The debate is moot. Regardless of what you think or how you feel about using semi-automatic guns for hunting, autoloaders and AR-style rifles are becoming more common in camps and virtually every major manufacturer is producing these guns in calibers heavy enough to drop deer, hogs and bears. Not to mention the fact that they're a blast on the range.
But what's the real difference between an AR and a semi-automatic rifle? It's seminal, and aesthetic. ARs were initially designed by ArmaLite Inc. -- hence the AR designation -- as civilian versions of military rifles, while the other semi-autos in this review were developed first and foremost as hunting or competitive shooting firearms. However, as ARs continue to grow in popularity as hunting rifles and semi-auto hunting rifle makers continue to borrow features from the AR world (synthetic stocks, detachable magazines) trying to separate the types of guns on a philosophical level is an exercise in futility. Both rifles fire a single bullet each time the trigger is pulled and they both automatically eject the spent cartridge and chamber in a new one. But from a technical standpoint, the two types of guns work off of a different platform and generally look different.
With that in mind, we round up 20 great semi-automatic rifles chambered in .30 RAR/6.8 SPC Spec II caliber cartridges and heavier. We cover ARs in slides 2-16 and autoloaders in slides 17-20. This is by no means a complete list. If we left your favorite gun out, make sure to add it in the comments section!
A compact version of its Long Range .308 rifle, Panther Arms introduced the AP4 LR-308 in 2005 as a response to calls for a smaller, faster and lighter AR-10-style carbine with more punch and heft than the M4 carbine. Standard features include an A3 height receiver rail, A2 front fixed sight, and a collapsible stock. A favorite of competitive shooters, it is gaining popularity with big game hunters because of its accuracy and flexibility.
Advantages: The AP4 LR-308 is better-suited for still/stand-hunting, but at 10-11 pounds (accessorized and loaded) and 38 inches long, it's not too heavy or too lengthy to stalk in timber. Its Picatinny rail upper receiver with removable carry handle provides the capacity to accept a wide range of optics.
Since its resurrection in 1996, ArmaLite, Inc., has resumed producing the venerable AR-10 and AR-15 that Eugene Stoner developed in the late 1950s as proposed replacements for the M1 Garand. The new A2 version has a 20-inch heavy barrel, non-removable carry handle, adjustable sights, weighs 9.13 pounds with an overall length of 44 inches, and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Advantages: Unlike many predecessor AR-prototype rifles, the original ArmaLite AR-10 was chambered in .308 Win., which remains the standard with the new AE-10 A2 and an excellent choice for deer or most big-game. Accurate, fast, well-balanced, and easy to carry, it features Realtree 'Advantage' and 'Hardwoods' camouflage patterns.
To meet the growing demand for a big-game AR-pattern rifle, Remington developed its R-25 to be chambered in .308 Win., 7 mm-08, and .243 Win. It then augmented that key variation with a host of design features, including a flat-top upper receiver and matching gas block that makes it easily adaptable to mounting optics, and six longitudinal flutes forward of the gas block that increase rigidity, reduce weight and enhance barrel cooling.
Advantages: Among the best blends of accuracy, fast follow-up and light recoil in an AR that is chambered for three widely available short-action hunting cartridges suitable for deer and big game. The R-25's 20-inch ChroMoly barrel within its 39 1/4-inch overall length and 8 3/4-pound weight makes it light enough to tote and durable enough to take a pounding.
Patriot Ordnance Factory Inc.'s P-415 Gas Piston Rifle features a gas-trap piston operating system that adds a gas plug, a gas piston, and a push rod while removing the gas-rings, gas tube, and gas key to the standard AR platform. The result is an AR that runs cooler, cleaner and more reliably.
Advantages: With a 9 1/4-inch barrel and an overall length under 30 inches (less than 26 inches with retracted stock), this P-415 model weighs a nimble 6.5 pounds (without magazine, accessories). The version chambered for the relatively new 6.8 SPC is suitable for deer, making this AR a good bet for stalking in timber.
Designed in 2007, the Barrett M4-Carbine-patterned REC7 -- the REC designation means "reliability-enhanced carbine" -- chambers a larger cartridge than the M4 (6.8 mm) and features a short-stroke gas piston system that runs cooler and cleaner than the standard direct gas impingement system. Other innovations include a 6-position adjustable stock and widened trigger guard that makes for easier shooting with a glove.
