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Brush Gun Test 3

22 Nov 2020
@ 08:18 am (GMT)

Magnus Vassbotn


This test is a continuation of the previous tests, called Brush Gun Test 1 and 2. The bullets/ loads and testing methods in this test are based on the knowledge gained from the first two tests. If you are interested in the greater picture, and the full story that led to the current conclusions and working theories, you should read the first two tests. If you only want some ideas for a good brush buster load, this one will do on its own. But you will probably not get a full understanding of all the pitfalls related to many loads traditionally considered brush loads. Also be aware that this whole project has no focus on the “short and handy” aspect of the term “brush gun”. That is not what this endeavor is about. And once again I failed in making it short. Quite the opposite in fact, so you better pop a cold one.

This final test took quite a while to wrap up, but some staggering results were achieved. At last I have some useful conclusions/ guide lines and specific load suggestions. Also, this test turned out to be more R&D than just plain testing. First off, I considered the promising results with the Woodleigh 250 and Vulkan 232 to be a good enough excuse to finally scratch that itch and get a 9,3x62. I like things that just work and can take a pounding, and at the same time I like tinkering and fixing up a neglected wreck. So I got an old Husqvarna Mauser 98 (FN made action) with a plain beech stock and a totally messed up barrel for next to nothing. I had a new stainless Cerakoted 24” 1:12 barrel installed, found a second hand Bold trigger that sets at 1,5 pounds, modified the stock quite a bit and put on open sights and QD rings for the scope. The rifle that shall do it all, from brush busting to the occasional 400 meter shot.

All this took quite some time, and since that 9,3 from the previous tests had been sold, I just had to wait with the testing till the rifle was ready. But at last, one month before hunting season started, I was ready to do my final test. And after that, I thought I might as well wait with this write up until I had some animals to show for. So here we are, more than half a year since the previous test.

I should also explain the specific criteria and the whole point with this project a bit further than I have done before. As mentioned in test 1, the goal was to try to find a cartridge/ rifle that could work through brush, but at the same time have more reach than the 45-70, which maxes out at around 200 meters/ 220 yards with the best of commonly available bullets. By more reach, I mean up to 400 meters/ 440 yards or so, but 350 meters/ 380 yards would also do. So not exactly long range abilities, but still a bit out passed what most people consider normal hunting ranges, of around 250-300 meters, or 300 yards. So too far for any 45-70 lever action with expanding bullets, even if the bullets were made to work down to transonic/ subsonic impact velocities (roughly 300 meters). Also, I did not want to go magnum if I could avoid it, as I prefer the magazine capacity of standard cartridges, as well as the ability to properly fit hand loaded long range loads in slightly shorter actions, with standard bolt faces. If we stay inside a max COAL of around 85 mm for the long range loads, there are more rifle/ action options than with the longer magnum cartridges (Tikka T3, slightly modified Mauser M98 etc). These criteria put together, rules out the 338 Winchester Magnum, 358 Norma Magnum, 9,3x64 Brenneke, 375 H&H and various 458 cartridges. That leaves me with the standard cartridge small and medium bores like 30-06, 8x57, 338-06, 35 Whelen and 9,3x62. But on top of all this, I am currently a bit tired of special cartridges. In my go-to hunting rifles I prefer to have the possibility to be able to buy factory ammo in a pinch. Here in Scandinavia or in South Africa (my two main hunting grounds), that rules out the 338-06 and 35 Whelen. In addition to a lack of availability, the 358 Winchester and 9,3x57 are also ruled out from a lack of reach. Since I do not have access to any 8 mm, most of my testing was therefore focused around the 30-06 and the 9,3x62. Naturally with most faith in the 9,3. From a 24 inch barrel, the 9,3x62 loaded with the Accubond 250 breaks 1800 fps (minimum expansion velocity with good hits) at around 400 meters, so within the desired range. Unfortunately this is the only 9,3 bullet with that potential reach, so I was also open to the 30-06, which needs no introduction in the long range department. With the 30-06 it was more the brush part I was concerned about; concerns which during test 2 turned out to be well founded. Though theoretically possible, the 30 caliber is just too marginal for brush busting with commonly available bullets. It was therefore ditched for this third test, and my focus was mostly on the 9,3x62. The 45-70 was also tested a lot throughout all tests, but mostly as a reference point by which I could determine the qualities of the other cartridges.

In addition to short for caliber/ low length to diameter ratio (LD), this time around my main focus was on balance point and stoutness. I established the term BP (balance point). This is represented by a number, meaning how far the balance point is behind the tip, measured in percent of the total length of the bullet. So for a 20 mm long bullet with a BP of 55%, the balance point is 11 mm behind the tip. Ideally the BP should, at least in theory, be less than 50% for inherent stability, making the bullet more prone to remain point first after passing through an obstacle. In order to achieve this, the rear end must be lighter than the ogive, which means either lighter material in the rear, or a slightly hollowed out base (with a partition wall to aid terminal performance). With this in mind, I tried to find or modify bullets with the balance point as far forwards as possible, to avoid tumbling. At the same time the bullets were to be as stout as possible in order to avoid deformation/ fragmentation. Tumbling and deformation are the two main causes of bullet deflection and poor penetration, hence the focus on these factors.

I did not focus on stability factor (SF) this time, since all the bullets have plenty of it. Also, SF generated by a ballistic calculator is a bit theoretical, and does not bring the right weight distribution into account, as far as I know. I assume most ballistic calculators use a standard weight distribution, based on something like a G7 bullet profile with material of equal weight all along the bullets length. If this is the case, an SF calculated in such a way is only useful as a rough guide for the purpose of these brush bullets, which are the complete opposite of long range bullets in most ways (consider the RDF backwards, test 2).

