Anyone who has paid any attention to firearms deer hunting regulations in the Midwest will know that many traditional “shotgun only” zones have been opened up to allow hunters to use center fire rifles, albeit with limitations. In my home state of Michigan, the lower half of the lower peninsula, formerly shotgun only, now allows for “straight walled, center fire rifle and pistol cartridges, up to 1.8” in case length”. This really opens the door to many very capable medium range rounds. These include, among others, .357 mag. .357 max. 44 Mag, 454 casull, 460S&W and .450 Bushmaster. Except for the 460 and 450, most of these have been legal for a while. The .450 Bushmaster is the one standout that wasn’t available in a pistol configuration, and wasn’t legal for hunting as a center fire rifle formerly. It’s also the one round that has gotten the most attention, because it’s a real deer killer with knock down power and accuracy out to 300 yds or more, offering much better performance than the old pistol standbys, 44 mag or 357 mag. I’ve taken deer with 357 and 44 mags, and the 450BM, and I can tell you, there’s no comparison. The Bushmaster flattens deer at ranges that I’d never even attempt with a 44 mag! The Bushmaster is undoubtedly the most common new offering that’s available in rifle platforms, being originally chambered in AR-15 platforms. Now it can be found chambered in affordable factory bolt actions and the very successful Thompson Center Encore single shot rifle, IF you get an aftermarket barrel from a company like Match Grade Machine, who specializes in barrels for TC Encores and Contenders. Thompson Center doesn’t offer .450 BM as a factory option. I’ve been a fan of the Encore for a long time, and have amassed a few, which is counter intuitive because the beauty of the Encore is that with one receiver, many different barrels, with many different chamberings can be used. This includes rifle and pistol options. So I now have 6 frames and probably 14 or 15 barrel/scope combos, including a few really rare case colored frames and exhibition wood stocks…. What can I say, if you’re reading this you’re familiar with the gun nut disease. For years I have relied on a scoped, rifled 20 ga. Slug barrel for general firearms season in Southern MI., and a .50 cal. scoped Muzzle-loader barrel for blackpowder season. Both are great, accurate options, but both have 28” barrels, are weighty and in the case of the 20 ga. Slug gun, doesn’t have back-up iron sights. I have wanted a short, light, large caliber carbine for my “Southern” hunting for a while. Well my wish finally came true. I made a call to Match Grade Machine in Hurricane, UT. Their very helpful staff, quickly got me sorted out with all the specifics I was looking for, and an order was placed and in no time my new barrel was on its way. I own 4 Match Grade Machine barrels for TC Encores now and I can say without hesitation that they make a great product. Fit and finish is flawless. Accuracy is unparalleled and you can order just about any reasonable option in just about any caliber/chambering. For my new Encore barrel, in .450 Bushmaster, I wanted it to be short, 20” tops, and as light as is practical, but without punishing recoil. The specs were as follows, 20” fluted Stainless barrel, screw-on muzzle brake, iron sights, mounted ahead of a MGM 6 screw Picatinny rail, the latter being very useful for keeping a scope in place with heavy recoiling rounds, though as it turned out the muzzle brake reduced felt recoil so much that it’s not an issue. Upon delivery of my new carbine, I quickly mounted a Leupold Mark AR 1.5×4 power scope with Leupold quick detach rings. Everything dropped into place on the MGM rail and I packed up my range bag with ammo and gear and headed off to the range to sight in. Unfortunately, my preferred range was unexpectedly closed and I had to opt for another range that was limited to 100 yd targets. No worries. I quickly zeroed my previously bore-sighted barrel/scope set-up in three shots at 25 yds, and moved out to 100 yds. A few more minor adjustments and tight 1” groups were printing consistently. I zeroed the crosshairs just under 2” high at 100 yds with the intention of zeroing at 200 yds., as soon as possible. I also plan on installing a custom dial on my Leupold scope with hash marks out to 300 yds, after verifying muzzle velocity and other ballistic data in the future. 2” high at 100 should equate to dead on at 200. I fired a few more rounds back at 50 and 25 yds to memorize and record impacts at those ranges, as this gun was designed with a few local hunting spots in mind that offer mostly close range shots on deer. Removing the scope, I checked the iron sights and after a couple of tweaks, I re-attached the quick detach mounted scope, and re-verified the zero, which didn’t shift through the detach/re-attach process. At every range the MGM barrel performed flawlessly, sending big Hornady SST 250 grain slugs into very tight groups, with manageable recoil and no fuss. The .450 Bushmaster barrel from Match Grade Machine is a gem and will be my “go to” choice for Southern MI. from now on. Deer don’t stand a chance, and new year-round opportunities abound in my area with feral hogs gaining ground, and loads of coyotes ever present. This is a bona fide 300 yd gun with plenty of stout knock down power at that range! I’ll post a long term update…some time down the road, though I’m sure the results will be the same. I also own MGM barrels in .243 Win. .357 Mag. and .223. All are still performing great, and now with the “Thumper” .450 Bushmaster, MGM has me covered for everything….up to, and including bear.
Brandon Vaughan has over 40 years of personal and professional experience in a broad array of hunting and fishing disciplines, from Alaska to Belize. Past professional experience includes working as a professional guide in Alaska and around the Great Lakes region. In addition to hunting and fishing throughout the lower 48, Canada and Central America, Brandon has been an Orvis Endorsed Fly-fishing guide, a fly-fishing and fly-tying instructor, a hunting guide and shooting instructor.