- November 10, 2016 at 5:33 pm #31171
Just a few broad stroke thoughts of mine on how to obtain precision and accuracy with a cast bullet rifle.
Many people figure that once they get the rifle to quit leading all the time, that’s as good as it gets. They throw components, time, alloy, and lube at the problem with no particular method or organization and hope something good shakes out which it rarely does. They conclude they just cant shoot like the heavy hitters so they move on to the next project and the cycle continues.
The truth is, that if I aproched a load workup like that, I would not be able to shoot very well with even my precision cast bullet custom rifles.
This reminds me of someone who sees a man picking the living fire out of a fine guitar and improvising on the fly making beautiful music. The person sees this and says “It looks so easy and effortless! I want to be able to do that!!!” So they go and pick up a guitar and start trying to just “feel the music”. Unfortunately, what they feel and what actually comes out is too very different things. Their walk through a moonlit corridor with the love of their youth sounds more like a gut shot cat tangled up in a runaway lawnmower. They get discouraged and conclude they just dont have a natural ability for music and improvement stagnates till they go back to listening to the radio and wishing they could express themselves as well.
Cast bullets are very similar to this analogy, except instead of putting the darn guitar in the closet and shutting the door, they just keep banging away and telling themselves its as good as it gets! Scrub the lead out of the barrel again, and keep doing the same things hoping for that awesome day when the stars align and 5 bullets land close together.
I’m here to tell you that just like playing awesome guitar, shooting cast bullets requires an investment of education and a logical path towards success, and I would like to just lay out a few priorities that will guide you to success.
First, don’t be so concerned with leading.
If you get leading in your barrel, you screwed something up BIGTIME. Either you have a janky barrel, you are using a horrible lube, or undersized bullets, or your bullets are simply too soft to contain the pressure behind them. There is no other explanation.
I have shot THOUSANDS of cast bullets in many different calibers, and not a single leaded barrel this year. Well, I did lead my 357 Blackhawk in July. I was shooting soft 215gr bullets at 1400fps from a 6.5″ barrel. The pressure was so high, the brass was imprinted with the machining marks in the chambers. It was a bear load. I knew it would lead the gun, but I figured if I was using a 357 to shoot a bear off me, that wouldn’t really be a big concern.
A leaded barrel is easily fixed though. Just wrap 000 steel wool up on a brush and scrub it out. The steel in the wool is too soft to cause any harm to your barrel whatsoever (you have to scrub the dickens out of it to get it to touch bluing on the outside of the barrel ya know.)
Once you understand how easy it is to prevent leading in your barrel, you can move on to more important things that will actually yield results.
I follow an order of priority in all that I do so I’m not worrying about waxing a car that has no engine or transmission if you know what I mean. The trick to quickly finding good results with cast is to have an absolutely unshakable habit of always focusing on the most important issue and letting everything else drag till you have that most important thing fixed.
To that end, here is a list of priorities the way I see them.
1. The Barrel.
Rifle accuracy begins with a good barrel. Period. No amount of fussing with the details will overcome that basic deficiency no matter what everybody tells you, so I start by screwing a good pipe in the gun. That’s my prerogative as a precision cast bullet rifle builder, but that doesn’t mean the factory rifle barrel you are trying to work with is garbage. It simply means that you are tied to the accuracy potential of that barrel regardless of whether you can do anything about it not. It’s simply worth understanding that the barrel is number 1 no matter what and it has the most say over whether you can reach your goals or not. That’s just a fact.
Now that’s not to say the rifle suddenly shoots perfectly with cast bullets right out of the gate when I screw in a Krieger, but it does give me tremendous confidence that I’m working towards something fantastic rather than throwing all my time into a rifle that will NEVER deliver anything special in the precision or accuracy dept.s. Factory barrels just come with a big fat question mark there, especially if you’re shooting a rifle that nobody ever expected to be used for precision shooting like a levergun, or a semi automatic deer rifle. The barrels on these guns are often no where near the same quality as that which is put on bolt action rifles, but then again, sometimes you get lucky. It’s just something that is worth taking in stride.
