From Ingot to Target: A Cast Bullet Guide for Handgunners©
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Chapter 16 - Page Two
A Few of Our Favorites...
Hunting Bullets and Loads
Edible small game
If there is a finer way to hunt small game than with a .32 caliber revolver, I don‘t know what it is. The .32s have adequate power to cleanly dispatch rabbits and squirrels, but they are not so powerful that they destroy lots of meat (and you’re not starting off with all that much to begin with!). The .32s tend to be very accurate, and easy to shoot. They are cheap to reload, and they are highly amenable to shooting cast bullets.
When shooting up into the treetops for bushytails, my favorite is to use a .32 caliber revolver shooting Type III wadcutter loads (i.e. where the bullet is seated out of the case to standard SWC seating depth). This allows the bullet to be launched at reasonable hunting velocities, while still keeping pressures modest. The bullet I use for these loads is the Lyman 313492 88 grain wadcutter over 2.6 grains of Red Dot for 965 fps. This load kills squirrels cleanly, doesn't tear up a lot of meat, and if you miss the bullet quickly starts to tumble, and loses velocity quickly. This is a very accurate load, and one that anchors small game very effectively at moderate ranges.
The RCBS 32 caliber 90 grain cowboy mould is another personal favorite for small game. I also load this one up over 2.6 grains of Red Dot for a little over 950 fps. This is a flat-shooting load and one that will reach out nicely to 50 yards or so. An excellent first ingredient for Brunswick stew. If I want to reach out farther than that, then I favor the RCBS .32 caliber 98 grain SWC in the .32 H&R Magnum. My favorite load for this combination is 6.5 grains of Accurate Arms #7 for 1100 fps out of a 6” S&W Model 16. This load will anchor small game with authority out to at least 85 yards. It is starting to get a little destructive for edible small game, but not too bad.
There’s more to hunting than just seeing and shooting critters. Some days I want to go back in time and reminisce -- think about old friends, old memories,
simpler and more innocent times. There is no reason to give up performance just for nostalgia’s sake though! In times like these, my favorite small game gun is Hal Swiggett’s 1930s vintage 5” M&P chambered in .32-20. I load this gun with the Cramer #52D 93 grain SWC cast of WW alloy, sized .314” and lubed with homemade moly lube and loaded over 6.5 grains of HS-6, sparked with a CCI 550 primer for right at 1000 fps. This is a very accurate load, and one that does a fine job on small game (and does it with a lot of “old school” charm!).
For varmint shooting we’re not concerned with limiting meat damage, and in fact dramatic expansion is desirable to ensure humane results from any “hits around edges”. As a result, for varmint loads I strongly favor cast HPs, most often at fairly high velocity. The enhanced performance provided by the cast HP also allows these loads to be used effectively for somewhat larger vermin (skunks, coyotes, jack rabbits, rock chucks, etc.).
A few years back I built a .25 Hornet on an Old Model Ruger Blackhawk. My dear friend Rob Applegate had given me a take-off barrel from a Ruger 77 .25-06 (with a 1 in 10” twist), and I had taken a chunk of this barrel and turned it down to fit an OMBH that I bought for the project. One of Hamilton Bowen’s cylinders was rechambered with a reamer from Dave Manson. Bullets are sized .258” and the gun is capable of excellent accuracy. My favorite varmint load is the 257420 GC-HP over 6.0 grains of HS-6 for right at 1600 fps, and this load will put 5 shots into less than an inch at 25 yards. This load produces very little recoil, and shoots amazingly flat. This dainty little bullet expands very well at this speed. All in all, an excellent (and economical) varmint load.
