Todd A. Wolf
Hunting big game with cast bullets is
not only effective, but can be very rewarding for the consummate
do-it-yourselfer. After years of hand loading, taking big game with
jacketed bullets seemed to (yawn) drop a bit on the excitement meter. I
had always dabbled with bullet casting and had taken small game, so
developing big game loads seemed a natural progression. Developing good
hunting loads with your own cast bullets is as much art as it is science.
At times frustration can reign supreme, but that’s all part of the
challenge. Once you have that perfect lead specimen matched with the right
amount of the right powder, the correct lube, etc the resulting accuracy
could not be more pleasing.
Of course not just any bullet profile
will due. Projectiles with a wide meplat will put the most smack down on
the unlucky animal on the receiving end. You want to transfer as much
energy to the recipient as possible (and cause maximum tissue damage in
the process). Spitzer type bullets tend to just zip right on through
causing minimal damage and blood loss. Flat nose, LBT style (WFN & LFN),
Keith, and semi-wad cutters are good choices. Round nose bullets can also
give excellent terminal performance especially in the larger calibers.
Lyman 311291, .411" 240 gr.
Keith, RCBS 44-240-SIL, Lyman 429244
Alloys you can use for hunting bullets run a pretty wide range. From pure
lead (mainly for muzzleloaders) to alloys with a high tin and/or antimony
content. Heat treating will harden the latter even further. Be careful not
to make them too hard though. Pure linotype casts like a dream, but will
tend to shatter when impacting bone of any density.
Wheel weights are by far the most accessible and inexpensive alloy
available to most casters. It also works well as a big game bullet. Wheel
weights are fine for many applications and could be all you’ll ever need.
When you’re pressing towards 1800 FPS and faster, you may need to
add tin and/or antimony to harden up your bullets to prevent leading and
facilitate deeper penetration on large game. (* That last sentence was a
fairly general statement. There are many variables that cause leading.
Your own particular setup will determine how soft of an alloy you can get
away with.) Gas check designs for higher velocities are desirable as well.
Heat treating bullets via water dropping out of the mold or done in the
oven will also significantly harden your alloy. For my .308 loads I add
25% linotype to my wheel weights and oven heat treat them. I shoot the 170
grain gas checked Lyman 311291 bullets (sized to .311”) around 2000 FPS
with no leading and excellent accuracy at 100 yards. So far this has
worked very well on big game. Although cast bullets generally don’t
“mushroom” in the same manner jacketed bullets do, they will expand
depending on your alloy (and resulting BHN), bullet style, heat treating
(increases BHN) or not, and velocity. Whether or not you want much
expansion can be dictated by the game you hunt. For smallish southern
whitetails you may want a low BHN or soft point cast bullet whereas
hunting large wild hogs or moose would require a hard cast bullet for deep
penetration. (With the deer and hogs I’ve taken with hard cast bullets,
I’ve RARELY recovered the slug. They tend to just crash right on through.)
This recovered Lyman 429244
(from a boar hog) shows how air cooled wheel weights will
If you desire more expansion in your
hunting bullets, you can use one of the soft-pointing methods or a hollow
point design. Many people have had mixed success with cast hollow points
for hunting, but I have read reports with good results. It just takes some
experimentation on your part to get it right.
A note on Muzzleloaders:
Pure lead is commonly used in muzzleloaders particularly full-bore
conicals and round balls. Being very soft, pure lead expands very readily.
My son, Ryan, shot a boar hog at 35 yards with a 180 grain patched .490”
round ball propelled by 90 grains of 777 out of my .50 Lyman Great Plains
Rifle. The ball entered just behind the right shoulder, took out the
bottom of the spine, and came to rest under the hide on the opposite side.
The .490” ball had expanded to .818”.
While on an exotics hunt in Texas and
using the same gun and load, I shot an old Corsican ram behind the
shoulder at 35 yards.
The ball sailed right on through
and left an impressive exit hole. The ram stumbled 25 yards and fell in a
Although soft pure lead is most common
for round balls, I know of people that have used harder alloys like wheel
weights with good success. Basically you will be trading the pancake
expansion for more penetration. In using a .45 caliber or larger, I don’t
think wound channel would be an issue. You can also use your favorite
pistol bullets (.357”, .429”, .45”) in a fast twist muzzleloader (.45 cal,
.50 cal, .54 cal) with sabots.
