Ask Josh: Building A Short Hunting Rifle

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Today’s question comes to us from reader ‘London 35’ who asks . . .

I am interested in building a short barreled rifle out of the AR platform. I recently read your article about short barreled .308s and was wondering what your input on the matter would be. The goal is a small, lightweight, and maneuverable hunting rife to be used on deer and hogs at a max of 200 yards. The calibers I’m considering so far are the 300 ham’r, .308, and 6.8 spc. What caliber do you think would be best suited for this application, barrel length around 12-13in. Thank you for your time.

To get right to the point, there are already many, many options out there for that category of arms. A custom build isn’t really necessary, but would be fun to do. Off-the-shelf options exist currently that fit this category.

I wrote that .308 article almost a decade ago now and it’s been very popular, far more than I ever thought it would be. I don’t know how much it’s actually influenced anyone, but I am glad to have been asked about it so much.

The thing is, a decade ago we didn’t have a lot of the information we have now, and while my original numbers were great at the time, a lot has changed. There are newer and better rounds out there that meet or exceed what I did back then, but with a substantial savings in weight and greater ballistic efficiency.

Alas, this is not about those rounds, but maybe I will do an updated article on today’s products.

The surviving original 308 13.5 pin-and-weld (16.25” OAL” barrel from the 2013 TTAG article.

In a recent Ask Josh, there was an effort to sh*tcan me for expressing my views on why it isn’t a great idea for an inexperienced/trigger happy hunter to start buying magnum-class semi-autos to make up for poor bolt gun results. I’m not a Fudd, I’ve just been around enough bad hunters to know that it’s a dangerous situation.

Despite the expected amount of flak I received in response to that piece, I think people missed my point that there are so few of products in that category because they appeal to a very limited audience. And that the people who they appeal to are sometimes misguided as to the functional value of those rifles.

The same goes for this answer in that I want London 35 to understand the limits on what is being asked and, while SBR-length barrels are relatively common, they are, again, useful for a much narrower band of individuals.

A 14.5 pinned barrel on the Geissele URGI upper brings it to legal length. It is classified as a rifle in this case and is still very compact.

London 35 lays out a very specific set of criteria, which is great. I’m seeing it here as short-barreled rifle. I am not sure if this is an NFA SBR or something that would be pinned and welded out to a legal 16” length.

There is, of course the pistol route, and among these options in the 13” range, there is little ballistic difference given that it’s more of a legal classification issue than a performance one.

In addition to a 13”-ish barrel, the desired game is deer and hogs at 200 yards and in. This is helpful and I can recommend going with any of these rounds, but with a preference for .308 Win.

A 13.5” .308 can be pinned and welded out to 16” pretty easily and there are companies that make brakes or flash hiders that do just that, but you’ll want to be sure of those measurements. If we’re talking about a NFA SBR as opposed to just a short rifle, then you don’t need to worry about the pin-and-weld, just the long NFA wait time.

The main thing we’re now looking at is the difference between what you get in platform size and weight in this category. The .308 size/AR10 will always be a bit heavier and larger than an AR-15 in 300 HAMR or 6.8 SPC, but the difference is not as apparent when the overall size will be quite similar and almost as compact.

Parts choice is big here and there are plenty of ten-pound SBRs I’ve seen and shot. It’s easy to get heavy, so London should avoid big scopes and extra gizmos if keeping the rifle light is the order of the day.

The Q FIX is a very compact bolt action 6.5 or 308. It is only 6.4 lbs and is a great alternative to a semiauto for compact hunting- and brass retention.

My general recommendation would be to go with the .308 size and expect to be firing a 168gr bullet at about 2400 fps from a 12″ to 13” barrel. You can also do a 175gr at about the same speed, give or take a bit. A 130gr bullet can go pretty fast in this setup, at about 2600 or more if you push it.

This is more powerful than a .30-30 and is really not that much different from a full-length barrel at the 200-yard range. Can you do it with a 6.8 or the new(ish) 300 HAMR? Sure you can, and those rounds may be a bit more efficient in a smaller envelope, but they aren’t as commonly available as .308 today and enjoy fewer options for ammunition. That can always change, but I would only invest in something harder to find if I had a ready supply of ammo available to me.

