If a little is good, more is not necessarily better. The Golden Age of
Cast Hollow Points was arguably in the 1890s, when they were embraced by the
hunting community and established themselves as killers of the first order. The
world of ballistics was a rapidly changing pace at that time, and jacketed
bullets and ever-higher velocities eventually took over. The end result was that
while the attributes of the cast HP were appreciated by a few seasoned
hunter-casters, most of the hunting community moved on to whatever the latest
whiz-bang that was being promoted by the manufacturers. While that's perfectly
understandable, it is also a pity because cast HP’s can be some of the best
hunting bullets out there, and they offer the additional advantages of being
very affordable and easily made. What's more, once you have the mould you never
need to worry about a manufacturer dropping (or changing) your favorite bullet
design, and they offer the satisfaction of making your own premium hunting
bullets, to your own specifications, with your own two hands. To gain these
advantages, one simply needs to understand the cast HP. Let's go back to when it
all got started and see what these bullets have to offer...
In the 4th Edition of the Ideal Handbook (published in 1890) there was a
short section dedicated to "Express bullets" highlighting the .45 caliber 330
grain Gould bullet (which would later be known as the Ideal 456122 when they
started assigning cherry numbers in 1897). This bullet was designed by John
Barlow (founder of Ideal) for A. C. Gould (editor of Shooting and Fishing
magazine), an avid bullet caster and hunter (also shown was a picture of the .50
Express bullet, although no details were given). The Express Moulds cost $2.50,
and came with polished cocobolo handles (all single cavity Ideal moulds had
integral handles at this point). The excellent killing properties of the Gould
bullet were spelled out in vivid detail. Thus was the beginning of the Golden
By 1897 the following HP moulds were cataloged by Ideal in the 9th
Edition of their Handbook (I have included some of the original ad copy to give
some insight as to how Ideal thought of each of these bullets):
-- a 60 grain PB-HP for the .22-15-60 Stevens rifle, "It is astonishing how much
more deadly this bullet is with a hollow point." (other weights also available)
- a nominal 75 grain (other weights also available) HP for the .25-20 and .25-35
-- a 100 grain HP for the .32-20 Winchester, "They increase the killing powers
of .32-20 rifles greatly."
-- a 150 grain HP for the .32-40, "They increase the killing power of the rifle
greatly for deer, bear, etc."
-- designed by Col. Pickett ("the well-known grizzly bear killer"), a 205 grain
paper-patched HP for the .32-40
-- a 235 grain HP for the .38-55, "The .38-55 rifle with express bullets are
sure killers of deer and elk."
-- a 165 grain HP for the .38-40 Winchester, "Those who have .38-40 rifles can
increase their killing power by 50% by using express bullets."
-- about 330 grain HP for the .40-65, .40-70 and .40-82 Winchesters, "Every
person owning one of these rifles should have an express mould as they greatly
increase the killing power for larger game."
-- 195 grain HP for the .44-40 "Hunters will find that the killing qualities of
their .44-40 rifles are increased 50% by use of this bullet."
446110 -- a 315 grain HP for the .44-77, .44-90 or .44-100 Sharp's cartridges
-- a 325 grain paper-patched HP designed by Col. Pickett
-- a 335 grain HP designed for the .45-70 (this bullet sounds seriously
undersized for use in a .45-70 to me...)
456122 -- the Gould bullet, designed by John Barlow for A. C. Gould, the editor
of Shooting and Fishing; a 330 grain HP for the .45-70, "It has a great
reputation as a killer of large game."
512139 -- a 300 grain HP with a gaping cavity "This is the standard .50
Winchester Express bullet."
Note that John Barlow designed these bullets for rifle cartridges,
specifically black powder rifle cartridges, and therein lies the secret
to the soul of the cast HP. Generally speaking, these cartridges were loaded
with BP to muzzle velocities of 1100-1600 fps (most commonly in the range of
1200-1400 fps), and this is why the cast HP’s worked so well and were so well
received by the hunters of the day (men like Col. Pickett and A. C. Gould) --
the guns that they were initially developed for did not over-stress them. Thus,
the cast HP delivered excellent expansion and deadly performance on deer, black
bear and elk.
