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Cast Bullets For Beginner And Expert
SECOND EDITION, 2007 - Joe Brennan
Chapter 6.6.3

Reloading Cast Lead Bullets For Handgun

A collection of articles by various cast bullet handgun shooters
Shooting Lead Bullets In Handguns
Norman F. Johnson

     A number of handgun shooters get discouraging results in their initial attempts at cast bullet reloading for some of the same reasons that new cast bullet rifle shooters experience poor performance. These poor results are usually due to a lack of understanding of what is needed to make cast bullets shoot well. In the following paragraphs I will attempt to bring into focus a few simple rules that need be followed in order to allow even the novice cast bullet loader to produce acceptable, if not outstanding, results. I will also attempt to dispel some old wives' tales that seem to abide, mostly because glossy gun writers pass on these misconceptions to shooters decade after decade.

     The first and most important characteristic of the cast bullet is that its diameter be properly fitted to the particular gun in which it is to be fired. Right up front I would like to make a statement that knowledgeable cast bullet shooters have come to accept, quite correctly, as a universal truism - undersized bullets, even those that are undersized by only 0.001" will very often allow serious leading and its associated loss of accuracy.

     The second statement that should be remembered is that hard bullets are not necessarily desirable for your own particular loads - sometimes softer, even much softer bullet alloy, will work better. We will expand on that statement in some of the following paragraphs.

Bullet Fitting

     The chambers of firearms have a nomenclature that needs be to be understood. Starting with the base, we have the main body of the chamber. Ahead of the body is the neck. In a straight walled case the neck is merely a continuation of the main body and is indistinguishable from it. The bottleneck case has a neck that is reduced in diameter to hold the bullet in a firm grip. Since this is a handgun chapter, we will deal mostly with the straight case but the fitting principle is the same for both case types.

     Immediately ahead of the case neck is the chamber throat. This throat has also been called the ball seat or bullet seat. The throat is either straight or has a very slight taper leading to the forcing cone. The forcing cone is tapered from the end of the throat to the rifling origin. It is the diameter of the throat that is all important in choosing the proper bullet diameter.

     When the round is chambered and fired, hot, high pressure gases begin to push the bullet out of the case and into the throat. It is here that, if a good gas seal is not realized, the bullet integrity can be compromised. As the hot gases impact on the bullet base they also tend, depending upon bullet diameter, to rush alongside the bullet between it and the throat wall, scouring the bullet. This action is properly referred to as gas cutting. The gas cutting blows a small amount of molten lead and lead vapor ahead of the bullet where some condenses on and attaches to the bore wall. The bullet then runs over the deposited lead, further degrading the bullet. In severe instances, enough lead can be deposited within five rounds to completely ruin accuracy.

     Leading that is caused by gas cutting is easily diagnosed by examining the forcing cone of the firearm. If leading is apparent there, it is from gas cutting. If the leading occurs down the barrel or near the muzzle, it is a bullet lube problem; either not enough lube or one that is not up to the challenges of high velocity shooting. Lube failures are rare in handgun loads because of the relatively low velocities.

     Gas cutting is eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, by making sure that the bullet diameter is no more than .0.0005" less than throat diameter. If the bullet is larger than throat diameter, as long as the resulting cartridge is not too large in diameter to chamber easily, it will work just as well regardless of the glossy gun writers claims about leading and excessive pressures. I have for many years commonly used bullets that are up to 0.007" over nominal bullet diameter in handguns where throats are grossly oversize. Unfortunately oversize throats are not an uncommon condition of either old or new firearms.

     Remember, however, that it is not a safe practice to use oversize bullets that result in a cartridge that does not chamber easily because the neck must be allowed to expand slightly for safe bullet release. To attempt to use a cartridge so loaded is to risk generating excessive pressures.

Bullet Hardness

     Many are under the impression that hard bullets work best. Very often, the exact opposite is true. In many cases, use of softer bullets would be to one's advantage. The reason is that the softer alloys are more easily bumped up to fill the throat (obturate) when the powder is ignited. While depending upon bump-up of soft bullets cannot ever be as dependable as correct bullet fitting, it can help in some small number of instances.

     Forcing cone leading is nearly always the result of oversize cylinder throats or undersize bullets, not because the alloy is too soft. In fact, sometimes, for a given powder charge, a softer bullet will shoot more accurately because softer alloys will allow for more complete obturation (bumping up) and reduce or eliminate gas cutting.

