When an AR-15 goes full-semi-auto heirloom quality hunting rifle
Let’s face it, in the AR-15 world it’s easy to get lost in the vanilla black-rifle weeds. We reached a saturation point of sorts with semi-auto gas-operated systems quite a while ago, especially in terms of plain black rigs offered by “manufacturers” who simply assemble branded components provided by true third-party bulk-producers. Even so, some not-so-vanilla iterations have certainly risen above the others and deserve to be called out. The Brenton USA Ranger Carbon Hunter is one of them. The Ranger Carbon Hunter is touted specifically as a top-shelf hunting rifle and is specifically designed to scratch the demanding itch of discriminating hunters, as well as shooting enthusiasts and gun collectors.
Heirloom Quality Hunting AR: It’s a Real Thing
While Brenton USA’s Ranger Carbon Hunter is indeed a direct-impingement, gas-operated rifle, it is anything but another tactical black rifle. To be sure, the Ranger Carbon Hunter is an honest-to-goodness heirloom piece. As is the case throughout Brenton’s rifle line, the Ranger Carbon Hunter looks and feels different than any other AR-15 system I’ve had the pleasure of shooting, and I’ve had quality trigger time with one or two.
The Brenton Carbon Hunter’s most noticeable attribute is a head-turning MarbleKote Camouflage finish. The rifle I tested was finished in MarbleKote’s Harvester patterns. Brenton USA also turns heads by offering MarbleKote’s Foliage, Midnight and Snow patterns throughout its four models: Ranger Carbon Hunter and Stalker Carbon Hunter, both available in 18-inch and 22-inch versions.
The Ranger Carbon Hunter’s second most obvious feature is the fixed stock, complete with storage behind the buttpad and a flush-cup, quick-detach sling mount. The third and final eye-catching aesthetic feature is the smooth, free-floating 15-inch rail. In an industry teeming with aggressive tactical-style handguards, the Ranger Carbon Hunter, and indeed all three Brenton USA models, tone this look and feel down from aggressive to a sleek and altogether hunting rifle feel, unlike virtually every other AR rifle out there—and yes, I hunt extensively with AR systems.
The Ranger Carbon Hunter’s look is as much about functionality as it is heirloom hunting rifle look. The upper receiver and handguard offer a near-seamless, smooth look with a full-length picatinny rail perfect for mounting an optic, fixed sights or both, as well as a laser-light combo for those insisting on turning the Ranger Carbon Hunter into their next tactical AR rig—but honestly, doing so would kill Brenton USA’s vision of offering that traditional-themed, high-quality hunting rifle look. Also worth mentioning are the mounted rail sections on the underside of the Ranger Carbon Hunter’s handguard. I use one back by the magazine well to mount the rifle on a tripod and another on the forward end for a bipod. The forward rail section also includes a flush-cup quick-detach sling mount.
Protruding from the front of the handguard is what remains of a match-grade 22-inch 6.5 Grendel barrel with 1:8 twist, capped with quite a nice tapered, precision-turned thread protector. The 5/8-24 threaded barrel is perfect for mounting a muzzle brake or, even better in my hog hunter’s opinion, a suppressor. Additional attention-to-detail elements like Brenton’s own skeletonized trigger and a laser engraved dust/ejection port cover are nice finishing touches to an otherwise sexy AR hunting rifle look. Overall, the rifle measures 40.25 inches and weighs just under 7.5 pounds.
Of course, while good looking rifles are great, at least at face value, what happens “under the hood” at the range and on the hunt is exponentially more important. Before jumping into both range and field time, I’ll cut to the chase—it shoots as good as it looks! Gassing was spot on and cycling was not just reliable, it was impeccable, with recoil impulse feeling mitigated although it wasn’t—every shot was exceedingly comfortable. That said, let’s walk through some paces.
For the Ranger Carbon Hunter’s first shots, I headed to the Triple C Shooting Range, my home range near DFW. If you haven’t been and are in the area, Triple C is a full-service outdoor shooting range complete with a multi-distance shooting range; over a dozen sizeable shooting bays for steel handgun, shotgun, and carbine shooting; competitive shooting environments for 3-gun, multi-gun, PRS, F-class, and other matches; and long-range shooting lanes clear out to 2,000 yards! Even better, it’s literally surrounded by a working Texas ranch rich with livestock, wildlife, oak trees, and wildflowers.
For my initial testing, I mounted a Sightmark Pinnacle 5-30x50TMD first-focal-plane riflescope and Accu-Tac SR-5 Gen 2 bipod. I also used a Tactical Tailor squeeze bag under the stock; I prefer to test accuracy in real-world shooting conditions, complete with the human factor—what an average Joe with trigger time under his belt should experience when shooting this rifle.
The Ranger Carbon Hunter included a 6.5 Grendel Magazine and I filled it with Hornady 123-grain SST ammunition, great for both hunting and target shooting. After settling down on the rifle and acquiring my target, I pushed the ambi selector switch to fire, reached my natural respiratory pause and then slowly squeezed the trigger. Brenton’s BT-1 Match Trigger broke like ice right at three pounds, making for an incredibly comfortable shooting experience; of course, a match-grade trigger certainly helps, especially when you’re getting into the nuts and bolts of accuracy.
