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Shooting Cast Bullets In Historic Firearms


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This is a presentation delivered by Griff Elliott to a monthly meeting of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) of Great Britain in London, UK. Website:

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Shooting Cast Bullets In Historic Firearms

  1. 1. 1 Shooting Cast Bullets In Historic Firearms Griff Elliott HBSA LECTURE London Bridge Range (MRPC) Monday 16 Feb 2015 Photograph is of 3 shot group fired from my 1960s Savage .308 under lever Model 99c stalking rifle, using 25 grains of accurate 5744 behind a home cast Lyman 311413 180 grain hollow point at 100yds. At 2071fps & 1714 ft.lbs it’s actually powerful enough to use on deer. The rifle cost £50, because the high pressure factory ammo that the previous owner used, wouldn’t extract!!!!
  2. 2. 2 Introduction  I’ve been shooting my own cast bullets for many years now, with very good results, I even have a mould for expanding ammunition and I make my own gas checks  I’m very passionate about preserving historic rifles so they can be shot by future generations and believe that using cast bullets is an aid to their preservation  When I first started historic rifle shooting, people shooting jacketed bullets would laugh at me  Now I often win historic competitions using cast bullets at Bisley and all over the U.K. Mainly against people using jacketed bullets!
  3. 3. 3 Introduction  You can have remarkable accuracy even out to 600 yards on a calm day  On a windy day you’ll need 2 x windage  Rae Wills kindly kept my score at the Trafalgar Meeting once, at 600 yards, he was a little surprised when both my sighters went in the bull  Remember we’re not talking about gallery loads, mine are usually doing between 2000 & 2500fps  Oh, I nearly forgot to mention I’m a time served letterpress printer, so I have an almost endless supply of linotype and monotype
  4. 4. 4 Introduction  Has anyone else noticed that Rae Wills and Maurice Kanareck posed for the picture on the Two Types competition entry form?
  5. 5. 5 This all Works for Me  But you will find lots of information on the internet, some using completely different methods to mine, they may still work well; only trial and error will tell you what works for you in your firearms  Cross check all re-loading data with a trusted manual, e.g. Lyman; wherever it comes from  Check out this link if you would like to know more about reloading cast bullets
  6. 6. 6 Safety First!!!!  The following methods and procedures all work safely for me, using my tried and tested methods in my firearms  You must remember that many cast bullet loads use less than half a case of fast burning powder  This of course means that it’s possible to double charge a case, with catastrophic consequences if fired  You must develop your own procedure to prevent this e.g. weighing all the finished rounds in a batch and/or keep empty cases upside down and seat the bullet straight away after adding the powder  LOOK FOR SIGNS OF HIGH PRESSURE
  7. 7. 7 A Few Questions  How many of you have considered trying to reload using cast bullets? Lyman 141 gr .358 LWC and Lee 180 gr .311 RNGC Both tumble lubed with my home made 50/50 LLA & floor polish mixture. Both 1st place winners at Trafalgar and Imperial Historic Arms
  8. 8. 8 A Few Questions  How many of you have actually tried to reload for full-bore using cast bullets? My 1943 M91/30 Nagant Sniper, shoots very well with open sights. Won 200 yd Veteran Rifle deliberate, 2 years running at the Trafalgar, using Lead bullets. Its 30inch 1 in 10 twist likes the 200gr Lyman 314299 bullet
  9. 9. 9 A Few Questions  How many of you have had success/won competitions using cast bullets? Photo is of a beautiful wartime dated No 4 which had been FTRd in the 1950s Unfortunately with a .317 bore and a not quite so generous chamber, it had to go!