Before you can move on to the next item on this list, you must make a pound cast, and know exactly what the throat of the rifle looks like, and how far it is from the rim of your brass (the rim is the back of the case. Not the mouth of the case where everybody focuses. You must know this if you expect to rag the rifle out to the enth degree of precision.
2. The Bullet.
Yes. If you have done your best to get a rifle with a good barrel, this is your #1 concern with cast bullet shooting. Bar none. You do not use the bullet you have and hope for the best. Good luck with that. Believe me, if this is your approach to bullet selection you’re going to need it!
The way bullet selection should go, is you study bullet design and what MUST be there to achieve excellent results and you study your pound cast to see what needs to be in place for this to work.
Here are some general principles that are excellent starting points:
A. The bearing surface of the bullet (that’s the length of the bullet that is engaged by the rifling after the bullet has entered the barrel) needs to make up at least 65% of the length of the bullet. In other words the, unsupported nose of the bullet is only 35% of the bullet length. A bore riding nose doesn’t count.
B. The bullet must fit in the brass so that when the base of the bullet is flush with the neck/shoulder junction, the bullet ogive is lightly touching the throat angle. This very specific situation, as described so far, is almost NEVER found in most of the bullet designs on the market……..except those that seem to shoot exceptionally well. Learn a lesson from this and use it to your advantage, because a bullet may have a bad reputation but if it fits in your specific rifle exactly this way, its a pretty good bet it’s worth the price of the mold to try it!
C. If you need a crimp groove in the bullet, it is unlikely that this third feature will magically fall in place with the throat and neck/shoulder junction of your rifle. Here’s a trick: Pick or design a bullet with the crimp groove slightly further towards the base than you know it should be. This allows you to trim your brass to make it so you can crimp the bullet in EXACTLY the right place.
D. The Meplat. People simply cannot stand to take a balanced point of view on this critical feature, but if you want to shoot well, you would be wise to do so. Slower bullets will not be shot as far and need more pop when they hit, so it’s worth erring on the larger side with meplat diameter. On the other hand, faster bullets need the ballistic coefficient to fly longer distances, and when they get there, they will be going fast enough to overcome a small meplat, so err towards the smaller side with them. There’s a WORLD of options between a wadcutter and a spitzer! Use it. How hard would life be if your only option for a cutting edge was an Xacto blade or a battle axe?????
E. Ogive. Worth considering. If you’ve followed my advice so far, your options are limited right now. You can make it a truncated cone, a slim FN spitzer, or more like a RNFP style, but there’s a balance that must be truck between the strength of the nose, and the amount of weight you put out there in front of the bullet, to say nothing of the aerodynamics. Pick something that strikes a reasonable BALANCE.
F. Bullet size.
Probably the most important part of this, but only after you have the right bullet design first. The bullet needs to be sized correctly to the throat of the rifle, or .001-.0015 larger than groove diameter……whichever is smaller. Think about it.
This will kill 99% of leading in its tracks. This simple principle has held true for me from 45acp at 600FPS all the way to 30XCB at 2800FPS. You can take it to the bank and cash it.
Bullets that are used for precision should be sized with a push through sizer. If they have gas checks, they should be cast, the checks installed and seated square with the Lyman 4500 GC seater or similar, then rolled on a lightly charged case lube pad and pushed through the sizer to crimp on the checks.
Once this is done, they can be lubed in almost any way you see fit with little negative effect on the accuracy of them, but the most accurate by far is to dip lube them, cut off the excess lube with a cookie cutter, then run through the sizer a second time to iron down the lube, then stored in pistol ammunition cases so they cannot damage eachother.
If you’ve followed all the advice up to this point, one thing that is a fairly good rule of thumb is that if your alloy is just hard enough to survive the pressure from behind it, it’s going to be soft enough to perform when it encounters resistance from in front of it (read impact). It’s my opinion that harder is generally better for target work, but an expanding bullet gives a mighty good edge if you’re shooting deer.
