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They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that old bromide generally holds true. A few years back, the local lord decided to ease back on regulations that pertained to the hunting of the king’s deer in our most beautiful and tragic of states. But was it really a mercy?

I’m going to come out swinging and say that the regulation of cartridges for hunting is one of the most unnecessary and hopelessly idiotic things that a government body can waste our tax dollars enforcing. It’s right up there with the strict control of short barreled rifles, suppressors, and interstate speed limits.

We live in a century in which technology allows me to have a sandwich sent to my coordinates with the press of a button on my pocket communicator and yet my elected officials see fit to make themselves relevant by forcing me to hunt my own deer with a cartridge that would’ve been considered weak sauce in 1900.

So it came to pass that hunting with straight-walled cases between 1.16” and 1.8” and of .35 caliber or larger became the law of the land. I could dive deeply into the “reasoning,” but frankly, it’s not worth trying to understand why these utterly arbitrary guidelines were established. The point being, Michigan and several other states need to get with the times and let us hunt with modern cartridges.

The original intent of the state was to make hunting with what are essentially pistol cartridges legal in the shotgun zone. The idea was to allow cartridges like the .357 Mag, .44 Mag, and .45 Colt in short range rifles that were less powerful or equal to a 12ga slug, because you know, logic.

The state certainly got one-upped because it turns out that there are myriad law-compliant cartridge options that exist that are vastly more powerful than a simple slug gun and, at normal hunting distances, far more powerful than many centerfire bottleneck calibers.

To illustrate the stupidity of this law, it’s illegal to use a common and very effective .243 caliber rifle, a 6.5 Grendel, or a .223 Remington. But it’s perfectly legal to use something like the .50 Beowulf, which in a 400 grain loading has power equivalent to a .50-90 buffalo rifle of the same bullet weight.

Being a modern hunter, I decided to go ahead and do something to satisfy the state while at the same time beneficial to those in my same position. I could’ve gone with a garden variety AR, but I decided to use my .308 Mk4 rifle as a base for the project since many people these days have underused bolt guns they originally bought for hunting or target shooting. So what caliber would meet both my demands and that of the law?

My first inclination was to look at calibers that would fit into an AR-10, as my .308 was of that magazine size. My only real option was a relatively obscure caliber called .45 Raptor. It is a very well thought out cartridge that is essentially a .460 S&W magnum case with a .308 rim. It claimed to be able to fire a 200gr bullet at over 2800fps from a 16” barrel. I was listening and they had my attention.

I began to dig and dig, but I was unable to find a barrel maker that would make a drop-in for a Savage small shank thread. This got me looking into other options. I eventually looked at a number of calibers and determined that none were up to my standard. That was until I looked into .450 Bushmaster a bit more than I had in years past.

I remembered when the round was introduced and it was all about Jeff Cooper and how he called it ‘Thumper’ or some shit. All I could think of was the rabbit in Bambi when I read about it. Say what you will, but Cooper had some good and very borrowed ideas that made for good press. His scout rifle concept was ripped right off the Nazis and the ‘Thumper’, well that wasn’t what people thought it was.

The Thumper thing referred to what Cooper wanted to be an infantry weapon for rear-line troops chambered in something like .44 AutoMag and was wildly panned as a bad idea. The idea behind the .450 Bushmaster came from the concept, but wasn’t really what Cooper had envisioned.

I had dismissed the .450 Bushmaster as a hokey marketing campaign to capitalize on a dead guy’s name and sell a caliber that would die off in a matter of a few years. I still think it is a stupid idea, but as it turned out, that stupid idea was within the parameters established by the silly bureaucracy of my state for deer hunting.

The .450BM, like the .45 Raptor, features the same case head as the .308, making it compatible with my existing rifle. The case is also wide-bodied and will fit in and feed from a standard AICS-pattern magazine, although at a slightly reduced capacity. A ten round Alpha Mag holds 7 .450 rounds and 8 if you squeeze.

Josh Wayner
Alpha Mags in the front, MDT polymer mag in the back. Note that there is a large amount of room in the front of the magazine. Contrary to what you may think, it does not have an impact on feeding.

So began my conversion quest.

I contacted a company called Black Hole Weaponry after I read a number of positive things about them online. They were one of the only companies that offered a drop-in barrel for my rifle. Dealing with BHW was time well spent. The folks there are very kind and knowledgeable. Another gentleman was interested in the build concept, so we decided to install a barrel on his .308 as well.

Both barrels from BHW were 1:18 twist varmint contour, the shorter of the two being 18” and finished in a matte black and the other 22” and polished.

Installing the barrels was as easy, just like on any Savage. Or so I thought. Turns out that nobody really makes headspacing tools for the .450 like they do common rounds like .308. Being a natural innovator, I decided to take the ‘YOLO’ approach and put on my flat-billed thinking-cap.

