Can ArmaLite Rifles AR-15 be Used to Hunt Deer?

ar15 deer gunBefore we can figure out if the 5.56/.223 round can be used to hunt deer, we need to know a little history about the guns.   

The ArmaLite Rifles AR-15

The AR-15 has been around since 1958, and is defined by some as Americas favorite rifle. First produced by ArmaLite Rifles (Where AR comes from) for the US military ArmaLite came in to some financial trouble and sold the company to Colt. Colt carried on producing the Armalite Rifle AR-15 after some modification for civilian Sales in 1963. 

5.56 or .223? 

223_Remington ArmaLite Rifles roundThe 5.56/.223 round was created around the same time for the ArmaLite rifle or AR-15. The .223 Remington 5.56x45mm is a cartridge that is ballistically in-between its predecessors, the .222 Remington and the .222 Remington Magnum. The 5.56/.223 round was designed to wound solders effectively eliminating more solders in the battle field. 

In the late 1960's the 5.56/.223 round came under heavy criticism from the media when used for hunting. Many hunters in the 1960's were using full metal jacket ammunition shot at close range to hunt with, resulting in a wounded deer that would never be found. Due to this criticism that has been passed down over the years the 5.56/.223 cartridge was thought to be un efficient at taking medium sized pray. With todays cartridge choices does the study in the 1960's still hold true?  

So what does it take to bring down a deer? 

To take down a medium size animal you need three things:

1. Accurate Shot Placement
2. Bullet traveling in excess of 300 Feet Per Second
3. 800+ Foot pounds of force on impact

But these are not the only factors that make up the lethality of a round. There are other consideration like bullet expansion, stability, and flight path. Many of these factors will deturmine if you fill your tag or end up with a nice bowl of Tag soup! 

.223 Velocity

let's look at the ArmaLite Rifles / AR-15 .223 bullet. Although the .223 bullet is very light its strength is all in its velocity. The light .223 bullet and large powder charge makes it less affected by the wind and gravity. Compared to the 7.62×39 or .308 round it can flight longer distances in crosswinds. 

223v762-800 ArmaLite Rifles 

But velocity is not the only factor we need to consider when looking at the ArmaLite Rifles / AR-15. Remember that we have to release at least 800+ foot pounds of energy when we hit our target to effectively kill a deer. 

Effective Range


Compared the AR-15 .223 to the 7.62×39 we can see that its effective range at killing an animal runs out at around 200 yards roughly the same distance as the 7.62×39. Although the bullets will travel much further then the effective distance their ability is greatly decreased. Note that the .223 will reach its target slightly ahead of its bigger slower brother. 


NRA's Contracted Expert

One of NRA's contracted experts, Richard Mann, helped develop the Bullet Test tube. (It's slightly harder material than the gelatin used in Federals test.) Mann tested Federals loads in it and on deer, and heres what he found:
"The .223 Remington is a suitable cartridge for hunting deer, within its limitation. This cartridge relies on velocity to drive the lightweight bullets deep. This same velocity contributes to tissue damage. The key to using a .223 Remington on deer is to keep impact velocities high. In other words don't shoot deer much beyond 150 yards. Past that distance, the velocity drops below the level needed for dynamic bullet expansion. When robustly constructed bullets like the Barnes TSX, Nosler Partition and Fusion are used inside 150 yards, penetration with the .223 Remington is on par with cartridges like the .243 and the .30-30 Winchester."


Flattened .223 rounds

Expansion of the .223 Cartridge 

expansion of .223 Like I discussed earlier the ArmaLite Rifles / AR-15 .223's Full Metal Jacket is just not a suitable round for hunting deer and cause a lot of trouble 54 years ago. With the advent of modern .223 rounds and the expansion technology there is more than one cartridge suitable for hunting deer. 

Federal Premium Ammunition just to name one company makes the Fusion Round that is designed with deer hunting in mind. The fusion offers over 15 inches of bullet expansion and penetration. With many others on the market offering similar results.


State Regulations on Hunting deer with a .223/5.56

Many states already allow the .223 cartridge in deer hunting. with many more reconsidering the rounds effectiveness at taking medium game. although I cannot tell you if the .223 or 5.56mm cartridge is the right deer round for you. It does have the ability to get the job done, and put meat on the table. Below is a list of state regulations regarding the .223 in deer hunting.  

Alabama- centerfire
Alaska- centerfire
Alberta- .23 and up centerfire
Arizona- centerfire
Arkansas- .22 and up centerfire
California- centerfire
Colorado- .24 and up, 70grn or larger bullet/ minimum of 1000ft/lbs at 100 yards
Connecticut- .243 and up if legal in your area
Delaware- shotgun/muzzle loader
Florida- centerfire
Georgia- .22 and up centerfire
Hawaii- Any rifle with at least 1200 ft/lbs of ME. This would start at around .223 I think
Idaho- Centerfire (cannot weigh more than 16 lbs?)
Illinois- Shotgun/ML/Pistol only  Indiana- Rifles with pistol calibers/shotgun/ML/Pistols Iowa- .24 or larger centerfire only for antlerless season in part of the state. Kansas- .23 or larger centerfire (actually says larger than .23 so maybe .24 is the minimum) Kentucky- centerfire
Louisiana- .22 and up centerfire
Maine- .22 magnum rimfire and up!
Manitoba- Centerfire, but it says .23 and below not recommended. Does not say illegal though.
Maryland- ME of at least 1200 ft/lbs
Mass- Shotgun/ML
Michigan- centerfire in certain areas
Minnesota- .220 and up centerfire
Mississippi- No restrictions that I could find
Missouri- centerfire
Montana- No restrictions
Nebraska- Rifles with 900 ft/lbs or more at 100 yards
Nevada- .22 centerfire and up
New Hampshire- centerfire
New Jersey- shotgun only
New Mexico- centerfire
New York- centerfire
North Carolina- No restrictions
North Dakota- .22-.49 centerfire
Nova Scotia- .23 and up
Ohio- Shotgun/ML
Oklahoma- centerfire with 55 grn or heavier bullet
Ontario- centerfire
Oregon- .22 centerfire and up Pennsylvania- centerfire
Quebec- 6mm/.243 and up
Rhode Island- shotgun/ML*
Saskatchewan- .24 and up
South Carolina- centerfire .220 or larger
South Dakota- rifles with 1,000 ft/lbs or more ME
Tennessee- centerfire
Texas- centerfire
Utah- centerfire
Vermont- No restriction
Virginia- .23 centerfire and up
Washington- .24 centerfire and up
West Virginia- .25 rimfire and up and all centerfire
Wisconsin- .22 centerfire and up
Wyoming- .223 centerfire and up 60gr or heaver

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Gregory Beckman

About the Author:

Hi, I am Gregory Beckman, as the main owner of Military Hunting and Fishing let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I am currently an active duty member in the United States Coast Guard. I have been privileged to traveling the world. My experiences have shaped the way that I see the world and my memories will stick with me for a lifetime. Although I may not live in the country, the country lives in me. Traveling the world I have had the chance to experience the wonders of nature in many different places, meeting many different people and tasting wild game that the normal person would not get to experience. Although these experiences have kept me away from home, it has instilled a deep passion of hunting and fishing in my blood. Thank you for joining our site, and I look forward to interacting and sharing stories of our hunting adventures. Gregory A. Beckman
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