While I grew up shooting, even considering my firearm experiences in the Marine Corps with the M16-A2 service rifle, which I loved, I was never a huge fan of 5.56 ammunition.
Sure, it seemed somewhat sufficient for our small-arms purposes but there were, and are now, superior performing cartridges. Over eight years of service and using 5.56 ammo in a heavily worn M-16 A2 rifle, I qualified a total of six times and left the Corps with a 6th Award Rifle Expert badge. Sure, 5.56 could do the work but I knew early on that the M16 chassis could be oh so much more.
Assimilating to civilian life, including civilian shooting activities, was a tall order. On the firing line, I had difficulty adjusting to traditional long guns. I began looking at modern sporting rifles to regain that comfort level I had with my M-16 A2. As an avid shooter and hunter on an extremely tight budget, I recall how badly I wanted to purchase one of the Colt AR-15’s I drooled over as I passed by them in the post exchange (PX). While it looked like my M-16, with the same creature comforts like a handguard, grip, forward assist and dust cover, it was not the same—it was only a semi-auto rifle, not much different at all than the Marlin .22LR I received on my 10th birthday, except for the shady-looking grip and menacing, black, spawn-of-Satan chassis.
As far back as my hard-charging Marine Corps days, I thought AR-15s would make perfect multi-purpose rifles—well-suited tools for a number of uses, including personal and home defense, a weekend of plinking at the range, competition shooting and yes, absolutely, hunting. Nothing in the context of my opinion of AR-15s changed when I was honorably discharged in 1996; in fact, my determination to own one, based on the comfort level I had achieved with my M-16 A2, had skyrocketed. I knew then as I do now, AR style rifles are my only reasonable semi-auto option.
Of course, the multi-tasking benefits of today’s AR rifles are further highlighted by the system’s exceptional modularity. Swapping upper and lower receivers and changing parts like handguards, grips and stocks are usually simple tasks, while more experienced users make easy work of changing bolts and barrels to accommodate different calibers. For hunting, as an example, a quick bolt and barrel change-out or complete upper receiver swap morphed my varmint and small predator hunting .223 Wylde–an optimized variant of .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO calibers–into an amazing deer and hog hunting rifle chambered in 6.5 Grendel. Part of AR innovation and modularity also includes AR-10 platform systems, generally chambered in .308 Winchester, increasingly in 6.5 Creedmoor and most recently, a growing number of high-performance cartridges like the .300 Winchester Magnum—all great for long-range shooting and big game hunting.
Case in point, one of my favorite AR manufacturers, Phoenix Weaponry, in Longmont Colorado, recently introduced a rimless .45-70 Auto. I was standing next to Phoenix Weaponry’s owner, Aaron Cayce, when he used his .45-70 Auto, affectionately named Christine and topped with a Pulsar Trail XP50 Thermal Riflescope, to take a larger feral hog off its hooves—it never took another step. The rifle and cartridge are extraordinary and I bore witness to its proficiency on the hunt!
In terms of innovation, one of the best I’ve seen (and own) is the WMD Guns Big Beast AR-10. WMD’s match-grade Beast (AR-15) and Big Beast (AR-10) are completely coated in proprietary NiB-X nickel boron. They’re as solid and as protected from wear, friction and environmental elements as rifles come. My 6.5 Creedmoor Big Beast consistently delivers ½-MOA groups at 1,000 yards and table fare.
Honestly, while most in my personal circle would describe me first as a fist-full-of-dirt archer and bowhunter, I also have an insatiable appetite for trigger time, especially AR rifles. Like a devil on my shoulder, well-put-together, multi-tasking ARs have a knack for lulling me out to shooting ranges and rifle hunts often—my personal favorite and home range, the Triple C Shooting Range, even allows me to run guns clear out to 2,000 yards! It is definitely one of my happy places.
Like many of you, I cut my teeth shooting every tin can I could as a kid and honed my skills with military training. The results have carried over well into my personal defense training and hunting success. More importantly, exposure to firearms from an early age forged my respect for them and later, broadened my perspective on the benefits of modern sporting rifles like AR-15s, especially with respect to the diverse ways they can be used.
I have heard arguments on both sides of the fence, from Piers Morgan backers like Willie Nelson, who believes semi-automatic AR-15s should only be used by military and police, to the well-thought-out ideology of our Lone Star State Senator, Ted Cruz, who educated a nearly catatonic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the differences between a semi-automatic rifle and a bolt action rifle.
My pop once told me “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” and this is an issue I do take a stand on. I choose to first, roll my eyes; second, address the irresponsible ramblings of people like Morgan, Nelson and Feinstein; and third, stand with fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms who undoubtedly love to venture into the hunting woods with a rifle system that, while offering only a single-shot firing option, does cater to those creature comforts we related to throughout service to our beloved country. After all, those creature comforts we love, and for some reason others love to hate, are nothing more than aesthetics.
So, what’s the message here for AR-platform shooting enthusiasts prepping for the fall hunting season? Take ‘em if you got ‘em!
Kevin Reese is a Marine Corps veteran, Second Amendment advocate, award-winning outdoor writer, and guest columnist for “Down Range with AWR Hawkins.”