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Montana X-treme
Rifle Magazine
June - July 2003
Volume 38, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 223
On the cover...
The stainless steel Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun is chambered for the .44 magnum and features a 4-inch barrel with adjustable sights. The Springfield Armory XD-357 is chambered for the .357 Sig with a ported barrel. Alaskan Brown bear photo by Ron Spomer.
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Product Tests

Oregon Trail Laser-Cast Bullets

It always surprises me to hear otherwise experienced hunters and competitors express contempt for cast bullets. Oh, some admit that alloy slugs are okay for handgunners - as long as velocities are held down low enough - but when it comes to rifles, they insist that cast slugs are worthless unless ranges are short and speeds limited to rimfire levels. Apparently, they’ve forgotten that from the time the first Pilgrim stepped ashore in Plymouth back in 1620 until 1900 or so, we fought our wars and bagged our game with lead balls and cast bullets. In fact, several million buffalo were wiped out with them.

Cast bullets are as useful as ever. Not only are they more than adequate for 90 percent of our shooting requirements, but they’re a lot cheaper to shoot than their jacketed counterparts - and a lot easier on rifled bores too.

It used to be that a fella had to buy his own equipment and spend a lot of his own time with pot and moulds if he wanted to shoot homemade bullets. That’s no longer the case. Each year sees an increasing number of commercial sources for well-made, properly sized, lubricated and uniformly dimensioned cast bullets. One such outfit, Oregon Trail Bullet Company, markets a variety of reasonably priced alloy rifle and handgun bullets. One of them bears a close resemblance to Lyman’s bullet 311041, its 173-grain gas-checked, flatnosed .30-30 bullet. Almost an inch long (.96 inch, to be exact) with gas check in place, this design has long proved inherently stable and potentially accurate.

Oregon Trail moulds its bullets from a fairly hard alloy, registering 24 on the Brinell hardness scale. For starters, 20 of them were weighed on an RCBS electronic scale. Weights ranged from 172.8 to 174.4 grains, averaging 173.4 grains. Measuring the same bullets’ diameters revealed their waistlines varied from .309 to .3095 inch. Advertised diameter is .309 inch. All in all, commendably uniform.

The question was: Would their range performance live up to their promise?

Four different .30-caliber rifles were chosen for the tests: two .308s, a .307 and a veteran .30-30.

First up was a .308 Winchester Browning A-Bolt with a 20-inch barrel. Equipped with a Simmons variable set on 5x, it’s an MOA rifle when fed almost any decent jacketed-bullet load - from the bench, of course.

The first combination fired in the A-Bolt consisted of 35 grains of IMR-4320 plus a pinch of Dacron fiber to hold the powder charge in place. Fifteen feet from the muzzle, velocities averaged 2,169 fps with an extreme spread of 85 fps. It was breezy at the range that day so the target was set up at 50 yards, and I did my best to shoot between gusts. Five-shot groups spanned a pretty uniform 1.5 inches. There was no sign of leading, but the so-so groups hinted that slower speeds might improve things.

The next range session saw the Laser-Cast flatnoses backed by 24.0 grains of H-4198 plus Dacron filler. Velocities averaged 1,959 fps and most 50-yard groups ran around 1.25 inches with a few expanding to 1.5 inches - encouraging but still not satisfactory.

Dropping to 22.0 grains of IMR-4198 and the usual Dacron filler reduced velocities to 1,765 fps with an extreme spread of 47 fps. Five-shot strings ran from 1.6 to 2.0 inches at the 100-yard mark. Still no sign of leading even when the barrel became too hot to hold with bare hands. Two-inch groups might not set a benchrester’s heart a’thumping, but they’re perfectly adequate for most hunting and practice.

For the next test, another .308 was picked, a Savage 99 with a 22-inch barrel. Helped by a 4x Redfield mounted on its receiver, it will usually group jacketed hunting loads into 1.5 inches, sometimes a bit less, at 100 yards from a rest. Only one load was tried: 30 grains of W-748 plus Dacron filler drove the cast flatnoses 1,801 fps 15 feet from the muzzle. The extreme velocity spread was 81 fps.

Out at 100 yards, five-shot strings ranged from 1.75 to 2.25 inches - not too bad. A little experimentation with powder charges would probably tighten everything considerably; it might boost velocities too.

The next test gun was a Winchester Angle-Eject Model 94 .307 Winchester carbine. There’s a 4x compact Leupold mounted on it, and it’s 1 1/2 MOA capable with most full-blower jacketed loads.

The test rounds packed 35.0 grains of IMR-3031 plus Dacron behind the Laser-Cast flatnoses. Velocities, measured at the usual 15 feet, averaged 2,130 fps with an extreme spread of only 44 fps.

Due to windy conditions, the target was set up at 50 yards again. Most five-shot strings snugged into .9 inch at that range - promising.

Switching to 40.0 grains of H-4831 dropped velocities to 1,756 fps, but the extreme velocity spread was only 7 fps! At 100 yards, five-shot strings ran from 1.5 to 2.0 inches - not bad.

Finally, my old .30-30 was hauled out of retirement. It was already used when I bought it more than 50 years ago. It has seen lots of service over the years but has been carefully maintained. Fitted with a factory blade up front and a Lyman tang sight back aft, it is capable of keeping loads it likes in 2.0 inches at 100 yards when fired over a rest.

For starters, 30.0 grains of IMR-3031, held in place by Dacron filler, drove the moulded flatnoses 2,092 fps over the Oehler chronograph. Extreme spread was 71 fps. At 50 yards (Yes, the bloody wind was at it again.) five-shot strings elbowed into an inch.

Adding another half grain of IMR-3031 boosted velocities to 2,133 fps and dropped the velocity spread to 52 fps. At 100 yards, groups measured an inch high and from 2.5 to 2.75 inches wide.

Slab-sided Winchester lever actions are cant-prone when fired over a rest. Unfortunately, a 94 doesn’t have to lean very much to send its bullets a tad left or right of the aiming point. That horizontal pattern on target was undoubtedly my fault. Had I paid closer attention to the sight picture and held the carbine properly, those groups would have been noticeably tighter.

As a matter of interest, according to the .30-30's load log, the last factory loads fired through the old carbine were Winchester 170-grain Silvertips. They clocked 2,172 fps 15 feet from the muzzle, and five-shot strings averaged 2.5 inches at 100 yards, benchrest.

Although picking those IMR-3031 loads might be regarded as a matter of luck, they indicate what the correct charges of the right propellant can do for those Laser-Cast bullets. Even though the loads fired in the other test arms were selected at random, all would have been useful afield or on a target range. Magnum lovers may snicker at the thought of 170-grain cast bullets lumbering along 1,700 to 1,900 fps, but as I’ve said before: I wouldn’t want to get in one’s way, even out at 250 or 300 yards.

There’s no point in taking my word for the bullets’ potential. Oregon Trail offers the 173-grain flatnoses at $8.95 per 100. Why not try some in your own rifle and find out what they can do. Write to the Oregon Trail Bullet Company, PO Box 529, Baker City OR 97814-0529, or call 1-800-811-0548. - Al Miller

Accurate Powder
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