Josh Wayner
Yeah, I work on my carpet sometimes. Paint can be removed from your gun parts easily with paintbrush cleaner, which came in handy here.

 

The .450 is basically a big .45ACP, so it is able to headspace on the case mouth. I pulled the bullet on a couple cases, got out my wrenches, and went to town. I measured the cartridge case protrusion from the face of the barrel and then the gap between the bolt face and barrel face. I figured out the minimum headspace and spun those babies on.

Josh Wayner
Barrel headspaced and set. I had to cut a small notch in my proprietary barrel nut to remove it from my old barrel. Hindsight is 20/20 they say.

Stocks were put back on and scopes reattached. I was ready to rock. After a few non-serious rookie moves, I got my new law-compliant buffalo/deer rifle shooting.

Hornady supplied me with their excellent 250gr FTX loads and I was off to the races. I had fired this and calibers like it in various AR rifles over the years and really didn’t know what to expect for recoil. It may be the fact that the rifle weighs over 16 pounds or because I was expecting it to be bad, but I found the caliber to be relatively easy to shoot. I’d compare it directly to a 20ga rifled slug gun in the recoil department, but another taker at the range said it felt much more like a .45-70.

Black Hole Weaponry’s barrels provided as good of accuracy as I could’ve hoped for considering my limited round count and time frame. I didn’t bother at all with a break-in time, mostly because I consider them to be unnecessary, and just got right into getting my setup zeroed.

I discovered that the .450 heats up a barrel fast, but it doesn’t lose much accuracy when hot. Groups measured in at an average of 1.5” for three shots across the board, with the very best being 3 in one hole at 100 yards. Considering my practical range of use, that was plenty good for deer.

Josh Wayner
Despite the short OAL, the .450BM is right at home in a .308 action.

I backed off to what I consider the effective ethical distance of the cartridge and observed the drop and groups at 200 yards. The rifle performed well and averaged about 3”, with the best being about 2” for three shots. To make my life really easy, the bullets dropped a very handy 1 mil on my crosshair.

I zeroed for 200 yards to take advantage of the effective range and point-blank trajectory. I could hold dead on a deer at any distance inside the zero, which made my life easy.
After it was all said and done, I packed up the rifle in my Eberlestock pack and headed to the east side of Michigan where I was to go hunting in the early antlerless season.

Long story short, I didn’t manage to get anything, but there’s always November to take this baby out again. I was, however, able to enjoy the confidence that comes from knowing that I can sit in on the edge of a field and hit anything that wanders in with little to no special holdover or fuss.

Josh Wayner
The .450BM allows for a much greater effective range than any other legal calibers in the same restriction zones. That won’t guarantee you a kill, but it will make it a bit easier to fill your tag.

The .450 Bushmaster offers the legally burdened hunter a bit of edge in what should be a standard rifle zone. It vastly outperforms any handgun round while at the same time offering ballistics better than .45-70 and on par with the more obscure .45 Raptor in the same bullet weight, while at the same time being drop-in ready for a .308 bolt action. Unlike other options, factory ammo is available from Hornady and is top quality.

If you are looking for these qualities, look no further than a Black Hole Weaponry barrel and a few boxes of Hornady ammunition. There’s still plenty of time until most hunting seasons start, so now is a great time to upgrade your rifle.

34 Responses to The How and Why of a Bolt Action .450 Bushmaster Hunting Gun

  1. I was under the impression this was an AR-15 platform round. I was thinking of building an upper for IL that would use a semi permanent block in the mag well to make an auto eject single shot AR pistol in 450 Bushmaster. Mostly for the lols and to piss off the liberals b/c we have the same straight walled garbage here.

    It would also be fun to cast bullets/reload for.

    • The .450 Bushmaster was created to be fired out of an AR, the fact that the author ended up with a bolt gun chambered in it is interesting, to say the least.

    • You should probably go check IL regs again and read them this time rather than whatever you did the last time you “read” them. The only legal rifles for deer are muzzleloaders period. You could technically run a single shot AR PISTOL but if you use a cartridge rifle on deer it is poaching.

  2. Wasn’t the initial reasoning for the demarcation between the rifle zone and the shotgun zone because it was perceived that rifles use a higher velocity round that is dangerous over longer ranges? The Southern part of Michigan has a higher population density than the more Northern rifle zone and the fear was that there would be lead flying everywhere….. Of course, as with most overly detailed government legislation, times change and it looks like many straight walled cartridges have evolved that offer high velocities and high bullet weight! Time to change the laws I would say and open up the Southern part of the state to centerfire rifle cartridges.