This is also why cast HP’s are such a good fit for the handgun hunter --
many handguns also operate in the velocity regime of 1100-1600 fps, especially
around 1200-1400 fps. Modern handgun hunters can learn much from the old black
powder rifle hunters because of this common ground.
Elmer Keith used some of these early HP’s in some of his revolver loads
and he recognized early on the value of cast HP’s in sixguns. Shortly after he
designed his landmark SWC bullets in 1928-1931 (the 429421, 452423, 454424, and
358429), he came back and had Ideal make HP versions of these same bullets.
These SWC’s and HP’s were his favorite hunting bullets for the next 50 years.
Phil Sharpe did much the same thing in the mid-1930s with the bullets he used in
the development of the .357 Magnum (the H&G #51, aka the 160 grain Sharpe solid
and 146 grain Sharpe HP). It is worth noting that Elmer typically loaded his
cast HP loads initially between 1100-1200 fps, and then later with the
introduction of the .44 Magnum at 1400 fps, and he reported excellent expansion
on game animals like mule deer and elk. Sharpe loaded his HP’s to 1500-1600 fps
in the .357 Magnum, where they expanded violently and delivered devastating
blows to bobcat-sized game.
Do you notice a trend here? First with the black powder riflemen, and
then later with the sixgun experiments of Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe, we find
knowledgeable hunters using cast HP’s at 1100-1600 fps (mostly 1200-1400 fps)
and obtaining outstanding hunting performance ... hold that thought.
Generally speaking, the early casters were working with binary lead-tin
alloys, typically something around 20 part lead to 1 part tin (Elmer Keith's
favorite was 16-1). These alloys have a Brinell Hardness number (BHN) of around
9-10, and are very malleable (meaning they expand smoothly and don't tend to
fragment). The performance of 1-20 Keith HP's at around 1200 fps has to be seen
to be believed -- recovered bullets are typically the most perfect little leaden
mushrooms you've ever seen, and with very little weight loss. Black powder
shooters sometimes used 30-1 alloy to cast their HP’s for lower velocity BP
loads (e.g. 1100 fps).
Alloys used by bullet casters today (for example, wheel-weight alloy)
commonly have antimony in them. Does this cause problems? Well, antimony is far
more efficient at hardening a lead alloy than is tin, so only a little bit is
needed. While lead-tin alloys tend to be very malleable, lead-antimony alloys
tend to be more brittle, meaning they fragment more readily. Three component
lead-tin-antimony alloys (like WW alloy and linotype) are intermediate between
these two binary alloys. The bottom line is if you're using one of these
tertiary alloys, blended to a suitable hardness for HP applications (i.e. BHN of
somewhere in the range of 8-14, depending on velocity), then you'll most likely
get good performance out of your HP’s. In my experience, WW alloy (BHN about 12)
works just fine for cast HP’s at magnum revolver velocities (ca. 1400 fps), and
WW cut with a equal portion of lead (BHN about 9) works very well for cast HP’s
at 1000-1200 fps.
For example, several years ago I shot a large mule deer doe over on the
Snake River outside of Pullman, Washington using a .41 Magnum revolver (S&W 657
Classic Hunter) loaded with the Lyman 410459 HP at about 1400 fps. It was a
50-60 yard shot, with her quartering slightly away from me. The cast HP entered
behind the left shoulder, about halfway up, and exited low in the point of the
right shoulder. There was extensive lung damage, and the heart was
center-punched. She ran less than 20 yards and piled up. The exit wound was
about the size of a quarter. She came to rest facing downhill and was
essentially bled out when I got down to her. The cast HP (BHN about 12) at 1400
fps had expanded beautifully, and punched right on through.
Another mulie doe I shot in that same canyon the year before fell to a
cast HP in a .44 Magnum revolver. This time I was using the Devastator HP that
Lyman still offers (the 429640 HP). This bullet weighs about 268 grains when it
drops from my mould cast with WW alloy. I was shooting it at about 1350 fps from
my 6" S&W 629 Classic Hunter. This deer fell to a neck-shot, and the cast HP
expanded well and took out significant chunk of spine and exited (she collapsed
on the spot, obviously).
