Cast Bullet Varmint Hunting

Glen

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Like many bullet casters, I got started by casting for the .38 Special. Soon I added the .45ACP and .44 Magnum, and before too long I was casting for rifle cartridges like the .35 Remington and .35 Whelen. But at this point in my life (late 1980s), cast bullets were simply a cheap, easy way for me to shoot more, and my serious hunting loads were built around jacketed bullets. When I got bitten by the handgun hunting bug, and started playing with wildcat cartridges and the Thompson-Center Contender, my focus was once again on jacketed bullets. I was still casting a lot of bullets, but they were just for practice, bullseye competition, or plinking.

I shot lots of varmints with cast bullets in the late 80s and early 90s, but mostly those loads were just using solid SWCs in my practice/plinking loads. Then I discovered cast HPs and the Ideal 358439! That got me started down the road of tailoring the cast bullet’s performance to the intended target, and this has opened whole new vistas for me to experiment and develop new hunting loads.

While I have hunted varmints with a wide variety of hunting handguns and cast bullets, the focus of this article is going to be on cast bullet loads that were tailored specifically with varmint and small game hunting in mind, specifically for guns with smaller bores.

Casting small bullets presents unique challenges to the caster. You’re pouring very little hot metal into the mould blocks to begin with, and there is more metal in the mould blocks that needs to be kept hot. Therefore, it is important to pre-heat the mould blocks and to turn the pot temperature up hotter than normal, just to maintain suitable block temperature to avoid wrinkled bullets. Any visible defect constitutes a much larger volume fraction of a 45 grain .225” bullet (for example), than it does for a 250 grain .429” cast bullet, so don’t be afraid to sort out the rejects and recycle them back to the lead pot. It’s not hard to cast high quality small cast bullets, you just need to pre-heat the mould, cast hotter than normal, maintain a good casting pace so the mould doesn’t get a chance to cool down, and use a critical eye in sorting your bullets.

As a general statement, these bullets were cast with a mix of 3 parts recovered range scrap (BHN of 7 or 8), with 1 part linotype (for an overall BHN of about 12), and lubed with a 50/50 mix of beeswax and moly grease.

.22 Hornet. If I had known that this .22 Hornet Contender was going to be this much fun, I would have started this project a whole lot sooner! My 10” .22 Hornet barrel started off life as a .22 Long Rifle barrel with a damaged chamber, so it has a 1 in 14” twist. I borrowed a reamer from my buddy Dave Ewer, and rechambered the barrel, then did the necessary milling to the extractor slot and replaced the thinner rimfire extractor with a (thicker) factory extractor for the .22 Hornet. With the slow twist, I knew I was going to have to stick with short cast bullets, and NOE (http://noebulletmolds.com/) makes a beautiful little GC-FP for the .22 Hornet, so that is where I started. This mould casts beautiful bullets, just make sure to turn the lead pot up hotter than normal and cast fast to keep the mould blocks up to temp. I have had very good results from small cartridge cases with AA 1680, so that is where I started, and I found that 11.5 grains gave me 2035 fps and excellent accuracy (~1/2” at 50 yards). This load makes for a surprisingly flat-shooting handgun out to 100 yards or more, and while it’s not explosive the way that some of the JHPs can be, it does slap down rodents with authority, leaving 1 ½” exits in its wake. Very little recoil, very little powder and lead, lots of fun!

22 Hornet and greydigger.jpg

.221 Fireball. The .221 Fireball has long been one of my favorite varmint cartridges. I shot out my first .221 barrel with many thousands of 50 grain JHPs. I am now working on my second barrel and thought that I might try to extend its shooting life by shooting cast HPs in it. The Loverin bullet designs have a long history of accurate shooting, so I looked around for a 2-cavity Ideal 225462 mould, that I could have converted to drop HP bullets. When I found one, I sent it off to my friend Erik Ohlen (http://noebulletmolds.com/) for his inset bar conversion. As usual, he did a stellar job converting the mould, and it now drops 55 grain HPs (as-cast, 59 grains checked and lubed) with beautifully centered HP cavities. Like any small bullet bullet mould, this one wants to be pre-heated and it does its best when the pot temp is turned up 50-100 degrees hotter than normal. Treated thusly, it produces absolutely gorgeous HPs with ease. My goal was to get somewhere around 1800-2100 fps with good accuracy in the 10” TC Fireball. Sized to .225” and lubed with 50/50 beeswax/moly grease and loaded over 13.0 grains of AA 1680 gives just over 1900 fps and decent accuracy. In this gun, groups started to open up when velocities got above about 1950 fps. Expansion is good with this HP at this speed.

