Even to this day, hunting with an AR can raise eyebrows and start debates, but why? I am hoping by the end of this Pro Post you will understand why this more traditional hunter finally took an AR into the woods.
Many long-time hunters oppose the idea of AR hunting, and many people get caught up in the stigma surrounding the “black rifle.” For my part, I began hunting at age 12, and I’d never hunted with an AR until last year. Meanwhile, I’ve taken down many, many targets of a different sort over the years with one. This includes bringing home an individual bronze and a team gold at the 2019 IPSC Rifle World Championships in Sweden.
This was one of the biggest reasons why I decided to take an AR into the woods last year in search of a mule deer buck. My thinking was, if I can shoot with the best in the world with an AR, why not use those same means to be as accurate and confident as I possibly can while hunting? Still, I knew by doing so I would get some good and bad reviews.
We can take the question of the platform’s capabilities out of contention easily. With the advances in technology and years of R&D behind them, ARs are just as accurate as any type of bolt action rifle. While an AR may not be the best fit for everyone, it is an extremely easy platform to use and certainly a capable tool for the job.
My overall confidence level with a rifle is extremely high. I grew up hunting with a bolt action and competed in three Olympics in biathlon with a specialized bolt action rifle. But for the last five years, I’ve been almost exclusively shooting a JP Enterprises AR. Because of the endless customization possibilities to make the AR fit you perfectly, it can be even more effective than a standard bolt action rifle.
Throughout my biathlon career, it was my goal to make my rifle and extension of my body. I wanted a rifle that felt as natural and comfortable as possible. With a customized AR, I absolutely have that. This gives me confidence as a shooter and a hunter above and beyond just my familiarity with the platform.
I’ve spent more time in the woods than most, especially during hunting season. I’ve seen countless hunters miss or wound animals simply for the fact that they don’t spend enough time practicing before the season. Their firearm doesn’t fit them well, and they lack confidence and capability because of this.
Regardless of what rifle you use, it should be your personal preference and whatever fits you the best. It should be whatever is going to allow you to take the most accurate shot to bring down your game quickly and humanely. Right now, my confidence level to do just that is best with an AR. That was my reason for finally go heading out in search of that mule deer with my AR.
For this first foray, I used a JP Enterprise LRP-07™ chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. This is a gun that has been excelling in long-range rifle precision matches. It is definitely a little on the heavy side for hauling around for any long periods of time in the woods. But for the deer hunt I had planned, I knew it would be perfect as I wasn’t wandering too far.
I paired the LRP with a Trijicon AccuPoint® 4-16x50 Riflescope and the new extremely accurate Fioccchi 129GR Interlock FB. So, here was a setup similar to what I used at the Rifle World Championships and a platform I was able to customize perfectly to my 5’ 3” small frame. That familiarity game me the self-assurance to take just about any shot.
For my first AR hunt, I had a southwest Colorado buck tag for 3rd rifle season. Although I knew the rut wouldn’t start for at least a few more weeks, my goal was to get some meat for the freezer. So, I headed out opening morning into the pinion and juniper with a thin layer of frost touching just about everything and set up where I’d be glassing, waiting for the light.
I knew that my LRP was capable of shots out to 1000 yards, but as someone who has spent the last 15 years archery hunting, I still appreciate getting in as close as I can to an animal. I settled for somewhere in between the two, just for the opportunity to test the rifle.
Southwest Colorado is notorious for mule deer. Over the next hour and a half, I had about eighteen does come out to feed amongst the fields of native grasses and sage all around me. Finally, at about 8:30am, the buck I’d been waiting for walked out about 375 yards away. Definitely not a challenging shot for the rifle, but enough distance to test me as a shooter.
I was set up in a reverse kneel with a solid rest on a log, aiming for the base of the skull so as to not ruin any meat. With my hands wrapped around a familiar grips and the stock tucked tight into my shoulder, I didn’t even question whether I could make the shot or not. I knew I could.
I pressed the trigger.
The buck dropped immediately, and that was that. I had some great venison for the freezer, and I was successful at trying something new. That rifle gave me confidence well beyond my bolt action, and it worked out just the way I hoped.
My recommendation to hunters is to always use the rifle you’re you’re most comfortable with and that you’ve practiced with the most. If you don’t have the comfort level you need, try out an AR and see how you like it. They are incredibly customizable, which can help build your confidence and get the “one shot, one kill” you need when hunting.
Will I take an AR out again for another hunt? Absolutely! I will still play with my bow, but I will definitely plan some hunts with my AR as well, especially if I expect some challenging shooting. Bringing home a bronze and a gold medal for the Rifle World Championships and a deer for the freezer with an AR was a win/win for me.
Lanny Barnes is a three-time Olympic biathlon competitor, firearms trainer and active hunter from Colorado. She's also one of the most proficient lady 3-Gun and rifle shooters in the United States.