BLACK POWDER CARTRIDGE RIFLES

RELOADING & SHOOTING

TECHNIQUES, TOOLS, SETUP, AND THOUGHTS

Latest Revision: 12/17/2004

Clarence A. Dykstra

Legal Disclaimer:  The information presented within this document represented the author's experience.  Techniques and loadings were safe on the dates and in the rifles performed by the author.  However, since the author has no control over how this information is used by another individual, all information presented only for use entirely at the discretion and risk of the user.  Users are responsible for utilizing currently-available, commercial information to assure yourself of the safety of each and aspect of reloading technique.  The author accepts no legal responsibility, either expressed or implied, for this information.  
Table of Contents

Chapter I:   Introduction        3

Chapter II:  Bullet Selection for Matches/Hunting     4

Chapter III: Cases and Case Preparation      5

Selecting and Purchasing Cases     5

Annealing Cases       5

New Case Preparation       6

Resizing Cases       6

Loading Un-sized Cases      7

Expanding Cases       7

Case Forming        8

Chapter IV:  Re-Loading Black Powder Cast Bullet Ammunition   9

Primers and Priming       9

Powder Selection       9

Powder Measure Setting and Powder Measurement   10

Chapter V:  Load Development       12

Compression Die Setting and Use     13

Bullet Lubes        13

Bullet Seating        14

Shooting Cast Bullets       15

Chapter VI:  Shooting Black Powder Rifles      17

Shooting Sharps Rifles      17

Shooting Rolling Block Rifles     18

Shooting Ballards       19

Shooting High Walls       19

Chapter VII:  Shooting Black Powder Cartridges     20

Chapter VIII: Rifle and Cartridge Case Care      21

Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Care     21

Cartridge Case Care       21

Appendix A:  Cartridge Calculations       23

Appendix B: Sources of Information, Equipment, Supplies    24

Appendix C: Casting Lead Bullets       25

Appendix D:  Smokeless Powder Loading      28

Chapter I

Introduction

This is a compendium of techniques I've learned from a lot of reading and experience since 1990, when I first began loading black powder cartridges and shooting in Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette competition.  Most of my testing in those days was at 100-200 yards.  Around 1995, I began sponsoring Black Powder Target matches at Baton Rouge, LA, where we shot offhand, sitting from cross sticks, and prone from cross sticks at 200 yards.  When that range closed a couple of years later, we moved the matches to Bogue Chitto, MS, where we continue to shoot.  We shoot the regulation course of offhand at 200 yards, sitting from cross-sticks at 300 yards, and prone at 600 yards.  I also shoot silhouettes at Pascagoula, MS.  Over the years, I have shot in 8 Montana State BPCR Silhouette championship matches, the precursor of the Quigley match, 2 years of monthly BPCR silhouette matches at Friendship, IN, several buffalo shoots at Boaz, KY, and five National Championships at Raton, New Mexico.  Once I began shooting at the longer ranges, I found I enjoyed it more than shooting at the shorter ranges.  I have been fortunate to have access to the longer ranges and have not shot reduced range matches since then.  I have access to a private 300-yard range, and several of my rifles have never been tested at shorter distances.

During the time I've been shooting BPCR, I have used these rifles:

The primary purpose of this article is to help the newcomer to the BPCR sport quickly learn techniques that have worked for me in loading .40 and .45 caliber match ammunition using black powder and cast bullets.  The techniques I describe are not the only ways to make BPCR rifles shoot well.  Other experienced shooters advocate and successfully use significantly different practices.  Readers are advised to experiment and find methods that work for them.

For those who might be interested in shooting with smokeless powder, I have included some information in Appendix E.  The techniques I discuss will work for both match ammunition for target shooters and accurate hunting ammunition.


Chapter II

Bullet Selection for Match/Hunting Ammunition

The characteristics of accurate hunting ammunition and match ammunition are the same.  The only difference between hunting and match ammunition is that heavier bullets work better at the longer ranges utilized for matches.  For instance, when shooting the .45-70, Mike Venturino found that the 400 grain bullets consistently shot better at 100 yards, but that the 500 grain bullets shot better at 200 yards and longer.  From the bench at 200 yards, it is possible to consistently get 3-4 inch groups with the heavier bullets, while the groups with 400 grain bullets usually run around an inch larger, still plenty accurate for hunting.  In competition with the various .45 caliber rifles, some people will use ~400 grain bullets on the chickens at 219 yards, but you'll seldom see anyone shooting anything lighter than 500 grains beyond that range, and most people are using 525-545 grain bullets.  In the 40 calibers, bullets run approximately 100 grains lighter, with most target shooters using 400-420 grain bullets.

The goal of the target shooter is to develop a load that uses a ballistically efficient bullet and produces excellent accuracy at the longest anticipated range.  Within limits, velocity is not of primary importance because sight adjustments can compensate for velocity, but consistent velocity becomes extremely important at longer ranges (400-1000 yards). Bullets best suited for match ammunition are generally variations on a streamlined round-nose design.  Black powder bullets generally have supersonic muzzle velocities, but spend much of their travel to the target in the flow regime generally termed transonic, meaning the range from ~800-1150 feet per second.  In this range, bullets of the general shape of the original Lyman Postell, the Paul Jones Creedmoor, or modified Gunn design exhibit the highest ballistic coefficients.  (Their shape is not unlike the nose of a modern airliner that spends most of its flying time in the same speed range.)  Ballistic coefficients for these bullets generally improve by as much as 10% as velocity falls into the transonic range.  Spitzer or semi-spitzer bullets, on the other hand, have ballistic coefficients that decrease by ~10-15% as they enter the transonic range.  My experience with both kinds of bullets indicates that trajectories of streamlined round-nose bullets can be accurately predicted by most ballistic software, while the spitzer bullets exhibit increased drop and wind deflection at long range.  I have noticed that this begins around 400 yards, which an additional 3-5 MOA of elevation required by 550-600 yards when compared to the round nose bullets.

