Cast Bullet Keepers


Staff member
Cast Bullet Keepers

I get asked on a regular basis, “What is your favorite load for ____________.” Well, “favorite” can be defined many different ways, and everybody may or may not agree with how I think about “favorite loads”, but basically I think of “favorite loads” in terms of the loads that come to mind when a new gun comes along and I want to see how it shoots, especially with cast bullets. Loads that I have experience with, loads that have proven themselves to be reliable, loads that are known to be accurate, loads that I know I can trust. In other words, these cast bullet loads are “keepers”. I have hunted with many of these loads (please note that not all of them are hunting loads), and taken game with the majority of them. This list is not encyclopedic, but rather just some of my favorites, the ones that come to mind quickly. Those of you who know me personally will note that there are some notable cartridges missing from this list that are personal favorites of mine (e.g. .22-250, 6.5 JDJ, .35 Whelen, 9.3x57, etc.). The reason for these cartridges being omitted is that I just haven’t worked up a personal favorite cast bullet load for them yet (but I do have favorite jacketed bullet loads for them, however).

When working up loads for a new handgun project, I will commonly start with W231 or Bullseye for light target loads, Unique or HS-6 for mid-range (i.e. 15-16,000 psi) loads, 2400 for magnum (30, 000-35,000 psi) loads, and H110/W296 for heavier magnum (40,000+ psi) loads. I use many different powders for cast bullets in rifle loads, depending on cartridge, pressure, velocity, etc., but 4895 is easily my favorite “go to” powder for cast bullets in rifles.

For rifles and revolvers, I generally size the cast bullet to be a snug slip-fit in the throat (i.e. the next .001” below actual throat diameter). For semi-auto handguns (and other guns with little or no throat), I generally size to fit groove diameter. I lube all my cast bullets using the 50/50 (by weight, and yes, I DO weigh it out) mixture of beeswax and moly grease that I’ve used for over 20 years. It’s easy to make, affordable, has the consistency of hard fudge, isn’t sticky or tacky, and has worked well in everything I’ve tried it in (i.e. no leading and good accuracy), from 500 fps to 2300 fps.

For those cartridges that don’t come with a flaring die in their die sets, I use a universal flaring die to flair the cases before seating my cast bullets. I made mine from a surplus 9mm flaring die that I picked up at a gun show for next to nothing. Five minutes of lathe work and I had my universal flaring die. Lyman M dies also work well for this job.

Revolver cartridges

.32 S&W Long
. The .32 S&W Long is just about the perfect grouse-n-bunny cartridge. A number of years ago, I had Dan Lynch of Mountain Molds make me a bullet mould for a 100 grain .32 caliber Keith-style SWC, and as usual, he turned out a thing of beauty. My favorite .32 S&W Long load involves this 100 grain SWC, sized .313”, and loaded over 2.5 grains of Red Dot (~800 fps). This load is very accurate, and has enough thump to drop small game quickly and humanely, but do so without wasting a lot of meat.

.32-20 WCF. The .32-20 is another excellent small game round. My favorite load for the .32-20 is the 95 grain Cramer #52D (SAECO still offers this FP design as their #325). For the .32-20, I size this bullet .314” and load it over 6.5 grains of HS-6, and prime it with the CCI550 primer. This load generates right at 1000 fps and delivers excellent accuracy. It will reach out and anchor small game very effectively, even at 75-80 yards.

.38 Special. The .38 Special is one of my all-time favorite cartridges. Entire books could be filled with accurate cast bullet loads for the .38 Special, and I have gotten very good results with all kinds of powders, ranging from Red Dot up to 2400. One load that has given me consistently excellent accuracy over the years is the 160 grain H&G #51 SWC (designed by Phil Sharpe for the .357 Magnum back in the mid-1930s), sized .357” and loaded over 5.0 grains of Unique (~900 fps). It’s not unusual for groups with this load to be one ragged hole. This is a great all-round load for plinking, small game, varmints, etc.

