What bullet will be the most accurate in my gun?
If I could predict this, I could also predict the weather and the stock market and I wouldn't be casting bullets for others! The reason I offer so many different moulds is that NOBODY can guarantee which bullet/powder/primer combination will be the best load for a particular firearm. NOBODY. You simply must experiment. There are no shortcuts.
The more intended uses you have for that firearm - target, competition, big game hunting, small game hunting, etc. - the more stringent your accuracy demands, the more you must experiment with bullets (different designs, weights sizes, hardness), powders (burning rate, ball vs. extruded) and primer types (rifle, pistol, standard or magnum, and brands). When I undertook load development for my 50-90 Sharps rifle, I put almost 3,000 rounds down the barrel, using every bullet type, powder and primer I had. The results? I have excellent hunting loads with both paper patched and regular bullets - light and heavy - and my long range competition load that shoots 6 inch groups at 600 yards. The confidence I've gained in my firearms from thorough load development is priceless and could not have been achieved any other way.
I'm no expert when it comes to judging the quality of cast bullets.
What should I look for?
The most important feature of a cast bullet is the base. The base must be flat right out to the edge and square. The area of the sprue hole (this is where the bullet is poured) should not have any bumps or gouges. If a gas check is applied, it must be set flat and square. The rest of the bullet should be well filled out with no gaps or deformations, and the edges of the lube grooves should be full and well formed. And every bullet should look as perfect as its' companions. If the maker states that its bullets are weight segregated, weigh some yourself. My weight segregated bullets have been put to this test many times by new customers and never found wanting.
What do you mean when you say your bullets are made one at a time?
I thought all bullets were made one at a time.
The vast majority, if not all, other commercial bullet facilities use automated machinery to cast and lube their product. The casting machines make thousands of bullets an hour and quality control consists of periodic inspections of small sample sizes. Moreover, these machines utilize large, bottom pour pots that literally inject high pressure streams of molten lead into the bullet mould cavities. As each bullet is cast, the volume, weight and force of the stream decreases until more lead is added, usually in 25 pound bars. Not only does this cause variations in weight and diameter of the bullets produced but the high pressure stream of lead also causes cavitation (entrapment of air bubbles into the cast bullet). Undetected, cavitation makes unbalanced bullets with high weight variations.
In my 20 plus years of bullet making experience, I have tried everything and made every mistake at least twice. I have found that the best bullets are made the old fashioned way--with a ladle. The volume of the molten lead in the ladle is easy to control--it's either full or it's not--and the stream of lead going into the mould is gentle and easy to maintain bullet after bullet. This means no cavitation and very consistent weights. I personally see every bullet I make and inspect each one 3 times before it's shipped to a customer. My acceptance rate of perfect bullets is over 95% with ladle casting and less than 60% with a bottom pour pot. You can make a decent bullet with a bottom pour pot if the bullet is short and not very heavy, i.e. most pistol bullets. But in my experience, a long, heavy caliber bullet, like the Big Bore rifle bullets I make, cannot be made to hit targets at 1,000 yds unless they are ladle cast and as perfect as humanly possible. The key to making perfect bullets is consistency in every aspect of manufacture and strict quality control.
Many of my friends who shoot the Black Powder Cartridge Rifles seem to
favor a 20:1 alloy but you don't list that. Why?
The 20:1 (lead:tin) alloy goes back well over a hundred years when the properties of other alloyable elements where unknown. Tin was added to lead as a hardening agent. Without a paper or cloth patch, a pure lead bullet cannot be fired at much over 700 fps without leading. The addition of 5% tin, hardens the bullet enough for black powder generated velocities. Tin, however, is not the ideal hardening agent. Tin's primary purpose in today's lead alloys is twofold. First, tin reduces the surface tension in lead alloys. What this means is that the lead casts better bullets at a lower temperature. Bullets that have sharp edged grease grooves or other features come out sharp edged. Second, with tin in your alloy, you can cast these bullets at a lower temperature than you could with pure lead. Everything stays cooler-- your pot, moulds and yourself-- and you spend your time making bullets, not waiting for the mould to cool. In addition, at over $10.00/lb, tin is the most expensive component of a casting alloy and only about 1 to 2% is all that's needed to obtain it's desirable features.