Test method was the same as test 2: A dense, uniform spruce shrubbery with max 5 mm thick branches, placed 23 meters/ 25 yards in front of the target. Refreshed after each shot. Target 1,5x1,5 meters, with a 30 cm/ 12 inch “vital zone” circle in the center. Taped guide lines for consistent point of aim.

Test method

Test 3A

In the previous test I mentioned the 9,3 Rhino Solid Shank 232, which I believed to have potential. It has a solid copper rear core and a bonded front lead core. BP was measured to 51,5%, so very close to the desired 50% or less. Actual weight was on average 229,5 grains, with +/- 1,5 grains of variation, as I recall. The first load with this bullet was tested in the same 20” rifle as used in test 1 and 2. I did not have enough bullets to do a velocity ladder, so the first 10 shot group was done at a mere 2220 fps (starting load). Accuracy at 100 meters was measured at higher velocity later, and turned out quite poor. Five shots at about 6-7 cm/ 2,5 inches. Still sufficient for body shots at woods ranges, and not enough to upset test results at 25 meters.

I also got some 250 grain Swift A-frames and drilled out the bases, all the way to the partition wall (181 grains), resulting in a very low BP of 46% (undrilled they had a BP of 55,5). Unlike the Nosler Partition, the A-frame is bonded, a desirable trait in this game. But the size of the exposed lead meplat is also a factor, so a Partition with the lead tip trimmed away might also work for this purpose (similar meplat to the previously tested Vulkan, which held together well despite its softness). However, in 9,3 the Partition only comes in 285 grains, which I believe to have less potential than the 250 due to a higher LD.

A-Frame drilled out to 181 grains

This time I also wanted to test the detipped Barnes Socom 300 backwards, as mentioned in test 2. Shot forwards, this bullet was pretty terrible, with regards to tumbling. But backwards it has a BP of 43,5% and a flat, solid copper meplat. More or less indestructible. The wide meplat (base) with its sharp edges is also very likely to work well in flesh at good speed.

Barnes 300 balance point

I was considering a 170 grain Swift A-frame drilled out to 136 grains through the 30-06, but dropped the idea after seeing the results with the 9,3/ 181 A-frame.

Bullets used: 45/ 300, 9,3/ 232, and 9,3/ 181. The 30/ 136 was not tested.

The loads tested

9,3x62 – Rhino Solid Shank RN 232 @ 2220 fps. LD 2,86. BP 51,5.

9,3x62 – Swift A-frame 250/ 181 @ 2330 fps. LD 3,02. BP 46.

45-70 – Barnes Socom 300 backwards @ 2220 fps. LD 2,24. BP. 43,5.

9,3x62/ Rhino 232 – At last it all came together in one moment of glorious beauty. Similar to the experience with the backwards RDF, only better. Had it not been for the company of two other men, I would have sat down and cried in joy. 9 shots landed in a dense 6 cm cluster, almost in the middle of the circle. With these shots there were no tendencies of tumbling or expansion/ deformation. The last bullet keyholed ever so slightly, landing about 10 cm from the main group, opening up the group to about 13 cm. Still well inside the circle. This load is as good as one could ever hope for, and pretty much confirms most of the working theories. And most importantly – it totally justifies the purchase of the 9,3x62. Great joy. It is very interesting to compare this load to the Woodleigh RN 250 from test 2, which had just a slightly higher (worse) LD of 2,99 vs 2,86 and a slightly higher (worse) BP of 54 vs 51,5. Although the lead meplats are similar in size, the Woodleigh showed tendencies of expansion with a few bullets, which indicates that it may be a bit softer. It also had one clear tumble, and a 30 cm total group size. Up till then it was the best load in the 9,3 (and is still pretty good), but the 232 Rhino is much better – What I believe most people envisions when hearing the phrase “brush buster load”. This is probably mostly because of the difference in BP, rather than LD. Both differences are minute, but 2-3 percentage points in balance seems to mean a great deal when a bullet is approaching the 50% mark. Also, the stoutness and total absence of deformation is probably also a significant factor.

Rhino 232 at 2220 fps

9,3x62/ 181 A-frame – Very disappointing after the results with the Rhino, but highly useful data. 5 bullets landed in a 5 cm group a little to the side of the center, but still well inside the circle. 4 shots landed just outside the circle in different places, one of them fully tumbled. The 10th shot landed about 55 cm away from the center, fully tumbled. Despite being disappointing, this was very interesting. Apart from those two tumbled bullets, the rest showed no sign of deformation/ expansion or tumbling, but were deflected to some degree nonetheless. Considering that this bullet is (supposedly) of similar stoutness to the Woodleigh (which generally showed expansion), this means that the PP meplat design makes the bullet resistant to deformation (like the soft Vulkan), but at the same time, I believe that 181 grains is simply not enough mass to stay on track in this case. It must be pointed out that during test 2, the RDF 30/ 175 backwards did much better, despite being slightly lighter. That one however, had a very low BP of 36,5 (very front heavy) which I believe is the factor that made the greatest difference in these two cases. It could also be a question of sectional density (SD), a factor which I have more or less dropped in favor of LD. The 9,3/ 181 has an SD of only 0,193, which is much lower than the 30/ 175 at 0,264 and the 9,3/ 232 at 0,247. However, the 45-70 Woodleigh 300 and the following Barnes 300 both performed well with an SD of only 0,204, so most likely not a great factor on its own. Also it must be said that I never tested the A-Frame 181 load for accuracy in an ordinary way. Later tests with a heavily drilled out A-Frame 300 produced very poor ordinary accuracy (dispersion equivalent to 6,5 cm/ 2,5” at 25 meters/ 27 yards). This deep drilling could very well be a partial cause of the poor results. Still, I see these results as an indication that around 180 grains +/- might be below the practical mass, as other factors need to be unrealistically ideal in order to even things out. So two important conclusions: Small/ tough meplat = good, and 180 grains = generally too light. After seeing this, I didn't bother with the drilled out 30 cal 170/ 136 grain A-Frame.