After some initial shots, I stopped and pulled copper, cleaned the barrel and tested velocity. For this shoot, I employed a MagnetoSpeed V3 Chronograph. Again, using Hornady 123-grain SST ammunition, I achieved an average muzzle velocity of 2,577 feet per second and 1,814 ft.-lbs. of energy. The ammo delivered big with a low standard deviation of just 10.6. The final grouping was exceptional at point .437, sub-½-MOA for my fellow trigger geeks. After initial testing, I took the rifle long, out to 750 yards, and still achieved sub-MOA grouping in light wind—she’s quite a shooter and I believe I could have done a little better given even calmer conditions! Still, the Ranger Carbon Hunter exceeded my expectations.
After testing, I returned to the zeroing range and removed the Sightmark Pinnacle, replacing it with a Pulsar Trail XP38 Thermal Riflescope. Using a few ice cubes in a plastic bag (ice “bleeds” less than heat, creating a more defined target for sighting-in a thermal riflescope), I quickly sighted-in the Pulsar Trail XP38 at 50 yards, recorded my reticle coordinates, and headed home ready for a hog hunt.
On the Hunt
Waiting to hunt with the Ranger Carbon Hunter gnawed at me like a steady itch and finally, a couple of months ago after several outdoor writer shooting events, I had a chance to get in the field. For this hunt, I met up with a good friend, all-around hunting buddy and world-class UFC lightweight fighter, James “The Texecutioner” Vick. His schedule is unpredictable but we try to get some time in the woods together when he’s not pre-occupied with training. This was one of those times and he was chomping at the bit to get some trigger time with feral hogs at one of our favorite hog hunting hot-spots, Three Curl Outfitters, near and dear to both of us in Waxahachie, Texas. Three Curl is a full-service outfitter. Not the Ritz but exceedingly comfortable—the kind of place and people where you make friends with everyone you meet, always have shot opportunities on their free-ranging farmland hot spots consisting of over 80,000 acres, and there’s always some mouth-watering TX Whiskey to sip on post-hunt while laughing and rehashing the night’s adventures.
James picked me up early in the afternoon and we slid out to Three Curl Outfitters early to double-check accuracy. After center-punching targets, we headed back to the lodge, ate, told hunting lies and at sunset, piled into the truck with world-famous (at least to those who have hunted with him) Three Curl guide, Corey Bradford. I swear Corey should change his name to Pig Whisperer. He has a knack for finding them even when the environmental conditions pile the odds against you.
That night was no exception. Several inches of hard rain the night before and a brutal cold front made for slow, hard hunting. When we did hit fields after isolated pigs, thick mud did everything it could to suck the boots off our feet with every step—nothing came easy. After a few hours of tough stalks on isolated hogs, we found a field with several heat signatures. We slipped out of the truck, grabbed our rifles and quietly followed Corey onto the edge of the field. Corey used a Pulsar Helion XP50 Thermal Monocular to glass and stalk as we followed single-file. At 50 yards, James and I fanned out side-by-side. Corey counted down from three to one and we each fired a single, simultaneous shot. The large 200-pound boar dropped where he stood.
After the first hog was down, Corey observed two more hogs in the back corner of the field, roughly 1,000 yards away. We followed him again, keeping close—the dark night made seeing tough—bringing up the rear of our trio it was all I could do to maintain sight of James’ faint silhouette… and keep up with either one of them. Corey is lean and 25. James is a world class athlete. I’m an aging Jarhead veteran with horrible knees—you can imagine what the long muddy stalk in the dark looked like.
We finally made it to the far end of the field. Of the two hogs, James covered the one on the left and I covered the other on the right. Corey counted down and again, simultaneous shots dropped both large sows where they stood, no tracking necessary. This was the first, true, stand-alone hunting performance of the Brenton USA Ranger Carbon Hunter AR-15 and Hornady SST ammo—both sizeable crop thieves, each again at about 200 pounds, laid motionless roughly 15 yards apart from each other.
After collecting the two hogs, Corey noticed another boar at the third corner of the field, yet another 1,000 yards away, and away we went. Once we closed in at about 50 yards again, James and I fanned out, Corey counted again and we both shot. The fourth hog dropped immediately. We noticed a fifth hog and began to stalk but he dropped into a neighboring field we did not have permission to hunt on before we could shoot. All told, we trekked over 2.5 miles in that muddy field and killed four large hogs—each weighed roughly the same at about 200 pounds. At the end of the night, we left the field in a side-by-side with 800 pounds of swine in the back, our UTV’s trail hitch nearly dragging in the mud.
The Brenton USA performed flawlessly throughout the hunt. Considering both range and field time, I’m a fan. Even better, in a world filled with those vanilla rifles, running into a true heirloom quality hunting rifle in that same platform was more than refreshing, it was exciting to see and experience where AR innovation is headed—a sign of strength for the AR side of our firearm industry. Worth stating here, when AR sales slumped after our January 2017 political transition, it was the innovative ambitions of Brenton USA and many other premium-quality manufacturers that gave ARs their legs back.
Brenton USA rifles are available in multiple popular hunting calibers. MSRP ranges from $1,870 to $2,200 and each rifle includes a soft-sided rifle bag, magazine, and more importantly, a Forever Warranty. The 22-inch Ranger Carbon Hunter I tested has a price point of $2,200 and is available in the following calibers: 450 Bushmaster, 6.8 SPC II, 6.5 Grendel, .223 Wylde, .22 Nosler, .224 Valkyrie, and .204 Ruger. Brenton USA also offers upper receivers, lower receivers, magazines and BT1 match triggers. Learn more at www.BrentonUSA.com