It's funny how opinions and perspectives change with time—not just about hunting, but about life in general—and how freakishly often hunting and life parallel one another.
Let me explain: I doubt she’d remember this, but my mother once said, “You don’t deserve to have an opinion about something until you’ve actually tried it.” I don’t explicitly remember the context of the conversation, but I’d bet she was talking about my refusal to try eggplant or something similar one night at the dinner table, and I likely rolled my eyes and pushed the rogue vegetable around the plate with my fork.
I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest broadhead in the quiver, but it took me more than 20 years to realize and appreciate just how much of a genius my mother really is. When the first AR-platform rifles came to the market specifically designed for hunters, I “forked” the idea for a long time. I didn’t have any desire to hold one or shoot one … much less hunt with one. I already had a bolt-action rifle and an auto-loading slug gun; they weren’t broke, so why would I need anything else?
I sat down once at camp with regular NAH contributor Richard Mann and ordered a tutorial as to exactly how the gun worked. I’d just killed my first animal with an AR (a beautiful Texas whitetail), so I felt compelled to understand its digestive system. Honestly, had the gun jammed and I needed to shoot a second time at my buck, I wouldn’t have known what to do.
I think it’s little secret that a large number of today’s die-hard sportsmen are still resistant to the growing popularity of ARs on the hunting scene, but I firmly believe that’s based upon a lack of understanding. After all, I used to be one of ’em. But as I see it now, thanks to Mann’s explanation and after actually hunting with one, AR is really an acronym for “America’s Rifle.”
Think about it: The German 98 Mauser is one of the most revered bolt-action rifles of all time. American soldiers developed respect for these rifles during WWI in the hands of their enemies as they did for the ’03 Springfield chambered for the .30-06 they were issued. So, it was a logical to bring them home and use them in the deer woods. The ’98 Mauser and the ’03 Springfield laid the foundation for the modern bolt-action rifle, and the .30-06 continues to be a hunter’s favorite.
During WWII our soldiers still fought Germans armed with the ’98 Mauser, but our boys had a new rifle, The M1 Garand. The Garand continued to see service through the Korean War. Although this was our military’s first semi-auto rifle, it failed to take hold with hunters because of its weight and clip-fed magazine. However, veterans’ respect for the Garand led to the popularity of the Browning BAR and Remington Model 742; both chambered for the grand ol’ .30-06.
The M16 was used during the Vietnam era. It was a more efficient, lighter and easier to maintain semi-auto, which failed to take hold with America’s hunting crowd because it was chambered for .223 Rem. and because its civilian, semi-auto counterpart, the AR 15, was demonized by politicians. The .223 Rem. is also a deer cartridge best used inside 150 yards.
Today, a host of manufactures have continued with the evolution of the AR and are now offering these rifles in hunter-friendly calibers such as the 6.8 SPC and the .30 Rem. AR, not to mention the .243 Win. and .223 Rem. We have more veterans walking the woods with us today than ever before; they trusted their lives to AR-style rifles while fighting in the Middle East, so it’s only logical— and extremely fascinating, in my opinion—that they want to take something similar into the woods.
PORTS AND PISTONS
An AR operates on a gas impingement system. What this means is that gas generated from burning gun powder flows down the barrel. Near the muzzle there’s a small port where some of the gas gets turned around and is directed back toward the action, which generates enough force to slam the bolt backward and chamber another round. The result: Load the magazine, squeeze the trigger and one bullet comes out. Squeeze the trigger once more and one more bullet comes out.
Now take for example my 12 gauge Remington Model 11-87 slug gun. This operates on a gas piston system, which uses gas created from burning gun powder to slam a piston back toward the action, which in turn generates enough force to slam the bolt backward and chamber another round. The result: Load the magazine, squeeze the trigger and one slug comes out. The two guns function and look drastically different, but the end result is exactly the same. They differ, however, only when it comes to public opinion.
My mother was definitely right about needing personal experience to have a justified opinion. So I guess you can say I’m an AR hunter who won’t touch eggplant.