Tom Lounsbury: 'Dynamic Duo' of Michigan’s Limited Firearms Zone

Highly popular .450 Bushmaster, .350 Legend rounds designed for deer hunting

The entire complexion of deer hunting in southern Michigan was changed when the “Shotgun Zone” became the “Limited Firearms Zone” in 2014, allowing rifles to be used.

The rules are quite simple and to the point, requiring cartridges to be straight-wall design, .35 caliber or larger with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.80 inches. Other states soon followed Michigan’s lead in this regard.

The rules typically related to handgun cartridges from .357 Magnum (per minimum case length) to .460 S&W Magnum (per maximum case length). However, one qualifying cartridge designed specifically for rifles was the .450 Bushmaster, which was brought out by Hornady Ammunition in 2007 for use in AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.

The .450 Bushmaster round was originally designed to give an AR-15 rifle the ability to effectively kill big-game animals out to 250 yards. Despite political and anti-gun rhetoric, AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are accurate, dependable and quite popular with today’s hunters. They are also quite versatile due to their two-piece design which involves an “upper” and a “lower,” and calibers can be easily changed by simply knocking out a couple pins to separate matters and changing the upper.

A .223 caliber AR-15 rifle, which is ideal for varmint hunting, can be conveniently and quickly changed to .450 Bushmaster for big-game hunting.

In 2014, besides the AR-15, there were custom .450 Bushmaster caliber barrels for the single-shot T/C Encore as well as custom-built bolt-action rifles, all of which are quite pricey. Randy Brown of Randy’s Hunting Center in Bad Axe realized there was a need for an affordable bolt-action rifle in .450 Bushmaster, and worked with Ruger to create such. He would also work with Leupold Optics to create a scope that would allow the rifle to be accurate out to 300 yards, by simply clicking in the estimated yardage.

The Ruger American .450 Bushmaster rifle first became available at Randy’s Hunting Center in early autumn 2016, just in time for the deer season, and became an automatic hit with hunters who traveled to Bad Axe from all over Michigan, as well as from other states, to purchase the new rifle and scope combination. As they say, the rest is history.

Due to an obvious demand, the .450 Bushmaster now comes in a variety of affordable rifles from various firearms manufacturers, thanks to Randy Brown’s earlier foresight, and there is a wide selection of ammo types. In 2016, only Hornady and Remington offered .450 Bushmaster ammunition, but today there is a splendid variety available, including light-recoiling subsonic rounds.

There is no question the .450 Bushmaster quickly became and remains the favorite caliber for deer hunting in southern Michigan’s Limited Firearms Zone, and a very impressive amount of deer are being bagged by it each year.

The .450 Bushmaster is truly a “deer thumper,” yet in my opinion, it has quite a manageable recoil, especially with a muzzle brake. On the opening morning of the current firearm deer season, my 12-year-old grandson, Orlando Lounsbury, used my Mossberg “Patriot” rifle in .450 Bushmaster to drop a four-point buck in its tracks at 30 yards.

The Mossberg rifle is equipped with a Mag-Na-Port muzzle brake and Orlando dearly loves to shoot it. The fact is, I’ve talked to a number of young hunters who enjoy hunting with the dependable .450 Bushmaster caliber and find the recoil quite manageable.

Winchester Ammunition would unveil its newly-developed .350 Legend cartridge at the 2019 Shot Show in Las Vegas, and the Winchester Repeating Arms Company had a bolt-action rifle ready to go and to stock gun dealer shelves. The new cartridge was touted as possessing a mild recoil and a flat trajectory that offered enough knockdown power in taking deer-sized game animals out to 200 yards or so.

This grand entrance at the Shot Show obviously struck a chord with deer hunters who are required by law to use straight-wall cartridges, and it offered a totally new option, especially for recoil-sensitive shooters, such as kids.

The .350 Legend is .35 caliber and has a straight-wall, 1.71-inch case length which easily meets the rules. Although it has the same nominal rim diameter as the .223 Remington round, the .350 Legend is uniquely created in its own design and features a slightly tapered and longer case than the .223 Remington. The slight taper allows for more dependable function and the longer case length allows for more gunpowder to create optimum performance.

As with the .450 Bushmaster, ammunition and firearms manufacturers soon realized that there was a blossoming and steadily growing .350 Legend demand, and this caliber can be found in a variety of affordable rifle makes and designs as well as a wide ammunition selection.

I’ve been following up on the success rate of .350 Legend users during the previous two deer seasons at every opportunity, and by all accounts, the local deer hunters I’ve talked to who use it have been quite satisfied.

The first hunters I interviewed were a number of kids bringing their deer into a local deer processor during the 2019 Youth Deer Season, and they all felt it was a great and effective caliber to shoot, plus they had the evidence of prime venison to prove it. I’ve also talked to hunters who have used the .350 Legend to put deer down for the count near the 200-yard mark, and most were one-shot kills. Like all bullets, it will get the job done if properly placed.

On the second morning of this year's firearm deer season, my 8-year-old cousin, Leiya Lounsbury of Cass City, used her scoped Savage bolt-action rifle in .350 Legend to drop a dandy eight-point buck in its tracks with one shot at 78 yards. Leiya began deer hunting last year using a crossbow, during which she shot her first deer, a dandy nine-point. She had no problem at all in adjusting to shooting her .350 Legend rifle and was eager to use it in the field, especially since she had not had any luck during the recent archery season.

I do believe the .450 Bushmaster still holds the lead in popularity, hands down, but the .350 Legend has a strong and steadily growing following (I’m presently giving it a try myself).

There is no doubt in my mind that the .450 Bushmaster and .350 Legend are the "Dynamic Duo" of calibers for quite a few deer hunters in Michigan’s Limited Firearms Zone.

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