    • Brit in Tx is right: the requirement to use shotguns only in populous areas of states is to limit range, not foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle or downrange.

      Shotgun slugs have a huge surface area and they are heavy (typical 12 gauge slugs weighing 437 grains or more). The huge weight limits muzzle velocity to around 1600 fps give or take. The huge surface area means they slow down quickly and will drop to the ground well before going 200 yards (assuming that you are aiming parallel to the ground and not using your shotgun like a mortar).

      Magnum handgun calibers coming out of long barrels get a significant velocity boost — something like 300 to 500 fps. That means you can get a moderate loading in a .44 Magnum, 240 grain bullet to launch at something like 1600 fps just like a shotgun slug. And you can get a hot loading in a .44 Magnum, 240 grain bullet to launch at 1900 fps. As fast as that is, that bullet is dropping really fast at 200 yards. Assuming that your barrel was 3 feet in the air and parallel to the ground, the bullet will hit the ground within 300 yards. That is a pretty limited range compared to a .270 Winchester round that would not touch the Earth until it was something like 500 yards away.

    • I built an AR platform in 450. It’s a great under 200 yard cartridge, but kicks pretty solid out of an AR. I also have had serious feeding issues when trying to run it semi auto. I blame the magazines. You have to tweak a standard AR mag and use a single stack follower. Unfortunately the case is a little narrow to single stack so it can get hung up. From my research this is not an uncommon problem.

    • A Michigan native, I agree with the author. The law really has very little to do with public safety. I can shoot a .308 any time of year except during deer hunting season. The law is pretty loose even in populated areas about recreational shooting. But there are farmers with hundreds of acres of fields who have only recently become allowed to use modern weapons to kill the deer eating their crops in the shotgun zone. The law in general is doing very little besides disturbing the sport. It’s really is meant to drive the northern Michigan economy. Every year folks take their favorite deer rifle north of the shotgun zone to hunt. The state collects property tax money while the local shops enjoy the increased sales during deer season. It has been a kind of tradition. The traffic on the highways heading north are a testimate to how effective the gun law works. Without the restricted gun law many hunters would likely hunt the local areas and save the expense. The deer are bigger in the south, but the gun law makes it frustrating to complete a kill so people go north where they have the reach to kill the animal they see.

      The .450 bushmaster is a good idea but there is a problem with the bullet sliding out of the crimp due to the loading inertia in a semi-auto. Take a permanent marker and mark the bullet where the casing meets the crimp. Then chamber the round and extract it without firing. You should see a gap at the mark. A bolt action would never see this behavior because it has a much gentler loading stroke. So a bolt might be a better choice for some hunters.

      Regardless it is a point of frustration that Michigan hunters have to go to extended lengths to hunt local. There are many great hunting chambers that are simply off limits.

      Keep supporting the .450BM because it is one of the best we have until things change totally. Hopefully Hornady comes up with a more robust crimp. Maybe a textured casing / bullet interface …?

      Cheers.

    • For some reason, I think that’s why there’s a cartridge restriction.

      Yikes. They’re a lot further than 50 yards, but they are too close for my tastes when it’s open. I hunt within 200 yards of houses, but there’s dense woods between me and them. Plus I don’t shoot toward them, ever.

  3. Josh Wayner,

    That is a nice build. Thank you for the write-up.

    My solution is a rifle in .44 Magnum. Believe it or not, Winchester white box .44 Magnum, 240 grain semi-jacketed softpoints come out of a 22 inch barrel at 1900 fps. That means you have plenty of oomph to take down white-tailed deer all the way out to 200 yards.

    According to Hornady’s Ballistic calculator, that bullet should still be traveling at 1,249 fps at 200 yards. Given the large diameter (0.429 inches) and weight (240 grains), that bullet will still deliver a huge wound channel and pass-through on white-tailed deer.

    The only drawback is that drop is becoming a factor. Zeroed at 150 yards, the bullet is 2.9 inches high at 75 and 100 yards and then 7.4 inches low out at 200 yards.

    • For anyone who doubts the ability of .44 Magnum to promptly kill white-tailed deer, go find and watch YouTube videos.

      I shot a 100 pound white-tail doe with a softer load (impact velocity of about 1400 fps) to the shoulder. The impact was so violent, it spun the dear half way around and the whiplash from that spin broke its neck!

      I have no idea how to explain the physics or wounding properties. All I know is that .429 and .45 caliber soft point bullets that weigh at least 240 grains and impact at velocities of 1200 fps or greater seem to work like a sledgehammer and drop deer in very short order.

    • I forgot to mention that, for those of us who cannot cough-up $1500 for a custom rifle, you can purchase brand new single-shot, break-action rifles in .44 Magnum for $250.

