By Glen Wunderlich
Many years ago, Michigan’s response to urbanization created the shotgun zone (Zone III) in a day when shotguns and muzzleloaders didn’t pack the punch they do today. Much has changed since then. Modern in-line muzzleloaders and shotguns loaded with sabots and modern powders produce much higher velocities than anything imaginable back in the day, yet Michigan residents have experienced no adverse safety effects, as a result.
Conventional wisdom was finally condemned in a 2007 study by Mountain Top Technologies, Inc. for the Pennsylvania Game Commission when it was charged to determine if shotguns and muzzleloaders pose less risk than centerfire rifles for hunting deer. As part of the study, details such as ballistics, projectile construction, projectile type, topography, land use, population density, hunter density, and structural density were examined.
The study concluded that shotguns are not always as risky as centerfires! Shotguns firing modern saboted ammunition have a larger danger area than the .30-06 rifle when firing with a small or no-aiming error at approximately zero degrees. All this is based on ricochet characteristics.
Thus, the door was opened for Michigan to update its hunting regulations and did just that in 2014 to include certain straight-wall cartridges for deer hunting. Today in Zone III the use of .35 caliber or larger rifles loaded with straight-walled cartridges with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.8 inches is legal.
It comes as no surprise that firearms manufacturers recognized the potential sales of newly compliant firearms for Michigan hunters and have followed suit with offerings by Ruger, Savage, Remington and others. Many hunters are trading in their slug guns, as a result and there are several reasons for so doing.
First, there is the cost factor. At some $3 per round, modern shotgun ammo is expensive. In comparison, the relatively new .450 Bushmaster comes in at about $1.35 per round.
But, what about performance? A 20-gauge shotgun firing a 250-grain sabot slug produces about 1800 feet per second (fps) velocity with a corresponding 1800 foot pounds of muzzle energy. However, that .450 Bushmaster propels a 250-grain bullet at 2200 fps with energy at 2686 foot pounds. Looking at trajectory, if the Bushmaster round is zeroed at 150 yards, it will be only 1.8 inches high at 100 yards and a mere 2.4 inches low at 200 yards. Even with a conservative 6-inch kill zone, a hunter can hold dead center on a deer’s vitals for an effective point-blank range of 200 yards. In addition, felt recoil is about the same with the 20-gauge and .450 Bushmaster examples.
However, if one considers the more punishing recoil of the more popular 12-gauge loads, it’s easy to understand the ground-swell of popularity with the new “Michigan” caliber.
Finally, the accuracy factor of a good, modern rifle with a decent trigger pull weight invariably will be better than typical shotguns and their inherent heavy triggers. Plus, handloaders will be able to squeeze even more potential from custom load development.
In summary, if you are in the market for a Zone III firearm for deer, you may want to consider one of the new Michigan guns, which by the way, will be quite suitable in the expansive lands of the northern parts of the state.