The Los Angeles Handgun, Rifle, Air Pistol, Hunter/Field Pistol Silhouette Club

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A collection of comments and articles on the many aspects of bullet casting by various cast bullet shooters
Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan

How to assemble a cartridge

     It is easy to cast bullets and shoot them with reasonable accuracy. Use a proven cast bullet design in a common caliber with a load that keeps velocity under 1000 fps in pistols or 1600 fps in rifles, and accuracy isn’t hard to find.


     Safety should be of primary importance in the mind of the cast bullet reloader. Here are some things to watch out for.

     Remember that you’re touching lead bullets. Wash your hands before eating or drinking or smoking.

     Don’t reload or shoot if you’re tired or grumpy or worried or in a hurry. Put the equipment away and stop.

     If anything goes in hard or easy or feels funny or looks funny-stop and figure it out.

     Always start with the scale and powder measure zeroed. Do not ever throw a charge from a powder measure that you didn’t set in the past few minutes. You may think you know what the measure is set for, but your memory is fallible.

     Always check the powder type against the loading manual and/or your notebook. After you check, sit back and close your eyes and ask yourself if the powder charge makes sense. Do it every time.

     Low velocity cast bullet shooting is based on small charges of fast burning powders. Small charges mean that a double charge won’t overflow the case. Keep cases upside-down in a loading tray until charging them with powder. Never put powder in a case that you didn’t pick up upside down. Always look in every case with a flashlight after charging with powder.

     A rifle case that is too long can jam in the chamber, squeezing the bullet and causing extremely high pressures. Measure cases for length and trim them if required. Lee makes very inexpensive case trimmers that require no adjustment or measuring.

     Make the first cartridge and try it in the gun. If it is tight or chambers hard or does anything unusual, stop and figure out what is going on. You don’t want a hundred cartridges that won’t go in the gun. We all know about that.      

     Don’t eat or smoke or watch TV or talk on the cell phone or read the paper or drink beer while you reload. It takes all your concentration. If you’re sick of reloading, stop.

Record Keeping

     Get a notebook and write down everything that you do. Only by writing everything down in a notebook will you learn how unreliable and deceptive your memory is. Write down the bullet number and alloy and cartridge case head stamp and powder type and charge and primer and OAL and everything.

     Measure every, yes every, group that you shoot during your experimenting, and write down the group size and distance and everything you know about the load and group including the date and temperature and every darn thing. If you don’t write it down you’ll either forget, or worse, your creative memory will take over.

     For more on recording reloading information, see "RECORD KEEPING" and "M54 WINCHESTER WORKBOOK EXAMPLE".

Reloading Manual

I recommend the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook, First through third Edition and at least one more manual to verify the other manual.

Assembling The Cartridge

The steps required to assemble a cartridge are these:

(Assuming that the cases have been checked for length and are less than or equal to the max. dimension.)

  • 1. Remove the fired primer, clean the primer pocket and prime the case.

  • 2. Full-length size the case if necessary to allow the cartridge to chamber easily. Some auto loading and lever action rifles may require full-length sizing. In my experience the Thompson-Center Contender pistols require that cases be full-length sized for reliable operation.

If full-length sizing is not required, then neck-size the case; otherwise the bullet will fall into the case.

  • 3. Bell the mouth of the case.

  • 4. Charge the case with powder.

  • 5. Seat the bullet in the case.

(One of the editors reminded me that checking each case for split necks, other damage, or incipient case head separation should be part of the reloading process.

     At first I agreed, but then, after thinking about it, disagreed. A split case neck is easy to see, and makes itself known during the resizing and "M" dieing steps; when a marked reduction in force required to push the case into the die is felt.

     (Ken Mollohan: In my experience, this is true, but primarily when the neck is already badly split. I have seen quite a few incipient splits that were not caught by differences in processing forces. My personal practice is to simply insert my fingernail into the mouth of the case as I pick it up, and spin the case. Even the smallest nick or crack will catch on my fingernail, alerting me to take a closer look. Rarely, a split will occur that does not reach the mouth of the case, but this is always caught by the processing force variations mentioned above.)

     I was shooting yesterday and found a case with a split neck. I wipe each case off with a rag after taking it out of the gun. It was very obvious that something was wrong when I wiped the case, the split neck was easy to detect. I can't remember the last time I had a split neck, it doesn't happen to me with cast bullets very often.

     Other case damage is obvious. I love my cases, wipe each case off after firing, and examine any case that is dropped to the ground for damage. With auto-loading pistols or rifles that fling cases about, inspecting cases for damage is necessary.

     Examining cases for incipient case head separation involves strong light and feeling the inside of the case with a tool or paperclip for any groove that signals trouble.

     I've seldom seen split necks on rifle cases, see them now and then on pistol cases.

     I never see other damage to cases since I don't shoot auto-loading guns.

     I've never had a case head separation using cast bullets and don't recall ever reading of one.

     So, for cast bullet shooting, I don't believe that the suggested rigorous case inspection is mandatory.)