Since we’re talking game at 200 yards and in, there is a wide selection of .30 caliber bullets that perform well in the shorty .308. I haven’t found one that absolutely sucks at those ranges, but I haven’t tried them all. I would say that pretty much any good 150 grain hunting load will work well.

Now, about those limits I mentioned earlier. The short rifle is very handy and easy to use. It can be extremely accurate and, as I proved in my original .308 article all those years ago, it can be just as precise as a longer barrel mechanically.

I think accuracy is a non-issue in short rifles, especially at 200 yards and less. If you approach the short hunting rifle realistically, you won’t be disappointed. If you come at it from a ‘but its only good for X distance what if an animal comes out further’ or ‘but it can’t pierce armor in some imagined battle’, you haven’t understood the concepts. There is a narrow band of individuals who like to work with short rifles who understand their limits and don’t push them.

Wind drift issues can arise with shorties at longer ranges, but that won’t really impact London 35 because at 200 yards, there isn’t usually enough wind to have a significant impact on bullet drift. Shorter barrels do suffer in regard to velocity, but this can be overcome at a given range with a dedicated load. In this case at 200 yards, I don’t see the need for special ammunition for cutting the wind.

Overall, even if London goes with something in 6.8 or 300 HAMR, it will work just fine at 200 yards. I recommend .308 because I know it well, and I have seen what it can do in a short barrel. There are some ergonomic issues like recoil and blast that may need to be addressed, but the .308 isn’t a beast like some people think.

A compact gun doesn’t have to suck. Rifle like this fit in a racket case but are sub-MOA at 500M.

Another idea that London may like is the bolt action route, as there are a growing number of bolt action pistols coming out and they are looking like they may be the next hot thing. TTAG’s Jeremy S. will probably be able to help with something related to Black Collar Arms.

If you want something very slick and super-light that will turn heads, order The Fix from Q, which is just about as light and compact as you can get. I’d love to SBR one of those for a truly micro setup. I know the order of the day is semi-auto for London, but I do think a mini bolt action would be sweet in this role as well. Hell, buy both if you can.

Some Post-Analysis Fudd Time 

In the case of London 35, I appreciate that a rifle is being built for a specific distance for hunting that should reasonably allow the ethical taking of game. I wish more people would think this way and I applaud London 35 for doing so. The resulting rifle will be perfectly suited for that 200-yard distance.

‘BuT WhAT iF I hAvE To sNIpe iN a wAr?’ Look, I get it that some people are all amped up for SHTF scenarios and everyone thinks they’re a sniper, but you’re mixing your cards with another deck. There is nothing functionally wrong with a short .308 for hunting. I know this from personal experience.

What I really don’t get is the idea that everything has to be about fighting or a coming ‘Red Dawn’ situation. In that other recent Ask Josh, I was surprised the comments being so militant and that I was was lecturing people on what to buy.

Buy what you want, but I don’t think you should be buying deer rifles for their ability to shoot through vehicles at a mile any more than you should be buying a bow for its ability to launch grenade-tipped arrows or some other Hawkeye sh*t.

Maybe it makes me a Fudd for saying that people shouldn’t buy guns they can’t shoot well or master easily. It’s almost like I’m encouraging them to practice and make ethical shots.

A carbon stock is great for hunting

Hunting with a short rifle shouldn’t be discouraged and I really do recommend it because it puts a realistic and intentional limit on the distance at which you shoot game. I agree that there are some cases where a long shot is necessary, but it should generally be avoided and used as a last resort.

I set up many of my guns for a maximum distance or the effective range for my given cartridge. I have dropped countless deer with a bolt action 14” .450 Bushmaster (with a pinned brake) and have never had an issue at 200 yards, which I believe is the true max for the round.

I also have several 6.5 Creedmoor rifles optimized for 500 yards and in, and others set up for 500 yards and beyond. For hunting with any of these, I’m never really looking past 300 yards, with 500 being an absolute limit given flight time and possibility for error.

London has it right, and I’m very happy to see this mindset becoming more prevalent in the hunting community. Too many people have 1000-yard guns for 70-yard shots and its just not necessary. And the temptation to take longer range risks increases with your imagined effective range. Shorter shots are always better and if that means a shorter rifle, so be it.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Nobody wanted to shitcan your views.

    It was your “Offer help, then publicly ridicule someone who came to you with a good-faith (if inexpert) question” attitude.