      • I’ve been watching prices on CVA single shot 44 Rem Mag for this reason. I missed the $200 sale last Fall, normal price is $250. But the last time I looked, they now offer a 450 Bushmaster single shot, for the same $250.

        I think I’m sticking to the .44 for recoil reasons, might even prefer a 357 Maximum at that price (but not available).

        Regarding the law: I am sort of miffed that my 9mm carbine isn’t legal (unless I travel 20 miles north), while a 9mm pistol is legal. Also, didn’t the change to allowing treestand gun hunting change the dynamic here? Much easier/safer to chill out in a tree and shoot toward the ground.

  4. Help me out here, I have a rock river arms lar 8 in .308.
    Are you telling me that with a barrel swap, I can use my existing FAL mags and fire the .450 bm?
    If so…whooo boy.

  5. Some months ago I emailed Ruger to ask them to make a mini action (RH and LH) in .223, 7.62×39, 6.5 Grendel, and .450 Bushmaster. I really want a stutzen stock stainless LH rifle with a tan laminate stock in .450! Talk about an amazing brush gun that would get me to put my 1895 to pasture.

  6. This would be a nifty toy for you youngsters. I can’t see my old butt hauling a 16 pound rifle around for a day of hunting.

  7. Pistol caliber states… You ever consider sabots?

    You put a 100 gr .264 into a .429 sabot in a 44 mag, I bet it would do 2400+ fps.

    • Elliot, I have thought about sabots.
      At least in Michigan, you are limited to .35 caliber and larger bullets, (so 9mm/.355 or .357 I suppose)
      If I do get a .44, some day I will be looking for sabot components.

  8. BHW makes quality stuff and has a small but active and knowledgeable community. I built a 6.5 G/264 lbc AR for hunting. It’s very accurate. I’ll plus 1 for BHW.

    And don’t forget, folks,.. 450 BM is meant for the AR. You don’t have to go the expensive bolt action route. Also,… its a cart that was made to hot rod. Off the shelf the cartridge is nerfed to 38K PSI. Bushmaster tested to 50k+ PSI to no ill effects and a fat ton of handloaders are pushing this cart safely to impressive speeds. 230 grainers are 250 FPS ain’t too shabby.

  9. WI has legalized rifles just about everywhere, with no problems. I live in a former shotgun/handgun county that switched a few years ago and it has worked out well. I used to have to keep a shotgun and a rifle sighted in depending where I was going for the day, or even part of the day.
    Having lived in Michigan a long time ago, the caliber restrictions are just stupid there. Still better than NJ, where I think you’re stuck with 00 buck in most areas.

  10. You should have waited just a bit longer before spending all you money converting when you could have bought a factory made 450BM rifle. A little gun shop in Bad Axe, MI contacted Ruger with a request to make one of their Ruger American bolt action rifles chambered in 450BM. Ruger did and now this little gun store is the only place you can buy them (for now). The store received a limited production of 500 last Friday and people stood in line for hours just to get one. Another limited run of 500 is supposed to arrive this weekend. On the PBS tv show, Michigan Out of Doors, they tested this rifle at 100, 200 and 300 yards… three shots from each distance and all nine shots were within a 1 1/4″ square. There are two models to choose from… a 16″ barrel for $500.00 and a 22″ barrel with compensator for just a little more.

  11. On another note one would think the 450 bushmaster built on a modern bolt or built by Ruger might just be able to handle the loading of the 45 Raptor, adding quite a bit of performance. Most modern center fire rifle bolts are built to handle higher pressures than the AR 15. I am not saying to do so but it would sure be some thing to investigate. Could it be the 450 BM has the same problem as the 45/70. In the 45/70 the standard factory load is restricted to the pressures on the old trapdoor arms. In a modern lever bolt or single shot it can be loaded to much higher pressures. Another thought…. What I have tried is cutting down the 45/70 case to 1.8 inch. Taking a long for weight bullet like the 300 Barnes FN TSX and pulling it out to the normal OAL of a standard 45/70. This also leaves enough case capacity to use a full charge for the modern actions. If you reload and already have a 45/70 theres no need for a new gun. It’s just like shooting 38 out of your 357 but with the same velocity. About 2100 with a 300gr X bullet out of a Marlin lever.. Just ponderin.

  12. Note that as of January 2017, Ruger themselves are now selling their American rifles in .450 Bushmaster; deliveries to dealers are supposed to be in February, but may have already started. It was also shown and the SHOT Show 2017 recently. It is a “Ranch Rifle” design, fairly compact and lightweight with a 16″ barrel. I understand a 22″ SS with synthetic stock model is coming soon. Prices should be very moderate.

  13. I have busted two deer in Indiana with my 450 AR both were one shot with neither running more than a few feet

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