At times there are precious few differences between a military rifle and a hunting rifle. After all, when the goal is to have a comfortable, accurate and powerful rifle, you’ll find a number of things in common between a tactical rifle and a hunting rifle.
But what are the top combination hunting and tactical rifles? How do you tell? And in the end, is there even really a difference?
The widespread use of AR style rifles, and other semi auto rifles and carbines based off military issued rifles have put a lot of these guns in the hands of hunters, who are increasingly bucking political and social pressure to stick with “traditional” looking guns, and are putting these tactical guns to practical use.
We are going to look at the three guns that blur the lines between tactical and hunting, and prove that sometimes you can really have a gun that does it all.
What Exactly Makes a Tactical and Hunting Rifle Combo?
I suppose we should define “tactical.” This vague and sometimes nebulous concept is used as much to market military looking accessories, as it is to define more useful rifle concepts.
In this context a tactical rifle should…
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- Be optimized for offensive or defensive use. This could be as simple as equipping with a light or laser, or some other accessory not commonly used for hunting. Remember, simple is always best.
- Be semi-automatic. It’s the 21st century, tactical bolt guns are a thing for snipers and living history fans.
- Have a barrel between 16 to 20 inches long – or so. Anything longer is usually too awkward for most tactical uses.
Now that we have a basic idea of what tactical means in this context, what is meant by hunting?
A hunting rifle should be…
- Chambered in a caliber suitable for hunting common big game animals. Sure, there are places and animals where .223 or similar rounds works, but as a general rule, it isn’t much of hunting cartridge.
- Capable of mounting optics.
- Able to be adapted to local laws concerning magazine size, or other rifle configuration. Fortunately, there are plenty of reduced capacity mags for common rifles that address just this scenario.
You’ll note there is a lot of generalization going on here. This is by design. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss every possible situation and variant here. That means reaching for low hanging fruit and common rifles and calibers.
Everyone has their pet oddball, or special round or rifle, but it just isn’t practical to discuss things you can’t quickly get at most gun shops. Remember, survival and prepping also means having something that you can easily maintain and get ammo for, not rely on your own personal machine shop or armory to deal with.
Top 3 Combo Tactical and Hunting Rifles
You knew this was going to make the list didn’t you? While the standard .223/5.56 AR is pretty weak sauce for most hunting, the fact you can push two pins on your lower and install a different upper makes all the difference. Rifles in .300 Blackout, 7.62×39, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .458 SOCOM and more are proven game getters, and we all know that even the .223 has a place in the hunting world. But what makes this a top combination hunting and tactical rifle?
Remember, survival and prepping also means having something that you can easily maintain and get ammo for, not rely on your own personal machine shop or armory to deal with.
For one, the AR-15 is common as dirt. One might even call it the 21st Century Winchester. The very design of the AR-15 makes it a tactical rifle, and there are plenty of upgrades to make even a base model AR even more tactical. And while lights and lasers are usually not legal for hunting, it turns out nice sights, optics, and various accessories to make your gun more ergonomic, accurate or easy handling make a big difference in the woods.
Not only that, but the caliber choices! Oh the caliber choices. Who would have dreamed that a single rifle could take on so many different identities so easily? But hey, don’t judge what your AR identifies as, as long as it gets the job done.
What caliber is suitable for hunting and tactical use is somewhat subjective based on what you are hunting or defending against. But with choices ranging from .300 Blackout to big bores like .458 SOCOM or .50 Beowulf, you can find something. Heck, some folks are even selling AR’s that take AK mags!
If you really wanted to, you could even have a “tactical” upper rigged with your favorite good to go combat accessories, and a hunting upper with fewer frills and gimmicks. This would give you a little more freedom in choosing different calibers for different tasks, and with careful selection, even allow you to use the same magazines.
No matter what though, the AR-15 is a hands down winner for a combo tactical and hunting rifle, regardless of if you use just one upper/caliber or multiples.
Today, “AR-10” simply means any AR style rifle chambered for .308/7.62 NATO or similar sized rounds, rather than a more specific model of rifle. It is also somewhat plagued by a lack of formal standards, and rifle builders sometimes struggle with competing design standards, although that is becoming less and less of an issue.
What is most important is right around the time the AR-15 became common, the AR-10 started growing in popularity as well. Today, these heavy hitting rifles can be had in a number of hunting and tactical configurations, and many popular calibers based off the .308 case. What that means for us is that the AR-10 is certainly one of the top hunting and tactical combination rifles.
