What are the best black rifles for hunting and why it’s hard to pick just one
It’s entirely possible to put together a nearly perfect Black rifle for hunting by finding the right AR upper receiver conversion for your existing gun. What’s a bit more nuanced, however, is finding a gun that can do it all. There is more to the equation for most people than just a single variable. When you want to find the best option for hunting with the AR-15 rifle platform, you need to factor in several variables.
That’s why it isn’t so easy to just name a brand, or a model from a well-known manufacturer, because a lot of what’s best for your hunts is how you need it to perform. What is certain though, is that the AR-15 has the potential to be a fantastic hunting rifle for a large swath of the intermediate and some of the bigger game in North America.
And it has proven results in the field on a lot of different game species already. So, what’s it going to take to get the best black rifle for hunting? That’s what we want to walk you through in this article.
Instead of trying to pick a few models that are particularly well built for the task, let’s discuss the variables, and how you can create or find the right fit for you, by segmenting some of those characteristics and itemizing your own list of “must-haves” to hopefully put you on the right track for finding the perfect hunting long gun in the AR platform.
What’s needed to get a fantastic Black Rifle for hunting?
It comes down to three main points in determining use cases and best fits, and then it moves on to personal preference for makers, brands, accessories, styling, and other features. The three core pillars in selecting the best black rifle for your hunting needs come down to the following:
- Caliber – and what you need it to do from a terminal ballistic perspective
- Where you are hunting and how terrain and atmosphere can affect your rifle needs
- The game type that you are looking to go after
Beyond these three pillars, the rest is going to rely heavily on the X-factor items that only you can decide, like styling, and how to accessorize the gun, etc.
All that said, this article will try to de-genericize these three core pillars, because what’s less helpful than a generic breakdown of market options? Instead, let’s talk about systematically breaking down what you want to accomplish, and prioritizing needs and wants, to steer you in the right direction.
After all, the modular nature of the AR platform, and the market available options help to make it so easy to approach, execute on planning, and create, compared to a lot of other options in a hunting rifle.
Once you have the core features and minimum standards met and a well-laid-out plan for what you need in caliber, range, and lethality, it’s going to be able to easily visualize what your perfect black rifle for hunting looks like.
Base your Best Black Rifle for Hunting decision on Caliber
Caliber (or rather, cartridge) dictates a lot of what this decision needs to be, but it isn’t as straightforward as picking one and moving on. There are some cartridges so close in performance or so specific in their engineered nature that it’s not a cut and dry decision, like one might make between a .17 hornet vs. a .30-06 in the field.
If you’re varminting for prairie dogs, you lean one way, while the big game targets push you in the opposite direction. They do different things. So do a lot of the cartridges that can work well on the AR platform.
So that it’s not forgotten in the context of this article – caliber refers to the diameter of a projectile, while a cartridge refers to the concept of a full implementation of the load and more closely aligns with finding the differences between the different AR available options for hunting.
Cartridges generally spread across a wide spectrum, and a lot of variables can impact performance in a cartridge. Furthermore, not all cartridges are going to use the projectiles the same way, even if they employ the same caliber as a competitor round.
So, let’s dissect a bit along those lines.
The following are known for their great harmony and balance:
The 5.56/.223 Remington
While these cartridges are not the same, they are bundled together from a “market” perspective. .223 Remington is more accurate (some of it’s more obscure and oldest roots lie in the benchrest cartridges of the 1950’s), though not the most accurate on this list.
The 5.56 has a higher operating pressure and slightly better terminal performance in a tight “short to intermediate” range. You can shoot a .223 Remington out of a 5.56 marked barrel, but not the other way around.
The debate rages (though it shouldn’t) – the .223 Remington and 5.56x45mm can easily dispatch intermediate game like deer up to 450 lbs. And out to more than 350 yards. The organic caliber choice of the AR platform is a very nice round for many hunting scenarios.
But alas, it has a tight range of use cases when laid upon the backdrop of a broader game variant and terrain spectrum. It’s best suited for game targets that are under 350 lbs. and closer than 250 yards. That probably suits 85%+ of the hunting public most years.
It will likely never NOT BE a favorite for hunting out of the AR, though, because it’s effective on popular targets, has proven lethality in a popular range of usage, and the ammunition is plentiful and cheap by relative comparison.
