Can You Hunt Whitetail Deer With an AR-15?

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Video can 5.56 kill a deer

Ever since the dawn of modern hunting, hunters have had no problem finding something to debate. What is the best tactic for hunting, the best weapon to use, the best place to hunt, the best way to hunt? Well, every hunter has their own answers to those questions, but they are not always right. One of those highly debated questions is “is an AR-15 sufficient enough to reliably harvest whitetail deer”? There are plenty of hunters on each side of the argument, but that does not change the fact that plenty of deer have been killed with a .223 coming from an AR-15. So is an AR-15 good enough to take into the deer woods or not? Let’s find out.

A Quick Glance

Most states(check your DNR) allow the use of the .223 caliber for big game hunting, so an AR-15 is perfectly legal to use for whitetail. They are also very efficient at putting deer down at ranges of 300 yards or less. Plus the modern AR platform comes with a load of other advantages.

Using an AR-15 to Shoot Whitetail Deer | .233Rem / 5.56NATO

There is no doubt that an AR-15 or more specifically the .223 Rem or 5.56 NATO(here we will be talking mainly about the .223 Remington) can kill whitetail deer. After all, you can kill just about anything with a sharp stick. However, if you are using a .223 are you going to be limiting yourself compared to other rifles or cartridges? Possibly, but first, we have to pass another hurdle, legality.

Is the .223 Remington Legal to Hunt Whitetail With?

Every state has some sort of restriction on the calibers you can use when hunting different types of game. Many states also have restrictions on how many rounds you are allowed to have in your magazine, or even if you are allowed to hunt with semi-automatic rifles. Although with all the restrictions, in most states an AR-15 is allowed for hunting big game. Most states require hunters to use at least a .22lr, so the ever so slightly larger (but much faster) .223 is also allowed. As with any legal regulation, it is your responsibility to know the laws of your state, which you can find on your state’s DNR website.

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Effectiveness of the .223 Cartridge

Since the .223 is such a small cartridge, one of the first questions I would want to know is, “am I not going to be able to shoot as far with this smaller bullet?”. The answer to that is no. You will not be able to shoot as far as larger rounds as effectively, that being said, the .223 Remington still has an effective range of around 500 yards. Now we all know that hunters measure how far their shots were just about as well as fishermen measure how long their catches are. That’s not to say that hunters have not shot a whitetail farther than that, but if I had to guess, most whitetail hunters across the country have never shot a deer farther than 300 yards away.

I mention effective range because with your typical 55 grain .223 FMJ you can probably ping steel targets at 800 plus yards if you are set up correctly. Although at that range, you may not have enough energy to get sufficient damage on impact. Staying under 300 yards (which should be pretty easy for whitetail) will make sure that your .223 has plenty of power on impact.

A .223 Made Specifically for Whitetail?

A few different ammo manufacturers actually make a .223 round specifically for whitetail deer. For example, the Hornady 60 Grain Spire Point “are designed for rapid expansion and maximum impact”. What they do is actually fragment more than your average FMJ on impact. Which in theory does more damage to the internals of a whitetail, or really anything you hunt with it.

What Really Matters | Shot Placement

At the end of the day, you can kill anything with a sharp stick stuck in the right place. A lot of people will say that the .223 does not have the power to take down a whitetail, but that is just not true. I would argue that you could even go down to a .22lr and if you put it through the heart, or through both lungs, that deer is not going far. Plus with the extreme speed of the .223, once that bullet enters the body the amount of damage it does from the concussion alone, is detrimental to the vitals of most animals.

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Long story short, if you are using an AR-15, aim for the heart, or the lungs. Stay away from the neck shots, and personally I stay away from headshots as well. Plus if you are using an AR, that means you have the awesome capability to put multiple shots on that deer quickly if you need to. Let’s look at the other advantages of the AR platform.

Advantages of the AR Platform

Typical hunting rifles will definitely do the job, and that is what most hunters are probably used to using. Although if you have not already, I would suggest you at least take an AR for a spin in the deer woods. The AR-15 is not your granddad’s deer rifle, but innovation brings many advantages to the user, so let’s dive into a few.

  • Semi-Automatic: to start things off, having a semi-automatic instead of a bolt action allows you to stay on target after the shot and fire more rounds if necessary. Now you could do the same thing with a normal rifle, but with an AR you can do it much faster.
  • Customization: With an AR, you can put just about anything you want on it. Some things help, a lot of them just look cool. Although you can have multiple sights for long and short-range, a foregrip, lasers, and flashlights if you want. All and all, you can make these rifles however you like, with many more options compared to a typical hunting rifle.
  • Compact & Easy to handle: Next, these rifles can be super light if you build them that way. Plus, you can also equip it with a collapsible or extending stock, which will make it even smaller and easier to carry. This also makes it a viable option for your children when they start hunting. I remember when I first started hunting, my dad cut down the stock on a .243 so that I could hold it properly. That would have been much easier if it only took the press of a lever to move the stuck up.
  • Popularity: You can also find an AR-15 in some form or fashion in just about every gun shop there is. Plus they will more than likely have a few boxes of .223 to go with it. The popularity of these guns also makes finding parts and accessories online super easy.
  • Versatility: Lastly, a single AR-15 can be used to harvest most animals in North America. Making it an awesome all-around weapon. Plus, if you really want to, you can buy a second upper chambered in a larger round, and in about 15 seconds you can make your AR fire a 7.62x39mm, .300 blackout, 6.5 Grendel, or plenty of other types of rounds. Although for larger rounds like the .308, you will need an AR-10 lower to get the right fitment.
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Conclusion

AR-15’s are amazing rifles that are capable of taking down just about any game that the modern hunter could want. The .223 has been proven to be deadly enough to use against whitetail time and time again, as long as you are accurate. Plus the AR platform comes with many more advantages than your average hunting rifle. You have the advantage by having a weapon that is semi-automatic, super customizable, compact and easy to handle. Plus they are widely available and highly versatile. If you have never tried it before, I highly suggest you try out an AR this season.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>