    • based on personal experience…short barreled rifles…[and shotguns]…can be a bit hazardous to handle in the field…

  2. While not exactly an SBR, I absolutely love my .308 POF Revolution for deer in the hills. My longest sight line is just over 100yds due to the terrain. And this is way more than enough gun for that.

    I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered their pistol variants. I just can’t justify that cost again even though I love the rifle. Maybe I’ll eventually get an upper and SBR it.

  3. Nice article Josh!
    Actually 200 yards isn’t really CQB or anything. A lot of folks rarely get to shoot beyond 100 yards on a regular basis.
    Being in California, most hunting is done in this range in forest land. You can get into some areas for longer shots, but why?
    Besides dealing with legal hurdles, I like the idea of something compact. 308 is a great caliber for this. The AR-10 platform has tons of options. Even at a 16″ length, it should be quite comfortable. Now if we can put the AR-10 platform into a bull pup design.. hint hint..
    For varmint removal, having multiple shots at the ready for clearing hogs is practical and needed. FUDDS can sit there with their long range bolt actions and get one shot off before they scatter.
    If you hunt for food, you want to have follow up shot quick and easy. No one wants to track a wounded animal over miles of terrain. That is also less humane.
    The AR platform has been around for almost 70 years. Maybe we need to move on from technology that is a couple of hundred years old, bolt action, to something that was designed in this century? LOL

  4. I am wondering why the questioner did not include the 300 Blackout in his selection of 30ish caliber choices. You can achieve a clean kill with a 110 grain bullet at 200 yards using the 110 gr. Barnes TAC-TX. Read up on it: The 300 Blackout was developed/customized for use in short barrels. The Wilson Combat round will get you over 2200 fps out of a 9.5″ barrel. I’m not sure in the trade-off threshold between .308 barrel length and 300 Blackout barrel length, but if the questioner is thinking 10″ or less, the 300 Blackout should be his round to maximize both velocity and the ability of the round to mushroom or fragment after impact.

    • I second that opinion. A projectile out of a 300 Blackout from a 9″ barrel has more energy at 100 yards than a projectile from 223 Rem from a 16″ barrel at the muzzle. My preferred firearm to deer hunt on my own property is a 9″ 300 Blackout SBR with a can on it. 200 yards is about as far of a range as I will encounter due to terrain. It works fantastic! 300 Blackout is also so versatile (extremely fun with subs with a can with reasonable rifle performance with supers).

      • That same .300 BLK gun makes a dandy home-defense weapon that won’t make you deaf if you need to use it…

    • The issue with the 300blk is velocity related to the temporary and permanent wound cavities being in the 2200-2300fps range.

  5. Agree with MRMax, I have been thinking of a hog rifle and a 300 Blackout has many advantages. Specifically I was looking at an AR platform with an integral suppressor to take the barrel length to 16 inches. On one hand a semi automatic would make it easier to take multiple hogs in a sounder. My concern is that at longer ranges 300 blackout may not take a hog.

    • I saw something interesting, recently –

      It was a 10/22 ‘Takedown’ barrel that was cut down to SBR length, but had a half-moon shroud welded to the barrel. The shroud would clear a suppressor that was threaded onto the barrel. Total barrel length with shroud was 16 1/14 inches.

      It was a way to avoid needing a stamp.

      Does anyone know if a similar barrel is out there in .300 BLK?

      • Sounds kind of like the Tactical Solutions SB/SBX barrel. They also include a fake suppressor. It’s harder to do with larger calibers since the .22 suppressors are typically an inch in diameter and direct 1/2×28 threads. Centetfire suppressors come in different sizes, lengths, and mounting systems. I have seen AR free floating handguards extended beyond the barrel with the intent to be fired with a suppressor fitting inside the handguard, but it’s a 2 stamp solution if it isn’t a pistol (SBR + suppressor). I do see suppressors pinned to short rifle barrels so the total length is over 16″ and only count as 1 stamp. While not off the shelf, it shouldn’t be hard to find a gunsmith who could weld a big open cylinder behind the suppressor mount of your choice.