A Note On Orientation

     Some cast bullet reloaders use the principle of orientation in reloading and shooting. If a mark-a light and small punch mark-is made in the nose of the bullet mold, then the bullet will have a mark or dimple. If the cartridge is put in the chamber of the gun so that that mark is always in a certain position, (Ex:12 o’clock), then the bullet is oriented with the chamber. The bullet can be oriented with the head-stamp of the cartridge case. (Ex: A small file notch is cut in the case rim over the “R” in “R-P” of each case, and the mark on the bullet is lined up with that notch.) The sizing die can be oriented in the press, the case can be oriented in the shell holder, and the case can be oriented in the priming process-the opportunities for orienting abound.

     While there are a lot of good shooters who believe that orientation makes a difference in accuracy, I believe that orientation is a minor contributor to accuracy. If your rifle is shooting 2” five shot groups at 100 yards, orientation isn’t going to make it shoot 1”. I wish it would.

A note On Crimping

     Some cast bullets have crimping grooves at the forward end of the bullet. Crimping is the process of swaging the case mouth into the crimping groove. Some pistol die sets have “Taper Crimp” dies that crimp with a taper of the front end the case into the bullet.

     If cast bullet cartridges are loaded into the magazine of a lever action rifle, the cartridges will most probably need to be crimped or the magazine spring pressure and recoil will force the bullets into the cases.

     Sometimes cartridges loaded into box magazine rifles will have bullets push into the case under recoil. These cartridges need to be crimped.

     Revolver cartridges need to be crimped to keep the bullets from coming out of the case as the gun is fired, and hanging up the cylinder.

     Unless the application requires it, don’t crimp, because crimping overworks the case and diminishes accuracy.

Reloading Presses

     I have a Huntington Die Specialties Compact Press that I've used to full length size 300 WM cases, and form 300 WM from 375 H&H, and form 6.5X55 from 30/06. But it ain't easy. This small press uses standard dies, and works great for the apartment/condo dweller or at the range.

     The Lee Loader also works well at the range-the 310 tool less so because of the die changes required.

     For serious work, without a lot of grunting, a larger reloading press is necessary. I've got a Lee Challenger press bolted to a piece of angle iron that is bolted to a concrete wall. I bought the press for just under $30 in 2003 from Mid South, a mail order reloading supplier. I just ran a 30/06 case into a 6.5X55 die to see how hard it is, and it isn't hard. Of course, I'm extremely strong.

     Reloading presses are available from many makers, at prices up to $250 or so. I haven't had much luck with "C" presses and prefer the compound linkage press like the Lee Challenger or RCBS Rockchucker. The key to making a press work is to bolt it to something that won't move. The upstroke will lift any table or bench off the floor.

     Progressive presses are used for large scale reloading. I have no experience with progressive presses.

     My plan is to use the $30 Lee Challenger press until it breaks or wears out, then buy an expensive press. If I live long enough.

     I use dies from any maker, they all seem to work fine. Carbide dies are wonderful for straight wall pistol cases. Lyman "M" dies are used to "bell" the case mouth to accept cast bullets without shaving lead. Some shooters, (not I) forget to lubricate a case, rip off the rim and the case sticks in the die. I use an RCBS "Stuck Case Remover" to get the case out of the die. For the advanced shooter, there are specialized dies that present the opportunity to spend lots of money. For most shooters, a 2-die rifle set or 3 die Carbide pistol set of dies from a major manufacturer will work fine.

     Measuring Tools A 0-1" Micrometer Caliper and 0-6" Dial or Vernier Caliper are handy for the beginner and mandatory for the advanced shooter. Vernier calipers have been pretty much replaced with dial calipers that are much easier to read. I find a dial caliper easier to read without a magnifying glass, I need the glass to read the vernier on the 0-1" micrometer caliper ("set of mikes").

     A 6" (or any capacity) dial or vernier or electronic caliper reads to one-thousandth of an inch, .001" A 1" capacity micrometer caliper has a vernier on the barrel allowing readings to one-ten-thousandth of an inch, .0001". As an example, a 45/70 case is supposed to be 2.100" long, and is easily measured with a 6" dial caliper. But 30 caliber bullets have dimensions varying from .297" to .314", and are best measured to .0001" with a 1" capacity micrometer caliper.

Belling Case Mouths

     If  a single case is used for shooting using the breech seating method, then after a while the case neck gets dirty and then powder particles blow back between the case and the chamber. Eventually the case will have dents where the powder particles are. Ultimately the cartridge case will begin to collapse as gas blows around the case.

     This condition is easily avoided by slightly belling the case mouth every few shots. If the case neck is kept polished, and is wiped clean every shot, then inspection shows the beginning of gas blow by and signals the shooter to bell the case mouth.

     When competitively bench rest shooting with single shot rifles I bell the case mouth slightly for each shot. (Con Dearth is the only other shooter that I know of who does this.) This step is just one in the procedure which I try to follow faithfully for each shot. I believed that this step made velocities more uniform, but had never rigorously tested that opinion. My goal is to have the case be a snug fit in the chamber, to feel definite resistance when chambering the case. This requires some experimentation-a little excess enthusiasm will make the case impossible to chamber.

     When testing loads or rifles, I wipe off the case between shots and bell the case mouth every time I load it.

     Case necks can be belled using a variety of tools. A reloading press with a Lyman “M” die does a good job, but is sort of cumbersome at the range. Rotating the case on a leg of a Simmons style re-de-capper will do it, as will twisting the case on an appropriately sized pair of scissors or needle-nosed pliers. The object is to increase the diameter of the case mouth, the very end, so that the next shot will expand the case and eliminate blow by of gas.

