have always held a spell over me. Even if they could match the velocities of
jacketed bullets, they cannot come close to matching the trajectory, for their
ballistic coefficients often suffer as much as a bullet has a right to suffer.
No, they don’t give a shooter an edge in smoking targets at long range, but they
do provide a shooter with one advantage spread in more ways than one: economy.
You see, cast bullets are far less expensive than jacketed bullets, use much
less powder, and are easier on barrels. And because of this, shooters can shoot
more for the same price, becoming better shots in the process.
Most of us do a
lot of shooting that does not require the use of jacketed bullets. Who among us
does not shoot .22 rimfire bullets by the bushel basket? Or how about handgun
ammo? Have you ever considered using reduced rifle loads for varminting in
populated areas or perhaps chasing small game? Thousands of shooters every day
fling untold amounts of bullets that fly downrange without a jacket.
bullets are not the same, for there are two techniques used to create them –
swaging and casting. Casting is the oldest method. As its name implies, cast
bullets are formed by melting lead and pouring it into a mold. Swaged bullets
are formed using lead wire fed into a high pressure press. This process is
economical and has the advantage of producing lead bullets without voids and
slag pockets that sometimes exist in cast bullets. However, swaged bullets have
the disadvantage of being soft. It is also difficult to swage a bullet with
inclined can cast their own bullets. This involves melting lead, adding a
hardener such as tin, and then pouring the liquid metal into molds. This
process requires one to have a well ventilated area, as well as incur the risk
of spilling melted lead. Many shooters, this cowboy included, opt out of making
the bullets and buy them elsewhere. I recently bought some .416 435 grain cast
bullets from Custom Cast Bullets (www.customcastbullets.com). At $45 per 500,
these cast bullets allow me to shoot my .416 Remington Magnum all day at very
economical prices. Since I had such good luck with these bullets, I obtained
some in .22 and .30 caliber.
who have yet to try cast bullets are worried about excessive leading. Certainly,
leading a barrel can be an issue. I have a nice little .357 Magnum Ruger Single
Six that I leaded very badly by shooting swaged bullets too fast. But swaged
bullets are not cast bullets – an important consideration if your opinion of
lead bullets is born of shooting swaged bullets. Bore leading is a function of
bullet hardness, lubrication, and bore condition, assuming the bullet fit is
good. Bullet fit is important, because gas leakage around the bullet will cause
it to melt the bullet and produce a lead spray. If you don’t have a good fit,
then all other attempts to minimize leading are really a waste of time. If you
do have a good bullet fit, then barrel leading is caused solely by friction
between the bullet and the bore. This friction is reduced by the use of
lubricants applied to the bullet. Essentially, bullet lube provides a thin
layer of film between the bullet and the bore. The subject of lubricants, or
lubes, is a specialized subject for those who cast their own bullets. Like
rifle powders, there are all kinds of different lubes available for those cast
their own bullets. Shooters who want to begin by purchasing their cast bullets
can buy them prelubed from suppliers such as Custom Cast Bullets.
powder burns, it creates a gas that propels the bullet down the bore. Cast and
swaged bullets have hollow bases that expand when filled with this gas. If the
bullet is too soft, expanding gas will push the bullet skirt enough to destroy
the protection provided by the thin film of lubricant. The soft lead then rides
against the bore and the resulting friction melts the lead, resulting in
affects leading in obvious ways; a bore with a rough finish will obviously lead
quicker than a smooth one. Many cast shooters also believe it is important to
remove all traces of bullet jacket material before shooting cast bullets.
is expressed in units called BHN, which stand for Brinell Hardness Number. I
prefer to use gas-checked cast bullets with a BHN of 22 or higher. Gas checks
are small disks crimped around the base of a cast bullet. They allow higher
velocities because they are harder than lead, and effectively seal off the base
of the bullet.
Bullets that are not gas checked
need a higher hardness, while those that are checked can be lower. Your bullet
supplier will be able to tell you what the hardness of the bullet is – if he
doesn’t know, look elsewhere. Bullet hardness is achieved during the casting
process by varying the amount of alloy material added. Alloy material that is
commonly used includes antimony and tin. Tin is a good alloy material because
it allows promotes better flow characteristics of lead; antimony is a wonderful
hardening agent but too much can make the bullet brittle – which might not be a
bad thing for a varmint hunter. But unless you plan to cast you own bullets,
you needn’t worry about alloys.
leading is a fear many shooters have, and probably keeps many from trying cast
bullets. That fear is unfounded, however, because if you approach your loading
carefully, you won’t have to worry about excessive leading. Recognizing leading
is easy – it looks just like excessive jacket fouling…only instead of a copper
color coating on the barrels lands, it looks gray. You can see it quite easily
if you examine the muzzle of the rifle. One way to remove lead it to shoot
jacketed bullets, which essentially push the lead out of the bore. Others use a
bore brush or even a bore brush coated with filaments from a kitchen scrubbing
pad. I have used that method on less than choice barrels, but you can be sure
my custom barrels will never see a Brillo pad!
bullets is similar to jacketed bullet loading, with a few exceptions. When you
seat a cast bullet, you must be extra careful not to shave lead from the bullet.