    • You use a subsonic 208-grain A-max bullet at 100 yards or less. For ranges out to 200 yards, you want to be going with supersonic rounds with superb expansion which is why I recommended the Wilson Combat 110 gr. Barnes TAC-TX. As always, target placement is essential and this supersonic round has enough oompf – but not enough to make up for bad aim. If you’re going 200 yards+, then you need more barrel length than 10″. Best way to go for short is either a 14.5″ barrel length with a pinned and welded 1.5″ muzzle brake (avoids the whole SBR thing and a $200 tax stamp) or go with a 16″ barrel with an integrated suppressor (fingerprints and tax stamp needed) in a rifle caliber (.270 Winchester, 30-06, 6.8mm, etc.).

  6. “‘ BuT WhAT iF I hAvE To sNIpe iN a wAr?’ Look, I get it that some people are all amped up for SHTF scenarios and everyone thinks they’re a sniper, but you’re mixing your cards with another deck. There is nothing functionally wrong with a short .308 for hunting. I know this from personal experience.

    “What I really don’t get is the idea that everything has to be about fighting or a coming ‘Red Dawn’ situation. In that other recent Ask Josh, I was surprised the comments being so militant and that I was was lecturing people on what to buy.

    “Buy what you want, but I don’t think you should be buying deer rifles for their ability to shoot through vehicles at a mile any more than you should be buying a bow for its ability to launch grenade-tipped arrows or some other Hawkeye sh*t.”

    I, being hawkeye (ok, small case h), agree, but with the caveat that not all can afford multiple ad hoc firearms, and by necessity seek multipurpose features. That being said, my go to deer slayer is a scoped 10” Contender in .357 Max, that is perfect for my type of whitetail hunting. I also have a .22LR barrel that keeps the pot full of rabbit & squirrel from the same area. Oh, wait, that makes it multipurpose, and I didn’t even mention the .223 barrel yet. Ok, tell those guys who would want that same gun to do “Hawkeye sh*t” to buy an additional upper with long reach capabilities.

  7. Aside from making my ears bleed, what can a 12″ AR10 in .308Win do better than a 16 1/2″ 1894 in 30-30WCF?

    • My guess is burn excessive amounts of gun powder outside the barrel.

      If I were looking for an LR308 pattern in a short barrel I’d be thinking the 338 Federal or 358 Winchester with heavier bullets and a faster burning powder. Even if I were doing 308 I’d be looking at this strategy as a reloader. Looking at Hodgdon’s data you can load a 308 with a 225gr bullet and H335 or Benchmark. That would optimize for the barrel length and probably give a significant velocity rise over slower powders or perhaps even factory ammo. There’s a lot of case capacity there for the bullet diameter in a short barrel, may as well use it.

      I’d give the 350 Legend or the 450BM mentioned a shot at 200 as well. I don’t think those are wrong answers although not directly asked about in the question. What’s interesting is WC’s page on the 300 Ham’r seems to list significantly better ballistics than the reloading data on Hodgdon’s web site. If it’s like WC’s I could appreciate going that route if it’s like Hodgdon’s I could see doing 300BO instead.

  8. I hunt with a 10.5″ 5.56. I also use a 6.8SPC with a 16″ barrel. And, looking around for even more “dropping power,” .375 SOCOM came into my view. Guess which has been the most readily available ammo over the last year? The .375 SOCOM. And it flies pretty flat for 280 -300m with little holdover needed.

    On the other hand it’s got recoil like a 20ga or more, depending on how much stock, or not, it may have. And .375 can definitely use a short barrel with few ill effects. Like the 6.8SPC, it was intended for short barrels – they were both meant as an improvement on 5.56 from 14.5″, and they both use pretty much the same ballistic “tricks”, such as a much larger diameter case along with a larger, heavier bullet. The SOCOM is also designed to specifically fire from stock GI magazines, something the 6.8 has proven requires a specialty magazine with follower and wider ribbing to allow rounds to feed correctly. The SOCOM makes a double stack AR mag into a single stack – to imagine how much bigger the case is.

    Compared to .308, SOCOM, like 6.8, only needs a barrel and bolt to work the bigger round. The .308, however has two proprietary and exclusive patterns of bolts, barrels and other parts which are incompatible and which create issues when sourcing them. If you plan on building it yourself, I would avoid the AR10 .308 application because of that, the overall finished weight, and the lack of a wide variety of parts compared to the AR15. It’s more complicated and more expensive – the 6.8 and SOCOM less so.

