Sep
25

An Outdoor Context for “Those Guns”

Over the past ten days, in the course of the Wyoming deer and antelope safari that son James, son-in-law Chris, and I take each fall, I enjoyed a number of conversations with hunting and non-hunting folks from several different states. Invariably, we talked about hunting and the variety of tools (firearms, crossbows and traditional archery gear) used. Repeatedly, given the times in which we live, came questions about the amazing number of so-called “black guns,” those AR-10 and AR-15 types, and the AK-47.

It dawned on me that it is probably time to update and revisit the context and role of “those guns” in the hunting and shooting communities of our country. Without such a context, it seems folly to me to spend much time discussing and debating their future.

First of all, let me be clear that I am not a big fan of the AR-10/AR-15 or of the 500 or so brands of “black guns” built on the AR platform, although they are really fun to shoot. After all, one can burn through 200 rounds of ammo in slightly more than a couple blinks of an eye. And many of the new versions are among the most accurate firearms ever built. And they are very popular for hunting – available in more than four dozen calibers.

The AK-47 is, as far as I can tell, is available only in the Russian 7.62x39mm cartridge (caliber .312) and it is also widely used in recreational shooting.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Wikipedia, and other sources, there are somewhere around 10 million rifles from the AR and AK families being used by Americans today. This number falls within the total of some 300 million firearms of all types owned by our fellow Americans.

If you have followed this Inside the Outdoors column over the past couple decades, you are aware of my long-held views of what is a proper hunting rifle or sporting firearm. Our modern hunting rifles grew from the military firearms of WWI and WWII. Soldiers used bolt-action and auto-loading rifles, which became sportier, lighter, more accurate and graceful as they returned home to traditional hunting and shooting activities. Over the decades into the 1960s, virtually all fine rifles were built around European and American military surplus actions (the mechanism moving the cartridge into the barrel’s chamber and locking it in place).

A quality rifle had a strong, smooth action screwed onto a carefully forged and machined steel barrel, and fitted to a finely carved and finished wood stock (likely walnut, but maybe maple, myrtle, or another strong and attractive hardwood). To me, and uncounted thousands of others within a couple generations of me, that was a hunting rifle.

That finished rifle would deliver a bullet with consistent accuracy to a point of aim downrange. Many cartridges and calibers (the bullet’s diameter in inches or metric) were developed for these rifles – well beyond the 7mm and .30 caliber military cartridges. Cartridges were developed for hunting critters of all sizes, with bullets in calibers from .22 and 6mm (.243) to .500 caliber. Accuracy was paramount. Hundreds of articles have been written on hunters’ responsibility for accurate shooting afield – one MOA (a one inch group at 100 yards) remains the standard.

We have watched war, soldiers, tools and times change. We sent our young men and women to fight in places that were often hot, wet and muddy, and traditional military arms didn’t hold up. New firearms were developed.

The first AR-15 (Armalite Rifle 15) was created for use in Vietnam in the early 1960s, and is still the military weapon of choice. (The M-16 is the version most GIs learned to carry.) Although it had its problems, it was light, dependable and could lay down a terrific barrage of fire. The original caliber was the 5.56mm NATO – a version of the .223 Remington – which could spit tiny bullets at 3200 feet per second. At that velocity, the round could do a lot of damage, and a soldier could carry a lot of ammo.

Those soldiers, like the WWI and II vets before them, brought home expertise with light, semiautomatic, gray/black carbon/plastic firearms with corrosion-resistant metal where needed. Just like the GIs before them, they started improving on the tools they knew.

As noted above, AR-type firearms – black guns – are now made in dozens of calibers. A good many will shoot sub-MOA groups, and cost several thousand dollars. Even shotguns and handguns are made with this light and weatherproof technology.

The transition to AR-15 rifles as firearms of choice for hunters, target shooters – and self-defense devotees – has not been easy for those of us who “know” how a real rifle looks and feels. Still, it is clear that these are currently the most popular firearms in the US. They are manufactured for cartridges in about 50 Imperial calibers from .17 to .50, 19 metric calibers (5.45mm and up) and 14 handgun calibers. (Larger calibers have become preferred for hunting deer, wild pigs, bears and other game.) Only Colt makes the official military AR-15, although it has stopped manufacturing a civilian version. Still, there are about 500 US and international manufacturers of AR-15 type guns.

Given the numbers, popularity, and use of them, I see little value in continuing argument about civilian use of AR-15 type firearms. Maybe we might focus on safety and training – it is generally how we successfully deal with tragic happenings in our country.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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