.450 Bushmaster Bear


AR users will find plenty of magazine brand options on the market.

By Judd Cooney

Yahoo! My very first shot at 25 yards was only an inch low and centered directly under the center ring X. After adjusting the elevation up 16 clicks my next bullet obliterated the X in the center of the target. An hour earlier I'd reluctantly taken the super accurate .223 barrel and upper receiver off my Bushmaster AR-15, and replaced it with a Remington/Bushmaster upper receiver and barrel in.450 Bushmaster. This was followed even more reluctantly by pulling the Nikon 2.5 -10X Monarch scope off the .223 barrel and, after recording the scope settings, mounting it on the new upper.

Fortunately, I had an extra pair of Burris half-inch Picatinny riser mounts to get the 30mm scope high enough on the flattop receiver for proper eye relief and alignment. Because of the scope height, my regular bore sighter wouldn't work and I had to sight in the scope by the seat of my pants. I'd managed to obtain two boxes of the hard-to-get .450 Bushmaster ammo, directly from Hornady, that wasn't even on the open market yet. With only 40 rounds on hand for sighting in, and my bear hunt the next day, I was ecstatic, to say the least, when my first two shots had me right on at 25 yards. At 100 yards my first shot was 1 inch high and perfectly centered. I added three more clicks of elevation and my next bullet hit 1.8 inches high. Remarkably, the next two shots cut the same hole. Only six shots with a new rifle/scope /caliber combo and I was ready for any bear within 200 yards. I'd rather be lucky than good any day.

The .450 Bushmaster round is a straight sided case loaded with a 250-grain Hornady SST bullet at 2,200 fps. Sighted 1.8 inches high at 100 yards, the 250-grain bullet will be dead center at 150 yards and 4.9 inches low at 200 yards. Not long-range ballistics but the hefty bullet has plenty of punch for any North American big-game animal inside of 200 yards. I figured the phenomenal accuracy and minimal recoil from my Bushmaster should make this an ideal bear rifle for fall hunting.

I'd drawn one of Colorado's coveted fall bear licenses and when I was showing my new acquisition to Lloyd Thompson, my neighbor and equally avid shooter and hunter, he gave me some great news. He'd been cutting firewood near a small tank dam on U.S. Forest Service land not far from my house, and had seen a sow, two cubs, and a huge chocolate boar watering at the pond and feeding nearby on the abundant acorn crop.

It was into the second week of the season before I got the .450 barrel and ammo and had the Bushmaster sighted in and ready for the hunt. It didn't take much coaxing to get Lloyd to accompany me on an afternoon hunt. According to him, he'd seen the bears early in the afternoon so we planned on being in position by 2 p.m.

An hour after Lloyd and I slipped quietly into the area and sat comfortably at the base of a couple Ponderosa pines on a slope 100 yards above the small cattail-choked tank dam, a flock of Merriam's turkeys sauntered out of the oakbrush and spent a half hour around the waterhole. An hour later a blonde colored sow black bear and two dark cubs came over the tank's berm, and drank nonchalantly among the reeds and cattails. During a lull in the activity I'd used my rangefinder to range different points around the waterhole and figured the longest shot would be a bit less than 100 yards — easy range for the .450.

Anticipation was building with the approach of prime hunting time and I was just on the verge of unlimbering my predator call and filling the surrounding woods with some "free-lunch" sounds when a Colorado conservation officers vehicle appeared on the jeep trail leading to the waterhole. The young officer quickly spotted my blaze orange vest and hat and drove up to where we sat. He apologized profusely for possibly ruining our hunt and stated he was new in the area and just checking the backroads. He had never been in this area before. He eyed my AR-15, but didn't say anything so I showed him a clip full of .450 rounds along with my bear license to alleviate any question about the rifle's legality. Colorado requires at least a 6mm caliber for big game. He wasted no time in getting out of the area and Lloyd and I settled back for the remainder of the hunt.

I waited for 15 minutes after the officer's truck departed, then started squealing and squalling on my super raspy Burnham Black Magic call. Bear calling with a predator call is most effective when you call almost constantly. A bear has a very short attention span and will keep coming as long as it can hear the sound of the call and center its attention on the source of the sound. A responding bear will generally stop when the sound ceases. I've used this quirk a number of times to stop bears in perfect position for a shot with both bow and gun. Continuous calling with an electronic caller, with its infinite variety of sounds, is certainly a much easier task. It takes a lot of lung power to blow a mouth call continuously for the hour I usually stay on a bear calling stand. However, in many states it is illegal to use an electronic caller for big game, so be sure and check the state laws where you plan on calling bears.