A-Frame 181 at 2330

RDF 30/ 175 backwards

45-70/ 300 Barnes backwards – With its very low BP and indestructible front, I had very high hopes for this load. Performance was all in all satisfying, but not quite the brush laser beam I had hoped for. All 10 bullets landed well inside the circle, slightly above center. All holes were perfectly round, and total group size was about 15 cm. So a much larger group than the 9 shot 6 cm cluster of the 9,3 Rhino 232, but just slightly larger when taking that tumbled 10th shot of the 9,3 into account. To be fair, when I shot the 9,3, I had a bipod. On the 45-70 I only used the sling with no further rest, and although it was just a little over 25 meters, a good rest is absolutely critical, similar to real night hunting with an ordinary scope. It takes a lot of concentration and double checking to correctly align he reticle to the taped cross on the target, behind the brush, so also having to deal with a less than perfect rest while keeping track of everything else, is not very scientific. I am quite confident group size would have gone down a bit with a good rest. 10 cm is not unrealistic, but I can honestly not say that I believe it could be much better than the 9,3 Rhino 232, at least through this type of brush. Perhaps it would fare better through thicker branches. This load was not tested for accuracy either, so that could play a small part. But for now I have not tested this load further, as it is not legal to hunt with none expanding bullets in Norway. Nevertheless, the load helped to further consolidate theories regarding balance point. Compared to the same bullet shot the other way around during test 2 (42 cm group, 37 cm maximum deflection, 2 tumbled bullets), there should be no more doubt in this matter. Also the results further support theories regarding stoutness, though this bullet did not deform when shot the other way around either. It just shows another stout bullet doing well.

Barnes 300 backwards at 2220 fps

Barnes 300 forwards at 2220 fps

Test 3B

During this test I wanted to test the Rhino 232 at 2400 fps from my new 24” Mauser (previous velocity was 2220fps). This velocity is right in between the 9,3 and 30 cal velocities from test 2. Still far from max for a 232 grain bullet, but representative of a full power load striking brush around 70 meters down range.

I also wanted to try the A-frame drilled out to 230 grains, just to see if the theory about mass had merit. As it turned out, BP ended up at exactly the same as he Rhino (51,5%), which caused much excitement. This one was also loaded to 2400 fps, and produced even worse ordinary accuracy than the Rhino. Five shots at about 9-10 cm/ 3,5-4 inches at 100 meters. Still not of great consequence at 25 meters. Also, I have great hopes that this can be improved quite a bit with a drill press and a 4-cutter drill bit, instead of just a hand drill and a 2-cutter. Maybe around the same accuracy as the Rhino or better is realistic.

A-Frame drilled out to 230

Rhino 232 vs A-Frame 230

I also got hold of some A-frame 300s that I drilled out to 230 grains, which gave a very good (low) BP of 46%. The idea was to test the same weight as the Rhino 232 and the A-Frame 250/ 230, but with an even better/ lower BP, and worse/ higher LD. In doing so, I could put these two factors up against each other. These bullets were also loaded to 2400 fps. Unfortunately this load produced terrible ordinary accuracy. About 10 cm/ 4 inches at 40 meters, so useless for hunting, and enough to affect testing to some degree. I discarded further plans for this bullet, and did not test it through brush. Apparently, when a bullet is drilled out that deeply (with simple tools), all the minor imperfections here and there add up and become enough to cause instability in flight, resulting in poor accuracy.

In an attempt to create the ultimate brush laser load, I got some Barnes TSX 250s for the 45-70. The goal was to replicate he Rhino, but in a bigger version (Rhino do produce a very blunt 300 grain 45-70 Solid Shank, which would be very interesting to try). I drilled out the hollow point to 7,5 mm, which resulted in a new weight of 227 grains and very thin walls towards the front. I then poured molten lead into the cavity, trimmed the meplats until the bullets were within 0,5 grains of each other, and ended up with a new average weight of 319 grains and a BP of 51,5%. Once again identical to the Rhino. More excitement. Apart from getting as much lead (weight) in the front as possible, half the reason for drilling out the cavity, was to weaken the ogive and help expansion in flesh. With the original wall thickness and the hollow point filled with lead, I fear the bullet would have problems with expansion, caused by a combination of generally increased stoutness and a lack of hydraulic pressure within the cavity. This bullet was loaded to 2150 fps, which is not very far from max, and pretty close to the 2220 of the Barnes 300 backwards.

Barnes 250 drilled out to 227 grains

Barnes 227 filled with lead to 319 grains

The loads tested

9,3x62 – Rhino Solid Shank RN 232 @ 2400 fps. LD 2,86. BP 51,5.

9,3x62 – Swift A-frame 250/ 230 @ 2400 fps. LD 3,02. BP 51,5.

45-70 – Barnes Lead Special 250/ 319 @ 2150 fps. LD 1,97. BP. 51,5.