     This condition of blow by of gas is most obvious when using the breech seating method of loading, but occurs with fixed ammunition also. A higher PSI load with a faster powder may reduce or eliminate the blow-by; of course, it must be an accurate load.

     My Pope-Arisaka showed wide velocity variations and poor accuracy until the case mouths were belled so that the empty case was a snug fit in the chamber. The last test resulted in: without belling-9 shots at 200 yards  in 6 3/4 inches (1 shot was lost) with belling- 5 shots at 200 yards in 2 5/8 inches, this group about 9” higher than the first group.

     While testing a New England Firearms Handi-Rifle in 30/30 on May 14, 1995; I noticed several unusually high velocity readings. I was using one case, seating the bullet in the case with my fingers before putting the loaded cartridge in the rifle, and was belling the case mouth every few shots. The results of testing:

  •  Remington Large Pistol #2 1/2 primer

  • 311299 Lyman bullet sized in a .312 sizing die (which changes diameter of the bullet only .001” or so) lubed with Alox lube.

  • Wolf No Grease Groove bullet lubricated with liquid Alox.

    Avg. Standard
IMR 4227 Bullet Velocity Deviation
13 grains Wolf 1307 fps 16.3 fps
13 grains 311299 1372 fps 32.9 fps  
14 grains Wolf 1450 fps 39.0 fps  
14 grains 311299 1394 11.9 fps  

         I was not happy with these results and with the wide velocity swings, and decided to see what effect belling the case mouth had on velocity.

      Using the Wolf bullet and 14 grains of IMR 4227, and carefully belling the case mouth before each shot so that there was definite resistance to the case going into the chamber, velocities were:

1625, 1694, 1663, 1673, 1649, 1613, 1676, 1632, 1637, 1665  Average = 1653, S. D. = 25.7

I then stopped belling the case mouth, velocities for four shots were:

1655, 1391, 1369, 1358

Then ten shots for average velocity:

1402, 1368, 1407, 1371, 1389, 1387, 1380, 1376, 1383, 1391 Average = 1385,  S. D. = 12.6

     There was no obvious visible evidence of gas blow by on the last 14 shots. The case was wiped off after each shot.

     Accuracy has been averaging about 2” for five shots at 100 yards with this rifle. No detectable difference in accuracy was seen between the first ten and last ten shots.

     The elevation difference between the higher and lower velocity groups is small, perhaps an inch and a half or so, certainly less than I would have guessed.

     While this is not a rigorous test, the velocities for the original test (1450 f/s), with belled cases (1653 f/s) and not-belled cases (1385 f/s) are different enough to strain my credibility.

     I think we should bell the case mouth every time a cast bullet is loaded.

How to measure maximum cartridge LENGTH

     The overall length of a cartridge is important.

     If the cartridge is too long, then chambering and then removing a cartridge from the gun can result in the bullet sticking in the rifling, the cartridge case being removed from the gun and the powder being spilled all over the inside of the gun. The resulting mess is a bother to clean up.

     Conversely, if the cartridge is too short, accuracy may suffer. Best accuracy is most frequently found with the bullet close to the origin of the rifling.

     Different bullets will have different maximum overall lengths (Max. OAL) in the same gun.

     A given bullet will have different Max. OAL’s in the same cartridge (Ex: 30/06) in different guns.

     Here’s how to measure the Max. OAL for a given gun and bullet combination.

  • 1. Close the action of the gun and put the cleaning rod with brass screw all the way into the barrel from the muzzle until it touches the breechblock or bolt.

  • 2. Wrap a 5” piece of masking tape on the cleaning rod starting 1” outside the muzzle. Then with the cleaning rod all the way in the gun, the masking tape will be visible 1” outside the muzzle and will be 4” inside the barrel.

  • 3. With the cleaning rod all the way in the barrel, mark the masking tape at the muzzle. 

  • 4. Put a bullet into the chamber of the rifle. Push the bullet into the rifling with a pencil. Push with one finger on the end of the pencil until the bullet won’t go in any further. Now take the cleaning rod with brass screw and put it in the muzzle of the rifle. Gently push the rod in until it touches the nose of the bullet. Mark the masking tape on the cleaning rod at the muzzle.

  • 5. Take the cleaning rod out, and measure the distance between the marks. This is the maximum overall length of a cartridge with the given bullet for that gun.

  • 6. Do this several times until you are confident that your answer is correct. Make a sketch of the case and the bullet with dimensions.

     John Alexander uses this method with the cleaning rod and two shaft collars.

  • 1. Start with both collars on the rod.

  • 2. With the rod against the bolt face or breechblock, push both collars against the muzzle and tighten the screw on the shaft collar furthest from the muzzle.

  • 3. With the bullet pushed into the bore with a pencil, place the rod screw against the bullet tip, push the other shaft collar against the muzzle and tighten the screw in the shaft collar.

  • 4. The distance between the collars is the Max. OAL.

     An alternative method is to slightly deform = make oval the mouth of a fired case. Put the bullet in the case mouth, seated way out. Put the case in the gun. The bullet will meet resistance at the rifling and be pushed back into the case mouth. Remove the case and measure Max. OAL. Do this several times until you have confidence in the resulting measurement.

