Whoever believes ARs aren’t good for hunting needs a pedicure from the Red Stripe Foot Doctor. There’s no longer any reason for debate, the discussion is over. ARs work well, and my big-game hunts for the last three years have been exclusively behind the trigger of one.
But, there have been some interesting revelations along the way. For example, I took hunter education with the grandkids a few years ago and the instructor asked each student to talk about their next hunt and what rifle they would be using.
It was the usual mixed bag of firearms and game until things stalled in front of me. A student on a baseball scholarship was going to take the only rifle he had, an AR he used back home.
No one questioned the rifle, but some of the older students and one of the instructors indicated the public might be shocked to see that kind of rifle afield. I had to grab my grandsons’ knees to keep them from protesting-I was up next, the oldest in the class, and had the youngster’s back.
When finally it was my turn, I proudly announced I was going for elk in Colorado, using an awesome LaRue Tactical OBR AR-10 chambered in 7.62 NATO. I could have said .308 Win., but you know. The kid was a pitcher, so I knew he’d recognize a good knuckleball. I heard a mouse impinge gas in the corner.
If I had talked to other AR-toting hunters before that hunt I would have known how to prevent the mag well from becoming a kidney bruiser. I learned the lesson the hard way-in the middle of nowhere. Study your state and regional regulations, carefully. Expect to be limited to a five-round magazine, so find one early, because right now everything AR is in short supply. Scrutinize the minimum chambering rules. In many cases, a .223 Rem./5.56 NATO is not legal for big game.
You can’t crawl with an AR the same way you do with a bolt-action. OK, you can, but it doesn’t cradle well with both your elbows inching along on the ground, the magazine can scrape and the bipod loves to grab things. Filling my antelope tag would have been much easier had I asked around before I tried to put a long sneak on a herd in Wyoming.
The most painful lesson I learned was when I took a whitetail using a DPMS LR-338L last year. Chambered in .338 Federal, a cartridge that was only introduced in 2005, a 200-Grain Power-Shok load comes out of a test barrel at 2,700 fps and with 3,237 ft.-lbs. of energy. At 200 yards it still generates 2,304 foot-pounds at a velocity of 2,278 fps-more than enough take big game cleanly and humanely.
On the third day of the hunt I filled my tag, and promptly dropped the magazine, cleared the chamber and locked the bolt back to show safe. It was still daylight, but after the deer was field dressed and in the truck it was well past dark. My guide handed me the AR as we finally loaded into the vehicle-he had inserted the magazine and closed the dustcover.
At this point I had no way of knowing with 100-percent certainty the gun’s condition. I theorized I didn’t need a flashlight for one quick and final safety check, so I dropped the magazine, worked the charging handle several times, and plunged my finger into the chamber to ensure it was empty. You guessed it. My mitten slipped, the bolt slammed home and I squealed like a little girl.
The guide quickly quipped my hunt was over, despite an unfilled second tag in a neighboring state. He’d been complaining about ARs since my arrival, so I had no choice but to inform him it’s just a flesh wound. I stopped the bleeding, filled my mule deer tag the next day, earned a bright and shiny new fingernail, and will be afield again this year behind an AR. This time, though, someone who doesn’t know a thing about the rifle who touches it-even when made safe-will be getting one of those pedicures, I mean manicure.