Thursday, March 25, 2021

Assault rifle use in hunting


from an article cited here on scopes for AR-15 for different uses (photo credit)

Kind of a strange subject to take up in a tea blog, right?  Lately I've decided that if some other subject I'm reading about is interesting to me I'll share it here, and if my political bias offends people (moderate but to the left, really) then they can miss out on the rest about tea.  

It's not as if that many people read this blog either way, or that it makes any difference how many do.  It would be easy for someone to skip the off-tea theme posts, or getting offended and checking out is reasonable, even for a liberal who hates the idea of mixing subjects.  

I'm not that liberal, as I see it.  Political correctness and the rest seems strange to me, for not being in the US for the last 13 years while it all ramped up to where it is now.  And I lived in Hawaii before that; it's coming up on 16 years since I've lived in "the mainland."  "People of color" were called black people then, or at least the set who had been referred to as "African Americans" back in the 90s were.

I'll not debate whether assault weapons, with a main focus on the AR-15, should be banned or not in this.  Obviously the main prompt for even reading around related to this was the recent Boulder shooting, that killed 10, which followed an Atlanta mass-shooting about a week prior.  The Boulder version followed the typical form better, someone walking into a random place to kill lots of people.  Of course both individuals were quite unbalanced; how could they not be, given what both did?

Even though this is going in a strange direction, focusing on whether or not the AR-15 plays a natural role in hunting, which includes a tangent on media bias in reporting on such issues, this particular gun is a variation of a military assault weapon.  Gun enthusiasts and groups use such terms in whatever ways suit them best, assault rifle versus something friendlier sounding, but this Time article, essentially supporting AR-15 use in hunting, covers the real background:

Marbut, 69, first used the AR-platform during three years he spent in the military. Adopted by the U.S. military in the 1960s, the M-16 is the fully automatic version of the AR. The military still uses a variant of the gun. The familiarity Marbut developed with the gun in the military prepared him to hunt with it when he returned home to Montana.

Let's back up a bit related to that source:  it's a 2016 Time article titled "Here Are 7 Animals Hunters Kill Using an AR-15."  A political position is clearly implied in that article title, but only implied, which becomes more explicit in the article opening:

After the Orlando nightclub shooting, Democrats criticized the routine sale of the type of semiautomatic rifle used by Omar Mateen. Hillary Clinton called them “weapons of war.” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said that if you used a gun like the AR-15 — or the similar Sig Sauer used in Orlando — to go hunting “you should stick to fishing.”

But many gun owners say they use semiautomatic rifles to hunt regularly.

In interviews with TIME, leaders of 15 state shooting groups said semiautomatic rifles are popular with hunters in their states. Hunters say they favor the gun for its versatility, accuracy and customizable features for shooting animals. The semiautomatic feature, which allows these guns to shoot up to 45 rounds a minute, is not always necessary, but useful in some situations, hunters say...

45 shots per minute supports potential to kill a lot of game (hunted animals), or humans.  A bit more background cited soon after allows the article to move completely past the political divide in perspective:

Despite the criticism of semiautomatic rifles and their use in high profile mass shootings, gun control advocates say they are not focused on banning them, as they were during the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban. Stacey Radnor, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, said that they are more focused on strengthening background checks and closing loopholes on sales than on banning specific guns.

So it's a non-issue on both sides, at least as far as that source goes.  Then it's onto which animals it makes sense to hunt using a weapon with those features.  

The main problem with the article is that almost half those animals aren't being hunted with that weapon in that article, as they normally are configured, with 2 cited using larger variations (one a different gun entirely and one other a modification).  One case is about someone using a 22 instead, a completely different thing.  Maybe the rest actually works, or maybe it doesn't.  For hunting wild pigs / boar the claim is that it's safer to have semi-automatic capability for self-defense, and tied to another case that same function helps you kill fast moving jackrabbits more effectively.

A bit of an aside:  one might wonder, is Time a conservative news source, as all this implies?  Sure, but only moderately so, according to this 2018 Market Watch source:

One of the main references about media bias (I think?) from Ad Fontes Media left Time off the latest version, but had them in the center in earlier chart versions:

Justifying AR-15 use as valid for hunting is definitely a conservative theme, but I suppose it would be possible for an outlet to judge different topics in different lights, to be conservative about hunting rights and more liberal about human rights issues.  Then again who's kidding who; it's conservative media.

But then that's not clearly identified in Time's most recent story line on this theme, Mass Shootings: 'This Is What Normal Has Come to Be Like in America'.  Either they've shifted political inclination or that's so obvious now that we can all finally agree on it. Fox News didn't put any interpretive spin on this Boulder story, they just described what happened.

So are those guns every really used for hunting?  Sure, in some cases by some people, but speaking as a former hunter from a rural Pennsylvania hunting background myself no, not really.  What would you use a semi-automatic weapon to hunt?  It's too small a caliber for deer, and for a really small animal you could just use a 22, as the guy did in the Time article on using an AR-15, who killed seals with one.  For rabbits and such you typically use a shotgun.  

