The AR-style rifle has come into its own.

First designed by Eugene Stoner in .308 caliber when he worked for the Armalite corporation, the aluminum receiver guns were the stuff of science-fiction films, far ahead of their time.

Colt bought the patents from Armalite, and when the U.S. Army decided the .223 version would become their new select-fire infantry rifle, replacing the M-14 and being designated the M-16, Colt decided to name their civilian semi-automatic model the AR-15.

Despite common belief, the "AR" designation in use today does not stand for "assault rifle," but rather retains the name of the original manufacturer - the Armalite Rifle.

Nowadays, you can buy a semi-auto rifle built on the AR-15 platform in about any category of hunting caliber you wish, from the original varmint exploders to heavy brush-busting stuff suitable for much bigger game. Cartridges such as the .50 Beowulf have been designed specifically for the AR platform, and can throw a 300-grain bullet out there roughly comparable to the old .45-70 Govt. ballistics.

I had resisted the constant siren call of the "battle-rifle" syndrome. The repeated statement by friends "I can't believe you don't have one…" never awakened any cravings. I like shooting a few rounds accurately much more than a lot of rounds in "spray and pray."

But let a rifleman friend start talking about accuracy, and I am easily won over.

Thus, when Richard Cooper started singing the praises of his new Remington R-15 rifle, my ears perked up.

I had shot the new Remington AR at a writers' conference last fall, and liked it. I also liked the fact that ARs are gaining in popularity in the hunting fields because of their versatility. Being a "component" gun, you can buy a single "lower" receiver, and easily swap out various "uppers" for changes in caliber, barrel length and more.

In addition, these rifles offer easily changed barrels, trigger mechanisms and various add-on accessories. Their reputation of being turned into highly accurate long-range rifles was becoming almost a drumbeat of acclaim.

Richard is a long-time shooting buddy who has hunted across the United States, and shares my quest and desire for accuracy in rifles. When he said his R-15 was a "match-striker," I got interested really quickly.

"No kidding," he said. "I've got a load in .223 that seems to work in every rifle I've ever had in that caliber - bolts or ARs. Load 22 grains of IMR 4831 behind a 50-grain Nosler Partition, and it works in everything. And I make one-holes with my Remington."

That did it. If he got that sort of accuracy, I had to try one. Nothing would do but I get exactly the same rifle he had - the Remington R-15 VTR Predator Carbine CS. That stands for Varmint Tactical Rifle-Carbine Collapsible Stock.

This is an impressive rifle. It has an 18-inch button-rifled barrel that is fluted to reduce weight, stiffen the barrel and shed heat faster. In addition, it sports a recessed hunting crown to lessen the chances of damage to the muzzle, and ensure gasses escape uniformly around exiting bullets. This enhances shot-to-shot uniformity.

These rifles are "flattops," meaning they sport a picatinny rail for locking on scopes or optics as opposed to the ubiquitous "carry handle" sight.

Expecting the best, since Richard said so, and knowing Remington's reputation for out-of-the-box accuracy, I mounted a 6.5-20 Nikon Monarch Gold UCC with an illuminated reticle on it. I like lots of power on my long-range stuff. Varmints are small targets, and frequently hold up way out there when being called. I was ready for some range time.

Rifles are funny things. Some seem to settle in and start shooting straight out of the box, and others - well, they need lots of shooting.

Pushing rounds through the bore and cleaning incessantly at first polishes the imperfections out of the barrel, coating the tiny abrasions with a weld of copper, making the barrel perfectly smooth.

The last rifle I broke in this way was my .22-250 Remington Model 700 VTR. It took about 120 rounds before it settled and started giving dime-sized groups with two different factory loads, as long as I stayed in the 45- to 50-grain weight class.

The SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) specifications call for a 1-in-14 twist rate on the .22-250 - this is too slow a rate to impart all-important revolutions to the heavier class bullets in the 55- to 62-grain class, and thus these don't shoot nearly so well in my rifle.

The new R-15 has a 1-in-9 twist rate. This is a sort of middle-of-the road twist rate, aimed at accommodating both ends of the bullet weight spectrum. I found my new AR didn't care for the 55-grain factory loads I bought for it. As I got more and more rounds through it, it seemed to prefer bullets in the lower weights.

Shooting with Richard on a friend's range near Waco, Texas, we witnessed the interesting phenomenon of a barrel obviously breaking in.

By this time, I had fired nearly a hundred rounds through the barrel, and had scrubbed it squeaky clean with copper solvents, such as Butch's Bore Shine.

After firing several groups and cleaning the barrel again, I took some of the "pet" reloads, and tried them. The barrel seemed to have started settling in, and I became more relaxed and confident with the gun, learning its feel and how to control the trigger.

Almost suddenly, the rifle started giving us minute-of-angle (1-inch) groups. When they became dime-sized, it was time to play.

Being Texan ranchers and farmers, our hosts all drove pickup trucks with at least one rifle on the seat, "just in case." Their range was outfitted with "gongs" at 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards.

I had the rifle sighted in about 2 inches high at 100 yards, so I centered the foot-square piece of metal at 200 yards, and gently pulled the trigger.

I was rewarded with a satisfying "thunk" as the 52-grain Hornady missile struck it.

Shifting to the 300-yard gong, I took my time. At this range, it was noticeably smaller. With the report of the rifle, I had time to lift my head and peer downrange before the sound of the strike returned several seconds later. The extended wait brought a big laugh from everyone.

Bad weather ruined our chances for hogs and coyotes, the original intent of the trip. But we had the satisfaction of shooting on an exceptional range built by riflemen for riflemen, and to find our equipment ready and sighted in for the task.

And I learned I really enjoy shooting my new R-15 VTR carbine. It's accurate, lightweight at 6¾ pounds (before the scope) and produces groups as tight as I can hold it. At least we'll be ready for the next trip, when the weather holds.


Read more guns, shooting, and politics at Hutchinson is author of The Quest and the Quarry and co-author of The Great New Orleans Gun Grab.