Picking a Brush Gun For Whitetail

Modern Gun Whitetail Season is coming up fast here in the South. We have a lot of different terrain here that can be hunted, one of which is referred to as brush. What exactly is brush hunting? Well, it is kind of like it sounds. Heavy undergrowth in a forested area is a good descriptor. Specifically, one area where I hunt is planted with pine timber. There is an occasional open meadow that is rarely over 100 yards long. For this season I decided to change up my “brush gun.”

Requirements

I have a few requirements that a brush gun must meet. The brush and the style of hunting that I typically use in these conditions dictate these requirements. Stalk hunting is going to be the norm with minimal time spent in a stand depending on time of day and weather.

Henry makes a couple of great choices for a brush gun.

The first thing I want to look at is caliber and bullet weight. A hunt in brush can definitely mean a shot that is through the brush. With this in mind, I want a heavier bullet, around 240 grains or more. The weight is to help mitigate any deflection if the bullet hits the brush before the deer.

I also want a rifle that is easy to carry, goes quickly to the shoulder and not so long that it can get hung up in the brush. For those reasons, I want a carbine sized rifle with a 16-18” barrel. Weight is also a factor here since it will be carried a lot. For me a rifle that is around 7-8 pounds is ideal.

A 325 grain bullet moving at 2,000 f/s is no slouch.

I do not like a sling on a brush rifle. The sling is just something else to get hung up in the brush. Murphy’s Law states that this will happen as you bring the rifle to your shoulder to shoot a Boone and Crocket level buck.

The ability to mount an optic is also important, more on that below.

Henry 45-70

With all of the above said, my choice was a 45-70 lever action from Henry. I reviewed one of these here on GunsAmerica a few years ago. You can find the full write up here. Let’s take a look at the specs on the Henry 45-70:

  • Barrel Length 18.43″
  • Rate of Twist 1:20
  • Overall Length 37.5″
  • Weight 7.08 lbs.
  • Receiver Finish Blued Steel
  • Rear Sight Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn
  • Front Sight Brass Bead
  • Drilled and Tapped Scope Mount Type Weaver 63B
  • Stock Material American Walnut
  • Black Ventilated Rubber Recoil Pad
  • Length of Pull 14″

As you can see, this rifle fits my requirements pretty closely. Henry also offers a Picatinny rail for the top of the receiver for these.

Optics

Until about a year ago I would have said all you need on a brush gun is a good set of iron sights. Maybe add some color to the front bead or blade to help with quick target acquisition. As my eyes have gotten a bit older I have changed my tune.

A red dot on a lever gun? Why not?

Yes, iron will still work and for some, it is a great or even the best choice. For one thing, there is no added weight. But if you are willing to trade off a bit of weight for an optic there are a couple of things to consider.

With the brush gun idea, we are talking closer ranged shots, many of them at 50 yards or less. The maximum range distance around 100-150 yards and even that would be a rarity. So, we need to look for a low power scope or a red dot for maximum field of view. There is nothing worse than not being able to find your target because your optic is zoomed in too tight. This is especially important when on a stalk hunt its brush. You never know when you might jump a deer and have to take a shot at a target on the move.

Leupold Carbine Optic (LCO)

I went with the Leupold LCO for this brush gun. Like the Henry, this Leupold is made right here in the USA. But more importantly, it is rugged, has extremely clear glass and comes with a 1 MOA dot. I really like the small dot for if and when, I do need to take a longer shot. The zero magnification also makes having both eyes open a lot easier.

They are both made in the US of A.

The controls are very simple on the LCO. A simple push of a button turns it on. To change the brightness of the dot it is as easy are turning a dial. The dial has enough resistance to make it hard to accidentally change your setting but is still easy to turn with a gloved hand.

The LCO does set up a bit high on the Henry. If this were a traditional scope, it would be too high to get into a same check weld over and over. But one of the great things about this type of optic: the red dot doesn’t move if your head does.

It looks a bit bigger when viewed through a camera, but this is a 1 MOA dot.

I plan on a full review on the Leupold LCO after deer season when I take it off the Henry and mount to my AR without the need to sight it in again.

Range Time

I took the Henry 45-70 and Leupold LCO to the range a couple of times over the past few weeks. Just like I found in my original review of the Henry, it is a very reliable and accurate rifle. I have no issues with this gun as a hunting rifle. I would also trust the Henry in bear country where I could end up in a life or death situation. Actually, with the expansion of the feral hog population, this is not a bad idea to take into account for every hunt.

