The au­thor’s home­built black ri­fle is light­weight, pow­er­ful, and out-of-this­world ac­cu­rate

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By Joseph von Benedikt

Build your own ul­ti­mate AR for deer hunt­ing.

By Joseph von Benedikt

AR-ENAMORED deer hun­ters get short shrift. On one end of the stick, stan­dard AR-15 plat­forms can’t house truly ver­sa­tile deer car­tridges. On the other, AR-10-style ri­fles ca­pa­ble of hous­ing .308-size rounds tend to han­dle like rail­road ties.

Blend the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of both, and you’ve got a proper deer ri­fle—one that’s light and handy, yet pow­er­ful enough to of­fer flat shoot­ing at longer ranges. It’s ac­tu­ally eas­ier to do than you think. Be­cause the AR plat­form is ba­si­cally a big boy’s ul­ti­mate Erec­tor Set, you can build a cus­tom black ri­fle for deer hunt­ing in your garage—and maybe even save a few bucks. That’s ex­actly what I did, and the re­sult is the ri­fle pic­tured above.


You can’t be­gin to build your own AR with­out first de­cid­ing what cal­iber you want, and when you live in the West, like I do, you want one with le­git­i­mate reach. That pretty much rules out AR15 cal­ibers. But sev­eral po­tent deer rounds shine in AR-10s, in­clud­ing .338 Fed­eral, .260 Rem­ing­ton, 6.5 Creed­moor, and .308 Winch­ester.

I went with the hottest cal­iber on the planet right now—not be­cause it’s trendy but be­cause the 6.5 is in­her­ently ac­cu­rate and pro­vides a sig­nif­i­cant bal­lis­tic ad­van­tage at longer ranges. If you don’t need that per­for­mance edge for your style of deer hunt­ing, it’s much sim­pler to stick with the .308, be­cause the Creed­moor (as well as the .260 Rem.) pro­duces ex­ces­sive bore pres­sure in stan­dard­length AR gas sys­tems. In my case, the bar­rel I wanted (more on that in a bit) pro­vided a so­lu­tion to the gas prob­lem, which made choos­ing the 6.5 easy.


Start­ing with an AR-10 plat­form meant that the tricky part was get­ting the weight down with­out com­pro­mis­ing per­for­mance. Some of the heav­i­est com­po­nents hap­pen to be some of the most crit­i­cal for re­li­a­bil­ity and ac­cu­racy. So you can’t hack ounces ran­domly. A light­weight bolt-car­rier group (BCG), for ex­am­ple, would have saved me 3∕4 pound but would also have in­tro­duced po­ten­tial tun­ing and re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues. In­stead, I trimmed weight in the re­ceiver and bar­rel.

Rigid de­sign and pre­cise ma­chin­ing are vi­tal to ac­cu­racy in an AR re­ceiver, but weight is not. As long as it’s strong and of­fers a pre­cise fit with the bar­rel, even a su­perlight, skele­tonized re­ceiver can be re­li­able and ac­cu­rate. The 2A Ar­ma­ment Xan­thos re­ceiver I chose is a per­fect ex­am­ple, and it weighs just 16 ounces, com­pared with the 28 to 34 ounces of a typ­i­cal forged AR-10 re­ceiver set. At $949, the cost is sig­nif­i­cantly more than that of a stan­dard re­ceiver, but it’s worth it.

Light­weight bar­rels, in con­trast, are in­her­ently prob­lem­atic. Ma­chin­ing away ma­te­rial re­duces rigid­ity, al­low­ing ac­cu­racy-killing vi­bra­tion and os­cil­la­tion. With less mass to ab­sorb heat, light­weight bar­rels also get hot and lose ac­cu­racy quickly dur­ing longer shot strings.

There’s only one good so­lu­tion— and that is to get your bar­rel from Proof Re­search. The Mon­tana-based

aero­space com­pany builds spe­cialty tubes that pro­vide heavy-bar­rel ac­cu­racy at moun­tain-ri­fle weight by wrap­ping cut-ri­fled, hand-lapped, match-grade cores with a car­bon fiber that adds tremen­dous stiff­ness— around 10 times that of a sim­i­lar­weight all-steel bar­rel. The re­sult is su­perb ac­cu­racy and hot-bar­rel in­tegrity in a feath­er­weight bar­rel. And there’s a bonus: Proof’s new Cal­iber Matched Gas Sys­tem (CamGas), which fea­tures ex­tended gas ports in its 6.5 and .260 bar­rels, solves the prob­lem of ex­ces­sive bore pres­sure, pro­vid­ing re­li­able func­tion and re­duced felt re­coil.

