Because of the prevalence of the platform, it didn’t take long for AR-style rifles to become popular among hunters. Some “purists” will say these modern sporting rifles have no place in the hunting blind, but they’d be wise to look around before saying such things too loudly.
In the standard .223/5.56 chambering, the AR has proven to be a great gun for varmints and other small game. But what if you wanted to hunt something bigger like, oh I don’t know, say an elk or a bear? Is there an AR out there suitable for such a hunt? You bet there is!
A large number of new(ish) calibers have come on the scene to complement some of the existing cartridges that make the AR platform a perfect choice for your big game hunt of a lifetime. Let’s take a look at 10 of them.
Big Horn Armory AR500 in .500 Auto Max
Big Horn Armory made a name for themselves with their SpikeDriver lever gun chambered in .500 S&W Magnum, but they didn't stop there. Instead, they looked to the semi-auto market and created the AR500.
BHA’s AR500 shoots .500 Auto Max rounds. Built on the same .500 Magnum cartridge, the it’s basically just a rimless version of the powerful handgun cartridge that has been popular with hunters for more than a decade.
The gun has a completely-railed upper for you to outfit with the optic of your choice. Load up the five-round magazine and you’re ready to take on anything “from prairie dogs to pachyderms to Peterbilts.”
If it can stop a semi truck, it can stop any big game animal you’ve got in mind. The MSRP is $1,999.
The .308 cartridge has long been a good choice for big game in bolt-action rifles. The DPMS GII Hunter simply takes that proven performance and puts it into an updated platform.
The GII Hunter’s 20-inch barrel is housed in a carbon fiber free float handguard for better performance. The upper receiver has a rail section, but that’s it on this gun. The handguard is completely round and smooth and the low-profile gas block is not railed. There’s also no muzzle device; instead, it sports a target crown. A Magpul MOE buttstock and rubber pistol grip from Hogue round out the package.
With an MSRP of $1,599, it’s not a bad option to consider.
Yankee Hill Machine Hunt Ready HRC-200 in 6.8 SPC
Like the 5.56, the 6.8 SPC is an intermediate cartridge. Despite that common heritage, it actually has some really nice benefits and only a few drawbacks.
First off, the 6.8 SPC is 44% more powerful than the 5.56 despite being quite similar in size. Even though it has quite a bit more power, the increase in felt recoil is minimal, so that’s definitely a plus.
Because the cartridge is so similar to the 5.56, you can use a standard AR-15 lower without having to switch out any parts. Just attach a 6.8 SPC upper and you’re good to go with a different caliber!
Another thing going for the 6.8 SPC pertains specifically to hunters. There are some states that do not allow hunting with 5.56/.223 rounds, so this cartridge is a nice work-around for that without having to buy a completely different rifle.
Yankee Hill Machine’s Hunt Ready platform is exactly that: hunt ready. The rifle sports a Kryptek Highlander camo finish and comes with a Grovtech adjustable sling and a Bushnell Trophy 3-9x40mm scope sighted at the factory out to 100 yards. MSRP for the complete package is $1,600.
Wilson Combat Ultimate Hunter in .458 HAM'R
Wilson Combat is known for their high quality personal protection, competition, and tactical firearms. That attention to detail carries over to their line of hunting rifles as well.
Both the cartridge and the gun were completely designed in-house by Bill Wilson and his design team. With 3,000 ft/lbs of muzzle energy out of an 18-inch fluted barrel, Wilson Combat boasts that their .458 HAM'R is more powerful than the .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, and .50 Beowulf.
Their Ultimate Hunter carbine is equipped with one of their match grade fluted barrels housed in a 13.8-inch free float handguard with rail on the top and MLOK slots on the rest of it.
Providing some comfort for the hard-hitting round, the rifle has a carbon fiber buttstock outfitted with a Limbsaver recoil pad. Magazines designed to hold the .458 HAM’R rounds are available in 7 or 9-round capacities.
The Ultimate Hunter comes with a base MSRP of $3,055 - which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Wilson Combat products and quality.
Alexander Arms Hunter in .50 Beowulf
Named after the heroic Scandinavian slayer of the mythological beast Grendel, the .50 Beowulf round even sounds like it’s perfect for big game hunting.
Alexander Arms created the ammo and built their Hunter rifle around it. The case is similar to the .500 S&W Magnum and is designed to perform best with bullets in the 300 to 400-grain range.
The proprietary cartridge is heavy and has a low velocity, which has led some to compare it to the .45-70 Government cartridge. As history has shown, the .45-70 performed flawlessly when up against big game, so that’s a nice comparison to have here.
The Hunter rifle has a 16.5-inch non-threaded barrel housed in a rifle-length free float handguard. The top of the receiver is railed and it ships with one, 3-inch section of rail at the very end of the handguard. Additional sections of rail can be mounted at the 3, 6, and 9-o’clock positions.
