What Is A Brush Gun
In the past, referring to a firearm as a brush gun meant something very specific. Oftentimes the idea of a brush gun referred more to the type of firearm the observer wanted you to envision, rather than the problem the firearm would solve out in the field. That sometimes meant in publications, it was an agenda-driven descriptor.
A brush gun is meant to be a gun that excels in a specific environment, up against specific obstacles, rather than just the pigeonholed type of firearm that was typically used synonymously with the descriptor.
When one envisions a historical idea of what a brush gun is, they might see a lever-action rifle, or a firearm capable of shooting a heavy projectile meant to be able to make it through dense bushes and heavy-laden landscapes of dead wood.
Where Did The Term Brush Gun Come From
In Vietnam soldiers often referred to the M1 carbine as a brush gun, because it had the capability of penetrating dense foliage far better than the relatively anemic .223 Remington that was offered in the original Delta Style (AR) or M16.
Today the average consumer is quite a bit luckier by being able to tap into a vast set of components and custom parts to drop in an upper receiver for the AR-15 that allows them to shoot what might be considered nowadays as the new modern brush gun cartridges.
Of course, pundits would argue that there’s no such thing as a brush gun that could be built on an AR-15 platform.
Typically, a brush gun would have been relegated to a lever-action or something like a moderately heavy 30 caliber bolt gun with a shorter overall configuration which allowed for improved mobility.
This rifle would lob heavy projectiles that could penetrate dense or dead landscapes before hitting a target accurately. All of this simply speaks to the concept that each person might have their idea of what a brush gun is.
Why The AR-15 Instead of a Lever Gun
For this article, we’d like to discuss how modern cartridge technologies built around the constraints and/or specifications (depending on how you view them) of the AR-15 and its clones make an excellent foundation for a contemporary brush gun.
That isn’t to discount the lever-action, particularly the .30-30 Winchester and the .45-70 Government, as these are fantastic. These timeless brush gun options for those who need something with knock-down power and improved field dynamics like mobility and fast follow-up shooting.
However, the AR-15 offers even faster on target and second shot capabilities in addition to the potential for enhanced mobility thanks to potentially lower weights and shorter configurations.
This article also isn’t designed to discount intermediate cartridges capable of penetrating dense forestry and still dispatching a game animal on the other end of a short-range stalked target.
There are plenty of firearms that can accomplish this task and offer significant benefits in doing so.
We argue that thanks to the modularity, and easy customization, and the access that the AR-15 has to some spectacular cartridges that can perform exceptionally well in a densely forested area, that it (the AR), might be the ultimate building block for a dedicated brush gun.
Does The AR Perform Poorly in Dense Forestry
Of course, the first question in any purist or pundit’s mind is going to be, “given how poorly the original M16 performed in the jungles of Vietnam, how can anyone ever call the AR a competent brush gun?”
And of course, the answer is this: “in four-plus decades the AR-15 has come a long way. Not only that, but the attention to detail and the innovative manufacturers on the ballistics side of the market have run wild with the capabilities of the AR-15 and pushed the envelope on what it is capable of. They look set to continue to do so.
Furthermore, the fact that the AR-15 is still relatively young in its growth cycle and there are plenty of innovators out there waiting for their opportunity to create the next “killer app” for the AR platform.
The chances that we’ll see real adoption by hunters who happen to stalk wild game in densely forested, or deadlands type landscapes, it’s a genuine possibility.
History of The Brush Gun and Typical Use Case Scenarios for Such a Firearm
A lot of purist hunters might call the .30-30 lever action the ultimate brush gun thanks to the heavy amount of lead provided, the ability to use the firearm in constrained spaces, and the ability to harvest legitimate big game animal targets with a round that is sufficiently usable in conditions where a brush gun needs to be capable.
It has also probably killed more wild game than any cartridge in North America thanks to a very good run from the late 1800s to about the 1970s.
Some might take it even further and say that the .45-70 Government is an even better brush gun, given the ability to upload or download the projectile and the powder charge to suit specific needs.
