The AR-15 is a rifle that needs no introduction; it’s the penultimate American rifle, recognizable by anti-gunners and shooting enthusiasts alike across the globe. Chambered in 5.56 NATO or .223 Remington (basically interchangeable), the AR-15 is essentially a semiautomatic version of the military’s M16 rifle.
While the words “hunting” and “AR-15” don’t always get spoken in the same sentence, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, as the AR is perfectly capable of legitimately taking game – game such as hogs. The lowly hog, sometimes referred to as boars, wild pigs, feral pigs, and so on, is an excellent choice for hunting in general; the USDA reports that there are more than 1.5 million feral pigs in the United States. Not only are the pigs plentiful – they are a nuisance, with wild pigs blamed for the destruction of many crops. Pigs also make great eating, and pork in general is a familiar staple of the American diet.
When hunting pigs with the AR, and more specifically 50 to 62 grain bullets, shot placement is key, as the little .22 caliber round lacks the punch to take conventional style heart shots on really big game animals. On hogs especially, consideration should be made to going for headshots, which will minimize damage to the meat and will result in a quick kill which the .223 round is more than capable of delivering.
THE PROPER SETUP FOR A HUNTING AR
One of the aspects that makes an AR so versatile is its modularity, and seeing as the upper receiver of an AR is readily interchangeable, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t build a dedicated hunting upper. Barrel length is definitely a consideration here, and for adequate sight radius, velocity and accuracy, a 20-inch barrel makes lots of sense. Long enough to deliver tack driving accuracy yet still short enough to remain maneuverable, a 20-inch barrel won’t add much more weight to your rig.
The ideal optic for a hunting AR is definitely a 10 power fixed scope with a good sized objective to aid in light transmission. Avoid variable power scopes for hog hunting inside of 150 yards, and resist the temptation to increase the magnification above 10x for such short-range shooting, as all it will do is narrow your field of view.
WHEN CALIBER IS A CONSIDERATION
Some localities will not allow .223 for hunting purposes, the rationale being that the caliber is (in their opinion) too small to do the job, and will cause unnecessary suffering to the animal. Wherever such regulations exist, the AR is still capable of being an excellent hunting rifle primarily by purchasing an upper that is chambered in one of the many available up-sized calibers.
There are a slew of hard-hitting calibers that are available in the AR platform with the simple switch of an upper. These calibers use cartridges that are sized to an overall length which makes them fit inside a conventional .223 Remington magazine well, which is critical if you want to be able to use your .223 lower receiver, which obviously has a fixed magazine well size. Calibers that deserve further consideration are:
- 6.8 Grendel
- 6.8 Remington SPC
- .300 AAC (Advanced Armament Company) Blackout
- .450 Bushmaster
- .458 SOCOM
- .50 Beowulf
Each of the above calibers represents an amazing pig hunting caliber for various reasons. On the smaller end, both the 6.8 SPC and 6.8 Grendel both dramatically increase the power available to the AR platform while satisfying the minimum game-hunting caliber in most counties of .243” (these are both .277”). The 6.8s increase effective range and punch of the AR series rifle, allowing the hunter to go for conventional body shots on big animals, as well as reach out further than possible with the .223.
.300 AAC Blackout takes the AR platform to a whole new level, and brings .30 caliber performance to the AR while using conventionally sized magazine wells. If you’ve ever wanted .308 style, short-range performance out of an AR, the .300 AAC Blackout is the round to get.
The .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, and .50 Beowulf represent the pinnacle of big bore AR shooting, and while these rounds originally developed with a military purpose in mind, they are amazing hog calibers and are able to take the largest tuskers on the planet with ease. Don’t think that you need to get a custom built upper receiver to shoot these rounds; they are available off the shelf by established manufacturers.
The AR-15 is such a versatile rifle in part because of its modularity, and there’s no secret why it remains popular today as a sporting caliber. It’s perception as a hunting rifle is somewhat tarnished by the AR being the target of anti-gun groups and the media, but make no mistake, the AR is just as much a legitimate hunting instrument as it is a defensive instrument.