I cannot speak as intelligently on this as some others, so take this with a grain of salt. I believe that an alloy should be balanced in antimony and tin, with both of them in excess of 2% but less than 6%. At this point, for me, that’s Lyman #2 or a diluted derivative of it. My favorite alloy is 95/2.5/2.5. It air cools at 14BHN and water drops at 27BHN. It casts with remarkable consistency and quality. In short, it’s PREDICTABLE.
That said, I find COWW are no longer worth the trouble to smelt them down, so I believe I will be buying foundry Lyman #2 alloy (90/5/5) from now on and cutting it as I see fit per application.
This covers the most important aspects of achieving accuracy and precision with cast. The rest of this article will deal with getting the most out of these things, and cannot be understated, but if these things are not in place as I have written them, or a slight variation on the theme, all the rest of this will have very little effect.
- November 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm #31173
The barrel and the bullet are your main concerns, so as a matter of course, the interface that puts them both in proximity to eachother HAS to be of some concern, and believe me it is.
Selecting your brass:
In all that you do, and as we attack these issues of importance in order, and one at a time, remember the old adage “Garbage in = Garbage out”. If you like picking up range fodder and using it to attempt better than average groups with cast bullets, you’re going to need a change of thinking. Once you have a load that works, you can go back and try it in your range fodder brass, but when you’re trying to feel your way forward into an accurate load, you need as much consistency as you can get, so buy one brand of brass that is all matching from the same lot.
The brass I have enjoyed shooting cast with most has been made by Starline, Lapua, Norma, Lake City Match, and Winchester. These are pretty sound choices.
When you get your sparkly new pieces of brass, put your eyeballs on it and cull out any weird looking ones. FL size all of them, deburr your flash holes, uniform the pockets, but do not trim them yet. Load them up with your starting point loads and go shoot them. Observe the groups, but do not make any serious judgment calls (unless the groups totally suck rocks that is).
Keep them clean and do not let the case mouths get damaged under any circumstances.
Decap them with a universal die and tumble them all (I use wet SS media, but you do what you like).
Lube them and run them through your FL sizing die.
Now you can trim them. Just make them all the same length, unless you have a custom crimp groove such as I described earlier in the bullet design recommendations.
Deburr them, scrub the primer pockets, and run a new bore brush through the neck a few times. This burnishes the inside of the neck and will give you more uniform bullet release IMHO.
Now you’re ready to get down to brass tacks and start shooting for groups.
If you’re like me, I separate off 25-50 pieces of brass which will be shot 4 times, at which point I set them aside and grab the next batch etc etc till I’ve worked through the whole batch. At this point, I will anneal the necks and start over again from scratch like it was new brass. This keeps the whole lot moving forward in the same way and the necks remain very consistent in release tension.
Don’t know how to anneal necks? That’s a discussion for another time and has been written about very well in the equipment processes section of the forum.
- November 10, 2016 at 6:41 pm #31174
So now you have an excellent barrel. You have an excellent bullet. You have excellent brass. And all of this is brought together by a rifle that is well built for the application, and a shooter who knows how to stack tight groups from the bench with a rifle that shoots correctly…………Right?
Hmmm. Before I go one step further, the most important thing at this point is making sure your bench technique is correct. No matter how you plan on practicing once you have the load, you have to know you have something worth practicing with in the forst place and that happens with the most stable shooting position you can muster: off sandbags on a bench. It is the most important thing at this point.
I see many shooters all the time. Everything from Marine Scout snipers to big game African hunters, to benchrest shooters, to the guy who just bought his first rifle a week ago. I have to be able to help all of them get where they want to go, and I can’t do that if I do not know what I am looking at. I’ve seen enough people hit what they are shooting at, and enough misses, often, I can tell before the shot goes off what’s going to happen and why.
