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High performance cast bullets.

Interest in cast bullets for handguns tends to be fairly steady, year after year, but their popularity in rifles tends to rise and fall like hemlines. It might be interesting, in fact, for Lyman and the other mould-makers to examine sales figures in correlation with the national economy; I would not be surprised to find that sales tended to rise in recession years and to fade when times get good again, since cast bullets are the cheapest way to keep a rifle or pistol shooting.

Whatever the economic implications, cast bullets were definitely on a roll as 1983 drew to a close. The striking thing about this time around, however, is that never before have as many aggressive efforts to make plain alloy projectiles approximate the performance of jacketed bullets been manifest. Paper and Teflon-tape patching have been developed to the point that cast bullets can now be driven to the same maximum muzzle speeds as jacketed bullets, even from the big magnums, with reasonable accuracy. At least in caliber .375, Northeast Industrial, Inc., (NEI), the mould-makers, have devised a method of casting copper-patched bullets (even boat-tails!), using cylindrical "jackets" cut from standard copper tubing. These will stand full velocities from a .375 H&H Magnum and deliver "hunting accuracy" or better at all rnages.

The other thrust of this two-pronged attack on the former deficiencies of cast bullets is the effort to make them penetrate and expand, somewhat like jacketed soft points. No longer is this confined merely to varying alloys and/or hollow point bullets; several new approaches to the old idea of a hard bullet body with a soft lead nose for expansion are now available.

Lyman led the way with its "composite" pistol bullets, in which the bases are cast from Linotype or similarly hard alloy with a conical hollow in the front end, and mating nose sections cast of pure lead in a second mould. The two sections are then assembled with epoxy durin the sizing step. Composite mould sets were made in .357, .44, and .45 calibers. I've worked with the .45 in several .45 Long Colt guns with good results, provided the gun was strong enough to permit muzzle velocities above 1,100 feet per second (fps) with this 255-grain bullet. Noses have expanded nicely, bases have held together, and I have not yet seen a composite bullet separate on impact. However, in this caliber, this type of slug is of real value only in Ruger revolvers and Contender single-shots, the original Colt Peacemaker action being of dibuious strength for pressures necessary to achieve "expanding velocity." The bullet can be loaded in .45 ACP cases, but may cause feeding problems in 1911s and, in any case, cannot achieve the required velocities from this case. I'm informed that these composite bullets perform very well indeed in .357 and .44 Magnums.

NEI has come up with its own version of the composite bullet, with a two-mould set in which a soft lead nose is cast first, having a sort of peg extending to the rear. The second mould is conventional, and can be used to cast ordinary single-piece bullets. Or the soft nose section can be dropped into the nose of this mould and a Linotype alloy body section cast atop it, the two sections being locked together mechanically by the second pour enclosing that aforementioned peg. In the long run, this kind of assembly takes less trouble and time than epoxying the sections together, but I have not worked with the NEI product and cannot report shooting results.

But wait, there's more! An outfit named Lead Bullet Technology (Box 357, Cornville, AZ 86325) has devised yet another approach to this problem. LBT makes a small-capacity, electric bottom-draw lead pot with a special metering device controlling the spout, called a "Composite Caster." The advantage of this new system is that any conventional bullet mould can be used to make two-piece, soft/hard slugs. In use, the caster sets up the LBT pot, loaded with pure lead, next to any regular melting pot with a melt of Linotype or similar metal. A small, fully adjustable portion of soft lead is metered into the nose of the mould, which is then quickly moved to the second pot and filled with the harder alloy. If all goes well, the result is a fused, two-part bullet which will perform upon impact very much like a regular jacketed soft point, at least up to velocities around 2,400 fps. For all to go well, however, requires a little skill at holding the mould perfectly level during the process and moving it quickly enough from one pot to the other to complete the second pour before the first has cooled too much for a proper bond.

With a little practice, however, this is not as difficult as it sounds, and experience will permit the operator to spot improperly bonded bullets upon visual inspection. The LBT folks have done a lot of research on the expansion of lead alloys at different velocities, and my early results seem to confirm their statements.

The Composite Caster sells for $70. LBT also makes a lead-bullet hollow pointing tool (for straight-cased cartridges only, requires use of a drill press), and an Alox-free "Magnum Bullet Lube" which they claim to deliver lower pressures, higher velocities, and better accuracy than any other lubricant. Write for literature detailing tests and supporting these claims.

Yep, cast bullets seem to come and go in popularity...but each time they come back, they get better, more versatile, easier, and closer to jacketed slugs in performance potential. One of these days--maybe this time--they're not going to go away again!
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Author:Wootters, John
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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