This sometimes occurs when the neck is too tight. (Actually, you can sometimes
see this with jacketed bullets as well.) Lead shavings at the top of the neck
are a sure indication of a neck that is either too tight or too sharp. You will
also see some bullet lube at the top of the case as well – this is normal – you
just don’t want to see lead shavings. If you do see lead shavings, try cutting
the inside of the neck with a chamfer/deburring tool. Using this tool, chamfer
the inside neck until you have a beveled edge that runs out to the outside of
the neck. This usually eliminates bullet shaving. If it does not, then you
will have to expand the neck. On a bottleneck cartridge, you can use a larger
expander button; on straight-walled cases, you can adjust your decapping die so
that it expands the case mouth a bit wider.
overall length for cast bullets is essentially the same procedure that we use
with jacketed bullets. If you have already identified the best OAL using a
comparator tool, just seat the cast bullet to the same overall comparator
length. You will notice the bullet overall length is probably much shorter,
though there are some exceptions. Many cast bullet shooters believe that the
bullet should not be seated so deeply that the bottom lubrication groove is
below the neck and exposed to the powder column.
Believe it or
not, some cast bullet shooters get 3000 fps with bullets that are 25 BHN or
harder and preferably gas-checked. The subject of high performance cast bullet
loads is really beyond the scope of this article – it is a specialized segment
for the cast bullet purist. I suspect most readers will no doubt turn to
shooting jacketed bullets when they want high velocity.
shooters, I started shooting cast bullets in a large (by varmint standards) bore
rifle. Many cast bullet shooters have told me that large diameter bullets are a
good place to start. As mentioned in the beginning of this story, I began
loading cast bullets with my .416 Remington Magnum. My initial loads were
disappointing: 5 inch or larger groups at 100 yards. Adjusting the overall
bullet length, always critical with jacketed bullets, didn’t seem to make a huge
difference. I called Wayne Doudna at Custom Cast Bullets, and he told me to
play with different powders. I had started with Reloader 15, tried H335 with no
real improvement, and then tried IMR 3031. I hit paydirt with the 3031 – loads
at 100 yards were consistently well under 2 inches. The nice thing about
shooting heavy cartridges such as the .416 Remington Magnum is that jacketed
bullets are not launched at excessive velocities to start with, so loading
manuals give you plenty of good starting loads. The load I finally settled on
for the .416 was 59 grains of IMR 3031. I discovered during loading that as I
worked my way down in powder charge, accuracy improved.
Much to my
surprise, I had less trouble shooting cast bullets with my .223 Remington; the
first load I tried was 14.3 grains of H335. Group size was less than one inch
at 50 yards. The load was very quiet and would make a very good pest control
load if low noise was a premium. The bullets I used were 60 grains and pointed
by cast bullet standards.
I also tried my
hand at shooting cast with my .308 Winchester. The velocity of the loads I
tried were much too fast for the bullet I was using and quickly leaded my
barrel. Accuracy was like a shotgun. I scrubbed the bore of the rifle with a
bore brush and then shot some jacketed bullets through the bore. During my next
practice session in the field, accuracy was wonderful, so even though I had
badly leaded the bore, I didn’t do anything to the barrel that I could not fix.
bullet shooters use shotgun powders such as Unique to create low velocity,
accurate cast bullet loads. While I have done so with a pistol, I have yet to
do so with a rifle using cast bullets. I have created loads with Unique and
jacketed bullets in my .308 Winchester, so creating these kinds of loads with
cast bullets should present no special problems.
and for that matter swaged bullets, are a natural in pistols, especially sixguns.
I have had a lot of luck using Hornady swaged bullets in my .357 Magnum. I load
158 grain SWC or round nose lead bullets over 4.0 grains of Unique. I used this
load on a gopher shoot in Colorado last summer – it was an effective gopher load
as long as I was within 20 yards. Best of all, I can load a box of 50
cartridges for about $3 a box – that is only three times the cost of .22 rimfire
ammo! The same economies hold true with rifle cartridges. I can load 435 grain
.416 Remington cartridges for a little over $5 per box of 20, which is less than
half the cost of handloading the least expensive jacketed bullet.
I suppose it is
safe to say that cast bullets have the most utility for those who shoot big
bores, and they are a required for anyone who participates in cowboy action
shooting, but don’t forget that loading a .308 Winchester to mild velocity
levels suddenly turns it into a bona fide varmint round. If you are shooting
gophers at ranges less than 100 yards, who needs a .22 centerfire? A .308
Winchester shooting a 190 grain bullet at 1600 fps is a quiet, low recoiling
round that will prove effective on these varmints. And think about the fun you
could have shooting squirrels with a .223 Remington shooting 60 grain bullets at
tough economic times you may think it necessary to cut back on the feeding your
shooting habit. Before you reduce the number of rounds you fire, give some
consideration to shooting cast bullets. Even without considering their economy,
they are just plain fun to shoot and opens your world of shooting to lots of new