As long as we’re on the subject of the .38 Special, there is another favorite load that I am quite fond of – the 154 grain Lyman 358439 (the Keith HP), sized .357”, and loaded over 8.5 grains of HS-7 (CCI 550). This +P load was inspired by the “FBI Load”, and it generates about 1050 fps from a 6” revolver. When cast to a BHN of about 8, it will expand quite nicely at this speed. I have used this load to take a number of jack rabbits, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels over the years, and expansion has been reliable and positive. Recently, I had Erik Ohlen over at Hollow Point Bullet Mould Service convert a 4-cavity Lyman 358429 mould to a 4-cavity HP mould for this bullet, so now I can keep myself well-supplied in this bullet. Sadly, HS-7 has been dropped from production, but perhaps it might be re-introduced at some point in the future. It is an excellent powder for this type of +P load.

.357 Magnum. Yes, I know that you don’t need to use a gas-checked (GC) cast bullet in the .357, but there is no question that many magnum revolvers group better when using a GC-ed bullet. As a result, one of my favorite loads for the .357 Magnum is the 158 grain Lyman 358156 GC-SWC (designed back in the early 1950s by Ray Thompson), sized .357”, and loaded over 14.0 grains of 2400 and the CCI 550 primer (1350 fps from a 6” revolver, 1700 fps from a Marlin levergun). Every .357 Magnum firearm that I have tried this load in (and that would number in the several dozens, ranging from snubbies to leverguns) has shot this load very well. The HP version of the Lyman 358156 makes a dandy varmint load (as does the Lyman 358439, aka “the Keith HP”). The advantage that the Lyman 358156 has over the longer/heavier Keith bullets is their shorter nose will function in all .357s (i.e. the shorter cylinder of the S&W N-frames, cycle through the Marlin leverguns, etc.). This is an excellent all-round load for hunting small game, varmints, plinking, etc.

Another one of my personal favorites for the .357 Magnum is the outstanding NOE 360-180-WFN-GC, loaded over 12.5 grains of 2400, with a CCI 550 primer. This excellent load generates about 1200 fps from revolvers, and 1500 fps from a Marlin levergun. The NOE 180 WFN-GC shares the advantages of the Lyman 358156; i.e. its nose is short enough to function in all .357s (e.g. the shorter cylinder of the S&W N-frames), and it cycles through the Marlin leverguns beautifully. This is an excellent hunting bullet for both .357 Magnum handguns and rifles. I size these bullets .357” for the revolvers, and .359” for the levergun.

.44 Special. The .44 Special is another one of my all-time favorite cartridges. My favorite load for the .44 Special combines the Lyman 429421 (designed by Elmer Keith, either the solid SWC or the HP version), generally sized .429” (I have one .44 Special revolver that needs its bullets sized .431”), with 10.0 grains of HS-6 and a CCI 300 primer (suitable for large framed .44s only). This load gives about 950 fps (depending on barrel length) and very good accuracy. When cast soft (BHN ~8) the HP will expand moderately at this speed. I have used this load on jack rabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, etc. and it is very effective. If the varmint is hiding behind a stump or a blow-down, this load will shoot right through the wood and surprise the hidden rodent.

.44 Magnum. The .44 Magnum is one of the great hunting cartridges of our time. My favorite, general purpose load for the .44 Magnum is built around the 245 grain Lyman 429421 (in either the SWC or HP form), sized to fit the gun (generally .429” for S&Ws, and .430 or .431” for Rugers), over 23.5 grains of W296, and sparked with a CCI 350 primer. This load delivers about 1400 fps (depending on barrel length) and good accuracy. Using my homemade moly lube, I have never had this load lead any of my .44 Magnum revolvers. I have used this load on everything from ground squirrels, to mule deer, to feral hogs with complete satisfaction. The 429421 HP expands very well at this speed, and drops game animals quickly and humanely. This is an excellent deer load.

