.30 Caliber AR-15 Options

Graduate Shootist presents a decent perspective on alternatives to the traditional 5.56 caliber AR-15 so common on the market today. The AR platform continues to go through changes and developments offering shootists a whole range of options.

- Ranger Man


After 40+ years, the quest for AR-15 punch continues. Despite an ongoing effort to make it everything it’s not, the .223/5.56×45 continues to lack terminal punch on two-legged varmints. The military limits imposed by FMJ certainly don’t help, but we had a heck of a time dumping 40-pound coyotes with bullets of our choosing. Not everyone may agree that the small-bore round is primarily a varmint cartridge, however, something is driving the quest for bigger AR-15 calibers. Although the 6.8 SPC shows promise, many of us can relate to something with a larger bore and few will feel under-gunned if it’s .30 caliber. This may explain the recent explosion of bigger cartridges capable of functioning in the smaller AR-15 platform. The surrogate 7.62s are an interesting development for .30 caliber fans, and may provide a practical alternative to the large and awkward AR-10 chambered for the standard .308/7.62×51.

First up is the venerable 7.62 X 39. Although actually a .311 bore, it’s close enough to lump with the .308s and will approximate .30/30 performance. Ammo is cheap, as are AK magazines which, unfortunately, won’t fit an AR-15. However, they will fit the reliable Robinson Arms AR/AK hybrid design, or the MGI modular AR system with interchangeable magazine wells. The Kalashnikov round remains problematic in straight AR-15 dress due to its tapered case and diverse production, neither being well-suited to the dimensional parameters of Stoner’s design. A different bolt is required, meaning a completely separate upper is necessary, along with a supply of magazines. But for incidental use by those with large quantities of cheap 7.62×39 ammo and magazines, it may suffice. If not, two recent .30 caliber offerings of 5.56 x 45mm lineage may bridge the gap between the little .22 and full-size .30 battle rounds…….

The .300 Blackout, as offered by AAC, is essentially an incarnation of the older, J.D. Jones-designed “Whisper”. You can form brass from 5.56mm/.223 cases by trimming off the shoulder area, but it’s really a necked up .221 Fireball and has an alternate title of 7.62 x 35mm. The original idea, as marketed by SSK, was to offer a .30 cartridge capable of cycling through an AR-15. The case allowed use of heavy 200 grain bullets at subsonic velocity, pressure was sufficient to cycle an AR-15 and the cartridges were short enough to fit M-16 magazines. Adding a suppressor resulted in a very quiet rifle; hence the “whisper” moniker. By shifting to lighter bullets of around 110-125 grains, velocity improves to around 2300 fps. Recoil is negligible and 7.62×39 performance is achieved. Using the right bullets (like Barnes 110 or 130 grain TSX) good expansion and deep penetration are possible. Pointed bullets retain velocity for practical use out to 200 yards and any concerns about terminal effects are thus resolved. These attributes appear to be rapidly gaining favor as witnessed by the proliferation of rifles, uppers and loaded ammo from mainstream manufacturers. It was a bit surprising to see loaded ammo with UMC labels in light of the recent Remington .30 AR development. But AAC is part of The Freedom Group (as are Remington and Bushmaster). Hornady offers loads with their 110-grain polymer-tipped spitzer, plus a heavy, 208-grain subsonic bullet. Their boxes are labeled with the interchangeable “ .300 Whisper” designation.

Meanwhile, Wilson Combat has begun selling complete 7.62 X 40 mm rifles, uppers and ammo. Instead of catering to heavy, sub-sonic bullets the emphasis is on the lighter .30 projectiles offered for the Blackout. The shorter bullets can use a longer case to maintain an overall length still adequate for M-16 magazine function. The longer case improves velocity, resulting in speed of 2400 fps with 110 – 125 grain spitzers. Case forming is easier, too. After knocking off .005, .223 brass can be run through a forming/resizing die. Wilson says velocity will increase after the initial fire-form, which fully expands the case. Although it won’t be as quiet as a sub-sonic Blackout/Whisper, you can still suppress the Wilson load.

Remington’s recent .30 AR offered another step up in ballistic performance, on par with the venerable .300 Savage, itself close to a .308 Winchester. However, the case is based on a .450 Bushmaster. So, brass is an issue and loaded ammo isn’t cheap. The large case-head requires a different bolt and tweaked magazines. But, for someone with a .450 Bushmaster it might be a logical choice. In fact, a trio of .223, .30 AR and .450 BM rifles would cover just about everything. One lower receiver would accommodate all three uppers and a dedicated .22 LR unit would be icing on the cake. I was pretty excited about the .30 AR until the latest .223-based designs gained favor.