     Ken Mollohan: This is an excellent description of basic principles, but it falls slightly short in those cases where it is desired to seat the bullet into the throat / rifling. This is not an uncommon situation as such seating reduces gas blow-by and gives better alignment of the bullet and the bore of the rifle. The difference is seldom great in terms of OAL, but can be very substantial in terms of good groups.

     My personal preferred definition is to determine the distance that the OAL can be set without causing undue interference with closing the action of the rifle, usually a bolt. I usually do this in a series of steps:

  • 1. I load a round with much of the bullet body projecting from the mouth of the case, and make note of how far the bolt has to go before the action will close. I withdraw the round and seat the bullet about 3/4 of this distance into the case and try again. Then I repeat the ‘withdraw and seat the bullet deeper’ procedure, deepening the bullet seat (and reducing the OAL) by gradually screwing the seating stem deeper into the die until the bolt will at least begin to close without noticeable resistance.

  • 2. This repeated seating usually damages the lead band of the bullet, making the OAL reading at this point just a good approximation. Now I produce several rounds seated to this OAL, and continue the process, using a different round for each trial. I turn the seating screw down in increments of one turn at first, and finish up with 1/4 turn increments to find my final setting. This is all very empirical, but it works very well. I usually find that the cam action of the bolt will let me seat the bullet out by the length of the lead band, or nearly so. My max OAL is thus slightly greater than the preceding procedure will provide.

  • 3. Then I like to refine that OAL by sizing a bullet somewhat smaller and trying again. If I come out with substantially the same max OAL, it tells me that I’m really measuring the distance to the end of the throat, but with a less than ideal diameter selection. So I’ll adjust the diameters until I get a sudden sharp reduction in apparent max OAL. That tells me that I’ve exceeded the throat diameter, and I need to standardize on one step smaller for this particular gun.

     This brings me to the second method I sometimes employ with a new rifle / bullet: Simply pinch the neck of a fired case somewhat oval, and hand-start a sized bullet in it. For 30 cal, I use a 0.311 Dia. slug for this crude approximation, and refine it later. Chambering this dummy round will seat the bullet into the throat, and give me something very close to the final OAL value for this combination. I then use the dummy to adjust the seating die by running the seating stem down until it makes contact with the bullet. This will almost always bring me within a few thousandths of the optimum OAL for this bullet, at this diameter, in this rifle.

     A further caveat is that all of the preceding discussions assume that the distance from the breech to the rifling or throat is THE determining factor in measuring OAL. This is not true. It is often the case that the gun’s clip length will not accept or feed a cartridge that will chamber easily. Similarly, some lever action rifles feeding mechanisms won’t accept rounds grater than factory length. These restrictions also apply to handguns as well.

     Cookbook Loads That Work In Any Gun:

     “Each rifle is a law unto itself, what works in one rifle won’t work in another.” I’ve heard and read that for the past forty-odd years. It’s not true. There are simple recipes that produce reasonable accuracy in all rifles of a given caliber.

     “The name of the reloading and shooting game is the same. You must perform each step precisely the same way each time to get accuracy.” This is another theme running through the literature that is at least partly wrong. If you do the wrong thing consistently, the gun won’t shoot accurately. The important thing is to perform the correct steps in reloading and shooting. Then consistency starts to pay off. Precisely controlling the composition of the casting alloy doesn’t help if the bullet is too small for the gun. 

     There are hundreds of variables in the rifle/­loading/shooting equation, such as powder type and quantity, bullet alloy, primer type, and so on. 

     Some of these variables are very important, but most are of little or no importance.

     Small changes in alloy composition, powder charge, seating depth or bullet lubricant will not make large changes in accuracy. 

     Accuracy can vary substantially with the bullet used. It is not unusual to find that bullets from one cavity of a two-cavity mold shoot better than bullets from the other cavity. Bullets must be big enough, as big as or bigger than the throat of the gun.

     For the beginner, success with cast bullets comes easiest with reloading and shooting calibers of 30 and above. Some reloaders can get excellent accuracy from the smaller calibers; but it is difficult. The degree of difficulty increases as the caliber decreases. The 22 Hornet is particularly maddening, each 3/4" 100 yard five shot group is followed by a 3” pattern.

     Here is a “cook book” for getting a rifle of .30 to .45 caliber to shoot.

  • Use a bullet that fits the gun, and that is not too long.

  • Cast the bullets from any reasonable (mostly lead) alloy. Wheel weights work fine.

  • Use Alox or Liquid Alox or Darr or any commercial lube.

  • Clean the primer pocket every time the case is de-primed.

  • Every now and then clean the front half-inch of each case so it is bright and shiny.

  • Slightly bell each case mouth before reloading.

  • Seat the bullet out as far as possible while allowing the cartridge to be removed from the gun without de-bulleting. 

  • Shoot from a comfortable bench position. Use Remington Large Pistol Primers, #2 1/2 or other large pistol primers.