     Correct bullet hardness for revolver target loads is about 8-12 BHN, depending upon the charge giving best bullet stability and the chamber pressure generated. The usable maximum chamber pressure of an alloy is a function of its Brinnell Hardness Number. As a rule of thumb, optimum chamber pressure for adequate obturation is about four times yield strength.

     Within the range of alloy hardness used for typical as-cast or heat treated bullets (from 5-30 BHN), yield strength is approximated by the BHN multiplied by 480. This means that a soft alloy of 8 BHN, such as factory swaged lead bullets will stand up to about 15,000 CUP (8 x 480 x 4=15,360), and an alloy of 12 BHN will stand up to about 23,000 CUP. This corresponds to the pressures generated by 4-6 grains of fast burning pistol powders such as Bullseye, 231, Red Dot, Green Dot or 452AA, which are all well suited for the .44 Special.

     My favorite all-purpose alloy is a mixture of indoor-range backstop lead (mostly .38 wadcutter and .22 rimfire bullets) mixed with about 1 part in 20 of Linotype to provide some minimal tin to improve casting. This stuff makes a nicely filled out soft bullet of 11 BHN. By the way, this soft alloy also shoots well in moderate .30 cal. rifle loads up to about 1500 fps, and is without peer in the slow big bores, such as the .45-70.


     In a revolver the throats are the areas in each cylinder chamber immediately ahead of the portion of the chamber where the brass case rests and into which the bullet projects. If the bullet is sized so that it is a gentle force fit in the throat, all else being equal, your accuracy potential will increase greatly.

     Measure the throat diameters and slug the barrel. If you have a gun that has throats smaller than the groove diameter, (fortunately, an infrequent condition) there is not much hope for reasonable accuracy. From an accuracy standpoint, revolvers will not tolerate an undersize lead bullet rattling down the bore.

     When you slug your barrel, note if there is a tight spot or area anywhere in the barrel. Pay particular attention to the back of the barrel where it enters the frame. A tight spot here is common and can size down your bullet. This situation can be remedied by lapping the bore.

     Proper bullet fit in a revolver can do wonders. I can beat all my shooting buddies any day of the week; not because I am a better pistol shot, but because I fit all of my ammo to each particular gun - a decided advantage. I learned this way back when the Redhawk first came out. Through a series of very fortunate circumstances, I ended up with a matched set of the first year run. With their badly oversize .434" throats and using conventional ammo, the very best that I could get from them was 2" machine rest groups. By fitting bullets properly, they will now do 3/4" groups all day, even with full house loads. This dramatic improvement was realized in all my revolvers and I became a better shot overnight than I ever thought that I would be. It really is worth the effort.

     Some revolver chambers have all six throats that are virtually identical, while some vary 0.0006 - 0.0007". Most hold 0.0003 - 0.0004" variation which is good enough, in my experience. Very carefully running an oversize soft slug through all six throats will give one the diameter of the smallest throat. This diameter is optimum for bullets fired in that gun.

     You may very well find that your bullets shoot better with no sizing. My bullet sizer is virtually retired these past 15-20 years. Many bullets, as they fall from the mold, are already undersized for many modern production revolvers.

     Tip - I fit most of my revolver bullets so that they will be a push fit into the throats and then load the cartridges so that bullets reach way out into the throats for good initial guidance; that is, with the bullet and bore axes perfectly collinear.

     For those who load their rounds so that the bullets crimp at the crimp groove, rather than having them extend way out into the throat, oversize bullets, even those that are larger in diameter than the throats, can provide a definite advantage. There will be virtually no gas cutting, no matter what the bullet alloy.

     Where a really long blunt bullet is loaded way out into the cylinder, the diameter determination is a little more crucial. I shoot mostly heavy (long) blunt bullets in revolvers because they allow me to load really long, to within 0.1" of the front of the cylinder face. This is important to me because, given a snug fit, the bullet holds its axis in nearly perfect co-linearity with that of the bore for an ideal launch situation. The chambers themselves are usually pretty sloppy so that conventional ammo will not lay coaxially in the chamber. Not good!

     My Blackhawk came with .4545" throats and a .449" bore. That is a ridiculous mismatch, yet I shoot .454 - .4545" bullets in it, in both target and "boomer" 350 grain hunting loads. In addition, all of my .44 throats run at about .434" so most of my .44 bullets are made to .4335 - .434" area, again depending on the gun.

