Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cast Bullet Softness And Hardness Versus Velocity And Pressure

It's been almost forever since I wrote something about shooting here. Stupid winter. Stupid poverty. Stupid health.

I figure I might ramble on a bit about cast bullets. The art of jacketed handgun and rifle bullets is well known, the art of lead handgun and rifle bullets is rapidly being forgotten and that is a shame. A bigger shame, of course, is the way lead has been demonized but that is another story. Well, just a mention, y'all know how lead shot was banned for waterfowl a couple decades back because of the claim that ducks and geese were eating spent shot from the bottom of lakes and using it like gravel in their gizzards to help digest their food, thus being poisoned? This led us to steel shot which, being lighter, wounded more ducks and geese to die later, uncollected. Naturally though, wounded critters do not count toward the bag limit so, where is the gain? Some mighty savvy gunnies, including that grand old man of the shooting sports, Elmer Keith, claimed that we could have eliminated the problem(?) of lead poisoning simply by using larger, heavier shot for all waterfowl. Their claim was that simply by going up to number five shot as a minimum would make the shot sink a bit deeper, eliminating the poisoning problem(?), instead we got steel shot. And now a bunch of others, many costing well over two and three dollars a shot. This also leads to cripples, at three bucks a shot, how much practice do most of the shooters get? And even the fellers (and gals) who do practice, say on the trap and skeet fields, shoot the cheaper lead shot which has a slightly different drop and lead factor. Sigh.

Anyhow, about cast and swaged bullets. The most important thing about them is that the hardness or "temper" of the bullet must match the pressure and velocity of the load. The second thing to remember is that if one gets very far off, leading becomes a miserable problem. Oddly, too hard a bullet will lead as badly as too soft a bullet. A bullet that is too hard will not obdurate or swell up to seal all the powder gases behind the base. This means that those very hot gasses get to blow the lube out of the bullet's lube groove(s) and also melt bits of the lead allow which then sticks to the cooler barrel. This builds up fairly quickly and soon accuracy is lost. Not to mention the joy of scrubbing those big lumps of lead out of the barrel.

Too soft is also a problem although one can drive a fairly soft bullet out of a handgun with little lead at surprisingly high velocities. The dirty little secret is that most commercial casters concentrate on making their bullets easy to make and easy to ship so they arrive to the final shooter nice and pretty. They are also only really good for high velocities, 'way past the capabilities of, say, the .38 Special or standard .45 Colt and other cartridges where the standard velocities are less than 1,000 feat per second.

This, of course, is the range that some 75% of handloaders strive for since the vast majority of handloaded rounds are simply made for fun. These days, for instance, almost all the shooting I do is a Cowboy Action matches where all handgun ammo must be under 1,000 fps and most is lower, a lot lower. The recent hoo rah over velocity finally made a rule that no revolver bullet may go less than 400 fps and that all our reactive targets be set to fall at a 100 grain weight bullet striking at 600 fps or a 200 grain slug at 400. I shoot the standard weight .45 slug of 255 grains or, cast from my alloy 248. I could almost throw one of those fast enough to knock the target down. While I'm digressing, I have never seen them set up a chronograph at a club match and, when the sun was at the right angle I have actually seen some of the bullets in flight.

Muzzle loaders and cap and ball revolver shooters load pure lead, usually. This, the softest of bullet metals is good enough for those velocities. A black powder arm when properly cleaned at the start and used within the limits, will have no leading. The Pards in my club that shoot cap and ball revolvers can shoot a six stage match , sixty rounds total with one cap and ball revolver, switching cylinders to get to the ten rounds per stage, and have zero leading.

The next step up from pure lead is a small amount of tin mixed in the alloy. This is good for all standard handgun rounds and the big black powder rifle cartridges of the buffalo hunter days. The usual range of tin in the lead is one to forty to one to twenty. Saint Elmer of Keith used one in twenty for just about everything, including the .44 Magnum and his earlier attempts to "magnumize" the .44 Special.

This one in twenty alloy is good for even over the normal limit of 1200-1400 fps possible in the big cartridges like .45-90 and pretty much all normal handgun cartridges like the .38 and .357, the .44s, etc. This alloy will run out of steam and start leading badly in things like the .454 Casull Mag, .500 S&W Mag, things like that. In other words, even the "standard" magnum cartridges like the .357 and .44 have to be loaded at the very top of their capabilities to make these bullets match the pressure and velocities. Not one shooter in a thousand runs the mags at full charge every shot. After all, that's hard on the gun and hard on the shooter.