With a bucket full of cheap brass and the correct reloading equipment, a nearly indefinite supply of economical .30 AR-15 fodder is now assured. The Blackout and Wilson .30 variations share one major advantage: They require nothing more than a new barrel! With proper head-spacing everything else is good, as is. This includes any existing magazines already on hand. The Wilson 7.62 x 40 would be my choice, based on ease of case forming. I view it strictly as a hand-loading proposition permitting use of .223 brass and .30 caliber bullets already on hand. For someone who doesn’t hand-load, or for an agency, the .300 Blackout/.300 Whisper probably makes more sense. For dispatching larger animals, these mid-sized .30s should work fairly well with careful shot placement. Add a suppressor and you’ll really have something interesting. Carried in the trunk with spare magazines and possibly two different bullet choices, just about all bases could be covered. Recoil should still be manageable, too.

The compact and familiar AR-15 if chambered in a new .30 caliber-something, may be a very useful package. Combined with the recent proliferation of suppressors, look for popularity these cartridges to rapidly grow.

- Graduate Shootist

20 comments… add one

  • T.R. August 15, 2012, 12:33 pm

    I have heard rumors that Ruger is planning to make a heavy duty Mini 14/30 in 30.06 caliber after much customer feed back . This may be a a hard hitting , low maintenance alternative . Customers suggested this because the Mini 30s simplicity , clean lines , and action are very close to the M1 Garand , which is a popular old rifle and hard to find . It was also suggested by customers that like the design , but do not like metric calibers and want the tried and true American rounds , the 30.06 is easily available and a proven butt kicker . Typical of Ruger , they will probably start out with only a 10 round magazine . But then again , its a big round .

    • sput August 15, 2012, 12:49 pm

      Check out the CMP for Garands at a good price. ’06 is only marginally better than 7.62 / .308, and cheap ammo is gone. PTR91 or M1A or CETME rifles are out there ready to go.

      • T.R. August 15, 2012, 2:32 pm

        But its still American ;)

        • Marian August 29, 2012, 9:21 am

          Part of your choice will denepd on what you are able to handle. You don’t mention the shooter’s experience. As I understand the way bison are hunted today, it is a carefully planned hunt when a particular animal is earmarked for you. It is more of an execution than a hunt. But I like the idea of using one of the old traditional rounds like the Sharps, the 45/70. Now, if you’re thinking about a gun that will do the job on bison and can be used for other North American game animals as well, you can’t go wrong with the .308, .30-06 or any of the .30 caliber magnums. Heavier bullets are called for. The body mass on a bison is over 1000 pounds. The animal won’t be excited, which is good. Some of the 7mm magnums might be acceptable but I’d prefer the heavier bullets you can get with the .30s. Nothing less than 180 grains would be my choice. Personally I’d use the .375 H H, but that’s a personal choice based on years of hunting with different guns, and also I’m over 6 and weigh over 200lbs. That gun packs a large recoil. If you can handle it, try it. But whatever you do choose, enjoy the experience.

    • tim February 14, 2016, 3:39 pm

      hi-cap magazines are handy to have, but in a hunting scenario many states limit mag capacity for hunting.

  • sput August 15, 2012, 12:39 pm

    Nice shiny new toys, major expensive — I’ll stick with my 7.62×51 tools, already paid for, with plenty of surplus to feed them. Got my own platforms in 5.56 and 7.62×39, already to go also.

  • Ray August 16, 2012, 5:01 am

    I have nothing good to say about an AR, for my money they all suck. They are the most popular in a long line of realy ,REALY bad guns dreamed up buy the worst firearms tinker in history.Eugene Stoner. Everything the man did, was and is ,just crap. Note that no Stoner wepon, other than the AR/M-4/M-16 , is still manufactured in any numbers.Why? Because they do not work,and cannot be made to work. The only reson that the AR/M-4/M-16 is not a long forgotten relic of the 1950s , is the US military. In the last 40+ years the pentigon has spent more than 1 TRILLION dollars on “fixing” this “platform” ,And all they have managed to do is to make Colt,S&W, H&R, ECT.ECT. very very Rich. The government LOVES the fact that this wepon is so popular, for they know it for what it is .A failure prone , costly , money pit, that has a higher combat fail rate than a flintlock musket.If you try to defend yourself or your family with an AR, they and you, WILL DIE. THE AR WILL FAIL.It will jam.The bolt luggs will break . the mags will dent,or warp,or the feed lips bend. I truly belive that to carry this wepon WTSHTF is suicide. PS. I have rid myself of anythin useing box mags. the government dos’nt have to disarm you, all they need do is outlaw box mags. You can have all the ammo you want , but semi-autos ARE box mags. No mags= no rifle.