From 50 yards. I adjusted the elevation after the 1st, top, shot.

I started out at 50 yards to get the LCO sighted in for the Henry before I worked it out to 100 yards. The recoil from the 45-70 did not have any adverse effects on the LCO. It did set my zero an inch high 100 yards. My idea is that it would be a great middle ground for the varying distances.

I experienced less than 2 MOA results from the Henry and LCO with Hornady LEVERevolution 325 grain factory ammo. I am confident in that level of accuracy for a brush gun. Heck, I am happy with that from just about any rifle for hunting.

5 rounds from 100 yards. Including a shot, I pulled. The line is actually 4 rounds, that is right at 1.5 inches.

Final Thought

I feel I have a winning set up here with the Henry and the Leupold LCO. This set up fits what, in my opinion, is needed for a brush gun for Whitetail. The 45-70 with the 325 grain Hornady will drop a deer where it stands if I do my part. It will also provide enough power and penetration for even the largest hog if needed. The LCO is fast to target and the lever is quickly manipulated for a follow-up shot if needed.  With a bit of luck, I hope you will get to read a successful hunt story with this brush gun on #HUNT365.

These are my thoughts on what makes a great brush gun. Yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat and there is more than one direction to go for a brush gun. So let’s hear what you like to use in the comments. The sharing of knowledge and experiences is one of the many great things about our shooting and hunting hobbies.

The LCO does set up high compared to a traditional optic. I like this for fast shooting as it is quick to target.

The Henry made Picatinny rail mates up perfectly with the receiver.

 

***Shop GunsAmerica for your next brush gun***

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Ronald Nelson May 7, 2019, 10:25 pm

    Nothing like a 30-30 winchester round…. in a model 336C Marlin lever action… 6 rds of inexpensive 30-30 (helps at the range) Ammo available in 125 – 170 grain rds with muzzel velocities of 1500 – 2500 feet per second … producing enough energy for anything up to and including wild hogs, elk and an occassional bear. Why pay more and endure the kick of a 47-70 when a 30-30 with the proper ammo can do the same thing? Here are the ballistics for one effective 30-30 round… Muzzle velocity: 2100 fps, Velocity at 100 yards: 1875 fps, Velocity at 200 yards: 1669 fps, Muzzle energy: 1860 ft/lbs, Energy at 100 yards: 1483 ft/lbs, Energy at 200 yards: 1172 ft/lbs… enough for bear … anyone who needs more knock down power had better learn how to place his shots.

  • kimberpross November 20, 2018, 3:26 pm

    My choice is .44 mag. I have Marlin 1894, also a Ruger Deerfield (99/44) as mentioned above. The Deerfield is short, quick on target, light and tame recoil with demonstrated killing energy out to 200 yards and can shoot 1.5 MOA with the right ammo. I choose to load my own hot and give up a little on grouping to deliver maximum energy since most shots are within 100 yards.. I will say that I missed on a nice buck at 20 yards because of sawing in half a small tree about 3/4 in. in diameter 5 feet in front of the deer. It deflected the bullet for a complete miss. The nice thing about the round is you can stay on target and get off a couple more shots before the target is out of sight. I also hunt with a Ruger Redhawk in a 44 mag. with a Leupold red dot. I like it while still hunting in the woods. It is easily carried at the ready when crouching under branches and plowing through rough areas. It levels the playing field with the deer, gives them a sporting chance. But there is nothing more satisfying than harvesting a nice buck with a pistol.

  • Bruce Allan Hall November 13, 2018, 5:20 pm

    I think the 45/70 is way to much gun for any deer, and for most people to shoot without saying OUCH!
    Most people shoot a lever action 45/70 once and sell it. You just can’t beat a 30/30 winchester for the brush and for the $$$.

  • Ricky Price November 13, 2018, 3:11 pm

    I’ve own one for 30 years. Never loss nothing in the woods. If i was going to Alaska and had one gun. It would be a 45-70 .

  • KCsmith November 12, 2018, 10:14 pm

    Poorly set up. Your cheek is an inch or more too high off of the stock to get a proper weld, caused by how high that window on the red dot is.

