For the seasoned hunter, hunting in the woods can be more enjoyable than hunting in open fields. Nothing beats that feeling of thrill and excitement you get while quietly stalking your game as you go deeper and deeper into the woods.
As you spot your target from a little over a hundred yards, you get to blend in with the flora, providing cover which, in turn, gives you time to catch your breath for a bit. You proceed with aiming down your rifle scope. Now there's only the waiting.
You wait for that animal to turn, gradually, ever so slightly feeling a little anxious and impatient. Waiting for that perfect broadside shot can be agonizing, if only because of the weight of your rifle. Finally, you feel those last bursts of adrenaline as you slowly pull your rifle's trigger.
You hear that familiar loud bang, and shortly after, your prey starts nimbly running away. Confused, you go to where the animal was standing when you took the shot, hoping you'd see a blood trail leading to a carcass. But you don't see any. You missed.
Was it the scope? No, it couldn't be. You're pretty sure you got it zeroed the day before. So it had to be that cumbersome bolt-action, and the caliber it is chambered for.
To the novice hunter, hunting in the woods can be a little daunting, if not intimidating -- whether you've only ever hunted in open fields before or you've never done any hunting in your entire life. There are just too many things to take into consideration:
Some that immediately come to mind are:
- The game animal you are looking to bag. Is it going to be a deer, a hog, maybe an elk or a moose?
- Are you going to hunt in a tree stand?
- Will you be using a hunting blind?
- What will the weather be like?
- Are you expecting to cross paths with an apex predator, e.g. a black bear or a grizzly?
All aforementioned will determine two very important things: first, the provisions you'll need to bring along with you (which, for the purpose of this article, we won't be touching on); and second, which is perhaps more important: the rifle that will be best for hunting in the woods.
Now I'm aware that some of our readers have served in the army (and I thank them all for their service). To them, picking a rifle for tactical approaches might be a no-brainer. But with the myriad of hunting rifles on the market today, choosing a hunting rifle for the woods a.k.a. a brush gun, can be complicated... even to them.
What is a brush gun?
I've hunted all sorts of hunting spots in America: broomsage fields, swamps, thick brushed trails, over-planted pine tracts, bottomland hardwoods and clearcuts. I'm not one to brag but I think I've seen it all. And wherever I go, regardless of the weather and terrain, I bring my Henry All-Weather in 45-70 which is my go-to brush gun. I do have a back-up, a Magnum Research BFR chambered in the same rifle caliber, but we’ll focus on my brush gun for now.
What is a brush gun, some of you might ask. Different people have different opinions on what a brush gun is. I'm not going to talk about those opinions because that would be a waste of time. I'll just tell you what my take on the subject is.
A relatively light but rugged and robustly built lever-action chambered in a relatively slow moving big bore caliber that uses a heavy bullet with a flat meplat (easily punching through thickets without deviating from its trajectory) is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear brush gun.
The rifle should be light enough that when needed, I can manage to lug it around while walking and climbing up and down tree stands all day without feeling too tired. But it also has to have enough weight to it, to help with handling the stout recoil commonly associated with the kinds of big bore rifle calibers it is usually chambered for. And when the weather is bad, I’d like to not worry about it rusting.
Why Choose Lever-Action
Compared to a bolt-action rifle, a lever-action is typically shorter and lighter, giving any hunter an advantage in speed and maneuverability. It is faster to aim, faster to shoot and faster for follow-up shots, which makes it the better option for bear defense. Reliability and high magazine capacity are also standard features.
The lever-action rifle has been popular in America for well over a century. It was in 1866 when Oliver Winchester, the founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, introduced the Model 1866 "Yellow Boy”. This type of rifle is easily identified by the loop lever which doubles as the trigger guard. As it has no use for a bolt handle, the receiver’s sides are flat and uncluttered, making it convenient for hand carry.
As a rifle that uses a tubular magazine, it isn’t without its disadvantages which, thankfully, are easily mitigated by caliber choice. For one, it prohibits the use of conventional spitzers: aerodynamic bullets with a pointed nose primarily designed for better accuracy and longer range. These bullets’ pointed nose rests directly on the primer of the succeeding cartridge within the magazine, potentially causing a catastrophic failure of epic proportions.
A workaround exists in Hornady’s FTX spitzer-type bullets but for the rifle caliber I’m recommending (the .45-70 Gov’t) and for the lever-action’s intended purpose as a brush gun, using those won’t be necessary.
Another commonly known disadvantage is, compared to a bolt-action chambered for the same caliber, a lever-action rifle will not be as accurate for long range shooting. This is caused by a few things inherent to its design: it uses two-piece stocks, its bolt locks at the rear, its rear sight mounting slot is cut into the barrel, and its forearm and magazine tube are attached to the barrel by a barrel band.
Thankfully, modern lever-action rifles are capable of shooting smaller than one minute-of-aim groups, accuracy levels rivaling even those of modern sub-MOA bolt-actions. A half-decent marksman should have no problem taking game out to 100 yards, which is about the farthest I’d attempt to shoot a whitetail or a hog when hunting in the woods anyway.
If you want the best rifle for hunting in the woods, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than modern lever-action rifles chambered for big-bore calibers such as the .45-70 Gov’t. They’re rugged and reliable, doggone accurate, and they can shoot as fast as you’d want them to.
I would highly recommend the Henry All-Weather in 45-70 Gov’t. It has all the qualities I want in a perfect brush gun and it’s easy on the eyes too. Best of all, it’s priced just right. You’re sure to bag any game animal in North America with this fine hunting weapon.