Just this last weekend, I had a young fellow on my bench shooting his new rifle that I had just mounted a scope on for him. His friend was at my elbow and I had the spotting scope. I had shot a very respectable group moments before, and now it was the owners turn. I had just explained proper bench technique to both of these fellows but it was a lot to take in, especially because they really didn’t think it mattered that much. Before he started shooting, I cut my eyes over to the hombre on the bench and saw how he was holding his rifle. The butt was off the rear bag, his right elbow was hovering over the bench, his left white knuckled forefinger was draped over the barrel in front of the scope and his left elbow was almost straight. I turned to his friend and said “look at his position.” He shrugged incredulously. I said “He’s going to shoot to the right……really bad”. The shot broke, and it happened exactly like I called it. When the fellow who was at my elbow looked in the scope and saw the impact of the bullet a good 9″ to the right of POA, he looked at me like I was Merlin the magician.
I showed the fellow with the rifle what had happened, and he also started screwing on his listening ears. After that, he took the bench and looked like a shooter and commenced to drop all his shots in the bullseye, after which, his friend repeated the performance.
So here’s the deal:
You have four points of contact with the bench.
1. Forend on the sandbags
2. Toe of the stock in the rear bag
3. Left elbow ON THE BENCH
4. Right elbow ON THE BENCH
The right hand grips the rifle with the finger on the trigger.
Left hand grips the rear bag and directs the rifle like the rudder on a ship.
The body does not face the target. The chest faces the bench at 2:00 or 3:00. Never the target at 12:00.
The tumb does not wrap around the grip. It lays directly on the center of the stock behind the action tang, or along the side of the stock behind the bolt.
The shoulder presses straight into the butt stock and puts no bias on it left or right. You should be able to release the grip of the rifle and shoulder pressure on the butt pad and cause very little movement to the cross hairs. The rifle simply must be at rest in the shooting position and when the shot breaks, the rifle must move straight back.
You can tell whether you have this right simply by dry firing several times in position. If your cross hairs move when the shot breaks, you are doing something wrong. Also, your bullet will land in the direction the rifle moves when it is dry fired. most new shooters can’t keep the cross hairs inside a 1″ circle at 100 yards JUST DRY FIRING. How do they expect to meet their goals with live ammunition? I take many dry shots from the bench every time I shoot, and I get better every time, but do not underestimate your own ability to screw this up by touching the rifle in a strange way and never correcting it!
- November 10, 2016 at 7:35 pm #31175
Time to load up.
Ahhhh, sweat sweat foundation of excellence.
Now we have an excellent barrel, an excellent bullet, excellent brass, and a shooter with excellent form who can put it all together.
Assuming you had a look at my Consistency Applied thread and you’ve got a reasonably accurate run of bullets (they don’t need to be perfect in weight, just CONSISTENT) that all look good with no obvious defects, and assuming you read Larry Gibson’s RPM threshold thread and you are planning on running in the comfort zone for twist rate, and have selected several powders to try, NOW you can get down to loading the ammunition for success.
There are only a few questions left to answer, and LUBE is at the top of the list.
I have spend hundreds of dollars making my own lube, and whipping up homemade concoctions, and buying this one and that one from different makers who all promise perfection but I cannot recommend the products sold here by Glenn Larson with White Label Lube highly enough. There are four that I recommend. Each has it’s own place in the lineup, and it’s not hard to decide which might be the best.
The first thing to do is find out which powder is a good one to use to start hammering out the details with. I would choose one and try a 4 group workup with ten shots each using your best guess of one of the lubes listed below.
Test each powder with ten shots each for four different loads. When you think you have something, reshoot and see if it holds. When you catch a gear on a load, hold what you’ve got and work on lube.
When you switch, you’re going to use one powder and test all your lubes.
In this way you will ratchet your way to success going back and forth.
This is just great stuff for everything low velocity. I really caught a gear with this stuff with the 45-70, but it’s the first choice in my mind for pistol shooting too.
Old recipe, that still works as well now as it did then. Versatile, but not necessarily the best for speeds above 2500fps
This has to be one of the most versatile lubes Glenn offers. It’s been used effectively in almost every application I’ve tried it in and Larry Gibson has successfully taken this lube to 3000FPS, although it cannot be stressed enough that each rifle will have it’s own preferences, and only side by side tests with a minimum sample size can tell the difference.