  10. 10. 10 A Few Questions  How many of you have stopped using cast bullets because of poor results?  The main problem will be poor bullet fit 10cm group fired from my Nagant M38 Carbine from 200 yards Using 25gr Accurate 5744 and bullets cast from a Lee .311 200 gr bullet mould, bored out to.316 using valve grinding paste and a hand drill These little carbines can be made to shoot well with cast bullets
  11. 11. 11 A Few Questions  Why would you want to go to all the bother of casting your own bullets when shooting historic rifles, rather than using jacketed bullets or military surplus ammo? Photograph is of Enfield Enforcer No 303. A regular McQueen and transitional rapid winner at Bisley, scored 50 on McQueen in 2013 using lead bullets. I had fair accuracy using 24gr Accurate 5744 and the Lee 200gr bullet but the 1 in 12 twist barrel was much more accurate when I changed to the Lee 180gr bullet.
  12. 12. 12 Why do I Cast My Own Bullets?  My main reason is to prevent bore wear and preserve historic rifles; Cast bullets cause very little wear  Military surplus ammo however, usually has a steel jacket with a copper wash, this can wear out a barrel in short order  Worn out barrels can still be made to shoot well using oversize cast bullets  Many historic service rifles can be made to shoot better with lead bullets than they can with jacketed, e.g. Nagant carbine  Can be cheaper and more easily available than commercial ammo especially for obsolete calibres  Many people already load and shoot cast bullets in pistol calibres
  13. 13. 13 Aspects of Cast Bullet Reloading  The rifle  Bullet moulds/diameter  Bullet alloy composition  Components and tools  Powder and primers  Barrel cleaning
  14. 14. 14 The Rifle  May be irreplaceable  May be an obsolete calibre  May be worn out and not shooting well with jacketed bullets  Check the rifling twist, heavy bullets need a faster twist  Probably won’t be the bore size you expect it to be – What is the nominal groove diameter of a .303 rifle? Check out page 75 of the Lee Enfield story or page 89 of the re-print  SLUG YOUR BARREL
  15. 15. 15 Slugging the Barrel  Take a lead bullet of sufficient diameter, (it’s no good using a .312 diameter bullet to slug your barrel if your barrel measures .315)
  16. 16. 16 Slugging the Barrel  Remove the bottom driving bands with a junior hacksaw and discard them  All that should be left is the nose and one or two driving bands
  17. 17. 17 Slugging the Barrel  After oiling the bore with a wet patch, place the bullet, nose first, into the muzzle and gently tap it towards the breach using a brass cleaning rod until it drops out
  18. 18. 18 Slugging the Barrel  Carefully measure the fattest diameter of the slug with an accurate vernier or micrometer, being very gentle so as not to damage the soft lead
  19. 19. 19 Slugging the Barrel  This will give you a reasonable indication of the size of the bore  It may also give you some bad news, because if you feel any tight or slack spots as you tap the bullet down the barrel, this could indicate uneven wear or a bulged barrel and necessitate a visit to your local gunsmith for further investigation and possible re-barrelling
  20. 20. 20 Slugging the Barrel  Now we are getting to one of the most important points in cast bullet re- loading, preventing gas cutting and therefore leading of the barrel  Keeping those hot high pressure gasses behind the bullet  If we add 2-3 thou to the groove size and use a gas check, we will be half way there; low pressure gallery loads need only 1 thou
  21. 21. 21 Slugging the Barrel  You will need to add 2-3 thou to the slug diameter and this is the bullet size you need to use in your rifle  If the final bullet is much over .315 you may have the problem of excessive outside case neck diameter  Check to see if your rounds chamber easily, if not ,check to see if there are any brightly coloured witness marks around the case neck where the bullet makes it bulge
  22. 22. 22 Slugging The Barrel  If the outside diameter of the neck is excessive, you will need to trim the case neck thickness to reduce the diameter  Failure to take this step can lead to bullet retention, which will cause a massive increase in pressure  I had to take off half a thou from the case necks used on my Nagant M38 carbine, this allowed me an extra thou in bullet diameter and improved accuracy