     There is one caveat to the "big is good" situation, however. If the bullet is so large in diameter that the resulting cartridge experiences chambering interference, the situation is NOT GOOD. This is because the case neck must have a little room to expand for safe bullet release. For this reason, for the inexperienced reloader, it is prudent to keep bullet diameter pretty close to that of the revolver's smallest throat.


     For the autoloaders, most of which do not have a throat, any bullet diameter which is just large enough to prevent leading, up to that which just allows free and easy chambering of the loaded round, will work about equally well.

     For instance, my 1911 target gun will shoot .452" bullets w/o leading. However, because I use lots of .454" bullets for my revolvers, and because the .45 ACP cartridges loaded with .454" bullets chamber freely, I do not bother to size them at all for 1911 use. All will hold the 10 ring all day long. No exaggeration! Very satisfying!

     Fitting of the bullet to the chamber throat and proper powder selection (meaning as slow a powder as will give one desired velocities) will do wonders for leading characteristics and accuracy.

     The first step in determining bullet diameter needed for optimum accuracy results in a self-loader such as the 1911 is to measure the chamber diameter as well as to slug the bore. If your molded or commercial bullets are about 0.001" larger than the slugged bore dimension, try those for accuracy. If it is acceptable, you are already there. If not, measure the brass thickness for the lot of brass that is being used. Choose a bullet that will make a cartridge that is about .002" less than the measured chamber diameter. In other words, choose a bullet that will make a cartridge that will drop freely into the chamber. Here, the intent is to assure that little or no gas cutting occurs before the bullet is sealed into the bore. Do not force a round into the chamber for fear of causing soaring pressures because the brass cannot expand sufficiently to release the bullet safely. I find that the largest diameter round that will fall freely into the chamber is safe.

     For my .45 autos, this diameter is about 0.453 - 0.454".  My .45 revolvers require 0.454 - 0.456", depending on the gun. For the .45's, if one has a mold that casts .455" bullets (.45 Colt molds), he is well on his way because, although seldom necessary, they can always be sized a little.

     For those who are serious about shooting their cast bullets accurately, having a custom mould made is well worth the effort and expense. Custom makers like LBT will make custom molds to your specified diameter(s) for only a few dollars more than those that come from the big commercial houses.

     One further observation: When these larger than nominal diameter bullets are used and when a roll crimp is employed, sometimes there is a slight bulge produced right at the crimp. Because the resulting cartridge will not drop freely into the chamber, this can give one the impression that the bullet diameter is too great, and the unknowing reloader might reduce bullet diameter thus negating his efforts to minimize gas cutting. The solution is to use a taper crimper judiciously. The taper crimper does have the unfortunate ability to size down the bullet if it is not properly adjusted, so approach your die setting carefully.

God Bless! Norm

More About Shooting Lead Bullets in Handguns
by Adrian Pitfield

     To develop accurate cast bullet loads for handguns means we need to control the problems associated with gas cutting. The pictures below will help to illustrate this point. The pictures show samples of a 180 grain PBTC bullet fired from a Smith & Wesson Mod. 27-2 in .357 Mag.

Worst Case:

Good Case:

Best Case:

Worst Case: The bullet shows severe signs of gas cutting. Slight groove engraving can just be seen on the front driving bands, but all signs of the grooves on the rearmost band have been abraded. Such loads can be expected to give serious leading problems and accuracy will fall off very quickly after several rounds have been fired.

Good Case: The bullets show clear groove engraving on all driving bands from front to rear. Slight gas cutting can be seen on the rear band and is confirmed by bullet diameter measurements in this area. No gas cutting could be detected by diameter measurements in front of the lube groove. The width of the groove engraving on the front driving band is wider than at the rear, indicating a mismatch of alloy hardness and chamber pressure just after powder ignition. This could be due to one or more reasons which will be discussed later. Nevertheless, accuracy with such loads should be good and leading minimal.

Best Case: This shows the ideal situation, no sign of gas cutting or alloy yielding to chamber pressure. This ideal set-up might be difficult to achieve in practice without resorting to some tricks better known to the dedicated cast bullet shooter. I admit to resorting to one of these tricks and actually used a powdered shot buffer  (similar to Buffer Mix #47 from Ballistic Products Inc.)