Boar hog taken with a pure lead
.490 gn RB On the right is the .490 RB recovered from this
The .490 RB recovered from this hog (at right)
Although I’m sure that the smaller
calibers have taken plenty of big game with cast bullets, I personally
prefer to use .30 caliber or larger. With my .308, I generally don’t mess
with soft nose bullets, because I hunt in an area with a large feral hog
population. I want maximum penetration at my disposal at all times.\
When using those harder alloy bullets
with a projectile as narrow as .30”, I try to hit the animal through the
shoulders (as opposed to behind the shoulder). By impacting the muscle and
bone in the shoulders, more energy is transferred to the animal (rather
than zipping through the rib cage) and tends to blow bone fragments
through the heart/lung area.
Whitetail buck taken with a
Lyman 429244 (Inline ML w/sabot)
Of course this practice will
destroy more meat, but I’ll trade that for a more likely “Bam Flop”
scenario. I’ve heard stories of hunters using .30 cal cast bullets that
had to endure long sketchy blood trails after a behind the shoulder hit.
All the deer, hogs, and coyotes that I have harvested with cast bullets
have dropped within 25 yards except two (on both of the latter two I
failed to hit one or both shoulders). One of those was a whitetail buck
that was hit behind the shoulders (with a .308). That one went 50 yards
with a negligible blood trail. It was still easy enough to find, but that
incident stuck in my mind. When using a larger caliber, like a 45-70 for
instance, this phenomenon would probably be nonexistent. The wider
diameter bullets will punch a big enough hole through the lungs so as to
facilitate faster blood loss and leave a decent trail (if they go anywhere
Hog/deer double taken with a
.308 and 170 gn Lyman 311291
Minimum velocity required to take big
game with cast bullets involves some variables. Mainly, 1) The size of the
game you’re after, 2) Weight and diameter of the bullet, and 3) Max
distance you plan on shooting. If you ask 50 people you’ll very likely get
50 different answers. I’ll not try to discuss all the possible
combinations here. If you’re new to the casting game, get into the
shooting forums and ask a lot of questions. With large bore pistols (.41
mag, .44 mag, 45 LC, .454, .480, etc) in general I would try to start
around 1200 fps and faster for whitetail deer sized game (assuming 210
grain and heavier bullets). For rifles, well again too many variables. I
will say that for the more popular .30 and .35 caliber rounds (30-30,
.308, 30-06, 35 Rem, .358 Win, 35 Whelen, etc) I would use at least a
150-180 grain bullet (or heavier) and 2,000 FPS (or faster).
A pair of young hogs taken with
a .41 mag and custom 240 gn Keith bullets.
The key, as with any hunting arm, is to
understand the performance potential and limitations of your caliber/load
selection and don’t try to make your cast bullet firearm do something it’s
incapable of doing without consistency and reliability.
To Duplicate 32 RF Hunting Loads In CF Rifles
I've got a #4 RB in .32 long and a
spare breechblock that I've converted to centerfire, enabling me to shoot
.32 Colt ammo in it too. I've worked up a number of fun loads for it, and
enjoy shooting it.
I also have several hundred rounds of
32 RF ammo, but that's sort of expensive, and I don't like to waste it.
And at least in my rifle, the new Navy Arms .32 ammo isn’t very accurate.
But the .32 RF was legendary in a bygone generation for its game - getting
abilities. So I decided to duplicate the 32 RF load in the 32 Colt CF
I broke a round of old Union Metallic
.32 short ammo down, and found it was an 80g bullet (heeled of course)
over 2.4 grains of fine flake smokeless powder. Several rounds established
that it had just enough power to penetrate a pressure treated 2x4
(sideways), and dent the board below.
I tried several powders, but found that
2.2 to 2.3 grains of Unique under a 1/8" wax wad did the job nicely. The
bullet was the 85g Lyman 311419.