The main problem with a straight lead:tin alloy is that you can't change the hardness of the bullet. A 20:1 alloy makes a bullet with a Brinell Hardness Number (BHN) of 12. Under good conditions, a bullet made with a BHN of 12 can be shot to about 1300 fps--black powder velocities--but not above without severe leading problems. The most practical, affordable and versatile hardening agent is Antimony. The cheapest source of Antimony is found in wheel weights. With 4-6% Antimony in your alloy you can do amazing things. Cast and allowed to cool at room temperature, our alloy makes a bullet with a BHN of 15--soft enough for black powder velocities, but with a little extra margin if higher velocities, i.e. with smokeless powder, is needed. If water quenched straight from the mould, this same alloy hardens to a BHN of 24, which can tolerate velocities of over 1600 fps. And if you're really in a pinch, this same alloy can be annealed and the BHN brought down to 8 or 9. A lead:tin:antimony alloy is the most flexible and least expensive alloy to obtain. My bullet prices reflect this.
What about the different alloys you list and how do I know which one to choose?
First of all, if you're serious about cast bullet shooting, you need to buy a copy of "Jacketed Performance With Cast Bullets", by Veral Smith. Veral is the founder and owner of Lead Bullet Technologies and has probably forgotten more about what makes cast bullets tick than most of us will ever know. Contact him at LBTisAccuracy@Imbris.net or through his website at www.LBTMoulds.com. Another excellent source of information is "Modern Reloading, Second Edition" by Richard Lee. Yes, the same Mr. Lee of the Lee reloading dies, etc. Any well stocked gun shop should have this or contact www.MidwayUSA.com.
Basically, lead alloys are malleable. They distort under pressure and the pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi). What you want is a bullet that will deform just enough under the pressure it receives to obturate (fill the bore) and grip the rifling, without totally distorting, which will cause leading and poor accuracy. In other words, your best accuracy will come with a bullet that is just hard enough to handle the pressure of your load without buckling under the strain. To paraphrase Mr. Lee, the pressure at which a particular bullet will fail is called the Ultimate Compression Strength (UCS). "Any load that produces pressure significantly less than the ultimate compressive strength of the bullet will shoot reasonably well. Accuracy improves as chamber pressure approaches 90% of the ultimate compressive strength". And UCS and BHN are directly related. I won't give away Mr. Lee's work (you'll have to buy his book), but as a general rule BHN X 1,422=UCS. A bullet with a BHN of 5 (pure lead without any paper or cloth patch) can be shot up to a chamber pressure of 7700 psi--not very much. With a BHN of 15, maximum chamber pressure jumps to 19,000 psi and a BHN bullet of 24 can handle up to 30,400 psi. By the way, Mr. Lee's book also has more loading data with psi pressures than any other source that I know of. But you probably won't find psi pressure data for every load you want to try, especially with cast bullets. We are the redheaded step children of the reloading world, after all. Based on my personal experience, I offer the following guidelines. With my pure lead paper patched bullets, velocities of 1500 fps is max. With the Big Bore bullets, BHN 15, 1500 fps is also safely attainable. A HT and gas checked bullet (many pistol and rifle bullets as indicated under appropriate pages) can be launched to 1600 fps or more, with all other factors being favorable, and I have shot my linotype (BHN-24) bullets up to 2300 fps. If your load experimentation takes you close to or over the velocities I have listed for a particular BHN, I suggest you purchase some of each appropriate alloy and be prepared to try the harder alloy bullet if accuracy deteriorates or leading becomes a problem with the softer alloy. In my experience, the bullets I have seen from most commercial casters is too hard for any safe or sane velocity attainable with most cast bullet loads. I don't understand why they make them that hard. As I have explained above, a bullet that is too hard for the psi delivered to it will not obturate and fill the bore. It goes bouncing around on the rifling causing poor accuracy, and severe leading the entire length of the barrel because it never seals. Go figure.
When should I choose a gas checked bullet design?