Several years ago, I sent a 2-cavity RCBS 44-300-GC-SWC bullet mould off to Erik Ohlen and had him convert it drop HP bullets to my specifications. My other favorite .44 Magnum load is built around this 296 grain GC-HP bullet. Once again, it is sized to fit the gun it will be shot in (.429” for my Freedom Arms Model 83, and .431” for my Rugers and Marlin levergun), and combined with 21.0 grains of W296 and a CCI 350 primer. This load generates 1275 fps from a 4 ¾” FA M83, 1375 fps from a 7 ½” Ruger Super Blackhawk, and 1700 fps from the Marlin levergun. When sized .429”, this load commonly generates one ragged hole 5-shot groups at 20-25 yards from the FA M83, while the RSBH typically turns in very respectable 5-shot groups of about 1 ¼”. This load flat hammers feral hogs, and does so without generating a bunch of bloodshot meat. This is an excellent all-round hunting load.

.45 Colt. From the perspective of the sixgun aficionado, the .45 Colt is the granddaddy of them all! For those sixguns that must be held to modest pressure levels, my favorite load combines the Lachmiller 255 RNFP (very similar to the Lyman 454190), sized to fit the gun (.452-.456”, some of my older guns have grossly oversized throat dimensions), and 7.2 grains of W231 (~850 fps). I do not use this load for hunting as the meplat on the old RNFP is smaller than I like, but it makes a great plinking/target load. This is the only load that I use this bullet for, making my low pressure .45 Colt loads easy to identify. This is a dandy plinking load, and is accurate out to surprising ranges.

For hunting, I prefer to use a SWC or HP, and in recent years one of my favorites for the .45 Colt is the 283 grain RCBS 45-270-SAA SWC designed by Dave Scovill (and also the corresponding 275 grain HP from Miha Prevac ), sized .452”, over 13.0 grains of HS-6 and a Winchester Large Pistol primer (~1100 fps from a 7 ½” revolver). This outstanding load kills feral hogs very quickly, and leaves very little bloodshot meat in its wake.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most accurate loads I’ve ever shot from a revolver – Elmer Keith’s pet +P load for the .45 Colt, namely the Lyman 454424 (SWC or HP) loaded over 18.5 grains of 2400 (1100-1200 fps). I generally size these bullets .452” since I am usually shooting them in large-framed Ruger Blackhawks that have had their throats reamed to .452”. This is a very accurate load, and the cast HP expands very nicely at this velocity. Excellent deer load.

Many years ago, I had Mountain Molds make me a 2-cavity bullet mould for a 325 grain .45 caliber RNFP to use as a deep penetrating solid in my .45 Colt hunting loads. I size this excellent bullet 452”, and load it over 21.0 grains of W296 and a CCI 350 primer to get 1230 fps from a 7 ½” Ruger Blackhawk (+P load). I used this load to take a very large (and tough) old boar hog with a single shot. It penetrated approximately 30” of boar, then exited, kicking up a cloud of dust on the far side of him, and went whining off into the mountains beyond. This is an excellent load for those situations where deep, straight penetration is needed.

