Many of you have been introduced to AR-15's recently. Even if you were bolt action rifle fans for most of your hunting career, you have probably recognized how fun and effective these military style rifles can be, especially when you consider the difference between one round and twenty or thirty.
I began to see "plastic and aluminum" gas operated rifles differently about 5 years ago. Before that, I had been your traditional wood-stock guy, and yes, I owned a Beretta Silver Pigeon O/U. I would gasp whenever the stock got a little scratch. But one day, a guy introduced me to the Benelli Super Black Eagle, and immediately, I began to see function over form (not that the SBE wasn't a pretty sexy shotgun). That shotgun changed me forever.
That was also a time when AR "variants" really started to take off. The much-maligned .223 or 5.56 NATO rifles certainly killed hogs, but in south Texas, hogs are decidedly tough. Far too many of them run off when hit in the torso with a .22 centerfire rifle, and so some of us were looking for alot more "oomph" when shooting at these big pigs. I was lucky enough to buy Wild River Ranch about 10 years ago, and after 3-4 years of hearing my friends say "uh, did you hit it..?," I decided that other measures had to be taken.
There can be no doubt that shot placement is the single most important element of a clean kill. However, those of you with hog hunting experience know that there is a big difference between killing one hog at a feeder, and going on "combat hunts," in which mass extermination is the goal. In the latter scenario, the hunters are trying to kill more than one, and when the first round goes off, the "starburst" provides lots of moving targets of opportunity, but with the majority providing less than optimal shots. It is not at all uncommon to be using NV and simply shoot for "center of mass," just to assure that you hit the pig. In these situations, I personally found a good friend in the 6.8 SPC.
Time and time again, I found that I could knock these hogs down even with a single shoulder or quartering away shot through the ribs, with the 6.8, whereas, when shooting the 5.56, the shooter might not even know if he hit the pig. Rest assured, I do not see the 6.8 as a "magic death ray" and I do not wish to debate the killing effectiveness of one versus the other. The 6.8 is just another "option" you as the shooter have, when you switch to an AR-15 based rifle.
Other options include free-float railed handguards, onto which you can place lights, lasers and tactical kitchen sinks. The modularity of the railed AR is almost endless. You can select vertical foregrips if you prefer this sort of ergonomics, and you can also customize things like the trigger, muzzle device, buttstock or numerous optical sights. You can put a suppressor on the rifle for hearing protection and there are even subsonic cycling AR's now, like .300 whisper and the new .300 AAC Blackout, which appears very promising.
Thus, we now have many caliber choices, including those mentioned above, plus 6.5 Grendel, 9mm, .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf, and newer wildcats like .25 / .223, 6 X 45mm, 6 X 42mm, 7.62 X 40mm, and the ultra cheap, surplus 7.62 X 39mm and 5.45 X 39mm. You can even place a .22 LR conversion bolt in your 5.56 AR and shoot very inexpensively. Many LEO's and hunters now outfit two rifles identically, one in 5.56 and one in 6.8 to take advantage of cheap, surplus ammo for practice / training and then use the 6.8 for "business."
With all these customized features, you can build a hog gun that suits you individually, fires multiple rounds in semiautomatic, and can be fitted with an endless array of handguards, grips and optics.
There just aren't many other rifles that afford so much individual adaptability. If you don't already own one, it might be time to give them a try, even if you are the traditional "wood stock" man.
Suppressed 6.8 SPC with Gen III, D-740, 4X NV scope
Multiple AR variants (6 X 42, 6.8 SPC)
Nearly identical 5.56 and 6.8 rifles
Suppressed .22 LR conversion