04 Mar

Hard cast lead bullets and the reloading manuals


Recently we have been asked about furnishing load data for our cast bullets.  We can’t furnish load data for several reasons and number one is we don’t have the equipment necessary to test loads. 

The main reason for customers asking was that one of our bullets didn’t exactly match the bullets listed in a loading manual.  We can probably share some experience in what we have done when faced with this issue.  We’ll start with examining some load data from three different manuals for a lead bullet of the same weight.  A 200 grain, 45 caliber lead bullet will be what we are looking at.


Bullet style

Sized diameter

Cartridge overall


Powder type

Starting load

Velocity of starting load

Maximum load

Velocity of maximum load

Modern Reloading Second edition by Richard Lee

Not specified




4.0 grains


4.0 grains

790 fps

Handbook of Cartridge Reloading 7th edition Hornady

Semi-waddcuter Hornady lead bullet




4.6 grains

800 fps

6.3 grains

1000 fps

Lyman Reloading Handbook 49th edition

Semi-waddcuter one grease groove bevel base




4.9 grains

840 fps

6.0 grains

909 fps

Lyman Reloading Handbook 49th edition

Semi-waddcuter 2 grease groove flat base




3.5 grains

645 fps

5.6 grains

869 fps


Lyman furnished the groove diameter of the test barrel at .450.  No other manual mentions this.  Hornady does not have a grease groove instead has their cross-hatch design on the riding surface.  Hornady and Lee don’t mention the bullet alloy, Lyman calls out a #2 alloy and define it as a 5/5/90.  This means 5% tin, 5% antimony, 90% lead, it is cost prohibitive to even purchase an alloy with that much tin.  They don’t all use the same brass, primers or powder lot for testing.  The atmospheric pressure and humidity in the ballistic lab isn’t listed either.  No one gives the amount of riding surface on the bullet or the bullet overall length.  In Hornady’s manual, velocity increases in 50 fps increments so I am sure they are rounded off.   I am sure there are other variables that factor in that we are leaving out too.

Let’s examine what we have, nothing is the same for anything listed in the table except the type of powder!  We fully appreciate how this can be confusing to someone just starting to reload.  Ok, with that said here is how I would approach this.  First look at the factors that could cause the starting powder load to vary.  The most two most obvious are the sized diameter and the overall length which is an indication of the seating depth of the bullet assuming they are the same length.  Here we can find some correlation as the shorter the overall length the lighter the starting load.  I also notice the Lee bullet that is sized larger has a lower starting load.  Now we are making progress!

We need to determine what the overall length of our loaded round will be.  With our hard cast lead bullets we generally like to leave the shoulder of the semi wadcutter above the case a little bit.  We feel it feeds a little more reliable this way.  Load a dummy round, no powder or primer, and determine that it will fit in the magazine and feed from the magazine without issue.  When you have determined that it’s ok, measure the overall length of the cartridge.  Hypothetically let’s say it measured 1.220 inches and our bore slugged at .450.  Since we size our hard cast lead bullets at .452 which could raise the pressure a little from the loads using bullets sized at .451, I would use the load data from the Hornady manual for a starting load.  We are a little bit longer than their load but we are using a cast bullet of a slightly larger diameter.  If the bore of our gun slugged at .448, instead of .450, I would use the starting load listed in the Lee manual or at least split the difference between the two starting loads and start at 4.3 grains. 

Since we have made the decision on the overall length and starting load I would load 5 rounds and test fire them at the range.  After firing the first round, carefully inspect it for signs of excess pressure.  If none are found I would shoot the remaining four of them across the chronograph.  If you see signs of excess pressure don’t shoot the remaining loads, go home and pull the bullets.

When you see the actual feet per second you can see how it compares to the manuals.  If it is notably lower you can probably safely increase the powder charge.  Velocity being lower is not a free pass to forget shooting one round and inspecting it for pressure signs if you increase the powder charge of the next loaded rounds.  If your measured velocity is greater than the manual for the same powder charge and you feel you need to increase the powder charge this is a clear warning you need to proceed with caution.  800 fps is a good velocity for the 1911 as it does not beat the slide to death.  There is no way I would work a load up to 1000 fps and expect my gun to have a long life.  Again I stop when I have good accuracy and reasonable velocity.  In my opinion it is unnecessary to push the limits on pressure just for the sake of doing so. 

These manuals are only a reference for the reloader.  They don’t know everything the reloader is doing and can’t duplicate every situation.  If you are new to reloading you should carefully follow the manual.  In fact you should try to duplicate an exact load shown in a manual.  This means the same bullet, brass, primer, powder and shoot it thru a barrel of the same length as their test gun.  The purpose of doing this is to find out how much variance there is between your results and theirs.  It will also build your confidence in your ability to reload.  Once you gain some experience and understand your results may vary and understand the variance you will be ready to reload with cast bullets and enjoy better accuracy and the more economical shooting they provide over factory loaded ammo.

Warning:  Any content and data contained in this article is for informational purposes only.  Always consult recognized reloading manuals for load data.  Any load data or testing by Central Plains Enterprises, LLC is not an approval, endorsement or suggestion for readers to attempt to replicate.  We disclaim any and all responsibility, implied or expressed, for any person using data mentioned or replicating testing done by us.