454 Casull. The 454 Casull is truly a remarkable hunting cartridge, and is made all the more exceptional when it is housed in the precisely fitted Freedom Arms Model 83. The 454 Casull typically operates at very high peak pressures (50,000+ psi), so I generally prefer to use GC-ed bullets in it. Also, because of these high pressures, it is important to use hard cast bullets – not to avoid leading, but rather to avoid having the bullet “swage up” when it traverses the cylinder gap/forcing cone and encounters the resistance of the lands. This phenomenon is very hard on forcing cones, and can result in split barrels if one is using cast bullets that are too soft for the cartridge. I normally water quench my cast bullets for the 454 Casull (BHN of ~18), and size them .451” to fit the tight throats of the FA M83. There are a number of good cast bullets that can be used in the 454 Casull, but my favorite is the bullet that was designed explicitly for the cartridge – the 300 grain Lyman 454629 GC-FP. There are several reasons that I like this bullet so much – it is very accurate, it’s heavy enough to be a good all-round hunting bullet, it has a good meplat for hunting, and it has a very large crimp groove (it looks just like a grease groove, but that last groove is meant for crimping). The 454 Casull has enough recoil that a moderate crimp (or a smaller crimp groove) can lead to bullets backing out under recoil. A heavy crimp prevents this from happening, and helps to make ignition more uniform. My favorite load is the 300 grain Lyman 454629, sized .451”, over 30.0 grains of H110, and a CCI 450 primer. This load gives me 1650 fps from the 7 ½” FA revolver, and on days when I’m not flinching I have used this load to shoot (witnessed) 5-shot groups that were one ragged hole at 25 yards (even in snow flurries!). This load can be used to hunt pretty much anything, and I have a handsome bison bull hanging in my gun room courtesy of this load.

Semi-auto pistol cartridges

10mm Auto.
The 10mm Auto was originally developed as a self-defense round. For the semi-auto pistol rounds, I consider the 10mm to be a sensible minimum for hunting medium game. 10mm handguns are commonly manufactured with tight tolerances, and oversized bullets can cause feeding/chambering problems as a result, so sizing the bullet is especially important (I size mine to .400”). Erik Ohlen (at Hollow Point Bullet Mould Services) converted an RCBS 10mm-200-SWC mould to drop HP bullets for me, and these bullets are my favorite for the 10mm. Experience has shown me that top velocities in the 10mm can be had with HS-7 and Acc. Arms #7, but I generally get a little better accuracy when using Acc. Arms #9, so my favorite load is 11.5 grains of AA #9 with the 200 grain HP, over a CCI 350 primer, with a moderate taper crimp. This combination gives me about 1100 fps (depending on barrel length) and good accuracy. Expansion of the HP is positive at this velocity, and this load has been used to take a feral hog and a handsome Desert Tan Dahl ram.

.45 ACP. The .45 ACP was born to serve in the military, and it (along with the 1911) served with distinction for ¾ of a century. My favorite load for the .45 ACP is the 230 grain Lee truncated cone (or the excellent NOE 230 grain HP), sized .452”, and loaded over 6.5 grains of Unique (~900 fps). This load basically duplicates hardball ballistics, and is very reliable in my guns. If cast very soft (e.g. 25-1, or softer), the NOE 230 HP expands nicely at these velocities. Cast HPs in the 1911 make a very nice medium range varminting rig. If the 1911 I’m testing is a bullseye gun, then my favorite load is the 200 grain Lyman 452460 SWC, sized 452”, over 4.0 grains of Bullseye (750 fps). I know the “standard” bullseye load is 3.5 grains of Bullseye, but sometimes I want to evaluate a 1911 that still had the full strength GI spring in it with a target load, and 4.0 grains of Bullseye will reliably cycle a 1911 with the GI spring. Accuracy is just fine, thank you (and is good enough to perforate Montana jack rabbits at just over 100 yards).

Rifle cartridges

The .25-20 is a delightful small game and varmint cartridge, and one that is very amenable to the use of cast bullets. NOE has recently come out with their superb 260283 mould (a copy of the old 85 grain Ideal 257283 that they made from examples cast from my early 1930s vintage Ideal 257283). The 4-cavity NOE mould casts quickly and smoothly and makes a very pretty pile of bullets in no time! I size these bullets .258”, and my favorite load is 8.0 grains of 4227. This combination gives me 1680 fps out of my Remington Model 25, with very good accuracy and no leading.

6.5x55. I have long been a fan of the 6.5mm bore in general, and the 6.5x55 in particular, in part because of the fine hunting bullets available in .264”. The fast twists encountered in many 6.5mm firearms can be something of a challenge for the cast bullet shooter, but if approached sensibly, fine results can be obtained with cast bullets. My favorite cast bullet load for the 6.5x55 is built around the oversized NOE 140 grain version of the 6.5mm Loverin bullet (Lyman 266469, NOE 270469), sized .270”, loaded over 16.0 grains of 4227 for 1600 fps. This load is quite accurate, has mild recoil, and is lots of fun to shoot.

