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What is an AR15 Assault Rifle: AR Gun Basics  

L.p. Brezny | Updated February 23, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
cover photo of what is an AR15 showing an ar15 rifle, article title, and logo

Common myths portray the AR-15 as an assault rifle used for ulterior, often criminal, motives. However, the background behind the creation of the AR-15 characterizes the rifle as a weapon like almost any other firearm in our nation’s history.

It’s important to know how the AR-15 came about and what the “AR” truly stands for. Contrary to popular belief, this weapons platform has many safe modern uses, including hunting.

What Is an AR-15 Rifle?

The name “AR-15” itself points back to the creators of this controversial rifle. The “AR” refers to ArmaLite, the company that originated the design back in the 1950s.

The original rifle, per military style, had select-fire capabilities, including semi-automatic, full-automatic, and 3-round burst modes. But when the platform failed to impress the military, ArmaLite offloaded the design to Colt.

In keeping with the original intent of the design, Colt developed the AR-15 to further align with military standards. And some 13 years later, Colt sold the design as the rebranded M16.

In addition to the military variant, Colt also created a semi-automatic version for civilian use. This version does not incorporate the full-automatic firing capabilities of the military version.

Come 1977, Colt’s patent reaches its expiration date. Upon failure to renew this patent, Colt soon faced stiff competition as other companies joined in on the increasingly lucrative market.

These days, the AR-15 has been rebranded as the modern sporting rifle. Its uses include several applications, from hunting and competitions to home defense. (1)

Regarding the references to the AR-15 as an “assault rifle,” the ATF defines this platform as a semiautomatic rifle, not a semiautomatic assault weapon. The difference lies in the accessories mounted to the rifle, which are not present on models sold directly by most manufacturers. (2)

What Is an AR-15 Used For?

an AR-15 rifle mounted with a scope looking out toward a wooded area

The AR-15 platform is used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Hunting
  • Modern shooting sports
  • Competitions
  • Home defense
  • Fun at the range

As the popularity of the AR-15 has grown among young sporting enthusiasts, manufacturers have campaigned to include these weapons systems in many best-selling video games.

You can find the AR-15 in several calibers, from rifle and pistol to .410 shotgun variants as well. Here’s a list of the most common calibers on the market:

  • .22 LR
  • .223 Remington
  • 6.8 SPC
  • .308 Win
  • .450 Bushmaster
  • 9 mm
  • .40 S&W
  • .45 ACP

As it happens, the AR-15 platform offers several benefits. For instance, the system itself is modular and customizable to your heart’s content.

In fact, the accessories market makes up a large part of the weapons system’s success. With the ability to change out almost every part of the gun to fit your liking, the possibilities are nearly endless.

The AR-15 is also easy to disassemble and accurate at long distances, travelling faster and further, with more force, than other platforms.

Additionally, this platform allows you to repeat shots quickly with less recoil, which comes in handy when hunting goats, elk, pigs, and coyotes.

It’s legal to own an AR-15 in most states as long as you pass the federally mandated background check. However, you’re also subject to local, state, and federal regulations surrounding these rifles.

Can You Hunt With AR-15 Guns?

You can hunt with an AR-15 as long as the law allows it. It’s important to check local gun laws before hunting with an AR-15, as you could lose both your license and your kill (as well as pay a steep fine and/or spend time in jail) if the law does not permit it.

The option to hunt with an AR-15 also depends on what game you’re hunting. Certain varmints, such as coyotes and pigs, can be easily killed with an AR-15.

Man wit ha red cap aiming his ar15 looking through the scope

In most cases, it’s an issue of achieving a humane kill. The caliber you use will also be a determining factor in this regard, as you’ll need enough power to bring down your target without risking the loss of the animal.

For that reason, states often restrict the use of the AR-15 for large game hunting to larger calibers such as the .308 Win. This ensures a kill shot that’s most likely to result in humanely taking the animal.

Now, many hunters prefer the AR-15 as a hunting rifle for several reasons:

  • Modularity and customizability of the platform
  • Increase or decrease weight as necessary
  • Most are easily maneuverable (can help inexperienced hunters)

However, the AR-15 isn’t always an ideal rifle for a hunt. Some hunters cite the rifle’s reliability issues and the magazine’s propensity to fall out during a hunt.

That said, the ability to quickly follow up your initial shot with a secondary kill shot makes the AR-15 a desirable platform nonetheless. It all depends on what your situation is, as well as what and where you’re hunting.

What Is the Best Caliber to Hunt With AR-15s?

The best caliber to hunt with when choosing the AR-15 is the one specified by the state and local laws. These are dictated by what game you’re hunting and perhaps what type of permit you hold.

As mentioned above, the caliber of the AR-15 you’re using must be powerful enough to ensure a humane kill. Though it may be self-explanatory, larger calibers are required the larger and heavier the game is.

Many hunters choose .223 ammunition for varmints and coyotes. This ammunition is inexpensive and accurate, as it can reach a few hundred yards depending on you and your rifle.

However, 6.8 SPC is favored among most enthusiasts wishing to hunt larger game, which includes deer, elk, and moose.

Can You Use a Thermal Scope With an AR-15?

Yes, you can use a thermal scope with an AR-15. We actually have a full article on the top budget thermal scope for AR15 rifles for you to check out.

A thermal scope is no different than any other accessory manufactured to fit one of the more prominent weapons systems today.

But before you purchase any old thermal scope for your AR-15, you’ll want to consider a few things. This includes eye relief, weight, features, and how you’ll mount the scope to the rifle.

It’s also a good idea to consider how far away your target will be when hunting. This can help you determine what type of thermal scope you need, as larger calibers require a recoil-rated thermal scope (these are built to withstand the recoil of larger calibers, the internal components cushioned in a way that prevents damage from the traveling force).

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of an AR-15 gun?

The purpose of an AR-15 gun varies. Though developed and integrated into military applications, the civilian version can be used for everything from a day at the range to home defense and hunting.

What’s considered an AR-15?

An AR-15 is considered, per the ATF’s definition, a semiautomatic rifle, not a semiautomatic assault rifle. Most experts refer to a rifle as an AR-15 as long as it includes the basic design features of this popular platform.


  1. The Trace, “What, Exactly, Is An AR-15 Rifle?,” retrieved from https://www.thetrace.org/2022/06/ar15-rifle-assault-weapon-ban/
  2. ATF eRegulations, “27 CFR Part 478,” retrieved from https://regulations.atf.gov/478-11/2016-12100#478-11

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