It happened again. It spite of all the testing that has been done with results to the contrary over the past four decades, two mainline publications once again both carried features outlining the best 'brush' cartridges. Both concluded that certain bullet weights and calibers would 'cut brush' and both are wrong! There are no cartridges that can be counted on to deliver killing shots through brush of any size. When a high speed projectile hits a twig or sapling or brush or bush or tree, anything can happen and very little of it is positive. Of course some are better than others. I would certainly expect a 500 grain .458 bullet to 'cut brush' better than a high speed projectile such as the .220 Swift. Maybe. At least if one hits a small tree in front of the intended quarry, the .458 might go through completely. Again, maybe.

No, brush guns do not enable us to shoot through brush. They are so named simply because they handle easier in heavy cover or thick brush and most importantly, they come up to the shoulder and swing ever so smooooothly. The easiest carrying brush guns are short barreled, quick on the first shot, and just as quick to chamber a second shot. That means a levergun. Since we are talking close quarters, we do not need a three hundred yard cartridge such as the .270, .30-06, or 7mm Magnum.

And since we are looking at cartridges, is there really any such thing as knock down power? In my limited hunting experience I have shot enough animals from 90 pound whitetails to 1500 pound eland to say I have never seen one "knocked down". I have seen plenty drop in their tracks but they were not knocked down, they were simply killed instantly. Only in the movies does any living thing move backwards when shot. I will qualify this knockdown business somewhat after having read Pondoro by John Taylor. Taylor was an elephant hunter of no little experience between the two World Wars who points out that due to the skeletal structure of an elephant and the nature of the skull, it is easy to knock them out, out mind you, not down, with a properly placed bullet in the head. Taylor also talks of brush guns and relates how he was almost killed when he could not swing a long barreled rifle quickly enough in heavy brush.

We have two superb 'brush' cartridges to pick from in levergun persuasion. Again, we are not talking cartridges that will penetrate brush. We are talking close-range cartridges that will deliver a big heavy bullet at ranges up to 100 yards, more likely 50 yards, and do it quickly and efficiently. Those two chamberings are the .444 Marlin and the .45-70. The old .45-70 has been around for nearly one hundred and twenty-five years now and with today's guns and bullets it is totally up to date. The .444 Marlin is a product of the 1960's and came about after the introduction of the .44 Magnum in both sixgun and levergun.

The .444 Marlin used the same 240 grain bullet as the .44 Magnum revolver originally and really only became a big game rifle cartridge with the introduction of Hornady's 265 grain jacketed flat nosed bullet. Before the advent of the .444, custom leverguns had been built up using the .30-40 Krag case blown out straight, loaded with .44 caliber sixgun bullets, and chambered in a Marlin 336 or Winchester 94.

The .45-70 first saw the light of day in 1873 making it a frontier contemporary of the .44-40 and .45 Colt. The .44-40 was originally chambered in the Winchester Model 1873, the .45 Colt in the Peacemaker or Colt Single Action Army, and the .45-70 was the military cartridge of the time in the single-shot Springfield Trapdoor. All three cartridges, rather than being ancient and decrepit, are enormously popular today.

Marlin leverguns are offered today in both .444 Marlin and .45-70. Both of these finely built big bores, rather than being slick handlin', easy packin', made-for-tight-spot-use guns, are long barreled and heavy and actually feel quite unlike most leverguns. They are built as long- range guns while chambered for short-range cartridges. Good solid guns that can be easily improved. At least two gunsmiths are specializing in building beautiful big bore brush guns on Marlin leverguns. Both men take the basic Marlins and turn them into leverguns that handle nearly as easily and as slick as the Winchester Model '94 .30-30.

These two gunsmiths are Jim West ( Wild West Guns) of Alaska and Keith DeHart of Houston Texas. Both men use the basic Marlin levergun to build an easy handlin' brush gun but they are as widely spaced apart in their approach to the project as their respective states with the only common touch being the short carbine length barrels. However the resulting leverguns from both gunsmiths are perfect examples of superb brush guns.

Shooting two custom Marlin leverguns, one in each of the big bore chamberings of .444 and .45-70, from each gunsmith has been my good pleasure. Three of the leverguns, a .444 and two .45-70's were picked up personally over the past few years from the used gun rack of our local gunshop Shapel's, and then sent forth to be expertly customized by these 'smiths. The fourth, a .444 Marlin, is Jim West's personal levergun which, unfortunately, had to be returned to Alaska.