It doesn't have a heel, so I couldn't
load it in a .32 Colt case. I just dropped it into the chamber before
adding a case charged with powder and held together with a wax wad over
The wad (beeswax softened with enough
petroleum jelly to keep it from cracking when a case was pushed through
it) served to contain the powder charge as well as lube the bullet. This
duplicated the ballistics of the .32 RF round to a "T"
This was a great little plinking load
for the #4 RB, but it wasn’t so great in the squirrel woods because it was
such a bother to keep lubed bullets free from pocket lint. But when I
found that an unsized bullet would slip into the chamber, I realized the
lubing operation could be eliminated, as the wax wad would do the job.
I'd just keep one shirt pocket full of bullets and the other one full of
.32 Colt Long cases that were loaded with powder and topped with wax wads.
It was really very little trouble to drop them in the chamber, one after
another. The little rifle won't win any bench matches, but for hunting
purposes, accuracy was quite good, while noise was very low, and recoil of
course was non-existent. I also got similar results with Lyman 3118 slugs
(of wheel weights), and eventually came to favor that bullet in the little
Unfortunately, my eyesight has faded
with age, and I had a real problem focusing on the iron sights and the
target together. So until I got a chance to scope the #4, I decided to do
the same thing with my #3 Ruger in .30 - 40 Krag. However, I decided to
lube the bullet and seat it normally, since I didn't need a heeled bullet
for the 30 - 40. But I used a tuft of cotton (~1/4 g) to hold the powder
charge down to the base of the case, where it would be easily ignited. I
figured to start by testing the penetration of a 30 - 40 loaded with the
same 311419 and 2.3g of Unique, just to get an idea how much power loss
would result from the lower pressure from the much larger case.
I was astonished to find exactly the
same penetration in the pressure treated two by four. Apparently, the more
powerful rifle primer makes up the difference. In any case, it worked
fine, and I suspect the same formula will work pretty well in most any .30
or .32 caliber case. I put 7 shots through the same hole at about 35 feet,
shooting from a rest in my shop. The eighth shot left it a one - hole
group, but opened it up from about 0.35" to about 0.5". The rest is sort
of rickety, and I think I leaned into it at the wrong moment. But it's a
mild report, zero recoil load with plenty of accuracy for the squirrels
A special note on the effectiveness of
these loads: I’ve read that the reason that the .22’s replaced the .25 and
.32 RF loads was because they .22’s offered a flatter trajectory, making
it easier to hit game in the woods. While it’s quite true that the .22’s
DO have flatter trajectories, I’ve noted that they have problems largely
A clean hit in a vital area with a .22
means Brunswick stew on the table, and no mistake. But it also means a
sharp “CRACK” sound foreign to the woods, and a while before the alarm
fades and lets one hunt effectively again. More often than not, it also
means more or less bloodshot meat loss from over expansion of the high (er)
velocity bullet. And that’s with good shot placement. But poor bullet
placement WILL occur, if only because the dang squirrel moves just as the
trigger is pulled. Poor placement results in unnecessary suffering and
considerably more disturbance in the woods from the squirrel’s struggles,
from a second shot, or from the sound of the hunter rushing to deal with
I actually have ‘twin’ #4 Rolling
Blocks: One in .22 LR, and the other in .32 Long, which enables me to
make a good comparison of the two rounds. It has been my experience that
the .32 RF (or loads duplicating it) is a much superior hunting round in
the woods. Granted, it does suffer from a rainbow trajectory, but you’d be
surprised how little difference that makes in the woods, where shots at
small game seldom exceed 35 or 40 yards, and frequently occur at 10 or 20
yards. And the lower velocity prevents bloodshot meat. The 32 caliber has
well over twice the cross sectional striking area of 22’s, which seems to
offer considerably greater allowance for aiming error (or just bad luck).
A squirrel hit with a .32 seldom struggles at all. It’s usually a ‘snap’
from the rifle and a resulting ‘thump’ as the squirrel hits the ground as
dead as a doornail.