With hunting bullets, performance on game is the primary consideration. A clean kill is more important than a slightly flatter trajectory, since the maximum range for hunting should be limited to a maximum of 200 yards, and that only under ideal conditions.  At this relatively slow velocity, the shocking power of a bullet is primarily due to a large flat point (meplat).   This produces shock that sickens an animal and allows for a second shot, should the first shot not be immediately fatal.  The round-nose bullet has very little shocking power, and often produces no visible evidence of a hit.  According to Steve Garbe, an extra 100-200 feet per second of velocity make a substantial increase in shock.  The goal of the hunter is to develop a load using a flat-nose bullet as fast as feasible (this often means using FFFg powder) that produces good accuracy to 200 yards, and then to place that bullet accurately.


Chapter III

Cases and Case Preparation

Throughout the discussion, I make the assumption that the reader is beginning with either cleaned fired brass or new brass.  Resizing is discussed in the section on cases and case preparation.

Selecting and Purchasing Cases

In the .45-70 and .40-65, Winchester, Remington, and Starline cases all work well (Winchester and Remington .40-65's are either formed from .45-70's in a sizing die or purchased from Buffalo Arms already formed), and serious competitors use them all.  Winchesters have the largest capacity, around 3 grains more than Remington and 4 grains more than Starline.  I've always used Winchester cases.

In the .45-90 and .45-100 calibers, Starline cases are very good.  Norma makes very consistent basic brass in .45-110 that can be trimmed to either .45-100 or .45-90.  Buffalo Arms makes cases for the longer .45's, .44's, 40's, and most other unusual BPCR cartridges by stretching and reforming commercial brass.  Their brass has a good reputation and is widely used.   Bertram Brass (made in Australia) is used by shooters in some less common calibers as well.  Most BPCR cartridges can be made from either the .44 basic, .45-70/.45 basic, or .40-70 Sharps Straight basic brass.

Regardless of the brand of case chosen, I'd suggest that you buy at least 100-250 cases (the maximum you expect to need loaded at one time) from the same lot, weigh them and separate the few that are a lot heavier or lighter than the rest, and them keep them segregated.  It takes 350-400 rounds to shoot silhouettes and mid-range at Raton, including practice and getting sight settings, so I have 400 cartridges for my favorite match rifle, a .45-70 Ballard.

Annealing Cases

I have never annealed .45-70 cases.  Most shooters indicate that .40-65 cases formed from .45-70 benefit from annealing, but I have not done so.  I have not found either Bertram brass or Buffalo Arms brass hard enough to require annealing.  I understand the Norma basic brass does not require annealing.

By contrast, Starline brass, particularly in .45-90 and .45-100, generally requires annealing because they are excessively hard as purchased.  

To anneal cases, I set up using a medium propane torch flame in a darkened room, with a bucket of cold water on the floor between my legs.  I turn a cartridge case in my hand while playing the torch flame ~½” from the end.  After a few seconds, the case will begin to change colors, becoming dull red at the end.  At about the same time, a line will appear ¾-1” from the end of the case.  When this happens, I immediately drop the case into a can of cold water.  (This quenches the brass, keeping it soft.)  If the flame is adjusted properly, the case will begin to warm at the base, where I am holding it, just as the color change occurs.  If the case gets too warm to hold before it changes color, drop it into the water.  Getting the base hotter than this will soften it excessively.  The goal is to maintain a hard base and only soften the front inch or so.

Some very good shooters anneal cases either every several firings or sometimes after every firing.  They say it gives them very consistent neck tension, lower velocity variations, and better accuracy.  

New Case Preparation

Except for some basis brass, new cases come sized, so all you need to do is chamfer and expand the necks.  You'll need a chamfering tool.  A couple of turns inside and out are all it takes to do the job.  I like the Lyman VLD chamfering tool for inside the necks; the new Paul Jones tool is also very nice.  I use a standard tool available from a number of suppliers for chamfering the outside.  The goal is a slight chamfer on the inside and merely removal of the sharp edge from the outside.  

New .45-70 cases usually run 2.085-2.090”, and I don't bother to trim them until they have been fire-formed and stretch enough to need it.  I have some that have been shot 30 times or more and never trimmed.  .45-70 cases generally don't stretch if you have a good chamber, you don't size them excessively, and you shoot a dry chamber (no oil or water).

The time to measure cases and trim if necessary is after sizing, as that is when they are longest.  I generally trim cases 0.005” shorter than the nominal cartridge length.  The exception is .43 Spanish, where I have the chamber length of my rifles to be significantly longer than indicated by most references.  In this case, I make a chamber cast with Cerrosafe, measure the chamber length, and trim 0.005-0.010” shorter than the length.  If you are uncertain of your chamber length or have problems developing a good load, I suggest you do the same.

Some shooters use benchrest-style tools to uniform their cartridge case primer pockets and flash holes.  I do it for most rifles, but have seen no definitive evidence from my shooting that it makes a significant difference in accuracy.