When the .30 Carbine Ruger Blackhawk came out, my first response was basically, “Why?”. It was being sold as a plinker for those guys that wanted to shoot milsurp ammo. Well, if somebody wanted to play “roll the can” with cheap ammo, why not .22, or .38 Special? Why go with a cartridge that is going to generate belligerent muzzle blast and extreme velocity that basically offers no advantage to the plinker? It just didn’t make sense to me (still doesn’t, in fact). Then I started casting bullets, and more importantly, I started casting hollow-pointed bullets. The .30 Carbine Ruger Blackhawk loaded with cast HPs is a whole ‘nother beast! The velocity, accuracy and muzzle blast are still there, but now instead of a .30 caliber FMJ round nose sneaking its way through the ribs of yonder ground squirrel, there is an
explosion of flesh and lead that has to be seen to be believed. My favorite bullet for the .30 Carbine is the Lyman .311316 GC-HP, sized .311” (I have polished out the throats on my revolver to .310”) and loaded over 12.5 grains of either Accurate Arms #9 or 2400, either of which produces around 1500 fps and excellent accuracy. Since this gun headspaces on the case mouth, it is important to taper crimp these loads lightly (a roll crimp or a severe taper crimp will cause misfires). .30 Carbine brass is very strong and will provide many years of service with these loads.
When varmint hunting with a handgun, can it really get any better than with a .357 Magnum? After many years of researching the answer to that question, I have come to the conclusion that it is highly doubtful (but I'm always willing to do more research!). There are many excellent bullets for varmint hunting in the .357 Magnum, but my favorite is the Lyman/Ideal 357439. This is the HP version for the 358429 SWC that Elmer Keith designed back in 1928. He suggested that its shocking power could be greatly enhanced by adding a HP cavity, and a couple of his friends thought this sounded like a good idea and had Lyman/Ideal make mould for this new design. It was given its own number designation of 358439, and became a very popular bullet. For use in the .357 Magnum, I generally cast this bullet to a BHN of about 12 or 13, where it weighs about 154 grains. I size it .358” and load it over 14.0 grains of 2400, which generates 1350-1400 fps (depending on the gun). At this speed, this bullet is violently explosive, even out at 100 yards or more. The biggest critter I’ve personally shot with this bullet has been a big Montana jack rabbit, but I would have no
qualms about using this load on coyotes, or badgers. My fondness for this bullet is due to two factors. The first factor is it’s performance -- the ease with which accurate loads can be assembled and the violent expansion it delivers when it gets to where it’s going. The second factor is its history -- the fact the Elmer Keith designed it and it was one of the bullets he used in his .38/44 loads (the mere mention of which conjures images of Lemhi Valley jack rabbits...). These two factors are also reflected in another .357 Magnum favorite, the H&G #51 HP. After many years of searching, I finally was able to buy a bullet mould for the H&G #51. This is the 146 grain HP that Phil Sharpe designed for his work developing the original load data for the .357 Magnum (along with the corresponding SWC). He commissioned George Hensley to make the moulds, and both were found to deliver superlative performance in the first magnum handgun. I generally load the 146 grain Sharpe HP over 15.0 grains of 2400 for 1600 fps (from an 8 3/8” barrel) and expansion is truly explosive at this speed! The Keith bullet is too long to fit in a some .357 cylinders (like the N-frame), but it fits just fine in the newer K-and L-frame 357s. The H&G #51 fits in all .357 cylinders. It is much easier to find a Lyman 358439 than it is to find a H&G #51 HP, but both are outstanding varmint bullets, and both are important landmarks in the history of handgun performance.
The .38 Special is another of my favorite varmint cartridges. Once again there are many excellent bullets for the .38 special, and many of them are favorites in one way or another, but overall I would say that my favorite varmint bullet for the .38 Special would be the 140 grain Lyman 358477 HP. For the .38 Special, I cast these bullets fairly soft, out of range scrap that has a BHN of about 7.5 to 8, and load them over 4.5 grain of Bullseye for about 950-1000 fps (depending on barrel length). Cast this soft, these bullets expand nicely at this speed; not explosively, but they do mushroom well. An excellent load for ground squirrels, prairie dogs and the like.
A sentimental favorite of mine in .38 Special is Elmer Keith’s 154 grain Lyman/Ideal 358439, also cast from range scrap to a BHN of about 8, and loaded over 8.5 grains of HS-7. This is a +P load (the data in the Hodgdon manual suggests that this load generates around 19,000 CUP peak pressure), and delivers about 1050 fps from a 6” revolver, and is very accurate. This load was inspired by the so-called “FBI Load” and has proven itself to my time and time again on all manner of vermin. This is one of my all-time favorite jackrabbit loads.