.30-30 Winchester. My friend Jim Taylor worked up this load, and it worked so well in my leverguns that I more or less quit looking for other loads. The 190 grain RCBS 30-180-FP, sized .310”, and loaded over 26.0 grains of H335 gives ~1950 fps and very good accuracy. I seat them to the crimp groove and use a light roll crimp. The 170 grain Lyman 311041 is also a very good choice for the .30-30.

.30-40 Krag. The 190 grain RCBS 30-180-FP is also an excellent bullet for the .30-40 Krag. In this case, I size them either .310” or .311”, depending on which gun the ammo is intended for. There are a number of good powder charges for this bullet in the .30-40 Krag, but my favorite is 35.0 grains of H380, which delivers 1970 fps and very good accuracy out of my Krag carbine. Once again, I seat them to the crimp groove and use a light roll crimp.

.30-06 Springfield. The 190 grain RCBS 30-180-FP is also one of my favorite bullets for the .30-06. I size them .310”, and charge the cases with 35.0 grains of H4895, and seat them to the crimp groove and use a light roll crimp (I use this load in a variety of guns, ranging from commercial bolt guns, to a variety of military rifles). This combination delivers right at 2000 fps and very good accuracy. If you notice a trend here (30-30, .30-40, .30-06), I suspect that ~2000 fps is about as fast as you can push this bullet in a 1 in 10” twist and still get top-notch accuracy (I can push this bullet faster with good accuracy in my 1 in 12” twist Husqvarna .30-06). No matter, a 190 grain .30 caliber cast bullet, cast to a BHN of about 12 or 13, at 2000 fps makes a fine load. FP cast bullets don’t generally feed well in 1903s and 03A3s. For these guns my preferred load is built around the 210 grain RN-GC from NOE (312299), sized .311”, and loaded over 32 grains of 4895, for a little over 1800 fps. They feed very smoothly and deliver excellent accuracy.

.32 Special. OK, I’ll be honest here, I just stole Jim Taylor’s .30-30 load as a starting point when I got my .32 Special levergun. There aren’t a whole lot of choices out there as far as .32 Special moulds are concerned, but that’s OK because RCBS makes a beautiful .32 caliber 170 grain bullet (RCBS 32-170-GC) that is ideal for the .32 Winchester Special. I size these bullets .323”, and load them over 27.0 grains of H335 for about 2000 fps. This is the only load I shoot in my Marlin .32 Special levergun.

.35 Remington. I have been a fan of the .35 Remington cartridge for a long, long time. My first hunting handgun was a Thompson-Center Contender 14” .35 Remington, and I have used the .35 Remington cartridge (in both the Contender and Marlin levergun) to take multiple mule deer and feral hogs. My favorite cast bullet load for the .35 Remington is the 200 grain Lee 200 grain GC-FP (RCBS and SAECO also make excellent 200 grain moulds), sized .359”, over 38.0 grains of H335 (seated to the crimp groove, with a moderate roll crimp). This load gives me 2100+ fps out of my Marlin leverguns and Remington Model 8, with very good accuracy. This is an excellent hunting load.

.405 Winchester. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine”, and a dandy cast bullet cartridge. A number of years ago, I had Dan Lynch at Mountain Molds make a bullet mould for my .405 Winchester Contender barrel – a 300 grain, .412” diameter, GC flat point (I use Hornady .416” GCs for this bullet). The load I worked up for this bullet is 55.0 grains of H4895, which gives me 1930 fps out of my 14” Contender, and almost 2200 fps out of my Ruger #1, and accuracy is very good out of both. Big Medicine indeed!