Gas checks serve two purposes. First and foremost, a gas check helps protect the all important base of the bullet from gas cutting. Hot propellant gases can strip tiny pieces of lead from the bullet base causing poor accuracy and leading problems. The copper gas check, with a BHN of about 100, also helps grip the rifling and can produce better accuracy in maximum velocity loads. Revolvers are particularly hard on cast bullets. In the cylinder, the bullet is hammered with the initial combustion of powder and forced to conform, read enlarge, to fill the cylinder throat. Moving out of the cylinder, the bullet passes an unrestricted space of between .002 and .008 or more inches between the cylinder face and the barrels' forcing cone. More distortion. Finally, the bullet slams into the forcing cone and is distorted again to fill the dimensions of the bore. Very hard passage for a mere lead slug. Production grade revolvers with their generous tolerances are particularly hard on lead bullets. Custom built guns like those from Freedom Arms, John Linebaugh, Hamilton Bowen and others, are built to such tight tolerances, that not only do they shoot cast bullets incredibly, almost eerily well, the bullets have to be sized a little smaller than normal to even chamber (which is one of the reasons we ask for the make and model of gun you intend to shoot when you place an order). The higher the psi and velocity of your load, the more sense it makes to choose a gas checked bullet.
How do I determine what size my bullets should be?
Sizing diameter is a critical element in the accurate cast bullet load formula. In rifles, I recommend a cast bullet that is .001 larger than the nominal groove diameter. In revolvers, the critical dimension is the cylinder throat diameter. The bullet diameter should match this measurements for best results. The lower the velocity/pressure of your load, the more important it is to have a bullet that will bump up quickly under low pressure to insure adequate obturation. A bullet that is .001" larger than groove diameter will do this better than one that is undersized. If you see a lot of leading around the forcing cone and first part of the barrel in your revolver, chances are excellent that you are using a bullet that is undersized and/or too hard for the pressure generated by that load. Either increase the pressure of the load or get a bullet of the correct dimensions and hardness and the leading will disappear and accuracy will improve markedly. As the pressure of your load increases, the size of the bullet becomes a little less important.
As stated above, however, your particular firearm may dictate what size bullet it will accept. You may have a tight cylinder throat (Freedom Arms, etc. revolvers) or a tight chamber that will not accept bullets sized .001" over groove diameter. If the firearm is new to you or you haven't reloaded for it, it isn't difficult to slug the critical areas to determine the correct diameter.
How do I go about measuring the bore accurately?
To measure the groove diameter of a rifle barrel, drive a soft lead bullet or round ball (like those sold for muzzleloaders) through the barrel. The ball should be slightly larger than needed to get an accurate impression. Make sure the barrel is clean and lightly grease the slug before pushing it through. Use a stout cleaning rod or wooden dowel. For most guns, drive the slug from the muzzle end and retrieve it from the chamber. For muzzleloaders, drive the slug a few inches into the barrel and retrieve it with a worm jag. If your gun has an even number of lands and grooves, the groove diameter (now the high spots on the slug) can be measured with a micrometer or calipers. If you have an odd number of lands and grooves, a gentleman by the name of O.H. McKagen (9229 Arlington Blvd, Apt. 551, Fairfax, VA 22031) will measure it for you. Send your carefully wrapped slug to him along with a self-addressed, postage paid envelope, for his reply.
For best results your cast bullet should be sized .001" larger than groove diameter or at groove diameter.
How do I make a grease cookie?
When shooting a paper patched bullet with black powder, you will need to add a grease or lube cookie to your loading sequence. The bullet itself needs only a small amount of lube applied to the patch to ease seating it in the case. This is not enough lube, however, to keep your black powder fouling soft.
The grease cookie is just a wad made of black powder bullet lube, placed between two card wads a top the powder charge and under the bullet. There are many ways to make a grease cookie. You can purchase a lube ribbon extruder, like the one sold by Buffalo Arms (www.buffaloarms.com). You can also make your own by pouring melted bullet lube in a shallow pan to the thickness you desire. Once cooled, the lube can be cut and removed in strips and use like a lube ribbon. Or, if you have a method by which you can consistently make a small lube ball, it can be place between the two card wads and compressed into a cookie with your powder compression die. Normally, you will want a lube cookie that is between 1/16 and 3/16" thick. You will need to experiment to see what works best for your individual rifle and load.
