April 29th, 2023

Saturday at the Movies: AR-Platform Varmint Rifles

.17 wsm 20 practical ar-15 ar ar15 varmint rimfire

With spring soon changing to summer, we are in peak varmint season in many parts of the country. In an area with a high number of critters, a semi-auto varmint rifle is a good choice. You get quick follow-up shots, with reliable 20-rd and 30-rd magazines.

For this Saturday at the Movies Showcase we feature a variety of semi-auto, AR-platform rifles chambered for efficient, high-velocity varmint ammo. Cartridges include: .17 WSM, .17 Remington, .20 Practical, .204 Ruger, .22 Grendel, .223 Rem, and 6mm ARC. We conclude with a video that reviews a variety of lead-free .223 Rem ammo types.

Rock Chuck Hunting in Eastern Oregon

This video has some great backcountry footage. The host nails a number of rockchucks with his .223 Rem-chambered AR-15. The shooter says that the default AR-15 cartridge works great for varmints: “The .223 Remington becomes a rockchuck hunter’s friend with the right load: Nosler 40gr Ballistic Tip loaded over a stuffed case of H335 powder. This achieves 3800 FPS with excellent accuracy.”

.17 Remington AR-15 — Small Bullet, Ultra-High Velocity

The .17 Remington wildcat is based on the .223 Remington case necked down to .172″, with the shoulder moved back. High muzzle velocity (4000+ FPS), flat trajectory, and very low recoil are the .17 Remington’s primary attributes. It has a maximum effective range of about 440 yards on prairie dog-sized animals, but the low BCs of the small .17-cal bullets makes them quite susceptible to crosswinds at such distances.

.17 wsm 20 practical ar-15 ar ar15 varmint rimfire

This Varminter.com video was created in spring 2022, just in time for Rockchuck and Thermal Coyote hunts. The host noted: “This was my first experience with the .17 Remington, but I was not unaware of its history and steady popularity among varmint and predator hunters. Although finding an available and affordable .17 Remington bolt-action rifle is nearly impossible nowadays, building one in an AR-15 was simple and straight-forward.” The video has full description of all the components for the build. The .17 Rem is fast — the 25gr bullet runs 3777 FPS from an 18″ barrel (see 01:42 time-mark). READ Full Story.

.17 WSM Rimfire in Franklin Armory F17-L

What’s the ultimate rimfire varmint rifle? An AR chambered for the .17 WSM could be the answer. Eric Mayer of Varminter.com states: “The Franklin Armory F17-L in .17 Winchester Super Magnum (WSM) has a lot of firsts. It is the first semi-automatic rifle in .17 WSM now available to the general public. It is the first gas-piston system, AR-15 rimfire rifle built in partnership between Franklin Armory and Osprey Defense.”

Eric has used the .17 WSM AR shooting ground squirrels, rock squirrels, prairie dogs, and rabbits. Eric notes: “The report of the .17 WSM is nowhere near as loud as most of the centerfire [varmint] cartridges. I found that when I shot the FA-17, it did not cause the other ground squirrels… to run for cover. The lack of recoil … allowed me to see right where I hit [and] if I happened to miss, [low recoil] made for quick corrections for wind, or distance.” READ Full Report

.17 wsm varmint rimfire
The .17 WSM is a much larger, more powerful round than the .17 HMR. See the size difference above.

Eric Mayer created his own custom .17 WSM AR-15 varmint rifle, built with a Franklin Armory F17-V4 Upper, Aero Precision Lower, and Magpul stock. This was used in California and Arizona. READ Full Story.

.20 Practical — Fast, Accurate, Easy to Form

The .20 Practical cartridge is simply a .223 Rem necked down to .20 caliber. This is a great choice for prairie dogs — and probably our favorite wildcat for the AR-15. Just neck down your .223 Rem brass, fit a .20-Cal barrel and you’re good to go. Robert Whitley notes the the .20 Practical “is a perfect cartridge for varmint hunting and general shooting — very accurate and fast! It functions 100% out of an AR-15.”

