As the popularity of the AR continues to grow to meteoric levels, it seems like everyone already has one and is now buying their second or third rifle. Of course, thanks to Eugene Stoner’s ingenious design and the modular nature of the AR, you don’t need to buy a whole second rifle in order to change calibers and go from a varmint gun to a home-defense gun, to a medium-sized or big-game gun. Indeed, being able to shoot more than one cartridge through essentially the same rifle is one of the main reasons people buy new upper receivers and new barrels all the time.
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This modularity has led to the creation of various specially designed calibers for the AR platform, and we’re not just talking about wildcats, either. Many mainstream manufacturers have worked with hunters and members of the special operations community to develop new and more powerful loadings for the AR. Of course, the .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO still remains king, but that doesn’t mean this venerable cartridge has not seen some significant improvements in recent years.
Here are some of the latest loadings for your AR-platform rifle.
For economical, high-quality, new-manufactured range ammo, Aguila Ammunition is really hard to beat. The company also excels in making new and innovative ammunition, including its .22 Colibri rounds and short shotgun minishells. The company uses all-new components and non-corrosive primers for reliable feeding and solid performance. For ARs, the company offers three loadings: a 62-grain 5.56mm NATO FMJ, a 55-grain .223 Remington FMJ and a 150-grain 7.62mm NATO FMJ. (aguilaammo.com; 888-452-4019)
Barnes is well known to reloaders for its extremely high-quality bullets, but the company also manufactures some of the best defensive and hunting ammunition available and has recently expanded its offerings. Combining its excellent bullets with precision loading, Barnes is offering several new cartridge options for precision shooting. Barnes’ Precision Match ammunition, loaded with a match-grade, open-tip, boat-tail bullet, is designed for extreme accuracy at long distances with a very low standard deviation. New 69- and 85-grain 5.56mm loads are available. For those who need more power, there are new 175-grain .308, 220-grain .300 WM and 300-grain .338 Lapua loads.
Barnes has not left out competition shooters, and its new RangeAR is designed for target, training and competition as a low-cost option that delivers higher velocities. The lead-free bullets are made using a zinc core surrounded by a copper jacket with an open-tip, flat-base design. These loads are designed to perform well in high-twist-rate barrels of any length, and their construction will not damage steel targets. New loads include a 52-grain 5.56mm as well as a 95-grain 300 BLK.
Hunters have new loadings as well in the VOR-TX line, which features an expanding solid-copper bullet ideal for medium-sized game. This round offers minimal recoil yet expands to twice its diameter with four petals almost immediately on contact and penetrates fully with 100-percent weight retention. This line includes 62- and 70-grain 5.56mm loads and a 120-grain 300 BLK. Most of the company’s loadings also include QR codes that provide shooters with bullet-drop tables specific to each load. (barnesbullets.com; 800-574-9200)
Black Hills Ammunition has several new loadings for ARs, including a 5.56mm with the 70-grain Hornady GMX, which is specifically designed to perform well against barriers. Most barriers, especially auto glass, will severely affect a bullet’s performance. The GMX bullet is designed for law enforcement to minimize the effect of barriers and deliver results on target. It performs equally well for hunters who need a bullet that expands reliably. It performs best in faster 1-in-7- and 1-in-8-inch-twist barrels with 17 to 22 inches of penetration in gelatin and 100-percent expansion and weight retention. (black-hills.com; 605-348-5150)
The newest ammunition from Federal is a line specifically designed for ARs and similar rifles. The Fusion MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) ammunition has been engineered to perform well in scenarios from hunting to home defense in rifles with 16-inch barrels (62-grain .223) as well as in those with 20-inch barrels (150-grain .308). A 115-grain 6.8 SPC loading is also available, and all bullets feature a skived bullet tip for consistent long-range expansion, a fused jacket and core, and a boat-tail design for improved accuracy and velocity.
Gorilla Ammunition is committed to manufacturing high-quality, hand-inspected ammo to consumers, and for AR fans it offers several different loadings in .223 Remington, 300 Blackout and .308 Winchester. Subsonic 300 BLK ammo hits hard enough to tackle medium-sized game, including deer and feral hogs. One Gorilla load that is especially well suited for this role is its subsonic 300 Blackout load with a 220-grain Sierra MatchKing bullet. The company’s website also features a video showing how silent it can be when suppressed. It should be noted that subsonic ammunition creates less pressure and may not run reliably in some semi-autos that are not suppressed. Of course, Gorilla also sells a supersonic 300 Blackout load with a 125-grain Sierra MatchKing. (gorillaammunition.com; 772-766-5805)
Hornady manufactures some great ammunition for the AR, and it also specializes in producing high-quality AR ammo that you don’t often see elsewhere. The company’s 123-grain 6.5 Grendel SST uses a “Super Shock Tip” designed for maximum terminal performance, penetration and expansion. It is effective against medium-sized game like whitetail deer. This round features a polymer tip and boat-tail design to increase its ballistic coefficient, and its Interlock Ring keeps the jacket and core together for improved weight retention.