Closely matched to the 6.5 Grendel in a sense, but also a versatile round, while not quite as accurate, you get more lead on target for less dialing in with most quick optic choices in the normal ranges.
The shorter barrel configurations are a plus. The only real caveat if you aren’t already sold on the variability and usefulness between platforms is that the 6.5 rounds have such amazing long-range presence and the .300 HAM’r and .224 Valkyrie have such crazy short-term capabilities with the longer range capabilities being pretty good too.
If you have more than a single AR, or are already sold on the 6.8SPC, it’s a fantastic round. Deer, hogs, and others within the weight rating and within 400 yards, easily. Oh, yeah, the carryover into the personal defense spectrum is notable, too. The AR makes balanced cartridges like this so possible.
While it requires the larger AR platform, and that can be a drawback both from a weight carrying perspective, and a price perspective, it is still a significantly versatile cartridge that has been proven to take big game across a large swath of the field. With the right loads, and the powder and engineering improvements over the last several years, a .308 AR is a versatile option for hunters everywhere.
The following are known for their exceptional long range and tack driving capabilities
The accuracy hounds are all in a fairly tight range of options with a bit of outlier influence.
A well-balanced round that has legitimate 600+ yard potential and sub 1/2MOA for big game to that same range. Enough grain weight to properly dispatch hard, tough skinned animals like rams and goats, among others, the Grendel is a very interesting round if you need a vast spectrum across the middle of the landscape and want that patented 6.5mm accuracy.
Screaming fast, and still hard hitting, you get the best of both worlds with the .224 Valkyrie that can push a 75 grain projectile on target at above 3k fps; with 1500+ ft. Lbs. of energy and maintains a very strong, flat trajectory over a significant slice of the intermediate range.
The .300 HAM’r
A lot of promise for those that hunt a variety of game and dabble (or more) in depredation. Given the shorter barrel lengths needed to squeeze incredible ballistics out of the .300 HAM’r, this is a cartridge you can go from hogs to coyote to deer, to even larger big game (600Lbs. + and 550 yards +). The round is capable of 1/2MOA all day long and can push 1/4MOA at the shooter ranges or with specialty builds.
The Wilson Crew is onto something. It still sees stiff competition from the .224 Valkyrie and the 6.5 Grendel, and it cannot match the long range capabilities of a properly built 6.5 Creedmoor (850+ yard kills on big game with the right AR build).
But that doesn’t mean it is not spectacular. The ballistic capabilities and the wide range of game and predator types you can use it for, make it quite utilitarian for a new, “specialty round”.
The reigning king for intermediate to long range for big game targets. The one real caveat, which may not seem so bad to some readers, is that the cartridge dimensions require the larger AR-10/.308 AR platform.
You’re probably not taking giant trophy moose on 3 ridges down range more than 1000 yards, like you might be with a .338 Lapua (or even a different .338 in a shorter case length), but you can certainly take slightly smaller animals at the same distances. You get incredible range and flat trajectory, manageable recoil, and still excellent ballistics.
Some other cartridges that offer nuanced, specialty benefits for hunting with an AR
The .300 BLK
If you want to hunt suppressed for game on the smaller side of the intermediate weight range or love the .308 Lite vibe of the .300 BLK, this can be an incredibly effective cartridge for deer and other animals in the size range.
The problem with the subsonic loads is the drop is massive past 125 yards and while sound suppression is amazing on the gun, it may not be worth the sacrifice in ballistic performance. Many hunters aren’t taking advantage of a tax stamp frequently either, so the scope on the cartridge may be somewhat limited.
The supersonic variant offers quite a bit more punch, but still registers as a .308 Lite, and cannot match the terminal statics of most of the premium options listed above.
A fantastic cartridge for many things, the .300 BLK may not be suitable for you, except in a very tight set of constraints and then, only to take animals up to about 450 lbs.
The .350 Legend
A catalyst for the .350 Legend was the recent changes in state legislations that allowed straight walled cartridges for hunting of specific game in addition to muzzle loading rifles and slugs (Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio are big ones).
While that wasn’t the ONLY catalyst, and the numbers show how hot this round is for brush gun use, the .350 Legend is fantastic to 200 yards for bigger game, in excess of 450 lbs. in many cases depending on terrain and geographic location.
A wonderful round for dead brush laden areas, this is a specialty cartridge still, and should be used where it makes the most sense, like where a user can adapt across several platforms, or where flatlands and dead trees reign supreme, but you can still stalk deer (or slightly larger) in under 200-yard ranges.
