John Barsness

m loading for the hunting ar-15

Hunters use different twists and bullets than target shooters.

One of the biggest reasons for the present popularity of the AR-15 is superb accuracy, and not just the accuracy of "dedicated" target or varmint rifles, but just about every rifle of decent quality. I am mostly a hunter, of everything from varmints to big game, and passed over AR-15s for a long time because most just didn't have the accuracy for my kinds of hunting. Those that did were just too clunky, due to their heavy barrels.

That changed, and so did my attitude, thanks to friends who let me shoot their ARs, especially John Vehr of Timney Triggers, who brought a couple along on a winter hunt in Texas. When John started making AR-15 triggers a few years ago the last of my prejudices broke down and I bought my own "black rifle" — a Bushmaster Superlight Carbine with a very thin 16" barrel.

This may seem an odd choice, but many hunters like light rifles, even some prairie dog shooters. For decades the standard prairie dog rifle had a heavy barrel, because everybody knew light barrels heated up too quickly and didn't shoot accurately enough for

small targets at several hundred yards. Also, heavy barrels kept muzzle jump down, allowing the shooter to spot shots through the scope.

My experience with both modern bolt guns and several borrowed ARs changed this "knowledge." Today's barrels are better than ever, and even some very skinny ones will shoot great. Muzzle jump is also not just a matter of recoil, but stock design; straighter buttstocks make the rifle move directly rearward, instead of upward. Through experience I'd also discovered that while heavy barrels heat up more slowly, they also take a heck of a long time to cool down!

Obviously a light .223 capable of rapid fire would work great as a coyote rifle, but experience also proved an autoloader had advantages in long-range shooting in any sort of breeze. A correction for wind-drift could be made immediately, and another round tapped off, before the wind changed.

Also, as more and more .223s started being used for longer-range target competition, rifling twists became steeper in order to stabilize longer and longer bullets. Before the AR-15 trend, most civilian .223s had 1:12" or even 1:14" twists. This has rapidly changed over the past few years, and now the standard even in bolt-action .223s is 1:9". This not only means better accuracy for various "heavy" target bullets, but hunting bullets that have grown longer and longer. Some of this is because of the enormous popularity of plastic-tipped varmints bullets: A 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip is almost 20 percent longer than a typical softpoint 50-grain .224 bullet.

But some is due to the increasing use

The range tests were done on a nice Montana winter day of about 40 degrees.

The range tests were done on a nice Montana winter day of about 40 degrees.

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