The Oft Forgotten Bushmaster Assault Rifle

(Guns International)

In the last decade or so, if you heard the term Bushmaster, you’d likely relate it to some very subpar rifles put out by the ‘Freedom Group.’ Freedom Group, owned by Cerberus Capital Management, was the same death-dealing group that killed AAC, Remington, H&R, Marlin, and a few more. Prior to Freedom Group, Bushmaster was a fairly respected name in the world of AR rifles. They’ve been around for decades, but the first Bushmaster wasn’t an AR. It was known as the Bushmaster Assault Rifle. 

Before Bushmaster was called Bushmaster, it was called Gwinn Firearms. Mack Gwinn Jr. founded Gwin Firearms after returning home from Vietnam. Gwinn was the real deal, and he served in the Special Forces as a captain. 

He had some extensive knowledge of the Stoner 63 system and was a fan. When he came home and started his company, he designed the first Bushmaster Assault Rifle. It bears mentioning the Bushmaster Assault Rifle was not an assault rifle but simply carried that designation as a moniker. The Bushmaster Assault rifle would be produced by both Gwinn and later owners who changed the company name to Bushmaster. 

Inside and Outside of the Bushmaster Assault Rifle 

Gwinn saw that the future of firearms was rifles like the AR and AK series. This meant mixing modern materials like polymer and aluminum in the mix. Gwinn originally used cast aluminum, and later on, Bushmaster would use stamped sheet metal for the upper. Regardless of who was in charge, the flowers were made from aluminum. 

The Bushmaster Assault Rifle was modern for the era. It mixed the controls of the AR-15 with the long-stroke gas piston system of the AK-47.

The rifle utilizes an AR safety and magazine release as well as an AR fire control group. It used AR-15 magazines as well. The sights functioned much like AR sights of the era but were not stacked on a carry handle. The barrel was 18 inches long and topped with a birdcage-style flash suppressor. These days, that sounds long, but in this era, the 20-inch barrel was standard. It was basically an M1 carbine-length barrel on a 5.56 rifle. 

Rock Island Auction

The Bushmaster Assault Rifle came in a couple of variants. Early models came with plain wood furniture. Later models have black painted wood. Another model featured a simplistic metal folding stock. A magnet held the folded stock closed. 

The rifle has a reciprocating charging handle that, much like the AK, is connected to a long-stroke gas piston system that sits above the barrel and receiver. It sits on the left side of most Bushmaster Assault rifles. There are some variances depending on who owns the company and the design. When Gwinn owned the design, the charging handles were on the top of the gun. 

The Long Stroke Piston Of It 

Gwinn had used the Stoner 63 in Vietnam and was seemingly a fan of the design, which is what likely encouraged him to utilize the long-stroke gas piston system. Mixing in AR-like controls makes sense logistically since they were available to the average Joe. 

It’s not like the Stoner 63 was on the shelves of Western Auto. Plus, the M16’s controls were super ergonomic for the era. Keep in mind most guns in this era were still using World War 2 like ergonomics, like the AK and M14. 

Rock Island Auction

Another good reason to stick to the long-stroke gas piston system was that direct impingement and the M16 didn’t have a great reputation in this era. The DOD mucked up the release of the M16 so badly that it took decades of fighting the GWOT to change people’s minds on the reliability of the platform. 

The guns didn’t have a great reputation for reliability anyway. They weren’t known to be problem-free mass-produced rifles. They tended to have a fairly poor reputation. However, they did tend to shoot nicely and were fairly accurate guns all around. Bushmaster tried to market the weapon, and at this time, Colt owned the rights to the AR-15, so it was seen as an alternative. 

However, once the AR015 design package lost its protections, Bushmaster pivoted towards the AR-15 and away from the Bushmaster Assault Rifle. Being a small company makes it tough to produce a new firearm design, and the Bushmaster Assault Rifle is evidence of that. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.