9,3x62/ Rhino 232 – At this velocity the bullet performed almost identically to how it did at lower velocity. 9 shots hit near center in a 7 cm group. One bullet showed signs of slight expansion, and landed 10 cm from the center of the main group, opening up the total group to 14 cm. No bullets tumbled (two of them were in one hole, and created the illusion of a tumbled bullet). Apart from that one slightly expanded bullet, I cannot see any sign that the increased velocity has any negative effect on its own. This strengthens the impression from test 2, that higher velocity is not bad, so long as it does not cause severe deformation/ fragmentation. After all, higher velocity equals higher momentum, so I believe that the highest possible velocity that allows the bullet to hold together is desirable. One possible negative aspect of high velocity, is when a bullet have first started to deflect because of deformation or tumbling, the higher velocity might cause more deflection than low velocity. Not much more to add about the bullet in it self, other than to point out that a total of 20 shots have landed within 15 cm, and only one slightly tumbled. A confirmed brush bullet.

Rhino 232 at 2400 fps

9,3x62/ A-frame 230 – Another moment of glorious beauty. Once again a near perfect result. 8 bullets gave a 9 cm group near center, with the 9th opening it up to about 12 cm, and the 10th opening it up to 15 cm. All still well inside the circle, and no deformation or clear tumbling. The one furthest away from center looks like it might have tumbled slightly, but that could might as well have been the tape ripping. I couldn't tell. So very similar to Rhino, though a smidgen worse. Too small of a difference to conclude. The obvious conclusion here on the other hand, comes from comparing this 230 grainer to the 181 grain version of the same bullet, which was terrible in comparison. Almost certainly primarily a question of mass/ momentum. Possibly also sectional density. This shows that BP is not everything. It is the combination of relatively low BP and LD, combined with enough mass and stoutness that comes together in the right way. The small lead meplat once again protected the bullet from severe deformation, even though velocity was slightly higher. After all, when the Vulkan can survive, then it would be strange for the A-frame to give in. This load is more or less another confirmed brush load, but another 10 shot group would be preferable before fully concluding. Also it would be desirable with better general accuracy, hopefully achievable through a bit more precise drilling.

A-Frame 230 at 2400 fps

45-70/ Barnes 319 – A rather disappointing experience after all the finicky processes involved in the modification of the bullets. This bullet seemed to have everything going for it, apart from a lack of bonding. And that turned out to be detrimental. 6 bullets plus one separated lead core landed well enough within the circle. 4 bullets plus two separated lead cores landed outside the circle. 4 or 5 bullets showed various degrees of deformation. Total group size about 50 cm. 70 cm if counting the two most deflected lead cores into it. A total of 13 holes. Apparently I went too far with the thin walls, which combined with a lack of bonding caused deformation/ separation. Still, this was a very useful result. Once again a good indication of the importance of stoutness. If I had not drilled out the bullet and just filled it with lead, the core may not have separated. But then BP would have been higher, and tumbling might have become an issue. Maybe I'll experiment more with this one some day.

Barnes 319 at 2150 fps

This concludes my brush buster testing, at least for now. Unfortunately I do not have the time and resources to test every potential bullet/ caliber and every thinkable eventuality. Especially I would like to do the same test with the best loads through finger thick sticks (which could destroy the 9,3x62 vs the 45-70), and a 30-40 shot group through actual bushes of typical density. This lack of variety of tested brush density/ resistance is probably the greatest shortcoming of this whole project. But that will have to wait till another time, if ever. I might post some results in the comments some day. For now I have what I started out to get – some pretty solid conclusions, specific guide lines and load suggestions, and some good ideas for potential further testing.

Final conclusions?

1 – Tumbling is the greatest cause of deflection and erratic behavior, as well as potentially poor penetration. In order to avoid tumbling, the ideal brush bullet should have its balance point (BP) as far forwards as possible, preferably less than 50% behind the tip of the bullet. However, 51-52% seems to suffice. Round nose and flat nose bullets have the BP much further towards the front than spitzers/ semi spitzers. This supports the traditional view that brush bullets should be of RN/ FN design. A generally square profile of the bullet will move BP forwards. A rear core in lighter material than the front core, or a hollow rear core, or a spitzer rear core can place the BP in front of the middle. When non expanding bullets are an option, a monolithic brass/ copper hollow point flat base bullet or any spitzer boat tail match bullet fired backwards will have the BP in front of the middle.

2 – Deformation/ fragmentation is the second greatest cause of deflection and erratic behavior, as well as potentially poor penetration. In order to avoid this, a brush bullet should be as stout as possible, relative to the need for expansion in flesh. This can be achieved by either bonding, a thick jacket, a small protected point, a (shallow) hollow point dependent on liquid in order to initiate expansion, or a combination of these characteristics. In this regard a round nose/ flat nose can perform worse than a protected point, if the bullet is too soft to avoid severe deformation, as the large lead meplat is more vulnerable than a protected point. When non expanding bullets are an option, a monolithic brass/ copper or an FMJ of FN design, or a solid base bullet fired backwards will be highly resistant to deformation, and at the same time have some wounding potential in larger calibers.

3 – Length to diameter ratio (LD) seems to be the third most important factor. This is related to tumbling. An LD of around 3 or less seems desirable. Long for caliber bullets like the 6,5/ 160, 30/ 220 and 9,3/ 285 tumble easily, sometimes after only a few inches of brush (test 2). The traditional (and intuitive) view that heavy/ long for caliber bullets are good for brush busting is therefore wrong. Sectional density in itself does not seem to be of great importance, compared to LD or BP.

4 – Stability factor (SF) seems to be the fourth most important factor. This is related to tumbling. An SF of 3,5 or more seems to be desirable. This is also related to bullet length.

5 – A large bullet diameter is good. This helps in achieving enough weight/ momentum in combination with a short for caliber bullet. Around 200 grains with an LD less than 3 seems to be a likely minimum. By these criteria, the 30 caliber seems to be too small, though it is theoretically possible to design a dedicated brush bullet. The 338 bore has not been tested, but considering the results with the 30 caliber vs 9,3 mm, it is not very likely to perform in a satisfying manner, especially if we take the lack of short for caliber RN/ FN bullets into account. Around 9 mm or 358-366 bore seems to be the minimum practical diameter with readily available bullets. Most likely, minimum bullet diameter/ mass is also relative to brush density (grass, bushes, branches etc.)