It's not just the recoil, either. Even with the best hearing protection available, a full load .44 Mag is hard on the hearing. There is a reason I do not watch much TV or listen to much radio. I started shooting before hearing protection was common. The BOOM! of the low pressure rounds like the .38 Special wadcutter loads, the standard .45 Colt or .44 Special, even the .45 ACP was easier to take than the hot .357 Mags, the old high pressure .38s, the .38 Super, etc. When it came to rifles, anything hotter than the .30-30 would have my ears ringing for days, even with the old chewed up Kleenex or toilet paper wadded into the ears. Of course, in those days everything was power for me. It took a lot of years before I figured out that all the bullet had to do was amble on down for 25 or 50 yards, often a lot less and fight it's way, somehow, through a sheet of paper wand some light backing, maybe a tin can and it was all done. No, in those days, everything was loaded up to stop a charging bank vault in it's tracks. It's funny. In all my born days I've never been charged by a bank vault. I digress, again.

The next step is a lead tin antimony alloy. In these the antimony does the hardening and there is usually just a tad of tin. In these alloys the tin is just used to make casting easier. There is some long metallurgical explanation for this and I have read it many times, usually either falling asleep or getting a headache. Truth is, I don't need to understand it to use it. I used to shoot a lot of wheelweight metal, cast into bullets. Wheelweights are (or were, this is fast changing) lead and antimony. By itself, wheelweight metal makes for some pretty good bullets for the 800-1000 fps loads only there are a lot of rejects going back into the pot. By adding one pound of tin to some forty pounds of cleaned and fluxed wheelweight metal the reject rate is almost zero. I could use this alloy for just about all of my smokeless powder shooting for the rest of my life and be happy.

The next level is about the hardest practical cast bullet alloy, linotype metal. This runs about 84% lead, 12% antimony and 4% tin. This is good for the highest pressure and velocity, with a gas check on the base and good lube these bullets can get up over 2600 fps in rifles. There are harder lead alloys but they tend to shatter on game.

There is one other place where lino is about the best metal for bullets, the standard autoloading pistols. This may not be the "best" metal alloy for the pressure and velocity but the self stuffers are hard on a bullet. The ride in the magazine is bad enough, every time the gun recoils the rounds in the mag bang back and forth, plus being forced up by the follower and mag spring, then the trip from magazine to chamber. After all that the gun goes BANG! Then the poor bullet hits that shallow rifling, meant for jacketed bullets. The softer alloy that is fit for, say, the pressure and velocity of a .40 S&W or a .45 ACP, would skid about halfway up the barrel, causing it's own leading. So the autoloaders require a harder bullet metal than they would otherwise use.

A trick to reduce leading in autoloading pistols is to use a wad of the right size. I use Walter's Wads although you can buy gasket materiel and make your own with the right size punch. This works even better with a small ball of bullet lube on top of the wad, this takes out the gas that would ordinarily try to blow by the bullet base. Most hand loaders don't bother, though, they simply scrub the lead or use jacketed bullets. Walters does not seem to have a website but his stuff is available through Midway, there on my side panel, plus a bazillion other places.

I am lucky enough to have a Pard in the scrap business. I "pay" for my lead and tin with bullets and loaded ammo so I can cast my bullets to the hardness that suits my needs. Folks that buy their bullets are a little less lucky. The best outfit selling bullets to shoot, rather than bullets to ship is Desparado Cowboy Bullets. These folks make the bullets that shoot easy, right up 'til about 1000-1100 fps. Not only are they great for cowboy action and paper punching but They'd be just the thing to have in your shootin' iron if a critter of the size your cartridge is good for happens along. I mean small critters if you're carrying a .32, .38, something like that or dear if you have a .357 or .45 Colt, or even a bear with the right load. Nor would I feel naked before my enemies if I had a revolver stuffed with these.

All of these bullets are soft, meaning they'll expand some, they are the round nose flat point type. In other words, instead of the old, reliable semi wadcutters that work great in revolvers but tend to hang up in a lever rifle, these have the round nose profile that feeds well, except the point is flat. We have found that this profile hits as hard as the semiwadcutter and penetrates just as straight through whatever bone and tissue it meets. If I did not cast my own, these folks would get all my business. I haven't been a customer of theirs, I tried a hundred rounds of ammo that I loaded with their bullets in a complicated trade. All I can say about them is that their bullets are as good as my best. And I'm pretty ruthless in my quality control, being retired and all. It's no trick to sitting for three hours, listening to Rush on the radio and casting a whole slew of bullets in my six cavity Big Lube Mold plus another slew of semiwadcutters for my .38s and .357s.

