I got an email today from a SHWAT.com reader, something I always appreciate. He’s asking about moving to the AR-15 platform for hunting. I’m going to give my input below, but perhaps you have something to add or a completely different take. By all means, jump in and share your thoughts in the comment section below. Here’s summary of the email I got today: “I subscribed recently to your website and find it very helpful…..at the same time I am overwhelmed at the amount of information and products that are out there. I have been a hunter for most of my 69 years and now want to get into the AR world. I am not looking to break the bank but dont want to sacrifice quality for savings. Thru the articles you provide, I have learned the importance of triggers, floating barrels, and a number of other specific items, and mostly that the sky is the limit for options, if one knows what they want, but, you see, therein lies my problem…I am becoming more knowledgeable quickly but I still have a way to go on many things to include Day/night vision scopes that are mid range and illuminators. So, I am a bit frustrated and overwhelmed and could use some suggestions.” – Paul
Paul, let me see if I can specifically address your questions, but with some generalizations. What I don’t know is what kind of hunting you’d like to do. Your interest in a day/night optic leads me to think you might be after hogs and varmints, so I’ll go from that vantage point.
Picking an AR-15 from the herd
For hunting purposes, there are lots of good AR-15 makers. You may have a local company in your back yard doing good work. The big boys on the block like Daniel Defense, Smith and Wesson, Remington, etc. are all making rifles nicely suited for hunting. If I’m lugging a rifle across fields or through woods I prefer something light weight. I’m currently testing a Bushmaster Minimalist that weighs about six pounds. A few years ago, that was the holy grail. Today, Bushmaster is mass producing this. Other variables you’ll want to consider center on ergonomics, though these are easily changed. For example, I prefer a small diameter hand guard with only a top rail (unless I’m trying to fit a suppressor inside it). I prefer a full length top rail to allow mounting optics, lasers, illuminators, etc.
Of course the gun needs to be accurate, so as you narrow your search you’ll want to read reviews or check the manufacturer’s accuracy guarantee. Most ARs will easily shoot 1.5” groups at 100 yards, which is fine for hog hunting. I prefer guns that will shoot tighter groups than that and there are plenty of those available. As you pointed out, a free floating barrel is preferable for mechanical accuracy. To reduce accuracy errors caused by a loose nut behind the trigger (me), for years I’ve been dropping Timney Triggers into guns. I’ve documented the accuracy increase previously.
The elephant in the room here is caliber choice. I’ve killed many hogs in West Texas with .223 rounds, but with the multiplication of ammo options for 300 Blackout I’d lean towards it in your case. At normal ranges you can hunt antelope, elk, deer, hogs, coyotes, bear, etc. Others will take a different point of view on caliber selection.
You’re looking for the one optic to rule them all at a price point that makes you smile. To me, that’s kind of a tall order. My current preference is a dedicated optic for day, and a dedicated optic for night.
At night I prefer thermal, though in reality since all it sees is heat it can be just as good during the day. The challenge is that when ambient temperatures are similar to animal body temperatures contrast and details suffer.
For day, I like prefer optics in the 1-6x range though the traditional 3-9x is still quite useful. Generally, I skew towards more expensive optics from brands like Trijicon and Nightforce, but if budget is the first priority I’ve been surprised by what TruGlo is delivering these days. I’m currently testing a 1-6x tactical scope from them that runs around $200. A few years ago I’d tell you to stay away from optics in that price point, but I’m pretty shocked at what TruGlo is selling at that price. It’s not the equivalent of a $1000 optic, but for $200 there’s a lot more right with it than wrong.
All that aside, for hunting under 120 yards a friend of mine really likes the day/night Sightmark Photon XT 4.6x42S Digital Night Vision scope. You can find it for under $500 if you shop around online. I haven’t used it myself. As for an illuminator, Ultimate Night Vision sells a number of them for less than $200. Personally, I am a huge fan of their rental program. Unless you intend to hunt a lot at night, this is a great way to get current technology when you want it at a fraction of the purchase price.
I hope that helps you narrow your search for a good AR-15 hunting kit. My last suggestion is to subscribe to our newsletter to keep up as we dive deeper into your questions and more.