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Modern hunters want modern guns and the light-hitting .223 isn’t the only caliber offering for tactical rifles.
Choose the Right AR
The first decision you’ll have to make is what size AR you want. There are two sizes to choose from, with the most popular being the AR-15 that our military uses. Then there is the larger original size most commonly referred to as the AR-10—most commonly chambered in .308 Winchester.
Whether you choose the standard sized AR or the larger size will determine what calibers you’ll have available to you. The larger sized AR will give you options in the high-power cartridge range, such as the .308 Win. The standard sized AR has fewer whitetail cartridge options, but its smaller, lighter size is better suited for hunting in tree stands and confined spaces such as deer blinds and is easier to carry.
Whitetail hunting for me is spent in a tiny hang-on tree stand or sitting in a tripod blind. The best choice for these confined spaces is the standard AR-sized rifle.
The small receiver with carbine length barrel and collapsible stock are tough to beat when maneuverability is important. Following are two deer-suitable calibers that are growing rapidly in popularity for these smaller rifles. Note that I limited the choices to those that are most easily found on the shelves of local stores.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a huge advocate of the 6.8 SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge). It’s my favorite AR cartridge.
A lot of shooters agree, with it being the second-best selling AR cartridge on the market right now, and it’s not because of a big corporate push, but rather the people who shoot it and hunt with it. Thankfully, more ammunition manufacturers are jumping on the 6.8 SPC wagon, making it more common on store shelves and everywhere online.
Offerings range from good-quality budget ammo from Sellier & Ballot and American Eagle to high-end custom loads from Wilson Combat. Silver State Armory makes excellent ammo at a great price, as does Federal Ammunition.
Having a giant like Federal behind the cartridge makes it a sure bet you’ll be seeing more of it. Additionally, just this year Federal released the Fusion MSR 6.8, ammunition specifically designed for hunting with 6.8 SPC ARs.
Of all the AR deer cartridges on the market, the 6.8 SPC is the most versatile, and I believe it’s the best. It’s perfect for whitetail, great for hogs and it doubles as a fantastic defensive round. The .270-caliber bullet shoots flat and retains its energy well down range. A 95-grain bullet leaves the barrel at 2,850 feet per second and has 1,715 foot-pounds of energy. A 110-grain bullet flies at 2,700 fps with 1,780 ft.-lbs. of energy.
Hot on the heels of the 6.8 SPC in popularity is the .300 BLK (AAC Blackout). But I have to confess, I’m not on the bandwagon here.
Still, it’s very popular and has a growing fan base of hunters. The primary advantage to the .300 BLK is that it is available in subsonic rounds in stores. However, subsonic performance on whitetails negates this advantage. I talked to Chris Lucci, owner/operator of the Wild River Ranch (WRR) in Texas, about the .300 BLK. Chris tests this stuff, using it in the real world, and between him, his staff and his clients, a lot of whitetail and hogs are killed at the WRR.
Hunting subsonic with the .300 BLK is, as far as ballistics are concerned, like hunting with a 9mm MP5, and the deer don’t always go down like they should. A suppressed 220-grain bullet has a velocity of 1,020 fps and 508 ft.-lbs. of energy.
A supersonic, nonsuppressed, 110-grain bullet has a velocity of 2,350 fps with 1,349 ft.-lbs. of energy. If opting for the .300 BLK, I would recommend staying away from the subsonic rounds. For most hunters, it simply won’t matter.