A personal journal.


It is well known that the more shots you fire, the bigger your group will be. Rifles print their shots in a roughly Gaussian distribution. To get a realistic assessment of the accuracy of any rifle/load/shooter combination, at least 10 shots are needed. Two groups will give you a better idea than one. Averaging many such groups and determining their standard deviation is even better.

McMillan has pointed out that firing only a small number of shots, coupled with "the human tendency" to report "the best results I've ever gotten" as "typical results" obscures the truth.

Here I will present an unflinching view of what sort of "field" accuracy I have been able to obtain shooting cast bullets in sporting rifles. These groups were fired at an outdoor range, while sitting at a wooden bench, my elbows resting on the bench.

Data mining.

Average group size during rifle load development from 1/4/14 to 9/28/16 was calculated. This is the good, the bad, and the ugly, all lumped together. The data represents 2,532 shots.

The average accuracy for seven rifles was around 5.0 MOA, with a standard deviation of 2.0 MOA. Individual rifles ranged from 8.6 MOA, SD 3.1, to 4.0 MOA, SD 1.7.

This may cause you to exclaim "Bill, you are a terrible shot." The annoying thing about such an accusation is its accuracy (pun intended).

Control groups.

As this is an important point, I fired a 100 shot data base with my Anschutz 1710 .22lr, shooting in the same "field" style.

My smallest 10 shot, 100 yard group was 1.375", and the largest 2.5". The average for all was 2.01 MOA, with a standard deviation of 0.54. The normal distribution tells us there is a 97.5% probability that any subsequent shots will fall within a "cone of fire" two standard deviations larger than the average, or just over 3 MOA.

Now, you don't have to be a math freak to make these calculations.  I have trouble with simple arithmetic, so I just Google "online standard deviation calculator", enter my extreme spreads, and then hit the "calculate" button.  There may be better ways to assess your rifle's accuracy, but none are simpler.

So; if my cast bullet loads can hold a consistent 4 MOA, I should be satisfied with them, as they would be shooting within a MOA of what the highly developed .22 long rifle cartridge does in my hands. It is unlikely that I can sit in my garage and concoct anything to significantly better RWS and Federal.  

This is contrary to the perception that one might get from browsing the internet, where "sub MOA" groups are spoken of as routine, if not expected.

Most of us will have well over a MOA of aiming error using iron sights - and nearly half of that with a 4X hunting scope.

A common quarter - the U.S. 25 cent piece - is just under an inch in diameter.

You are shooting "sub MOA" if you can hit a quarter at 100 yards, first time, every time, all of the time.

I congratulate you if you can do that!  I can't.

Should your own results fall closer to mine than that of the "sub MOA" crowd, please do not despair.


Firing cast bullets from rifles has a learning curve which requires persistence to master, along with a tolerance for frustration.  It took three years for things to start coming together for me. Now, little victories do bubble up through the noise. I will share some of these with you.

I am assuming that you fully understand the major aspects of casting lead bullets, handloading ammunition, and handling firearms. If you are a novice in any of these areas, please do not proceed until you have developed a realistic appreciation of their dangers. You should also know of the controversies which swirl about the creation of reduced loads. If after appropriate study and due reflection you have decided that the inherent risk is acceptable to you (and to those around you), read on.

Decades ago, Col. E.H. Harrison, USA (ret.), who conducted extensive and elegant research into the use of cast bullets in rifles, stated "cast bullet loads require the strongest lead alloys practicable. Disregarding this causes failure. Tradition, regrettably kept alive in published information, has been a heavy handicap." My initial results, generally employing scrap alloy, certainly support his contention!

Remembering that warning, first published in the 1979 NRA book "Cast Bullets", I loaded up the lead pot with linotype. This was key to my first success:

Cast bullets for the .358 Winchester.

A load for the .358 Winchester.

Ruger 77 Mk II Frontier (16 1/2" barrel, 1 in 12" twist) - with forward mounted 4X Weaver scope.

Bullet: Accurate Molds 36-302DG gas checked, cast of linotype, and sized to 0.360"

Weight 278.5 grains, with GC and lube.

Brass: Hornady

Primer: S&B Large Rifle Magnum

Powder: Accurate Arms 4064, 38.5 grains

Light roll crimp. Cartridge OAL 2.755"

1735 fps - average 3.1 MOA, standard deviation 0.16 MOA over a 30 shot database. 

50 yard group, shot with bullets cast of linotype.

Ten shots, NRA 50 yard smallbore rifle target.

Groups are still good with 39.0 grains of powder, but open sharply at 40.0.

Heat Treating 

Nothing fills out a mold like linotype, and the results speak for themselves, but the stuff is expensive.  Dennis Marshall and others have told us for years that heat treating will allow the use of softer, less expensive alloys. This is worth considering, as it allows you to use that scrap which you have collected in full throttle loads.

A batch of these bullets cast from scrounged alloy measured BHN 11. Baking for 30 minutes in a toaster oven set to 440 F, followed by a cold water quench, produced substantial hardening.

Graph showing hardness gain over time, after heat treating.

They weighed 298 grains, so I cut the powder charge half a grain, and loaded them up.  Five days later (to allow them to get roughly as hard as linotype) I shot this group.

