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Rifle Magazine
June - July 1999
Volume 34, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 199
On the cover...
This issue is only available on CD-ROM.RCBS Cowboy Dies are designed specifically for cast bullets in a variety of older rifle and sixgun cartridges. Photo by Gerald Hudson. Mule deer photo by John R. Ford. Purchase the CD-ROM here
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Product Tests
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Product Tests
Last year Lyman introduced a series of cast handgun bullets. Designed specifically for cowboy action competition, they are available in four calibers: .38/.357, .44-40, .44 Special and Magnum and .45 Colt. Due to the long-standing popularity of the ex-government cartridge, a double-cavity mould (part number 2660664) was selected for testing. Lyman bullet number 452664 is plain based and features a wide (.3 inch) flat nose. Its body is .6 inch long and boasts a crimping groove plus a single lubrication ring .1 inch wide and .06 inch deep. It sports two driving bands. Moulded from a Brinell 9 mixture, base bands miked .458 inch, forward bands measured .457 inch and at the rear of the nose section, just in front of the crimping groove, the bullet's diameter was .456 inch. Weight averaged 249.5 grains. A softer mix would have made those measurements shrink .001 to .002 inch, but hard bullets have always grouped well for me. Old habits are hard to break so no changes were made.

Another habit came up for review: to size or not to size.

As a general rule, it's my policy to shoot cast bullets unsized. Letting a bore act as a sizing die might seem radical to some, but it usually works for me.

These bullets, however, were going to be fired in revolvers. Each would be launched through a cylinder's chamber mouth before it entered the bore. If any were even slightly off-center when they squirted into the barrel's breech, they might be deformed enough to ruin their accuracy potential. Since the key to the whole affair seemed to lie in those chamber mouths, it seemed that oversized bullets would stand a bet- ter chance of being centered when they were forced through the chamber mouths than they would be if sized. The bullets' diameters were known, the question was: How large were the chamber mouths?

Two revolvers had been selected for testing the bullets. One was a Colt New Frontier; the other, a Ruger Blackhawk. Both were equipped with 45/8-inch barrels.

The Colt's chamber mouths were .454, .453, .454, .453, .454 and .454 inch. The Ruger's were .456, .455, .455, .455, .455 and .455 inch.

It seemed best to leave the bullets unsized. They were lubricated with a spray-on coat of KG Bullet Coat, a molybdenum disulfide-based lube. Having employed it to protect cast bullets fired as fast as 2,450 fps, there was no question about KG's ability to keep 50 handgun bullets, fired at midrange speeds, from leading bores.

As a final check, some unsized bullets were dropped into the revolvers' empty chambers. Sure enough, all lodged in the chamber mouths. That meant the mouths would act as forcing cones and center the bullets. As long as the cylinders were properly timed (they were), each of those slugs should be delivered smack dab in the center of each breech. Since the cowboy series of bullets was designed with match accuracy in mind, a test load was selected that would, hopefully, keep velocities and pressures at moderate levels. Winchester's 231 had always delivered excellent accuracy when loaded in the veteran cartridge, so a charge of 6.5 grains was picked from the book. Estimated muzzle velocity was 700 fps. That should encourage mild recoil and make it easier and quicker to get the sights back on target. As everything worked out, the load lived up to all expectations - well, almost all. Accuracy was excellent from both revolvers. Recoil was hardly noticeable. When it came to velocities, however, there was an unexpectedly large difference between those clocked by the Colt and those generated by the Ruger.

As noted, the Colt's chamber mouths were some .001 inch smaller than the Ruger's. That should have caused pressures to build a bit higher in the Colt and result in slightly higher velocities, right?

I thought so - but the Oehler chronograph said I was mistaken. Five rounds from the Colt averaged 664 fps with an extreme spread of 37 fps. When the same loads were fired through the Ruger, the results were 741 fps and 24 fps extreme spread! Another five rounds were put through each revolver, but the chronographed results were almost identical.

Slugging the bores revealed the Colt's grooves miked .452 inch; the Ruger's were .453 inch. In each sixgun, those as-cast bullets were squeezed down another .002 inch when they popped out the chamber mouths into the breeches. So where was the Ruger's advantage? What accounted for the extra 70-odd fps velocity? Answers to those questions continue to elude me.

Kneeling behind the bench with my forearm resting on it, I fired five, five-shot strings through each test gun at targets erected 25 yards away. Groups from both guns ranged from 1.8 to 2.2 inches at that range. What impressed me most was that almost all groups were circular. Admittedly, I did the best I could and took plenty of time for each shot. Nonetheless, so many circular groups represent some sort of record for me. I can't recall making that many in succession before. Had those revolvers been clamped in a Ransom Rest, groups would have shrunk .5 inch, maybe more. It was obvious the new cowboy bullets of Lyman's were living up to their promise.

Such consistent accuracy isn't just a matter of luck. Granted, both test revolvers have always been accurate - and their records date back about two decades. Even so, it takes first-class bullets to capitalize on any gun's potential, and the test targets offered pretty conclusive evidence on that score.

If you're looking for a potent, accurate cast bullet for a .45 Colt, try Lyman bullet number 452664 - and try shooting 'em unsized.

Lead Head Bullets
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