    Right now, there is more 5.56 on the shelf (in customer service) than 6.8 or .308. If you are going to buy over the internet, then .375 SOCOM is, again, readily available and has been all along. It is, like 6.8, not a GI round, only commercial sources are available, which makes it about as expensive as the better .308 hunting rounds. Sure, you could find surplus full metal jacket cheaper – just like 5.56 – but when you buy specialty hunting ammo that’s legal for the season, none of it is cheap. .375 has it’s share of bullets available, too, and definitely has the online support from a number of users. Very few of us go berm blasting with high cost ammo – that was the entire point of building my 5.56 shorty. The 6.8 gets sighted in and not much more – it’s the hunting rifle.

    Keep in mind the point of using a shorter barrel is to take advantage of the alternate caliber ballistics from cartridges designed around that concept. Chopping .308 to 12″ or so simply to have a shorter barrel does impact its reach – consider for your hunting needs all the cartridges you could use at those ranges. You pick a gun by What Range? What Target? and if it’s live game then some of those choices lead you to carrying more weight downrange with larger bullets to extend the 1000 foot pound of ethical killing power to efficiently anchor game. That is why some go Big Magnum – at longer distances it carries more power – but from a short barrel under 150m it’s just bragging rights, not ballistic necessity. Shot placement is still the higher priority for a successful hunt.

    I’ve passed thru the “fun” of hunting with the shorter 5.56 and gone back to the 6.8 for more power. The slightly longer barrel isn’t that much harder to maneuver thru brush, and having a barrel longer also keeps it from pointing back toward me, or getting my hand out in front of the muzzle. SBR’s were intended for combat in tight close quarters, tunnels in Vietnam, ship clearing operations, urban combat in built up areas. The targets are close, too, not 200m out. I’ve seen some tight areas in brush – but in my experience deer tend to be more than a few steps away. I adopted the AR in 10.5″ to use in Alternative Season when pistols are legal, not rifles. It does extend the effective range, deer remain capable of confounding hunters anyway.

    It remains to be seen if or how Braces will be allowed in the future. I’m not going to SBR Tax Stamp mine, I will just take off the brace if necessary. And who knows, the State Legislatures might make the whole tax stamp issue actually stick in Federal court and invalidate it. I will likely have saved up for a .375 upper sooner.

    • “It remains to be seen if or how Braces will be allowed in the future.”

      If they do what they say they want to do, I will become a very vocal civil rights activist on the issue.

      When I got hit by a car a few years back, the knuckles on my right hand were crushed. I intend to use the results of that injury to demand Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation for the use of a brace, and will join others in a class-action lawsuit if necessary.

      The Leftist scum put sharp teeth in that legislation, and I intend to use them to practice a civil right…

  9. My SBR ish set up is a 9.5″ stainless 300 BLK. Although a .308 does pretty well in short barrels, it seems to burn a lot of powder. I don’t see the point of a 12 or 13″ .308 – at least without a can.

    Now that I live in Nevada, I see a good .30 cal can in my future.

  10. Meh. I’d rather have a capability and not need it, than need it and not have it. I don’t need a barrel to be short and I personally don’t care for my guns to be louder than necessary. So I’ll stick with standard length barrels. They work fine. SBR’s and “pistols” for CQB make sense, but choosing an SBR for hunting over a regular 16″ barrel seems pointless. Again I’d rather have a capability and not need it, than need it and not have it.

    This is only your second article that I’ve read and it’s got roughly the same amount of derision/scorn as the last one. A wiser writer would have taken the “blowback” from your last article and considered the content of the overwhelming negative feedback and corrected appropriately, rather than cattily referencing it and doubling down.

  11. You aren’t being bold enough. SBRs don’t do hardly anything a good lever-action won’t do. You can hunt most American whitetail and hogs with a .44 Magnum or as you write, a .30-30. The SBRs are a marketing gimmick that the large number of toolbags and tatted ree-rees who used to be into emo but then got into guns in 2013 have jumped on because of marketing AND marketed scenarios. The “sniper” guys are one of the most ree-ree segments of the shooting sports. The ammo craze is showing more and more just how many idiots we brought into the shooting sports in the last decade. The fad is going to collapse soon, and people who aren’t ready for it in the industry will be stunned. In fact, it will likely be one of the greatest collapses the industry ever sees. The SBR goobs and “snipers,” lol, will go back to emo or whatever comes next in their TikTok worlds.

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