     The four major ways of controlling gas cutting are as follows:

  • Bullet Fit see previous chapter 6.6.8 by Norman F. Johnson.
  • Bullet Hardness  see previous chapter 6.6.8 by Norman F. Johnson.
  • Powder Selection
  • Bullet Selection

     The four items mentioned above are listed in descending order of importance based on my experiences gained over the last 20+ years.

Powder Selection: Before selecting a particular powder from a reloading manual we should have a fairly clear picture in our minds as to what happens after the firing pin strikes the primer. As the powder charge burns, the gas pressure builds up and the force acting on the bullet’s base causes the bullet to move forward after the moment of inertia is overcome. As the bullet progresses along its path it makes contact with the grooves of the barrel and is forced to rotate about its own longitudinal axis. The strain on the bullet and its acceleration is directly related to the gas pressure and reaches a maximum as the chamber pressure peaks. The question, whether the bullet can successfully withstand this ordeal is not just a question of alloy strength, but also where the bullet is as the chamber pressure peaks. A fast pistol powder will mean that the pressure will peak before the bullet has travelled very far. Depending on the seating depth and length of the bullet on the one hand and the chamber’s throat on the other, this could mean that the bullet has only just started to engrave the rifling as the pressure peaks. It is the area of bullet/groove contact which has to take the strain caused by the acceleration of rotation (Ref. 1 and 2.). Sticking with the example of the 180 grain PBTC in the .357 Mag. bullet travel at P max. will vary according to powder charge and type.

Fast (like N320) = 0.3-0.4” (powder charge 4.3 to 5.4 grain; P max. 18,600-28,200 psi) Medium (like 3N37) = 0.4-0.5” (powder charge 6.0 to 7.5 grain; P max. 18,000-28,600 psi) Slow (like N110) = 0.4-0.5” (powder charge 13.5 to 14.5 grain; P max. 27,900-30,600 psi) Source: QuickLOAD software from Hartmut Broemel, Babenhausen, Germany.

     Generally, fast powders are used for plinking and target loads, whereas the slow powders are used for hunting and maximum loads. Even when considering target loads, it is worthwhile considering powder burn rates somewhere between fast and slow. Slower powders will not only achieve a given velocity with lower pressure, but also allow an increase in bullet/groove contact before P max. is attained. This can be very beneficial if the target bullets are made from a soft alloy or even of the hollow-base variety. Often the low charges of fast powders in target loads can burn “dirty”. A change to a heavier charge of a slightly slower powder can eliminate this niggling effect.

     Here in Germany most of the major shooting associations require certain power factors for centre-fire handgun events. The trend is definitely leaning towards the heavier bullets combined with medium burn powders. Powders like the N340 and 3N37 are becoming very popular and are often be used in a wide range of calibers from 9 mm Luger through to .44 Rem. Mag. Even some shooters are using these powder types in the .45 Auto with good results.

Bullet selection: The discussion in this paragraph will be limited to bullet form and weight and not touch on bullet hardness since this has been reviewed already. The most popular bullet forms for hand gunners are the semi-wadcutters(SWC), round nose(RN), roundnose-flatpoint (RNFP) and the truncated cones(TC). All of these bullet forms can be used for accurate loads, although in certain guns a particular weight and form will work better than others. A good starting point for cartridge length is .010" under maximum permissible length with this gun and bullet and not the maximum length written in the manuals. This helps to ensure that bullet /groove contact is optimised during powder burning. There might be some exceptions here, especially in semi-auto pistols where a longer cartridge length might be permissible from the chamber dimensions, but will not fit in the magazine and/or cycle properly. Of course trying to maximise cartridge length can be difficult when using shorter and hence lighter bullets. The seating depth with such bullets might not be sufficient to give consistent combustion, especially when using anything slower than fast powders. I think it is appropriate to make sure that bullets are seated to more than .250" into the case. Usually accuracy is easier to achieve with bullets with a short nose section and having a wider front driving band. The short nose section helps promote the ratio of bearing length to overall length and a wider front driving band has more flesh so to speak and is useful as the bullet begins its travel into the grooves and lands.

     In loads where a certain power factor is required and successive shots need to be fired quickly, heavier bullets have an edge over lighter bullets. The recoil tends to be more tameable and the gun doesn’t kick so high allowing a quicker/easier recovery of the sight picture. Competitive shooters here in Germany are going more for the 140/150 grains in 9MM; 170/180 grains in .357 Mag. and 300 grains in .44 Rem. Mag. Gas check bullets are not really necessary for target shooting if the bullet “fits” and the chamber pressure and alloy strength are well harmonised. If there is any mis-match for these conditions a gas checked bullet can work wonders in controlling the level of leading during a shooting session. On the other hand soft gas checks or shot buffers can also be used with similar effects.

