56 and guide to AR Pistols.]


Please login to comment.

Don't have an account?

Sign Up for free
October 1, 2021
Just read your article "hunting with a ar-15". I live in Minnesota and have been hunting with ar-15 style guns for several years. I was disappointed to see my state marked on the map as ar-15 NOT being allowed. MN DNR define a legal firearm as a firearm of .220 caliber or larger. I have friends that hunt in the shotgun zone and they all use ar-15 pistols. Please check your information! I wouldn't normally comment on a artical like this. But having my state put in a group with COMIFORNIA really struck a nerve. Disinformation like this just hurts as we all know some people will believe and not check.
October 1, 2021
Thank you for that pointing out that error, we have made the necessary changes. We apologize for the mistake.
October 2, 2021
October 4, 2021
I didn’t see anything about .224 Valkyrie in this article, is it not a viable option or is it just too new of a caliber? I have one I built for long range target shooting and I’ve found it to be my most accurate caliber past 300 yards by far.
October 5, 2021
It is a newer caliber but also doesn't shoot heavy enough projectiles to take larger game as effectively as other calibers. 6.5 Grendel is usually considered the better caliber for medium to large size game hunting
October 5, 2021
This article claims that a .223 in 62 grain is a good option for whitetail but a .224 Valkyrie in 75 to 90 grain is not? How does that work? The Valkyrie cartridge throws the same caliber projectile 12 to 15 grain heavier at the same muzzle velocity as the 5.56/.223 which results in a flatter trajectory carrying more energy longer distances. Am I missing something here?
October 7, 2021
This article covered some (not all) of the AR-15 calibers that can be used to hunt. Based on feedback we have received, 6.5 Grendel has become more popular than .224 Valkyrie for medium size game hunting. Hope that helps!
James T Sickle
October 5, 2021
I hunt with both my AR15s,450 bushmaster and my 7.62x39. Both are Side chargers bought through BCA!
Kevin Rickard
October 30, 2021
How accurate are the Bear Creek uppers with M4 barrels? About what should I expect out of them as far as groups?
November 1, 2021
Hey Kevin, we expect all our barrels 16" or longer to produce 1 MOA groups or better with the appropriate ammo and shooting techniques
November 19, 2021
Your map on states that don't allow hunting with a AR . Ohio allows hunting. For deer use straight wall like 350,450 cal.the capacity is 3 rounds only they use the honor system for magazines ONLY LOAD 3rds. For coyotes use whatever you want. Research ONDR an talked to gamewarder in my county (muskingum )
August 14, 2022
Florida doesn't restrict the use of AR15 for hunting. The only restriction to centerfire semiautomatic rifles is that magazine capacity cannot exceed five.
Jason Martin
August 15, 2022
What about 7.62x39?? Long before you started chambering AR15 s in 7.62x39, I have been shooting deer& hogs with my mini 30?? 7.62x39 is a much better hunting round than. 300blk & cheaper too! Have put hundreds of deer&hogs down with wolf 123gr hp! Since the release of your G2 uppers 7.62x39 with a 10.5" barrel has become my primary tree stand rifle- where I hunt in nw Florida & s.alababama I rarely have shots over 150yds so 7.62x39 is perfect & only 40cents a round for hp rounds! Hard to beat that- even my 350legend isn't that cheap to hunt with & have never had to track an animal with 7.62x39! Thanks BCA, Capt J
October 18, 2022
Yes, 7.62x39. Glad you mentioned that. A cost and field effective round. I will have to grab one of those BCA uppers in that caliber.
Tim Young
August 17, 2022
I thought I read something about an AR clambered in Remingtons 30-06 and Winchesters 270. If so when will they hit the market? I have a Friend that's wanting a 270 in left hand. Maybe?
November 23, 2022
You probably found out already but you're thinking of the rifles from Noreen. No idea how good they are but they are pretty pricey.
October 11, 2022
I have the 6.5 creedmore bolt action, can I hunt with it? Iam in Washington state.
February 7, 2023
Andrew Perry
January 15, 2023
In Georgia there is no hunting rifle restrictions. I usually hunt deer and feral hog with my BCA AR10 in .308. I love this rifle in the woods. I am building a 5.56 and .300BLK from BCA for my sons that have been begging for thier own rifles. I have yet to find higher quality at a competitive price. This keeps me a returning customer for life.
January 22, 2023
After reading the article I came down to the comments to find if anyone has commented on Washington state. And I saw that Jeff had a very similar comment about Minnesota. Washington does allow the use of AR-15 rifles for hunting with the restriction being at least 24 caliber centerfire. I have carried a 6.5 Grendel for deer many seasons.
Brian Roe
September 22, 2023
I use my firearms for hunting - not for the "coolness" factor at the gun range. I also live in one of those states that allow/ require a certain size straight wall cartridge in order to use a rifle to hunt deer. I have the BCA right side charging; .350 Legend; 20" non fluted, parkerized, heavy barrel - complete upper for this purpose. It is great for blind hunting. No so much for stalk hunting (too heavy, too long). I am not a fan of the M4 barrel profile. I am a fan of the heavy barrel profile. I do not care either way about fluting. I DO care about the "flash" from an uncoated stainless steel barrel -or- the "flash" from a coated barrel that has uncoated fluting. Again, I am a hunter. I do not want to "flash" my presents to wildlife. My request - Please produce a right side charging; .350 Legend; 16" fluted or not fluted, 100% parkerized or black nitride coated, heavy barrel - complete upper. Thank you for your consideration.
Copyright © 2024 Bear Creek Arsenal, LLC. All Rights Reserved.