One fine big game cartridge for Michigan hunting – the .450 Bushmaster

Tom LounsburyBucks n Bears, Friends of ELO, Youth Hunts

By:  Tom Lounsbury.

When the Michigan Natural Resources Commission passed the Limited Firearms Deer Season into law five years ago, it opened up a whole new avenue for southern Michigan deer hunters, allowing an array of straight wall cartridges (.35 caliber are larger, with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.80 inches) in rifles during the regular firearms deer season (not to mention the Liberty, and early and late antlerless deer seasons as well). The new law is very well written, easy to understand, and it truly uses common sense. The authors of it quite obviously had a thorough understanding of ballistics, and I was excited to no end to see it all come to fruition. This new law would pave the way for other states with “shotgun only” deer hunting rules, to follow suit. 

It was when the Limited Firearms Zone law was first announced that I was contacted by a number of folks wishing to know if the newly developed .450 Bushmaster round, that I knew little about at the time, would be allowed and I discovered that with its straight wall and having a case length of 1.70 inches, it sure was. When I checked into this round at that time (5 years ago), it had been originally designed for using with (semiautomatic) AR-15 platforms. Custom barrels were also available for the single-shot T/C Encore, as well as some customized bolt-actions, and all were a bit pricey. I personally went with a custom .44 Magnum barrel for my T/C G2 Contender rifle system (which has a frame that is too light to handle .450 Bushmaster pressures), as well as the past couple deer seasons have also seen me using a lever-action .44 Magnum Henry Carbine, and I certainly have no complaints. Both are good and handy deer guns, and my 10 year old grandson, Orlando, used the G2 Contender rifle to drop a 7-point in its tracks during the recent Liberty Hunt. However, my curiosity about the .450 Bushmaster round was perked from the get-go.

I give Randy Brown of Randy’s Hunting Center in Bad Axe full credit for making the .450 Bushmaster the highly popular deer round it has become today. He saw a very viable market for an affordable bolt-action in this caliber and went to work with Ruger officials to design one (which would be with the highly popular American Ranch Rifle). He also worked with Leupold officials to design their CDS (Custom Dial System) scope to feasibly mate with the .450 Bushmaster round’s ballistics. All that is required when using the Leupold CDS scope is to sight the rifle in for 100 yards, and it will then hit point of aim when you click in 200 and 300 yards.

Randy Brown would unveil all of this in September 2016, and thanks to him, I had a loaner (one of the first rifles to arrive from Ruger) to test out on my shooting range, and needless to say, I was very impressed. The .450 Bushmaster round actually possesses a rather flat trajectory out to 200 yards, and with proper holdover (which the Leupold CDS scope does automatically with a simple click), will plunk the bullets right into the bulls-eye at 300 yards, and with some real decent punch too.

Shortly after the first batch of Ruger .450 Bushmaster rifles arrived, Jenny Olsen of the Michigan Out of Doors TV show was on hand filming Randy Brown shooting his combination (scope and rifle) design on his shooting range and keeping very tight groups at 100, 200 and even at an amazing 300 yards. After that show aired, and with the regular deer season only a few weeks away, there was standing room only at Randy’s Hunting Center in Bad Axe, and Ruger was hard pressed making rifles to meet the demand. Due to this, Randy Brown would be honored by being the 2017 Ruger Salesman of the Year, as well as Salesman of the Year for Leupold too.

Hornady Ammunition came out with the original .450 Bushmaster rounds, using their 250 grain Flex Tip (.452) bullet. Remington would soon follow suit with its 260 Grain Accu Tip bullet, and it and Hornady were the only .450 Bushmaster offerings until more recent times. Due to the fast and steadily growing popularity of the Ruger American Ranch Rifle in the .450 Bushmaster not only in Michigan but other states as well, it didn’t take other firearms manufacturers very long to see the light. Savage, CVA, Traditions and Mossberg would bring out their own, as well as Ruger would bring this caliber out in other models such as the Scout, Ruger Number One and their semiautomatic AR. 