6 – Velocity does not seem to be as important as one would think. The traditional (and intuitive) notion is that slow is good. The idea is that a faster bullet will deflect in a more erratic fashion. This is possibly true if tumbling/ deformation and deflection have already started. However, higher velocity means greater momentum, which is a positive trait in order to keep things going in a straight line. Most noticeably, problems related to high velocity first occurs when a bullet is subjected to impact velocities high enough to cause detrimental deformation/ fragmentation, followed by deflection and poor penetration. So long as one stays within the impact velocity spectrum that the bullet can endure, high velocity is likely to be good. Also consider actual downrange brush impact velocity, which in most hunting scenarios might be 100-300 fps lower than muzzle velocity for woods ranges. Most likely, the best performing brush buster would be a front heavy, highly stable, solid tungsten or uranium projectile traveling at 5-6000 fps. In essence a scaled down tank buster with a few tweaks. But I see a few minor practical challenges with such a concept.

7 – No one factor is strong enough on its own. It is the sum of all factors that results in the best performing brush buster. Small changes in one factor can make a great difference in performance.

8 – Test your hunting loads. As most of these factors, conclusions and theories are hard to fully isolate, prove and rely upon as a recipe, and since small changes in one factor can make a great difference, it is important to always test potential brush hunting loads against a proven reference load (45-70/ 300 Woodleigh FN, 30-06/ 175 RDF backwards or any other well performing load tested), through a uniform shrubbery that eliminates coincidence as much as possible. By this I mean that if you for example want to find loads for a 358 of some sort, and also have access to a 45-70, you should first try some 300 Woodleighs or 300 Barnes backwards through your own shrubbery as a baseline for further reference. You could also use a 30-06/ 220 as a negative reference. Use minimum 10 shot groups, as 5-shot groups can give a very misleading impression.

5 shots with 30/ 220 RN

10 shots with 30/ 220 RN. Same load, but a very different impression.

Suggestions and ideas for specific bullets

Here follows an overview of the best bullets I have tested, and others that I believe could have potential in various calibers. I have not included all potential bullets from all manufacturers in the world, but enough to give an idea of what to look for and where to start testing.

6,5 mm – Theoretically possible with custom bullets. But for all practical purposes I believe it's best to just forget about it.

30 caliber – Not likely to have much practical potential as an expanding bullet. A 165/ 170/ 180 grain Swift A-Frame backwards is one of the few promising ideas that I have (and might test). The A-Frame has a bonded rear core, hence the choice of this one over the Partition for this purpose. But these will have severe feeding issues, so not a real hunting option without modification to the base (new nose). Another idea is the 165 or 180 grain Federal Trophy Bonded Tip, with the tip removed and ogive ground back to a balance point of 52% or less. The reason why I have some faith in this bullet, is that it has a solid copper rear end and bonded lead core in the front. The boat tail will help to further lighten the rear end (unlike the Federal TBBC with a flat base). In addition the TBT seems to have fairly thick walls towards the front (based on pictures only), compared to other bullets with a large boat tail. The likes of the Accubond Long Range and various other bullets will possibly be too soft for the enlarged meplat. Another idea is a plain 175-180 grain FMJ backwards, like the S&B from test 2, but down loaded to a velocity low enough to avoid deformation. This will of course mean less momentum, less marginal downrange energy, and feeding is crap without further modifications, so a very iffy concept in many ways. A 170 A-frame FN or Partition RN slightly drilled out in the base and shot the right way might have potential. Generally the A-Frames have a more bulky/ less aerodynamic ogive than Partitions, which is beneficial in the case of brush busting (more weight forwards). But I doubt any of these have real potential. A front heavy, stout 160-180 grain custom bullet of some sort is the most likely candidate for success with the 30 caliber, though still doubtful.

338 caliber – Untested. But if I were to test this bore, the Woodleigh 200 grain FN bullet, with an LD of 3,06, would be my first candidate. A 210 Partition with the lead tip trimmed away in order to create a protected point, and then drilled out to a BP of 52% or less would be my second candidate. Third, I would try the 225 A-Frame drilled out. I would try a 6,5-7 mm drill bit for 338. Another alternative for modification in 338 is a 200-225 bonded boat tail bullet (Accubond 200/ 225, Interbond 225 etc), with the nose ground down so far that the BP ends up at 52% or less, like the TBT in 30 caliber. Feeding will be poor, and velocity might have to come down quite a bit in order to avoid deformation, but it could work. The best option in 338 is probably some 180-200 grain custom bullet.

358 caliber – Untested. This bore has a few good candidates in the form of various 200-225 grain RN or FN bullets. Try bonded ones first, like the Woodleigh 225 RN or similar. The Sierra Pro Hunter 200 RN or Hornady Interlock 200 RN are also worth trying, at a velocity they can withstand. Other than that, the A-frame 225 and 250 drilled out to a BP of 52% or less are good candidates. The Partition 225 or 250 with the lead tip trimmed away and base drilled out are also promising bullets. I would try a 7-7,5 mm drill bit for this bore. A ground down Accubond 225 like with the 338 could also be worth trying.