50 yard group shot with heat treated bullets. A quarter is shown to illustrate size.

With 10 shots into 2.75 MOA, it lies well within the expected grouping for linotype. While I am pleased, note that a true "sub MOA" rifle/load would print within the quarter at twice the range. As the preacher says, let's "strap on the truth, and tell it like it is".

Reference the raw development data, and you can see that we have come a long way.  This load combines reasonable power with good accuracy, and with the important bonus of  flawless magazine feeding.

Col. Harrison told us that the really essential elements of good cast bullet shooting are bullet fit, strong alloy, and a powder selection/charge weight that gets the bullet out of the barrel without deformation. He also found that bullet lube mattered, to a lesser degree.

The lube used in these loads is a homebrew one, which I like very much. Here is the recipe:

Bill's Lube

8 oz Japan wax - melt, then add

12cc of carnauba wax flakes (4 cc Lee dipper X3). Allow them to melt, then add

150 ml of Lubriplate synthetic worm gear oil. This is PAO based, ISO 460 (SAE 140). Stir, and add

32 cc of cetyl alcohol flakes (4cc Lee dipper X8).

When all is melted, stir again, and pour into your lubesizers.Paper hot cups are convenient for storing any excess. Now, don't spill it on you, as deep burns would result!

This is a fine bullet lube, and has become standard for my own use.

Of course, purchasing a stick of SAECO Gold, or the old "NRA formula" 50% beeswax/50% Alox (favored by Col. Harrison) is safer, and would likely work just as well.

Still, some of us become obsessed with this hobby, and want to control as many aspects of it as possible. Adding our own imprint to the mix enhances our pleasure.

Into each life, a little rain must fall ...

Now, we don't always win. After 2 years and more than 800 shots, I still have not found a cast bullet solution for my T26 Garand. 

 Here is a representative group:

A cast bullet group from the T-26 Garand.

A couple of clips at 100 yards, with the Accurate 31-185J bullet over 29 grains of IMR 3031. The 10 ring is 3 3/8" in diameter. 

I suppose that I shouldn't be too surprised. The 'ole darling, God bless her - immensely strong, incredibly durable, and functional under the most adverse of conditions - is a battle rifle, pure and simple. The military is content to simply let 'er rip, and rely on that dense central portion of the Gaussian distribution to take care of business.  Little bug eye groups are unimportant in a fight.

But then God smiles ...

The Ruger/Hornady resurrection of the old British .450/400 Nitro Express 3" is a gift to cast bullet shooters. The generous neck of this cartridge allows the use of bullets with a long bearing surface. Here is a 50 yard, 1" center to center group shot with a Mountain Molds 455 grain bullet, loaded over 20.5 grains of Alliant Steel.

50 yard .450/400 group, also showing cartridge and bullet.

Twenty minutes later, my son shot a 5 shot group with a the same rife/load that was only 1/4" larger. Just lucky 5 shot groups?  We'll see, but it's a promising start.

These were cast from salvaged alloy of unknown composition, BHN about 13. The load gives 1200 fps. Attempting to squeeze more power from this plain based bullet results in wild shooting. 

Alliant Steel, by the way, is a nice powder so long as you don't exceed shotgun pressures.

Getting Real

It's easy to become obsessed with tight groups while developing loads, so let's recall the comments of Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper:

"While accuracy is the great god of the rifleman, its single-minded pursuit may obscure some facts of life. A one minute weapon will strike within 1 inch its point of aim at 200 yards, while a two minute piece will strike within 2.  You can't see that increment with anything but a high-power telescope, and you couldn't hold that close from any field position."  

Back in 1921, 62 year old George Farr ambled up to the firing line at the National Matches around 4:30 pm, assumed the prone position with a 1903 Springfield, and over the next hour and 40 minutes, punched 70 consecutive bulls at 1,000 yards.  The black was a 36" circle in those days. 

If you can hold an honest 3.5 MOA, in fading light and under the pressure of competition, I'll shake your hand, and call you a rifleman!

Enjoy your .44 Magnum revolver.

Most folk who reload cast bullets for their rifles do the same for their pistols, and I'll bet that ten pistol shots are fired for every rifle round.  My little .44 Magnum Vaquero lay on the shelf unused for far too long, because I don't need wrist numbing full house loads.  Recently I decided to develop a nice "all purpose" (read: primarily target & plinking) load for it, and this transformed the revolver for me.  I now enjoy it greatly, so I thought I should share this with you, as it is really quite simple to load this powerful pistol down to .41 Colt levels.

Have Tom at Accurate Molds make you a mold for the 43-185B wadcutter. Cast this with alloy that is about BHN 12 or so.  Load it over 6.3 grains of 700-X (that's what my RCBS Little Dandy measure throws, with a #13 rotor).  Crimp in the groove. This gives, in my short 3 3/4" barrel, 860 fps.

Do check the throw weight of your rotor, as it may vary, from sample to sample.

10 yard group, .44 Magnum with wadcutter target load.

You can see from this 10 yard target that I am not a pistolero, but I enjoyed the outing nevertheless!  The beast is tamed - recoil is negligible. Have fun.