A year ago, Randy Brown had Ruger manufacture a quantity of their popular M-77 “Hawkeye” bolt-action rifles chambered in .450 Bushmaster for exclusive sale at Randy’s Hunting Center. This is a very classic rifle featuring quality blue steel and walnut that is not only easy on the eyes, but a dream to shoot. I had an opportunity to test one when they first came out, that was topped with a Leupold CDS scope, all the way out to 300 yards, and it is a real dandy shooter. After checking matters out on paper, I switched to steel gongs and had a grand time doing some long range “plinking”.

Although I have shot my share of .450 Bushmaster rounds on the shooting range, I have yet to shoot a deer with this caliber. However, I have checked out the results of it by examining deer taken with it, at meat processing facilities, and talking to the successful hunters. There is no doubt that the .450 Bushmaster round offers plenty of punch which usually puts deer right down with authority and has been also used successfully on elk and black bears (which causes it to be one fine big game cartridge for Michigan hunting).

During the recent Liberty Hunt, I had a chance to talk to quite a few successful youth hunters at a meat processing facility. None that I talked to had used a shotgun, with the deer being taken with rifles in the allowed calibers, and with the majority of deer being taken with one shot using .450 Bushmaster caliber rifles. This did not surprise me a bit because all of my testing on the shooting range with this robust caliber has been done minus a muzzle brake, and I place the recoil as being very similar to a 20 ga shotgun, which most youth hunters can handle. Add to this fact that many of the .450 Bushmaster rifles come with factory installed muzzle brakes and the recoil is reduced even further.

Needless to say folks, I’ve had a yearning to actually use a rifle in the .450 Bushmaster for local “Thumb” deer hunting. Mossberg had just recently brought out their dependable “Patriot” bolt-action rifle (in synthetic or walnut stocks) in this caliber and I happened to encounter one during the summer. I have long respected Mossberg for making (Made in the USA) quality and reasonably priced firearms. The one that caught my eye due to its durability during the inclement weather I usually find myself in was the synthetic version. Throw in the fact that the Patriot features a very smooth action and formed a perfect meld with me when I shouldered it, not to mention its very reasonable price, I had to have one (ah, the sudden impulses we shooters can have). Fortunately I already had a spare 3 – 9X scope at home which kept the overall cost down when my wife finally discovered the credit card bill in the mail! Ginny tends to give me a frosty look whenever I claim “business expense”.

Also new out this year is the .450 Bushmaster ammunition brought out by Federal, featuring a 300 grain jacketed soft point “Power-Shok” bullet, which automatically struck a chord with me. All the testing I’ve done before has been exclusively with the Hornady 250 grain featuring its aerodynamic Flex Tip. The Federal 300 grain features a blunt-faced hollow point, which I don’t mind at all because it will most likely cover all my expectations, including for bear hunting. It is the only round I’ve shot thus far in my new Mossberg Patriot, which clearly likes it, groups very nicely and remains reasonably flat to 150 yards. I will soon figure out what the holdover is for the longer ranges and I do truly appreciate this rifle and ammo combination.

The Mossberg Patriot comes with a threaded muzzle for attaching a muzzle brake and I just recently added a (made in Michigan by Magnaport) “Magnabrake” which in my opinion is the best of the best. While other (factory installed) muzzle brakes do reduce recoil, in my experience (I’ve helped a number of folks sight in their rifles) they increase the noise level and don’t hold a candle to the Magnabrake which decreases the felt recoil by 43% and even brings the noise level down a decibel or two. Although the .450 Bushmaster recoil minus a muzzle brake doesn’t bother me any, I do know kids I take out deer hunting will probably be using this rifle.

There is no question that the .450 Bushmaster round will successfully tackle all of Michigan’s big game opportunities, as well as elsewhere. I’m really looking forward to giving it a firsthand whirl!

Tom Lounsbury