Anyone even remotely familiar with guns will recognize the design of the AR-15 type rifle. It
has been the basis for our U.S. military service rifle for over 35 years. The rifle has evolved
through the years to include many improvements to Eugene Stoner's original design.
agree or not with the use of the rifle's 5.56 millimeter cartridge as an effective
military round, it can be argued that the civilian version of that cartridge,
the .223 Remington, has been one of the most successful varmint cartridges in
history. Every major gun manufacturer in the free world who sells a dedicated
varmint rifle includes the .223 in their catalog. Many of these rifles are of bolt-action design, and make an
excellent platform to show off the inherent accuracy of the .223 cartridge. To a lesser degree, a few manufacturers of AR-15 type rifles have
worked to improve upon the accuracy of the AR-15 platform.
While the market is flooded
with civilian versions of our military rifle, only a few are accurate enough
for shooting small targets at ranges of up to a quarter mile. One such
attempt at extracting the last bit of accuracy from an AR-15 is the subject
of this article; the Bushmaster Varminter. The rifle is manufactured by
Bushmaster Firearms, Inc. of
Windham, Maine. Bushmaster has grown from a supplier and manufacturer of AR-15 parts into
the largest producer of AR-15 type rifles for the civilian market in the
United States, selling twice as many in 1999 as their nearest competitor,
Colt's Manufacturing. The Varminter is a new variation of
Bushmaster's AR-15 rifle, including all the features needed to turn an AR-15 into
an accurate, reliable varmint weapon.
The quality of workmanship in this rifle was immediately
apparent upon opening the hard plastic case in which this weapon was shipped. This is one beautiful rifle! There are many, myself
included, who greatly enjoy the looks and feel of blued steel and figured
walnut in a hunting rifle, but beauty can also follow function in the design
of a rifle. Such is the case with the Bushmaster Varminter.
This rifle exudes
a quality of functional elegance, with nothing added that doesn't enhance the
shooting ability of the gun. This rifle has no muzzle brake, flash hider,
bayonet lug, flashlight, laser sight, or simulated grenade launcher. The
Varminter, while making an excellent sniper weapon for law enforcement,
is not marketed towards the weekend commando with an array of gadgets and
frills, but is purpose-built to suit the needs of the varmint and predator
The list of features on this rifle include a flat top design to offer a
superior platform upon which to mount a quality scope sight. Included are two
scope riser blocks to help in correcting the scope height for proper
eye alignment and cheek-weld. The rifle will accept any scope mounting rings of
the Weaver type, giving almost unlimited latitude in a choice of rings.
The Varminter weighs nine pounds with the supplied five-round magazine,
the low-capacity factory-supplied magazine making the rifle legal for hunting in those jurisdictions which restrict
magazine capacity. The rifle will accept any AR-15 type magazine, including
my personal favorite: the 20 round military magazine. The 20-rounder seems
to me to have the best balance of bulk and cartridge capacity. The longer
magazines can get in the way when shooting from the bench or a prone position.
The handguard on the Varminter is made of vented aluminum and is of the
free-floating design, never touching the barrel or gas tube in
length. This feature is very important in a rifle of this type. The handguard
cannot be allowed to exert pressure upon the barrel during firing,
thereby changing the
barrel harmonics and effecting accuracy. The handguard is also fitted with a
stud upon which to mount a bipod or attach a sling.
While on the subject of the barrel,
Bushmaster has seen fit to supply the Varminter with a barrel of excellent design for a rifle of this
type. The barrel is is made of chrome moly steel, fully fluted
over its entire 24 inch
length to increase stiffness and aid in heat dissipation while reducing
weight. The barrel measures a full inch in diameter inside the
handguard, reducing to a diameter of .745 inches forward of the gas block. The barrel
wears an eleven degree non-recessed crown, and is rifled one turn in nine
inches, which is a good choice for versatility in bullet weight selection.
One of the best features of this rifle is the two-stage competition
trigger. This type of trigger produces a nice crisp letoff, adjustable for
weight of pull and overtravel, while preventing slam firing during cycling of
the action. For accurate, long-range shooting, this type of trigger
makes actually hitting the target much easier.
As with any rifle intended for varmint and
predator hunting, the proof is in the shooting. No matter how good the gun looks, or the quality of
its parts; if it's not accurate, it's just another AR-15
Befitting a rifle intended for long shots at small
targets, I mounted a Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 variable scope. This scope has excellent optics
and varies in magnification from 6 to 24 power.
I loaded some of the
superb Barnes 50 grain VLC bullets into Lake City cases and proceeded with the accuracy
testing. These Barnes bullets are coated with a patented baked-on coating that reduces fouling
and increases the lubricity of the bullet surface. They are of lead-core hollow-point
construction, and have proven both accurate and effective as a varmint bullet.
All accuracy testing was done at range of 100 yards, at an air temperature
of 90 degrees and 95 percent humidity, at approximately 650 feet elevation.
It was a typical hot, sticky Tennessee summer day. As can be seen in the
photographs, accuracy of this rifle was absolutely superb with the Barnes VLC
bullets. Groups measured as large as 3/4 of an inch to the pictured
quarter-inch group. The quarter inch group shown is of three shots at
100 yards. This accuracy, keep in mind, was not from a fifteen-pound benchrest rifle, but
from an AR-15 type semi-automatic! Factoring in the fact that I was doing the
shooting, and the accuracy of this gun borders on the amazing! This
Bushmaster Varminter is the most accurate .223 that I have ever fired,
including bolt-action varmint rigs.
Functioning of the rifle was flawless during
testing. The ejection of the
Varminter has been smoothed and tuned to make it easy on the shooter to collect his
brass for reloading, and ejection of the fired cases placed them all in one neat pile. No cases were dented or damaged during ejection. Feeding
was equally smooth, with no occasion to use the forward assist to complete
closing of the bolt. The Varminter is supplied with a soft rubber grip,
which enhances the handling and comfort qualities of the rifle.
After the success of my initial accuracy testing with the Barnes VLC
bullets, I am anxious to do more extensive accuracy work with Barnes and
other varmint and target bullets. It will be hard to improve upon
the accuracy already experienced with the Barnes VLC bullets.
I would love to arrange to
take this rifle on a prairie dog hunt out west. With the mild-recoiling .223
in this semi-auto action, a shooter could fire twenty rounds without lifting
his head off the stock. While the Bushmaster Varminter is not your typical varmint hunters rifle,
I can think of nothing better for use on coyotes at long range. Coyotes are
usually encountered on the move, and with this rifle a shooter could
watch his shots and make quick corrections if necessary. The Varminter balances
just forward of the magazine well, making for comfortable one-handed carrying.
For information on the Varminter and other Bushmaster products, call
1-800-998-7928 or view their website at: www.bushmaster.com
To look at the excellent Barnes VLC and other bullets go to:
To say that I was impressed with this rifle would
be a great understatement. It is easy to see how Bushmaster has taken over the
commercial AR-15 market with products such as the Varminter. Look forward to
an update at a later time on this rifle. If Bushmaster will allow me to
hang on to this Varminter long enough to do some more accuracy testing and perhaps
a little predator hunting, I will report on my findings here at gunblast.com.
Ed. Note: In response to
countless requests for Jeff to make public his
"favorite" load for the Varminter (the one that
produced the 1/4" group pictured): Lake City cases, 26
grains of AA2460 powder, CCI primer, and a Barnes 50 grain VLC
Please note that these were
the most accurate in Jeff's Varminter, your results may vary. As
always, start at a lower powder charge and work up. Author and
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