Another nice, soft bunch of bullets are the swaged lead bullets. I sometimes use the Remington swaged lead bullet in my .45s. With smokeless powder these bullets are wonderful. The lead is so soft that they slug up to fit the bore so there is never iny undue leading, at least up to the maximum the original .45 Colt rounds are designed for, about 950 fps or so. Do not disparage this "low" velocity, this round and this bullet will go right through both sides of an elk. The only downside to these wonderful bullets is the odd, flaky black lube on 'em. This lube works well but is kind of messy. Do not wear your best clothes will loading these bullets. And, once the ammo is loaded, take a few minutes and wipe the noses of the loaded ammo before using it, or even putting it in the box. This bullet is also great with black powder, just smear a dab of black powder lube in that slight hollow base and seat it over a wad. The ugly black lube on the bullet will last for a gunfull or two in a revolver but you'd have a real mess in your carbine. That big dab of lube, though, is just what you'll need.

There is one more, really big advantage to the soft cast or swaged bullets. In the action shooting games we shoot at steel targets. The hard bullets break up on the target and bullet fragments bounce all over. It is not unheard of that they draw blood on a competitor or spectator. The soft bullets mostly hit and spread out, expending all their energy in deforming against that hard steel. Then, energy spent, they fall. Most soft bullets are found laying there, within a few feet from the targets.At my club you'll find guys going around where the targets were with buckets, collecting those spent bullets. Why they're saving the environment from a horrible poison that just happens to come right out of the Earth but, once it's out it's an affront to Mother Gaia. They have an odd prayer to Mother Gaia, though. If you listen close you'll hear them say things like this will cast enough bullets for the next six months! Oh well, it must be some foreign language that only sounds like English. All Hail Gaia!

There are other fine soft swaged lead bullets.I'm partial to the Hornady and Speer swaged lead hollowpoints in the .38s, it's easy to work up a load just like the old FBI load, that soft lead bullet going about 900 fps from a service revolver. I have a three inch Ruger SP101 that I carry when I think I might need a little more gun than the Model 60 S&W Chief's Special .38. I have yet to convince one of the small ammo companies to make a load just for these small .357s, no luck so far. If you live where the judge worries more about why you shot the bad guy than whether or not you used a handload, a Speer or Hornady 158 grain lead semiwadcutter hollowpoint in front of 5.7 grains of Alliant's Bullseye Powder and a standard primer will give right at 1000 fps out of that three inch barrel. The recoil is very controlable, too and, bullseye being a fast burning powder, the muzzle flash is nice and low.

There are a few others, GOEX Powders has taken over the Black Dawge Bullets sales. I haven't used them but they look interesting. Their .45 handgun bullets and .38s match some weights used 'way back when, the .38 is 145 grains, much like the old .38 S&W cartridge used and the .45s are 235 grains, just about exactly what the old Cavalry load was. Load that up in front of 28-30 grains of FFG Black and not only will you have the load the Indian Fighters carried but also what went to the troops in the Philippine Islands when the local Moros took a bunch of those .38 Colt bullets and kept coming in, swinging those Bolo Knives and chopping a lot of soldiers to doll rags. They mostly fell down and stopped their antiAmerican ways when hit with the .45s.

This is also the load that John Browning copied in then modern materials to make the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol round, a short, rimless case and a nice hard jacketed round nose slug going just about as fast as that old Indian fighting load, 830 fps.

Funny, though, after a whole lot of years where the .45 acp round settled a lot of close up fights the military, in all it's wisdom, decided to go with a full jacketed 9mm load. Of course, as all the real gunnies said, that full jacketed load is about as effective in settling fights as that old .38 Colt. So, now all the Special Ops people are carrying .45s and everyone else who can put their hands on them also carry them. It's quite another story but the best hollow point rounds in 9mm, which our troops are forbidden because it is against the Hague Convention, which the bad guys never signed, is every bit as effective as the best .45 rounds. That's another story, though, since our troops can't carry the best ammo. It's some kind of rule the big brass, who no longer ever hear a shot fired in anger, have. We can't use the effective ammo while the bad guys can, except most all of them are spraying those AK rounds all over. Fortunately for us, most of them still believe that the harder they yank the trigger, the harder the bullet hits. I suppose it is racist to call a bunch of ignorant savages ignorant savages but still... It's bedtime, I have to go to a grandson's Blue and Gold Banquet. I wouldn't mind so much if I could go without going to town.

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