     In working up an accurate load there might be some signs of bullet tipping on the target - small crescents can appear around the shot holes. This could either be, that the bullet diameter is a tad too small or that the velocity was not high enough to stabilize the bullet. The latter cause is more likely with longer bullets being fired at distances of 50 yards and more. Try sizing bullets larger to start with and if problem still exists try increasing powder charge. Alternatively, switch to next slower powder to increase velocity without dramatically changing chamber pressure.

  • Ref. 1. Cast Bullets by Col. E.H. Harrison (ret.) NRA publication, page 14 ’’ Is jumping the rifling likely?’’

  • Ref. 2. The Bullets flight from powder to target by F.W. Mann M.D., page 368 ’’ Kinetics of spin’’.

Cast Bullets in Revolvers
by Adrian Pitfield

     It is assumed that the revolver concerned is capable of decent groups with either jacketed or plated bullets to demonstrate that it is a “good-shooter” so to speak. Before starting any load development with cast bullets, check the bore diameters of the cylinder and compare this with the forcing cone diameter of the barrel. Decent accuracy can be expected with the cast bullets as long as the cylinder bores are equal or larger in diameter than the forcing cone. If the forcing cone diameter is larger than the cylinder bores accuracy will be disappointing, but it is nothing a competent gunsmith could not put right. I like to check the correct bullet diameter by driving soft, oversized bullets or round-balls through the cylinder and checking the diameter. Then confirm this by choosing a bullet with this measured diameter and then drive these bullets through the cylinder using a wooden dowel. They shouldn’t fall through freely, but should need a moderate steady force to drive them through. Make sure the cylinders are really clean before doing this test otherwise there is a good chance of misreading the results. I then like to check the maximum cartridge length with this bullet/gun combo. Make up a dummy round – it goes without saying of course no powder or primer Having chambered the dummy then measure and note the distance from the tip of the bullet to the front face of the cylinder using a digital calliper. Then insert a naked bullet into the same cylinder and gently push forward until the bullet nestles against the cylinder throat. With the bullet held in place measure again the distance between bullet head and the front face of the cylinder. Now calculate the max. cartridge length for this gun and bullet. For initial testing choose an overall length of max. less .010".

     Unfortunately, most loading manuals do not highlight the most accurate loads, but tend to concentrate on max. loads. Sometimes they will also give starting loads. The best information can be gleaned from studying match reports and some internet sources are quite useful. Try to identify which powders are most popular with the accuracy crowd. After finding a popular load and after checking with the manuals that the load is not too excessive, make up 5 series of 5 or 10 rounds each with powders charges varying from –10%, -5% , +0% +5% and +10% of chosen load. Start by firing the rounds with the lowest powder charge first and work through to the highest charge in order to identify the powder charge giving best accuracy. In the second stage repeat the test, or fine tune the powder charges to confirm initial testing. Having done this, in the third stage we then alter bullet’s seating depth to see if accuracy can be improved some more. After finishing each shooting session check the cylinder and forcing cone for tell–tale signs of leading. If leading is occurring this does not necessarily mean that chamber pressure is too high or that the bullet alloy is too soft. It sounds like a paradox, but often the bullet alloy is too hard or chamber pressure not high enough. Sometimes switching to a softer alloy or increasing the powder charge by 5 or 10% can work miracles. If you switch alloys from say 16 BHN to about 10 BHN it is often necessary to reduce the powder charge by 5-10% to get the same accuracy as with the harder alloy.

My personal experience with 180 grain cast bullet in BHN = 16 (50% Linotype :50% pure lead) and 7,5 grain 3N37 in my S&W Mod. 27 will lead lightly after 20-30 rounds. This picture shows the leading.

In later testing I found that increasing the powder charge to 8,0 grain eliminated the leading. I now use BHN = 10 alloy ( 20:1 Pb:Sn) and accuracy was improved by backing off to 7,0 grain and no leading to boot

Just to see whether this no leading result was just a pressure effect I repeated the test with BHN = 16 bullets – surprise, surprise I still had leading with BHN = 16! See the leading in the barrel.

     For light loads where no minimum requirements on velocity or energy apply concentrate on low bullet weights (BHN range 10-16) and fast burning powders like Bullseye.

