By John Simeone
The art of taking the running shot has been lost in political correctness, truth is few can shoot well enough to take advantage of the offhand rifle.
My eight years in Germany taught me something about European firearm design as opposed to the Classic American Hunting rifle. When it comes right down to it they just don't hunt like we do.
In 1976 I went to the Army Rod and Gun Club in Babenhousen Germany and bought myself a Styer Manlicher Model M in 270 Winchester to this day it is the most accurate rifle I own. Comparing it to other rifles I own it is somewhat different.
The safety is very large and it has double set triggers that takes a little getting used to. It is designed to shoot from the Houck Seat, which to us is a raised deer stand, or the stalk. The idea is to fire one shot, even though the magazine holds 5 cartriges. The butter-knife bolt handle does not allow rapid maneuvering of the bolt like a Remington 700. The big safety is that way to easily be found at night as European hunters do hunt much game during the hours of darkness. The popular large objective scopes worn by European hunting rifles are there for night hunting as well. The big thick post cross-hair once again shows the popularity of night hunting.
The other type of European hunting is the Battue or drive hunt, usually for wild boar. The animals are driven past hunters stationed in High Seats and the shot is usually close and on the run. Well this type of hunting was very familiar to me. We run deer and hogs with dogs in the South and so I checked out the Battue rifles. They turned out to be bolt action Mausers with a short barrel and high mounted iron sights. They were fast on the draw, but nothing like the Winchester and Marlin lever-actions. Since Germans are always right I didn't argue the fact that an American “brush gun” will most likely out perform a Battue rifle. The Sako Finwolf rifle was the only lever action I've seen produced in Europe so evidently the idea of a fast repeat shot never caught on.
However the third type of European gun design really caught my eye for the Battue rifle of Louisiana. That is the over and under combination gun. Mine is a CZ, (Now made by Brno) 12 ga 3 inch magnum over 30-06. I've taken several running boar and deer with both rifle bullet and buckshot and find this weapon to be the ultimate brush gun. The brush gun, is not however to be used to shoot through brush. The term is sometimes misleading for the neophyte, so I'll tell you that even grass will deflect any bullet enough to miss a deer sized target completely.
This is one of those concepts about firearms that is really tough to convince some people. They think a 300 magnum will shoot through an oak tree and then go 5 miles. Many times rounds like the 444 Marlin and 45-70 government are thought to be able to shoot through a brush pile and accurately hit a deer. Sorry not on your best day. Now there is the luck factor that intervenes occasionally, enough to make it look like some bullets will penetrate brush, but the fact remains in most cases a hunting bullet will be deflected or it will disintegrate upon striking a small amount of brush and twigs.
Now with my field experience I could go on record and tell about the time I shot a deer through brush. Although it would only add fule to the fire of the myth. I will say that just this season I got a good shot at a Boone and Crockett wild Whitetale. But the 220 grain 325 WSM bullet struck a small tree and disintegrated, never touching the buck. When the opposite happens and you do score either you just missed the little twigs in your way or were just plain lucky.
So when the term brush gun is used it is meant to be a light fast rifle, to be used at close range, generally on a moving target, from the off hand position. I include in this list, some semi-auto, pump and lever action rifles along with slug and buckshot guns. I have been very successful in close in situations on deer and hogs using a Remington 1100 with buckshot. This is the same gun I use for bobwhite quail and it is certainly fast enough. The Combination gun is now used in its place and is even better as it can be used all the way out to 300 yards with the 30-06 barrel.
My first Louisiana deer was taken on a dead run at 75 yards with a Browning BAR in 308. I've taken numerous deer and hogs on the run with the buckshot barrel of the CZ including my largest buck, and one good boar with the rifle tube. That combination gun used correctly lets very little game get away.
It is all in the ergonomics of the rifle, put more easily it is pointabilty. This is mostly found in Marlin and Winchester lever-actions and Remington and Browning pumps and autolouders. The little Ruger 44 magnum semi auto was one of my favorites. Now it would have to be the Marlin “Guide Gun in 45-70. My plan for my next rifle will be a Marlin guide gun with a Leupold 2x7 VXII with a dot recticle. Using the Hornady Leverevalution 325 grain bullet...well I already know what it will do.
Another Brush rifle that is really fast on the draw lends back to the European Battue rifle but with the concept of the long eye relief scope mounted forward of the receiver. Known as a Scout Rifle, a skilled sharpshooter with this, such as my partner “Flatdog” who put two out of three kill shots on a running buck before it knew the first one was enough, shows the blinding speed of a skilled rifleman with good equipment. The rifle was a Savage 110 carbine in 308, rigged out as a bolt action scout rifle. Flatdog has a guide gun rigged out like this too that is pure lightning. Now remember this, you lose nothing in accuracy with these rifles, just because they have short barrels, so a brush gun like the Marlin or a Savage is still good for a medium range shot.
Now I have to talk briefly but affectionately about the slowest gun in the west. For some reason my Thompson Encore muzzle loader just doesn't fit me. I have taken many deer with it and one exceptional shot was made on a called in coyote at 50 yard as he peered around the trunk of a tree with only his right eye exposed, didn't even trim the eyelash. But I wont be jump shooting whitetails with it.
The rifle that should be slow but evidently isn't is my H&R Buffalo Classic 45-70. On two occasions I was surprised by close in running bucks but the well balanced buffalo gun train wrecked them both in fine style even with its 32 inch barrel.
Another rifle that should be a good brush gun but is not is my Remington Mountain Rifle, somehow with all its wonderful features it is just too light for me. The Remington CDL however, seems just right. So you need a little weight to perform the proper off hand shot.
My Ruger 77 in 350 Remington Magnum was in my hands the day I saw a buck come right at me with his head down at 200 yards on the trot. That shot had to have some kind of Zen involved as the gun seemingly fired itself the balance was so perfect. The hit was between the shoulders, high center and the 200 grain Corloct traveled just underneath the spine missing the backstrap and lodging in the rear left leg. It still weighs 180 grains. For the better still, I have now replaced this rifle with the Browning X-bolt in 325 WSM, so far only one running buck, no real problem at 50 yards the rest were just standing.
There is no such thing as perfect in the gun world, so the American Battue rifle or Brush rifle may come in many different designs. It will have a barrel no longer than 22 inches, a low powered scope, be of a stock design that makes it feel like your bird gun, it should have a quick repeating mechanism, and be so well balanced you wonder why you bothered to sight it in from the bench. Caliber, well that is a personal choice as it could be any deer caliber. Remember no matter what you heard no cartrige will shoot in a straight line through brush.
I know this for a fact that if I ever go back to Germany on a driven boar hunt I will be packing the aforementioned Marlin guide gun. I'll tell old Comrad, “Move over Smitty, I'm a fixin to do me some shootin.”.....Pass it on.