In­stead of a fad-fol­low­ing short bar­rel, I went with a 22-inch CamGas tube, threaded for a sup­pres­sor. Even so, it weighs only 2 pounds 14 ounces. You can ar­gue that deer can’t tell a 100-fps dif­fer­ence, but when a Wy­oming wind stands to reroute your bul­let from the vi­tals and to the guts, that ex­tra speed helps to keep it on line for a clean kill.


Be­cause a free-float­ing hand­guard lets an ac­cu­rate bar­rel do its work with­out in­ter­fer­ence, I went with a 9.9-ounce 2A Ar­ma­ment 15-inch Xan­thos model, which is both rigid and light. I’m a trig­ger snob, so I in­stalled the skele­tonized ver­sion of Tim­ney’s out­stand­ing AR-10 Com­pe­ti­tion trig­ger, which is as crisp as my Bri­tish mother-in­law and far eas­ier to ma­nip­u­late. To make the ri­fle sup­pres­sor-tun­able, I opted for a Su­perla­tive Arms ad­justable gas block rather than a less ex­pen­sive fixed block.

Fi­nally, I in­stalled a Mag­pul MOE fixed stock, Hogue rub­ber grip, CMMG lower re­ceiver kit, Heavy Buf­fer Anti-Tilt buf­fer and spring, and Bravo Gun­fighter charg­ing han­dle, most of which I or­dered from Brownells (see side­bar). Hav­ing seen Mur­phy’s Law sav­age more than one scope dur­ing wilder­ness hunts, I also in­stalled a set of Mag­pul’s fold­ing MBUS Pro backup sights. The whole thing cost me a lit­tle more than $3,000, which isn’t cheap, but it isn’t ex­pen­sive, ei­ther, for a cus­tom AR.


I topped the ri­fle with Le­upold’s new VX-6HD 3–18x44mm, which in my mind is the light­est truly ca­pa­ble lon­grange ri­fle­scope on the mar­ket. The fin­ished ri­fle has a nice be­tween-the­hands bal­ance and it shoul­ders and points well. Not like an English shot­gun, mind you, but bet­ter than many of to­day’s mod­ern bolt-ac­tion deer ri­fles, and that’s say­ing some­thing for an AR-10.

In the end, po­lite re­coil, per­fect re­li­a­bil­ity, and stel­lar ac­cu­racy makes even this black, bony-look­ing deer ri­fle lov­able. Six fac­tory 6.5 Creed­moor loads and six hand­loads all av­er­aged sub-MOA groups. In a se­ries of three groups of three shots—with­out cool­ing the bar­rel in be­tween—Hor­nady’s 143-grain ELD-X Pre­ci­sion Hunter fac­tory load av­er­aged 0.47 inch. My Sierra 140-grain GameKing hand­load av­er­aged 0.30 inch.

Grand­dad’s Sav­age 99 lever may have more charm. But my home­built AR is im­per­vi­ous to mois­ture and tem­per­a­ture ex­tremes and is more ac­cu­rate than most bolt ac­tions. Weigh­ing in at just 7.5 pounds and pack­ing plenty of wal­lop for big white­tails and mu­leys way out there, it’s what you’ll never find on the rack: the ul­ti­mate deer AR.

Re­ceiver Su­perlight, skele­tonized 2A Ar­ma­ment Xan­thos Trig­ger Skele­tonized Tim­ney AR-10 Com­pe­ti­tion Cal­iber 6.5 Creed­moor

Scope Le­upold VX-6HD 3–18x44mm Hand­guard Free-float­ing, 9.9-ounce, 2A Ar­ma­ment 15-inch Xan­thos Bar­rel Proof Re­search 22-inch car­bon­fiber-wrapped CamGas, threaded for a sup­pres­sor

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