Another interesting hunting round for the AR is Hornady’s 250-grain .450 FTX, also known as the “Thumper.” This round was designed for big-game hunting at intermediate ranges, and it represents a radical departure for the AR. While it requires a new upper and magazine, this round is suitable for anything up to large bears. The FTX bullet features Hornady’s Flex Tip technology with a soft polymer tip that ensures reliable expansion and a specially engineered heavy jacket at the rear of the bullet. (hornady.com; 800-338-3220)
The 300 Blackout was developed initially for military special operations units looking for a harder-hitting cartridge that could be more easily suppressed than the 5.56mm NATO but still fit and function in a standard AR with minimal alteration. This cartridge has succeeded extremely well and only requires a barrel change. It is available in subsonic and supersonic varieties and has also found favor among hunters. HPR’s new 150-grain 300 Blackout SP (Soft Point) and 110-grain 300 Blackout TAC-TX are designed with HyperClean technology and offer excellent expansion. And HPR’s new 110-grain 300 Blackout FMJ is designed for range use and training. This is consistent, high-quality, sub-MOA ammunition made entirely in the U.S. (hprammo.com; 928-468-0223)
Liberty’s lead-free, monolithic, deep-cavity-fragmenting Silverado rifle rounds are loaded with 55-grain bullets that blast apart into nine pieces for maximum damage on impact. The projectile is loaded on a cartridge with stopping power of over 1,100 foot-pounds of energy with a velocity greater than 3,000 fps for terminal effects on medium to large game using a nickel and copper blend. And for other applications, the rounds will penetrate heavy cloth, wallboard, oblique glass and car doors without fragmenting. (libertyammunition.com; 888-506-0576)
Red Army Standard
One of the great benefits of ARs chambered in 7.62x39mm is the plentiful and inexpensive nature of this cartridge (as well as its suitable use for hunting larger game where the .223 Remington is not permitted). Modified magazines are required for some ARs, while others will accommodate AK magazines, but if you don’t want to use surplus ammunition of dubious provenance, Century Arms is importing affordable, newly manufactured, high-quality 7.62x39mm ammo from Europe under the Red Army Standard banner. Its 123-grain FMJ ammunition is made to American specifications featuring lead-core bullets and non-corrosive primers, which makes cleaning easier and helps prevent rust or corrosion. The brass cases are Boxer primed for reliability. (redarmystandard.com)
Remington produces plenty of ammunition in .223, but one of its other loadings for the AR is the 6.8 SPC. Like many other non-5.56mm cartridges, this too was originally designed for the military special operations community looking for an intermediate cartridge between the 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO. Based on a modified .30 Remington case, this cartridge also sought to combine the accuracy of a 6.5mm bullet with the terminal ballistics of a 7mm bullet. This ammunition outperforms the 7.62x39mm and is highly effective out to 500 yards. Several loads are available, but it’s hard to beat Remington’s 115-grain match hollow-point load. (remington.com; 800-243-9700)
Sig Sauer is already renowned for manufacturing some of the best pistols and rifles available anywhere, but the company recently began manufacturing ammunition to the same high quality and demanding standards. To date, the only rifle ammunition Sig Sauer is offering is its new 220-grain subsonic and 125-grain supersonic 300 BLK ammo. Both cartridges are loaded with Sierra MatchKing Open-Tip Match (OTM) bullets with a proprietary lead alloy core and match-grade brass for superior performance and accuracy. Despite the larger bullet diameter, the case diameter and overall length of the 300 BLK remains the same as the 5.56mm’s, so a full 30 rounds will fit in a standard AR magazine. (sigsauer.com; 603-610-3000)
Wilson Combat has a great reputation for building outstanding firearms with incredible attention to detail. But a firearm is only as good as the ammunition it fires. This led the company to start producing its own ammunition, including a line specifically for ARs that is manufactured to the same exacting standards as Wilson’s guns. Wilson Combat uses only the best components for optimal performance, including low-flash powders to preserve night vision, improved crimping and polishing for better reliability, pressure tailored to your barrel length and hand inspection. The company currently offers .223 Remington. 6.8 SPC, 300 BLK, .308 Winchester and .458 SOCOM ammo as well as its proprietary 7.62x40mm WT (Wilson Tactical), which is based on the original 7.62x40mm wildcat cartridge.
Winchester Ammunition has expanded its well-regarded PDX1 Defender line to include several new offerings in .223 Remington, such as 60- and 77-grain loads, as well as a 120-grain .308 Winchester load and a 120-grain 7.62x39mm. The PDX1 Defender hollow point is specifically designed for semi-autos and features a proprietary bonding process to retain maximum weight while defeating barriers.
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Hunters can select from two new Varmint-X .223 loadings with 40- and 55-grain bullets. This bullet features a polymer tip for flat shooting and accurate performance at distance with an alloy jacket and a rapidly fragmenting lead core. It is ideal for game up to and including bobcats and coyotes. (winchester.com)