     For moderate loads where a certain powder factor is required and shooting is usually at 75 feet or less concentrate on heavier bullets (BHN range 10-16) and powders with a medium burning rate like Longshot or 3N37.

     For maximum loads at longer distances concentrate on the heaviest bullets (BHN range 16-22) with slow burning pistol powders. If accuracy is not quite there consider the use of gas-check bullets or resorting to Soft Checks or alternatively a shot buffer to eliminate gas cutting.

A Revolver And Cast Bullets

     I do not know much about handguns or casting or loading for them. Around 1970 I had a Ruger Blackhawk in 44 Magnum that I shot faithfully every weekend some 300 to 400 rounds. I spent most of my spare time during the week casting and reloading. The load was the Keith 429421 bullet in wheel weights, sized .430" and lubed with the black Lyman lube, Remington 2 1/2 primers and 9 grains of Unique. (The first time I shot that gun, first shot with factory loads, I had cuts on the web of my hand from the hammer, the top of my trigger finger and the top of my second finger from the trigger guard. Bleeding nicely from all.) I had read the Elmer Keith books, and shot a lot from a sitting position, knees up and supporting my hands and the gun, back against a tree or my car. My targets were balloons tied to rocks at 100 to 150 yards.

   At other times I've had and shot a Colt New Service in 45 Colt, a S&W M27 with 8 3/8" barrel in 357 Magnum, a M14 in 38 Special, the obligatory Luger and many other revolvers and auto-loading pistols.

     A few years ago I bought a nickel-plated well-used M29 with an 8 3/8" barrel and a Simmons 4X scope. I experimented with this revolver and several bullet molds, keeping good records of what I tried and the resulting accuracy.

     Summary-Here's what I think I know: Bullets much smaller than the chamber throats lead the barrel on revolvers. Lead in revolver barrels decreases accuracy. Proper size or oversize bullets eliminate leading, and are the easiest way to solve the leading problem. CF Ventures Soft Gas Checks and Cream of Wheat (COW) fillers eliminate leading, at least for slower velocity loads; and shoot with reasonable accuracy. Slower powders reduce leading. Faster loads shoot more accurately than slower loads. At least with SWC bullets.

Cast Bullets in Semi-Automatic Pistols
by Adrian Pitfield

     To develop accurate cast bullet loads in semi–automatic pistols the same basic principles that apply to revolvers are used. Some pistols will not function properly with all bullet forms. Usually, it is the short nosed SWC’s which can cause problems in as much as the action will not cycle flawlessly. Sometimes altering the bullet seating depth can help, if in doubt make up some “dummy“ rounds and cycle the action manually. A good easy way to check the bullet diameter is to insert the cast bullet nose first into the chamber of the barrel, push forward until it rests firmly in the throat. Now take a small flashlight and shine it into the chamber and now look down the barrel from the muzzle end. If no light is seen, this is a sure sign that the bullet is sealing perfectly in the throat. If the chamber has a very short and sharp throat angle with hardly any free-bore to speak of, you might see some signs of light. This could be an indication that the nose section is making contact with the grooves before the bullet’s body can make an adequate seal. Examine the bullet for groove marks on the nose section. Make a “dummy” round with this bullet diameter to see if that combination of bullet diameter and case wall thickness is not going to be too tight for the chamber. It often pays to choose a slightly larger bullet diameter, then this often helps reduce the number of flyers observed on the target during the test shooting. Check the maximum cartridge length with that particular bullet and gun in a similar fashion as described for the revolver. Check that the overall length will fit into the magazine and cycle freely when the slide is operated manually. Sometimes if the ejection port is kept small, as in the case of some target pistols the unfired cartridge can not be ejected freely by manual operation. If the cartridge is simply too long, reduce the cartridge length gradually until magazine fit and cycling problems disappear.

     Usually, cartridge case volumes of typical semi-auto calibers are often smaller than the volumes of the corresponding revolver calibers. Just compare 9 mm Luger vs. .38 Spec. or .45 ACP and .45 Colt! This means that the chamber pressures will rise faster and be higher than for revolver cartridges. This is compensated to certain extent by using lower powder charges than in the revolver. But, the effects of changing the bullet seating depth can be just as significant. Seating a bullet 0.020” deeper in the 9MM. Luger can cause the chamber pressure to rise by anything from 3,000 to 4,500 psi. Comparable figures for the .38 Spec. would be about 1,000 psi! This makes it slightly more difficult to extract really consistent and good accuracy from the small case volumes like the 9 mm. Luger. This can be best done by avoiding the very fast pistol powders like Bullseye or N320 and similar. These powders are okay in the large brethren cases like the .45 Auto with light bullet weights. Similarly, for these pressure reasons the bullet alloy needs to be fairly hard say 14-16 BHN for the 9 mm. Luger. Again, with larger case volumes the softer bullet alloys of say 10 BHN can work very well.