How do I measure the twist rate of my rifle?
To measure twist rate, you'll need:
- a cleaning rod with a swiveling handle
- a tight fitting bore brush
- a piece of masking tape
- a marker
- a tape measure
Make sure the barrel is clean before you begin. Insert the rod with brush attached through the muzzle all the way down to the chamber. Pull the cleaning rod back until it is snug. Wrap the piece of tape around the rod at the junction of the muzzle and the rod. Mark a circle around the tape at the junction and make a small mark on the tape at 12:00. Slowly withdraw the cleaning rod, making sure that it's rotating with the rifling. When the 12:00 mark on the tape has made one complete revolution, measure the distance from the tape 'circle' to the end of the muzzle. You now have the twist rate expressed as 1 revolution per inches.
Can I use one of your cast bullets in my muzzle loader?
Up until now, I have not been able to offer any advice on the subject because I have no personal experience to draw from. Fortunately for us, an expert who has extensive experience in shooting saboted hard cast bullets in muzzleloaders and measuring their effect in ballistic media, as well as in large game animals, has communicated his findings to me. His name is Al Marion and with his permission, I offer the following information that I gleaned from articles he authored in “Blackpowder Hunting” (Winter 1994, Spring 1995 and Summer 1997 issues) and an additional article published in “The Accurate Rifle” (July 2003). Al and I have also exchanged emails on some details that ended up involving some follow-up testing focused specifically on the compatibility of sized and lubed hard cast bullets in sabots. More on that later.
Al experimented with cast bullets of LBT design. He obtained the best penetration and terminal performance with the LFN. When fired from a muzzleloader, and depending on bullet weights among the .451” bullets viewed as best choices, penetration in ballistic media ranged from just short of 4 feet with the 330 grain LFN to a bit over 5 feet with the 400 grain LFN. Penetration in game has been somewhat more than in media, but only a precious few bullets have stayed in game for recovery to help quantify the difference. Routinely, hunters using 320 grain or heavier LFN’s report breaking both shoulders and an exit wound on elk when an elk has presented that body angle. Also, whether heavy bone is encountered or not, widespread harvest reports consistently remark about 1 ½ - 2” diameter holes through lungs, validating Al’s wound profile observations in ballistic media. Kills are quick and clean, and that includes a couple of Cape Buffalo taken with the 400 grain LFN. Al recommends hard cast bullets with a BHN of 20 or higher and with a plain base. The data shown below from his recent tests indicates that Montana Bullet Works’ Keith style SWC's are also a viable choice along with LBT WLN and WFN styles. While these tests did not involve a wound profile analysis, Al says the reputation of these bullets among handgun hunters along with their design characteristics that vary only in a limited way from the LFN, suggests that (considering their enhanced performance out of a muzzleloader) in the vast majority of occasions they will meet or exceed decisive terminal performance expectations.
Al designed his own versions of LBT LFN’s for use with muzzleloader sabots. The designs were essentially LBT except for the absence of lube grooves which serve no purpose when bullets are launched in sabots. Lube grooves do not seem to affect performance (see data below), which is good since I can’t size these hard bullets without applying some lube during the sizing process. Al says that while lube in lube grooves should not need to be removed, wiping any residual lube off the surface of a bullet where it makes contact with the inside of a sabot may be advisable. If you order bullets from me that you intend to shoot with a sabot, please inform me when you order and I will try to apply as little lube as possible during the sizing operation. If you do want to remove any residual lube from the bullet surface, simply wet a paper towel or shop rag with any petroleum solvent--acetone, lacquer thinner, paint thinner, etc., --place a dozen or so bullets on the towel and roll them back and forth with the edge of your palm and then set them aside to dry while you process the next batch. Need I say you want plenty of ventilation and no open flames as these products are highly combustible? The sabot needs a decent grip on the bullet in order to transfer spin from rifling to the bullet. Al recently conducted tests for Montana Bullet Works in an effort to sort out the question about wiping residual lube off the bullet contact surface, versus not wiping, and provides the following observations:
Weapon: .50 caliber Knight Mk-85; peep sights. Range: 50 yards, shooting from bench.