Little guns make good verminators too! The .32 H&R is a fine little varmint load, especially when loaded with the Lyman/Ideal 31133, the HP version of the timeless 3118, originally developed for the .32-20. This bullet drops from the blocks at about 108
grains when cast soft. Sized .312” and loaded over 6.5 grains of Accurate Arms #7 (1100 fps), I can shoot this little varminter all day long and get no leading at all. Performance? Outstanding! This load has made dramatic impacts on vermin out to 85 yards, and more (too destructive for edible small game though).
The Herter’s .401 Powermag is a little-known and under appreciated cartridge. It’s basically the same cartridge as the wildcats put together by “Pop” Eimer and Gordon Boser (in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively). It was brought out by Herter’s in the early 1960s in their large framed single-action revolver (made under contract by Sauer and Sohne in Germany). It is basically a .40 caliber version of the .41 Magnum, and as such, it is an excellent round for the handgun hunter. I have been working with the .401 Powermag for several years now, and my favorite varmint load for it is the old Lyman/Ideal 40388 HP (originally designed by Douglas Sorenson back in 1950 for the .38-40) loaded over 20.0 grains of Accurate Arms #9 for 1610 fps. This load is very accurate (5 shots into about 1 1/8” at 25 yards) and leaves no leading behind (I know, I was surprised too). What this 165 grain HP does at 1600 fps has to be seen to be believed!
I am very fond of the .44 Special cartridge. It is a very well-balanced cartridge, that delivers a very useful level of power in a classy and controllable package. Friend John Taffin even went so far as to label it as being the Cartridge of the Century (that would be the 20th century), and I must admit that I tend to agree with him. The .44 Special is an excellent round for varmint hunting on sunny summer afternoons, and I have burnt much powder in such pursuits. Generally speaking, my favorite load for these strolls through the mountains in search of ground squirrels is the Lyman 429421 SWC over 10.0 grains of HS-6 for about 950 fps (depending on barrel length). Sometimes a rodent will hide behind a log or stump and just peer out over the top to watch the hunter make his approach. The 429421 at 950-1000 fps has the gumption to just punch right through these sun-bleached logs and nail the varmint hiding behind them. I also use this powder charge when shooting the 429421 HP. For the HP loads, I cast them soft (BHN of around 8, using either range scrap or 1:1 WW to lead) and they expand moderately well at 950-1000 fps.
The .45 Colt is a grand old varmint cartridge! I have shot many, many different bullet out of various .45 Colt sidearms, and for varmint hunting the wide flat meplat of the Keith SWC cannot be improved upon in my estimation. I am partial to Elmer Keith’s original SWC design for both sentimental and practical reasons. While I do have an early Lyman/Ideal 454424 that drops of bullet to Elmer’s original specifications, it is a single cavity mould and production is slow (I do break it out and cast with it every so often though, when the mood strikes me to shoot “the real thing”). Mr. Keith wasn’t happy with the changes that Lyman made to his mould designs, and so in the early 1960s he went to H&G and had them re-create his original SWC designs, with a few added refinements (like increasing the bevel on the grease grooves, and adding filets to the bottoms of the grease grooves, etc.). The original design criteria were still there -- the three equal width driving bands, the flat-bottomed grease grooves, the beveled crimp groove, the radiused ogive and big flat meplat -- the H&G bullets were Keith SWCs through and through. Years ago, I was able to pick up an 8-cavity H&G #501, and once this behemoth gets warmed up it generates a mountain of Keith bullets in hurry! My favorite load for varminting is 9.0 grains of Universal Clays for a little over 900 fps (again, depending on barrel length).
Generally speaking, I don’t care to go chasing my brass through the weeds, but every so often I just get a hankerin’ to go varmint hunting with the grand old 1911. The .45 ACP makes a dandy varmint round, especially when loaded with cast HPs. Lyman’s 452374 HP (the .45 Devastator HP) cycles through my 1911s very nicely and shoots quite well. I generally cast these 185 grain bullets to a BHN of about 8 with range scrap and load them over 7.5 grains of Unique. This load delivers right at 1100 fps, and gives very good accuracy. I use a similar load assembled using the 452460 HP that was described in an earlier chapter. For both of these loads expansion is excellent! These bullets hammer ground squirrels and jack rabbits, and would be just the ticket for javelina, and similar sized game.