In that Time article hunters really were using AR-15s to hunt feral goats, feral pigs, jackrabbits, and coyotes.  Maybe the pigs would really attack a hunter, bringing up a self-defense issue requiring 45 shot per minute capability, but any moderate sized rifle would probably be fine for the rest.  As a hunter you shoot to kill animals, not to wound them, so the idea of spraying lots of bullets towards pigs attacking you might be fine but shooting randomly at jackrabbits running around just isn't how that works.  Lots of them would run off wounded, dying or blood loss or infection after however long that took, or they would live out their lives with a wound that had healed.

But still I looked through a gun enthusiast ("Gunbacker") guide for AR-15 equipment to get more input on that, BEST AR-15 SCOPES AND OPTICS: TACTICAL REVIEWS.

Although its roots are military, the AR-15 platform has become one of the USA’s most popular hunting rifles. In the standard .223 caliber, it’s ideal for small varmints and predator control. The AR-15 is a reliable, light, and inherently accurate weapon. Still, we needed to find the best AR-15 scope to match.

When paired with the right accessories, the AR-15 is perfect for the job of bringing down a wide range of game. 

Back to that then, that "home defense" and tactical role playing aren't the only uses for this kind of weapon.  After describing some scope basics (the sighting optics familiar from action movies, what hunters and snipers use, and what I spent my childhood learning to use, after practicing on open sights), the article covers range of applications:

AR-15 optics are not universal. You need to plan for how you intend to use your rifle, and sometimes owning multiple scopes makes sense. If you intend to use your rifle for tactical urban warfare drills in a survivalist training camp, a Red dot scope like an Aimpoint or a holographic scope like an EoTech are your best bet. Even for short-range varmint hunting, a red dot or holographic sight is perfect. For longer range, you want something with magnification settings that you can adjust depending on your windage and elevation, just like other long-range rifle scopes that may outfit a 30-06 or a .308.

Clear enough.  A conservative read is that the gun has multiple valid uses; a liberal take would be that this is all pretense for owning a war-games / people-killing weapon.  That source's review of the first category, and then of specific scope versions (optics, they call them) is similar in that regard:


Holographic sights are used primarily in close-quarters combat. They are used primarily by military personnel and law enforcement agencies. They have also gained an incredible amount of popularity over the last few years as a close-quarters sight for anyone that likes to hunt varmints at a closer range. The biggest advantage a Holographic sight has over a red dot scope is that the reticle is much bigger and the MOA is provided better range precision.

It keeps going like that from there.  The hunting theme never completely drops out but repeated mentions of military use, durability, and tactical warfare context seems to speak more to a "defense oriented" audience.  If you see someone doing "tactical urban warfare drills in a survivalist training camp" learning self-defense skills, that is.  Any handgun would be fine for home defense, or a shotgun, and the 22 target rifle I shot as a kid would kill zombies, with no military style training required for that.

I suppose it's time to talk about restricting use of these weapons again.  A waiting period and additional review step will come of that, at most.  For whatever reasons it's impossible or impractical to connect gun ownership restrictions to any degree of risk assessment or control.  Some people must already be denied ownership related to some existing checks, but in general the US population is arming themselves at record rates, per that recent Time article:

About 22.8 million firearms were sold in 2020, compared with 13.9 million the previous year, according to estimates by the Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, an independent research firm. In 2020, the FBI conducted more firearm background checks than any year on record—more than 39.6 million, data from the agency shows. More than 8.4 million people in the U.S. became first-time gun owners last year, the National Shooting Sports Foundation says, adding that record sales have sparked ammunition shortages across the country.

Scary.  I was raised with lots of guns around, a hunting tradition, and gun safety, so I don't have a one-sided take on this issue, but that's a lot of people preparing for the worst.  For sure some of them are no more stable than the two people who just murdered 18 people in those two incidents.  In at least a limited number of other cases the preparation will lead to a different negative outcome, because gun accidents and use for suicide are also significant causes of gun deaths.  It's possible to commit suicide with whatever is in your medicine cabinet too, maybe, but it's potentially more reversible to take some pills than a bullet to the head.

One strange part is that I never knew anyone who had an accident with a gun while growing up, or that committed suicide, or snapped and "went out with a bang."  This horrible trend has nothing to do with real hunting culture.  I don't think people owning AR-15s does either though, myself.  A friend and cousin owns one, and he loves the gun for the same reason the guy familiar with it from military service did, having served in the military himself.  If someone breaks into my friend's house he should be able to shoot that person 45 times in the first minute.  Unfortunately people on a very different page can also walk into a grocery store and do roughly the same thing.  Comparable carnage would also be horrifying using a handgun; the US needs to find multiple ways to reduce this trend.

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