    • dg July 8, 2021, 10:15 am

      Agree with KCsmith. Not a good cheek weld or a natural position for quick shooting with the optic set up that high above the bore. Other red dot sights may be able to be mounted lower, closer to the bore. Certainly a low power scope can be. Of if I were wedded to the sight he is using I would have an add on cheek rest on the stock

  • Ross November 12, 2018, 3:26 pm

    For many years I used a Marlin 336C with a 1.5 to 5 power scope. I killed many deer with this rifle. Then I switched to a 300 Black Out AR with a 2 to 10 power scope and killed a couple of deer with it. This year I will be using a 450 Bush Master AR with a 1 to 5 power illuminated scope.

  • Vaughn Winslett November 12, 2018, 12:09 pm

    45-70 or 12 gauge slug.

  • Dean Gilbert November 12, 2018, 11:56 am

    I use my 1895 Marlin 45-70 for everything out to 200 yards. I’ve taken Elk, Mule Deer and Black Bear with no problem. Didn’t have to chase any critter. They dropped in their tracks. 45-70 is a great brush gun. I’ll be finding out what it can do on a Texas Hog Hunt this next spring.

  • TomC November 12, 2018, 11:41 am

    Brush gun: Old Marlin RC in 35 Remington. 30-30 Win is great, but the 35 Rem gives you a little extra. Both are available in the Hornady LeverRevolution making their trajectories a little flatter. 45-70 Govt seems too much for deer, especially Southern deer, as opposed to thick-furred 250 lb Northern whitetails in northern New England. The 35 Rem is also good because, like the 45-70, can handle black bear, which may be in season at the same time as deer. Cost is another negative factor for the 45-70 and 35 Rem. For cost and availability of ammo, (I bought some at $10.99/20 recently), the 30-30 is the winner.

  • Major A.W.Oliver November 12, 2018, 10:44 am

    Very much a lack of understanding of ballistics. The tests posted time and time again, using “Bush busters” verse current flat shooting rounds, shooting thru brush to target show little or no effect.
    But I do like to carry hunting many of the listed large bore Thumpers.
    Here Retired in Oregon, the game may be Deer, mule or Blacktails, Black Bear, Elk or Cougar.
    The key’s to success has never changed. “Hit the game in the boiler room”. Make sure your tool will do what you expect: practice and practice, your weapon will only work as you make it do so. Always zero before your hunts and check to make sure your quality optics are on tight. Shoot game at ranges you can hit a 8” circle constantly.
    As it goes; i shoot a 30/30 in a Win 94, .and TC, 300 Black out, 450BM in a AR 15, 45-70 in Marlin lever and TC pistol, love my M-7 Rem. with custom 358Win Bbl.. long rang capable .300WSM, and the 338WM. For the Big stuff.

  • Charlie November 12, 2018, 9:35 am

    I find the Henry a very dependable gun. It would be a better one if they would make it like the old Winchester Saddle Gun and put the loading gate on the side instead of the tube. It would be safer to load, eliminating the muzzle being close to the body.

  • Ken November 12, 2018, 9:04 am

    I have found that for the white tail deer, a Winchester Mod 1907 .351 WSL rifle works wonderfully with plain old iron sights. They are short, they break down into two pieces, and they have a proven track record all the way from WW I till now. Unfortunately they discontinued manufacture in the early 1950s. My Granddad and my dad used them to kill a lot of deer and I have continued the tradition. Great for brushy country and then I have the .30-06 or the .264 Mag for open areas with longer ranges.

  • Paul Bihm November 12, 2018, 9:01 am

    I hunted Indiana, now Minnesota some, and use a Ruder Model 44 Carbine for brush and stand. Why this light weight rifle is over looked is a mystery to me. Same size as a Ruger’s 10-22 and looks like it too. I have trouble focusing a scope with glasses so I started using an Eotech 512 holographic sight. I can bench rest 3 inch groups at 100 yards. My son borrowed it 10 years ago and I had to buy him one to get mine back.

    • LJ November 12, 2018, 12:26 pm

      I purchased a 10/22 and a .44 carbine together back in the late 70’s from a department store. ‘Richway’, I believe was the name. If memory serves me I paid $69 for the 10/22 and about $170 for the .44 carbine. That .44 carbine was one of the best brush guns I ever owned. Unfortunately I trade the .44 in the mid-eighties for a Contender after cracking the stock shooting heavy hand loads.

