Monday, March 09, 2015

Survival-situation shooting rifle loads, or

light bullets and loads in centerfire rifles, survival and general use of; a request from a friend.

Basic question is "Why screw around with those light bullets and tiny charges?"
The ultimate concern on this would be 'Everything's gone to hell.  You need to deal with varmints raiding the food supply, and small game, but you only have a centerfire rifle with you, or maybe some of the stuff is larger than I trust a .22 for.'  They're also good for
Low-velocity, low-recoil, low-noise loads for small-game hunting, training a new shooter, and reducing practice costs.

All these can be done with basic reloading gear, along with a pot to melt lead in, a ladle to pour it, and a mold to pour it in.  Or, if you don't want to cast your own,  a lot of suitable bullets can be bought, already cast and lubed(Midway, MidSouth Shooters Supply, and others)

And this will work with just about any centerfire cartridge, say 7mm and up.  I've been messing with it in .30-06, .30-30, 7.62x54r, and .303 British; it will work in just about any centerfire rifle cartridge.
WARNING: Powder charges may have to be adjusted up or down depending on the volume of the case; what works just right in .30-06 might be a bit much in a .308 with the same bullet weight.  It's not a 'One Size Fits All' situation.
DISCLAIMER: handloading requires attention to what you're doing, and making sure what you're doing is a good idea.  No responsibility accepted for your loads or the results thereof.

To begin,
I'll mention one of the best resources out there: Cast Boolits forum.  It's dedicated to this subject: bullets, lubes, molds, equipment, loads.  Huge amounts of information, including on light loads.


This is for CAST(or if bought, swaged) LEAD BULLETS ONLY; NOT jacketed.  Period.  Try making loads this light with jacketed and you'll almost certainly wind up with a bullet stuck in the bore.  And if you don't have a range rod handy(mine's a 36" piece of 1/4" bronze brazing rod) your shooting is done for the day.  Yes, there are reduced loads that'll work with jacketed, but that's not what I'm writing about. 

Wide selection here.  I've been trying out bullets in .30-caliber rifles ranging from a little .32-caliber wadcutter designed for pistols, up to a 115-grain spitzer often used for the M1 Carbine.  You can use bullets up to 150-200 grains with some loads and cartridges, and I plan to try that as time allows; these are quite a bit more powerful than the light-bullet loads(a 180-grain bullet moving ~900 feet per second has a lot more energy than a 100-grain at that same velocity); way below standard velocities still has a fair amount of energy tied up in in them, plenty for small game and varmints, and coyote or feral dogs with good shot placement.

Generally any cast bullet in appropriate diameter and weight will do, and you don't need a gas-check.  Do note that for these velocities a bullet designed for it but with no gas check will generally work well, but depending on the load and rifle you may be better off with a plain-base bullet.

This also gives a good way to use less-than-perfect cast bullets; those not good enough for full-power loads but good enough that you hate to throw them back in the melting pot.  And they can often be used without sizing, just use something like Lee Liquid Alox(more on that later) to lube it.

If you're casting your own, we now come to 'Size the bullets or not?'  For most standard cast-bullet loads, especially those with gas checked bullets, you have to size them, which is forcing them through a die with a tapered hole to squeeze the bullet to an exact diameter and make sure it's perfectly round, and to crimp on the gas check when they're used.  However, with these you may not need to.  With a lot of the loads I've tried they actually shoot better when not sized(depending on the rifle); they're a little larger than the standard diameter, but with non-jacketed bullets they'll generally swage to the bore diameter when fired.    The thing you do have to watch here is that IN SOME BRANDS OF CASE that have thicker walls, an unsized bullet may well fit into the case neck but cause it to not fit into the the chamber.  I ran into this with .30-30 with a .32-caliber wadcutter: in some Federal cases, worked fine, but with Winchester cases, forget it.    Only way you'll know for sure is to try it, qhich means loading one without powder, and trying to chamber it.
And, in case it needs saying, if you run into one that doesn't want to chamber with normal force do NOT force it in; if you do and fire it, that could result in a serious pressure spike due to it being so tight, and that is Bad.

If casting your own, nice thing is you don't need much to lube bullets, and size them if needed.  For sizing if needed I recommend the Lee bullet sizing sets.  They come with the sizing die, ram, a bottle of lube and the container catches the bullets as they come out, and come in many diameters.  And it all fits on a standard loading press:
Screw the die in.
Snap the ram into the press ram where the shellholder goes.
Place a lubed bullet on the ram.
Lower the lever and push it through.
That's it.  They work very well, and don't cost much, and come in a large number of sizes.  They'll also work to crimp gas-checks on if you're using them.

