I’ve hunted moose in places where there were thick tangles of alder patches that you couldn’t always get to where you wanted to go unless you passed through them; vision was often less than three yards! Did I carry a “brush gun”? No, not exactly according to what is generally described as a “brush rifle”. But then, almost any rifle suited for big game could become a temporary brush rifle. For example: I toted my CZ550 in .458 Win Mag for moose one season in Northern Ontario where the terrain was very mixed. At times there was heavy bush land that included thick alder patches; at others it was open clear cuts where a moose might be caught crossing at up to 600 meters. Still other contexts might dictate a shot across a small lake or marsh. Then there were what seemed like mini-mountains to climb. Moose sign was found in all of those landscapes, so my .458 at times was called upon to be a “brush gun” and at others a flat-shooting magnum!
(Left click on photos for a better view.)
But aside from the fact that many rifles could perform all such tasks quite effectively, yet the question still begs to be more clearly defined as to what is intended when someone says: “The rifle I used for whitetails last year was my brush gun”.
Do you have one, or maybe several? How would you describe them as distinct from others in your safe or cabinet?
Let’s delve into that and see if it’s really possible to make such distinctions. Note that I’ve already set a parameter in suggesting “brush rifles” for BIG game (BG). So this isn’t a topic on suitable brush rifles for rabbit hunting! No, I’m thinking suitable for big whitetails and on up to whatever I may have a tag for.
I have in mind four types of actions that would, under most conditions, be suitable, and cartridges suited to those types of rifles: Levers, semis, pumps and bolts. Yes, and even a fifth type that would be suitable with some qualifications: a single-shot.
In qualifying a rifle as suitable for brush or woods hunting of BG, I want the following attributes:
3) Light & handy
4) More than ample power
5) Not for beauty or a “safe queen”
6) Easy to develop handloads for
7) A reliable scope of ample brightness. If a variable, it must have a low power of not more than 3x with an exit beam of not less than 5mm.
Let’s review each of those points, and suggest some appropriate rifles and their cartridges:
It should go without saying, but a rifle in any hunting context should be reliable. But some types of hunts MUST, without any qualifications demand reliability, especially if DG are involved at close quarters. And that is not a reference to African DG in particular, but where brush hunting of any game might involve a last chance opportunity, or confrontation with a beast that could become very aggressive in its attempts to escape. That could be a large buck whitetail, or a cow moose protecting her calf, or a sow bear accompanied by cubs, etc.
I’ve even had new rifles fail! We should NEVER assume that because a rifle is new — or new to us — that it will work flawlessly, each and every time, because of name brand, or purchased from a friend, or even on the recommendation of a family member or gum shop owner.
A good hunting buddy of mine purchased a custom .270 Winchester on the recommendation of a retired police officer and qualifier of potential hunters. He also was a non-licensed gun smith, and a good friend of my friend. The rifle was part of an auction of a recently deceased collector who was well known to the former police officer, and highly regarded.
My friend was not a handloader, so he purchased high quality Federal Premium 150gr ammo loaded with Partitions for a bear hunt in partnership with myself. For the hunt we were separated by 3.5 kms in dense forest. He also was accompanied by a mutual friend of ours. They “picked straws” (actually matches) to determine who would get the first chance on a bruin coming to the bait at about 35 yards. My friend Ken, who bought the .270 got the “luck of the draw”. It didn’t take long when an over-size black bruin came cautiously to the bait. Ken, a trained officer of the law, is a good marksman. He squeezed the trigger of his “new” .270 Winchester, and all anyone heard in the dead stillness of the dark forest, including the over-size bruin, was a deafening “CLICK”! But from 35 yards the bear didn’t run away… but quickly its head turned in the direction of their blind! The silence was overwhelming! What to do? Ken had two options: One – to re-cock and pull the trigger again (Not as noisy by simply raising the bolt and closing it again), or two — extract the faulty cartridge and re-chamber a new round with the bear staring them down! Ken chose option two…. “SQUEEEEK”, and in a flash the bear was gone… FOREVER! From what was told to me later that evening by Ken and Frank, — and by a passer-by the following week who said he saw a bear on the road, just about 50 yards from the bait setup, that “stood five feet tall”? “No”, he said, “that was on all fours, not standing like a man”– that bear was probably 500+ lbs! And it was lost due to a faulty rifle!
All that to emphasise the emphatic NEED to shoot at least a couple of boxes of factory ammo in a “new” rifle BEFORE the hunt! Ken took his “beautiful” .270 to his friend who took the bolt apart and found grease inside that over time had hardened while in a safe. Of course, a dedicated handloader would be a member of a club where he could practice and run a rifle through its paces that sooner or later who reveal any defects.
I would never take a rifle on a hunt that I had any remaining concerns over. Yet, my 673 Remington in .350 Rem Mag gave me an unexpected shock when a slight bump caused the floor plate to spring open dumping the ammo on the ground after clattering on the plastic chair that was my seat in a bear hunt… that hunt was also over!!
Some things may be optional in a hunt, but not reliability of your rifle.