  23. 23. 23 Slugging The Barrel  I have had to part company with one or two rifles over the years, including a lovely wartime No 4 which had been FTRd in the 50s, with a bore of over . 317 it was a non starter for me.  Also a 1960s Pakistan No 4 with a pitted barrel, pitting is not a friend of lead bullets
  24. 24. 24 The Rifle  Most historic service rifles, especially Lee Enfield, will usually have a very long lead and oversize chamber  ESTABLISH THE OAL FOR EACH BULLET YOU USE  The method I’m going to describe is much simpler than making a chamber cast
  25. 25. 25 Establishing the OAL  Check the rifle is clear, close and cock the action
  26. 26. 26 Establishing the OAL  Take your 30 cal yellow plastic coated cleaning rod, the one with the large male end and run a smooth cut file over the end to make sure it’s flat, then slide it down the barrel till it rests against the bolt face
  27. 27. 27 Establishing the OAL  Make sure the action is cocked, so the firing pin does not stick out, giving a false reading  Then draw a line across the rod where it exits the barrel
  28. 28. 28 Establishing the OAL  Make sure the mark lines up with the end of the barrel  I use one of those magnifying head sets to aid accurate drawing and measuring, you can buy one on ebay for a tenner
  29. 29. 29  Open the action and remove the bolt  Then place the bullet on the magazine follower, this is the Lee C312-155-2R gas check bullet designed for the 7.62 x 39 round Establishing the OAL
  30. 30. 30 Establishing the OAL  The bullet should be 2-3 thou fatter than the groove diameter of the bore  Push the bullet gently into the chamber with a piece of dowel or a chamber stick
  31. 31. 31 Establishing the OAL  Hold the bullet in place with the rod  Unless you have three hands, it would be good to have a helper here
  32. 32. 32 Establishing the OAL  Push the yellow cleaning rod gently against the nose of the bullet and draw a second line where the rod exits the barrel
  33. 33. 33 Establishing the OAL  Measure the distance between the two marks, with a good vernier, remember to use those magnifiers
  34. 34. 34 Establishing the OAL The distance between the two marks is a pretty close OAL for that bullet in that rifle  Crimp/glue the bullet in place and write the OAL on the case with a cd pen, you’ve now got your dummy for when u re-load with that bullet
  35. 35. 35 Establishing the OAL  Don’t forget, the overall length is normally governed by the length of the magazine, 303 British is 3.075  Your new OAL may be longer than the magazine and will therefore have to be single loaded  Obviously this won’t be good news for the rapid fire and snap shooting discipline and will necessitate a compromise and shorter OAL
  36. 36. 36 Establishing the OAL  Remember to avoid having the the bullet protruding into the case  It has no protection from the hot gasses when the powder ignites  It’s ok to have the gas check inside the case, but that’s all
  37. 37. 37 Bullet Moulds/diameter  Available off the shelf at a reasonable price, usually the wrong diameter  I always smoke my moulds, using a refillable butane gas lighter, this aids filling and releases bullets when set  Don’t over tighten your sprue plate, it should almost move under its own weight, this will help with base filling  Moulds can be custom made but will be expensive and will have to come from abroad, so will take a long time  Can be modified very easily and cheaply
  38. 38. 38 Lee Bullet Moulds  Lee bullet moulds, available for the budget conscious, come with handles fitted and work very well; I’ve not managed to break one or wear one out even after many years of use  The main problem with Lee is that they are unlikely to be the right diameter, unless you’re using them for pistol calibre or .308 and their .303 British bullet mould is way undersize at .312!  Once stripped for cleaning, the sprue plate pivot screw works loose, so I drill and tap the mould body and add a small locking screw