Resizing Cases

Fired cases generally need to be sized.  However, if you size them per the instructions with your dies, you'll work them far too much and shorten case life.  I set the sizing die by turning it down until it touches the shell holder with the ram at the top of its travel.  I then turn it back out 4 turns.  Lube a few cases sparingly.  I use a spray lube from Dillon, but any of the lubes will work, and you can use a light oil in a pinch if you don't get it on the inside of the case and clean it off thoroughly.  You'll want to use a very thin coat of lube.  Size a few cartridges and measure the diameter ½” from the end.  If the diameter is ~0.476-0.478” for .45 calibers and ~0.426-0.428 for .40 calibers, you're sizing them adequately.  We'll check that a little later.

Alternately, a neck-sizing die can be used.  Lyman provides these at nominal cost.  They are designed to reduce neck diameters to the dimensions cited above for ~¾”.  I generally adjust these dies so they size ~0.5-0.6” of the case neck.

When you have the neck-sizing or full length-sizing die set for the right amount of sizing, lock the die ring set screw tight so you get consistent sizing for subsequent reloading.  

Loading Un-sized Cases

Some people load match ammo without sizing cases.  This can work well when the chamber is fairly tight.  Generally, shooters run the cases through the expander die before beginning to reload to ensure the neck is round and bullets can be started without shaving lead.  For most chambers, bullets can be seated by hand after compressing the powder to the desired level.  Some shooters apply a light crimp with either a bullet-seating die with the seater plug removed or a partial sizing using a full length-sizing die to make sure the bullet does not fall out of the case.

I have done this successfully in the .40-65, but it requires that the bullet be firmly touching the rifling or a crimp be applied to ensure constant ignition.  Bullets loaded to a shorter length generally give erratic accuracy.  

Expanding Cases

The purpose of the expander die is to increase the neck diameter until it is 0.002-0.004” smaller than the bullet diameter and to flare the end of the neck so that the bullet can be seated without shaving lead from the edges.  I like to set the die so it rests on the shell holder with the ram at the top of its travel.  Lock the die ring set screw tight so the nut doesn't turn and the die comes back to the same position every time.  Back out the expander plug quite a ways and use the cartridges you sized earlier to set it, bringing it down a bit at a time.  The expander plug supplied with .45 caliber die sets is generally 0.454-0.455” and then has a flare at the top to open the end of the case neck.  You want to turn down the plug just far enough so that the flared section just touches the case neck and about half the lowest driving band of bullet fits into the case.  That keeps the case from shaving lead from the bullet.  It's easy to overdo the flare, and that will eventually cause cracking at the end of the case neck.  When you have everything set the way you want it, lock the expander plug jam nut in place so it doesn't move.  

Here's the way I check my sizing die setting.  Using fired cases, size and expand a few cases as directed, and then look inside the case.  As I look into the case, I like to see the expander plug touching no more than the last ½”.  Any more is too much sizing, unless cartridges become hard to chamber.  If they do, it may be necessary to occasionally size cases by progressively turning the sizing die down until cases again chamber freely.  

The ideal expander plug size for .45 calibers is probably 0.457”.  The brass springs back around 0.001”, so that gives a diameter of ~0.456”.  That gives you just 0.002-0.003” interference (depending on whether your bullet is 0.458” or 0.459”) and that's about the right amount of bullet tension for consistent powder burn and best accuracy.  For  .40 calibers, the ideal expander plug size is probably 0.408”.  That gives 0.003” interference after springback with a 0.410” bullet diameter.  That's where the custom expander plug from Buffalo Arms (a cost of $16) comes in.  You can get them in any diameter you want.  My .45 expander plug is 0.457-0.462” (my .40 expander plug is 0.408-0.412”).  The first diameter is the expander, and then there is a very gentle taper to the second diameter.  The gentle taper makes the plug setting much less sensitive than the expander die provided with most die sets.  

Case Forming

To form .40-65 cases from .45-70, I first run the cases through a .45-70 expander to assure that the case ends are perfectly round.  If this is not done, an occasional case neck will collapse during forming.  I use a small amount of good lube such as Imperial sizing wax or GAR case forming lubricant to lubricate each case.  You want to use a very small amount that just thinly coats the case but not enough to cause dents in the middle of the case.  I form the cases in one step, screwing the sizing die down until it touches the shell holder when the die ram is at the top of its stroke.  Others use a two- or three-step process and redistribute the lube between steps.  With a good lube and careful technique, I rarely lose cartridge cases while forming.  Brass stretches in forming; therefore, it will be necessary to trim to length before loading.  This technique will work equally well for other calibers, including forming .43 Spanish from .44 basic brass.  

One problem occasionally experienced with forming .40-65 in full-length sizing dies is that the trimmed cases will not quite enter the chamber.  There are several ways to solve this problem.  One can purchase a .40-65 form die, although it is expensive.  In this case, I use a second form step, after trimming and chamfering the cases.  In some cases, it is possible to insert an automotive feeler gauge beneath the case in the shell holder to move the case upward a few thousandths of an inch and solve the problem.  Alternately, the bottom of the sizing die can be shortened by ~0.015” or the top of the shell holder can be thinned by the same amount.  A third method is to use a .223 or similar small shell holder to push the cases slightly further into the die and then use a punch or threaded rod to pop them out of the die.  In this case, you need to back the sizing die out so that it is 0.125” above the shell holder when the ram is at the top of its travel and then turn it down a few thousandths at a time until the cases will just enter the chamber without resistance (after being trimmed to length).  This extra step is only done when initially forming the cases.