What then do these two gunsmiths do to the already fine Marlin leverguns? Jim West calls his creation the Co-Pilot (I would prefer Bush Pilot because of their ultimate use), and I hereby dub DeHart's leverguns as Texas Brush Poppers. Let us look first at the .444 Marlin chamberings touched by these two 'smiths. A like new but used straight- gripped .444 Marlin was found at Shapel's, fired to check out its worth, and then sent off to DeHart.

This initial testing totally destroyed two myths connected with Marlin .444's with Micro-Groove rifling. Those untruths spread for years were that this caliber and rifling style would handle neither cast bullets nor heavyweight bullets. WRONG! My test results revealed that 300 grain cast bullets would cut one hole groups for three shots at fifty yards. When the same results were obtained with 300 grain jacketed bullets, the .444 Marlin Model 444 became a perfect choice for the conversion to a brush gun.

This particular gun was given only the minimum make over, call it the economy model, as per my request to DeHart. The original 24" barrel was cut to 18 1/2", a full magazine tube holding six rounds was installed, and the original bead front sight was mated up with a Lyman #66 Receiver, or peep, sight. Normally I also have DeHart slim down the wood doing for leverguns what Novak does for semi-auto pistols namely smooth them out and get rid of the high spots. Although I do not like the term, I will use it anyway and call these guns 'user-friendly'. Marlin uses quality material in their firearms but they go overboard as to how much wood is used for their stocks and all Marlin leverguns can be vastly improved by being slimmed down dramatically. Totally personal bias of course.

Sometime in the future this levergun will be returned for the necessary woodwork. Now it remains a levergun that is simply so much more useable then it was in factory condition. Removing five and one- half inches from the original twenty-four inch barrel of this early .444 makes it into a highly useable levergun that carries easily in saddle scabbard, pick-up truck rack, or in hand. And as mentioned, even with this short barrel the magazine capacity is still six rounds, a seven- shooter if one carries a round in the chamber.

Jim West's .444 Marlin started life as a recent production model with the new wood which is checkered on both forearm and pistol grip. At the muzzle end, the barrel has been cut to 16 1/2 inches, allowing for five round magazine capacity, while at the rear end, a Pachmayr recoil pad has been fitted. To aid in combatting felt recoil, a series of circular ports have been cut on both sides of the front sight. They work well as this little levergun is quite easy to shoot with heavy loads.

All metal has been polished and refinished in a deep bright blue. Sights are dual purpose. The rear sight has been maintained and mated up with a hooded front sight that has an extremely easy to see fluorescent red bead. This is a front sight that really stands out against dark backgrounds such as the hair of a critter in deep woods.

To make this levergun even more useable, a Weaver base has been installed on the top of the frame and a Tasco ProPoint red dot scope installed. Weaver bases accept Weaver or Weaver-style rings that have screws that are slotted for use of a coin as a screwdriver. This allows almost instant removal of the scope should use of the iron sights be desired. The Weaver base sets low enough that its removal is not necessary in order to use the iron sights.

Looking at West's treatment of the Marlin levergun one senses that something is different but it takes awhile to realize just what it is. Ah, there it is! A close look at the magazine tube revels a knurled knob on the screw that holds the tube to the barrel. A knurled knob means easy removal but why would anyone want an easily removable magazine tube?

Unlike other leverguns available today, Jim West's creation, the Co-Pilot is a takedown model. That is, the barrel can be easily removed allowing the two pieces, barrel and frame to be stored in a fairly compact padded case. To remove the barrel it is only necessary to swing the lever to its full forward position, unscrew the knurled knob below the magazine tube, pull the tube forward about one inch, and then simply unscrew the barrel. It takes less time to accomplish than it does to relate. Re-installing the barrel is just as simple and is accomplished in reverse order.

The first question that rises is what effect the takedown will have on point of aim. Would it be possible to remove the barrel, reassemble the Co-Pilot, and still have it shooting to the same spot? Three shots were fired with the Wild West Guns .444, the barrel was removed completely, and then replaced. Three more shots were fired and the results were six shots forming a single group. So it is possible to sight in the takedown carbine, remove the barrel, pack both parts in the padded case, and then reassemble when arriving at the hunting area, knowing that the levergun will remain sighted in.