The bullets HAVE to be lubed, sized or not.  Skip that and you wind up with lead fouling in the bore, which is a pain to clean out.  Lubing here is easy.  If you're using the Lee Liquid Alox that came with the sizing set, I put a batch of bullets in a baggie, squirt in a little(doesn't take much) and work them around for a minute, then lay them out on waxed paper where I don't have to smell them as the solvent evaporates.  Once dry, size them.  If you're not sizing, just let them dry and load them(see at the bottom for more on lubes).

The one problem with LLA is that it dries, but never stops being a bit sticky.  If you want to get more involved in this and don't mind a bit of mad-scientist lube-making, good piece here on both a lube and a tumble-lubing method.  I've been using this 45/45/10 lube for a while now, and it works well.  Also makes a bit less smoke than straight LLA.

If you're buying your bullets, they should come already sized and lubed, so you don't have to mess with it.  I will not go into the process of casting your own here, if Erin thinks it worth it I'll write on that in a separate post.  Or you can just go to Cast Boolits and bury yourself in information(recommended).


Here you're using small charges of fast-burning handgun or shotgun powders, such as Unique(one of the favorites), Green Dot, W231, and Bullseye.  Which brings up a very important point:
You're dumping a very small propellant charge- anywhere from a couple of grains up to ten grains or so- into a very large volume case, which means if you get careless and dump a double-charge into one, it won't show with a look.  Which means you have to manually check them.  I've found that common tool, a round pencil, works well; it'll slip right into the case neck of any .30-caliber cartridge.  Slide in until it stops on the powder, mark that level, then check the others.  A slight variation could happen(drop the pencil and it'll pack the powder a bit, for instance), but if the pencil shows any real variation in depth, you'd better weigh that charge.*

For a LOT of information on this subject, I'm going to point you to a couple of specific threads at Cast Boolits; Mouse-fart loads for .30-06, which are also adaptable for other cartridges; and Cast bullet loads in military rifles.  Lots more available, these two are a good start.


You don't have to do anything special to the cases, except you have to bell(expand) the case mouth enough that the bullet can be seated without any lead being shaved off the sides, just like with pistol cartridges.  There is one important thing:
With rimless cases(.30-06, 8mm Mauser, for instance) firing these loads in them more than a few times can cause the case shoulder to be 'set back' a bit; this is Bad, because these cartridges headspace on a particular spot on the shoulder, and moving it can cause problems, especially if that case later gets used for a full-power load.   

If you're wanting to get max accuracy out of these, some have found improvement by enlarging the flash hole between the primer pocket and the main case, by drilling it out with a #30 drill bit.  The idea is that it gives more efficient and even ignition of those small charges in that big case.

So with rimless cases do one of two things:
Rotate cases so you never use one for these loads more than a couple of times, or
Permanently mark those cases used for these loads and use them ONLY for these.  If you modify the flash hole YOU MUST PERMANENTLY MARK THEM.
If you drill out the flash holes, NEVER EVER use those cases for full-power loads.   Doing so could involve blowing out the primer; I've never had it happen, and from descriptions you do NOT want to experience it. Do something permanent to mark them, like file a shallow groove across the base, or a notch in the edge of the rim**.  I've been using a particular brand of case, and filing the notch in the rim, so I've got two things to give warning.


I've been messing with these in bolt- and lever-action rifles.  You can fire these in a self-loader, but you will  have to cycle the action by hand, and there is a possibility of fouling the gas port.

Loads I've actually tried

Let's take .30-30 Winchester.  Bullets that work in it will also work in a lot of others, and being a small-volume case you can use very small charges.  Here's a set of some I've tried, loaded left-to-right with 100-grain semi-wadcutter, 100-grain roundnose, 90-grain wadcutter

 These were loaded with 5.0 grains of Unique pistol powder.  SWC and roundnose fed from the magazine with no problem, the wadcutters had to be loaded by hand into the chamber.  My rifle doesn't care much for the roundnose, but shoots well with the other two, both with Bullseye and Unique.  I also tried it with the 115-grain spitzer, no gas check, and a X-Treme 123-grain plated

over 9.0 of Unique.  The spitzer having a pointed nose, you cannot feed from a tube magazine; yes, recoil is very low, but it's just not a good idea to have even a relatively soft lead point resting on the primer of the cartridge ahead of it.  You could load one in the chamber and one in the magazine, but that's it. The 123-grain has a flat nose, so no problem there.