Chapter IV

Re-Loading Black Powder Cast Bullet Ammunition

Primers and Priming

For black powder, I use Federal 215 Large Rifle Magnum primers.  I have heard that the new CCI Large Rifle benchrest primers work well for some people, but I haven't tried them.  Other types of primers may work, but these are by far the preferred primer for initial load development.  

Some shooters have gotten good results with pistol primers.  Since they are 0.010” shallower than rifle primers, some people (I am one of them) are concerned that they might be slammed forward by the firing pin and then back against the breech face by powder pressure, causing eventual damage if the breechblock is not adequately hardened.  This hasn't been proven to my knowledge, and some top-notch shooters, including Steve Garbe, use pistol primers almost exclusively.  I haven't found cases where pistol primers perform better in my rifles, so continue to use rifle primers.

Regardless of how you prime cases, you should wear safety glasses.  There is a lot of energy in a small package, and a primer detonation can definitely be hazardous to your eyesight.

It is possible to use the priming arm on your reloading press.  It's not quite as sensitive as the hand primers, but will work well.  Seat the primer at or just below the plane of the case rim and with the anvil seated in the bottom of the primer pocket, but not crush it while you do that.  You'll quickly get the feel for how to do it.  For Sharps, Rolling Blocks, and Remington Hepburn rifles that have no camming power to seat a cartridge, it is especially important that primers are seated below the plan of the case rim.

Most people eventually move to a hand primer.  I use the RCBS version because it holds 100 primers at a time but isolates the priming being seated from the rest for safety.  The Lee doesn't do that.  If you get a primer crosswise in the cartridge case, it is possible to have it detonate.  In the Lee tool, you can expect that to possibly detonate some of the other primers, while that isn't likely to happen with the RCBS.  If you buy the RCBS hand primer, don't get the version that uses the primers mounted in plastic strips, but the one with the circular disk to hold the primers.  They can be purchased for around $25.  Get a spare shell holder, because it is a pain to disassemble the priming tool after each priming session to remove the shell holders and use in your reloading press for the remainder of reloading operations.

Powder Selection

There are a number of black powders on the market today.  The most popular are GOEX and Swiss.  

GOEX is the successor to DuPont and the only black powder made in the US.  The types of GOEX appropriate for .45-70 are FFg, Cartridge, and FFFg.  Cartridge is FFg with additional tumbling and a graphite coating.  FFFg is smaller granules and will give higher velocities and pressures.  If you want a little more velocity for hunting, you may want to experiment with it.  GOEX used some bad charcoal in 1998, so you want to avoid powder older than 2001.  On the bottom of the can, you'll see a stamped two-line designation.  The first line is something like “02-04”.  02 means FFg, and 04 is the lot number.  The second line is something like “02FE04B”.  The first digits are the year (you want 01 or later), the letters are the month, the next two digits are the day, and the last letter is the shift (A for day, B for afternoon, C for night).

Swiss powder is rapidly growing in popularity because it generally gives a little more velocity, a little less fouling, and is more consistent from lot to lot than GOEX.  It also flows more consistently through a measure, since it is more highly finished and coated than GOEX.

You can expect to pay $12-15 per pound of GOEX in a sporting goods store.  I've never seen Swiss in a store, but $18-20+ is a guess.  Bought in case lots (25 pounds), GOEX costs ~$9-10 delivered (~$225-$250/case) including Hazmat fees.  Swiss runs $15-16 ($375-400/case).  If you order black powder, it must be shipped a full case at a time, although most suppliers will allow you to make a mixed case of different granulations and brands that they carry.  You must also pay a HAZMAT fee that runs $15-20 per shipment, so smaller quantities would be very expensive per pound.

I suggest you begin with GOEX FFg, since that's the most popular grade and you'll probably be able to find it easiest in local sporting goods stores.  Get several pounds at a time so you don't need to switch to new lots, with a little different performance, quite as often.  As you get more involved, you can try other granulations and brands and purchase larger quantities.

Powder Measure Setting and Powder Measurement

Black powder is loaded by volume rather than weight.  I've tried weighing it versus using charges as thrown, and simply can't see any difference.  I seldom weigh black powder charges, and only do so I can tell people how much powder I'm using.  

There are a lot of ways of charging black powder, and all of them seem to work for some people.  Here is my method, which attempts to minimize variables.  This is the same basic method used by Dave Gullo (owner of Buffalo Arms, who uses a Lyman 55), who believes charging powder volumetrically produces accuracy equal to weighed charges out to 1000 yards and has won numerous matches using this method.  Caution: measure manufacturer advise against using any measure than the Lyman 55 Classic, so you're on your own if you follow this advice.

I use an RCBS measure mounted on the flat plate supplied with it.  I insert a .17 caliber screw-in funnel made by RCBS into the bottom of the powder measure.  I made a support for a drop tube from a piece of ¾” thick oak, with another piece screwed on top of it for some clearance between the flat plate and the bottom of the funnel.  Adjust the powder measure position on the flat plate until the .17 caliber funnel ends just above the lower board on the oak jig.  Set the measure onto the oak jig, with the funnel immediately over the hole in the jig.  Cut off an aluminum arrow around 24” long and de-burr inside and outside.  Bore a hole into the oak immediately under the funnel, split the oak, and use a ¼” carriage bolt with wing nut.  Place the arrow through the hole and tighten the wing nut to hold it in place.  Use some tape or a tight-fitting o-ring ¼” from the bottom end of the drop tube to limit cartridge case entry above the bottom of the drop tube.  Use a large c-clamp to attach the whole assembly to a table or bench at a convenient height.  Remember that you'll need to manipulate the measure and hold a cartridge case against the o-ring on the drop-tube at the same time.  Put something below the drop tube to catch stray powder, since you'll occasionally spill some (I do, almost every time I load).

