Bullets And Ballistics

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Buying Bullets

Bullets for reloading metallic cartridges are available from a great many sources and in a near-infinite variety of weights, diameters, and designs. The major manufacturers are Hornady, Nosler, Remington, Sierra, and Speer (Figure 46). Winchester used to market its bullets, but no longer does so.

FIGURE 46—Remington, as well as Hornady, Nosier, Sierra, and Speer, offer bullets ready to use.

FIGURE 46—Remington, as well as Hornady, Nosier, Sierra, and Speer, offer bullets ready to use.

Gilded Metal Jacket

Jacketed bullets have cores of lead or lead alloy enclosed by jackets of gilding metal, an alloy of copper and zinc. The jacket may enclose the base and leave the nose exposed, which we term a jacketed soft point (JSP). If it has a cavity in the center of the exposed lead tip, we call it a jacketed hollow point (JHP). Alternatively, the jacket may leave the base exposed, termed a full metal jacket (FMJ). Speer has designed a bullet with the jacket deposited on the core by electroplating, and that design is a totally metal jacket (TMJ).

Rifle bullets may have a tapered portion at the base, called a boat tail, with a full jacket, exposed soft point, or hollow point up front. The front portion may be a spitzer point, spire point, or round nose. A unique design is the Nosler Partition Bullet. It has a segment of jacket metal separating the base and nose portions of the core to assure that expansion of the front will be backed by deep penetration by the base. Nosler has another design called the Ballistic Point, with a plastic tip— distinctively colored to identify the various calibers—to fill in the hollow point. Hornady has a line of handgun bullets termed XTP for extreme terminal performance. Sierra has a similar line called Power Jackets.

Several suppliers offer unjacketed lead handgun bullets in bulk packs, usually 500, for substantial savings over the usual pack of 100. The lead bullets are lubricated and ready to use.

Casting Bullets

FIGURE 47—This bullet mould, from Redding/ SAECO, produces eight bullets at each filling.

Note: Casting bullets requires eye protection. Never forget it!

Moulds—sometimes spelled molds—for producing cast bullets are available from Hensley & Gibbs (H & G), Lyman, RCBS, and Redding/ SAECO, among others. H & G offers only molds (their spelling) for handgun bullets, but includes designs for the .45-70, for handguns that fire the cartridge. The others offer moulds for rifle bullets as well (Figure 47).

FIGURE 47—This bullet mould, from Redding/ SAECO, produces eight bullets at each filling.

Improvised Bullet Mold

The mould blocks may have a single half of the cavity in each side, although two-cavity designs have come to be more customary (Figures 48 and 49). Larger blocks are available with four, six, eight, or even more cavities. As a rough rule of thumb, using an electric, bottom-pour casting furnace and a six-cavity mould, it's possible to produce 100 bullets in about six minutes.

FIGURE 48—Shown is a two-cavity bullet mould by RCBS. You can interchange the blocks on the handles, which saves the cost of a set of handles for each pair of blocks.

FIGURE 48—Shown is a two-cavity bullet mould by RCBS. You can interchange the blocks on the handles, which saves the cost of a set of handles for each pair of blocks.

Bullet Mold Makers Air Gun
FIGURE 49—Here is a pair of two-cavity moulds from Hensley & Gibbs. The mould at left has its sprue cutter swung aside to show the cavities. The mould at right still has the sprue in place.
Lead Bullet Gredase Grooves

Cast bullets have one or more grease grooves running around the full-diameter base portion, and it's imperative that you apply some manner of lubricant to prevent lead from fouling the gun bore (Figure 50).

FIGURE 50—This six-cavity mould from Lee Precision produces a type of bullet termed Micro Band. As cast, the bullets don't require sizing, and you can lubricate them with Lee's Liquid Alox. It saves time and effort and they shoot quite well.

FIGURE 50—This six-cavity mould from Lee Precision produces a type of bullet termed Micro Band. As cast, the bullets don't require sizing, and you can lubricate them with Lee's Liquid Alox. It saves time and effort and they shoot quite well.

Pellet Corbin Airgun Homemade

Lyman, RCBS, and Redding/SAECO manufacture machines that size the cast bullet to the desired diameter—usually .001 inch over groove diameter of the barrel—and deposit lubricating grease in the grease grooves at the same time. Some cast bullet designs have bases dimensioned to accept a shallow cup of gilding metal, called a gas check. You can use the lubricant/sizing machines to put the gas checks in place while performing the rest of the operation (Figure 51).

