A supply of ammo is always close at hand for those who learn how to cast their own bullets.
By John Haviland
Are you paying more and shooting less because of the constantly escalating price of ammo? A solution to that dilemma is to cast your own handgun and rifle bullets. By investing the cost of 10 boxes of commercial bullets in casting equipment, an endless supply of bullets for plinking, target practice and hunting will always be as close as your reloading bench. Along the way, you’ll discover casting bullets is a fascinating hobby that allows you to shoot more for less money.
Like any endeavor, you can spend a little or a lot to cast bullets.
The epitome of casting cheap is the method I use to cast bullets for target and plinking loads for the .38 Special. The .38 mold I use is an NEI 150 358WC four-cavity that casts a 150-grain wadcutter bullet. The bullets drop from the mold with a .359 inch diameter, so no sizing is required to fire them in the .38 Special. I put them in a plastic jar with a few squirts of Lee Liquid Alox and gently tumble the jar to evenly coat the bullets with lubrication.
The next step is to spread the bullets on a sheet of wax paper to allow the Alox to dry. The bullets are ready to load and shoot the following morning. Propelled by 3.7 grains of Ramshot True Blue powder, the bullets have a muzzle velocity of 800 fps from my .38 Special revolver. After shooting 100 of these rounds, there is only a hint of leading in the rifling just forward of the forcing cone, and five-shot groups run right at an inch at 25 yards. Try to find better accuracy than that for the less than 2 cents apiece those bullets cost.
Some cast bullets come from the mold too large to properly fit a barrel bore. Others intended to be shot at higher velocities require quite a bit of lubrication. For both, a press that sizes bullets and fills their grooves with lubrication is needed. These presses, like the RCBS Lube-A-Matic or SAECO Lubri-Sizer, accept different sizing dies and hold lubricant in a reservoir. Pulling down on their handle pushes a bullet into the die to size it and fills the bullet’s groove with lubrication. The upswing of the handle ejects the bullet.
A cast bullet with a plain base works fine for handgun bullets and most rifle bullets. When velocities exceed 1,400 fps, though, a bullet-mold design that allows crimping a gas check on the bullet base is a good idea. For the price of 2 to 3 cents apiece, gas checks protect the bullet base from the deforming pressure of powder gas. That helps prevent leading in the bore and improves accuracy.
For years, I melted lead alloy in a cast iron pot on a Coleman stove and used a ladle to pour the molten alloy into my molds. That worked fine. In fact, some people say that method is the best way to cast bullets that are uniform in weight and free of defects. However, the process was slow. A bottom-pour furnace is much faster and makes it easier to completely fill a mold.
Alloys and Cost
Commercial jacketed bullets have increased in price right along with the rising cost of copper and lead. Both metals have about doubled in cost over the last few years. The increasing price of lead has also adversely affected bullet casting. A quick search on the Internet found one mail-order outfit charges about $4 a pound, plus postage, for lead alloy of 20 parts lead to one part tin. That works out to 14 cents for a 250-grain bullet for a .44 magnum. That’s not good.
Scrounging is a more cost effective strategy. Some of my best friends are construction workers and plumbers. Every once in a while, when they tear out an old building, they’ll end up with a stockpile treasure of scrap lead. Used wheel weights at tire stores are the best source of lead alloy for bullet casting. The last bucketful I bought cost 50 cents a pound. That comes out to slightly more than 2 cents for a 250-grain bullet. That’s good.
Wheel weights contain 4 percent antimony to harden the lead and half a percent of tin to help the molten lead flow and fill the mold. Wheel weight alloy is relatively soft. But bullets cast of wheel weights with a protective gas check shoot accurately up to 2,100 fps, and with the proper bullet nose, they readily expand on game.
A Few Loads
Cast bullets are the only bullets that make sense and cents in mild-velocity cartridges like the .30-30 and .45-70.
For hunting small game and plinking with the .30-30, I load a bullet cast from an RCBS 30-150-CM mold. This bullet has a plain base, so it costs about a penny for lead alloy, plus a fraction of a penny for lubrication. I load it at 1,300 fps with 7 grains of Red Dot powder, and its three-shot groups run .89 inches at 100 yards.
When the rifle goes hunting, it’s loaded with 180-grain bullets cast of wheel weights from a SAECO #62307 mold. The bullet has a muzzle velocity of 1,933 fps with 27.0 grains of W748, and groups in 1.33 inches at 100 yards. That bullet weight at that velocity is pretty much a full-power load in the
.30-30. With the bullet’s wide, flat point to ensure expansion, it makes a great deer load. My son used one in a Winchester Model 94 last fall to take a white-tailed doe in the timber at 60 yards. The deer fell over and never moved.
In higher-velocity cartridges, I always shoot a jacketed bullet to hunt big game. But that only requires a few shots a season. However, there’s no sense practicing with those expensive bullets the rest of the year. For practice loads in my
.30-06, I shoot an RCBS 165-SIL bullet with 27.0 grains of H4198 powder. In my .300 Winchester Short Magnum, I load the same bullet with 37.0 grains of IMR 4064. Both these loads group in an inch to slightly over an inch at 100 yards. A summer shooting these inexpensive bullets at targets sure helps make those expensive jacketed bullets find their mark come hunting season.
Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.