It must also be able to take such a wide range of wild game with the projectile even given it a massive size.
Again, both are lever-action firearms, and that concept isn’t lost on this author.
Many consider Jeff Cooper’s Scout Rifle an excellent example of a “brush gun”, and perhaps it is, given its capability in such a wide range of landscapes and environments, and the fact that its intermediate cartridge choice allows for such a breadth of game animals across the spectrum.
With the introduction of calibers like the 458 SOCOM, the 50 Beowulf, and the 450 Bushmaster, modern hunters can simply slap on a new, optimized upper receiver conversion kit, and expect quite a bit of extra versatility out of their already quite versatile AR-15 platform.
Often, a new magazine isn’t even necessary for some conversions from cartridge to cartridge on the AR-15 platform.
A New Breed of Cartridges is Born, and the AR-15 is the Perfect Platform for Them
Some might say the AR-15 was the catalyst that helped develop some of the newly released brush gun cartridges. It’s pretty clear that the idea that additional revenue for a product manufacturer could be derived from an already broad-based ecosystem like that of the AR platform.
This allowed for manufacturers to stay within the desired lane and still tap into innovation and the additional revenue by challenging the constraints of what could or could not be done from an aluminum-based rifle.
Let’s talk a bit about each of these cartridges to see where they fit in in the grand scheme of things.
12.7x42mm or .50 Beowulf
The .50 Beowulf was not necessarily made with a hunting large game or brush gun concept behind it. It was ideally suited as law enforcement or military option for shooting through barriers and providing a defensive weapon on the AR-15 carbine.
However, with that barrier-breaking mentality, there is a lot of carry-over into the idea of a brush gun. After all, what is dense brush but a barrier that needs to be gone through to shoot accurately at a target behind it, to dispatch that Target?
It has quite a bit of versatility in the cartridge loadouts and can be run with a 300-grain hollow point delivering about 1850 feet per second velocity and about 2320 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. With a 400-grain projectile providing about 1800 ft. per second velocity and 2860 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
These numbers are staggering, especially considering it effectively pushes your AR-15 into the realm of being a backwoods Dangerous Game backup weapon or even a substantial option for dense brush on very large game targets including up to Moose size targets.
Because it fits natively into the constraints of the AR-15, it offers a lot of firepower and versatility given the components that can be added to this rifle platform.
If you understand the trajectory and basic ballistics of the .50 Beowulf which is also referred to from the perspective of cartridge manufacturers as the 12.7x42mm, you can likely use the cartridge in a carbine format up to about 200 yards.
Of course, the sweet spot is probably more like 50 to 125 yards, especially under heavy, dense brush conditions.
The .350 Legend is about as close as you can get to a .30-30 Winchester load out of an AR-15. Considering you can push this projectile with substantially similar ballistics to the lever-action load, out to 300 or so yards, this can be a game-changer.
The fast follow-up shots and the heavy delivery of substantial lead on target means that you can punch through dense and dead forest easily and ensure a decent hit on a primary target.
It might excel in a situation where you have a tough-skinned animal but can stalk it in relatively close quarters compared to what you normally must. For example, rams and goats or even hogs.
These are all normally tough-skinned animals, but on anything between 150 and 300 yards, given the basic ballistics of the .350 Legend, you can almost ensure you’ll get your game target.
Available in quite a few commercial loadouts, a 180-grain projectile for instance should yield about 2100 ft. per second velocity and 1760 ft lb. of energy at the muzzle. Not all that far from the .30-30 Winchester.
This makes it a very interesting category for the AR-15 shooter. It offers intermediate ballistics and approaches intermediate ranges while still offering a very heavy projectile out of the size-constrained AR-15 platform.
It’s an excellent bridge cartridge especially if you prioritize swapping uppers to swapping out full platforms. Specifically, this makes sense if you also prioritize game hunting endeavors over other uses for the AR platform.