Lee Precision makes bullet moulds for what they call Micro-Band bullets, which don't require sizing before loading. Lee Precision also provides Liquid Alox lubricant in which you can tumble the bullets, as in the bottom of a rinsed-out milk carton, for example. After tumbling, you decant the bullets upon a piece of waxed paper to air-dry. You can load the processed bullet without further work. The MicroBand bullets usually group in a thoroughly gratifying manner and save copious therbligs of expended effort on the part of the reloader, as well as out-of-pocket funds.

FIGURE 51—The bullet at left has a gas check affixed to its base. The bullet at night shows the reduced base diameter of bullets designed for gas checks, two of which are in the foreground.

FIGURE 51—The bullet at left has a gas check affixed to its base. The bullet at night shows the reduced base diameter of bullets designed for gas checks, two of which are in the foreground.

Casting Bullets From Wheel Weights

Casting Alloys

Three elementary metals commonly used in casting bullets, in terms of percentage, are lead, antimony, and tin. Popular sources for casting alloy metal include wheel weights, linotype metal, salvaged lead pipe, and plumber's wiped joints. Unsuitable sources include telephone cable sheathing and plates from discarded auto batteries. The cable sheathing contains some manner of metal that prevents the molten alloy from flowing freely. The battery plates contain arsenic that, when melted, can generate toxic gas with fatal effects.

Warning: Lead itself is a toxic substance, eliminated from the body slowly, if at all, once ingested. You should undertake bullet casting with adequate ventilation, and keep your fingers that have touched the lead away from your mouth until you've thoroughly washed them. Blood tests made in routine physical examinations don't detect lead in the blood. Detecting lead requires a special heavy-metals test, and any person who works with lead extensively should have one. Discuss the matter with your physician.

You can sometimes obtain wheel weights from filling stations or tire stores and similar sources. It's necessary to melt them down, skim off and discard the little steel clips, and flux the remaining metal before decanting it into pig moulds for future use. If you can obtain the upper portion of an old stainless steel GI mess kit, that makes a perfect pig mould for salvaged casting alloys, producing two kidney-shaped pigs that weigh about six pounds each.

Wheel weights are mostly lead, with some antimony and a little bit of tin. When you clean them up and process them, it's possible to cast marginally satisfactory bullets from wheel weight metal. If you can introduce a bit more tin, resulting performance improves greatly.

Linotype metal contains lead, antimony, and a good ration of tin. That's the good news. The bad news is that linotype metal is getting scarcer with each passing year as printers shift over to "cold-type" processes.

If you can get some linotype metal, melt it down and cast it in one-pound pigs. One pound of linotype metal will sweeten six pounds of wheel weight metal to produce a highly satisfactory casting alloy. Lacking lino alloy, purchase a few pounds of 50/50 (lead/tin) solder and use that to sweeten the alloy.

The problem with a straight mix of lead and antimony is that the melting point of antimony is higher than that of lead and the antimony crystallizes, all by itself. The lead solidifies in the crevices between the antimony and rubs off onto the bore just about as badly as dead-soft lead might. Added tin has a melting point below that of lead and stays with the lead as it solidifies to prevent bore fouling; just that simple.

Once the casting alloy melts, you need to flux it. One of the best materials for that is Marvelux, obtainable from Brownells (Figure 52). You sprinkle a small amount, X teaspoon or so, onto the surface of the alloy and stir it into the mixture. Use an old spoon to stir and skim the impurities that rise to the surface. You should heat the spoon used for fluxing before plunging it into the molten alloy, as Marvelux tends to gather moisture from the air and that, flashing to steam, can cause the alloy to spatter. The same applies to water in any form, a drop of rain, a drop of perspiration falling from your brow—all can turn a pot of molten alloy into a silvery geyser. Wear safety glasses!

FIGURE 52—Marvelux, from Brownells, is a highly effective flux for lead-base alloys. It helps remove foreign materials from the alloy and increases its liquidity, resulting in better cast bullets.

FIGURE 52—Marvelux, from Brownells, is a highly effective flux for lead-base alloys. It helps remove foreign materials from the alloy and increases its liquidity, resulting in better cast bullets.

