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Thread: Deer Hunting With Cast Rifle Bullets

  1. #1
    Dogs Like Him versifier's Avatar
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    Dec 2005
    New Hampshire

    Default Deer Hunting With Cast Rifle Bullets

    Deer Hunting With Cast Rifle Bullets
    copyright 2014, by Thomas J Diegoli

    I am not a big fan of magnum rifle cartridges. Nothing personal, it’s just that where I live I have no need for them. The New England woods are thick and most of our deer, bear, and moose are taken within fifty yards. An extremely long shot might go a tad over two hundred yards along power lines or across a really large field, but those are rare exceptions. Even though today many more powerful cartridges are used by most rifle hunters locally, a good old fashioned .30-30 is all any hunter around here really needs because at .30-30 velocities within two hundred yards, a cast bullet kills just as effectively as a jacketed one as long as the hunter is a good enough shot to put the bullet through the boiler room. A high velocity jacketed bullet at those ranges just destroys more good meat needlessly. I do use larger capacity cases than the .30-30, but the charges in them are reduced to the working range of the cast bullets.

    Not a lot has been written about hunting with cast rifle bullets because gun writers get paid to write about current commercial products: factory rifles and factory ammunition. No one makes any real money off of me if I go hunting with an older rifle and my own cast bullets as all I need to buy is a can of powder, a box of primers, and some gas checks. No surprises there. I’d give an adman ulcers and lose no sleep over it.

    I’m going to stick to the .30cals in this article as there is the greatest variety of them in use and the greatest variety of moulds for them available. Any rifle that can shoot jacketed bullets well can also shoot cast bullets as well or better. Not as fast certainly in medium capacity cases in the .308 or .30-06 families, but often more accurately because casters can custom size their bullets to fit the bore of the rifle. You might shoot the same rifles for decades with jacketed bullets and never know the surprising range of bore and groove diameters of barrels that are supposedly the same size. But to shoot cast bullets well, the exact bore and groove diameter of your rifle are the first things you have to know.

    Why? Because the rules are all different and unlike for jacketed bullets, they are usually not written down. For any case bigger than a .30-30, even loading data are few and far between. The only source in print I am aware of is the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook, and even that is far from comprehensive with regards to many powders or even complete regarding many common modern cartridges. Two positives right off: compared to a jacketed bullet of the same weight, pressures will be slightly lower and MV’s slightly higher due the lead alloys’ lower friction coefficients.

    So, what do we need to hunt deer with a cast bullet? It helps to start with a FNGC bullet, the GC lets you get above 2000fps and the flat nose transfers the bullet’s kinetic energy more effectively to living tissue. We need to cast it of an alloy that in .30cal will give us some expansion, like Lyman #2 or wheel weights but which is still hard enough to handle the bullet’s rotational energy without stripping in our chosen velocity range. We need to size it .001-.003” above the barrel’s measured groove diameter. And we need a lube that will not fail at hunting velocities.

    Every barrel is slightly different in bore/groove diameter by a few thousandths, and those thousandths though usually of no consequence with jacketed bullets are critical for cast accuracy without lead fouling. A slightly oversized greased pure lead slug is driven through the barrel and from it the barrel’s groove diameter is measured with a micrometer and an appropriate sizer .002-.003” larger is chosen. I can usually get very good results with a .310” sizer in most of my .30cal barrels, but not with all as every one is a slightly different size. I have sizers in .308, .309, .310, .311, and .312. I use tumble lube exclusively with push-through sizers. YMMV.

    Then we need to test our bullet with appropriate powders we have on hand, so let’s talk powders for a minute. Cast target loads often use fast burning flake pistol/shotgun powders, but you can’t always get the needed velocities at a safe pressure with them. Extruded rifle powders can be safely reduced down to the working range of cast bullets. Not so with ball powders which can experience pressure spikes and SEE’s, so don’t even consider them. I stick pretty much with IMR and Alliant extruded powders because I can safely reduce them below jacketed starting loads into the cast range. Alliant’s RL7, IMR-3031, & IMR-4895 are my usual choices with medium capacity cases. For .30cal, this means .300Sav, .308Win, 7.5Swiss, 7.62x54 Russian, .30-40Krag, .30-06, etc. With a .30-30 or a 7.62x39 you don’t need special cast loading data. I have never experimented with any larger cases than the –06’s and have no knowledge of loading cast in them.