  39. 39. 39  Lyman are at mid range price wise but you have to buy handles, I use the Lee 6 cavity mould handles, they fit perfectly and are half the price  Made from steel, Lyman have a tendency to rust, so should be oiled when stored; this necessitates the pain of thorough cleaning before re-use  As with most mould handles, the constant heating burns the wood and makes them loose, I repair them with bathroom silicon sealant Lyman Bullet Moulds
  40. 40. 40 Custom Bullet Moulds  More expensive are custom made moulds, this one is brass & casts well  It’s a 175gr from CBE in Australia but at .316 it was the first one that fit my 303 & 7.62 x 54 R rifles properly  Downside is it has a flat nose, so doesn’t feed so well for rapid fire and snap shooting
  41. 41. 41 Bullet Moulds/diameter  The easiest way to increase bullet diameter is to use aluminium exhaust tape  You simply stick it to each side of the bullet mould, preventing it from closing fully and hence you get a fatter bullet  The bullet won’t be round but this doesn’t matter  You can fatten the nose, driving bands or both  This is easily reversed by simply removing the tape and cleaning the mould with solvent
  42. 42. 42 Bullet Moulds/diameter  Another method I have used is to bore them out, using valve grinding paste, Lee aluminium moulds are best for this  This will give a more rounded fatter bullet than tape  You can also make one part of the bullet fatter if desired e.g. the driving bands or just the nose
  43. 43. 43 Bullet Moulds/diameter  You don’t need to be an engineer and you don’t need a lathe or any special tools  First take a self tapping wood screw and cut the head off with a hacksaw
  44. 44. 44 Bullet Moulds/diameter  Then take a bullet that was cast in the mould cavity you want to enlarge  Drill a centre hole in the bullet base, 1mm smaller than the self tapping screw and screw the screw into the hole  It may take a few attempts to get this right so cast several bullets
  45. 45. 45 Bullet Moulds/diameter  Put a couple of drops of light oil on each side of the cavity you are enlarging  Place the prepared bullet and screw in your drill  Then thinly smear the bullet with coarse valve grinding paste  Gently close the mould round the bullet applying gentle pressure, while rotating the drill clockwise
  46. 46. 46 Bullet Moulds/diameter  Remove the mould and clean with brake cleaner  Cast and measure some bullets, you will see they are getting fatter  Now repeat a few more times, using fine grinding paste, until the resulting bullets are a thou or so fatter than you require  You can also cut the nose off a bullet and enlarge just the driving bands & vice versa
  47. 47. 47 Bullet Moulds/diameter  You can see the marks on this bullet cast in the bored out mould, don’t worry they won’t affect accuracy and it’s .3165 diam  I’ve now made myself a 200gr custom mould that cost less than twenty quid and its bullets feed well in my 303 rifles as well as my 7.62 x 54R rifles  You can’t reverse this process but Lee moulds aren’t expensive anyway
  48. 48. 48 Bullet Lubing and Sizing  I started casting in the pistol shooting days and just used LLA  When I started rifle shooting I didn’t see the need to buy one of those Lubrisizing thingamajigs with nose punches, etc  I still just use LLA and Lee sizing kits although, like most things, I modify them to better suit my needs.  You can also fit gas checks as you size and because the bullets go nose first, they self centralize, making them more concentric than the base first Lubrisizers
  49. 49. 49 Anomalies  You will now have nice fat bullets that your 30 cal gas checks won’t fit onto!  You probably won’t be able to get an off the shelf sizing die above .314!  What will you do?
  50. 50. 50 Anomalies
  51. 51. 51 Bullet Alloy composition  Pure Linotype is a little too hard  Range waste is a little too soft for all but low pressure pistol calibre bullets  50/50 Linotype and range waste is about the same as Lyman #2 alloy  If your Alloy is a bit on the soft side, I’m told you can quench harden your bullets by dropping them from the mould into cold water, I’ve never had to do this  BUT BE WARNED: KEEP THE WATER AWAY FROM THE MOLTON LEAD!!!!
