Are AR-15 Rifles Too Powerful for Hunting?

Here’s a little test of your AR-15 knowledge: Which of these two groups of cartridges can be fired from an AR-15 rifle? Does either one, or both, have a military background? One is the most common deer cartridge in America. Many consider the other only marginally effective for deer hunting? Which is which?

Contributed by
Steve Sorensen

For a while now, the boogeyman of all guns has been the AR-15 rifle. In debates against these semi-automatic rifles, many people argue that no hunter needs such a powerful weapon. They seem oblivious to the fact that that most deer hunters use much more powerful guns.

In World War I our soldiers carried the .30 Gov’t rifle (now called the .30-06 Springfield) which sent a 150 grain bullet toward the enemy at roughly 2,900 feet per second, and produced about 2,800 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Today’s modern American military uses the 5.56 NATO cartridge (the civilian equal is the .223). Its 55 grain bullet (about a third the weight of the .30-06 bullet) exits the barrel at roughly 3,200 feet per second (a little faster than the .30-06), producing less than half the energy, a mere 1,300 foot-pounds. So anyone shooting an AR-15 (or one of its cloned siblings) is firing a pipsqueak bullet compared to what our military used a century ago.

Yet people still say hunters don’t need weapons as powerful as the AR-15. The truth is that far more hunters use the old .30-06 in the deer woods than the little .223. Some jurisdictions even outlaw the .223 for deer, not because it’s too deadly, but because it’s not deadly enough. Many hunters consider it underpowered and barely adequate.

So why does our military use much less powerful arms today than it did 100 years ago? Among the reasons, today’s troops can carry much more ammo, because the smaller cartridge is less than half the weight. Also, the rifle is lighter, which enables a soldier to carry more gear. And the lighter bullet shoots on a flatter trajectory.

Those who say the AR-15 is a military weapon that should not be available to civilians don’t know what they’re talking about. No military in the world issues the AR-15 for the battlefield because it wasn’t designed for the battlefield.

The .30-06, on the other hand, was developed by the military, and many of the very guns used on European battlefields came home and killed not only deer, but the biggest of big game in North America. Even today, the .30-06 is the most common hunting caliber across the continent. Check the shelves at your sporting goods store and you’ll see the .30-06 is the most common hunting ammo. And it’s only one of many hunting cartridges that have a military pedigree.

So does it make sense to argue that the round fired by the AR-15 is too powerful to be in the hands of civilians? No. In fact, the AR-15 with its small caliber bullet has many applications for hunters. Some predator hunters use them and, in certain states that permit hunters to use semi-automatic rifles, they are used for small deer, coyotes, jackrabbits, feral hogs and other varmints.

Suppose the majority of people succeed in banning the AR-15 from civilian hands because it’s “too powerful for deer hunting.” What comes next? Do we ban all the cartridges that are more powerful than the .223? Say good-bye to virtually all the hunting rifle ammo.

When I was in high school students commonly had guns on school grounds. Access to guns was much easier back then and no one was shot, so today’s issue isn’t easy access to guns. Nor is it that today’s “military weapons” are “too powerful for hunting.” Both are objective falsehoods.

I suggest we’re seeing a breakdown in society that has nothing to do with guns and everything to do with, well, a breakdown in society. Anti-gun legislation cannot mend our culture, and if it has saved lives, it has also cost lives.

The answer to the gun violence debate will not come via uninformed opinions pushed by people who make false claims no matter how sympathetic they are. It’s only fair to say both sides of the debate feel sympathy for victims, but only people who are clueless about guns and how they operate insist that “AR-15 rifles are too powerful for hunting.”