Modern Sporting Rifles, rifles built on an AR-15 platform, evoke two very diverse reactions. People either love them or hate them.
Those that don't like the AR-style rifle see a menacing appearance strictly because of their dark-side reputation associated with crimes.
After all, the AR stands for assault rifle, right? Well, not really. It stands for ArmaLite, the company that introduced rifles with this appearance in the 1950s.
And they aren't assault rifles because they aren't automatics burping out shells with a single pull of the trigger.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is an upcoming generation of hunters that sees them as simply the civilian version of a military weapon that is fun to shoot, accurate and in some cases more versatile than more traditional rifles.
For that reason the guns are beginning to find their way beyond the shooting range and into the field for hunting with more regularity.
Brownsboro's Dale Johnson bought a .223-caliber Bushmaster on an AR platform several years ago. When his son Tanner got old enough to start shooting it was the perfect rifle to start him on.
"Tanner loved it so much because there was no recoil. He shot five deer with it," Johnson said.
As the young hunter got older, the father started shopping around for a different model that lent itself more to hunting and found a model in the same caliber with a heavier barrel. He also upgraded the ammo.
"We use some pretty good hollow points. The furthest he has had something go was seven yards. It does the job. He has shot hogs, coyotes and deer," Johnson said.
He added the longest shot his son has taken is 100 yards, but that is more a function of Tanner's age and experience than it is the rifle's capability.
"I try to keep him at 100 because he is 12 years old and I know his limits," Johnson explained.
While the rifle is as accurate as a traditional rifle, Johnson said the lack of recoil makes shooting it more enjoyable for the 5-foot tall, 100-pound sixth grader. For that reason he and Tanner spend a lot more time range shooting than they might have otherwise.
"I think that putting him with the right rifle, he is enjoying hunting more," Johnson explained
There are hunting limitations to the .223-caliber, but when his son is ready to move up the rifle Johnson bought can be easily converted to a .243. If he wants to go another route and buy new, the rifles are showing up in more and more calibers.
It is inevitable that the rifles will find their way into the field. In 1990 the rifles were something of an oddity. Only about 67,000 were available for sale then in the U.S., according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In 2012, the latest available date for estimates, there was more than 1.5 million. In all about 10 million have been sold in the last 25 years.
"About a quarter of hunters currently use or have used a Modern Sporting Rifle in hunting. Another quarter of hunters surveyed say they would consider using an MSR," said NSSF spokesman Mike Bazinet. Bazinet was citing numbers from a survey NSSF had conducted in 2013.
"Since the demographic of hunters using MSRs tends to be younger and the range of calibers available in MSRs has grown, it's safe to say that over time an increasingly higher percentage of hunters will be using MSRs," he added.
The numbers support that, showing that the majority of those using MSRs for hunting are relatively new to hunting.
Those currently hunting with the rifles are more likely to use them for coyotes and wild pigs, however, there are some hunting bigger game including deer and elk.
The survey also showed that hunters using the MSRs are more likely to be from the South or western states, and in bucking the normal trend for hunters are from urban as opposed to rural locations.
Local gun dealers say that very few of those buying the rifles here indicate they want them for hunting. Parents continue to buy traditional firearms for their children, in part because of concerns about ammunition clip size in the MSRs. Those who are buying them are getting around that issue by simply limiting the young hunter to just a few rounds at a time.
"The think about it is fun for him to shoot that gun. If I would buy a .270 it would hurt. I want Tanner to enjoy the outdoors and shooting," Johnson said.
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