This is my favorite for ultra high velocity shooting, but has shown surprising success in revolvers and pistols at the extreme opposite end of the scale. I’ve not had good luck with it in between though, but that doesn’t mean each rifle I test doesn’t get a shot at it.
These four lubes will handle 99% of everything I will ever shoot, and Glenn’s quality control negates batch to batch anomalies which plague my own small batch runs of custom wonder grease.
These lubes should be tested in each situation to see which works the best. Two ten shot groups will tell the tale with each of them.
- November 10, 2016 at 7:46 pm #31176
Powder charge: Check
Lube selection: Check
You have systematically eliminated enough variables that you may have saved your self years of fussing around with minutia.
Now, work on neck tension. NOE has a line of neck expanders that will allow you to set the neck tension where you want it.
Next, work with your bullet hardness and alloy. The lube will be close to what you found, and the powder will too. I find very little changes with those two once you find the combination.
Use different alloys and quenching methods to find that sweet spot.
All that’s left to do at this point is fine tune your powder charges and it’s no different than you would do with jacketed bullets from this point forward.
Once that’s completely exhausted, you can try a different bullet design and see if it’s better or worse than what you’ve got (of course this basically comes down to mesing with the ogive style and the way the first surface of the bullet encounters the throat of the rifle.
Good clean fun all the way around.
- November 10, 2016 at 8:08 pm #31178
Right now I am working with a Model 85 in .38/55 win
I seem to be doing everything right, but the accuracy at 100 yds sucks.
I am using a Lyman 335 gr plain base bullet, and the only thing I can find wrong is the bore riding nose is a tad too small.
This may be the whole issue.
The rifle has a Douglas premium barrel.
It slugs out .375 and I am sizing .376
I am using Carnauba Red lube.
So far IMR 3031 shows the most promise but 2.5 to 3″ five shot groups are unacceptable.
I have a MVA tang sight and a interchangeable insert globe front sight.
I have been using Fed 210 match primers ,and I just switched the Rem LR
I am going to try 28 grs of 3031 next .
It should give around 1500 fps with the 28″ barrel.
- November 10, 2016 at 8:39 pm #31179
I’ve never had good luck with any sort of a bore rider. Read the part about bullet fit and bearing surface. Does the bullet match that description? Most do not.
What’s the number of the bullet mold you have?
How did you come to 2700+ as the best lube? Did you test it in a simple process of elimination from four or five possible choices?
Same question with IMR 3031?
What was your process?
- November 10, 2016 at 9:19 pm #31182
For the record, this is the process I’m using right now. I designed it simply to find the path to excellent shooting based on a logical order of importance.
Say you have a good shooting rifle/load already. Say you change one of these variables. Which would make the most difference to the groups?
What would happen if you just reduce the powder charge by 1/2 a grain? Meh. Not much difference.
Say you screw on a whole new barrel? Completely back to square one!
Change the bullet? Still pretty darn significant, but not quite as bad as a barrel change, but more dramatic than any other change you could make right?
I don’t think it matters HOW this is done as much as it matters that we follow a logical progression instead of throwing random combinations at it.
- November 10, 2016 at 11:23 pm #31183
The Mold I have is the Lyman#378674
I have had good luck with bore riders, but they must fit pretty tight to work well.
Douglas barrels are generally excellent barrels.
I talked with Kyle Miller (.32Miller Short and Miller actions)
He used Douglas barrels exclusively and said he had never put a bad one on a rifle he built.
The Carnauba Red is what I have in my sizer luber .
So far I have tried MP 5744, RX7, IMR 3031, and IMR 4198
I still have a good bit of SR 4759.
The thing I found strange is the .375 bore.
My Browning traditional Hunter shoots very well, but I use the RCBS 250 GC bullet sized .377 ,and RX7 powder.
I forgot to mention I am using Starline .38/55 Long 2.125 brass
- November 11, 2016 at 1:30 am #31186
One thing that is working against me is that my rifle has a rifle style crescent butt plate.
To me it is harder to maintain consistent form than with a regular shotgun style butt.
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