Lead Casting Flux

Casting Temperatures

Thermometers are available from various sources, such as Brownells, for measuring the temperatures of casting alloy. Use them for occasional checks, as they're not designed for continuous immersion. Try to stay below the level of 700°F (371 °C) because higher temperatures will burn away the scarce and expensive tin. The same applies to casting furnaces with thermostatic heat controls.

Swaging Bullets

Swaging, pronounced SWAY-jing, refers to the cold forming of metal under high pressure. The principal supplier still active in the field of equipment for swaging bullets is Corbin Manufacturing & Supply, 600 Industrial Circle, White City, OR 97503. If you send Corbin an inquiry, noting you're studying to be a gunsmith, you'll receive details on the products Corbin offers.

Corbin's products include swaging presses—both manual and hydraulic—swaging die sets, lead wire, jackets, and dies for producing washers from sheet copper. They also have dies to attach the washers to the bases of swaged, but otherwise unjacketed, lead bullets. Corbin also makes and supplies loading presses, that can both reload and swage. Corbin also sells dies for making your own bullet jackets.

The steps in swaging a jacketed bullet are fairly simple. Start by making the core. One way is to use an adjustable core cutter to cut lengths of lead wire into short pieces. Another approach is to cast your cores in a bullet mould from soft lead. Select a mould of smaller diameter than the bullets you're swaging and slightly greater in weight than the desired core weight. You put each section of lead wire or cast core through the core-swaging die, which extrudes a short length of lead wire in the course of bringing the core to dead-uniform diameter and weight. Save the bits of lead wire for reasons that we'll discuss shortly.

You install a core-seating die, adjust it in the press, and use it for seating the core firmly into the jacket. If you're adamant about producing JHP bullets, you'll form the nose cavity during this step.

To complete the process, install and adjust the nose-forming die, and run the seated cores through it. The press and die sets come with detailed instructions.

There are also other interesting possibilities. You can make cast bullets from fairly soft alloy, lubricated and sized, and put them through a swaging press to modify configuration of the nose portion. The lubricant is incompressible, has no place to go, and thus remains in place to prevent bore fouling. A slightly whimsical term for these bullets is swast bullets, for sw(aged) after being (c)ast. The obvious advantage of the swast approach is that it avoids the substantial cost of the jackets (Figure 53).

FIGURE 53—Swast bullets have been cast, lubricated/ sized, and a custom nose punch was used to swage a hollow point opening in the nose to assure expansion. The cartridges shown are .45 Auto Rim, no longer manufactured by Remington or anyone else.

FIGURE 53—Swast bullets have been cast, lubricated/ sized, and a custom nose punch was used to swage a hollow point opening in the nose to assure expansion. The cartridges shown are .45 Auto Rim, no longer manufactured by Remington or anyone else.

Terminal Ballistics Equations

Ballistics

The bullet's progress from the instant of primer ignition to its exit out of the muzzle is interior ballistics. Its passage through the air, en route to the target is exterior ballistics. Its performance upon reaching the target is terminal ballistics.

Mass in motion carries kinetic energy, and if you know the velocity in feet per second (fps) and the weight in grains, you can calculate the foot-pounds of energy (fpe) a bullet carries.

The equation is velocity squared, divided by 7000, divided by 64.32, times weight in grains, equals foot-pounds of energy. (64.32 is twice the usual accepted rate of falling objects.) The obvious shortcut is to multiply the 7000 (grains in one pound) by the 64.32 (acceleration of gravity on this particular planet) to obtain 450,240. Then, divide by 450,240, rather than dividing by each separately. Either approach yields the same answer, but dividing by only one number conserves a bit of expended effort (therbligs, remember?).

In algebraic format, the equation is as follows.

450,240 JF

For example, a 150 grain bullet at a velocity of 2700 fps carries 2428.7 fpe. A 230 grain bullet at 870 fps has 386.65 fpe, and so on. It's common practice to round to the nearest whole number, so we would write 2429 for 2428.7 and 387 for 386.65. We quote the ballistics of a given load as fps/fpe, or 2700/2429 and 870/387.

The equation provides a useful correlation between bullet velocity and weight, but some feel it puts undue emphasis upon velocity. For example, the actual effect of 400 foot-pounds isn't the same as that of a one pound weight that has fallen 400 feet, or of a 400 pound weight that has fallen one foot.

