01 April 2021

Short Range Hunting Rifle - Same Job; New Tech or How an AR-15 is the Spiritual Successor to the Winchester 94

I starting hunting deer with a used, clapped out Winchester 94 built in the 1970's that I got running again and this year I replaced it with a brand new, high tech, custom built AR-15. 

Why do you need an AR-15? Because it does all the jobs a long gun really needs to do; put food on the table, defend the home and defend the Heartland from all threats foreign and domestic and do it in a way that is cost effective. 

BUT YOU CAN"T HUNT WITH AN AR-15!1!!! Blah blah blah.

Yes you can but just because you don't understand what's going on, doesn't mean you can't hunt with an AR-15. Firstly, bullet selection is the most important part of this discussion. While you can go hunting with full metal jacket bullets, you really shouldn't. In Georgia, you legally can't, therefore necessitating that we choose a cartridge that has suitable bullet designs. Thankfully, that's pretty much most commercially available cartridges, including .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO, on the market which has a loading using either a hollow point or soft point bullet. 

Next, we need to identify what we are doing with the gun. In this case, we want to hunt deer and since most of my shots are under 120 yards, I have no need for a rifle that shoots further. That statement right there is what makes the Winchester 94 in 30-30 an American mainstay for hunting. The Model 94 has been around since 1894 and there are several companies making surrogates such as Marlin, Mossberg and Henry. Why does Winchester and friends continue to sell lever action rifles in 30-30? Because 30-30 works great for deer in short ranges and people LOVE level action rifles. ROMANCE!

Since those parameters of sub-150 yard range and 30-30 level performance is achievable we just need to find something that isn't 30-30 that is close. In 2018, Olin released a new cartridge called 350 Legend. Both cartridges operate around the 2200 FPS range with bullet weights around the 150 to 170 grain range. This should put us in the 1600 to 1800 ft-lbs of energy range. 


350 Legend on the left with 30-30 on the right.

Ultimately, the 350 Legend has a very similar ballistic performance envelope compared with 30-30. The differences are that the 350 Legend is a .35 caliber or 9mm bullet to 30-30's .308 caliber bullet and that 30-30 has a much larger case but the pressure rating is much lower than 350 Legend at 42,000 PSI vs 55,000 PSI chamber pressure. This means that the 350 Legend can have a shorter, smaller case for the same performance of the 30-30. Thankfully, Olin (who owns Winchester) was able to package the 350 Legend into an over all length that makes it work in the AR-15's magazine and action. This is how we are able to use the AR-15 platform for taking deer as a dead replacement for the Model 94. There are other cartridges such as 300 HAM'R but since 300 HAM'R isn't as widely offered, 350 Legend seems to make more sense. 

I added a few extra requirements that my replacement build needed to achieve. It needed to be lighter than or equal to the Winchester in it's in-field weight which is 8.5 lbs, It needed to be able to host my silencer and be able to use modern scopes such as the low power, variable optic type scope. It needed to be more ergonomic and finally, not too expensive. 

The AR-15 easily can be built with all of those accessories to reach well into the 9 lbs range so I started looking for lightweight parts to reduce the build weight. When I built out the upper receiver and added the scope, the weight was right at 5 lbs. When I added the original A2 style stock I have for another build, I ended up right at 8.5 lbs. Changing over to lower with a CAR stock brings the weight down a little but we can do better. Thankfully, Lancer has options for carbon fiber handguards and the awesome dudes at InRange TV worked with KE Arms to put together a lower receiver and stock combo that weighs under 2 lbs.  With the WWSD (What Would Stoner Do) KP-15 lower and stock we reduced weight even more. Sadly, no one is making a 350 Legend barrel in a sporter profile so I had to use a standard profile barrel. 

I was able to build this rifle to just at 7.6 lbs with scope but without the Dead Air Wolfman silencer and 8 lbs with the silencer using a fixed mount. I'd say I nailed the weight part. 

In the end, I was successful in assembling a replacement for my Winchester 94 with an AR-15 for hunting deer. I haven't been able to tune AR or do any real testing or corrective action as ammo is so incredibly expensive right now. The best I could do was zero the current Primary Arms LPVO it has on top. It is an absolute struggle to find any usable ammo let alone any ammo loaded for hunting. I'm still waiting for the Federal Fusion 160 grains to become available but when they do, I'll be stocking up for testing.

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