Swaged Rifle Bullets, Black Hills .38-55 Ammo

The swaged bullets come in weights of 510, 545 and 575 grains. They are swaged from 20:1 lead and tin slugs. The weight is held to a tolerance of plus or minus 2 1/2 grains.


A very important and time-consuming chore when casting bigbore rifle bullets is segregating them by weight. The variance in weight is generally caused by air bubbles forming in the bullet as the metal is poured, although another cause can be separation of the lead and tin if the melt isn't stirred often enough.

The problem is most evident in the long .38, .40 and .45 bullets used for Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette. The air bubbles may form anywhere in the bullet, and if they are great enough in size, the bullet will spin erratically and hit out of the group--annoying at 100 and 200 yards, and the farther you shoot, the bigger the problem. All cast bullets have these voids to one degree or another, and controlling them requires the more expensive swaging press rather than the more common bullet lubri-sizer as made by Lyman, RCBS and Redding. Even when a swage eliminates the air bubbles, the bullets still need to be segregated by weight.

This problem is over for shooters of .45-caliber rifles with the introduction of .45-caliber rifle bullets swaged from 1:20 lead wire by Buffalo Arms. The firm is offering three bullets of similar shape that weigh 510, 545 and 575 grains. The bullets are extruded from lead slugs and individually weighed and inspected. The weight is held to a tolerance of plus or minus 2 1/2 grains, and the bullets are packaged in a top and bottom styrofoam tray in a cardboard box of 50.

I selected 10 bullets from each size and weighed them on a Hornady electronic scale. The average weight of the 10 510-grain bullets was 509.2. The heaviest bullet weighed 509.4 grains and the lightest 509.1. The 545 grainers weighed an average of 544.1 grains. The heaviest was 544.2 grains and the lightest 544.1. The 575-grain bullets weighed an average of 574.2 grains. The heaviest bullet weighed 574.4 grains and the lightest 574.1.

As measured on a horseshoe micrometer, the diameter of the base of the 510 grainers was .4595 inch, the 545 grainers were .460 inch, and the 575s were .459 inch. The bullets all have the same number and length of grease grooves. The extra weight goes into the nose of the semispitzer shape. The grease grooves are wide and deep to hold plenty of lubricant and will allow the use of a lightly compressed 65 to 70 grains of Goex Cartridge black powder in an average .45-70 case.

I assembled 10 rounds of each bullet weight for a preliminary test. Fully resized, nickel-plated Remington cases were charged with 65 grains of Cartridge powder and lightly compressed. The bullets were hand-lubed with Lee Shaver Black Powder Moly Lube, seated over a Walters vegetable-fiber wad with Lee Precision dies and ignited by Winchester Large Rifle Magnum primers. The seating stem in the dies didn't fit the profile of the bullet's nose. A temporary fix was done by dropping a blob of hot glue in the seater stem and pressing a bullet nose into it.

It was a cold, dreary, overcast day at the range--a good day--and without wind. I used an 1878 Sharps Borchardt Mid-Range rifle for the test. The largest five-shot, 100-yard group delivered by the two lighter bullets was 1 5/8 inches. The best group, delivered by the 545s, was just one inch with three of the five going into a half-inch. My Mid-Range Sharps has a 1-turn-in-20 twist, and I didn't expect it to shoot the 575s well. They didn't. They delivered a 2 3/4-inch group. Frankly, that only looks bad next to the one-inch group. Three breaths were blown through a blow tube to keep the powder fouling soft, and a dry patch was pushed through the bore after every five shots.

It'll be a pleasure shooting the 510s and 545s at longer range. With the price of lead what it is and the time involved in casting, weighing and lubing, the $22 per box of 50 doesn't seem too expensive. The 575s are two bucks more per box. Contact Buffalo Arms Co..


New from Black Hills Ammo is a Cowboy Action load in .38-55 that features a .377-inch, 255-grain, moly-coated lead bullet. The unusual lead bullet is from Bear Creek bullets and has no grease grooves as would a conventional cast bullet. They are not necessary because of Bear Creek's special moly lube. Black Hills chose the .377-inch-diameter bullet in order to fit the widest possible range of barrels. Older rifles in .38-55 may have groove dimensions ranging from .375 to .383 inch. It is almost impossible to get barrels with the widest grooves to shoot well unless black powder or breech seating is employed. The Bear Creek bullets are cast soft enough to obdurate in larger barrels yet little leading will occur due to the moly coating.

The rifle used in this test is a vintage Marlin 1893 carbine with a 20-inch barrel. Although Marlin barrels were notoriously large during the black-powder era, this one is made for smokeless powder and has a groove diameter of .375 inch. Accuracy was quite good; the best group was 2 1⁄4 inches at 100 yards, and the average was just greater than 2 1⁄2 inches. The load was faster than anticipated and averaged 1,365 fps for five shots over the Competition Electronics Pro Chrono chronograph. Even though the Bear Creek bullets are a little soft, cleanup was minimal, and no leading occurred during the 50-round test.

CHRONOGRAPH RESULTS: Marlin 1893 Carbine
Black Hills Cowboy .38-551,3811,3561,365259

Bear Creek bullets for the .38-55 are available to handloaders moly-lubed and sized to either .377, .378, .379 or .380 inch as well. According to Bear Creek, the firm's bullets work well at velocities up to 1,800 fps, which makes them suitable for hunting as well as target shooting. Rifle calibers include .30, .32, .38, .40, .43, .44 and .45 as well as most popular handgun bullets.

Contact Black Hills Ammunition for more information on loaded ammunition, and contact Bear Creek Supply for more information on bullets for reloading.

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