    You do need a chronograph because the loads are “off the map” and you need to know your actual velocity to be able to figure bullet drop at longer ranges. Working out cast loading data is like working with a wildcat cartridge: you have to figure out how to do it safely and use the chrono to check your velocities. Cast hunting bullets ought to have a MV somewhere between 1700-2500fps, depending on the bullet weight and where the accuracy node or nodes may be on the test ladder.

    To find the loading range for the cartridge you want to use, look up the data for a jacketed bullet of the same weight or slightly heavier. Here for example is data from the current Sierra manual for 180gr bullets in .308Win for 3031 and (IMR)4895:
    .308Win, 180gr SBT GK
    IMR-3031 START 33.8 MAX 39.0
    IMR-4895 START 36.7 MAX 41.5
    Our reduction formula is as follows:
    JMAX – JSTART = Difference, JSTART – Difference = CastSTART
    For 3031: 39.0 – 33.8 = 4.2gr, 33.8 – 4.2 = 29.6gr CastSTART
    For 4895: 41.5 – 36.7 = 4.8gr, 36.7 – 4.8 = 31.9gr CastSTART
    Then for each powder we make a test ladder:
    3031: #1 29.6, #2 30.5, #3 31.5, #4 32.5, #5 33.5
    4895: #1 31.9, #2 33.0, #3 34.0, #4 35.0, #5 36.0, #6 36.5
    Begin at the START and work up as you would any other load.

    The lightest charges may or may not obturate the case to the chamber completely and might leave some soot on the outside of the cases. There is no real danger, but do be aware that gas has to go somewhere and every rifle handles it differently, so wear shooting glasses just in case. With some rifles I accept dirty cases because their accuracy nodes are down in that range and I prefer a slower but more accurate load so I can place a bullet most precisely. Others may prefer a faster load as long as it still meets their minimum accuracy requirements. Both methods will fill the freezer.

    A must have tool for loading cast rifle bullets is a neck expander, either a Lyman M Die or a Lee Universal Neck Expander Die. Cast bullets are of greater diameter than the expander in your case sizing die which is designed for loading jacketed and cast bullets will not start into the case neck without collapsing it unless you open the neck first like you would with a pistol or revolver case.

    A good firm crimp is always needed with a cast rifle load to insure even and consistent ignition of the reduced powder charges. I hate roll crimps with a passion and instead use either a taper crimp or preferably a Lee Factory Crimp. I like to seat the bullet as close to the lands as I can, or as the bullet’s crimp groove dictates.

    Every rifle seems to have its preferences in cast bullet designs just like they do with jacketed. There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of different .30cal moulds available from around 90gr all the way up to 220gr and more. Sometimes, despite what you might figure it will like best based on the its rate of twist, a barrel will prefer a certain heavier or lighter bullet. You never know what any given barrel will like best unless you try a range of different weights and profiles beyond what you expect to use. Some proven deer hunting bullets are the Lee 113gr FNGC, AKA the “soupcan”, Lee 150 & 170gr FNGC, and the 170gr Lyman 311041 FNGC. All of them do the job very well, but you’ll have to ask your rifle which ones it likes best.

    Reduced recoil, less powder, good accuracy, cheaper shooting, and a hobby that keeps you home nights casting bullets. What’s not to like about that?
    Last edited by versifier; 09-12-2014 at 11:55 PM.
    "Stand your ground.
    Do not fire unless fired upon.
    But if they mean to have a war let it begin here."
    - Capt. Parker, Lexington Militia, April 19, 1775

  2. #2
    Frenchie of the South SkyKid's Avatar
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    Feb 2014
    Beautiful Downtown South Carolina Where the Frenchies all hang out


    That was a really good read
    Thank you
    Camper at RLB Fest 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010 and 2012
    Hosted 2011 in New Hampsha ya I did
    Proud owner of a 264RLB #4

  3. #3
    Great Master j1's Avatar
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    Apr 2012


    Thanks v. I have saved it to reread at my leisure.

  4. #4
    Great Master Mike in tx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    San Antonio, TX


    V what you describe is an addiction. I love it Shooting, casting, reloading, thinking things through.

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BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
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