The AR-15 platform has been around for more than 50 years, but only recently has it really moved into the deer hunting arena. This is due to modern bullet technology and a new crop of AR-15 compatible cartridges. Here’s a look at seven good deer hunting cartridges for the AR-15.

Contrary to popular belief, with the right bullets the .223 Remington is a deer capable cartridge.
  1. .223 Remington: Developed as the original cartridge for the AR-15, and also known as the 5.56 NATO, the .223 Rem. is suitable for deer hunting, when used with bullets designed for that task. Remington offers its Core-Lokt Ultra, Fusion has a 62-grain bullet, and Federal offers a 60-grain Nosler Partition. All these bullets will work out to 200 yards or so on any whitetail or mule deer. Some argue that the .223 Rem. isn’t legal in most states, but at last count, 38 allow it.
Benefiting from the high-ballistic coefficient 6.5mm bullets it fires, the 6.5 Grendel is suitable for deer out beyond 300 yards. It is also known as the .264 LBC-AR.
  1. 6.5 Grendel: This cartridge has been available as a wildcat for some time. It was originally designed by Bill Alexander and Janne Pohjoispaa as a low-recoil, highly accurate, 200-800 yard cartridge, specifically for the AR-15. It has a cult-like following and is indeed a viable deer cartridge. It’s one of the few cartridges that allow the AR-15 to stretch out beyond 300 yards for deer. Fortunately, it is no longer a wildcat cartridge; it’s now loaded by several ammunition manufacturers.
Though it offers only minimal ballistic advantage over the .223 Remington, the 6.8 SPC is an ideal deer cartridge for the AR-15 at modest ranges.
  1. 6.8 Remington SPC: Originally developed by Remington, with collaboration from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit to replace the 5.56 NATO, the 6.8 SPC will likely never be adopted by the military. It does improve on the downrange energy of the .223 Rem. and has merit as a hunting cartridge, especially for deer out to around 200 yards. Even though it uses the same diameter bullet as the .270 Winchester, bullets for the 6.8 must be shorter to work with the maximum overall cartridge length limited by the AR-15 magazine.
The .300 Blackout has become one of the most popular cartridges for the AR-15. It is ideal for subsonic use, and in its supersonic form will compete with the .30-30 Winchester.
  1. .300 Blackout: This is nothing more than the legitimization of a wildcat cartridge developed by JD Jones, which has been available for many years and is known as the .300 Whisper. Since Advanced Armament Corporation, in conjunction with Remington, standardized it, the cartridge has received a whirlwind of attention. This is mostly due to its suitability to subsonic use, especially with a suppressor. And, a number of states allow the use of suppressors while hunting. In its supersonic form, it is ballistically similar to the .30-30 Winchester, but should probably be limited to about 200 yards for deer.
Now almost forgotten, the .30 Remington AR might have been the best deer cartridge ever created for the AR-15.
  1. .30 Remington AR: Though this cartridge lost some of its splash due to its introduction at the height of the AR-15 craze, it is indeed the first cartridge to truly move the AR-15 into the big game hunting scene. It duplicates the ballistics of the time honored .300 Savage cartridge, which has a stellar reputation with deer and black bear hunters. The .30 Remington AR is a true, 400-yard deer cartridge. Unfortunately, Remington failed to support it properly, and it is fading from use. If you have one, you’ve got a winner.
One advantages of the 7.62×39 (right) is the vast amounts of affordable ammunition available for it. It is a great deer cartridge inside 200 yards. (.300 Blackout, left)
  1. 7.62 X 39: Designed by the Soviets during WW II for the RPD machinegun, this cartridge gained its fame in the AK-47. Even though it has the same 7.62 designation as the .308 Winchester, which is a .308 caliber cartridge, the 7.62 X 39 utilizes a .312 caliber bullet. Modern ammunition and rifle bore diameters for 7.62 X 39 rifles can vary between .308 and .312 diameter. With regard to the cartridge’s suitability in an AR-15, the excessive taper on the case has been notorious for causing feeding problems. This is why magazines for the AK-47 were curved like a banana. Ballistically, the 7.62 X 39 is very close to the .300 Blackout.
Big, mean and nasty might be the best way to describe the .450 Bushmaster. It is a great short-range deer cartridge, but you will feel it when you pull the trigger.
  1. .450 Bushmaster: If you like to throw big heavy bullets at whitetail deer, then this is the cartridge for you. Inside 150 yards, the .450 Bushmaster is the hardest hitting factory cartridge available for the AR-15. Remington and Hornady offer ammunition for this bruiser, and it might best be described as the .45-70 of ARs.

Images by Richard Mann

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  • Bruce Marshall

    I am surprised that you did not mention the improved chamber for the 6.8 SPC known as the 6.8 SPCII while it may not be a SAAMI designated chamber most manufacturers of 6.8 SPC barrels are chambering for it. The higher pressures allowed by this chamber improve ballistics for the 6.8 by a substantial margin making good it effective to 300 yards and beyond. I own a Grendel and a 6.8 and like them both but will more often than not grab my 6.8.

    • Steve H

      I agree the 6.8 was skimmed-over in this article. 200 yard gun? Kidding, right?? And how many .30 Rem ARs are even out there? I’ve never seen one. What about the .458 socom??
      Actually, there’s not much useful or even accurate info in this article. Obviously minimal research (if any) went into these findings.

      • Cal Murphy

        Yup–worthless! The most capable long range SAAMI rounds that can be fit into an AR-15 (the 223, 243, and 25 WSSMs) were forgotten! There are only four manufacturers of these very specialized AR-15 uppers, AFAIK, but they do exist and you’ll pay AR-10 level prices for them.

      • cawpin

        Agreed, the Socom is a much more capable cartridge than the Bushmaster. It’s the real .45-70 of the AR world.

  • Robert Wheelock

    I shot my last elk with a 6.8……….not even a single step!