These are some my favorite loads that I've hunted deer and hogs with over the years, and enjoyed. My philosophy here is simple -- medium to large caliber cast HPs or Keith SWCs at decent velocity (1100-1600 fps), with a bullet weight generally in the range of 200-250 grains. Since most serious hunting loads will shoot through a deer, one of my primary interests here is getting good expansion to make the wound channel wider.
I’m going to start off with a personal favorite, the .338 GEF, a wildcat that I put together with the help of J. D. Jones back in 1993, based on the .356 Winchester case. From a 12” Contender, it will comfortably shoot 200 grain jacketed bullets (most notably the Nosler Ballistic Tip) at 2100 fps and 250 grain Partitions at 1900+ fps. I’ve shot hogs, antelope, whitetail and mule deer, and a Corsican ram with the .338 GEF Contender, as well as a whole pile of vermin (varminting is a great way to fireform brass!), and I’ve been completely satisfied with its performance. This cartridge was originally envisioned as a jacketed bullet wildcat, but in more recent years, I’ve been more interested in shooting cast bullets, so the transition was quite natural. After playing around with a variety of cast bullets in the .338 GEF, I have settled on my favorite, the Lyman 33889 HP. I have gotten my best cast bullet accuracy in this cartridge using very slow powders. For the 238 grain Lyman 33889 HP, I use 46.5 grains of H4831 to generate right at 1600 fps, a very useful velocity for a cast HP. Expansion is excellent at this speed and it punches right on through the other side, even on thick-skinned hogs. This is an excellent bullet!
The 429421 SWC has a been a standard by which other handgun bullets have been judged against for many years, and it was among the first handgun bullets I ever cast. It was several years later that I cast my first 429421 HP, but I had been fascinated with that bullet ever since I first saw that picture (in “Sixguns”, on page 240) of that perfect mushroom that Elmer Keith recovered from under the farside hide of a mule deer. Both the 429421 SWC and HP have been personal favorites of mine for many years. Over the years, I have shot (and seen shot) a large number of animals of all different sizes, shapes and varieties, that were shot with the Lyman/Ideal 429421 SWC and HP. From prairie dogs, up through mule deer, big hogs and elk, Elmer Keith’s design has made short work of them all. But instead of telling one of my hunting stories here, I’m going to share one of my friend’s hunting stories because it showcases what this remarkable bullet is really capable of. Years ago, I sent a batch of 429421 HPs to my respected friend John Taffin, as a way of saying “Thank you.”. You see, several years earlier he had dug through his extensive archive of handloading articles and dug out some early references on casting HP bullets that dated back to the 1930s and 1940s and sent them to me. These references really helped me to understand the important role that tin plays in the malleability of bullet metal, and why tin is important to cast HPs. These references also laid a solid foundation for which alloys were suitable for which velocity ranges, so I was very quickly able to improve upon the very good bullet performance that I was already getting from cast HPs. John is a very gracious man. In any event, I sent him some 429421 HPs as a token of gratitude. I know how much John loves to hunt with his .44 Specials, so I cast these bullets with 20-to-1 alloy, tailoring them for excellent expansion at 1200 fps (the approximate velocity of “the Keith Load“). I sent them to him unsized, so that he could size and lube them to his preference. A little while later I got a polite note in return, thanking me for the bullets. Some time later, I got an e-mail from John extolling the virtues of the 429421 HP and telling me what a remarkable killer it was. He had just gotten back from a hunting trip where he had had the opportunity to take two very large wild boars (650 and 550 lbs). He had shot them with a Texas Longhorn Arms 7 1/2” .44 Special, loaded with the 20-to-1 429421 HPs over 17.0 grains of 2400 (1200+ fps). He had “double-tapped” each of these boars (John is fast with a single-action!), and both of the animals had dropped quickly. All of his shots were in the heart/lung area, and in each case one of the shots had exited, and one had remained inside the hog. John said that the recovered bullets were beautiful little mushrooms, and that the bullets had lost very little weight. The wound channels of all of the shots made it obvious why the big boars went down