Some caveats regarding cartridge/caliber
Some of these cartridges just will not make sense for you. A case could definitely be made, for instance, that you would not be capable of hunting big game in close enough proximity to utilize a specialty cartridge like the .300 BLK if it’s subsonic, where the sweet spot is sub 175 yards. Some of this decision is being made for you with a variety of factors in many cases.
A case could also be made that a 55-grain projectile doesn’t offer the necessary stopping power to get beyond Whitetails, depending on where you hunt. In some cases, you may not be able to even hunt with a specific caliber.
The primary motivation (aside from the awesome ballistics) for the .350 Legend was that certain states don’t even allow for hunting of certain game without a straight walled cartridge.
Base your Best Black Rifle for Hunting decision on where you are hunting
The terrain on which you hunt is very important too. As mentioned briefly above regarding the deadwood brush cartridges that practically require short range and big diameters, some cartridges are doing more than one thing well.
Forget about trying to peg the .350 Legend into a specific niche that only includes 200 yards as a max range: a wooded bushland as the backdrop and small elk as the largest animal possible with the round.
That said, as flexible and versatile as these cartridges may be, there are some things that must be taken into consideration.
Here’s an example: you need to look at the actual elevation changes over the course of your range to target. If you are crossing two canyons; both with different updrafts; a rocky background on the horizon, while you shoot from a grassland – things will inevitably be different at point of aim and point of impact.
Sometimes you don’t get a second shot. You may need to bring “more gun” to begin with. That’s not a shot at the AR, but some hunting guns are just necessary, no matter how modular and how awesome the AR platform has been for the sport for many years.
You’re not going to find a .338 Lapua Magnum, or a .300 Winchester Magnum (fun fact, it actually IS possible to find one on an AR Platform, but it’s not the most practical build for the cartridge) on the AR platform any time soon (except perhaps as a bespoke, one-off novelty), and that means some of those ultra long-range shots are just not going to be on the table for the AR – regardless of how well it’s built.
Lucky for us, more often than not the average AR hunter is not going for 1000+ yard range on behemoths, but rather: less than 450 yards on intermediate sized game that the AR is perfectly suited towards.
Geographical conditions matter. But they don’t matter as much as game choice (see below).
Sure, there are the ancillary concerns like the hunting regulations of your local or state areas, but more importantly, you have to ensure you are meeting the proper requirements for the legislation, a clean ethical kill, but also so that you don’t lose your trophy target. One of the biggest concerns within the pillar of “where you hunt” will likely be conditions and atmospheric impacts on your caliber choice.
Base your Best Black Rifle for Hunting decision on What type of game you’re hunting
The third pillar of choosing the best black rifle for hunting is adapting your round to the type of game you are targeting. Some would say that’s just the ancillary relationship to cartridge/caliber asserting a bit of dominance. But not all animals are created equally.
A crag-hopping goat on a rocky mountainside will need a flat shooting, sufficiently punchy round, and probably at least a 650+ yard range capacity,
An ELK wouldn’t be in the same conditions as that Goat, and it’s going to be 45% larger generally. While you could probably kill them both with a 6.5 Creedmoor if you really wanted to, it may not make sense if you want to take the gun to shoot for personal defense purposes at the range as well.
Your long-range powerhouse is overkill for the crossover you might have in mind. A .300 HAM’r might give you adequate ballistics to take both, but it too, might be at the edge of the limits of the round under certain extremes. A .308 with the right load could easily do the deed, but it too, might be at its limits.
So, the real story is some combination between where you hunt, what you hunt, and the inherent characteristics of the black rifle by nature of the design and adaptability it brings with it.
Some things aren’t going to be taken at less than 800 yards with a grain weight under 225 grains, with a clear meadow shot and no wind conditions. For that, you may be better off bringing a bigger platform and a carefully curated, characteristically different cartridge.
For the things that the mainstream hunter is going after most often – you’ll need to find how much gun is enough gun in the Black rifle range to take the game you’ve selected at the range you want, in the conditions you plan to be in. So, with as much variability that the AR can cater to, it still comes down to you – the user, and how much else you want to do with your hunting rig, and how well you know your target. There are certainly some special options in the AR platform that push the boundaries of the intermediate ranges and intermediate sized targets. It’s time to get creative like only an AR hunter can.