Common Use: 60% of centerfire rifle hunters use an AR-15
By Larry Keane
The time has come for President Joe Biden and the rest of the gun control politicians to pack up the worn-out line that “no one needs an AR-15 to hunt deer.”
Turns out, recreational target shooters and hunters do want Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs). That’s the family of AR-platform [semiautomatic] rifles that come in many calibers. According to the 2022 Ammunition Consumption Study by Winchester Ammunition, more than half of recreational shooters firing a centerfire rifle used an MSR. Of those who hunted with an MSR, 40 percent chose the MSR as their firearm of choice.
Winchester Ammunition conducted a survey of 1,600 hunters and recreational shooters in the first quarter of 2022 to better learn which firearm recreational shooters and hunters were using. Turns out the most popular selling centerfire rifle in America is the rifle of choice.
That might come as a surprise for Capitol Hill lawmakers, especially for the 217 Members of Congress who voted to ban MSRs and some semiautomatic shotguns and handguns when they passed H.R. 1808, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022. The argument made that MSRs serve no practical purpose for hunting is false.
It Will Hunt
Currently, 10 states restrict hunting with .223 or 5.56mm. Three of those states only allow shotguns, or straight-wall cartridges. New Jersey has an outright ban on MSRs. Even those states with caliber restrictions allow for MSRs that fire larger calibers. It’s not just deer, though, and not all in Washington, D.C., buy the line that AR-15s aren’t good for hunting.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy defended using an MSR for hunting hogs when asked by Vice News. “I’m law abiding, I’ve never done anything, I use it to kill feral pigs,” Sen. Cassidy said in a People Magazine report questioning lawmakers why Americans choose this rifle in the wake of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. “The action of a criminal deprives me of my right,” he added about proposed bans.
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told CNN, “In my state, they use them to shoot prairie dogs and, you know, other types of varmints. And so I think there are legitimate reasons why people would want to have them.”
That might not mean much to Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) who held hearings to castigate MSR manufacturers. Nor would it earn consideration from Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) who ushered the bill through the U.S. House of Representatives to ban MSRs. No one expects Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to recognize the utility from her gated San Francisco estate. South Dakotans, however, see it differently. Controlling varmints and predators is a necessity to ranchers.
Congressman Ken Buck (R-Colo.) would agree. He said of the AR-15, “It is the gun of choice for killing a fox, it is a gun that you control predators on your ranch, on your farm, on your property.”
The news that recreational target shooters and hunters are turning to the MSR as the rifle of choice is hardly a surprise to the firearm industry, recreational target shooters or hunters.
Jordan Sillars, writing for MeatEater, the hunting brand made famous by Steve Rinella who hosts a Netflix series by the same name, listed off the pros and cons of hunting with MSRs. Among the many reasons for hunters to consider the rifle are the fact that it is semiautomatic, has low recoil that allows for quick follow-up shots, its modularity and is customizable, as well as lightweight and maneuverable. That’s important for hunters whether hunting from a box blind on a weekend or trekking into off-grid public lands.
Even when it comes to the .223/5.56mm cartridge, Sillars wrote in another piece that today’s modern ammunition deserves a second look where it’s legal for those who think it is diminutive.
“Bullet design has come a long way since your granddaddy decided a whitetail gun was .30-06 or bust,” he wrote.
In fact, Rinella, who normally hunts with large caliber bolt-action rifles, said time shooting the MSR helped him improve marksmanship. “Without the distraction of getting my molars loosened, and thanks to steady repetition, I was able to learn a thing or two about bad habits that I wasn’t even aware of,” he said.
Politicians railing against MSRs might argue that recreational target shooters and hunters could use other rifles to do the same thing. The numbers, though, don’t lie. The MSR is filling their need – and the Second Amendment gives them the right to choose the firearm that meets their needs. It is not for the government to decide.