    • Gobbedyjook August 18, 2012, 12:42 am

      I suppose that’s why American troops are always getting their asses kicked. Their rifles break, and they’re simply mowed down by the Mosin-Nagant wielding luminaries of the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks for the heads-up, man.

      • Ray August 18, 2012, 7:01 am

        Body armor , without it the death rate would be about like vietnam. AND. The US has not won a single full on war with this rifle. You can worship the black rifle till domesday; but, If the US ARMY Rangers can’t keep this POS rifle running (and they can’t ) no one can. The fact is, that the M-16, M-4 , has the highest documented fail rate of any wepon fielded by any army in human history. ( yes, including the L-80s) In Vietnam ,Iriq and Afganistan , whole units have had documented 80-100% wepons failure. The US ARMY and USMC have both tryed repeatedly to repace the damn things ,only to be over ruled by congress. Gobbedyjook: Why do you think all those SEAL ,SF and FORCE MARINE units have had there asses kicked by a bunch of stone age tribesmen? Luck? Or was it because they were left to defend themselves with 9MMs ,grenades and K-BARS when there M-16/ M-4 wepons system failed . Ps. I carried one of those POS in the service. The ONLY reason we didn’t toss them in the nearest ditch , is ’cause we were ordered to keep ‘em ,And if you are gonna troll sombody about US wars you best read history. US troops ARE getting there asses kicked because of wepon failure.

        • Gobbedyjook August 18, 2012, 12:44 pm

          Like I said. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Shootit August 16, 2012, 5:18 pm

    I don’t understand why they want to come up with a new “want to be” round. Why can’t they just build the rifle around the .243 Winchester with a 100 grain bullet? Plenty of brass, bullet choices, and punch for two legged critters. Then they could sell me the same gun with a different barrel in .308 Winchester.

    • Gobbedyjook August 18, 2012, 12:43 am

      I seem to recall that Chuck Hawks made the same suggestion. Are you Chuck?

      • Shootit August 28, 2012, 10:11 am

        Great minds think alike? I am sorry but don’t know Chuck or recall reading anything to the effect. I do believe that they want to patent and put their name on a new caliber for the dollars.

      • Brooklyn August 29, 2012, 5:45 am

        I lived in South Dakota for 14 years and passed by bfuaflo on the way to town nearly every day. Hunting them with a modern center fire rifle on foot is mostly only a challenge if they calving or if you are hunting during the often brutal winters. Truthfully the bfuaflo is a very large animal and they can be very aggressive if given the opportunity. But they are not that hard to put down because you can generally have very precise shot placement. I’ve seen dozens go down with a single shot from a .243. That would not be my choice but it works. A 30-06 is plenty enough rifle for bison. Select the right bullet, a controlled expansion round that will penetrate deep and pick your shots. Shot placement is more important that caliber. I’d much rather see you shoot a smaller caliber that you can shoot well rather than a larger caliber you don’t shoot so well.Today’s high tech hunting ammo will easily get the job done if you do your part. Distances are normally short and shots are normally not rushed. Oddly while on a 4 wheeler or a tractor bfuaflo will ignore you unless you get within spitting distance, but on foot they seem to have a very different attitude about humans and it is not all that pleasant. Yet I fully believe that the 30-06 will get the job done.Good luck.

  • Gobbedyjook August 18, 2012, 12:59 am

    Boutique rounds for a SHTF situation don’t give me that warm, cozy feeling that John Lennon was talking about. Just get an AK-47 to go with your AR… and maybe an M1 in case a rabid bear decides to charge at you from 600 yards during the End Times. Didn’t Ranger make a list for this a while ago?

  • ar15 upper manufacturers August 20, 2012, 6:30 am

    “My M4 cuts on the ar15 upper receiver and the M4 cuts on the chamber matching up don’t align. Does anyone know how I should fix this problem? What ar15 upper manufacturers can I buy from the avoid this problem? It’s frustrating and I’ve spent a lot of time and money building so far! “

  • ar 15 manufacturers August 20, 2012, 6:53 am

    I’ve been told that a good lower should either be forged or billet as cast lower receivers are unreliable and weak, but I don’t know who the best ar15 lower receiver manufacturers are. Does anyone have some recommendations?

    • Anonymous March 24, 2016, 3:23 pm

      Bushmaster is good !

      • Anonymous March 24, 2016, 3:24 pm

        From Roy

  • Brad August 22, 2012, 10:05 pm

    SOCOM – 16 !!! Enough said!
    Throw some dirt in it. I will still work.


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