30/30 Winchester, 30 Remington, 303 Savage

Use bullets from 150 to 180 grains. Lyman 31141 and 311291 are good choices.
Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 12-15 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 12-15 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 7-10 grains

308 Winchester, 300 Savage, 307 Winchester, 303 British, 30/40 Krag, 7.7 MM Japanese

Use bullets from 150 to 220 grains. Lyman 311299 and 314299 are good choices.
Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 13-16 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 13-16 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 9-12 grains


Use bullets from 150 to 220 grains. Lyman 311299 and 314299 are good choices.
Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 14-17 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 14-17 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 10-12 grains

30 Caliber Magnums, Norma, H&H, Winchester, Weatherby

Use bullets from 150 to 220 grains.
Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 21-24 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 21-24 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 14-15 grains

.32/35 Stevens and Maynard

Use bullets around 165 grains depending on the twist.
Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 11-14 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 11-14 grains

.32/40 Ballard and Winchester, 32 Winchester Special, 32 Remington, 33/40, 33/47

Use any bullet from 165 to 210 grains. Some rifles won't stabilize the heavier bullets.

Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 12-15 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 12-15 grains

8 mm Mauser

Use any bullet from 165 to 210 grains.

Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 14-17 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 14-17 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 10-13 grains

.38/55 Winchester and Ballard, 375 Winchester

Use bullets from 250 to 330 grains.

Powder Type: IMR 4227   Powder Charge: 15-19 grains
Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 15-19 grains

Loads for all "STRONG" .45/70 rifles

The Lyman 457191 at 300 grains gives good accuracy to 300 yards with minimum recoil in most rifles.

Use bullets between 300 and 525 grains.

Powder Type: SR 4759   Powder Charge: 19-26 grains
Powder Type: Unique   Powder Charge: 14-16 grains

     In 3 different 300 Winchester Magnum rifles, the Lyman 311299 with 24 grains of IMR 4227 or 15 grains of Unique averaged five five-shot groups under an inch at 100 yards.

.45/70 Govt.

Loads for the 1873 Springfield Trap Door and other weak actions.

     Recommended powder charges for the Trap Door Springfield have been reduced in Lyman loading manuals over the years. I don't know if the guns are getting weaker with age, or if we're learning more, or what. The Lyman 47th Reloading Handbook does not have Unique loads for cast bullets in Trap Door Springfield's.

     I have used the Lyman 457191 and 457193 bullets with 14-15 grains of Unique and Dacron or toilet paper wad in many .45/70 rifles, including Trap Doors, for years. I have also used 21-24 grains of SR4759 with the same bullets and Dacron or toilet paper wads in the same rifles, including Trap Doors, with no problems and excellent accuracy.

     Because I don't know what caused Lyman to stop recommending Unique, I don't dare to recommend Unique in the Trap Door, and instead suggest SR 4759 in charges of 19 to 23 grains with bullets weighing from 300 to 525 grains.

     We used to shoot Trap Door Springfield's with a minimum of equipment. A plastic mallet, a Lee base and punch de-priming set, a powder scoop made from a small cartridge case with a wire handle soldered on (or one of the Lee set of powder scoops), a funnel and a plugged cartridge case were all that was required.

Here's how we did it:

De-prime the fired case with the Lee base and punch (originally we used an ice pick with the point filed down).

Clean the primer pocket with the Lee punch, start a primer in the primer pocket with your thumb, put the case in the rifle and close the door. The trap door will seat the primer.

Remove the case from the gun and bell the case mouth lightly by turning it on the end of the hammer.

Put a bullet in the chamber and then put in the plugged case. Close the door on the plugged case and the bullet will be breech seated.

Remove the plugged case from the chamber.

Scoop a charge of powder into the primed cartridge case, put the case in the rifle, and shoot. It's easier to do than to explain.

     Fiddling with the powder scoop charge and the length of the plugged case improved accuracy.

     We sometimes shot 5 and occasionally 10 shot 200 yard groups around 4 inches using this loading method.)

     There are the recipes. The rifle will shoot with good accuracy using these recipes, if it will shoot with any load.

Chamber Pressure

Thanks to John Bischoff for his help.

     When gunpowder is set alight by the primer it burns and makes a great deal of gas with a great deal of pressure. This gas pressure is what sends the bullet down the barrel on its way to the target.

     Smokeless gun powders vary in burning speed from fast through medium to slow. Bullseye is a fast powder, burning quickly even in a short revolver barrel. IMR 4895 is a medium powder, good for target loads in cartridges around 30/06 size. IMR 4831 is a slow powder, producing high velocities in large capacity cases.

     One end of the cast-bullet-rifle-shooting crowd (my end) uses fast powders for low velocities. Powders include IMR4227, AA#9 and H108 in cartridges such as 308 Win, 32/40 and 32 Miller Short. Velocities run 1400 to 1600 fps. These fast powders burn quickly, peak pressure occurs toward the breech end of the barrel.

     The other end of the cast-bullet-rifle-shooting crowd uses slower powders such as Varget, N133 and N135 in cartridges such as the 30 BR. Velocities are reported at 1700 to 2200 fps, sometimes higher.

     It is difficult, dangerous and improper to attempt to get high velocities with fast powders or low velocities with slow powders. Increasing charges of fast powder yields small velocity increases and large pressure increases. Reducing charges of slow powder introduces the possibility of a pressure excursion. It has been reported that reduced charges of slow powder caused extremely high pressures and damaged cartridge cases or rifles.

     With less-than-full charges of some medium-slow and slower powders there is reported to be a second pressure peak which occurs when the bullet is maybe half way to the muzzle. It is suspected that this is the peak which results in burst rifles. Nobody has yet figured out what causes that second pressure peak, though there are several conjectures.