In brush hunting, the ever lurking danger is for a twig or branch to get caught in the trigger guard, and by times unknowingly. So a safety that works under all conditions is paramount. I prefer a tang safety that is operated by the thumb, and is minimal in height. I know this will offend any who follow “the crowd”, but while I’ve used the M70 three position “wing” safety, I don’t like them. Some others don’t like the dual safety of the Marlin Big Bores, which is actually one of the safest rifles – and perhaps THE safest on the market with the cross bolt that blocks the hammer — IF you use it! Also, another present danger in woods or brush hunting in rugged terrain is the potential of being tripped by an unseen object like a root or rock. Then, on the side of a ridge where there’s bare rock or grass wetted by recent rains, one can easily experience a fall. Is our rifle in safe hands in such an event where we intuitively want to grab a rock, branch or tree for support? Those are dangerous moments that we need to be prepared for before such an unhappy event! A well known hunting consultant and TV personality ended up shooting his PH in the back right shoulder with his .458 Win Mag as he hurried to back away from an elephant charge. His PH was just in front of him and took the full charge, not of the elephant, but of a 500gr Nosler completely through his shoulder. He survived but his guiding career was over! The TV personality said he slipped in quickly backing away and tripped over a branch or root! But his finger was in the trigger guard without the safety “ON”!
But being “safe” in gun handling starts with good habits and a mind that doesn’t take safety for granted… our own or that of any others in close proximity.
I’ve used a lot of Marlin BIG BORES with the “extra” security of the cross -bolt, and never found it a handicap when I needed to shoot something.
Absolutely, I want a safe rifle in any environment, but especially in country filled with potential hazards to personal welfare. I don’t take anything for granted.
LIGHT & HANDY:
<(That’s a 38″ single-shot .45-70, loaded with Hornady 325gr at 2400 fps for wolf. It weighed a little over 7 lbs ready. The longest shot available in that area was 165 yards along an open and straight stretch of the trail. There were three wolves travelling it just before I arrived.)
Yes, there does exist what we might respectfully call “a Brush Rifle”. One of the enduring features that singles it out more than any other is “light and short”. Add other features such as: tough, powerful and quick handling, and we have the quintessential “BRUSH RIFLE”. Additional characteristics might be found in type of stock, scope and action.
Let’s give some credit where it is due, and make some suggestions:
1) The Ruger Alaskan in .375 Ruger. This has to be one of the best “brush rifles” currently in production. With a 20″ barrel and a .30-06 length action it comes in a very potent chambering, the .375 Ruger. In my view, and obviously that of many Alaskans and others, it’s a brillant concept — especially for a handloader. It has become a favorite of Alaskan guides in protection of clients who hunt the big bears.
Again, from my perspective, it would serve just as well in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. But not to limit it to those regions of North America, it’s utility could be unleashed in the Rocky Mountain states as well as Canada’s western provinces, and Ontario for large black bears, moose and elk.
Due to it’s potential power, it’s range would not be limited to 300 yards in the case of larger animals. Yes, the 20″ barrel will loose approximately 150 fps (depending on actual load), but with the “right bullet” it should still be ample for moose or elk to 400 yards. At woods ranges it would only be “more ample”!
Savage produced one a few years ago with an 18″ tube, but that might prove to be too short, creating more muzzle blast, and an additional reduction in effect (“power”) that would be considered unwarranted. In other words, a barrel that short (18″) could upset the balance of such a short, powerful bolt action, and lose too much velocity that the extra -2″ might very well create, that any gains would be negated by the deficits. An extra 2″ one way or the other will not disqualify a rifle as a “brush gun”.
2) Marlin’s (or Winchester) lever actions are noted for their strength and reliability in woods hunting. That, along with their potential “power” has made them favorites for deer, bear, elk and moose at ranges up to around 250 yards with appropriate handloads. I’ve used the 1895 in .45-70 for a lot of bruin huntin’. But the ranges were usually 100 yards or less. However, in developing computer-generated ballistic profiles, I discovered long ago that several of my favorite loads could be effective on large moose to 300 yards.
In bear hunts an 1895 Marlin was among my favorites, and for moose it often went along as a backup.
3) A light and handy bolt action that is also reasonably capable of dealing with any hunting situation normally encountered in North America, and most of the rest of the world.
The Ruger .375 is one, as noted at the beginning of this section. However, it is not a “light” rifle, but then, neither is the Marlin 1895 with scope and ammo. They qualify as handy (overall length) and powerful, but not as “light”, or possibly “quick”.
I’m thinking here of a general-purpose BG bolt action rifle not longer than 42″ (OL). Generally, most of these would be a medium bore (.338 to .375). I’ve written quite a lot over the past few years on this genre.
What it amounts to is a bolt-action repeater of the approximate length and weight of a ubiquitous .30-06 in a synthetic stock with a medium weight 22″ barrel. All up, with scope, ammo and sling it would come in at about 7.5 to 8.5 lbs. Though a .30-06 would be the choice of many, it is not mine.
Mine would be, as mentioned, a medium bore from .338 to .375 if I wanted it to reach out a bit beyond 400 yards in the case of “have to” on large game (LG). It could ALSO serve as a near perfect “brush rifle” using one load for far or near.
Til the next,
Happy Easter to one and all: The Easter message is found in the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth: 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.