Lyman 225462 HP mould.jpg

.223 Remington. I use the same 225462 HP in the .223 Remington over 8.0 grains of Red Dot for 2150 fps from Ruger Mk II 77, and about 1900 fps from a 14” Contender. (Note that both of these guns have 1 in 12” twist barrels, and this load will probably not cycle or shoot accurately in a fast-twist AR-15). Accuracy is good (~3/4” at 50 yards), and expansion is excellent. This mild load really opens up nicely, and is quickly becoming a favorite.

223 and Lyman 225462 HP.jpg

Also, NOE makes a very nice 59 grain GC-FP, that I have also been working with in the .223. With the same powder charge (8.0 Red Dot) it has proven to be a good accurate load. Of course, it does not expand as much as the HP load (above), but it does smack down ground squirrels pretty smartly. I think this bullet would be well-suited for larger critters (e.g. coyotes or javelina), where the controlled mushrooming could be put to better use, but I haven’t yet had a chance to test that theory.

223 and NOE 59 grain GCFP.jpg

6PPC. A number of years ago, I had SSK build me 6mm PPC barrel for my Contender. It has proven to be exceptionally accurate, and its performance on vermin has been excellent when loaded with the right bullets. My favorite load is 29.5 grains of Acc. Arms 2460 with the 70 grain Hornady SX or Speer TNT, which generates a little over 2500 fps from the 11” barrel, and if I’m having a good day at the bench, this combination will flirt with 0.5 MOA. Anyway, I wanted to see if this gun was capable of similar accuracy with cast bullets. I had an RCBS 6mm 100-GC mould modified by Erik Ohlen and it now drops beautiful 102 grain GC-HPs when cast to a hardness of about 11-12 BHN (3 parts recovered range scrap and 1 part linotype). Optimizing cast bullet loads in this gun has proven to be a real balancing act – at lower velocities (e.g. 1400 fps), the 1 in 10” twist isn’t spinning this long bullet fast enough to optimally stabilize it, but above about 1800 fps the bullet holes start to get oblong and groups start to open back up (presumably the 1 in 10” is fast enough that it starts to slip/strip the soft alloy). Anyway, a usable compromise is found with 20.0 grains of 4895, which produces 1725 fps and decent accuracy (about 1” at 50 yards, i.e. not as good as with the JHPs), and the bullet holes are still nice and round. This would be a dandy load for coyote or javelin.

6PPC and RCBS 102 HP.jpg

.25 Hornet. Several years ago, I converted a Ruger Old Model Blackhawk .357 Magnum to .25 Hornet using one of Hamilton Bowen’s cylinders, a Dave Manson Reamer, and a piece of an old Ruger take-off .25-06 barrel (1 in 10” twist). This has proven to be a most delightful cast bullet shooter and a very effective varmint revolver. One of my favorite loads for this gun is the 70 grain Lyman 257420 HP over 6.5 grains of HS-6 for 1550 fps and superb accuracy (dime-sized groups at 25 yards with an iron-sighted revolver). Earlier this spring, a friend of mine took me out to help him deal with some rock chucks that were decimating his farmer friend’s alfalfa. The .25 Hornet OMRBH accounted for a couple of rock chucks at 90-100 yards, and tore surprisingly large holes through them in the process. The .25 Hornet is an often overlooked, and excellent varmint cartridge.