so quickly. Pictures of John with these two monster boars can be found on page 69 of his excellent book “Single Action Sixguns” (highly recommended reading!). Pigskin on hogs of this size is very thick, and to be honest with you, I’m surprised that any of his shots exited after traveling through thick-muscled boars of this size. But they did! You just can’t argue with the facts. It’s results like this that cause me to scratch my head when somebody tells me that they need to hunt with some “Uber-magnum” loaded with 300+ grain hard-cast bullets loaded to 1500 fps to make sure that they get “enough penetration” to kill a deer. If the .44 Special, loaded with a soft 429421 HP at 1200 fps is capable of penetrating completely through a 650 lb boar hog, then you can rest assured that penetration will be more than adequate to kill a thin-skinned deer weighing 1/3 of that (or less). In my experience, the Keith HPs (and obviously the SWCs too) will reliably exit deer on broadside shots when fired at 1200-1400 fps, and the HP expansion makes for a wider wound channel that kills quickly. In the .44 Special, my favorite hunting load for medium game is the same one that John was using -- the 429421 HP cast to a BHN of about 8, loaded over 17.0 grains of 2400 for a little over 1200 fps. This is a very accurate load, that hits hard and penetrates well. I have a very special revolver built up by Dave Ewer, with this load in mind -- the starting gun was a stainless steel New Model Blackhawk .357 Magnum, that he rechambered the cylinder to .44 Special and fitted a 7 1/2” barrel. This gun is exquisitely accurate, and being a large-framed Ruger, it handles the pressures of the Keith load (which has been measured at 34,000 CUP) without any problems at all. I also like this load with the Lyman 429251 round-nosed HP, and have gotten similar performance on large hogs as Taffin did with the 429421 HP.
The .44 Magnum occupies the same niche in the handgun hunters battery that the .30-06 does in the rifleman’s battery -- that of the tried and true workhorse that delivers the goods with a reliability that borders on the monotonous. It may not be flashy, but it’s effective. I like the .44 Magnum. One of my favorite loads for the .44 Magnum is 23.5 grains of Winchester 296 and a CCI 350 primer underneath the Lyman /Ideal 429421, in either SWC or HP form. This load delivers about 1400 fps and very good accuracy. Like Elmer, I prefer the original version of his bullet, with the full-width forward driving band and the flat-bottomed grease groove. Lyman’s newer version, with the smaller forward driving band and the rounded grease groove, shoots just fine and will kill deer just as dead, it’s just that Elmer’s original version appeals to my sense of aesthetics and nostalgia more directly. The .44 Magnum round loaded with an original Keith SWC just looks right. For the 429421 SWC, I generally cast these up a little harder than WW alloy, to a BHN of maybe 13-14, or sometimes just use WW alloy and water quench them from the mould (which for my WW alloy gives me about BHN of about 16 or so). Prepared thusly, this ammunition provides outstanding penetration (I have yet to recover one from an animal). When deer-sized game is on the agenda, I really
like to hunt with the 429421 HP. When loading for the .44 Magnum, I generally cast this up to a BHN of about 12-13. WW alloy will work just fine for this bullet at this speed, but will lead to some fragmentation at full-throttle Magnum velocities (not that this is really a problem with deer-sized game as the bullet’s base will generally still penetrate and exit). I like to add a little tin to offset this behavior and to help the cast HP to mushroom more smoothly. My other favorite load for the .44 Magnum is the 300 grain HP from the RCBS 44-300-SWC mould I had Erik Ohlen modify for me. I load this bullet over 21.0 grains of W296 and spark it with a CCI 350 primer, to give 1300-1400 fps (depending on the barrel length). I generally cast these bullets to a BHN of about 12-13, and they have proven themselves to be very effective at killing hogs very quickly.
The .41 Magnum is kind if the “red-headed step-child” of the handgun hunting clan, but it is nonetheless an excellent round for hunting deer and hogs. Hands down, my favorite deer-hunting bullet for the .41 Magnum is the 410459 HP that was described in an earlier chapter. I really like how quickly this bullet kills deer, as well as the relative lack of bloodshot meat. I load it over 21.0 grains of Winchester 296 and a CCI 350 primer for 1350-1400 fps. This load is flat-shooting and does a fine job with deer.