And that’s another advantage of the
slow .32 round: The low velocity doesn’t require the higher pressures that
give a .22 such a sharp report. Shoot a .32, and the sound is much like a
small twig falling to the ground. There is essentially no disturbance of
Yes, I like .22’s, and I still own -
and use - a barrel full of them. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see their
limitations. And yes, I still use them in the woods in spite of those
limitations. But for a delightful fall woods ramble and for sheer
pleasure, I find the .32’s a refreshing change of pace, and a much better
overall choice. And the reloads that duplicate their performance lets me
‘re-learn’ the feel and handling of a deer rifle while sharpening my
Report-Soft Nose Cast Hunting Bullets
I'm no expert, just very curious as to
what can be done with cast bullets. There were only 3 white tail deer
involved (I missed 2 standing shots!) and 2 were shot with a custom 90 gr
SP (very sharp nose point) 25 cal at 2775 MV; one shot, running toward me,
a small doe, the shot went thru from the left shoulder, shattered the
shoulder and left lung, exited the gut, and re-entered the ham on opposite
side, shot thru the ham and appeared to have not tumbled. The shot was at
35 Yds; I watched her run from a ditch 200 Yds away, and when no buck came
out, I shot the doe (12X scope) and she passed by me 5 ft. left of me and
dropped behind me a few yards.
I went downrange hoping to find the
bullet base but no luck. I took a good look at the "autopsy" for the
bullet track. It appeared the soft nose did its job on the shoulder and
left lung (nose and bone fragments went into the lung). I suspect the soft
nose opens up at entry at the hide. Second big doe was shot thru spine, a
standing shot at 70 Yds, so dark I couldn't see the crosshairs in the 12X
scope, and had to center the lighter colored hide in the center of the
scope and hit high on the spine. The 30-30 6-point buck shot was printed
in TFS as "Hunters Tails" in '85 or so; that was another 2nd running shot
at 35 Yds, thru the lungs and the nose separated and pierced the offside
ribs with a much larger hole than the base did, about 4" apart, so didn't
deviate much after the nose separated (31141). He ran 75 Yds and left a
large blood trail. I had loads for my '03 Springfield sporter 30-06 and
Mauser '98 308 Win. But never had a shot.
Glenn Latham and I have discussed the
necessity of the soft nose CB. It appears that even a fully heat treated
CB will work well if the MV is high enough to upset the nose and a FN will
work even better than a RN or SP. Bullet placement is of more importance.
Glenn has shot at least one muley with a heat-treated, no soft nose,
bullet with success; it was short range and hi-vel.
I did no wet paper or bottled water
test media; that's a hell of a lot of trouble. I did test the soft nose
(HT-Q, NA) bullets, 25, 30, and 35 cal. on dirt berms at 50 to 300 Yds.
When the CB was only HT-Q, it shot into 18+" into hard dry Mississippi
buckshot dirt at 50 Yds (measured with a steel rod); I could not recover
these. The NA CB's upset quickly, made a much bigger entry into the dirt
yet only penetrated 12"; recovered shanks were only of the non-annealed
part of the bullets. At 300 yd I recovered most of them; the noses
mushroomed classically as expected, did not separate from the shank. I
shot some 358009's (1900 MV) at 150 Yds into some hard, small gravel-like
dirt in Wyoming with the 35 Whelen and 358009; the HT-Q bullets exploded
and left only a cup-shaped hole filled with lead splattered particles; the
HT-Q, NA bullets penetrated a few more inches and the shank of the bullet
was recovered in the dirt. My assumption there is that the soft nose acted
like a shock absorber to allow the shank to penetrate further; otherwise,
the HT-Q bullet shank either disintegrated on the hard dirt or it bounced
back out of the ground.
Bill McGraw -
"Somewhere South of Chicago"
How To Make
Soft Nose Cast Hunting Bullets
I've read about several ways to make a
soft-nosed hunting bullet and considered the difficulties of the two-part
mould for nose and base, or casting a soft lead alloy into the nose cavity
before pouring the base with a harder alloy. These two certainly will
work, but seem to be either too expensive (different moulds for each
caliber) or unreliable in keeping the two parts glued/bonded together
For most purposes, any WW alloy of
12-14 BHN as cast can be reliably shot at 1800-2000 FPS and will serve
most hunters. 30-30 Win. does well in this case.