9,3 mm – The Rhino 232 RN is a proven bullet, but it seems to be discontinued in favor of a 235 semi spitzer, which is a bit longer. Crap. I do not have as much faith in that one. Also, Rhino bullets are generally hard to come across. So the best remaining alternative available for most people, will be the A-Frame 250 drilled out to around 230 grains with a 7,5 mm drill bit, in a precise fashion. The Woodleigh 250 RN and Vulkan 232 did pretty well for unmodified bullets, so that is also a possibility. Compared to the Vulkan 232, A Rhino 235 PP or Woodleigh 232 PP might work pretty well, so if modifying is out of the question, these bullets can be worth testing. An unmodified A-Frame 250 backwards with a BP of then 44,5%, a bonded rear core and relatively small amount of exposed lead will quite likely work well. But again, feeding will be terrible. So useless for hunting without some modification. A single or double rifle in 9,3x74 (or some .450) would be interesting for such poor feeding bullets. So for anyone trying to justify the purchase of a double rifle for medium game, this might be your best excuse ever. I will not go into the depths of double rifle regulation and other quirks, as others can do that much better then I can. But I can say that if I were to buy a double rifle for this purpose, I would seriously consider one with adjustable barrels. If adjustable barrels are not an option, I would probably choose a rifle regulated for 286 grain bullets. In my limited experience with load development for double rifles, I have found that you have more room to play with bullets that are lighter than that which the rifle is regulated for. Also, one regulated for 286 grain bullets will sell more easily, despite the fact that one regulated for 232 grain bullets will probably serve most medium game hunters better. Either way I would first test the brush potential of the intended load in a bolt action before actually buying a 5-8000$ double rifle.

375 caliber – Untested. A drilled out A-Frame 250 would be my first candidate. As for unmodified bullets, I would look at the Woodleigh 235 PP or 270 RN, Rhino 235 and 250, which I believe are both of PP design. Not quite sure about that. The Sierra Pro Hunter 200 FN at moderate velocity is also very interesting.

416 caliber – Untested. Very poor selection of potential bullets in this caliber, so probably not a wise choice. But a drilled out A-Frame 350 does look promising.

458 caliber – In this bore size the focus is on the 45-70, which is what was used during testing, and what most people will use for medium game. The good news with this caliber/ cartridge is that the Woodleigh 300 FN performed very well, which probably means that any 300 grain FN, including ordinary factory loads, will perform well. Just be aware that the Woodleigh has a very square profile, with more weight forwards than for example the Speer 300 HP. In addition to that, the Woodleigh is bonded. These factors might make a noticeable difference. If you can get hold of the Rhino 300, that will be an obvious bullet to test. But it does supposedly have a minimum expansion velocity of around 1800 fps, which would mean a pretty short killing range; even for woods hunting. For a modification project, the A-Frame 350 FN drilled out to around 300 grains, or a BP of 52% or lower, has laser beam potential. If non expanding bullets are an option, any 200-300 grain solid copper/ brass HP bullet shot backwards has great potential. The same can be said about the Lehigh Extreme Defense 225 and similar bullets (also shot backwards). Any or most of these bullets can probably be made to work in a high power 458 of some sort, some of them down loaded. The solids may perform well at very high velocities (like the tank buster). By choosing a high power 458, one could in theory increase maximum range compared to the 45-70, using dual loads. But I do not know if there are any commonly available 458 hunting bullets suitable for medium game out to much more than 350-400 meters, even from a 458 Lott or 460 Weatherby (just a qualified semi-guess). Practical reach is even more limited if we consider wind drift, which we must. So despite all that recoil and/ or bulk, effective range is probably slightly less than a 358, 9,3 or 375. Especially if we consider the 358 Norma Magnum, 9,3x64 Brenneke or 375 H&H, since we're in magnum territory anyway. The only thing that could justify a high power 458, is far superior brush busting abilities. Or just a burning desire to own one; also a good reason.

Ideas for custom bullets – I believe the best possible brush bullet would be a round nose or flat nose bullet, with the most square shape possible. The ogive should only just be rounded or pointy enough to allow feeding. The rear half should be solid copper with a flat base, perhaps slightly hollowed out (I don't have faith in weight reducing plastic fillers inside the rear end of a cup and core bullet for hunting purposes). Alternatively the bullet could have a very pointy boat tail, like a raindrop, or a match bullet fired backwards. I am unsure which design is best, but the hollow base would allow for much more powder, an interesting aspect with handgun cartridges. The front half should be filled with lead and bonded, with the smallest possible opening and a very slight hollow point to initiate expansion in flesh (like the Vulkan). Alternatively the front half could be filled with tungsten fragments and designed with a small, shallow hollow point that relied upon hydraulic pressure to initiate expansion. So basically a DRT bullet with a dedicated brush shape. The balance point should be in front of the middle point, and the length to diameter ratio should be less than 3. It is possible that a much higher length to diameter ratio could work well, provided a far forwards balance point. In particular with the rain drop version (similar to the RDF backwards). It may be possible to design a usable, expanding 30 caliber 170-180 grain bullet, following these principles. As a test of that concept, I might take the 165, 170 or 180 grain A-Frame some day, and gently hammer the base into a perfect round nose/ flat nose, until it feeds well enough to be usable backwards. Or maybe I'll make a die and use a hydraulic press instead of the hammer and anvil. Either way, I believe there is a potential for success in this modification. If so, it will probably be applicable for A-Frames in most calibers. But it is in particular the 30 caliber that interests me the most in this ragard – The Holy Grail of brush bullets. Imagine the performance of the backwards RDF 175 in an expanding bullet, paired with a 178 Eld-X/ M for long range, fired from a handy 20 inch 308 rifle or something along those lines. I just cannot let go of the 30 caliber quite yet...