Load : 110 Grains Goex FFg, standard sabot, CCI #11 percussion caps (same for all bullets; 3-shot groups)
[The reported load was safe in the rifle used but should not be viewed as a recommendation.]
Bullet/diameter Not wiped Wiped
315gr. Keith SWC/.451 4” 2”
315gr. Keith SWC/.452 1 ½” *3” (*First two in ¼”; #3 opened to an unexplained 3”)
325gr. LBT WFNPB/.451 2” 2”
325gr. LBT WFNPB/.452 2 ¼” 2”
325gr. LBT WLNPB/.451 3 ¼” ¾”
325gr. LBT WLNPB/.452 1 ¼” 1”
While the data generated does not represent a comprehensive study, it is sufficient to demonstrate promising compatibility with sabots whether residual lube is wiped off or not. The data is not sufficient to predict average group sizes with any given bullet, and of course, accuracy could be better or worse in your rifle anyway. The most important observation is that every hole, all 36 of them through 50 yard paper, was round with no evidence of an unstable bullet in flight. Further, group sizes at 50 yards using non-telescopic sights are generally compatible with muzzleloader hunting needs, and may be improved upon with load refinement.
So, the wiping step may not be necessary, but testing both with and without wiping bullets before use in your rifle will answer the question for you. And don’t forget that sabots are available with slightly thicker or thinner petals that surround the bullet, allowing the shooter to make adjustments in barrel fit. And obviously, the bullet diameter ordered also contributes to barrel fit. Less than a snug fit is likely to produce poor accuracy, and a fit that is too tight will be more of a chore to get rammed down the barrel, especially when reloading a fouled barrel. A workable balance is what’s desired.
50 and 54 caliber muzzleloaders are the wisest choices for big game hunting, especially when considering use of hard cast bullets. Sabot availability and bullet choices are the best for 50 and 54 caliber rifles.
For 50 caliber rifles, sabots are available that accommodate bullets in three different calibers: .429-.430 (Green sabots), .451-.452 (Black sabots) and .458 (Orange sabots). [For most shooters and virtually all North American big game, black sabots and appropriate bullets are the most popular among cast bullet users.]
For .54 caliber rifles, sabots are also available that accommodate bullets in three different calibers: .429-.430 (White sabots), .451-.452 (Red sabots) and .500 (Purple sabots). [Like black sabots in 50 caliber weapons, red sabots and wise choices among .451-.452 bullets are most popular in 54 caliber weapons.]
Remember, bullets intended for handgun use, when fired with normal loads from much longer muzzleloader barrels achieve considerably higher velocity. A 325gr. bullet out of muzzleloader will dance both sides of 1600fps. The same bullet from a well-loaded .45 Colt handgun will dance more below than above 1200fps. And a 400 grain bullet, which virtually no one shoots from a handgun, will clock 1400fps+ from a muzzleloader. That’s faster than a 250gr Keith SWC out of a handgun. So don’t make muzzleloader bullet choices based on a handgun bullet mindset. Within the limits outlined below, heavier is better especially for larger species of big game.
Sabots are available in standard and Magnum versions, with Magnum versions recommended for use with heavier powder charges and with longer, heavier bullets. There are other variations among sabots offering a good choice for most applications. Since the purpose here is not to provide a sabot education, further down you will find sabot source information with an address, phone number and Internet website where more info is available. Please do not ask me which sabot you need for your application. I am not knowledgeable enough on that subject to offer advice. Talk to the experts at MMP.
Guidelines for 50 caliber muzzleloaders with 1:28 twist:
.451-452” bullets 300 to 400 grains.
.458” bullets up to 450 grains.
Guidelines for 50 caliber muzzleloaders with 1:48 twist:
.451-.452” bullets not heavier than 350 grains, preferably 335 grains or less
.458” bullets up to 400 grains.