Some competitive shooting sports utilize another standard, termed the major power factor (mpf), which we obtain by multiplying velocity by weight and dividing the product by 1000. Thus, a 200 grain bullet at 890 fps would carry an mpf of 178 (890 x 200 + 1000). Typically, rules for such sports decree a minimum of 175 mfp.

Once a bullet leaves the muzzle, gravity draws it downward and the bullet gets deflected sideways by any wind at an angle to its line of flight. At the same time, velocity is lost because of atmospheric resistance. The net effect is a departure from the original point of aim, varying with the distance and conditions in effect at the given time.

Ballistic Coefficient

The weight, diameter, and profile of a bullet have an effect upon its ability to retain velocity during its passage to the target. The math concept that takes this into account is the ballistic coefficient, or BC. Typically, we quote the BC as a three-place decimal, and a BC of .337 indicates a greater degree of streamlining than one of .193, for example.

The major bullet makers work out and publish BC figures for their various bullets. Usually, they specify only one figure. Sierra Bullets, however, provides more than one BC for each, based upon spreads in velocity.

Given the pertinent data as to velocity, weight, BC, height of sights above bore, and angle of departure above or below horizontal, it's possible to calculate a respectably accurate prediction of a bullet's path, or trajectory.

If you have access to a personal computer, there are several software programs available for determining the details of exterior ballistics. Some programs have the capability of working out interior ballistics as well.

Load Data and Information Sources

We regard a source of reliable loading data as a mandatory essential. Accurate Arms, Alliant, Hodgdon, IMR, and Winchester have booklets of load data for their respective powders available at no cost. Austin (formerly Scot) charges $2 for the booklet of data for using their powders (Figure 54).

FIGURE 54—Shown are booklets of load data from Alliant, Hodgdon, Scot (now Austin), Winchester, Accurate Arms, and IMR. The one from Scot is $2 a copy; the rest are free on request from the given publisher.

FIGURE 54—Shown are booklets of load data from Alliant, Hodgdon, Scot (now Austin), Winchester, Accurate Arms, and IMR. The one from Scot is $2 a copy; the rest are free on request from the given publisher.

In addition, there are books that provide much more information and cover a broader assortment of powders, at a somewhat higher cost per copy. Some are called handbooks, others manuals; there's no discernible difference. We'll review a few examples as follows.

Lyman Reloading Handbook puts considerable emphasis upon load data for use with cast bullets but also covers jacketed bullets.

RCBS Cast Bullet Handbook lists load data for use with bullets cast from RCBS moulds in the cartridges for which they're appropriate.

SpeerManual No. 11 has 621 pages, covering data on rifle cartridges, handgun cartridges, and nominal rifle cartridges used in handguns, such as the .30-30 and .30 M-1 Carbine, as well as nominal handgun cartridges in rifle-length barrels.

Hornady Handbook, third edition, was published in 1980. It contains 665 pages of load data for rifles and handguns, as well as a great deal of pertinent information on reloading. The fourth edition is in two volumes. The first contains the load data for both rifle and handgun ammunition. The second carries the charts and tables of ballistic data for the various Hornady bullets (Figure 55).

FIGURE 55—Shown here is the fourth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading.

FIGURE 55—Shown here is the fourth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading.

Sierra Bullets Load Data Rifle

Sierra Manual, currently in its third edition, comes in two volumes, one for rifle ammunition and the other for handgun cartridges. Each volume provides charts and tables of downrange data for the Sierra bullets.

Nosler Reloading Manual, third edition, has 516 pages of load data for use with Nosler bullets in rifles and handguns, together with other information on reloading.

Hodgdon Data Manual No. 25 has 544 pages of load data for rifle and handgun cartridges, and you should consider it essential if you use Hodgdon powders. It not only lists data for the Hodgdon powders, but has sections of data on other powders as well. Most sources, in covering powders such as 4895, 4350, or 4831, list the IMR versions that are similar, but not identical, to those from Hodgdon (Figure 56)

FIGURE 56—Loading manuals by Speer, Hodgdon, and Nosler give specific recommendations as to charge weights with various powders, bullet weights, and cartridges.

Wildcat Cartridges

By accepted definition, a wildcat cartridge is one that isn't available through the usual commercial channels. Usually, wildcat cartridges are produced by modifying the cases of standard factory loads, and sometimes a wildcat proves so popular that a major ammunition maker adds it to its line of factory loads.