Early sketch of ideal bullets. Lacking a slight hollow point, which would allow for a smaller opening

This seems like the right time to add the mandatory WARNING/ DISCLAIMER: Any modification of bullets, firing of bullets backwards, or any other unintended use of either mass produced or custom made bullets is potentially dangerous. Whenever I perform any of these actions, I use very careful measuring, reloading and shooting procedures. I always make sure bullets have the correct diameter after modifications. I start with a very low powder charge, regardless of previous experiences with the same weight bullets in the same cartridge and rifle. I use double ear protection and safety goggles. The first round is either fired around a corner, down into the ground a few meters away, or remotely triggered with a string. As I have no control over other peoples procedures, I take no responsibility for any of the above mentioned use of bullets. Any such activities are at your own risk.

The rifle and loads on the range and in the field

As mentioned in the beginning, I bought an old, busted Husqvarna/ FN M98 that I had re-barreled, and then fixed up in most ways possible, including a rebuild of the wooden stock. I put in a wrist pin and cross bolts, bedded it, added a beaver tail to the fore end, steepened and slimmed down the pistol grip ever so slightly, raised the ridiculously low drop at the heel by 25-30 mm, dramatically changing felt recoil, muzzle whip and general control/ field accuracy. I stippled it with a Dremel for grip, stained it dark and smeared it with boat varnish. With a 24” barrel and a suppressor (I must have one for my mistreated ears), it does not exactly display the dimensions of the classic brush gun. But that aspect of the term “brush gun” is not what I am after in this case. The medium-long range performance Is more important to me. I could have cut the barrel at 20”, gotten a telescopic suppressor (and ditched the open sights with silencer on) and kept the whole thing a lot more handy, but that would probably have meant about 50-60 meters less effective killing range, unless I was lucky and found a high note. But better to start long, and I am glad I did. On average the rifle groups around 15-20 mm at 100 meters/ 0,5-0,7 MOA with the Accubond 250 at 2500 fps (not the top load at about 2600 fps), so plenty good for the intended 400 meters. I could have lived with a 0,8-0,9 MOA average for this rifle, but of course I will seek to chase out that last bit that makes the difference from good to very good. The current accuracy is with full length sizing, so once I get a neck sizing die, a sub 0,5 MOA average is not entirely unrealistic (though rather excessive). Still, as it is today, it is no problem to make good cold bore hits at the 25 cm/ 10 inch gong at 450 meters/ 490 yards, either with a bipod or with a sling and simple field rest (slightly different zero between the two methods). That is whether I use the reticle for a hold over, or dial the turret. So in other words, the field accuracy exceeds the effective killing range of the bullet by quite a bit, which was a great relief. I had a lot riding on this one bullet.

As always on my hunting rifles, I mounted open sights. Just some standard Remington sights, painted white here and there, in a pattern that works for real world hunting situations in gloomy forests. The open sights are partly as a back up for the scope and partly just because I like to play with them, but primarily for heavy rain. I can recall quite a few blown chances over the years, due to rain and fog on the lenses during shitty weather. Also I have secured a couple of animals in such conditions, due to open sights and QR mounts. Lens covers just don't work in real bad weather. Once they have been opened, they must stay open. So in stead of spending half my time and attention towards wiping glass, it is better to just take the scope off and stick it in the belt. I use Warne QR rings, which have worked great for me so far. I have probably used them on 6-7 scopes/ rifles, and return to zero have always been dead on. Still, when I zero for hunting, I usually hoot a 3 shot group where I loosen the scope between each shot, just to be sure that I have the average point of impact, if there were to be any differences. And so far I cannot really say that groups have been any larger than normal.

3 shots with the scope loosened between each shot. Never mind the point of impact, as it was done parallel with other various testing

The final hunting load with the Rhino 232 is at 2570 fps. Unfortunately I did not have enough bullets for any further testing, as I bought the last 25 pcs box available (as mentioned, I believe they are discontinued). Therefore I loaded them up a bit from before to secure wounding, and just went with it. The load hits about 4-5 cm lower than the Accubond, which is zeroed about 4,5 cm/ 1,5 MOA high at 100 meters. So the Rhino is dead on at any woods ranges, but with a terrible accuracy at around 6-7 cm/ 2,5 inches, it is not suited for head shots at more than 40-50 meters. But that is not something I do very often.

So far I have taken 6 red deer with the Rhino, and wounding is very similar to my moderate meat loads in 6,5 mm and 30 caliber. Undoubtedly a consequence of the toughness of the bullet. If this bullet had had similar softness to the 6,5 and 30 meat loads, I believe wounding would have been much wider and more destructive, considering the slightly higher velocity, larger diameter and heavier weight. But this moderate wounding suits me fine, as I tend to shoot through the shoulder bone more often than not, and usually high. The first deer I shot with the load (a 100 kg/ 220 lbs live weight, young stag) was quartering steeply towards me at about 70 meters. It was partly obscured by brush from about 50 to 60 meters, so 10-20 meters in front of the animal, and very similar to the test shrubbery in density. Only the very front of the chest was open, and that's where I aimed. I don't think I touched brush, but I can say for certain that I would not have dared to take that marginal shot without the testing and the confidence in the load. The bullet hit high in the chest/ low in the throat, went through one lung and out the shoulder. The deer ran about 30-40 meters before it dropped, a pretty similar dead run to my other meat loads with such a hit. The following 4 deer were hit just under or just up into the spine, through the top of the lungs, so they all dropped on the spot, offering no knowledge about dead runs. One of them were shot through grass that was about 10 meters in front of the animal, another shot I would not have dared without a well tested load. On the flip side, the knowledge gained from this testing might make people hold back on such marginal shots when they are carrying small calibers or unsuitable loads (look at the rapid tumbling in test 2, even with the 9,3/ 285). So this project is not just about being able to shoot animals through brush, but also about knowing when to hold back. The 6th animal (100 kg/ 220 lbs female, live weight) was a straight frontal shot from below. The bullet went in high in the chest, penetrated about 15-20 cm of soft tissue, before penetrating 30-35 cm of spine length wise, and finally stopping against the back hide between the shoulder blades. So a little over 50 cm of penetration through pretty tough resistance. Another indication of the stoutness of the bullet. As mentioned, this works well for my typical shot placement, but for those who automatically tend to shoot behind the shoulder, this is probably not the best choice of bullet. There is a good chance of slow kills and long dead runs. If behind the shoulder is the preferred aim, I suspect the drilled out A-Frame 250 or the Woodleigh 250 RN as it is, will be a better choice. The Vulkan 232 has a solid reputation when it comes to wounding, but I suspect it will fall a bit short of the Woodleigh in the brush busting department in a test involving more shots. To each their own.