If you load during periods of low humidity, particularly when accompanied by cold weather, you sometimes get a lot of static buildup.  While most sources would not predict any potential for static electricity setting off black powder, I attach a piece of wire to the drop tube and the measure and ground them to a water faucet.  Touching the measure or drop tube each time before a powder charge is dumped will assure that the static electricity is discharged.

Use a powder baffle to make the volume of powder that enters the measure more consistent as the level of powder in the reservoir changes.  Every time you use the measure, fill the reservoir with powder, throw around 10-15 charges to make sure everything has settled down, and then refill the measure and begin charging cases.  I refill the measure after no more than 25 charges as an additional way to promote consistency in volume charges.

Measure operation makes a big different in the amount of powder thrown.  I operate the measure so that I just feel the stops on either end rather than banging the handle against the stops.  I leave the measure cavity empty (adjustment screw up) until I have the cartridge case in place, slowly turn the handle until it touches the stop, and then reverse the action to drop the powder into the case.  I've done enough measuring to know that gives me the most consistent volumes.  If one charge feels different, I throw it back into the reservoir and start over.

The .17 caliber funnel serves the purpose of slowing the time for the powder to flow down the drop tube.  It takes around 1½ seconds for a typical .45-70 load to go through the funnel.  Having that happen the same every time eliminates a variable, in that powder dropped quickly one time and slowly another will give different heights of the powder column in the case.  I like to drop powder when it's quiet so I can hear it falling into the case.  The funnel occasionally bridges and holds the powder in the measure.  When that happens, I tap the side of the measure and it usually falls out.  Observe the height of the powder in each case as you put them back into the loading block.  Each should look identical.  If you're using a good consistent technique, most of the powder heights will be in a range of <0.020”.

I'll discuss adjusting the amount of powder in the section on load development.


Chapter V

Load Development

When loading black powder, you want to fill the case with enough powder that there is no air space when the bullet is seated.  In addition, the powder is usually compressed, and an over-powder wad is placed between the powder and the bullet to protect the bullet base.  This means that a compression die and some careful calculations are required to compress the powder to the point that the bullet just touches the over-powder wad when it is seated.

See Appendix A for a discussion on how to determine the seating depth for the bullet.  The procedure is to drop a charge of powder somewhat longer than the final distance desired, insert an over-powder wad above the powder with a dowel, and adjust the compression plug to give the desired distance.  

The over-powder wad is used to protect the base of the bullet from the hot powder gases.  Most shooters are using wads that are either 0.030” or 0.060” thick and made of either vegetable fiber or HDPE.  These are commercially available or can be cut by the shooter using either a wad punch struck by a hammer or one that mounts in a reloading press.  Wad material can be purchased from Buffalo Arms or other suppliers.

For .45 caliber cases, 1 grain of powder changes height in the case neck by ~0.025”.  For .40 caliber cases, 1 grain of powder changes height in the case neck by ~0.030”.

Developing an accurate load is an iterative process.  I begin with a trial bullet seating depth, and described in the next section, then calculate the powder height required to achieve the desired compression.  If that combination does not shoot to my satisfaction, I vary the bullet seating depth, recalculate, and try that combination.  When I find a combination that shoots reasonably well, I vary compression to find the best combination.  Always keep good records of combinations you've tried, and change only one variable at a time when experimenting.  It works great to load at a range while you're doing this!

Generally, GOEX powder needs to be compressed considerably in order to achieve consistent ignition and good accuracy.  My practice is to compress by somewhere around 0.200” as a starting point, and then increase compression if needed to get good accuracy.  I usually find a good load with 0.200-0.250” compression, but sometimes use up to 0.350” compression.  You need to do that in a compression die and a separate step, described below.  

Swiss powder generally shoots well with very little compression, somewhere in the 0.020-0.050” range.  That's little enough that compression is done with the bullet, and a separate compression die is not needed.  Some shooters believe that results in excessive cartridge run-out that decreases accuracy, but that has not been my experience.

Some shooters also report very good results with Swiss powder with higher compression, similar to GOEX.  I have not experimented with this much compression because the lower compression has always produced the results I want.

Compression Die Setting and Use

I set the compression die so it rests on the shell holder with the ram at the top of its travel.  Lock the die ring set screw tight so the nut doesn't turn and the die comes back to the same position every time.  Back out the compression plug quite a ways and use some cartridges filled with powder and an over-powder wad seated to the depth you calculate in Appendix A to adjust it, moving it down gradually until you establish the correct setting.  (Most compression dies have either 9/16x18 or 5/8x18 threads, which advance the die by 0.055” per revolution, so you can get close to a desired setting relatively quickly.)  When you have the desired setting, set the jam nut so that the setting does not change.

One caution-the compression plug diameter is within a few thousandths in diameter of the inside of the cartridge case.  When running a case into the compression die, it will be necessary to move slowly and carefully and probably to wiggle the case in order to get proper alignment.  Hurrying will result in a crumpled and ruined case neck.  

Bullet changes will require resetting the compression die, since they will have different driving section lengths.  If the compression is changed significantly, the compression height should be checked and may require a small adjustment to achieve the correct compression.  Changes in bullet seating depth also require resetting the compression die.

