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The "Brush Buster" Myth

Author: Stan Warren

Everyone knows that heavy, round-nosed bullets plow through brush better than the skinny, pointed types...right?

Marlin .444
Everyone knows (don't they) that heavy, round-nosed bullets plow through brush better than the skinny, pointed types. Alas, the facts do not bear witness to this gray-bearded shooting axiom.

The fellow showed up on the Cumberland Plateau in hopes of getting a shot at one of the long-toothed porkers that call that rugged area home. His rifle was a spanking new .444 Marlin, and he figured that the 240-grain bullet with a fat chunk of blue-gray lead showing would be just the ticket. With its modest velocity of about 2,300 feet per second, his shooting logic dictated that it would shoulder through the laurel and rhododendron with no trouble.

After a clean miss and another shot that struck well away from his point of aim, our hero figured that his sights were off. A check back at the hunting lodge showed no such problem. Instead, his brush buster just could not do what had been expected.

Please do not get me wrong here. I like the .444 Marlin and cartridge of similar design, but at the same time have no illusions. The .30-30, .35 Remington, .45-70 and others may not be speed demons, but will certainly write a solid ending for various sorts of big game. It is a mistake, however, to think that they can perform the impossible.

The purveyor of these words has no sacred cows in the shooting business. After all, who else would go to the trouble to prove that round-nosed bullets can be doggoned nearly as accurate as spitzers under hunting conditions?

Let us take a look at the actual configuration of the lauded brush busters and see if physics and common sense cannot combine to point out a few problems. First of all, most of the flat-point and round-nosed bullets are fairly short compared to their length. That means in the language of the trade, that it will have a rather low ballistic coefficient while a longer, more trimly shaped bullet will have a higher ballistic coefficient. The bullet which is longer for its weight will overcome the resistance of air better, hence will have better ranging abilities. Now, we are not worried about long distance work, but rather crashing through limbs, brush and other obstacles between us and the target. Does the BC have any bearing here. Yep, sorry to say that it does.

First of all, a short, fat bullet has a short axis on which to spin, thus maintaining its gyroscopic effect. Tip that chubby chunk of lead by hitting an obstruction and it can go all giddy on you. As strange as it may sound, a longer, slimmer bullet is actually harder to tip off its axis and be rendered a flyer or ricochet. If you do not believe me, check with the folks at NASA who design rockets.

For instance, the BC of the bullets being used in the .444 mentioned earlier ran .165 while that of a 150-grain round nosed bullet in .30 caliber checks in at .266 in the Speer configuration. More racy designs intended for distance work can reach around .425, and you can take it from me that they work just fine in the woods. Now we come to the real truth: nothing can be counted on to "shoot through" obstructions.

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that this concept is not something new and radical springing from the Space Age. In my library is an excellent book by Lawrence Koller called "Shots At Whitetails" in which he documents these same results. His choice for woods work on deer was the .250-3000 Savage despite the fact that the copyright date on the work is 1948. You can bet that Mr. Koller was hunting when there were a substantial number of .38-55, .44-40 and other big bore rifles were in use.

The exposed lead necessary on bullets lacking high velocity becomes another hindrance here. Think about it: that soft lead that is carefully formed to make the bullet as accurate as possible is not going to like smacking into things, not even in a small way. Hit a limb, even a small one, with that soft metal portion of the pill you are trying to deliver and it is going to deform, tear or both. What we could call its ballistic integrity, the accuracy potential of the original shape, has been damaged or destroyed.

I can recall as a youngster when the only baseball available for our games started to shed its leather cover. Not only was it hard to throw straight, but the wind resistance and lack of a concentric shape made getting any distance out of a hit or throw almost impossible. You sure could throw some tricky pitches, however. We could go on to compare a basketball and football, how one does a good job on straight line throws and the other does not. I think you get the picture.

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