The .45 Colt loaded with the Keith SWC is an excellent hunting combination no matter how you look at it. Elmer’s concepts were originally captured in the Lyman/Ideal 454424, but as discussed earlier in this chapter, I most often cast this bullet using the H&G #501 gang-mould these days. There are a large number of capable hunting loads employing this
bullet in the .45 Colt cartridge, assembled with a whole host of different powders. In this case, picking a personal favorite is tough to do, because so many of these combinations offer such top-notch performance. I have hunted with this bullet loaded over Red Dot, Winchester 231, Unique, Universal Clays, HS-6, HS-7, 2400, H110 and Winchester 296 (and probably a few others that slip my memory at the moment). If forced to pick a single favorite for hunting deer, I would probably have to go with a “Blackhawk only” load of 26.0 grains of Winchester 296 with a CCI 350 primer. This load produces 1400 fps from a 7 1/2” Ruger Blackhawk, and is exceptionally accurate. I size the bullets .452” and lube them with homemade Moly lube. This load hits hard, and kills quickly.
Another favorite in the .45 Colt is the 454424 HP, cast soft (BHN about 8), loaded over 14.0 grains of HS-7, once gain sparked with the CCI 350 primer (standard primers work just fine with this load, it’s just that I’ve found that the magnum primer provides much better uniformity in cold weather, and since this is a hunting load, and hunting season can be cold, I use the magnum primer). This load generates 1050-1100 fps (depending on barrel length), at surprisingly modest pressures. This is my favorite hunting load for my S&W .45 Colt revolvers, in particular my 8 3/8“ Model 25-5. From the longer barrel, this load gives right at 1100 fps and very good accuracy, and the soft HP expands nicely at this speed. I am also fond of this powder charge underneath the Lyman 454190 HP, cast soft and assembled similarly. I also like the “Keith load” of 18.5 grains of 2400 with the 454424 HP. This combination generates around 1100 fps and exquisite accuracy.
When the critters get large (like elk and buffalo), heavy cast bullet loads can inspire real confidence. Once again, my philosophy is simple -- large caliber, heavy cast flat-pointed bullets and good velocity (1100-1900 fps). For these loads I generally prefer bullets .40 caliber and larger, and bullet weights of 300 grains and up. My primary motivation here is to get bullet weight/momentum up to maximize penetration, making the deepest possible wound channel and increasing the probability of the bullet exiting the far side of the animal.
The Keith SWC (Lyman/Ideal 429421) at 1400 fps is a dandy elk load, but generally speaking when I’m going out after anything over about 400 lbs, I reach for a bullet that is somewhat heavier. A landmark in terms of handgun hunting heavy bullet designs is the SSK 320 grain designed by J. D. Jones of SSK Industries for the .44 Mangum. These moulds were made by NEI, and J. D. went on to design a whole series of bullet designs for the handgun hunter. The 320 grain SSK bullet has been used to kill all manner of big game, including Cape buffalo, the big bears and elephant, all out of .44 Magnum revolvers. J. D. likes to test guns, cartridges and bullets, particularly by traveling to exotic locations and shooting big critters. It’s tough, hard, nasty work, but he somehow manages to suffer through it. The story goes that J.D. was testing a bunch of different cast bullet designs (including the Keith SWC) and found that when he recovered these bullets from large thick-skinned carcasses that they all tended to look pretty much the same -- more or less the profile of a truncated cone, with the shoulders, etc. all “wiped off” from the impact. He figured that if that’s the way they’re going to end up, why not start them out that way too? He had previous experience with the 9mm truncated cone bullets and had a high opinion of them, and so that’s how he drew up his first design. The 320 grain SSK has lots of bearing surface and lots of lube, and has been very accurate in all of the guns I’ve shot it in. I generally cast this bullet with water-quenched WW alloy (BHN of around 16-18), size it .430”, and lube it with homemade Moly lube. I load the 320 grain SSK bullet over 21.0 grains of Winchester 296 and a CCI 350 primer for 1345 fps and excellent accuracy (this load also works well with a number of other fine 300 grain cast bullets, like the NEI RNFP, Saeco RNFP, RCBS and Lyman SWCs, etc.). I have a 7 1/2” stainless Ruger Super Blackhawk that is my “heavy bullet gun”, with the sights zeroed for heavy bullet loads, and the SSK bullet is the “go-to” bullet for this gun. This bullet has a well-established reputation for deep penetration, and killing well.