Bullet Lubes

Shooters experienced with shooting traditional muzzleloaders will generally reflect a belief that cleaning a rifle after shooting black powder is difficult.  However, when shooting a breech-loading rifle, bore care is much simpler because the barrel can be cleaned very similarly to a modern rifle.

Because black powder leaves a significant amount of fouling in a barrel after fouling, it requires care with each shot, unlike smokeless powder.  Shooters who began shooter BPC in the mid-1980's attempted to use modern techniques and found they did not work at all.  Any reasonable standard of accuracy was simply not achievable until the techniques used in the 19th century were researched and used.

The lube used with black powder must have the ability to keep the fouling reasonably soft.  Alox-based lubes and high temperature wax-based lubes that are successfully used with smokeless powder fail to do so, and so are not usable with black powder.  Instead, bullet lubricants similar to those used in the 19th century continue to be the most satisfactory.  The majority of those lubes used mixtures of beeswax and oils readily available at the time.  Sperm oil was a favorite.  Some more sophisticated mixtures used various soaps or graphite dispersions in addition to the beeswax and oil.

John Hanson, who manages Ted Turner's buffalo operation in Nebraska, gave me a recipe for a lubricant that consists of ~60% (by volume) virgin yellow beeswax and ~40% pure neetsfoot oil.  (It is important to use genuine neetsfoot oil, rather than neetsfoot oil compound.)  Heat the beeswax in a double boiler or microwave oven until melted (note than any water in the oil will cause the mixture to erupt from the measuring cup used to melt it and make a real mess in the microwave oven) and then add the proper amount of neetsfoot oil.  I've used this lube was good success for 12-13 years.  It's very similar to SPG except it has more oil.  I believe SPG has too little oil to be effective when a barrel gets really hot, although it works well for silhouette shooting, when no more than 10 shots are usually fired before allowing the barrel to cool.

I know of three other lubes that give good results.  The first substitutes either Dexron Automatic Transmission Fluid or a light synthetic mineral oil such as aircraft turbine oil (both of which have many similar characteristics to the sperm oil used in the 19th century) for the neetsfoot oil.  (You will read that anything synthetic will not work with black powder, but there is quite a bit of experience disproving that theory.)  The second is a variation of the first lube, with a small amount of very fine molybdenum disulfide added.  The third is a lube that combines 50% beeswax, 25% neetsfoot oil, and 25% Murphy's Oil Soap.  The first two ingredients are mixed as above, and then the Murphy's Oil Soap is stirred slowly and carefully into the mixture while heating and stirring.  The mixture foams and partially saponifies (makes a soap).  The result is that, while the other beeswax-based lubes melt at around 130o, this lube melts at a higher temperature.  That's good in hot weather, because barrels can get a lot hotter than the lubes' melting points.  This lube is stickier and messier to use than the others, but works very well because the Murphy's Oil Soap helps keep fouling softer.

Some shooters use other types of oils, including olive oil, canola oil, and various types of synthetic oils, and even automotive oil in lighter weights (around SAE 10).  Some add additives, including anhydrous lanolin and Lubegard (a lubricant used in engine assembly), to enhance the properties of their lubricant.

After mixing a batch of lubricant, I pour the lube into a section of 1” PVC pipe sealed at the bottom, allow it to solidify, and push it out with a section of 1” dowel, cutting it into 4” pieces.  The resulting tubes of lube are stored in Zip-Lock bags and can be placed directly into the barrel of my Saeco lubrisizer.  Lyman or RCBS lubrisizers require a 3/8” dowel be mounted in the center of the pipe to create a center hole to accommodate their center screws.  This lube keeps fouling soft and easily removed.  The proportion can be varied to achieve desired consistency.  I generally size my 40 caliber bullets to 0.410” and my 45 caliber bullets to 0.459”.  Many Lyman moulds cast bullets smaller than, so the bullet is lubed but unsized.  Bullets may also be pan-lubed by placing them ½” apart from one another in a flat cake pan, preheating them at 150o in an oven, heating the lube and pouring it around them until all grease grooves are filled, allowing the lube to solidify, placing the pan in a freezer for 15-30 minutes, and then removing the bullets and lube cake from the pan, pushing each bullet out of the lube cake by the noses.  These bullets are fired without sizing.  

Bullet Seating

This is where the fun begins, because you get to see the results of all the hard work!

Before I begin to load a new bullet/rifle combination, I go through the following process to develop a starting place for bullet seating.  I place a bullet in the chamber of the rifle and use a pencil with eraser or a dowel to make sure it is square and touching the rifling.  Then I take a caliper and measure and record the distance from the rear face of the barrel to the base of the bullet.  I remove the bullet from the chamber (it may need a light bump from a cleaning rod inserted from the muzzle), measure the distance from the base of the bullet to the front of the section that enters the rifling (that's the front of the foremost groove diameter driving band, usually the band in front of the front grease groove) and record that distance.  I add the two distances together.  The resultant is the longest distance from the breech face (or the base of the cartridge case) to the rifling without pushing the bullet into the rifling (Appendix A).  This is important because rifles like the Remington Rolling Block, and Remington Hepburn have no camming ability to seat the bullet into the rifling.  Sharps rifles have limited camming ability because the top of the breechblock is rounded.  I record the resultant.  It will be the same distance for any bullet as long as bullet diameter is constant.