Advantages: At less than 8 pounds (without magazine, accessories) and about 33 1/3-inches long, the Barrett REC7 is among the most powerful and lightweight ARs available. According to Barrett, the new 6.8 mm round boasts 44 percent more stopping power and a longer effective range than the 5.56 mm round (.223) most ARs are chambered for. Solid bet for deer and hogs, as well as for varmints and plinking.
Designed by Eugene Stoner, the Stoner Rifle-25 is loosely based on his AR-10 prototype in its original 7.62×51mm NATO caliber, or its civilian commercial counterpart, the .308 Winchester cartridges. Tuned for precision as a "multi-target" sniper rifle, the SR-25's barrels are housed within free-floated handguards. At 10.4 pounds (without magazine) and 39.5 inches long, the SR-25 is designed for hunting from a stand.
Advantages: Lethal merger of accuracy -- capable of shooting less than 1-inch groups at 100 yards -- and the power of the .308 caliber, the SR-25 is one of the best big-game AR variants available. Of course, it's also one of the most expensive.
Stag Arms assembled its Model 7 Hunter in 2008 around the 6.8 Rem. SPC cartridge which, unlike the .30 Rem. AR (designed for big-game hunting), was initially developed for military use. Nevertheless, the 6.8 Rem. SPC continues to gain favor among hunters who want a semi-auto caliber capable of taking deer and most big game, but with a mild recoil and smooth accuracy of a smaller caliber AR. Features include a Hogue pistol grip, free-float handguard with over-molded rubber, two-stage match trigger, and a custom non-reflective S7 finish that also seals and prevents corrosion.
Advantages: Among the most popular 6.8 mm ARs, the M7 Hunter weighs in at just under 7 pounds and is 39-inches long with a 20.77-inch stainless steel barrel. Chambered in the bigger caliber, it truly does offer increased stopping power without added weight. It's acceptably accurate up to 250 yards.
Inspired by the Mk 12 SPR, which was developed for American special forces to fill the gap between the 14 1/2-inch barreled M4 Carbine and the 20-inch barreled M16 series, the DPMS Mark 12 series was initially chambered in 5.56x45 mm/.223 Rem. Since its debut, hunters have requested a model chambered for a large caliber version and DPMS responded with the Panther 308 MK 12 rifle chambered in 7.62 NATO/.308. Includes a black Teflon®-coated, 18-inch stainless steel, heavy contour barrel with an A3-style lightweight flattop upper receiver extruded from 7129-T6 aluminum with a vented 4-rail free float tube and Midwest Industries Flip-up Front Sight.
Advantages: The .308 Mark 12's innovations make it both a long-range rifle and a handy carbine that is extremely accurate in its capability to shoot sub-MOA groups. To make it more compact, it is fitted with a collapsible buttstock with five length adjustment settings. At 9.6 pounds and 40 1/4-inches long, it is a good bet for hunting big game from a stand or blind.
Alexander Arms was founded in 2001 and is most known for the .50 Beowulf cartridge designed by its founder, Bill Alexander. The Alexander Arms 50 Beowulf Entry is, essentially, an AR-15 adapted to fire that .50 caliber cartridge. This hard-hitting power dramatically alters this rifle from other AR-15 type firearms, while retaining the easy handling and rapid-fire accuracy of the platform. One reviewer described it as, "A lightweight, handy, semi-auto .45/70 but with a larger diameter bullet and greater velocity."
Advantages: Provides heavy-hitting power at short to medium ranges in a handy carbine-sized package -- 7 pounds (without magazine, accessories), 31 inches overall length with collapsible stock -- that is ideal for tracking big game in dense woods and heavy brush. It operates at a relatively low pressure compared to standard ARs, so it is reliable, and it features a flat-topped upper receiver ready for a wide range of optics.
A small Maryland manufacturer, Fulton Armory is known in the competitive shooting market for its reproductions of the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and M-14 models. Its FAR-308 captures that emphasis on precision while providing some punch and a great deal of flexibility -- its "no-snag" Slick-Slide upper receiver, made in Teflon-coated aluminum with an eight-way handguard float tube system, allows the owner to customized with nearly 1,300 rail combinations.