A friend of mine reported that he shot an adult cow buffalo with the
Lyman .44 Devastator HP and got complete penetration on a broadside ribcage
shot. In this case the bullet was launched at about 1200 fps from a
short-barreled Ruger SBH, at fairly close range. Damage to the lungs was
extensive and the buffalo went down very quickly (after about 20 feet, as I
recall). What I find remarkable about this report is the fact that it exited
from an animal of this size.
Another example of how cast HP’s at moderate velocity can provide both
controlled expansion and deep penetration is found in a 700 pound boar
that I "collaborated" on. A friend of mine had wounded a huge old boar, but was
having difficulty following-up due to some very thick brush. I came in above the
brush and shot twice with a .44 Special loaded with the 429251 HP at 1200 fps
(the HP version of the classic RN design; these bullets were cast to a BHN about
8). Both shots were broadside, in the ribs, at point blank range. The boar went
down seconds later. One shot exited and the other was found under the hide on
the far side. Based on the wound channels, both bullets had expanded
beautifully. The recovered bullet was approximately 60 caliber and weighed 194
grains (it started out at about 240 grains). John Taffin had a very similar
experience with his Texas Longhorn Arms .44 Special on a couple of big ol' hogs
using some 429421 HP’s that I cast up for him out of 20-1 alloy. For the
details, I suggest you read about it in his excellent book "Single-Action
OK, so we've seen that cast HP's provide good expansion and penetration
at typical revolver velocities, but much higher velocities are possible out of
the various single-shot handguns (like the Contender), how do cast HP's behave
at higher velocities? Remember the cast HP started off as a rifle bullet,
launched at BP velocities. Years of hunting experience back in the early days
have already shown that they can work very well indeed at 1600 fps. It's just
part of human nature to try for "more, better, faster", and more is always
better, right? Not so fast, my friend...
Cast HP’s certainly can be launched at faster speeds, and with
very good accuracy. I have gotten some excellent groups with certain cast HP’s
at speeds well in excess of 2100 fps, but would these make good hunting loads? I
wanted to learn more about how cast HP’s behave at these velocities so I would
have a better idea about the best way to structure my hunting loads. So I did a
little testing (actually, a lot of testing...).
My standard test for bullet expansion is to fill a 2L pop bottle with
water and lay it on its side so I can shoot through it lengthwise. I back this
with a tightly bound "bale" of newspapers (about 6-8" thick) that are leaning
against the cap of the 2L pop bottle such that the bullet will cause the bale to
fall away on impact. I bind up the bale with duct tape, and arrange things such
that the bullet will have to pass through the duct tape upon entering the bale.
This allows me to see what size the bullet was after expanding in the water
bath, but before it breaks apart in the newspaper (dry newsprint is very hard on
a bullet). Now some people say that using water to test bullet expansion is not
a valid test method because water is "hard" on a bullet. The reason they say
this is because water is an incompressible fluid, and if you shoot into a large
body of water (like a lake or a swimming pool) there is nowhere for the water to
go as the bullet passes through, so the bullet experiences greater resistance
and may expand more under those conditions than if it were passing through, say,
a whitetail buck. This is all well and good. However, shooting through a 6"
cylinder of water held together with a thin, stretchy layer of polyethylene
means that the water can, and does, get pushed out of the bullet's way. While
the water itself is no more compressible under these conditions than it is in
the swimming pool, it provides far less resistance to the bullet's passing due
to the fact that it gets pushed aside. The bottom line is this test has proven
to be a reliable (and reproducible) method for evaluating bullet expansion, and
I've learned a lot about cast HP’s using this test.
For example, recently I've been playing around with a HP version of the
358315, the 200 grain GC-RN made for the .35 Remington. I did a little lathe
work to convert the mould to drop HP bullets, and in the process gave it a .200"
flat meplat, ideal for tubular magazines. I played around with various HP cavity
configurations, and ultimately settled on a cavity that was .085" diameter, and
about .375" deep (with a 5 degree taper). The 358315 HP has proven to be a very
accurate bullet. Performing the expansion tests described above and varying the
muzzle velocity from 1500 fps to 2100 fps revealed a great deal (generally these
bullets have been cast to a BHN of 13, a little harder than average WW alloy).