My personal favorite for the .45 Colt? Several years ago, I commissioned Dan Lynch of Mountain Molds to make a mould for me to make a .45 caliber RN-FP (plain-based) that weighed 325 grains and had a 73% meplat. The mould he made for me was exactly what I had hoped for. When loaded in to .45 Colt cases over 21.0 grains of Winchester 296, and sparked with a CCI 350 primer, this bullet leaves the muzzle at 1235 fps and delivers good accuracy from a 7 1/2” Ruger Super Blackhawk that I converted to a tight-chambered, tight-throated .45 Colt. I used this load to kill a large boar that weighted over 500 lbs. One shot through the heart/lung region was all that it took. The 325 Mountain Molds bullet went completely through the grizzled old boar, slammed into the dusty slope behind him and whined off into the distance. He was a tough ol’ boar, but slow-cooked in a crock pot with some of my wife’s homemade tomatillo salsa he was rather tasty!
The 454 Casull is arguably one of the best all-round hunting handguns for big game animals, especially when they are 500 lbs and up. The quality of Freedom Arms revolvers is well known, and the 7 1/2” Premier grade 454 that I have lives up to this reputation. This revolver is exquisitely accurate, and it is easily capable of shooting sub-inch groups at 25 yards (on those days that I am up to it). My favorite bullet for the 454 is the Lyman 452629 300 grain FP-GC cast to a BHN of about 16-18 by water quenching either a 2:1 mixture of range scrap and linotype, or WW alloy. It is important to use a fairly hard alloy with the 454 Casull as the pressures in this cartridge are enough to upset the bullet’s base while the ogive is starting to get engraved, and when this oversized base hits the forcing cone it has to get swaged back down to size. This stresses the forcing cone, and can ultimately cause damage to the gun. Hard bullets avoid this problem. My favorite load is 30.0 grains of H110 over the CCI 450 small rifle magnum primer for 1650 fps and excellent accuracy. This is the load that I used to take a buffalo from about 30 yards. I shot him twice (broadside -- shoulder, heart and lungs) and both shots penetrated fully and exited. He went down quickly after the second shot. I don’t know that you can ask much more than that of a revolver.
The .480 Ruger is another “Hammer of Thor” type handgun cartridge that is very well-suited to the pursuit of big game. It is also very well served by cast bullets, very heavy cast bullets, and therein lies its appeal to me. Having a standard-sized revolver that comfortably launches 400 grains of bullet metal at useful velocities is something that is very interesting to me. Factory ammo for the .480 Ruger has a 325 grain jacketed bullet traveling along at 1350 fps. For 400 grain cast bullet handloads for hunting, I generally aim for 1100-1150 fps, even though higher velocities are possible within SAAMI pressure specs. John Linebaugh has showed in his extensive penetration testing, that a 400 grain bullet from his .475 Linebaugh at 1100 fps will out-penetrate everything up to the 400 grain .475 load at full throttle (1450 fps), including the 300 grain 454 Casull at 1650 fps (which, as we have already seen, will shoot through a buffalo). The cylinder walls between the chambers of the .480 Ruger are awfully thin, and now that the .480 Ruger Super Redhawk has been dropped from production, I see no reason to stress a limited edition handgun with “red-line” type loads. 400 grains of bullet metal at 1100 fps will shoot through anything I’m going to point it at, and will do so without stressing the gun. There are several good .475” bullets suitable for the .480 Ruger, but if pressed to pick a favorite at this point it would either be the RCBS 400 grain SWC, or the Lee 400 grain FP, both of which are superbly accurate over 21.0 grains of Winchester 296 (1100 fps).
Cast bullets get loaded into my big bore single-shot handguns as well. Take, for example, my Contender .405 Winchester. This barrel started off life as a 14” .41 Magnum barrel. It has a .411” groove diameter and a 1 in 20” twist. A quick visit with a .405 Winchester chambering reamer converted this barrel into a very interesting, and very accurate big game gun. A few years ago, I had Mountain Molds make a 300 grain FP-GC mould for me to fit this gun. I size them .412” and use Hornady .416” crimp-on GCs. These bullets get loaded over 55.0 grains of H4895, which delivers right at 1900 fps from the 14” Magnaported barrel. This is an accurate, and flat-shooting load, and one that is capable of reaching out and hammering yon beast.