For the higher MV's up to 2850 FPS, the
CB alloy must be heat-treated to 28 BHN at a minimum for WW and Pb
mixtures. An 8 BHN alloy of 2:1 ratio of Pb: WW will heat-treat to 28 BHN,
then the nose may be annealed back to the original 8 BHN for the hunting
CB. Straight WW alloy can be used but the nose anneal will be no lower
than the as-cast BHN of 12-14. I heat-treat the pre-sized and gas-checked
CB's in the oven at 450F for 45 min. and quench quickly in water. A small
container such as a coffee percolator filter (aluminum with the bottom
perforated) is what I use for the CB container in the oven, but a small
6.5 oz. tuna can may be used as long as the bottom is perforated (don't
cut your fingers handling such). I fill a 1 quart plastic pail with tap
water for quenching. Once the 45 min. time is reached, carefully use an
oven mitt to pick up the container and quickly place, not drop the
container in the water. Insure the quench is done quickly. These bullets
must be aged at least 24 hours, 72 is better. Once aged, verify if the BHN
is minimum 28 BHN with a proper tool. Without the tool (LBT or other),
just cut samples of non-HT and HT samples with side cutting or wire
cutters to verify the HT bullets are harder.
To anneal the noses, I place one CB
into a small container (a metal jar cap) of water to cover the body of the
bullet, leaving the nose uncovered. The water is the heat-sink. I use a
grain alcohol flame, but a gentle propane flame, even a butane cigar torch
lighter will work. Heat the bullet nose for about 5 seconds; a larger mass
nose may take longer. Do not melt the nose. If the nose is a FN, place a
drop of water on the nose; when the water boils off, the bullet nose is
annealed. Use the same timing in seconds for each bullet nose. You may
then want to verify the base and nose BHN. The nose should be the original
BHN prior to HT and the base may lose 3-4 BHN; I consider 24 BHN as a
minimum for hi-vel loads. Remove that CB and repeat with another. The
water may get hot but does not seem to make any difference; you may add
cooler water. Allow the bullets to dry; then they are ready to lube with
your favorite lube and load.
No more than 20 annealed-nose bullets
are needed for any hunting season. I normally used only 5 nose-annealed
with 15 others without nose-anneal when I hunted. In a pinch, the
non-annealed bullets will hunt if a proper hit is made; A FN CB is usually
better than a RN or SP. Sighting in and testing the accuracy (<2 MOA is
typical) of these is necessary; however, the HT bullets without
nose-anneal will shoot into the same group and saves the annealed nose
bullets. This process may take some time to do, but once one does this,
you will be hooked on this simple process.
The rule for fitting the bullets is
necessary. The CB nose and body should be slightly larger, 0.001-0.003"
larger than the bore and groove of the barrel, and the throat should be
only slightly larger by 0.0005" than the sized CB diameter. I seat the
bullet to 0.015" off the lands or slightly touching the lands. Insure the
loaded rounds will chamber from the magazine and seat the OAL for that
purpose if necessary. Without this fitting, the bullet will gas-cut, foul
the bore, and will be inaccurate.
If the throat is much too large from
wear, a wad, card or plastic (I use PVC, 0.062" thick and diameter cut for
the largest part of the throat origin) will allow the load to shoot well;
the wad serves as another gas check; its diameter may be larger than the
bullet but will fit snugly in the neck. The wad must fit well inside the
cartridge neck between the powder charge and bullet base for best
performance. If the chamber will not allow the wad to fit in the neck, do
not attempt to use a wad. I have used fillers in place of the wad for
these loads, but they are controversial and sometimes decrease accuracy.
For 25-30 cal. bottle-neck cartridges,
I use the slower powders such as AA3100, 4831, or 4350 for a 100 % density
load, as long as the book load is proper for the cartridge and bullet
weight. The faster powders in the 4895 range have not done well; I don't
know why but I am testing 4895-S to see if I can make it work in 308 Win.
and 303 Brit.
I shot 3 white tail deer with these
loads, two running and one standing. All rounds exited. The noses will
mushroom on entry and the mushroom will usually slough off doing its
damage to major organs and may exit if shot thru the lungs. The base will
track straight without tumbling. The 2850 MV loads will penetrate from
front to back of a white tail deer. The bullet acts much like a Nosler
Partition, perhaps better since the base of the bullet will not upset.
These loads have normal heavy recoil
and will wear the barrel throat much like any hi-vel load. Check the bore
for any fouling; keep the bore clean, but if accuracy is maintained, no
severe cleaning is necessary.
