Ask TTAG: What Caliber for my Short AR Platform Hunting Rifle?

Previous Post
Next Post

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.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Never occurred to me to ever hunt with a short barreled AR.
    And need one for a shot at 200yrds or less.
    I have a Ruger in .308WIN for something like that.

    • SBRs are great. Hunt whitetail/mule with a 9″ 300 BLK, a 3x prism scope and silencer. 6 lbs, easy to carry/shoot, ammo is available almost everywhere (reload personally) and very effective to 250yds with 110gr A-Max. Great tree gun. Longer distances for hunting? Move to 6.5 Grendel or 6mm ARC and then a 6.5 Creedmoor after 600 yards. Do it all with 2 quality lowers- AR-10 & AR-15 and add as many uppers with dedicated glass as you’d like.

      • My Ruger Scout weights about 6lbs with the scope, extended eye relief.
        I can shoot out to 300-400yrds with it.
        I can reload a light charge with a 110grn round nose for taking small game without damaging the meat or pelt.
        A 110grn Varmaggedon with a power charge takes care of varmints of the coy kind.
        I can go up to 168grn BT and take most four legged critters around here, except when the odd moose or large black bear comes around. Then I would be very, very concentrated on shot placement. Even then, I might pass on that shot, depending range.

      • I have an 18″ PSA stainless barrelled 6.8 that is a laser. Have taken a number of deer and a couple of coyotes with it, mostly using Hornandy 120gr SST’s. Problem is the ammo is getting scarce & $$. Seems 6.8 has become a niche caliber in the last few yrs. 🙁

  2. Fun project!
    I did something similar. Our family wanted a rifle that could take deer and elk. It needed to be ambidextrous and have an adjustable length of pull since my kids are smaller than me and two of them are lefties. It also needed to accommodate a suppressor for my autistic son with auditory sensory issues.
    Long story short, we went with an Adams Arms Small Frame 308 and quick detach Silencerco can. We added some ambi-bits. Everyone can shoot it comfortably and hit paper plates out to 300 yards. Good luck! It’s been a fun project for me and my 3 sons.

  3. All true and good advice regarding .308 for cost and availability. I stick to a 30.30 lever for hunting that game at that range. But that’s because it’s my dad’s rifle and I will use it until I pass it on to my son. I would encourage London to also consider 7.62 x 39 for his build. At 200 yards it would work just fine. He should take a look at those more exotic flavors of ammo and check to see how expensive and how available they are before deciding on his build.

  4. London 35 needs to stay away from u tube.and pinned and welded barrels. .308 is best with 22″ barrels per the M14/M1A however 20″ is sufficient for AR-308. The vast majority of .308 builds that have adjustable stocks have the most reliability issues. Therefore the A1 or A2 rifle stocks with rifle length buffers are the better way to go IMO. And of course a 20″ barrel with a rifle length .092″ gas port is my go to. And a JP ejector kit along with a tweaked extractor, roller cam pin, long version A2 style flash hider for .308, proper headspace and a Tubbs .308 buffer spring or try the Strike Ind. That skims the surface leaving London 35 to sort of speak, sober up and figure out all the rest.

  5. Suddenly it hit me, a SBR, for hunting, with a ACOG on it.
    Thank you TTAG for the laugh!

  6. Someone talk me out of this potential configuration :

    An AR pistol intended to be fired subsonic suppressed in .300BLK with a locked action, as in a ‘Kali-Key’ or similar device…

  7. In the 30 caliber range, the weapon pictured has a Q Cherry Bomb on it. If a person wanted to suppress and be quiet, 300 blk. You can still use the .308 with a 30 caliber can. Q also has the 8.6 BLK However, since the question is for short barreled, more questions need to be asked such as what the intended use is. Too many variables for too little information.

  8. Me? If I’m doing this I’m going for heavier bullets to try and take advantage of the little barrel I have. To me that means:
    -Bigger caliber is in general better. 338 Federal or 358 Win instead of 308.
    -Fast twist barrel to use heavy for caliber bullets, even in .308.
    -Faster powders for those weights if I reload. This should also within reason reduce blast too.

    For a hunting gun the ubiquity of .308 means less IMO. Yeah everyone talks about “being able to get ammo from a gas station” but does that really apply? This upper (I’d do an upper) would likely see a few dozen rounds a year at most. Bring 2 boxes and call it a day.

    Also, the author mentioned 450BM. I would NOT discount that at all, I think it’s very viable. Other stuff I’d think about in short action are 6X45, 6ARC, 350 Legend or the 6.5 Grendel.

  9. 8.6 all the way. it’s pricey but with the fast twist rates you get good expansion, and it seems accurate enough for hunting within 250 yards. I have a dream for a 12in 8.6 blackout piston ar-10 with a suppressor. Also fits .308 pmags.

  10. Maybe instead of trying to sell junk you could explain ballistic coefficients? If TFB can anecdotally mention .308 bullets bouncing off the skulls of hogs; there is no reason why TTAG shouldn’t show the math on how stupid 7.62 NATO is from a shorty.

  11. I sometimes go hunting with an SBR but without a stock. It’s got a 10n1/2 inch berral and a rotating chamber that holds six partridges of 4d4 magnusm. It’s a great deer riffle.

  12. I really like a longer pistol setup for deer hunting, such as a Contender or AR pistol or the like. I don’t have a SBR, but that would fit also. As long as you use an appropriate cartridge for your target critter and range, and practice with it so the slugs go where they need to, it’s absolutely a viable option.

  13. This all could have been summed up with building or buying a shorty 300blk AR or a 7.62 ak with a side mount.

  14. I second hunting with the Jennings 25 ACP. A great gun plus a great cartridge equals great results for hunting the big game

    • A person must be aware of what’s behind your target, the last time I was pronghorn hunting I had a pass through which killed the Grizzley standing 409 yards behind it. I had no Grizzley permit and the game warden gave me a ticket. Evidently the right to bear arms doesn’t count

  15. I accidentally posted this in the 300 HAM’R article:

    I shot my last mule deer with a Savage MSR-10 Hunter in 6.5 Creedmoor(18” barrel). While it surely did the job(and did it well), carrying the gun around wasn’t super fun after a while.

    Next season I’ll be using a suppressed 12” 6mm ARC pistol(hopefully my Form 1 will clear by then so I can put a stock on it), which will be much nicer to carry, still hit plenty hard for it’s intended purpose and not make my ears ring if I don’t have ear pro on when I press the shot.

    With better powder and bullet tech then we had even ten years ago, there are a lot of fantastic options to fit one’s intended purpose or purposes, within reason, of course.

    I also know a few “special” dudes who were using suppressed 10.5” SCAR rifles in the Middle East and North Africa with great effect. One even had a confirmed kill(headshot) at just over 800 meters. Even he couldn’t believe it.

    Good ammo with a good shooter will do much in any situation and I’m a firm believer that too many people try to mask garbage fundamentals with expensive guns and equipment, when time should instead be spent practicing and training. Then again, it is easier to buy stuff!

Comments are closed.