The .405 Winchester has a certain panache to it (it was Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine” after all), but I must confess that my personal favorite big bore Contender is my .444 Marlin. Part of this sentiment comes from the fact that the .444 Marlin was my first serious big-bore Contender, part of it comes from the fact that I learned a great deal about how to load high-performance cartridges in the Contender, and part of it comes from the fact that I have burned up literally thousands of rounds in load development working with the .444 Marlin Contender, and so I have a very good feel for what the gun and cartridge are capable of. It is an old friend. I am also very fond of the .444 Marlin the levergun. A few years ago, I had Mountain Molds make a mould for me that would drop a 300 grain GC-FP designed specifically to cycle in the levergun, and to fit the .444 Marlin factory throat. It shoots quite well in both the Contender and the levergun. Well, my current .444 Marlin Contender barrel started off life as a 14” stainless .44 Magnum Hunter barrel. It was rechambered using a minimum tolerance chambering reamer, and cut with a short throat, similar to (but not identical with) the SAMMI throat. My favorite load for the Mountain Molds 300 grain GC-FP in the Contender is 49.0 grains of H322, sparked with a Federal 215 primer. This gives 1900 fps, and hits like a ton of bricks.
The last entry on this Favorites list is also one of the oldest -- the timeless .45-70. This Contender is a 12” Hunter model, and was a gift from a dear friend of mine. He told me that recoil was brutal with this gun and he was right, but there is something special about shooting a .45-70,
even in a handgun. I’ve done a fair amount of load development for this gun, and none of it has involved jacketed bullets. If forced to pick a favorite load for this gun, the powder charge would be easy -- 40.0 grains of Reloader 7, with a Fed 215 primer; the bullet would be a little tougher. It would be toss up between the RCBS 45-405-GC and the Lyman 457193 (the 405 grain plain-based analog to the RCBS bullet). I size these bullets .459” (bullets sized .458” keyhole), and lube them with homemade moly lube. This combination delivers about 1475 fps, and will keep 5 shots within about 1 1/2” at 50 yards (in the absence of flinching). I have absolute confidence in this load to kill anything that I will ever point it at (and I genuinely hope to point it at Cape buffalo at some point in the future).
So, as you can see from the fore-going discussion, casting your own bullets can generate a whole new world of adventures for you and your favorite handguns. It has certainly been an adventure for us!
The Last Word
A long time ago, Elmer Keith wrote an article entitled "The Last Word" in which he described the design and construction of a very special .44 Special sixgun that he called "#5". He called
this gun "The Last Word" because it captured all the features that he felt a sixgun should have. #5 fit the hand well, balanced and pointed well, had throats that matched the groove diameter, had excellent sights, was chambered in his favored (at that time) .44 Special cartridge, would handle Keith's powerful loads, was very accurate even at long range, was stylishly engraved, and was finished off with a classic pair of carved ivory stocks. In short, it was both functional and elegant. I have had the opportunity to inspect Keith's #5 closely,
and I can understand why he felt this way about it; it is a very special sixgun. Was it the perfect gun for bullseye competition? Nope. Was it the perfect law enforcement sidearm? No way. Was it the perfect concealed-carry handgun? Not a chance. Elmer Keith designed #5 to be an outdoorsman's tool that would be on the belt when needed and would reliably and precisely deliver a powerful blow when called upon. He designed it to reflect the style and character of it's owner -- an outdoorsman’s tool that was powerful, portable and elegant.
While Keith never called it "The Last Word" in cast bullets, the concept applies to his first SWC design, the Ideal 429421, just as succinctly. The Ideal 429421 is both functional and elegant. It is a very accurate bullet that is clearly capable of delivering the goods when called upon, and it reflects the style and character of its designer. From plinking, to competition, to hunting, the 429421 can do it all. In my book, “The Last Word” in cast revolver bullets is the Ideal 429421.
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