     It is thought that choosing powder charges which fill at least 85% of the case tends to avoid this problem. On the other hand, a few powders, notably H4895, seem to work just fine with a mere 60% of whatever a full charge would have been for the bullet being used.

     Opinions abound. Until you can afford to damage your rifle and maybe yourself, stick with the recommended powders and charges from the good loading manuals.

     Here is a drawing showing how I think of chamber pressure in a gun.

     (Thanks to Tim Kuntz for the drawing) The traces are of Fast, Medium and Slow powders. Somewhere in here the bullet starts to move, and somewhere else the barrel ends. I think of fast powders and short barrel revolvers, slow powders and long barrel rifles, and my choice for cast bullets, fast powders with low velocities in rifles.

     We are told that the energy and velocity imparted to the bullet is proportional to the area under the curve of chamber pressure (x) vs. bullet travel (y). This could very well be true.

     Chamber Pressure is measured in three ways, with a copper or lead crusher or with a strain gauge. Detailed explanations of these methods may be found in the 47th and 48th editions of the Lyman Reloading Handbook.

     Pressure measurements made with copper or lead crushers are in COPPER UNITS OF PRESSURE = CUP, (infrequently LEAD UNITS OF PRESSURE = LUP)

     Pressure measurements made with strain gauges are in  pounds per square inch = psi (or sometimes, across the water, in those baffling metric things). The Lyman handbooks report pressure in CUP, other sources use psi. To confuse the novice, thousands of pounds of pressure are sometimes abbreviated to "ksi", so 20,000 psi would become "20 ksi"

     The Lyman 47th Handbook has a table of CUP and psi values for a series of cartridges (pg. 93) and says (pg. 92) "It (the table) clearly points out that it would be an error to assume any correlation between the two test methods."

     However, I found this on the Internet:

     "New statistical data analysis suggests that for most cartridges ANSI/SAAMI Maximum Average Piezo (PSI) and Maximum Average copper crusher (CUP) taken in a "standard" barrel can be related by the following formula which has an R^2 value (a statistical measurement of certainty) of .927.

(1.51586 * CUP) - 17902.0 = PSI

     While the relationship is generally within Kpsi (it assumes that the CUP was determined using ANSI/ SAAMI standards) one should not rely on this conversion for absolute maximum loads."

     The Lyman 47th Handbook table, pg. 93, shows both CUP and psi pressures for a set of cartridges. This table was developed by the Hercules Powder Co. 

     I applied the formula to the CUP pressures in the Lyman table and the formula worked pretty well.

     The left three columns in this table duplicate the Lyman table.











223 Rem






22-250 Rem






222 Rem






6MM Rem






243 Win






25-06 Rem






257 Roberts






257 Roberts +P






270 Win






7MM-08 Rem






7X57 Mauser






7MM Rem Mag






280 Rem






30 Carbine






30-06 Spr.






30-30 Win






300 Savage






300 Win Mag






303 British






308 Win






8X57 Mauser






8MM Rem Mag






338 Win Mag






35 Rem






45-70 Gov't.






     "ESTIMATED PSI" shows the pressure estimated using the formula above, from the CUP values in the Lyman table.

     "ESTIMATED PSI/MEASURED PSI" shows percentage values indicating how close the estimated pressure is to the measured pressure.

     The largest percentage is 110.77% (estimated pressure was 110.77% of measured pressure), the smallest percentage was 87.65%, and average was 100.5%.

     Given the fuzziness of chamber pressure measurements this appears to be a reasonably accurate method of converting CUP to PSI and the reverse.

     Heed the warning on the Internet site "one should not rely on this conversion for absolute maximum loads."


Ric Bowman

     I spent one whole shooting season working with one rifle, '03 Springfield, and some 15 sets of reloading dies.

     By far, with no exceptions, the arbor press dies by Wilson will make the most concentric ammo. You just have to have them adjusted for your chamber and size of bullet. For modern 7/8 X 14 screw-in dies, brass preparation was very important:

  • 1. Polish the inside of every neck with 0000 steel wool and keep it mirror bright

  • 2. Chamfer the neck well

  • 3. After adding powder, wipe inside of neck with Imperial sizing die wax sparingly

Loading techniques:

  • 1. Use an "M" die exactly the same size as the bullet, the case will spring back just enough to hold the bullet in the neck

  • 2. If the bullet was made to use Lyman press on gas checks, use them; it made for Hornaday crimp on gas checks, use them.

  • 3. Anneal your gas checks if they are hard

  • 4. Use Lee die "O" rings between your dies and the press, the die should wiggle when pushed from the side

  • 5. Use the same brand of shell holder as the press and make sure that the ram, shell holder and press are square with each other.

  • 6. Each seating die is an individual, as no brand makes all good ones or all bad ones

     At the end of the year, in a nice NM barrel, all ammo with 0.003 run-out, or less, shot in the same group size. Ammo with greater than 0.004 run-out were measurably larger on the 100 yard target.

     There were several groupings of dies that would consistently make ammo of 0.003 run-out or less, but any time you had to force the bullet into the neck, run out increased.

