A Clear-Eyed Look At ‘America’s Rifle’
By Dave Anderson
The AR-15 has become so publicized, dramatized, politicized and demonized, it’s hard to discuss rationally. And just to get our terminology correct, AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle, not “assault rifle.”
Like any other firearm, the AR has its good points and its faults — some of which depend on your perspective and what role the rifle plays. The AR continues to serve the U.S. armed forces, as well as the militaries of several other nations. It has been widely adopted as a police duty arm. Its long and widespread acceptance indicates it fulfills these roles well.
Adaptable, versatile: This Stag Arms AR has an MSE dot sight on its flattop
rail and a Streamlight white light/laser combo on the handguard rail.
A current trend is to use the term “MSR” (Modern Sporting Rifle) to replace the misused “assault rifle” term. I’m not sure there’s any real benefit to this. It’s much like hunters saying they “harvest” an animal, so tender ears won’t have to hear the words “kill” or “shoot.” And “sporting purposes” has nothing whatsoever to do with constitutional rights.
Nonetheless, when antis say ARs serve no sporting purpose, they are flat wrong. My primary uses for AR-style rifles are competition (especially 3-Gun action shooting) and for hunting small game/varmints ranging from ground squirrels and prairie dogs to foxes and coyotes.
For such purposes the AR works very well — better in fact than almost any other type. I’ve never used an AR for big game, not because it wouldn’t work, but because I have other rifles I like better for such purposes.
What are the AR’s strong points? Well, set up with a good quality barrel with a free-floating handguard, good sights and a decent trigger, an AR can be astonishingly accurate. I guess this is old news today, but those of us who recall when the only AR available was the original Colt SP-1 took a lot of convincing.
The 6.8 Remington SPC was designed to fit the AR magazine and operating system.
Cartridges from L-R are .223 Rem., 6.8 Rem. SPC, and for size comparison, .308 Win.
An ArmaLite with a Leupold 6-18 x 40 scope. One feature some consider a fault
is the relatively high line of sight above the bore.
Slick and Shootable
ARs are easy to shoot accurately. Factors such as length of pull and shape and size of pistol grip can be adjusted to individual needs. A key to accuracy is to hold the rifle the same for every shot. Precision shooters, once they’ve set up their shooting position, prefer not to disrupt it during a string of fire. With bolt-action rifles they move no more than absolutely necessary to cycle the action. The AR, like any semi-auto, eliminates even this movement.
Moderate recoil, extreme accuracy and fast follow-up shots make the AR an outstanding choice for prairie dog and ground squirrel shoots. Its moderate recoil makes it easy to spot bullet strikes. If you misjudge the wind and miss your first shot, you can correct and fire again almost immediately.
The AR is ideal for calling coyotes. I’m not the greatest caller by any means and can’t recall having more than two come in at once. A buddy of mine says he once had either four or five coyotes (he got a bit confused) coming in at once. After shooting one he had an attack of buck fever and managed to jam his bolt-action rifle.
The AR’s been adapted to an amazing range of cartridges. This Alexander Arms specimen
is chambered for the .50 Beowulf, with ballistics similar to the .45-70.
This Trijicon ACOG attaches to a carry handle fitted on the rail of a Stag Arms AR —
a fast and effective sighting setup, but again keep in mind the high line of sight
above the bore.
The qualities of reliability and durability so much appreciated by military and police users are also appreciated by hunters and target shooters. I won’t say an AR is more reliable than a bolt-action of similar quality, but it certainly isn’t less.
Today there are so many quality components, and so many accessories available, an AR can be set up to suit most any shooter. And there we get into another advantage — with some basic training and inexpensive tools, we can do most gunsmithing jobs at home. Rebarreling a Mauser or Springfield takes tools and skills most of us lack, while rebarreling an AR is a fairly simple task.
Some AR features are appearing on bolt-action rifles. The popular Ruger Precision Rifle features a floating barrel and handguard, fully adjustable stock, replaceable pistol grip and easily interchanged barrels.
On the “con” side, cartridge selection is limited (I’m talking about standard .223/5.56mm rifles) by the size of the magazine and operating system. The varmint cartridge selection is excellent, and there are some neat big-bore choices, but not so much for medium/long range big-game hunting.
The nature of the AR design places the line of sight considerably higher than the bore. When an AR is sighted, let’s say at 200 yards, the point of impact at 10 to 20 yards can be several inches below the line of sight. This can be critical in police or defensive use, less so for hunting purposes. And maybe this is a personal thing, but I find most ARs a bit more muzzle-heavy than I consider ideal.
To reiterate, your constitutional rights and your decision whether or not to own an AR are entirely up to you and need no sporting purposes justification. Regardless, the design serves several “sporting purposes” very well. If you’re strictly a target shooter or hunter, don’t overlook the AR. You may find it serves your needs admirably.
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