Initially, the .22-250 Varminter was created by reducing the neck diameter of the .250 Savage case from .257 inch to accept bullets of .224 inch diameter. In much the same manner, the .30-06 case was "necked down" to use .257 inch bullets, thus becoming the .25-06. When the .30-06 neck was opened to take .358 inch bullets, it became the .35 Whelen. Remington adopted the .22-250 and the .25-06 in 1969 and the .35 Whelen in more recent times.

A staggering number of wildcats remain "unbranded." Nearly every standard cartridge case has been necked up, necked down, or blown to an improved shape by firing a factory load in a modified chamber. Improvements consist of sidewalls more nearly parallel or shoulders that have been moved forward or given a sharper angle for the sake of holding more powder.

Occasionally, the sales of factory cartridges sag to the point where ammunition makers drop them from their catalogs, causing them to revert to wildcat status. An example is the .219 Zipper. It's possible to produce .219 Zipper cases from .30-30 cases by forming dies available from the RCBS Custom Shop. Owners of guns chambered for the .219 Zipper have no recourse except to produce their own cases and reloads.

Speer Shot Capsules

Shotloads for Handguns

Speer produces empty plastic shot capsules in both .38 and .44 sizes. The reloader can fill such sizes with shot pellets of the desired size to load them into cases such as the .38 or .44 Special, .357 or .44 Magnum, and other cases taking the same bullet diameter (Figure 57).

FIGURE 57—Shot capsules from Speer are available in .38 and .44 sizes.

FIGURE 57—Shot capsules from Speer are available in .38 and .44 sizes.

Target Bullet Capsules

You'll find load data with suggested charges of suitable powders printed on the cartons of the capsules. You'll find additional data listed on page 461 of the Speer Manual No. 12.

When we discussed production of swaged bullets, we recommended saving the short pieces of lead wire extruded when swaging the cores You can fill the Speer shot capsules with the bits of lead wire to produce an uncommonly effective load for use on venomous snakes or similar targets.

Unsuspected Hazards

You should never load cartridges loaded with bullets having pointed tips into tubular magazines. The force of recoil can cause the tip of a bullet to set off the primer of the cartridge ahead of it. Such a reaction could produce a chain explosion of all but the rearmost of the rounds in the magazine.

Warning: A cartridge case insufficiently resized can become stuck quite tightly in the chamber of a gun. There's a natural tendency to use a piece of rod and a hammer to drive the cartridge back out. That's not a good idea because you would force the bullet from the case neck down against the top of the powder charge. It's possible for powders, particularly double-base powders, to ignite from sharp impact. Such forcing can and has caused severe injuries and deaths.

Instead of forcing the cartridge out, try the following preferred procedure. Use a pipe clamp to exert pressure against a piece of cold-rolled steel rod of suitable diameter. Put one padded jaw against some portion of the gun breech and the other jaw against the end of the rod projecting from the muzzle. After you've pushed back the bullet from the case neck, pour a penetrating lubricant, such as Break Free, down the bore from the muzzle, with the barrel muzzle-up. That serves two useful purposes: It reduces the force needed to extract the stuck case, and it tends to make the powder less apt to ignite.

Zero In! 4

Indicate whether the following statements are True or False.

_ 1. An unsuitable source for bullet casting alloy is plates from discarded auto batteries.

_ 2. One of the best materials for fluxing melted casting alloy is Marvelux.

_ 3. The equation for foot pound of energy provides a useful correlation between bullet velocity and weight.

_ 4. The bullet's progress from the instant of primer ignition to its exit from the muzzle is barrel ballistics.

_ 5. Rifle bullets may have a tapered portion at the base, called a boat tail.

_ 6. Gilding metal, used to jacket bullets, is an alloy of copper and lead.

_ 7. Several suppliers offer unjacketed lead handgun bullets in bulk packs, usually 5000, for substantial savings over the usual pack of 100.

_ 8. When melting casting alloy, try to stay below 700°F or 371°C, as higher temperatures will burn away scarce and expensive tin.

_ 9. An ideal source for bullet casting alloy is linotype metal.

_10. Swaging refers to the hot-forming of metal under low pressure.

Check your answers with those on page 97.

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