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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

Chapter 8.5 Hunting With Cast Bullets

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: 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 expand.

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 heap.

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 hog

  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 at all).

Hog/deer double taken with a .308 and 170 gn Lyman 311291

Velocity: 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.

 How To Duplicate 32 RF Hunting Loads In CF Rifles

Ken Mollohan

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 case.

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 powder.

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 boy’s rifle.

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 around here.

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 overlooked today.

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 the situation.

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 the woods.

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 hunting skills.

Field Report-Soft Nose Cast Hunting Bullets

Bill McGraw

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

Bill McGraw

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 after firing.

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 publications. Bill McGraw - "Somewhere South of Chicago"

How To Make Cast Hunting Bullets

Ken Mollohan

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 techniques:

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. Ken Mollohan


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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