I was still blowing heartily on the mouth call 15 minutes later when yet another vehicle drove up behind the dam and stopped. Lloyd looked at me and shook his head in unbelieving frustration. We'd both hunted this waterhole for turkeys, elk, and bear on numerous occasions and had never seen another vehicle. The second vehicle was jockeying around on the roadway 100 yards below the tank when I caught a movement in the oakbrush to the side of the tank. A chocolate colored bear strode into the open, paused briefly, and then disappeared into the cattails surrounding the tank. I'd quit calling when the SUV appeared so I couldn't be sure if he was coming to the call or simply coming for an evening drink. Fortunately the second vehicle was below and behind the pond's berm and out of sight of the bear and vice versa.

The action happened so quickly I didn't get a chance to judge the bear's size, but Lloyd whispered, "I think that's the big bear I've seen here before." With that information, I got into solid shooting position with my AR-15 firmly settling on the Bog Pod bipod and waited for the bear to reappear.

After a few tense minutes, the car on the road evidently started its engine and proceeded to turn around in the roadway. The bruin's sharp ears picked up the vehicle sounds and the bear bolted out of the cattails and hesitated trying to pinpoint the source of the sounds. I didn't think it was a huge bear but it was definitely a nice bear with heavily furred fall pelt.

The instant the spooked bear stopped, quartering toward me at 85 yards, I settled the Nikon's crosshairs on his shoulder and applied pressure to the crisp single stage Timney trigger I'd installed in the Bushmaster to replace the heavy factory job. At the bark of the rifle, the bear hit the ground flipped around a couple times and disappeared back into the reeds. With the fast action of the AR, I could have sent several more rounds into the bear before it disappeared into the reeds, but I felt good about the first shot and had a clear view around the pond in case he appeared again.

Our truck was parked just over the hill and Lloyd headed for it while I eased up on the pond. He found my Jack Russell terrier, Feisty, throwing a fit after hearing the shot. He turned her loose and she immediately headed for the pond. When she hit the bear scent she bailed into the reeds and proceeded to climb on top of the bear's back, barely visible above the waist deep muddy water, and started pulling hair, not the slightest bit cowed by a critter 20 times her size.

The 250-grain slug broke the onside shoulder, destroyed both lungs, and exited behind the far shoulder leaving a fist-sized exit hole. You can't ask for better performance than that from either the rifle or the .450 round. This combination will have a permanent place in my hunting arsenal from now on.

.450 Bushmaster Bear

The .450 Bushmaster or "Thumper" as it's been labeled was originally designed by Tim Le Gendre of LeMag Firearms and called the 450 Professional. Bushmaster wanted a cartridge that would work in the AR-15 action with enough power to make one shot kills on big game out to 250 yards and figured the .450 was just the ticket. Bushmaster joined forces with Hornady whose engineers shortened the .284 case from 1.771 inches to 1.70 inches and gave the case a slight taper from base to case mouth to accommodate Hornady's .452 inch, 250-grain flex tip SST bullet. That bullet has proven to be extremely effective on big game when used in muzzleloaders, so it was a natural for the .450.

The .450 Bushmaster round has the same overall length as the popular .223 round at 2.260 inches. Length is a key factor in what cartridges will function in the AR. Hunters can easily switch upper assembly and barrel units from a predator caliber to an effective medium range big game cartridge.

The 250-grain Hornady factory bullet leaves the .450 barrel at around 2,215 fps with 2,722 foot pounds of muzzle energy, twice that of the .223 and very similar to the .45-70. At 200 yards, the .450 has about the same muzzle energy as a .44 magnum handgun load at the muzzle. Even with this hefty wallop, the .450 Bushmaster in the AR-15 produces relatively mild recoil, about the same as a 20-gauge shotgun.

Bushmaster offers the .450 Bushmaster upper assembly and barrel unit with either a 16-inch or 20-inch barrel that retails for $795. One might say that the .450 Bushmaster, "Thumper," is the AR-15 rifle with a serious attitude adjustment.

Story Continues