One of the drawbacks to any rifle is how much space it takes up. A sixgun can easily be carried while a rifle requires a rack, or scabbard, or long padded case. The Co-Pilot, in its takedown form, needs very little space requiring only a case that is twenty-two inches in length. That means it fits easily behind or under a seat, in the padded case of course.

Unlike the mid-1960's when the .444 Marlin was introduced, we now have excellent .44 bullet choices both heavyweight cast and jacketed style. My favorite heavyweight load is the 300 grain Speer jacketed flat point over 48.0 grains of H322 for 1900 to 2000 feet per second depending upon barrel length. Any of the 300 grain bullets designed for the .44 Magnum, be they cast or jacketed, should work in the .444 Marlin and work well but I would reserve hollow point bullets for deer sized game only.

When reloading for the .444 Marlin overall length must be watched closely and most bullets will need to be seated deep and crimped over the shoulder in the case of cast bullets. Forty-four caliber bullets designed for sixgun use normally protrude too far from the .444 Marlin to work through the action when crimped in the crimping groove. I always make up a dummy cartridge first to check all loads for positive feeding through the Marlin action. Even jacketed bullets may prove to provide an overall length that is too long if the crimping groove is used.



MV 18 1/2"

MV 16 1/2"

Barnes 275 JFP/48.0 gr. H322

1956 fps

1895 fps

Freedom Arms 300/48.0 gr. H322

2006 fps

1924 fps

Hornady 265 JFP/50.8 gr. H322

2000 fps

1831 fps

Hornady 265 JFP/51.3 gr. H4895

2046 fps

1884 fps

Hornady 300 XTP/51.3 gr. H4895

1927 fps

1873 fps

Hornady 300 XTP/48.0 gr. H322

2075 fps

1929 fps

Sierra 300 JFP/51.3 gr. H4895

1894 fps

1788 fps

Sierra 300 JFP/48.0 gr. H322

2006 fps

1887 fps

Speer 300 JFP/48.0 gr. H322

2036 fps

1937 fps

Speer 300 JFP/51.3 gr. H4895

1923 fps

1848 fps

Speer 300 JFP/49.6 gr. H4895

1728 fps

1768 fps

BRP 295 GC/51.3 gr. H4895

1900 fps

1852 fps

BRP 295 GC/49.3 gr. H4895

1831 fps

1785 fps

RCBS #44-300 SWC GC/49.3 gr. H4895

1831 fps

1793 fps

SSK 310 FP/ 51.3 gr. H4895

1906 fps

1887 fps

The good folks at Shapel's have kept me supplied with good used leverguns for a number of years, and they certainly know that if a good levergun comes in I will be at least tempted. Over the past two years, two .45-70 leverguns, one an early straight-gripped model and the other with the pistol grip stock, were found on the used gun rack, eagerly purchased, test-fired, and then sent off to DeHart and West.

DeHart's work was performed on a late model pistol-gripped .45-70 Marlin Model 1895. This levergun was given the same basic treatment as the .444 with one all important extra step. The wood, both forearm and butt stock was given his slimmin' treatment. Marlin forearms are especially bulky for my tastes. This .45-70 now wears a Williams rear receiver sight and is capable of handling anything, I repeat anything, that walks on this continent.

Everyone who sees and handles this .45-70 is amazed at the almost magical transformation from large heavy levergun to slick handlin' carbine. A complete report on the custom .45-70's of Keith DeHart can be found in the April 1995 issue of GUNS.

An early Model 1895 Marlin .45-70 that was a perfect example of one being ridden hard and put up wet was sent North to Alaska to Wild West Guns to be made into a Co-Pilot. Well-used, this .45-70, while O.K. as to action and barrel, was seriously in need of new wood and refinishing. The previous owner had slimmed the wood but went too far and the wood was coming apart under the front barrel band. West had his work cut out for him to say the least.

Since refinishing was imperative, we opted for a radical departure from traditional finishes and a brushed hard chrome was applied making this an all weather carbine. All original wood was discarded and the Model 1895 was fitted with new factory wood checkered on both forearm and butt stock. The overall result is one striking looking levergun to say the least.