I used a 30-30 Marlin, 311041 at 1900
MV (IMR 3031); 250 Sav. with a custom 90 gr SP CB at 2775 MV (AA3100) for
two white tails, three total with 30-30 and 250 Sav. I developed loads for
a 30-06: RCBS 165-Sil at 2550MV (AA3100), 2850MV (H4350); 314299 at 2475MV
(AA3100) but did not get a shot. My 35 Whelen with the 358009 at 290 gr
prefers a soft 12-14 BHN at 1900 MV (RL7). 45-70's seem to do well with
any BHN, but soft alloy at any MV over 1000 MV seems to work well.
None of these ideas are my own. I give
credit to Veral Smith (LBT), the CBA Fouling Shot Journal, and other
Bill McGraw -
"Somewhere South of Chicago"
How To Make Cast Hunting Bullets
Here's a topic for discussion:
Expansion of cast bullets, particularly in the context of hunting bullets.
How do you get it, and how effective is it in your experience? I only know
of a few
1. Adjust the alloy hardness to the velocity:
Takes a lot of playing around to get good accuracy with soft bullets, but
it's great when you've got it right.
2. Hollow points. Not too effective in my
limited experience. Or perhaps TOO effective: The hollow point tends to
shatter rather than promote mushrooming. Lost a substantial portion of a
deer's forequarter from this one time. Same effect, whether the hollow
point is drilled or cast. You can play with the depth and diameter of the
HP, but they mostly don't expand, or they shatter.
3. Anneal the nose: Play a torch on the nose
of the bullet until it softens / begins to melt, while keeping the base in
a tray of water. Works, but not consistent, due to variables in
application of hand-held torch.
4. Bump the nose: This is the same technique
used to fit the nose to the bore. The expansion will also break down
dendritic structures, and produce a softer nose. Never tried it, but it
should have a noticeable effect.
5. Pure lead nose. Lyman used to sell a
two-part set of molds for pistol bullets, so you could cast a hard base
and a lead nose, then super-glue them together. Supposed to work well, but
a lot of trouble. Another version is a cast lead round ball or commercial
buckshot dropped in the mold to give a softer alloy nose. The base will be
the (presumably) harder alloy you are casting with. A lot depends on
technique: Low alloy temperatures tend to just wrap around the cold ball,
especially if it's buckshot, with a graphite surface. Cast lead balls seem
to work best because they don't have the graphite coating that inhibits
blending, but the amount of work is doubled, and that doesn't even
consider much higher reject rates.
6. Cut an X into the nose with your knife.
Learned this as a kid. I also quickly learned it's a BLEEP of a lot of
dangerous blade work, and doesn't work worth a flip! Took several weeks to
heal my finger, each accompanied by a lecture or two or three from my dad
about cutting toward myself.
7. The ancient "nose divided by a sheet of
paper" trick: Just insert a bit of paper between the halves of the mold
and close them on it. With proper positioning, the paper will divide the
nose of the bullet (and as much of the base as you want) in half. The
paper can be shaved off after the bullet is cast, so it doesn't interfere
with sizing & loading. Works great, but it's a lot of trouble.
I've also used household aluminum foil
with good results. On impact, the nose shears off into two secondary
projectiles that go flopping off into the target, while the remaining base
- now almost a wadcutter - bores right on through. Also works great, if
you can be reasonably consistent with placement of the paper strip. Best
part is, this will give reliable 'expansion' of even low velocity pistol
bullets if done right.
Added note: I shaved half of a .38
wadcutter off, and got it to cast a short, stubby bullet @ 75 grain in
wheelweights. The durn things are actually a bit shorter than they are
long, even with the little nose dimple. They're great to play with, and I
can get THREE of them into a .357 case over a moderate charge of H-110.
Across the length of my basement, they spread out into a pretty regular
triangle with sides of about three inches. Separation is very consistent,
I think due to the little nose dimple. A cylinder of them gives me 18 .38
slugs, the equivalent of a double barreled 12 gauge with 000 buckshot.
This isn't expansion per se, but the increase in impacting surface area is
similar to a very effective expanding bullet. Your turn.