      I recently found a really nice RS model on GB and have to have it. It cost quite a bit more than what I paid for that first .44!

      This was probably one of the most popular brush guns Ruger ever made and why they don’t reproduce it I’ll never know. If they did I’m sure they’d sell for over a $1000!

  • Tim November 12, 2018, 7:40 am

    I have Winchesters but I prefer using a Marlin 95 in 45-70. I have taken deer, moose and bear with that rifle but now that I am old my eyes are getting bad. So bad that I am not using the Marlin this year. Insead I have been carrying a bolt gun in 9.3×62 and a low powered scope. It works but is not nearly as fast as the Marlin. I have been on the fence about scoping the Marlin with a 1×4 Leupold or a skinner sight. I fear the scope will change the handling qualities and I am not sure my eyes are good enough for the skinner sight. This article has given me another option to consider.

  • ROBERT LOVEN November 12, 2018, 6:58 am

    I HAVE A 45-70,WILLTHE LEUPOLD SIGHT FIT ON MY RIFLE WITHOUT ALTERATIONS?

  • Pete November 12, 2018, 6:40 am

    I used to hunt in the mountains in Virginia between Front Royal and Luray. My stand gun was a .30-06. When I began hunting 60 years ago, the nearest gas station carried ammo– .30-30, .22 RF, .30-06, and 12 gauge. For anything else you had to drive into Front Royal, an extra 45 minutes one way. If you needed to replace your ammo, it was wise to need one of those listed. For tracking a wounded animal in brush– I never wounded a deer– I carried a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum.

  • Matt November 7, 2018, 2:47 pm

    Winchester Model 94 30-30, I have the saddle ring model which is extra short. Ammo anywhere you need it. Love the gun and it’s shot more whitetail than any other gun in North America.

  • Frank louthan November 7, 2018, 1:20 pm

    Why not a 20 ga slug gun? I have found rifled chokes do wonders relative to a whole new barrel, especially under 100 yds. Follow up shot(s) can be buck shot too

  • Phil November 7, 2018, 11:38 am

    A Marlin 336 in 35 Rem works for me. Plus I know what it can do and it has a proven history. Like *&&##=÷ everyone has an opinion.

    • Marc November 12, 2018, 6:23 am

      Ditto brother. I also carry an old 1894 chambered in .44 mag with a Burris Scout scope on it. Just sighted both in and waiting for Nov. 17. Good luck to all and be safe out there.

  • Alan Robinson November 7, 2018, 8:57 am

    The ultimate ‘Brush Gun’ is a Revolver, though a well set up Pistol will do too. Compact, and still hard hitting, in proper hands and properly set up, it can and will take ‘ol Whitey out to 100 yards and beyond.
    Been there, done that.
    I hunted Indiana Whitetails for 20 years with a Blackhawk in .45LC, and never lost a one.
    Now I hunt Colorado Muleys and Elk with a Blackhawk Hunter in that caliber, and it’s just as effective.

  • Dan November 7, 2018, 7:57 am

    The Brush Gun. I don’t think a lot of hunters know the importance of the brush gun and what role it plays. If I am hunting on the ground, or on my way to a fixed stand, I have a brush gun in hand while getting there. I’ll carry a scoped rifle slung to my back. If I am hunting from a stand, the brush gun just stays on the ground; if I’m hunting from the ground, both are at my reach. I hunt in S.C. and most of the area I hunt is thick; a lot of shots are taken inside 20 yards at a deer on the move.
    My current brush gun is nothing elegant or fancy; it simply serves a function. Mine is a Stoger P350. Black parkerized metal and black synthetic stock; 18″ barrel. After the first couple hunts with this gun, I realized that with the added thickness of berber fleece, the stock was a bit too long and would drag as I brought it up to aim. So the first modification was to remove the recoil pad and I used a coping saw to remove the last 1″ or so from the stock (remember, it’s a $300 gun); reattached the recoil pad and contoured it to fit neatly, and it looks like it came that way; I have a sling swivel on the stock whose only purpose is to keep a shell holder in place that would otherwise want to slide forward on the stock. The second modification I realized I needed after the first hunt was to strategically place strips of camo moleskin under the fore-arm slides to quiet down and take up a bit of slop. Lastly, a small round dot of white paint on the front iron sight, which was solid black, for target acquisition. That’s pretty much it. It’s compact, quick to draw, is functional and effective. And not expensive.

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