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AR15 cartridges for whitetails.

One of the primary reasons the widely popular AR15-platform rifle has taken so long to be generally accepted as a whitetail rifle is the continuing, common perception among many traditional hunters that it's "just" a .223 Remington (5.56mm). Back in the 20th Century that may have been true, but it's certainly not true any longer. Today there are rapidly growing numbers of readily available AR15 rifle models chambered for 6.5mm (.260 caliber), 6.8mm (.270 caliber), and 7.62mm (.30 caliber) cartridges. Some have been adapted from military and tactical-purpose cartridges, some have been developed specifically for hunters, and all are entirely appropriate for close and medium-range whitetail hunting.

My use of the term "entirely appropriate" for these cartridges will send some NAW readers into a fit of apoplexy; same as the implication that the .223 Remington is not an appropriate deer cartridge will cause others to wax wroth. That argument is not the subject here. But no matter which side of the "minimum ethical whitetail cartridge" debate you take, the fact remains that, at current count, 22 states allow use of .22 centerfire (.224 and up) cartridges for deer hunting, and thousands of deer hunters (particularly in Old South and Mid-South states) took their first deer with a .223 Remington and continue to do so.

Moreover, many of those hunters who would never consider using a .223/5.46mm AR15 rifle for deer have nonetheless joined the rapidly-swelling ranks of AR15 rifle and carbine owners (albeit for a different purpose), and could benefit from the fact that the AR15's modular design allows an instant swap of different upper receiver assemblies for seamless caliber conversion without the need to have an entire new gun. So here's a precis of some of the newer AR15 "whitetail cartridges" and a look at their basic ballistic figures.


6.5mm Grendel: The newest of the AR15 deer loads is the 6.5mm Grendel, standardized commercially by SAAMI in February of 2012. The cartridge itself was developed and introduced as a proprietary round by Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms in 2004 as a heavier-caliber alternative to the .223/5.56mm in AR15 carbines and rifles, designed to deliver reliable one-shot kills on human-weight targets out to 600 yards. AR15 hunters took to it immediately, viewing it as an 'AR version" of the same-caliber .260 Remington bolt-action cartridge, primarily because of the flat trajectory and high retained energy of the proven 6.5mm bullet. In Hornady's current 123-grain A-Max bullet loading the 6.5mm Grendel develops 2,620 fps velocity and 1,875 ft/ lbs of energy from the muzzle. This compares to 2,890 fps and 2,392 ft/lbs for the .260 Remington from a bolt-action rifle.

6.8mm Remington SPC: Like the 6.5mm Grendel, the 6.8mm Remington SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) originated from the search for a more effective alternative to the .223/5.56mm for the AR15 platform for long-range engagement of human-weight targets. Introduced commercially by Remington in 2004, it is currently the second-largest selling of all AR15 cartridges, surpassed only by the .223 itself (a far distant second, of course). Because it uses same-caliber bullets as the .270 Winchester, it is frequently called the ".270 Short" or ".270 Mini". by its legion of fans, of which I am unabashedly a member. Every deer I've taken with my 6.8mm SPC AR carbine has gone down at once, out to a 205-yard full-penetrating heart shot. From a 16.5-inch barrel, Remington's 115-grain Core-Lokt Ultra load generates 2,625 fps velocity and 1,759 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.

.300 Whisper/.300 AAC Blackout: Why are these two listed together? Because they are, essentially, the same cartridge and fire in the same chambers. The .300 Whisper was developed by J.D. Jones as a proprietary sub-sonic round for single-shot Thompson/Center pistols back in the 1990s (hence the "Whisper" name), and is available under that name only through license. The independently developed .300 AAC Blackout is designed specifically for function within the magazine-feeding geometry of the AR15 rifle and was commercially approved by SAAMI in 2011. Both are available in subsonic heavy-bullet (200- and 220-grain) loads as well as much faster light-bullet (115- and 125-grain) hunting loads from a variety of ammunition and AR15 manufacturers. Among the .30-caliber group of AR1S cartridges, however, they are the least energetic. On the hunting side, Hornady's 110-grain V-Max .300 Whisper develops 2,375 fps velocity and 1,377 ft/lbs of energy; Remington's 125-grain Premier Accu-Tip .300 AAC Blackout develops 2,215 fps and 1,362 ft/lbs.

7.62x39mm: There's certainly nothing new about the 7.62x39mm cartridge. After all, the "7.62mm Russian" or "7.62mm AK" was the mainstay cartridge of the Soviet Army since the 1950s and is still the "preferred cartridge of the enemy" in most theaters world-wide. But it is relatively new to the AR15 platform, primarily due to abundant quantities of inexpensive overseas surplus ammo becoming available after the Soviet collapse. With that availability came the development of U.S. AR15 rifles to shoot it, and with growing sales of those rifles came a demand for higher-quality 7.62x39mm ammunition, including ammunition designed for hunting. Ballistically, the 7.62x39mm offers performance slightly superior to the .300 Whisper/.300 BLK. Hornady's current 123-grain SST load delivers 2,350 fps velocity and 1,508 ft/lbs energy from a 20-inch test barrel. If you're one of the many shooters who acquired a 7.62x39mm AR15 for ammo economy, it's worth considering such a load for the whitetail woods.

.30 Remington AR: The last of the current crop of AR15 deer-hunting cartridges discussed here is the only one of the entire group that was actually created for the sole purpose of putting a whitetail round into the AR15 platform. Specifically, to give the AR15 the capability of a .308 Winchester. Of course, the larger "AR10-platform" rifle has been chambered for .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) since its invention in the mid-1950s, but such rifles are much heavier and more unwieldy that the compact, lighter weight and more popular AR15, Introduced in 2010, the .30 Remington AR offers 125-grain Core-Lokt Pointed Soft Point and Premier Accu-Tip Boat Tail hunting bullets that develop 2,800 fps velocity and 2,176 ft/lbs of energy from Remington R-15 AR15-platform rifles. That's actually more velocity and energy than Remington's standard full-length .308 Winchester 125-grain Core-Lokt load. The miracle of modern propellants.

Bottom line? From .260 caliber to .270 caliber to .30 caliber, the AR15 is fully capable in the whitetail woods. And, if you're a believer in .223 Remington, it always has been.
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Title Annotation:ONTARGET
Author:Metcalf, Dick
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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