As hunting season gets underway, many of you are probably already kitted out with all the right gear. But, for those of you on the lookout for any last minute adjustments you can make — or those of you already planning for next year — it’s time to take a good look at your AR 15. Yes, we know, it’s not exactly the most conventional choice for a hunting gun. But, as owners across the country are coming to find out, it’s actually a pretty versatile option. Consider this:
We all know the AR 15 is supremely customizable. That’s one of the biggest overall benefits to the platform, whether your primary use is home defense, hunting, or competition shooting. By extension, this means your AR can be pretty well customized for a variety of different options. The true bounty of function is that you can legitimately set up a half-dozen different uppers (or more), each designed to chamber a different caliber ammunition and set up with different accessories. Whatever you need for what you’ll be hunting each go-round, the AR makes it easy to customize your upper accordingly. That way, when it’s time to head out for your next trip, just grab your lower and the upper you set up for what you’ll be hunting. It’s even fairly easy to swap them out, so grab a couple of different uppers if you’ll be hunting big game one day and wild boars later in your trip.
The other big benefit to the AR 15 is that it was designed for people who would need to carry them long distances and be able to get into a strong shooting stance quickly — our troops. This benefit carries over into hunting in the sense that it is a light enough rifle that it can be carried for a while without fatigue. Even better, it can be disassembled and reassembled quickly if you want to stow it in your pack while you trek out into the wilderness.
The size and setup of the stock and handguard also make it easy to get into a solid shooting stance quickly, and reaction time can make a big difference. The comparatively shorter barrel means it’s easier to maneuver around obstacles and still find a strong grip.
The biggest determination for customizing an AR upper for hunting is what you’ll be hunting. That’ll affect the ammo you need, which will then affect the base components of your upper. Depending on the gauge, you’ll be able to find complete uppers or, for some of the ammunition sizes that are less conventional for the AR 15, you may need to build the upper yourself. Fortunately, the abundance of different upper receiver parts and accessories manufacturers out there mean you can find just about everything you can imagine for a range of different ammo sizes.
Once you’ve figured out what size ammo you’ll be chambering, you’ll need to think about all the other elements that go into an upper. What you’ll be hunting will also give you certain elements to plan for, like distance, optics needs, maneuverability, and so on. For example, if you know distance will be a big consideration, you’ll want to be sure your upper has a handguard rail system so you can easily add on a scope or other options rather than relying on a fixed iron sight. Some of the primary game-dependent components and accessories include:
A shorter barrel will be lighter and easier to maneuver, but it also means less velocity. The reverse also holds true; longer barrels will be heavier, but also offer more velocity. If you’re hunting elk, that increased velocity is going to be more important than what you’d need for, say, coyote hunting. Also, pay attention to the gas system. Shorter gas systems generally mean they’re venting closer to the receiver, which can gunk them up more quickly and decrease the lifespan.
Choosing a rail system is secondary to making the choice between a free-floating handguard and the non-free floating options. Non-free floating, as you can probably guess, is going to actually connect to the barrel. That can be problematic for a couple of reasons. First, anything touching the barrel is going to affect vibrations, even if it’s just a subtle change. Adding accessories that attach to a non-free floating handguard can further affect it. This can combine to such an extent that each bullet fired may leave the muzzle at a slightly different angle — ultimately affecting your accuracy as you get further away from the target.
The other thing to keep in mind with non-free floating handguards is that the vibrations can also have an effect on any accessories attached to them. This is mostly important in regard to optics, but the vibrations can be enough to affect other accessories over time.
And speaking of accessories, you’ll probably want one or two for each of your different hunting setups. Your need for different scopes or other optics will vary based on your intended quarry. In addition, it’s a good idea to have backup sights in the event that a powered sight fails, so invest in a fixed iron sight that won’t inhibit your primary optic or take up too much space on your rail system. It’s also worth adding on rail scales, a hand stop, and/or a vertical grip based on your preferences.
Explore all the best in lightweight, durable, and heat-resistant AR accessories with RailScales to complete your hunting setups today!