Recoil with the 2.7 Bullseye is almost not there, roughly like a .22 Magnum in a rifle.  It's louder than that, but MUCH quieter than a standard load.  the 9.0 Unique load is more powerful, and louder.  Either one you will have to adjust the sights, because will hit lower- much lower with the lighter charges- than a standard load.  In the case of the .30-30, it's currently sighted dead-on at 50 yards with standard gas-checked cast-bullet loads with a 150-grain bullet(~1600-1800fps); at 30 yards all these loads hit about 3" low and a touch right.  I can't give actual velocity as I've not been able to set up the Chrony and check them as yet.  I'll add that, in my rifle, the wadcutters had to be sized to .311" for them to work; larger diameter expands the neck of the cartridge case enough that they won't chamber.

Larger volume case, so with the same bullets used 3.2 grains of Bullseye, with about the same results: my rifle(a Springfield 1903-A3) likes the semi-wadcutter, is ok with the wadcutter, likes the 115-grain spitzer, and does not like the roundnose.  Recoil really isn't there; you hear 'bang' and feel it shift a touch.

7.62x54r and .303 Brit
Haven't tried these much as yet, so I'll just note that they do shoot the .32-caliber bullets with no problem.  More on these later when I've actually got results to report.
Left to right, .303 Brit, .30-06, 30-30.  All with the 90-grain wadcutter, the first two with 3.2 grains Bullseye.

It's outside the subject of this, but yes, you can use heavier charges to push the velocity up quite a bit.  You can also use light charges with heavier bullets, for low(relatively) velocity while still getting a lot of thump on the target end..

An alternative to cast bullets
There's one other thing you can do if you don't want to mess with casting or cast bullets: plated bullets, like these and these.  And Berry's makes a light .32 bullet designed for .32acp that should work for light practice loads.

The 123-grain bullets X-Treme makes for 7.62x39(shown in .30-30 above), also will work in 7.62x54r and .303.  And, I've also used  them with the light charges with good results in .30-30(9.0 Unique) and .30-06(10.0 Unique); should work as plinkers with ligher loads than that, I just haven't had time to try it as yet.

Reason you can use the plated in these light loads is that the thin copper plating on them is much softer than a standard jacket.  But they are a bit harder than cast, so if you take the loads down real low, be a good idea to, first times you try it, have a range rod handy and make damn sure that the bang equals a hole in the target.***

And that's my short take on this subject.  If you give it a try, pay attention to what you're doing and have fun.

*Read of one guy who loads a lot of these 'sneeze' loads who got a piece of brass rod and cut several pieces.  When he had a load that he'd use a lot of he'd mark one rod with the proper level and use that.

**Yes, I did describe them as 'rimless'.  Generally speaking a case in which the rim is the same diameter as the case body is called rimless.  A case in which the rim extends just slightly further out(like the .32 ACP pistol cartridge) is semi-rimmed.  .30-30 and .303 to name two, have a full rim.  And, just to complicate things, there are cartridges in which the rim is smaller than the body diamter, called rebated cartridges, like the .50 Beowolf.

***Some guys working up very light loads with heavier bullets reduce loads until a bullet sticks in the bore, use the range rod to drive it out, and up the charge a bit.  Personally, I do not want to do that.


Pawpaw said...

Light loads is like a Corvette. If you get it, no explanation is necessary. If I have to explain it to you, you probably won't understand anyway.

Pawpaw said...

"***Some guys working up very light loads with heavier bullets reduce loads until a bullet sticks in the bore, use the range rod to drive it out, and up the charge a bit. Personally, I do not want to do that."

At one point I was trying to get a bullet to stick right at the muzzle, half-in, half-out. It doesn't work.

Paul Bonneau said...

Don't forget chamber adapters. I have one for shooting .32 H&R in a .308 Win chamber. It works reasonably well, although it is slow. I'm just ordering a .32ACP adapter which should be even more useful as there is a lot of .32ACP around...

Firehand said...

Half in, half out... yeah, that'd be interesting.

Paul, thanks, I knew there were a few adapters but had no idea there were so many being made.