25 Hornet RBH3.jpg

.25-20 Winchester. A number of years ago, I bought a Remington Model 25 pump-action cahmbered in .25-20 from a friend of mine. This is a delightful little gun, and boy does it like cast bullets! NOE makes a copy of the old 85 grain plain-based Ideal 257283, and I had Al make me a 4-cavity mould for this bullet. Historically, my favorite .25-20 small game load has been this bullet over 8.0 grains of 4227 for 1680 fps, and very good accuracy. More recently, I have started shooting this bullet using 10.0 grains of AA 1680, with similar velocity and accuracy. This last weekend, I took a friend out to do a little varmint shooting, and I took the little Remington .25-20 along, loaded with the 85 grain Ideal 258312 GC-HP with the same powder charge. At these speeds cast HP expansion is dramatic. This is varmint hunting, old school style.

25-20 and Ideal 257283.jpg

.270 REN. The .270 REN is a wildcat where the .22 Hornet case is blown straight, and then trimmed to 1.29”. It was originally developed as a low-recoiling, flat-shooting cartridge for NRA Silhouette, with 100-110 grain spitzers at about 1600 fps. From the handgun hunter’s perspective, jacketed .270 bullets are generally going too slow to expand out of this diminutive little wildcat cartridge, but cast HPs are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish! I got interested in this cartridge a number of years ago when I bought a group of bullet moulds from a friend and included in with the group was an old Ideal Ideal 280412 HP mould. This mould produces a long-nosed 135 grain RN-HP with a GC, one grease groove, and a small crimp groove. I didn’t have anything to shoot a .270 cast bullet, but I started looking around for a wildcat cartridge that was compatible with the Contender that would allow me to shoot this bullet at a useful velocity (1500-1600 fps). I very quickly settled on the .270 REN and found a TC barrel for cheap in an online auction. Anyway, loading the 135 grain Ideal 280412 HP over 9.2 grains of H110 generates 1480 fps from my 10” Contender and excellent accuracy. Expansion testing showed that expansion was positive at this speed, and the recovered bullet (minus GC) retained 85 grains. I hope to take this one javelina hunting next winter.

270 REN and 280412 and expanded.jpg

.30 Carbine. Ruger chambered their Blackhawk revolver in .30 Carbine as an expedient way for people to be able to use military surplus FMJ ammo for plinking. However, loaded with the 109 grain Lyman 313316 GC-HP over a 13.0 grains of AA #9, with a light taper crimp, generates 1570 fps from a 7 ½” sixgun. This is a very flat shooting, and explosive, varmint load that reaches out with authority.

.32 S&W Long. The .32 S&W Long is a great little small game load. Mountain Molds made me a 100 grain Keith-style SWC a number of years ago, and in .32 S&W Long I like to load this fine SWC over 2.5 grains of Red Dot, for about 800 fps (depending on barrel length). What more can I say? To my way of thinking, this is the perfect edible small game load, and my favorite way to introduce a grouse to a cast iron skillet, along with some butter, white wine, Dijon mustard, and sliced onions.

32 S&W Long with MM SWC.jpg

.32-20 Winchester. I have an old 1930s vintage 5” S&W M&P chambered in .32-20. After many years of search, I was able to find an equally old Ideal 31133 HP mould. It doesn’t drop round bullets, some measurements are .315”, some are as small as .312”. Sizing these bullets .314” doesn’t shave any lead off, or swage them down, but rather it just sort of redistributes the out of roundness, into a (just barely) .314” bullet that shoots quite nicely in this fine old gun. When this 110 grain Ideal 31133 HP, sized .314”, is loaded over 6.0 grains of HS-6 it generates right at 975 fps and excellent accuracy. This vintage HP is not explosive at this speed, but it does expand well, and anchors burrowing rodents effectively (and is surprisingly flat-shooting).

32-20 M&P and digger2.jpg

Little bullets can be challenging to cast, but just make sure to pre-heat the mould, turn up the lead pot a little hotter than normal, and keep up a fast casting cadence. Small cast bullets and varmint hunting go hand in hand, and can be lots of fun!
 
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