The Brush Gun – A Rifle with Merit or Myth?

Supposedly brush guns are ideal hunting rifles as they can cut through brush with ease. But is it a myth, or is there merit to the concept of brush gun?

When a bullet collides with an object, its path is altered. Naturally if it encounters a very solid object, its new path can deviate greatly. However, if the bullet collides with something small, like a twig, the deviation could be minimal. The question is, how much can a small object deviate the path of a bullet? Particularly, how much can some twigs and leaves alter the path of a bullet turning an ethical hunting shot into an unethical shot?

The concept of a “brush gun” is by no means new. The theory is that a larger caliber, such as a .45-70gov, will deviate a lot less than a smaller bullet, such as an intermediate caliber like .223. This is one of the reasons why cartridges such as .30-06 and .45-70gov retain popularity, even though the smaller calibers are extremely capable of taking down deer with the correct bullet.

The question is whether a “brush gun” is a myth born out of something that makes sense in theory, but doesn’t actually translate to the real world. Iraqveteran8888 puts the brush gun myth to the test and gives us some very interesting results.

Eric is shooting at a white target through some brush so thick it is difficult to see the target, providing an excellent environment to test the theory of the brush gun.

.22lr through the brush

.22lr isn’t a valid deer hunting caliber, though it is viable for varmint. However, it gives us a good baseline as we work up through larger calibers. The .22lr had significant variation at a 15 yard target. There’s definitely some validity to the concept of a brush gun, now it comes down to how large of a caliber counts as a brush gun.

Can an intermediate cartridge be good enough to function as a brush gun? Or is something a little more substantial required?

.223/5.56 through the brush

50 yards with a quality AR-15 is an easy shot when brush isn’t involved. However, even at this short distance, the brush impacted a 55 grain 5.56 bullet significantly. The brush created a substantial amount of deviation and tumbling of the .223 bullet. Definitely enough to turn an ethical shot into an unethical shot while hunting. This also provides some interesting insight into the myths of Vietnam era M-16 having difficulty through the jungle.

.308 through the brush

This may be surprising to some, but even the larger .308 bullet deviated and tumbled substantially through thick brush – despite the legend that often surrounds the .308/7.62×51 vs .223/5.56 debate. When hunting, deviation of a few inches, let alone a foot or two, means a shot cannot be predicted to have reliable success. In other words, .308 hunting rifles don’t work well as a brush gun.

.35 Remington through the brush

Lever actions are quite popular hunting rifles. They shoot heavy bullet weights with a round nose design. Lever action calibers have quite the reputation. The .35 Remington grouped nicely and performed much better at 50 yards than .223/5.56 and .308/7.62×51. The bullet remained stable and did not deviate much. Does this slight deviation mean it’s a good brush gun, or just an almost brush gun?

.444 Marlin through the brush

Imagine a .44 magnum on steroids – that’s the .444 Marlin. It is a very stout round with a lot of powder behind it. It is very capable of taking large game. This round cut through large branches and clobbered the target with ease.

A .444 Marlin definitely works as a brush gun.

.45-70gov through the brush

The .45-70gov is a very powerful cartridge quite popular amongst hunters. It punched through the brush and grouped nicely. Like the .444 Marlin, the .45-70gov cut through large branches no problem.

A .45-70gov definitely works as a brush gun.

Conclusion

There is merit to the concept of a brush gun. Even the .308 struggled with brush as it is designed to tumble. But the round nose and heavier lever action calibers tackled the thick brush with ease. Keep this in mind when choosing your next hunting rifle or taking your next shot out in the woods.

High velocity is excellent in a bullet. It provides range and force on the target. But since spitzer bullets are designed to tumble, that’s exactly what they do in the brush. I guess it’s a good thing spitzer bullets do what they’re supposed to do, but that doesn’t make them effective brush guns.

Slower and heavier moving cartridges, like those often found in lever guns, better handle the brush. However, they suffer from limited range compared to faster moving bullets, and their recoil tends to be greater.

This brush gun test shows us the importance of selecting the right caliber for the job and knowing the limits of what you shoot.

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Brian Purkiss
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Brian Purkiss is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, proponent for individual liberty and Second Amendment rights, and a web developer. He enjoys competing in and organizing Run and Gun Competitions, as well as shooting in USPSA, Outlaw matches, and 3 Gun.