John Barsness’s Take on Simple Reduced Rifle Loads
While I cast bullets for several rifles and handguns, I usually try to keep the process as simple as possible, on the theory that less time spent casting and loading means more time for shooting.
One example occurred during The Great Obama Rimfire Shortage, which began shortly after the 2012 election when shooters started buying up all the rimfire ammo available. Exactly why they did this was something of a mystery, but it happened. (Similar “specialty” shortages had already occurred, but there was a generally a reason. After the passage of the Clinton administration’s “assault rifle ban,” primers just about disappeared—partly due a rumor that all new primers
were designed to “go dud” within six months.)
While my ammo stash contained enough .22 Long Rifle ammo to hunt with, I decided to work up a cheap-to-shoot .22 Hornet cast load for practice, so ordered a Lyman 225438, a gas-check mould for round-nosed bullets. With wheelweight lead the bullets averaged 43.5 grains, and as cast measured around .225” in diameter.
I lubed the bullets by rolling them around in a plastic container with liquid Lee Alox, then sized some to .224”—and also sized some with gas-checks (raising the weight to 44.0 grains), but left others unsized. Each batch was then shot with several powders from my Ruger No. 1B .22 Hornet, which was very accurate with
The unsized bullets without gas checks proved most accurate, perfect for my “simple” wants. They also happened to seat perfectly without even resizing the cases, no doubt due to being slightly “over-sized”—but did group a little better when lightly crimped. The most accurate powder, out of around a half-dozen tried turned out to be Accurate 5744, often used in rifle cartridges for reduced loads, including black-powder equivalent ammo for BPCR practice. The most accurate primer was the small-pistol CCI 500, which also sometimes work well in Hornet jacketed loads.
With 5.0 grains of 5744, 3-shot groups averaged around ¾” at 50 yards, at around 1200 fps—both fine for my purposes. In addition, the scope on the No. 1B was a Burris Fullfield II 3-9×40 with a plex reticle. When set on 6x, the bullets landed right at the tip of the bottom post, so I didn’t have to tweak the scope’s
turret adjustments when switching between cast and jacketed ammo.
The other rifle needing a simple practice load was at the opposite end of the ballistic spectrum, a semi-custom .416 Remington Magnum put together in 1991 on a Mark X Mauser action with an E.R. Shaw barrel and a Butler Creek synthetic stock. Even back then full-power jacketed bullet handloads with “premium” 400-grain soft-points cost most of a dollar apiece, and would be at least twice that now. Plus, they obviously kicked considerably: The standard recoil formula indicated 65 foot-pounds, just about twice as much as a typical .300 Winchester Magnum with 180-grain ammo.
While I obviously had to shoot some full-power loads, extensive practice would be much cheaper and gentler with a mild cast load. I considered buying a .416 mould, but then decided to experiment with bullets cast for my Smith & Wesson Model 657 .41 Remington Magnum. I no longer have the mould (or the Smith, or that .416 Remington Magnum) and don’t remember exactly what it was, but it cast a typical 210-grain Keith-type semi-wadcutter.
In theory, the handgun bullets would be too small in diameter even if unsized, since the bore diameter of the .416 Remington Magnum is .410. But they might “bump up” enough to group well enough for practice. I wasn’t planning to hunt squirrels with ‘em.
The powder charge was the result of recently reading an article in the 12th Edition of Handloader’s Digest by C.E. “Ed” Harris. The title was “The Load,” and
subtitled “What You Can Do with 13 grains of Red Dot.”
Harris had ended up with big supply of Red Dot, which he used mostly for handload 12-gauge handloads—but seldom loaded them anymore. So he started experimenting, and came up with these rules for “The Load”:
- The case must be of capacity larger than the .35 Remington.
- The rifle must be of modern design, suitable for smokeless powder, with a bore of .30 caliber or larger.
- The bullet must be in the normal range for the given cartridge.
- Case fillers such as Dacron or kapok are neither recommended or necessary.
Obviously a 210-grain bullet was not in the “normal range” for the .416 Remington Magnum—though at least one company offers a 250-grain–but I decided to try them anyway. This was accomplished by removing the expander-ball/decapper assembly from my RCBS sizing die, which sized the case necks small enough to hold the handgun bullets firmly.
Figuring pressures would be VERY low in the big case with the light bullets, I started with Harris’s 13.0 grains. This proved to be a little too much—though not due to pressure but velocity, which averaged right around 1300 fps, resulting in slight leading of the bore near the muzzle. Three-shot groups ran around three inches at 25 yards.
After de-leading the barrel I tried 9.0 grains. This reduced muzzle velocity to around 1050 fps, but did not reduce group size. However, it did eliminate the leading, so I decided to try 8.5 grains—and accuracy improved considerably! At 50 yards (not 25) three shots averaged around 1-1/4 inches—and better yet, landed right at the intersection of the scope’s crosshairs. Velocity averaged just under 1000 fps, and they were sure pleasant to shoot!
I recently wrote this article for The Fouling Shot, the journal of The Cast Bullet Association, www.castbulletassoc.com