Advantages: At 9.65 pounds with a 20-inch barrel, the FAR-308 Phantom is well-suited for still or stand shooting for deer and most big game. As with all its products, Fulton Armory offers a precision guarantee: 1.25 MOA Or Better (with Hornady® Match™/TAP™ ammunition)
A direct descendant of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the FNAR blends auto-loading speed and bolt-action accuracy into one AR. The 16-inch cold hammer-forged MIL-SPEC fluted barrel has a hard-chromed bore and target crown. Other features include a one-piece, receiver-mounted MIL-STD 1913 optical rail, along with three rails attached to the stock's fore-end for mounting tactical lights and lasers. The matte black synthetic pistol grip stock is adjustable for comb height and length of pull through interchangeable inserts.
Advantages: The FNH FNAR .308 comes with an ambidextrous magazine release button that drops the detachable steel box magazine quickly and easily, something users have praised. It is endurance tested to 10,000 rounds for reliability and durability, which means it should last a while. It weighs 8 1/8-pounds (unloaded, without accessories), and is 37 1/2-inches long, making it a viable big game weapon while stalking in timber, or stand/hunting.
An Arizona-based custom manufacturer, McMillan is primarily known for its distinctive fiberglass stocks and for its Phoenix training center where law enforcement and military officers learn about precision rifle operations. But the company is also known for its M1A, a .308-chambered AR that is among the most accurate at close and medium distances in its caliber category. Among its other features is a pistol grip with finger groove and a Weaver-style rail.
Advantages: Accurate, ultra-reliable AR compact enough to wield in quick-shooting, mobile environments, but powerful enough to drop deer and other big game. At 11 pounds and 31 1/2-inches long (when adjustable buttstock is folded), the McMillan M1A is idea for use in a stand or while still-hunting.
A U.S. Special Operations Command's service rifle introduced in 2009, the third-generation FN SCAR 17S features a free-floating, cold hammer-forged MIL-SPEC barrel with a hardchromed bore. Flexible features include a receiver-integrated MIL-STD 1913 optical rail, plus three accessory rails that enable mounting of a wide variety of scopes, electronic sights, tactical lights and lasers. Its gas-operated, short-stroke piston design enhances reliability.
Advantages: Fully-ambidextrous, the FN SCAR 17S can adapt to any user in any shooting position. Chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO (308 Win.), its long-range accuracy and downrange power makes it a solid deer and big game weapon. At 8 pounds (without magazine, accessories) it is light enough for tracking game and still shooting, while its moderate length, up to 38 1/2-inches (including its 16 1/4-inch barrel), gives it the compact size to operate in the close quarters of a stand.
The PredatAR takes LaRue's OBR 7.62 "Heavy Barrel" design and lightens it by 2 pounds without degrading its accuracy by contouring the barrel, "skeletonizing" the handguard, lowering and simplifying the upper rail, and using a low-profile gas block. Among its features: Two-stage Geissele trigger; direct impingement gas system; LW50 stainless steel, blackened barrel; zero-MOA upper rail with ample space for a wide range of optics.
Advantages: The PredatAR 7.62 comes with XTRAXN, LaRue's proprietary chamber feature that reduces frictional forces caused by pressure-expanded cartridge cases bearing against chamber walls. This not only enhances reliability, but extends the ARs life without affecting accuracy. At 7 3/4-pounds (unloaded, without accessories) and less than 38 inches long, the PredatAR is effective for big game in stands as well as stalking the timber.
Factory built with imported Imbel parts on a Metric Entreprise Arms type 3 receiver made of 4140 steel by Entreprise Arms, the FN/FAL Imbel .308 Battle Rifle is refinished n Mil Spec zinc phosphate. Other features include: Zero Climb muzzle brake, legal configured pistol grip, bolt hold open on last shot, adjustable gas system and carry handle.
Advantages: This is a reasonably priced factory built rifle, not a used parts or kit assembly, as some may believe. It weighs 9.5 pounds (unloaded, without accessories) and is 43-inches long (including a 21-inch barrel) and, therefore, is suitable for stand or still-hunting for deer and most other big game
Remington's first move into the AR market, the R-15 VTR Predator features an ergonomic pistol grip; an 18-inch OD barrel precision-crafted from ChroMoly steel; a collapsible stock; uppers/lowers machined from aluminum forgings for featherweight durability; fore-end tube drilled and tapped for accessory rails.