The 350 Legend is also a straight-walled cartridge, which makes it right in the sweet spot for some people who may be in states that require straight wall cartridges on certain game animals, and still want to use the AR-15 platform for hunting.
The .450 Bushmaster offers a screaming-fast and heavy payload, built more like an innovative lever-action cartridge than a centerfire heavy grained AR-15 payload. Using a 260-grain weight projectile you can expect approximately 2170 feet per second velocity at the muzzle and 2730 ft. lbs. energy at the same exit point.
While it may not be as credible on moose or bear size game, it is certainly sufficient for anything Elk-sized or below. Your mileage may vary of course, given conditions, range, and the specific load you’re using as well as the hardware it’s being shot out of.
Certainly, you get a huge range of game animals that you could go after, and the speed, mated with the much flatter trajectory comparative to other brush guns allows you a lot of confidence when you’re in densely forested areas, or must shoot through a lot of dead wood.
The wastelands that are home to so many intriguing game species may be a perfect place to test out the capabilities of the .450 Bushmaster if you can guarantee to keep your cover a secret so as not to alert targets.
Another brush gun alternative is the .458 SOCOM, initially offered as a door breaching option and something that could be adopted by military and law enforcement, rather than for use in the hunting space.
The big benefit of the .458 SOCOM is that you can shoot a 600-grain bullet out of it and achieve 1000 feet per second velocity or greater and 1330 foot-pounds of energy or greater which pushes it beyond the abilities of any standard cartridge in this list.
As a backup gun against dangerous game or as a perfect gun for trekking in the wilderness and places like Alaska, where you might come face-to-face with a grizzly bear.
The .458 SOCOM makes a lot of sense considering 600 grains of lead at a thousand feet per second with over 1250 ft. pounds of energy on a standard load can be trusted to stop many threats.
Additionally, you could load a 325-grain bullet which now gets you into the territory of 1850 ft. per second velocity and 2500 foot-pounds of energy at the bore exit which sufficiently handles any basic forest-specific barriers in your way. While still pushing enough lead on to the target to be able to dispatch Elk or larger game animals, given the right conditions.
How Do These Cartridges Stack Up To .30-30 Winchester and .45-70 Govt.
Most of these brush gun options compare favorably to the obvious historical choices for brush guns like the .30-30 Winchester and the .45-70 Government.
The .30-30 Winchester offers about the following ballistics: 2020-foot pounds of muzzle energy with a 2400 ft. per second velocity.
This is only out of the most optimized lever gun ammunition on the planet made by Hornady. Compared to more mundane mainstream loads, you are about 25% less performant.
Comparatively, using a 300-grain jacketed hollow point out of a .45-70 Government will yield approximately 2050 feet per second velocity and 2860 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
This is substantial but does not give you the same variability and mobility that the AR-15 carbine can, with substantially similar ballistics from some of the above-mentioned options.
What Is The Best Use For An AR-15 In These Calibers
The list is essentially endless on what you can use the AR-15 for incorporating these new brush gun cartridges that are built specifically for the AR-15 carbine.
The only real caveat with these brush gun cartridges and using the AR-15 as a brush gun is the amount of range that you’re going to be able to squeeze out of them.
Most of them won’t be highly accurate past 200 yards, at least not what you’re expecting from an accuracy perspective out of the AR-15 natively. Furthermore, only a couple will reach out to about 300 or 350 yards, and then, with some substantial bullet drops.
All that said, when dealing with densely forested landscapes and environments that require brush gun-type builds, you usually aren’t stalking animals past 75 yards, or maybe up to 150 yards in clearings.
Given the pretty rigid set of standards when you need to call upon a brush gun and the competitive options on the landscape, the AR-15 makes a very good argument as the go-to platform.
That is especially true, given these newly minted brush gun-type cartridges, and the forward projection of innovation that’s likely to show up because of manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon eventually to try and make that “brush gun” distinction, a viable market segment even more than it has become over the last five years for the AR-15 platform.