Set up the bullet-seating die by screwing it into the press unto it touches the shell holder with the ram all the way up; then back the die out one turn.  Leaving it down further than that crimps the case.  With black powder we don't generally want to apply a crimp (some hunters use a light crimp, and shooters who shoot using un-sized cases sometimes use a light crimp or taper the end of the cartridge case by running the loaded round partially into the sizing die.  If a crimp using the seating die is desired, just adjust the die downward carefully until the desired crimp is applied, remembering that the bullet seating punch needs to be moved upward by the same amount the die is moved downward to maintain the same overall cartridge length.  

Back the seating punch out so that you are sure it will give you a cartridge length longer than desired.  Take a cartridge (with black powder compressed in a compression die if compression is more than ~0.060”), set the bullet as squarely as possible into the neck, and run it into the seating die.  Verify that it is longer than desired, adjust the seating punch downward gradually until the cartridge is the desired length.  Check the length by verifying that the distance from the base of the cartridge case to the front of the driving section is the length calculated earlier.  Check the cartridge to make certain it chambers easily.  Then repeat the operation with several more cartridges to verify the settings.  Normally, the lengths will vary slightly depending on whether the bullet was seated to the correct depth in one step or several steps with small adjustments.

Different bullet seating depths may affect accuracy.  After initial shooting, you may wish to make up test quantities of ammunition, shortening or lengthening each batch in 0.010-0.020” increments, to determine the best length.

As you adjust bullet-seating depth, you will also need to adjust the powder compression die as described in Appendix A, and you may want to try different amounts of powder to determine its effect on accuracy.  

Shooting Cast Bullets

The use of jacketed bullets can smoothen the small imperfections and roughness and “break-in” a barrel for maximum accuracy very quickly.  Several barrel manufacturers recommend shooting jacketed bullets, cleaning after every round for the first 5-10 rounds and then cleaning after every 3-5 rounds until 50 rounds have been fired.  I followed this advice with my Lone Star Rolling Block (Badger barrel) until I got bored after shooting a one-hole group at 50 yards while cleaning between shots, figured the barrel was broken in, and shot a 3½” group at 200 yds.  I've shot similar groups out of my Shilohs first time out without any special break-in.  Shooters believe strongly in both methods.

Jacketed bullets leave a copper fouling that doesn't affect accuracy when they are used but can cause accuracy problems with cast bullets.  Therefore, the copper fouling should be removed before shooting cast bullets.  It is necessary to clean the barrel using a solvent designed to dissolve the copper fouling.   I like Shooter's Choice, since it is effective without being harsh.  Follow the directions for use.  I run a couple of patches with solvent and brush a couple of times to loosen powder fouling (rinse the brush immediately, since the solvent attacks the copper bristles).  Continue running wet patches through the barrel every 15 minutes until they no longer turn blue.  This indicates the copper has been removed. Dry the bore with several clean patches and use a good gun oil to protect the bore.

Most cast bullet loads at normal velocities for buffalo rifles do not lead, but leading can be an occasional problem.  A tight patch typically removes lead effectively.  Cleaning solvents specifically designed to remove lead can be used if a patch is unsuccessful.  Shooter's Choice makes a good one.


Chapter VI

Shooting Black Powder Cartridge Rifles

General

When delivered, BPCR rifles are lubed adequately, but require occasional lubrication to ensure good functioning.

Set triggers are generally not adjusted to my liking when rifles are delivered.  The trigger weight is too heavy, and there is significant over-travel before let-off.  I improve the pull by turning the screw in and testing the pull weight until the desired pull is reached.  The method I use is to adjust until the set trigger will no longer catch, and then back the screw out 1-2 turns.  While doing all this testing, use only the set triggers, and keep the hammer all the way down.  The set trigger setting should be tested at the lowest temperature at which the rifle will be used.  I have had to adjust triggers during a match in cold weather because they will not catch when I had initially set them in warmer weather.

Shooting Sharps Rifles  

Sharps rifles are generally equipped with double-set triggers.  

Lock removal requires following factory instructions exactly to avoid wood damage, and is best left for someone who has done the job earlier to demonstrate the technique the first time.  Moving parts in the lock should be lubricated sparingly with good gun oil.  I do not believe it is necessary to remove the lock oftener than every 3-5 years unless the rifle has been exposed to water, dust, or very extensive use.

The angled firing pin of the Sharps rifle presents a potential problem for breechblock damage.  After firing, the hammer rests on the transfer block and the firing pin continues to protrude from the breechblock face.  When the action is opened, a cam retracts the transfer block and allows the firing pin spring to retract the firing pin, but this does not occur until the breechblock has dropped slightly.  As a result, the firing pin is pushed upward against the breech face.  Over time, this can result in a burr developing on the firing pin and in the breech face at the top of the firing pin.  This burr scratches cartridge cases and can result in difficulty operating the action when it gets bad enough to prevent firing pin retraction.  Small burrs can be stoned flat but can become large enough to require breechblock replacement.  

The way to avoid this problem is for the Sharps shooter to train oneself to bring the hammer back to half-cock immediately after firing and before opening the action.  With a bit of practice this becomes second nature and the shooter does it unconsciously.  I failed to so this with one of my rifles and required a new breechblock after firing 2000 rounds.   Other Sharps rifles have been shot 3000-4000 times with no sign of a burr developing.

