Walk around the floor of the SHOT Show for a while—and spend much time discussing it with folks on the hunting side of the business—and one theme becomes starkly clear: the “black guns” are taking over. People love their AR-15s, and there’s no doubt the AR-15 craze is the fastest-growing aspect of the shooting industry.
I have an AR myself, and have owned some others in the past. Mine’s a pretty standard M-4 style rifle in .223. I’ll do some predator hunting with it, and will carry it in the deer woods on occasion if I’m looking to shoot does. I’ve killed deer with a .223 in the past. It works, but it’s really not a good choice.
That said, there’s been a real effort on the part of many gun makers to produce AR rifles for the woods. For years, the best AR option for deer hunting by far was the AR-10 platform, which chambers .308-sized cartridges. The .308’s a hell of a deer round—but an AR-10 weighs a metric ton, and costs a small fortune. Most of my gun hunting is from the ground and on the move (plus free guns are more difficult to come by than you'd think), so that pretty well rules it out for me.
But several companies are now offering rifles in newer calibers that are suitable for deer, but work in the smaller AR-15 platform. This week at the SHOT Show I’ve looked at and test-fired Smith and Wesson’s new M&P-15 in .300 Whisper/.300 AAC Blackout. The gun cycles both calibers, which are basically .30-caliber bullets stuffed into trimmed and necked-up .223 cases. The Whisper round uses a heavy bullet fired at subsonic speeds, so it’s quiet. The gun we fired at the range was equipped with a suppressor, and had no more report than a pellet gun. That made it a ball to shoot, but not something I’d pick for deer hunting. The .300 AAC Blackout is a little different story. It’s designed for more performance, pushing a 110-grain bullet from the muzzle at 2350 feet per second. That’s plenty enough for deer at close to medium range. Here are a few other thoughts:
The Good: If you’re a gun nut, like me, and just want to deer hunt with an AR, this is a cool setup. In fact, you can buy just the upper and swap it out with the .223 upper you already own and be ready for the woods with a capable setup for deer and hogs. It’s relatively light, has little recoil, and the AR is a super-accurate platform. With the collapsible stock, it’s not a bad choice for kids.
The Bad: You’ll probably have to look through quite a few Wal-Mart shelves before finding a box of .300 AAC Blackout ammunition—and that’s something I don’t like. New calibers are cool, but I don’t reload. When I need ammo, I want to be able to find it. And though the ballistics of this round are certainly enough for deer, they’re far behind standard deer calibers like the .30-06 and .270. In fact, the good old .30-30 with a 150-grain bullet beats it handily—while retaining all the lightweight characteristics of a good brush gun.
Long and short, would I like to try deer hunting with this setup? Sure. I like guns, and love ARs. Smith and Wesson has covered this one in Realtree camo. That not only makes it look cool, but it helps pay my bills. But on opening day of gun season, with a buck tag in hand, I’ll still be packing one of my bolt-actions to the woods.
Do you carry an AR-15 to the deer woods? The enjoyment of shooting them (and other uses, like self defense and predator hunting) aside, what do you think of them as deer guns?