October 21, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
Bullet pulling takes many forms. All remove projectiles from cartridges that weren’t correctly loaded. Some damage bullets, rendering them impractical to handload and shoot. Others inflict little to no scars, leaving them still suitable for duty. Why would one want to pull bullets from perfectly good ammo? Powder charges go over or go under. Overworked, brittle case necks crack when bullets are seated. Handloads optimistically created sometimes don’t shoot nearly as well as we’d hoped. Usually, however, a propellant charge that went wrong is the culprit.
I used to pull all bullets with an inertia or hammer-type puller that captures bullets in its hollow head. It’s a lot of work, and it often damages the bullet’s tip. I finally broke that tool. I replaced the broken “unloading sledgehammer” with a Pow’r Pull kit from RCBS, and I also obtained an RCBS collet-type standard bullet puller. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The hammer-type Pow’r Pull is simple and intuitive. It’s also noisy and sometimes inflicts damage on the bullet being pulled. There is no such thing as setup. You can grab it off the shelf and pull an individual bullet in seconds. Best of all, it’s cheap; $30 bucks gets you into the bullet-pulling business.
To use, simply select the appropriate case-holding chuck from the three included. The three cover all sporting cartridge sizes. Slide the cartridge into the chuck until it engages the extraction groove around the case head. Drop the cartridge nose-first into the hollow reservoir inside the hammer’s head. Screw on the plastic cap that secures the cartridge in place. Now comes the fun—and tiring—part. Whack the nose of the Pow’r Pull on a concrete floor or block. I have a slice of granite that was accidentally broken by a headstone carver, and it makes a great bench-top pounding surface. Inertia will cause the bullet to move forward in the case mouth every time the hammer comes to an abrupt stop.
Most cartridges relinquish their bullet with just two or three whacks. Stubborn cartridges that were aggressively crimped or perhaps were sealed with a moisture inhibitor may require you to clobber the floor underfoot as diligently as if you’re the Count of Monte Cristo attempting to escape Chateau d’If. If you’re doing a complete batch of stubborn moisture-sealed bullets, consider setting up your seating die and seating the bullets about five thousandths deeper to break the seal. This, by the way, is helpful with any type of bullet puller.
It can help with crimped bullets, too, but unfortunately, it only works with some types of crimp. Traditional bullets with a rolled-in crimping groove with tiny serrations inside may benefit. Modern monometal bullets with a square-bottomed crimping groove milled into the shank won’t allow the case mouth to ski up the other side of the groove, and you’ll just collapse the walls of your cartridge case. When the bullet comes loose, it slams to the far end of the catch reservoir inside the hammer head. If the supplied foam plug is in place, the bullet may suffer little to no damage. If it’s not, the bullet’s tip is usually distorted.
I’m just OCD enough to be suspicious of any bullet that’s been pulled. A lot of forces have been at play as it was seated, possibly crimped, and now kinetically yanked from its happy place. That makes me think some distortion has occurred, so I set pulled bullets aside for practice. Spin the cap off the kinetic puller, lift the now-empty cartridge case out, and dump the gunpowder and bullet out into a catch basin. Preserve both for practice loads. That’s it. Before moving on to collet-type, press-mounted bullet pullers, it’s worth noting that these hammer-type, inertia-functioned bullet pullers work well with non-jacketed, all-lead bullets. Collet-type pullers don’t.
Collet-type pullers screw into the top of your single-stage reloading press. Collets are specific to caliber, and the appropriate size must be installed before beginning. You’ll also need a caliber-appropriate shell holder in your press. As such, there’s a bit of setup required before going to work with your collet-empowered bullet puller. Also, when set up and in action, the bullet puller monopolizes your press. Collet-powered bullet pullers do cost more than the kinetic sort. The actual bullet puller body is $29, and you'll need to shell out $15 for a collet collet for every individual caliber you anticipate needing to pull.
Please note I use the term “caliber” in its correct meaning. A .30 caliber collet will serve anything from .300 BLK to .30-378 Wby. Mag. Yep, your .30-30, .308 and .30-06 all fall in that realm. Same goes for the other collets, including, of course, the metric designations. For example, a 6.5mm collet will serve anything from 6.5 Grendel up through the .260 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5-284, 6.5 PRC and so on. If you have a lot of diameters you work with, you might consider RCBS 's bullet puller kit costs $100 and comes with the bullet puller along with collets for .22, .243, .257, 6.5mm, .277 and .308 diameters.
Kits vs. Individual Puller
Whether you go the individual puller/collet route or the kit, you’ll also need an appropriate shellholder for each individual cartridge you may want to pull bullets from. But of course if you’re the one who loaded the round, you already have the correct shellholder. Once set up, collet-type bullet pullers are much faster than inertia pullers. Place a cartridge in the shell holder and work the press handle to run the nose of the bullet inside the collet. And since collet bases are generally flush with the bottom of the bullet puller die, you can see what you’re doing.
Tighten the collet around the bullet by turning the lever atop the bullet puller. Once it’s snug, give the handle of your press a sharp tug or rap, pulling the case downward off the bullet. Loosen the collet lever, catching the bullet as it falls free. If it sticks inside, give the collet a light rap with a hardwood dowel. Remove the cartridge case and dump the powder into a container.
Unlike the hammer-type puller, collet-type bullet pullers are not compatible with non-jacketed bullets. The collet distorts such bullets when tightened down and often fails to grip enough to pull it out. This can even occur with projectiles that have a lot of exposed lead at the tip, such as the half-jacketed hollowpoint bullets popular with .357 Magnum shooters.
So what comes next? As mentioned, I consider pulled bullets to be “seconds” of a sort. Good for practice but not worth trusting a hunt or an important match to. As for the cases, although you can sometimes get away with just installing bullets back into them, it’s far better to resize them before reloading. Simply remove the de-priming pin from your sizing die and run the cases quickly through to compress and true up the necks before recharging and seating fresh bullets in them.