Brush Rifles: Fact or Myth

By Jim Hanlon

For many years the debate has raged about which caliber is best in the brush. Equally debated is if any caliber is good in the brush. When most writers refer to the brush generally they refer to Northern Tier states and whitetail deer. Brush however covers a good deal of the Country. Brush is defined as bushes and young trees densely packed in a particular geographic area. For this topic I am going to stick with Northern states as their topography is covered with more brushy areas on average.

In the past couple of decades gun and ammo folk have tried to develop the quintessential brush rifle test. While some had a basis of merit most have been dismal inconclusive events. The problem is staging a test where all calibers pass through the exact same amount of brush en route to a target. Then what is the correct distance from the brush to the target? Distances as much as 20 yards from the brush have been used. Arguably to more equate to our brush situations the target should be if not in the brush directly beside the brush. What we face is a whitetail standing up in a patch of juniper or prickly ash at a distance of less than fifty yards. Here is the real test.

As for the staged tests probably one of the better was conducted by the late Jack O’Connor in 1962. Having hunted the brushy draws of the Southwest and evergreen mazes in Maine he was uniquely qualified to do the test although he mentioned the inequality in the amount of brush encountered by various rounds. After all the rounds were fired a characteristic of a brush-penetrating rifle became prominent. Heavy blunt bullets deflect less. Odd to me that all of the various experts did not arrive at that realization without the shallow tests that were run except then they would no it have gotten to shoot up all that ammo…hmmm. Yesthe 12 gauge was the overall winner in the majority of tests done with the 45/70 (405 Govt) and 35 Remington (200 Grain) finishing at the top of rifles.

Basic physics tells us that a cone-shaped object traveling at a rapid rate will deflect in the opposite direction from whatever part of the cone contacts an obstruction. While a round or blunt object will exert more energy into moving the obstruction out of the way. See all us rural agricultural earthy folks already realized that. Had we been able to afford fancy weapons we would have still reached for the Savage 99Winchester 94 or Marlin 336 (yeah I know there some Winchester 88’s there too) in 30/3035 Remington32 Special38-55and 32-40. We did that because these calibers have filled larders for 150 years.

Now for the Ron Spomers out there that claim no bullet is any better than any other in the brush…I understand somebody has declared him an expert. Opinionated yes…expert is up for debate. The same guy that says a fixed 6 power scope is the ideal heavy cover optic says pointed bullets enjoy as much success going through brush as any other bullet. According to Spomer it is a matter of luck in getting past brush. O’Connor would have a field day with him. O’Connorthe proponent of very light magnification scopes with wide fields-of-views came up with a new round to be chambered in a quick handling lever or pump action rifle. He proposed taking the 8X57 and necking it up to 338 cal. Loaded with 225 or 250 grain round nose bullets. Writer Jim Carmichael O’Connor’s long time friend and colleague dubbed the round the 338X57 O’Connor. If only someone had built it. The round would have tooted along at 2500FPS and destroyed anything in its way.

We have a version of what O’Connor envisioned in the 338 Federal although not widely chambered yet. The round is too fast for O’Connor’s taste causing more recoil than necessary but does it produce! If a good pump or Marlin lever gets chambered in 338 Federal I will be at the front of the line.

When you head outside – take a youngster with you and pass it forward. God Bless.