The .20 Practical offers some notable advantages for high-volume varmint shooters. The .20 Practical delivers very high velocity with very low recoil while still providing outstanding accuracy. The .20 Practical is great option for folks who favor “fast and light” — smaller, lower-mass bullets traveling at very high velocities. This little cartridge can launch 40-grainers at over 3900 FPS, and 32-grainers even faster. This makes the .20 Practical a great choice for an AR-based varmint rifle.

20 Practical.20 Practical Ultimate AR Varminter
A decade ago AccurateShooter.com created a .20 Practical AR15 Ultimate Varminter with a custom 20-caliber upper from Robert Whitley of AR-X Enterprises, LLC. That project rifle was ultra-accurate — every 5-shot group out of the gun was less than the size of a dime. That gun was auctioned off, but Robert Whitley continues to produce custom 20 Practical AR-15 uppers.

You make .20 Practical cases by simply necking down .223 Rem brass to .20 caliber. You can start with standard .223 Rem brass and even load with standard .223 Rem dies. Just swap in a smaller expander and use smaller neck bushings.

Prairie Dog Hunt with .204 Ruger AR — Watch The P-Dogs Fly

The video was created during a 2018 prairie dog safari. It has stunning footage of hits on P-Dogs at multiple distances. You can see over FIFTY hits with some amazing P-Dog aerials. Watch the first flyin’ dog at 00:20 time-mark and there’s a truly spectacular gut-busting hit at 3:13. That shows the potency of a high-speed .20-cal projectile. The shooter was using a custom-built AR-15 chambered in a .204 Ruger. That cartridge was driving 35gr Berger hollow point bullets at a stunning 4050 FPS! The rifle was fitted with a Dakota silencer suppressor and many other custom components. If you’ve never tried prairie dog hunting, watch this video start to finish and you may be hooked.

6mm ARC AR-15 Varmint Rig

This Varminter.com video examines the 6mm ARC cartridge from a varmint hunter’s perspective. Created by Hornady, the 6mm ARC was designed for target shooting and medium-sized game both in bolt guns and Modern Sporting Rifles. Hornady states: “The 6mm ARC … fits in an AR-15-pattern action, functions reliably out of standard-capacity 24- or 17-round magazines. It delivers substantially better ballistics than the .223 Rem[.]” This video examines how the 6mm ARC performs in an AR-15 for varmint and predator hunting. The host reviews available factory varmint loads. The video also examines reloading components for the 6mm ARC — brass and bullets. CLICK HERE for full article.

Cottontail Rabbit Hunting with Suppressed .204 Ruger AR-15

As a varmint hunting tool, the .204 Ruger in an AR-15 is a versatile, worthy cartridge/rifle combo for the job. This video covers a cottontail rabbit hunt. The host states that “We were contacted by a farmer who was being slammed with cottontail rabbits eating out huge portions of his alfalfa fields.” This suppressed .204 Ruger AR-15 proved seriously effective on the rabbits, driving high-velocity rounds with impressive accuracy. See more details on the Varminter.com website.

.22 Grendel-Chambered AR-15 — Impressive Velocities

The .22 Grendel is an extremely accurate and efficient cartridge based on the 6.5 Grendel necked down to .22 caliber. The case can drive 55gr varmint bullets at high velocities — over 3500 FPS. With a faster-twist barrel you can load up to 90gr bullets at 2500 FPS. The tester achieved velocities close to a 22-250. The short, fat case fits in AR-15 magazines, but may not feed as reliably during rapid fire. The tester did experience one double-feed.

Lead-Free Ammo Offerings Tested in .223 Rem AR-15

Some states — such as California — prohibit hunting with bullets that contain lead. If you plan to hunt in an area with such restrictions, you’ll need to find a lead-free substitute. Thankfully a number of manufacturers produce ammo with solid brass projectiles or other lead-free bullet designs. This Varminter.com video reviews .223 Remington no-lead ammunition from Cor-Bon, Hornady, Nosler and Winchester. These ammo types were tested in a AR-15 varmint rifle, used in a coyote hunt featured at the end of the video. SEE Full Story on Varminter.com.

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