In a fairly stock configuration there is a lot to recommend the AR-10 to tactical or hunting roles. And really, when tricked out with a bipod, and a decent scope, what are we looking at? A tactical rifle or a hunting rifle? Maybe both?
There are plenty of different barrel lengths out there too. One time I built a 16” .308 carbine for a Vietnam vet friend who wanted a semi auto .308 in a handy configuration. Fitted with a modest scope, vertical foregrip with a built in bipod, and a stock with an adjustable comb, it was hard to tell if we’d come up with a close quarters combat rifle, or a brush busting deer gun, or just something to make anti gunners twitch.
The same logic that applies to the AR-15 here. Maybe you can build one rifle and have it be tactical and hunting all in one, or maybe you’ll just build two different dedicated uppers. Either way, it is hard to argue against the many modular flavors of the AR-10 as being both tactical and hunting ready. Trust me, a deer or a bad guy won’t know the difference either.
Long derided by patriotic Cold Warriors, and persons unfortunate enough to get their hands on badly assembled entry level export models, the AK-47 is a famously rugged rifle that is capable of delivering a man stopping or deer slaying 7.62mm round at ranges comparable to the AR-15. But why call it one of the top combination tactical and hunting rifles? Well, because it is!
Russia learned this lesson a long time ago, and the same factories that crank out rifles for elite Russian forces stick a fancy sporter stock on semi auto rifles and sell them to hunters the world over. Many AK’s sold today are already kitted out with tactical features like ergonomic collapsible or folding stocks, handguards with built in rail systems, and of course side scope mounting rails.
While not as modular as AR style rifles, what the AK lacks in flexibility, it makes up for with reliability and a handy form factor. Sniper rifles, light machine guns and long range hunting rifles in .308 or 7.62x54r have all been built around the AK-47 design, proving that it is tactical and suitable for hunting.
As with any other rifle, it is mostly a question of how you kit out your rifle that draws that vague line between a tactical rifle or a hunting rifle. In the case of the AK, that line is even blurrier in many cases, as most people just stick a scope and sling on their rifle and call it good enough for home defense, or hunting. Because the 7.62x39mm round has power similar to the venerable .30-30, a standard AK-47 is as much at home in the woods as it is being used to protect yourself from enemies both foreign and domestic.
How Do You Draw The Line?
I think I’ve shown that in most cases the only real difference between a hunting rifle and a tactical rifle is what you are pointing it at. Certainly there are accessories that make a difference. After all, outside of certain kinds of predator or varmint hunts, you aren’t hunting with a laser or weapons light.
But in both cases the hunter or operator wants a handy rifle that is ergonomic, adaptable, hard hitting and easy to use. Throughout history military arms have been used for hunting and vice versa. Often the only real difference is that a hunting rifle might have a prettier finish, or a nicer grade of wood in the stock.
With AR style rifles becoming the rifle of choice for Americans, external looks matter less, and you might instead find higher quality triggers, upgraded bolts and gas systems, and match grade barrels. All luxuries civilians can afford to choose for their rifles, that also it turns out can also make them more tactical. And we go round and round and round until tactical becomes a buzzword, and the rifle just sits there waiting for you to make up your mind.
The top combination tactical and hunting rifles? The one you have sitting in your safe that is semi auto and takes a removable mag. I looked at three of them, but there are plenty more. FAL and similar rifles, various M-14 derivatives, Kel-Tec bullpups.
Heck, Mossberg sells a “tactical” lever gun that might be all folks in California or New Jersey will be able to have in a few years. The point is tactical is a frame of mind, and a hunting rifle is one that can accurately and humanely take the game animal or animals of your choice.
There are a lot of great combination tactical and hunting rifles out there. So many in fact, it can be hard to choose which one is best for you. And if you can’t buy a bunch, choosing just one can be hard. If forced to choose a single best choice, I’d go with an AR-10 of some sort, as it is hard hitting, powerful and modular.
After all, few people ever wish for less gun. We can see that the idea of a hunting or tactical rifle is mostly philosophical, and one that mostly keeps marketers and people writing articles for gun websites busy. Which in my mind is perfectly fine, because if life is good enough to sit around and split hairs like this, then we have the luxury of buying guns instead of using them to defend ourselves or our liberties.
Choosing the top combination tactical and hunting combination rifle is also choosing to carry forward the grandest of American traditions- that of owning a rifle that is good enough to put food on the table, or put those who would do you harm into the ground.
Such rifles are the last line of defense for a free people, and the first line of deterrence. If you don’t already have one, you owe it to yourself, to the Americans who went before you and the ones who will come after you to invest in one.