Varmint Hunting Machine, Easily Repurpose that Extra AR-15 Rifle

By Allen Forkner
The best use of an extra AR-15 Rifle is also a public service. And by that, I mean varmint hunting.

Varmint Hunting Rifle, Scope and Ammo
Varmint Hunting Rifle, Scope and Ammo
Allen Forkner
Allen Forkner

USA – -( We all did it.

Over the past four years, who didn’t play it safe and added at least one AR-15 rifle to the collection.

Now that the [political] worries have cooled, a lot of new black rifle owners are wondering what the heck to do with their new tool, beyond plinking away at the range. Considering the AR is one of the most versatile platforms on the market, the options are endless.

In my opinion, the best use of an extra AR-15 is also a public service. And by that, I mean varmint hunting.

Varmint Hunting

Why varmint hunting? First off, it helps keep the varmint population under control, which means a healthier environment for ranchers and farmers as well as the deer and elk herds. Another bonus, it’s also a great skill builder as you’ll engage small, moving targets at a variety of ranges.

The big upside is that it only takes a few accessories and upgrades, which won’t break the bank.

A great varmint rifle starts at the top, with the addition of a great optic. If you can’t see the varmint, you can’t hit it. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a riflescope.

One of the fun things about varmint hunting is that you may engage a target as close as 25 yards or as far as several hundred yards. You need an optic with variable magnification, which combines high-magnification precision with low-magnification field of view. While the standard 3-9x can work, you will find a bit more utility with a 3.5-10x or even a 4.5-14x riflescope.

Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm Riflescope
Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm Riflescope

The Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm is our choice for a varmint rifle, especially when paired with a purpose-specific reticle like the company’s Varmint Hunter reticle. The Varmint Hunter reticle was designed for small targets at long-range, and has built in holdovers for distance and wind.

Once you have good glass, we look at improving the trigger. Odds are, your AR came with a mil-spec trigger, which weighs in around 8 pounds and may be a bit gritty. For a few hundred dollars, this can be replaced with a match-grade trigger from any number of companies. We’ve had great luck with Timney Triggers and Geissele Automatics, but AR Gold and Hiperfire also have great reputations. [see related best AR 15 Trigger Review]

After that, all you need is a good shooting base, which can be had with the addition of a bipod or tripod. If you are on a budget, a good set of sand bags can also help built a solid shooting position.

We’d also recommend a good pair of binoculars and laser rangefinder. Again, we recommend the rugged and durable options from Leupold. Their RX-1200i TBR/W laser rangefinder not only gives you distance, but can also calculate the angle of the shot and the ballistic drop of your cartridge. Lightweight and durable, the Leupold RX-1200i TBR/W Rangefinder is a must for any varmint hunter.

Leupold RX-1200i TBR/W Rangefinder
Leupold RX-1200i TBR/W Rangefinder

Now, if you are looking to take your varmint rig to the next level, there are a few other options to consider, such as the ammunition.

While .223 Remington/5.56mm NATO is a very viable round for varmint hunting, with a simple barrel and magazine change you can add distance and accuracy to your stock AR.

Nosler Trophy Grade Varmint Rifle Ammunition .22 Nosler 55
Nosler Trophy Grade Varmint Rifle Ammunition .22 Nosler 55 gr BT
Nosler Varmageddon Rifle Ammunition
Nosler Varmageddon Rifle Ammunition

The new 22 Nosler cartridge is a screamer, and brings higher velocity, more energy and a flatter trajectory to your stock rifle. All it takes is a barrel change and the use of a 6.8SPC magazine. Or, if a barrel change is outside of your comfort level, you can purchase a complete upper. Now, just pop out the two takedown pins, remove the standard upper, and replace with the 22 Nosler. Instant upgrade.

With the greater range of the 22 Nosler ammunition, you may also consider a different optic. Leupold’s VX-3i LRP (Long Range Precision) was designed for those somewhat new to long-range hunting. Simple to read adjustments, easily understood dials and a wide variety of reticles make it easy to reach out even farther.

With your new range, this may also be a good time to reexamine the furniture, which means the forend and buttstock.

Replacing the stock forend or handguard with something that offers mounting points for lights can open the door to night hunting (where legal), which adds a whole new level of fun. Options abound, but those from Magpul, Troy and Samson are proven and trusted.

Since a lot of varmint hunting is done with shooting sticks or tripods, you may want a buttstock with a little more adjustability than the mil-spec 6-position. Again, Magpul offers a wide variety, as do Troy, MFT and Luth-AR.

In the end, you can enhance your basic AR-15 rifle as far as your imagination and checkbook will allow. But, with these basic accessories and upgrades, you can turn that stock AR into a purpose-built varmint rifle rather easily and cost effectively.

Have fun, and shoot safe!

Varmint Hunting with Leupold Optics and Novesk Rifle
Varmint Hunting with Leupold Optics and Novesk Rifle
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To get off the AR kick, I bought a Savage Axis for $300 and had it re-barreled in .17 Remmington. Under $550. Add a Viper Scope for $800 and I have a super varmint shooter.


What you say is true as far as it goes other than the breaking the bank. I would love to have a budget as large as the authors must be. I have a very capable Stag LH varmit rifle mounted with a 4-12 Leupold scope that I have added or changed parts to make it into what I wanted. However it was and is an ongoing process. The reason it has been ongoing is the cost. That said it is still one of my favorite rifles.


Good article, but I’m not sure about the ‘not breaking the bank’ statement. With just the addition of a good scope and better trigger you can have more than the cost of the original rifle. Add the binoculars and laser rangefinder and your $500-$600 rifle is now a $2000 rifle and that will break the bank for most of us.




Ain’t that the truth. Sometimes I really wonder if the authors of these articles are using different dictionaries than most of us when it comes to terms like “not much more” or “it won’t break the bank”? Whose bank are we talking about? I bought a 6.8spc upper, on sale from one of the top makers, $900. 1.5-4 scope, at a gun show, last day, retail to this day is $1,100, I got it for $700 cash. American Gold trigger (which I consider the finest I’ve ever used), just shy of $300. That was a few years ago when I… Read more »


@Vanns40 – I hear that. I put $475 in to my first build and spent almost that much on magazines and a red dot site. Put $450 into my second build (7.62×39) and still working on magazines with an AR handle sight. Both shoot well and I can hit what I see. I just don’t see a reason to spend more money on what I already love to shoot!

Don Bailey

That’s like having plenty of 45 ACP to run through your custom $4,000. 1911. But having said that, you can go to several sites that sell blemished AR-15 parts, and then shop around for the best deal on a quality trigger and bolt. That way you do get a good quality AR-15. Then, you start blowing dollars on your scope and other different types of sights to go with it. There is all kinds of ways to cut corners and save your extra change in the old Mason jar at the end of the day.


My brother bought a “blemished” upper for his AR build. Saved hundreds. After 25 minutes we found the “blemish”, a slightly off section of bluing about an inch long and a half inch long needle thin scratch! That’s a “blemish” either of us can live with all day long.

Don Bailey

Vanns40, the AR-15 builds I’ve seen were uppers and lowers were from Palmetto State Armory,– you needed a magnifying glass to find the blemish. Like everything else, you need to know what you’re looking for and what you can live with. It all looked good though.