Advantages: The R-15 Predator was built with the varmint hunter in mind. At 6 3/4-pounds with a camouflaged, collapsible stock, it was designed for fast, long-range shooting. As is typical for Remington, the action is soft and smooth -- characteristics that also help define the R-15 when chambered in the new .30 RAR caliber, which elevates a lightweight, portable predator weapon into a legitimate deer hunting rifle
Browning BAR ShortTrac in .308
Since its introduction in 1967, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) has set the standard for autoloading centerfire hunting rifles. In fact, for decades, it was the only commercial auto chambered for magnum cartridges. Browning's BAR Mark II remains the most popular of all semi-automatic hunting rifles. It comes in three basic models: Safari, ShortTrac/LongTrac, and Lightweight Stalker. The ShortTrac model features an aircraft grade aluminum alloy receiver without engraving and a 22-inch barrel for .308 caliber with open sights, a low glare black matte finish, and a weather-resistant black synthetic stock.
Advantages: As with Browning's bolt-action rifles, the ShortTrac features excellent accuracy and dependability. At 6.10 pounds and 41 1/2-inches long, it is a stylish and lightweight addition to Browning's BAR line and a solid performer either in the stand or on the move in timber when hunting deer and most other big game.
Introduced in 2009, the newest version of the .750 Woodmaster was the first substantial change in Remington's basic semi-auto design since its predecessor, the Model 7400, debuted in 1981. Early Woodsmaster models were sometimes called "jam-o-matics," but those issues are addressed in an improved system that moves the gas vent closer to the chamber, reducing carbon deposits on the piston assembly. Other changes include a low-profile receiver, a restyled stock, and a widened fore-end that sits nicely in the hand.
Advantages: Since calibers include .243 Win., .270 Win., 308 Win., .30-06 Springfield, and .35 Whelen, the Woodmaster is chambered in a wide range of heavy-hitting calibers and, therefore, is well-suited for deer and other big game. Despite this, its R3 recoil pad helps make it a soft-kicking AR. Its look and feel -- not to mention its affordability -- makes it a favorite of those who previously swore that they'd never hunt with anything other than a traditional bolt-action weapon.
Chambered for some heavy-hitting, long-range calibers, including the .270 WSM, 7mm Rem. 7mm WSM, .300 Win. Mag,. .338 Win. Mag., Browning's BAR Safari models are a long-standing favorite of big-game AR hunters. The Safari, some would say, is not only Browning's best BAR, but among the world's premier gas-operated autoloaders. The Safari features an engraved, forged steel receiver and a genuine walnut stock and forearm with a diamond pattern cut checkering. All metal is highly polished and deep luster blued, and the wood has a beautiful high gloss finish.
Advantages: Many say the Safari shoots as accurately as Browning's ultra-accurate A Bolt and X Bolt rifles. The Safari's BOSS (Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System) enhances accuracy and reduces recoil by a third. At 8.6 pounds and 45 inches long (including its 24-inch barrel), the Safari in .338 Win. is not only knock-down lethal for big game hunting, but fast enough for targeting varmints in a fast-shooting environment.
When Benelli introduced the R1 in 1993, it became popular among European wild boar hunters who appreciated a rifle that could accurately fire off multiple shots in rapid succession. A decade later, Benelli introduced its second generation R1, which incorporates several innovative upgrades, while retaining the fundamental qualities that makes the R1 a growing choice among AR hunters. Among those distinctive qualities is a gas-operated "short punch" system developed by "Carbine" Williams, the designer of the first autoloading carbines that led to the light .30-caliber carbines in the mid-20th century. It is available in .308 Win., .30/06, .270 WSM, .300 WSM, and .300 Win. Mag.
Advantages: This is an unusual-looking weapon—some would say ugly—but it is among the softest and smoothest shooting ARs on the market. Its ComforTech stock allegedly reduces recoil by almost 50 percent. It is easy to shoot, comes apart easily for cleaning, the magazine is a cinch to load and can be detached quickly. Its ARGO gas system automatically compensates for different cartridge pressures, which lets hunters switch from different calibers just by swapping barrels, magazines, and bolt heads. No other auto can do that. At 7.3 pounds (without magazine, accessories) and at 46-inches long, the R-1 is a good still/stand-hunting AR for deer and most other big game.