.450/400 Nitro Express 3”. In case you can’t tell, I really like old, classic cartridges, so I thought I would include this one in this list as well. A number of years ago, I picked up a Ruger #1 in .450/400 Nitro Express 3” because I already had the perfect bullet mould for it from a previous project (see how that works?). The NEI .411-350-GC (#225A) weighs ~370 grains when cast with WW alloy and is just about perfect for the .450/400 Nitro Express 3”. I size this bullet .412” (once again using Hornady .416” GCs), and seat it over 85.0 grains of H4831, with a Federal 215 primer (Hornady brass has worked flawlessly…..another brand of brass, not so much….). This load gives me 2150 fps out of my Ruger #1, and regularly prints 3-shot clover-leafs at 50 yards. I hope to take this combination to Africa someday and see if what Robert Ruark said about Cape buffalo is true…..

.444 Marlin. The .444 Marlin is one of the truly under-appreciated cartridges in the world today. Obviously, I like cast bullets, and I like leverguns. And leverguns tend to operate at pressures and velocities that are amenable to cast bullets. I have heard it said that “the 1 in 38 inch twist used in the .444 Marlin won’t stabilize 300 grain bullets” and “Micro-Groove rifling won’t shoot cast bullets worth a darn”. Both statements are blatantly not true. Micro-Groove rifling tends to be more shallow than cut rifling, and yes, the slow twist does limit which bullets can be shot accurately from those .444 Marlin leverguns that have the 1 in 38” twist (newer guns have cut rifling, and a 1 in 20” twist), but they will shoot the 300s just fine thank you. As my friend Charles Graff told me a number of years ago, there are 3 key things to remember to get cast bullets to shoot well in Micro-Groove barrels is: 1. make sure they are fat enough to fill the grooves, 2. make sure they are GC bullets, and 3. make sure they are hard enough for the velocity. If the bullet caster does these three things, a Micro-Groove Marlin will shoot cast bullets as well (if not better) than it will shoot jacketed bullets. I had Dan Lynch make a bullet mould for me for what I consider to be the perfect .444 Marlin bullet – 300 grain GC-FP, with a 73% meplat, with a nose and crimp groove designed to cycle and chamber in the levergun. I size these bullets .431”, and seat them over 48.0 grains of H322. For my 14” Contender, I use the Fed 215 primer to get the most uniform ignition in the short barrel (and notably tighter groups), while the Marlin levergun doesn’t seem to have any primer preference. This load gives me 1900 fps from my 14” Contender, and 2100 fps from the Marlin levergun. This is my preferred elk hunting load. H4895 is also a very accurate powder for 300 grain bullets in the .444 Marlin cartridge.

.45-70 Government. OK, I’ll be honest here, I didn’t work up this load, Elmer Keith did, and I just stole it from his writings. Mr. Keith liked 400-420 grain cast bullets over 50.0 grains of 4895 (this is a load that is suitable for modern leverguns and is not suitable for older weaker guns like the Trapdoor Springfield). Thus, when I bought a Ruger #1 in .45-70 (a life-long dream!), this is where I started. While plain-based cast bullets shoot just fine in the .45-70, I found that I got a little bit better accuracy from my #1 using the RCBS 45-405-GC bullet (which weighs about 420 grains when cast with WW alloy). I size these bullets .459”, and crimp them lightly in the crimp groove. This load delivers 1750 fps from my #1, and routinely prints 3-shot clover-leafs at 50 yards. This load makes me dream about Africa….

So there you have it, a few of my favorite loads. I’m not claiming that these loads are perfect, or that they will be the most accurate in every gun, but they have given me consistently good results over the years, and many, many hours of cast bullet shooting pleasure.

Contact info for:

Mountain Molds
(Dan Lynch)

mtngun -at- gmail -dot- com

Hollow Point Bullet Mold Service (Erik Ohlen)

(541) 738-2479

NOE (Al Nelson)

(801) 377 7289

MP Molds (Miha Prevac)