As with the .444 Marlin by Wild West Guns, the barrel length is now 16 1/2 inches. Sights are the same Marble Buckhorn rear and bead front sight that were on the 1895 .45-70 when I purchased it but they now wear a dull black finish that contrasts well with the chrome finish on barrel and frame. Nothing on this gun will reflect light.

The .45-70 is a brute for recoil in its fullhouse loadings and West has countered this with a Pachmayr recoil pad on the buttstock and four circular barrel ports cut behind the front sight. It still kicks when using 400 grain bullets at 1700 feet per second but it is manageable and handles quickly in the unlikely event of repeat shots being needed. There is something very final about the .45-70!

Being a Co-Pilot Custom by Wild West Guns this is a takedown model and as such requires some special touches as to scope base and scope. Using a Weaver base, I mounted one of the new Weaver Qwik-Point red dot scopes. This type of scope is perfect for the type of work a short- barreled carbine is expected to accomplish plus it is easily removed and returned with the coin slotted Weaver rings. This is Weaver's initial entry into the red dot scope field, and the satin nickel finish mates very well with the hard chrome finish of the Wild West .45-70. A dial on the top of the scope allows the user the choice of a 4, 8, or 12 MOA red dot and the operating switch provides eleven different settings although I found I could not see the dot until setting number 6.

After shooting the .45-70 Co-Pilot, I attempted to take it down to its compact two pieces and found I could not rotate the barrel as it contacted the Weaver base that protruded forward of the top of the frame. It is a simple matter for a gunsmith to shorten the Weaver one piece base, mill in a new cross slot to accept the forward ring, and re- install the scope. Red Dot scopes are the perfect length and any other scope chosen must also be short enough to not protrude past the frame or it will prevent rotation of the barrel when assembling or disassembling the Co-Pilot.

As with the .444 Marlin, many excellent bullets exist for use in the .45-70. Perhaps even more so. Both Sierra and Hornady offer a 300 grain jacketed hollow point for deer-sized game, and Speer's 400 grain jacketed flat point is an excellent bullet for big game. Randy Garrett of Garrett Cartridges also offers a .45-70 round loaded with a hard cast 415 grain bullet that will penetrate from here to there and then some. For those who cast their own, RCBS has two excellent bullets in 300 grain and 400 grain weights, both being gas-checked designs. Mould numbers are #45-300FN and #45-405FN. Both of these bullets are available in excellent commercial cast versions from Fusilier Bullets.



MV 18 1/2"

MV 16 1/2"

Federal 300 JHP

1556 fps

1526 fps

Winchester 300 JHP

1810 fps

1598 fps

Garrett 415 FP

1684 fps

1627 fps

Hornady 300 JHP/44.0 gr. H4198

1627 fps

1606 fps

Hornady 300 JHP/56.0 gr. H322

1947 fps

1807 fps

Hornady 300 JHP/60.5 gr. AA2495

1554 fps

1482 fps

Speer 400 JFP/53.0 gr. AA2495

1498 fps

1402 fps

Speer 400 JFP/47.5 gr. H322

1435 fps

1404 fps

Speer 400 JFP/54.0 gr. H322

1776 fps

1682 fps

Speer 400 JFP/53.7 gr. H4895

1616 fps

1524 fps

Fusilier 300 gr. GC/42.0 gr. IMR4198

1924 fps

1890 fps

Bull-X 405 gr. FP/50.0 gr. AA2495

1380 fps

1335 fps

RCBS #45-300FN/60.5 gr. AA2495

1624 fps

1552 fps

RCBS #45-405 FN/51.0 gr. AA2495

1534 fps

1466 fps

RCBS #45-405FN/39.0 gr. IMR 4198

1683 fps

1660 fps

RCBS #45-405FN/41.0 gr. IMR4198

1775 fps

1761 fps

Bear, moose, elk, wild boar, any critter found in heavy forest or thick brush is a natural target for the custom Marlin Brush Guns of Keith DeHart and Jim West. Marlin has now seen the light and brought forth two real Brush Guns both with the 18 1/2" barrels, the .45-70 Guide Gun, and the .444 Outfitter.


Keith DeHart , 7906 Bintliff, Houston, Texas 77074

Jim West, Wild West Guns, 7521 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage, Alaska 99518

Fusilier Bullets, 10010 North 6000 West, Highland, Utah 84003

Garrett Cartridges, P.O. Box 178, Chehalis, Washington 98532