  52. 52. 52 Cases  Brass should be good quality, don’t waste your time with berdan primed mil surplus brass, use boxer primed brass  Any make will do, so long as you don’t mix them, PPU are reasonably priced  Keep your cases trimmed to length and check them every time they are fired  I clean my cases and the primer pockets after every other firing  The first time I use a batch of cases, I use a de-burier to uniform the flash holes  In keeping with normal practice, once you’ve fire formed a case in your rifle, you can just neck size them to save wear and tear
  53. 53. 53 Cases  To crimp or not to crimp?  It’s generally accepted that crimping harms accuracy  However, you will need to handle uncrimped ammo with kid gloves  I always crimp if I’m doing snaps or rapid, or ammo could be damaged  If you do crimp, batch sort your cases by length to ensure uniformity
  54. 54. 54 Components & Tools  I use mainly Lee tools and presses, in particular I like their neck sizing collet dies, as you don’t need to lube the cases  Remember when using oversize lead bullets, the case neck will need to be correspondingly fatter or you will have excessive case neck tension  You will also need to use a case neck flaring die, they are made by Lee or Lyman, Lee ones are universal, Lyman are size and calibre specific
  55. 55. 55 Components & Tools  I make my own calibre specific neck expander plugs, as Lee and Lyman tend to overwork the case neck, causing splits  Also don’t oversize your case necks, your neck sizing mandrel or M die plug should be 1 thou smaller than the diameter of your cast bullet  I’m quite happy to make you an expander plug for your M die if you tell me the diameter of your bullet, this means you can custom size your case necks for optimum neck tension for each rifle!
  56. 56. 56 Components & Tools  You don’t need anything special  A good vernier gauge, dial or digital but keep it clean, if it’s digital, remember to re-zero every few minutes  Powder scales are important, pay as much as you can afford for a good set  As with all reloading it’s a good idea to batch weigh your bullets to aid accuracy, a digital scale able to weigh .1 or .2 grain increments can be had from ebay at a very reasonable price  Out of production moulds are available from USA via ebay
  57. 57. 57 Components & Tools  Don’t be afraid to experiment and be a little inventive, when things don’t work, adapt them to make them work  Lee don’t make neck sizing collet dies for 7.62 x 54r so I made my own from a 303 British one  When I had to convert 500 cases from .223 to 300 whisper I used custom full length sizing dies; for re-loading them I made my own collet dies from Lee 7.62 x 39 ones
  58. 58. 58 Gas Checks  Plain base bullets work best at lower pressures  The addition of a gas check will protect the base of the bullet from the hot gasses produced by burning powder  Bullets with a gas check shank should be used with a gas check or you risk gas cutting and barrel leading.
  59. 59. 59 Gas Checks  Gas checks are becoming increasingly expensive and hard to find  You may therefore decide to make your own out of copper or aluminium.  
  60. 60. 60 Gas Checks  The Freechecks III tool is quite a handy gadget  I fitted mine onto an arbour press and I've got a selection of copper and aluminium strips from who also sell gas checks
  61. 61. 61 Powder and Primers  Many pistol powders will give reasonable results e.g. Unique but don’t double charge! Keep empty cases upside down  Accurate 5744 was developed especially for cast bullets with low density loads  Slower rifle powders e.g. V N150 or N140 can be used with a filler but beware, using fillers can damage your rifle’s chamber  I’ve had good results with N110 & N120  Use a good quality primer, CCI and Winchester are both good, I use Federal
  62. 62. 62 Powder and Primers  I was once forced by necessity to change my brand of primer, I used to use Winchester and they completely ran out  Later I was testing 3 different calibres of ammo with the aid of a chronograph and they all exhibited occasional drops in velocity of several hundred fps from shot to shot, the only thing they had in common was this new brand of primer!  I changed my primers to Federal and re tested, the changes in velocity had gone! I’ve used Federal primers ever since  Lee say Federal are too hot, I say they’re hot enough to ensure consistent ignition