At 1500-1600, this bullet expanded smoothly. At 1800 fps it expanded very
nicely, but started to show some hints that it might be on the verge of
fragmenting. At 2000-2100 fps, the 358315 HP fragmented violently, peppering the
duct tape with dozens of bullet fragments. It is interesting to note that even
when it fragmented violently the recovered bullet bases still retained about 100
grains of bullet metal. Based on these tests, I am inclined to work up hunting
loads with this bullet in the 1600-1800 fps range.
But do these test results jive with those on living, breathing, flesh
and blood? Well, for the 358315 HP I can't say for sure because I haven't shot
anything with that bullet yet (that should change this winter). However, for the
other cast HP’s that I've used on game, yes those trends do seem to hold true.
For example, a couple of years ago I shot a 250 lb hog with a 238 grain .338
cast HP (Lyman 33889 HP) at 1600 fps. It expanded beautifully, stayed together
and punched right on through. The hole in the far-side ribcage was almost as big
as a 50 cent piece. The pig died quickly. Last year I saw a huge old boar shot
with the 330 grain Gould HP (Lyman 457122) at about 1500 fps, and that bullet
performed superbly -- it expanded nicely and punched through a substantial pile
of pork and very thick pigskin, and kept right on going. What happens if they're
pushed faster? Well, a while back I gave a friend of mine some 311041 HP’s for
his trusty .30-30. He worked up a very accurate load at about 1950 fps and took
it hunting. He found a whitetail doe, quartering towards him, and shot her in
the chest. The base of the bullet did exit the far-side ribcage, but Jim said
the entire chest was bloodshot and the entrance wound was the size of a quarter,
indicating early and violent expansion. I suspect that if this bullet had been
going a little slower, there would have been less bloodshot meat (but this load
sure does make a dynamite varmint load!).
Loaded .38 Special round with a 358477 HP cast to a BHN of about 8,
and a recovered bullet after being fired into water at about 1000
So, to summarize, the expansion properties of a cast HP depend largely
on two factors -- the impact velocity and the alloy that they are cast out of.
When the anticipated impact velocity is on the order of 1000-1200 fps, then one
can expect to get controlled mushrooming. Alloys that work best in this velocity
range are those with a BHN of 8-10 (like 20-1 lead/tin, or 1:1 WW and lead).
When the anticipated impact velocity is in the range of 1200-1600 fps, then you
can expect cast HP’s to hit hard and expand beautifully. These loads are best
served by alloys in the 10-13 BHN range (and WW alloy works just fine). Once we
get above 1600 fps, things start to get a little touchy. For impact velocities
of 1600-1800 fps it is useful to break things down a little bit. Some bullets
with larger cavities (say greater than about .125" in diameter) will fragment at
1800 fps, while others with smaller cavities (generally less than about .100")
generally don't fragment as readily at 1800 fps. So for the bullets with the
larger cavities, it may be desirable to hold the velocities down closer to
1600-1700 fps for optimum bullet performance, while the bullets with smaller
cavities might stand up to a little more speed. The velocity range of 1600-1800
fps is best served by alloys with a BHN of 12-14. Once you get the impact
velocities up above 2000 fps, they all pretty much explode. At these speeds just
about all cast HP’s all become violently fragmenting hand-grenades, and while
this is clearly less than ideal for big-game hunting, they can make some
spectacular varmint loads!
So, the bottom line is that with a few cents worth of scrap metal and a
little bit of your time you can make premium quality handgun hunting bullets
that will deliver excellent performance on thin-skinned, non-dangerous game, all
for the purchase of a bullet mould. In the case of cast HP’s, the old adage of
"Moderation in all things." has a great deal of merit. Moderate velocity,
coupled with moderate bullet hardness, results in first-rate terminal
performance. The old-timers were on to a good