     Bullets were Lyman 311299 and Lyman 311284, cast from WW's +2% tin, and sized 0.311 to fit the ball seat between the case neck ledge and the 0.309 throat. Seated so that the top driving band was hard against the 0.309 throat. Noses of both bullets were engraved by the lands.

     The rifle is a 1934 Springfield NRA Sporter with a Star gauged barrel. While NM and Sporters have standard chambers, the throats are smaller and about 0.025 longer with a different contour than issue throats. The chambers are also burnished to a finer finish. At least that is my experience after making chamber casts as of 5 from 1924 thru 1934 barrels.

     Scope is an early Unertl 14 power. The load is 20.0 grains of SR4759, weighed on an electronic scale. All groups were 10 shots on the 100 yard small bore target used by the CBA.

     The same 100 pieces of WW brass was used, primer pockets uniformed and neck turned to even out about 1/2 the area after FL resizing in a Wilson press die.

     Primers (WW-LR) were all from the same carton, and there were 30 left, if memory serves me, so I shot about 970 rounds all together. That doesn't count dummy rounds made up to try seating and concentricity test with the run out fixture.

     Bullets were both '299 and '384 as that is what I had weighed and sorted in 0.1 grain groups. Only the bottom lube groove was lubed with Grey's 24. Both shoot equal groups and neither was more consistent than the other.

     Smallest group was 0.82 inches, but four more sets of this die combination averaged a little over 1.1 inches. This was a Redding FL resizer set 0.080 above the shell holder, a RCBS seating die that I sent back to have the punch set up for the 311284 bullet and a Lyman "M" die (31 caliber L) polished down to 0.3105. Shell holder was a Texan #1 in my Texan turret press. That just happened to be my best combination that would hold run out to 0.003 or less. BUT it would still throw a round out of the run out criteria if there was dirt or bullet lube in the die to cock the bullet during seating.

     The largest combination that I shot was from a Lee collet die, Lyman 30 caliber "M" die and a Lachmiller (sp) seater. Runout was random 0 to 0.006 but something unseemly was happening to the bullets on seating or on trying to orient the case and bullet in the chamber, something I always do.

     Groups were 8 rounds in 1 1/2 or so and flyers out to about 2 1/4".

     I'm not a statistician (we all know what Mark Twain said about numbers right?) so didn't keep all the data. I was looking for general principles and what I needed to make the best ammo for my Springfield’s.

My conclusions:

     In a tight chamber and throat, run out makes a difference, but as the chamber is bigger, it matters less, relatively.

     Know your tools and dies.

     Don't bend your bullets trying to seat them in too tight of neck.

     Read my original post for general tips and advice. HTH, Ric

     Attached is my fixture. It is a commercial model, but unmarked. It is made from three one inch bars and bored for a common rod that the bars slide on.

     The bars are adjustable along the length of the rod. I try to place the center bar 1/4 inch behind the shoulder to use the maximum length of the case for a reference line. The end bar has the dial indicator mounting rod and the indicator is infinitely adjustable. The whole thing sets on the base of ground plate glass. See picture #1.

     The case rests on four stainless steel ball bearings centered over the bar. The case then rotates on these bearings. The dial indicator digit then rides on the chosen part of the neck. This gives you a "relative" run out compared to the line between the ball bearings. As long as you have everything tightened down, it is 100% repeatable

 and reproducible. I roll the back of the case to move the digit over the neck. You can also add a magnetic base and second dial indicator, that I do for brass to check on how square the base is to the body. Now, to check bullet run out, you seat a bullet, move the digit to some point on the bullet, roll and read the run out. The major problem is that cast bullets are not round! Run out on the nose of bore riding bullets that I make can be up to 0.006 " depending upon the mould. A well lapped and polished mould with good technique will make bullets about 0.001 or 0.002" run out over the whole circumference of the bullet. (I have worked a little with these and can't prove that rounder ones shoot better groups than not rounder ones if you orient the bullet to the bore, for nose riding designs.) If possible, I try to read from the top driving band of the seated bullet. For short nose designs or ones with the top driving band at least 50% up the length of the bullet, I think this gives a reasonable reading for bullet run-out. To compare run out between rounds with cast bullets, you have to read from the same relative point on the bullet. This requires that the bullet and case be oriented in the same relative position to each other. I use a point 90 degrees from the casting line on the side that doesn't have a punch mark on the nose. All of my testing has been with Model 1903 Springfield’s. The extractor is adjusted so that when the case is chambered, the hook is floating in the groove and doesn't touch the case. I have no idea at all if any of this makes a difference with Remington type actions that have a clip extractor and spring loaded ejector pushing on the bottom of the case! Ask any questions, as I don't know how well I have explained all of this. Best wishes, Ric

Target and Hunting Ammo, the Way I do it

Bill McGraw

     For the best results, make some match brass from your favorite brand, de-prime, clean in a case cleaner, weigh out how many you want of equal weight, +/-0.5 grains or less. Neck turn (for bottleneck cases) to equal neck walls, 0.009-0.015” depending on use, uniform the primer pockets and flash holes, and weigh them again to be sure they remain within your weight standards. If you want to load them in orientation as Frank “Ole Duke” Marshall did, then a small file mark on each rim will help identify the orientation for chambering. Neck size or FLS depending on the rifle action used. Try to keep the neck tension so that the bullets will not be deformed on seating or so that they won’t be de-bulleted if the loaded rounds need to be extracted.