Because this is a hunting gun, it features a Kryptek Highlander camo pattern and it ships with one 7-round magazine. MSRP is $1,659 for the base rifle. Optional trigger upgrades, barrel threading, and muzzle devices will add to the cost. (The gun pictured has the optional threaded barrel and thread protector.)
Rock River Arms X-1 in .458 SOCOM
The .458 SOCOM round is often described as being a smaller, more lightweight version of the venerable .45-70 Government.
Bullet weights range from 250 to 600-grains, with optimum big game hunting performance coming from the 300-grain cartridges. The 300-grain ballistics have been observed to travel at speeds up to 1,800 fps with more than 2,000 ft/lbs of energy. That’s quite a bit of performance from a relatively small cartridge, and will certainly get the job done hunting any type of big game.
A special bolt and barrel are required for this round, but you can use your regular lower and standard 5.56 magazines. Those with a 20-round capacity will hold 7 rounds of .458 SOCOM; 30-round magazines hold 9 rounds.
The X-1 rifle from Rock River Arms has an 18-inch fluted, stainless steel barrel in an extended length free float handguard. The rifle is guaranteed to have an accuracy of 1.5 MOA at 100 yards.
The hunting versions of the X-1 come with tan furniture on black hardware, a special RRA Hunter muzzle break, and two different types of handguards and buttstocks. MSRP starts at $1,655.
Radical Firearms RPR Rifle in 6.5 Grendel
Looking for a cartridge that falls in between the 5.56 and the 7.62? Look no further than the 6.5 Grendel. The case is based on the 5.56, but it is shorter and wider to increase the powder charge and use longer bullets. A standard 30-round magazine will hold 26 rounds of 6.5 Grendel.
When equipped with a 24-inch barrel and loaded with a 120-grain projectile, Radical Firearms’ RPR rifle has a muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps and 1,942 ft/lbs of energy.
The 6.5 Grendel cartridge was designed to be effective at ranges from 200 to 800 yards. With that kind of distance and initial ballistic performance, this round could be just what you’re looking for in a modern sporting rifle for big game.
The RPR rifle has a railed upper receiver and a 15-inch free float railed handguard for superior performance and plenty of room for optics and other accessories.
With an MSRP of $849.95, it’s an affordable option, too.
Gun writer Jeff Cooper envisioned a larger-bore cartridge that could be fired from a semi-automatic that would provide a humane harvest of big game animals out to 250 yards. Tim LeGendre ran with the idea and called his new design the .450 Professional.
In 2008, LeGendre licensed the design to Bushmaster and the name became .450 Bushmaster. With a 250-grain projectile, the .450 Bushmaster travels at 2,214 fps with 2,722 ft/lbs of energy - plenty of power to take down big game at 250 yards.
A standard, 30-round magazine for the AR-15 will hold 13 rounds of .450 Bushmaster in a single stack configuration.
Bushmaster’s rifle features a 20-inch barrel in a free float aluminum handguard and a railed upper receiver. There is no rail on the handguard. MSRP is a reasonable $1,299.
Daniel Defense Ambush in .300 Blackout
There’s no denying the popularity of the .300 Blackout cartridge. It’s popular with AR enthusiasts of all kinds - including hunters. While the bullet weights are definitely lighter than most discussed in this article, don’t let the numbers fool you. A 115-grain bullet clocks in at 2,295 fps with 1,344 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.
The Ambush from Daniel Defense was made for big game hunters. It's hydro-dipped in Realtree Xtra camo, comes with a threaded barrel, a Geissele Super two-stage trigger, and an ambidextrous safety.
The 16-inch barrel is surrounded by a 15-inch free float handguard that has a full top rail and MLOK attachment points on the sides and bottom.
A word of caution, though: .300 Blackout rounds fit in standard AR-15 magazines in double-stack formation. They’ll even chamber in a standard AR-15, but DO NOT attempt to shoot this round through a standard AR-15. It is not designed to do so and the rifle WILL explode!
As long as you keep your ammo and mags separate, the Daniel Defense Ambush in .300 Blackout is a great big game hunting rifle with an MSRP of $1,889.
CMMG Resolute 300 in .350 Legend
The .350 Legend cartridge is brand new for 2019, having made its debut at SHOT Show. Designed with hunters in mind, it is a straight-wall cartridge that has proven to be accurate, quiet, and gentle, while still being quite powerful.
Designed for hunting out to 250 yards, the .350 Legend produces 1,800 ft/lbs of energy out of a 20-inch barrel. That’s more than the .300 Blackout, and with less recoil than the .450 Bushmaster. It also has 20% less recoil than .243 Winchester while providing 20% better penetration than the .243 cartridge.
The biggest benefit to hunters, though, comes for those who live in straight-wall states. This gives them another option despite their state restrictions.
CMMG's Resolute 300 in .350 Legend also debuted at the 2019 SHOT Show. It has a 16-inch barrel in a free float MLOK handguard that is complimented by a streamlined, complete top rail and railed upper receiver. The gun comes with a proprietary 10-round magazine and is available in 10 different Cerakote finishes at no extra charge. The MSRP is $1,549.95.