Stag shot through one lung. 30-40 meter dead run

Adult female shot through bot lungs, high in the shoulder/ lungs, nicking the spine. Entrance on the left side, opposite of what one might think

Calf shot high in the lungs, through the shoulder bone. A nice hole.

Adult female shot lengthwise through the spine. The skin of the throat would have started at around the 50 cm mark

Bullet recovered from the spine shot. About 90% weight retention

Typical brush, consisting of ferns, birch, uniper, spruce and pine. Not all are present in the photo, but the thickness is very representative for a lot of the local hunting grounds

As these things go, I have not yet had a medium-long range opportunity with this rifle and the Accubond 250 so far, so if I get something interesting, I'll post it in the comments later.

That wraps up this project. Over 200 shots have been fired in very specific ways, and everything has been set up just like this and that for every single shot, in order to isolate all the factors as well as possible. It's been quite laborious and costly with all the different premium bullets that just begged to be tested, but damn it's been interesting. Well worth every failure, hour and Krone spent. In many ways, I feel we have only scratched the surface of this subject, but on the other hand we have what we started out to get – some useful, hands on conclusions. If we look at the results with the first loads tested, using heavy/ long for caliber bullets that are traditionally considered “brush medicine”, and compare the results to those of the light/ short for caliber bullets used in the final loads, we have come a long way. These different bullets and their respective results are worlds apart. Take a look at the examples below. A satisfying end to a long story.

30-06/ 220 Woodleigh RN vs 30-06/ 175 RDF backwards

9,3x62/ 285 Mega RN vs 9,3x62/ 232 Rhino RN

45-70/ 400 Woodleigh FN vs 45-70/ 300 Woodleigh FN and 45-70/ 300 Barnes backwards

Quite a difference in all calibers, including the 45-70.

I must add that I would be utterly pleased if this research would find it's way to someone who has the means and motivation to take the knowledge gained here, and develop and produce a line of the ultimate brush hunting bullets. It is really there for the taking.

If you read these words, thanks for sticking by all the way to the end. I hope this project has been as enlightening to you as it has been to me.

Time for a cold one now. Cheers!

Magnus Vassbotn


22 Nov 2020
@ 01:35 pm (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Wow, this is a veritable Magnus Opus! Thanks for all your hard work, expense, and sharing of the results.
24 Nov 2020
@ 01:02 am (GMT)

Paul Leverman

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Thank you for the effort you put into this. Very informative. I think I will carry on with the 45-70 testing.

24 Nov 2020
@ 05:57 am (GMT)

William Badgley

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Hardly know where to begin in thanking you for all this information. It's a subject that has intrigued me for years. I thought just knowing my 45/70 was the best brush gun I had was enough. Your in depth research as to why, and how to make it better is a boon to anyone that finds themselves in the thick brush while hunting. Never gave a thought to the fact that the brush could be 300 yards as well as at 30 yards. This as well as test #1 and #2 have been printed or forwarded in an effort to educate all my hunting buddies. If they in turn pass it on to others your reach will have made a lot of us better at what we do. Don't ever doubt that all your hard work and time any money weren't worth it. You have helped the hunting fraternity immensely. Think about how many animals will die quickly and humanly, VS. slowly or worse maimed and unfound because of this body of work. Now we can pray the ammo industry picks up your work and puts together a true brush bullet with science and data to back it up.
And lastly a thank you to Nathan for making this forum available to all of us.
A true treasure to any caring hunter.
Bill Badgley
24 Nov 2020
@ 10:20 am (GMT)

Magnus Vassbotn

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Scott - Thanks for that, and all good fun.

Paul - Awesome. If you find anything interesting, please do share. Whether it supports or contradicts the theories. Interesting to ponder and implement in later projects.

William - Thanks a lot for that feed back, and thanks for sharing the stuff further. Very much appreciated. Maybe one day some even more complete material will come back around from somewhere else. As for a commercial brush buster bullet, I see some marketing challenges regarding ethics and all that. Things would have to be presented in just the right way, as to not encourage reckless behavior by tactical hipsters with thermal sights and semi auto "rigs" resting upon standing tripods and so on. But if the right guy pics up on it, who knows. It would indeed be a very welcome thing.

24 Nov 2020
@ 11:50 am (GMT)

Scott Struif

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
How about a tagline of, “Great for those pre-dawn sound shots?”
28 Nov 2020
@ 11:12 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Hi Magnus, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to perform and share these tests. A highly entertaining and informative read which I thoroughly enjoyed. With your permission, it would be nice to include the full body of these tests as an article in the KB at some stage, no fuss either way, entirely up to you. Thanks again.
28 Nov 2020
@ 08:48 pm (GMT)

Magnus Vassbotn

Re: Brush Gun Test 3
Thanks Nathan, and of course, feel free to use it in the KB. I would be honoured. But in that case, I would first like to chase down a few more loose ends with the 30 cal and 338, and re-write everything into a more compact, stand alone article.



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