     Locating specific load data for pistol calibers with lead bullets can be difficult. The Lyman Reloading Handbook for Pistol & Revolver is a good starting point, but it has a strong focus on fast pistol powders –at least the second Edition from 1994 does. Also, it lacks the more modern powders. Other reloading manuals tend to focus on the jacket bullet types more than the cast lead bullets. Anybody seriously interested in reloading should really consider obtaining a ballistic software product like QuickLOAD. Of course this cannot replace nor should it replace the official reloading manuals from the powder manufacturers, but it certainly helps to show and illustrate the chamber pressure curves for the various powders. The reloader gains insights to what can and will happen to pressure and velocity by switching powders or varying the powder charge. The library on cast bullets is fairly large and existing cast bullet data files can be modified and saved in a special personal bullet data files. There maybe other similar programs available in the USA, but I admit this author is biased. He is living in Germany and although he has no personal ties or benefits from the software, the designer of the software, Hartmut Broemel lives only about 1 hours drive from the author’s house.

     In working up the loads for semi–automatics watch for any tell–tale signs of leading especially if accuracy starts falling off fairly quickly. As for revolvers try increasing the powder charge by say 5% or consider using a softer alloy –at least for those large case calibers. If with either remedy the leading does not disappear or is reduced consider switching to the next slower powder. Here in Germany it is the VihtaVuori powders which tend to dominate the market and are most popular. Serious target shooters are increasingly using the N-340 and 3N37 when it comes to cast bullet loads. Some of the reasons have been outlined already and an additional reason is the trend of using heavier bullets especially where power factors are involved. Two other reasons being cited are:

a) These slower powders are often claimed as being cleaner. This is often judged on the amount of “smoke” produced at the muzzle or the cleanliness of the spent cases. This is often quoted by shooters using indoor facilities.

b) Loads with such powders are less temperamental. That is to say that small changes in reloading procedures affecting crimp and bullet seating depth etc. do not appear to have big impacts on target accuracy.

1911 Head-spacing Method
Norm Johnson

     The .45ACP 1911 was designed by John Browning to headspace on the case mouth but in fact it rarely works this way. The case head is really held against the breech by the extractor. To prove this to yourself, measure the length of a dozen .45ACP cases. You will discover that the cases are all (even newly manufactured ones) considerably shorter than SAAMI specs call for. The resultant headspace clearance would be greater than the maximum allowed, yet the ammo will shoot fine with no stretching of cases or incipient head separation, even after many firings.

     Since 1911 barrels from Colt and other suppliers are normally chambered longer than necessary, and with the additional complication of the short cases, some of us seat our bullets to a length that allows the cartridge to headspace on the bullet. This approach allows for a more consistent firing pin strike and therefore a more consistent powder burn. Accuracy is dependent upon consistent ignition more than many shooters realize; a good reason, incidentally, to keep the firing mechanism of pistols clean. Modern rifles, having a much stronger firing chain, are not quite so subject to congealed lubricants and imbedded dust.

     To accomplish the above head-spacing approach, remove the barrel from your 1911 and then alternately seat the bullet deeper into the case and drop it into the chamber until the case base is just flush with the lip that protrudes from the barrel. Do this with each bullet type that you use in that firearm and either record the OAL or keep a dummy round as a reference. If you seat the bullet too far out, the pistol will not lock up properly and therefore will not fire when the trigger is pulled.

     Some will respond that the above will call for a cartridge that is too long to properly fit in the magazine. However, the above procedure has been used by the author for about 35 years with about every bullet imaginable in approximately 14 .45 ACP barrels and magazines have accepted all without exception. As a matter of fact, in all instances, the bullet could be seated too long in its case to allow proper locking of the action before magazine interference became a problem

God Bless! Norm

"I have used the "headspace on the bullet" for the .45 ACP for over twenty years. In a five year period, I shot 75,000 rounds. The method works - my findings parallel Norm Johnson's."

R. Dale McGee

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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 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.


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