     Select a bullet mould or two that fits your rifle’s chamber and throat as has been described in other articles. The alloy you use will depend on your local supply and the intended use for target or hunting whether for handguns (revolver or semi-auto), or rifles (bolt action, lever action, or semi-auto).

     The alloy should be repeatable as close as possible for each furnace-full. I try to keep a large supply of cleaned WW, Pb (6 BHN cable or roofing sheathing), some Tin (Sn), and maybe some linotype or other type metals for making up some harder alloy for auto-pistol ammo. My favorite alloy is WW : Pb at 1:1 or 1:2 ratios without adding any Sn. It ranges from 8-9 BHN and is suitable for lo-vel revolver and some rifle loads and is what I use for most of my heat-treated-quenched and nose-annealed hunting ammo (HT-Q NA). I tend to HT-Q most of my alloy for all shooting as long as the bullets are fitted well for the gun’s chamber throat or cylinders as the hard alloy shoots best with minimal or no fouling.

     I HT the bullets at 450F for 45 minutes (verify the temperature with a separate temperature gauge in the oven) and quickly quench the container in cold tap water. I use a coffee percolator aluminum strainer, the one with holes in the bottom. Use oven mitts to pick it up and transfer it quickly to a plastic pail of water; don’t drop it in, just gently put it in the water. Then dry the bullets on a towel until they are dry; age them at least 30 hours, 72 is best. The BHN should be 27-28. If any sizing or tapering is needed, do that first; seating gas checks is best done after HT-Q. The HT-Q NA bullets with the 1:2 ratio will have a nose BHN of 8-9 and a base of 24-26; the base loses a few points of BHN with the nose anneal process.

     To anneal the nose of an HT-Q bullet, place the bullet in a small bottle cap, metal cap is best, so that the base is covered with water; then heat the nose with a flame from a torch-type butane lighter (tobacco shops) or other source of flame. Typical propane torches have too much velocity and are balky to use. There are various types to use; Radio Shack may have some. I also use a Dental Lab grain alcohol hand-pumped torch that works well. A FN bullet with a drop of water on the nose will boil off the water within about 5 seconds and another 5 seconds will anneal the nose quite well. It is entirely possible to melt the nose; some timing is necessary to get consistent results. Verify the nose and base if you have a BHN tool; if not, use side-cutters to cut sample bullets to test the hardness of the nose compared with the base hardness; the difference is obvious. Now, once the process is working, just repeat the process until you have 10 or 15 HT-Q NA hunting bullets; they are ready to seat gas-checks, lube and ready to hunt. You don’t need any complicated ovens or special trays for quenching or nose-annealing.

     Bullet lube is not a major factor, but use what you like. I do not prefer any with paraffin, but use beeswax, anhydrous lanolin, and Neat’s-foot mixed to suit me. I have made a number of lubes over the years and tried many factory lubes; none seemed to make any difference once everything else is done right. Hard lubes aren’t necessary; softer seems to work better for all applications.

     I use either Winchester or Remington primers for all powders and get the most consistent ignition with all charges. I have used CCI and Federal and they have their places for my pistol ammo.

     My favorite powder for pistol loads is AA#2 (two) and it works unusually well for target loads in rifles; a 30% of case capacity is about maximum and a 20% is a good starting load for working up to a load that will headspace the cartridge, and I expect the charges to open the case necks consistently; note the wall thicknesses above—thin opens quicker than the thicker ones. AA#2 is obviously not a rifle powder and there are no book loads for them. Other powders just don’t work as well; I’ve tried all the Hercules flake-types and they work OK up to a point, then foul the throats with alloy. Others, 2400, 4227, 4198 are good ones but the PSI must be high enough to headspace and open the necks consistently.

     For high velocity target, hunting and long-range target loads in bottle-necked cases, I like to use a powder that fills the case for 100% density. AA3100, 4831, and 4350 of either brand works well. Just make sure the load is a safe book load. I have used 4895, 3031, 4064, 4320 single-based stick powders and they work well, but when working up the loads I get to a point where increased charges don’t shoot as well; MV’s are lower. In 250 Sav, 308 Win, and 30-06 I can range from 2400 fps with 308, and 2550-2850 fps with the others depending on bullet weight and powder choice. My 30-06 loads are the 314299 (fitted), 58-AA3100 for 2550 fps; with 58-4350 the RCBS 30-165 Sil for 2850 fps; in 250 Sav 42-3100 with 90 gr custom CB for 2775 fps. All three will shoot into 1.5 MOA out to 600 Yds, but hunting effective range is not more than 300 Yds, and in reality is 150 Yds in hunting conditions.

     On white tail deer the HT-Q NA bullets are as effective as any partition bullet. The bullet nose expands on entry and the shank will travel straight thru without tumbling and will generally exit thru 30 + inches of animal. They are effective. FN CB’s do not necessarily need to be nose-annealed unless shot at lower MV’s as with a 30-30 Winchester. At close range, the RN and SP CB’s do not need to be nose annealed as long as the MV is high, about 2550 MV.

     Standard disclaimer. All data is to be verified with loading manuals. Eye and hearing protection is required. Work up all loads carefully.

William W. McGraw, Dec. 22, 2005



Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned.

Always consult recognized reloading manuals.


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