  63. 63. 63 Barrel Cleaning  This is a much discussed topic  Provided you get your bullet diameter and lube correct, therefore no leading, you could shoot lead bullets all year and not clean your rifle; I know, I have done so  However, as with .22 rifles, a build up of burned and unburned powder residue can bring about the right conditions for moist air to cause rust; I also know about this from bitter experience and it’s not good
  64. 64. 64 Barrel Cleaning  They say there are three states of barrel:  Freshly cleaned and unfired  Dirty, after firing many rounds  Just off clean after firing say 10-20 shots  If you start off with a clean barrel, the zero will change as the barrel gets dirty  Not really what you want in a competition  The dirty barrel may have consistency but at the cost of corrosion, not for me  I’ve tried all three and just off clean works best for me.  BTW I use Ed’s red, it works really well
  65. 65. 65 Barrel Cleaning  One very important point, do not shoot lead bullets from a barrel that has copper fouling  1st clean the barrel with a simple barrel cleaning liquid, e.g. Ed’s Red  Remove copper fouling with a good quality copper solvent, dry the barrel, then re-clean with simple barrel cleaner  Always start with a clean dry barrel that is free from copper fouling from the outset  I’ve noticed that since I’ve used Ed’s Red, I get less fouling, especially Copper
  66. 66. 66 Ed's Red Bore Cleaner  1 part Dexron II, IIe or III ATF. (AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION FLUID)  1 part Kerosene - deodorized, K1 (PARRAFIN) from garage/DIY shop)  1 part Aliphatic Mineral Spirits (WHITE SPIRIT) not Turps or Turps Sub  I ADD 1 PART OF UPPER CYLINDER CLEANER (REDEX)  This makes a very gentle copper solvent that can be left on the bore overnight Don’t forget if you use copper gas checks there will be copper in your bore!
  67. 67. 67 Some Universal Loads  .303 British 22gr of Accurate 5744 with bullet weights 170gr – 200gr and Federal primers & a 1 in 10 twist 25 inch barrel  7.62 x 54R 25gr 5744 with bullet weights 170gr – 200gr and Federal primers and a 1 in 10 twist 29 inch barrel  .308/7.62 NATO 24gr 5744 with 180 grain bullet and 1 in 12 twist 26 inch barrel this is much easier to load for, as chambers are much more uniform  Remember to slug barrel and check OAL
  68. 68. 68 Just to Recap  Use as heavy a bullet as you can, bearing in mind your rifling twist  You’ll get good 100yd groups with light bullets but wind spreads them at 200yds  2-3 thou fatter than bore groove diameter  Seat bullet out to touch the lead  Check loading manual and choose round about mid range powder load but don’t use slower burning rifle powders  Don’t use low power gallery loads, at 200 yards a windy day will spread them all over a four foot screen
  69. 69. 69 Not Just for Historic Rifles  Using cast bullets needn’t be confined just to historic rifles  My AIAW will put cast bullets in the same hole at 300 yards  I also have an AR15 in 300 Whisper with a 12 inch barrel that shoots cast bullets just as good as jacketed at 100 yards and only slightly worse at 200 yards  You’ll find that your best accuracy, in most rifles, will be out to 200-300 yards and you’ll need twice as much windage as you will with jacketed bullets
  70. 70. 70 Commercially Available Cast Bullets  Several suppliers sell commercial cast bullets, they are usually too soft  Unless they slug your barrel and check your rifle’s lead, don’t buy them, they won’t fit Photograph is of commercial cast bullets. Note how poorly they have been cast, full of wrinkles and certain to be different diameters and weights.
  71. 71. 71 Good Advice  Join the Cast Bullet Association of America, they’ve forgotten more about cast bullet loading than you or I will ever know  Buy Quickload, it has saved me hundreds of pounds in powder and primers! LEE 309-180-R GAS CHECK BULLET FIRED FROM 200 YARDS in a 90 degree 20-25 mph wind. Load was Winchester 308 Win cases, Lee Gas Check 309-180-R bullet (sized to .311 and seated to touch the lead with the forward driving band), in front of 24 grains of Accurate 5744, ignited by Federal large rifle primers. The bullets actually weigh about 175 grains as I use a slightly harder alloy of 2 parts linotype and 1 part soft indoor range waste (made up of .22 and soft pistol bullets)