Guidelines for 54 caliber muzzleloaders with 1:28 twist:
.451-.452 bullets 300 to 400 grains
.500 bullets up to 500 grains
Guidelines for 54 caliber muzzleloaders with 1:48 twist:
.451-.452 bullets not heavier than 350 grains, preferably 335 grains or less
.500 bullets up to 450 grains
Don’t ask about powder charges. That’s your responsibility.
However, a saboted hard cast bullet will survive any black powder charge that is safe to shoot.
Muzzleload Magnum Products (Also known as “MMP”)
518 Buck Hollow Lane
Harrison, AR 72601
If interest is high enough for a bullet/caliber/nose design combination that I don’t currently offer, I may consider adding it to my product line.
Will you send me a couple of your bullets to try out?
We refrain from offering "sample bullets" as each different bullet requires set up time for sizing and lubing. Because we don't keep bullets sized and lubed on hand, set up time for lubing a few sample bullets is the same as the time it takes to set up for sizing and lubing an order of 100 or 500. That time is something we just can't afford to spend on sample bullets. You're welcome to order the minimum of whatever bullet you want to try, but we just can't offer samples at this time.
I'm looking for loading information on cast bullets. Can you help me?
As a practice, we don't provide reloading data.
We suggest you look into purchasing the Lyman 48th Edition, Richard Lee 2nd Edition or most current Accurate Arms reloading guides and read the introductions and prefacing articles carefully. All are available from www.MidwayUSA.com. With the proper equipment and procedures and knowledge of cast bullets, their strong points and limitations, you can expect excellent performance on targets or game. Those are the manuals we recommend to all customers looking for reloading information and the same ones we use.
Also, LBT sells an excellent book entitled "Cast Bullet Performance" that I think is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to get the most from cast bullets. You can contact Veral directly about purchasing it at LBTisAccuracy@Imbris.net or through his website at www.LBTMoulds.com.
How many bullets can I get in one shipping container?
That depends on what you're ordering.
Right now, we have two sizes of shipping containers available; a very small box (about the size of a VCR tape) and a larger container (11.5" x 8.5" x 5.5"). Shipping/handling costs with the smaller box is $8.00 per container and $15.00 per container on the larger size when shipping to an address within the U.S. or it's territories. (Regulations have changed and we are no longer able to ship to non-U.S. customers.)
We can ship a limited number of Rifle and Pistol bullets (no Big Bore bullets) in the small flat rate box. To estimate if your order will fit in one of the smaller boxes, multiply the number of bullets you want by the weight of the bullet. If that number doesn't exceed 53,000, your order can be shipped for $8.00 s/h. If your total exceeds that and/or you want Big Bore bullets, your order will have to go in a larger container.
The larger container will hold up to 6 boxes of the 50, 45 or 40 caliber Big Bore bullets. It will hold up to 15 boxes of the 38-55 Big Bore bullets. Or we can ship up to 50 pounds of Rifle and/or Pistol bullets. Approximate order weight can be determined by multiplying the number of bullets by the bullet weight; divide that number by 7,000 to get the approximate weight in pounds.
We can ship a combination of Big Bore, Rifle and Pistol bullets in a large shipping container, but estimating the number of containers needed for your order gets tricky. It's always best to contact us before you send off your check or money order.
Something else to keep in mind is whether or not you want to insure the shipment. Purchasing insurance is optional, but it costs little and based on our experience, we suggest that you purchase it, especially on all heavy shipping containers (25 lbs or more). Please keep in mind that we guarantee the condition of bullets leaving our shop, but cannot guarantee how the containers will be handled once they leave our sight and will not replace orders damaged because of mishandling during shipment.
Why don't you offer plain-based hard bullets?
Montana Bullet Works is a one-man shop and hand casting is a slow process. Since I can't possible supply every bullet in every alloy, I try to match the bullet hardness with its intended use.
For example, in a 45 ACP, 900 fps is about top speed. A hard cast bullet is not only not necessary at these speeds but is detrimental to accuracy and can cause leading. Therefore, 45 ACP bullets are made at a BHN of 15.
If you're unsure of a bullet's specifications, you can always ask before ordering.
Disclaimer: We accept no responsibility for the results obtained by persons using the information above and disclaim all liability for any consequential injuries or damages.
Use the information on this page at your own risk.