A drop of oil in the firing pin hole occasionally will keep the firing pin adequately lubed.  The firing pin transfer bar should be lubricated more frequently.  This can be done when the breechblock is removed for cleaning (with care to keep water out of the action during cleaning, removal for cleaning and lubrication once per year is adequate unless extremes mentioned above have occurred).  The sliding part at the right side of the block is the most critical.  The only misfire I've had with any BPCR in a match was with a Sharps that had not had the transfer bar lubed, a mistake I've not made since.

Removal of the breechblock was designed by Sharps to only require rotation and removal of the pin from the right side of the action.  However, the spring used to close the action has been strengthened to serve as a quasi-ejector for cases, and that makes the pin difficult to remove and even more difficult to align during re-installation.  Therefore, I recommend that the fore-end be removed and the screw holding the spring in place on the barrel be loosened to remove spring tension.  This permits easy removal and replacement of the pin and the action.  Both as the breech is removed and while apart, observe the relationship of the extractor to the block so that they can be reinstalled in proper relationship.  Trial and error will be required the first few times when reinstalling the block and extractor.

After firing, the sequence to ready a Sharps for firing again is: half-cock the hammer, open the action, remove the cartridge case, use the blow tube, chamber a loaded cartridge, close the action, cock the hammer, set the triggers, aim and fire.

Shooting Rolling Block Rifles

The Remington Rolling Block is probably the simplest of all the vintage BPCR actions and the least complicated to manage.  Typically, Remington rifles have single triggers, although single-set triggers were available on sporting rifles.  Double-set triggers were very rare.  Single-set and double-set triggers are available from custom smiths, and the Pedersoli John Bodine reproductions have double-set triggers.  I have no experience with set triggers on Rolling Blocks.

The Rolling Block trigger can be worked to a very good pull.  First, the trigger return spring should be only heavy enough to firmly seat the trigger against the sear.  The trigger return springs on the military actions are too heavy and contribute much of the very heavy trigger pull.  A spring made of ~0.045-0.049” piano wire, with a loop for the screw, bent in a shape similar to the original spring, and polished on the end provides adequate return pressure.  

The way to improve the let-off, in addition to stoning the sear surfaces, is to reduce the contact.  There are two ways to do this.  The easiest way is to stone the top of the trigger surface at an angle.  Do this carefully with repeated reassembly and testing, since going too far ruins the trigger by reducing the sear area to the point the sear engagement is too small and the trigger is so light as to be unreliable.  The more accepted way is to silver solder a shim, place a bead of weld from a TIG torch, or install a small piano wire pin to reduce sear engagement.  Generally, any of these three methods prevent the sear from engaging.  By trial and error, the high spot is stoned down until the sear engages, and then stoning continues until the trigger is reliable and breaks at the desired weight. I've had triggers prepared both ways, and either way can produce an excellent trigger.

A bit of lubricant in the firing pin hole occasionally and on the pins during assembly is about all that is required to keep the Rolling Block working flawlessly.

After firing, the sequence to ready a Remington Rolling Block for firing again is: cock the hammer, open the action, remove the cartridge case, use the blow tube, chamber a loaded cartridge, close the action, cock the hammer, (set the trigger if a set trigger), aim and fire.

Rolling Block disassembly is easy.  Loosen the screw holding the pin retainer and either rotate the retainer out of line of the pins or remove it.  If the action has an extractor retaining screw, remove it as well.  Cock the hammer, remove the front pin, and lift out the breechblock and extractor.  Let the hammer down gently, remove the rear pin, and lift out the hammer.  That's all there's to it.  Reassemble in reverse order.

Shooting Ballards

I believe the Ballard has the smoothest set trigger of any of the reproductions, and the originals had the same reputation.

Because the Ballard breechblock cams back as it drops, it is not necessary to half-cock the action before opening the breech.  It is very important not to attempt to open the breech of a Ballard when the hammer is cocked.  The hammer will catch on the back of the action, and continued attempts to open the action will damage or break the sear.

Ballard lock works are contained inside the breechblock, which is split.  Before you attempt to disassemble a Ballard breechblock, make sure you understand how to do it properly without damaging anything.  The firing pin can be removed after removing one screw.  A drop of oil on the firing pin occasionally is all the lubrication my Ballard has needed between major breechblock cleanings.

After firing, the sequence to ready a Ballard for firing again is: open the action, remove the cartridge case, use the blow tube, chamber a loaded cartridge, close the action, cock the hammer, set the triggers, aim and fire.

Shooting High Walls

Later

After firing, the sequence to ready a High Wall for firing again is: open the action, remove the cartridge case, use the blow tube, chamber a loaded cartridge, close the action, set the triggers, aim and fire.


Chapter VII

Shooting Black Powder Cartridges

This discussion assumes a clean and oily bore as a starting point.  Some shooters will run a dry patch through the bore and then begin shooting.  This normally causes the first shot to be 1-2 inches above the resulting group at 100 yards.  Some shooters believe that the first shot through a dry bore encourages leading, and pre-season their bores with a soft black powder bullet lube used for muzzleloaders or softened forms of their normal bullet lubes.  After some experimentation, I now dry only the chambers of my rifles and shoot the first shot through a lightly oiled bore.  I believe the oil protects against potential leading, although I've never had any significant problems with leading.  The first is normally just a bit high.

Just before I chamber each round, I use a blow tube to moisten the fouling with 3-4 breaths.  Failure to do this makes it impossible to chamber cartridges after 3 or 4 shots, since the fouling interferes with the bore-riding bullet nose.  A cartridge case with a piece of plastic tubing places the moist air at the throat, where it is needed most, and keeps the chamber dry to avoid case stretch.  The moisture from the breath softens the fouling for a short time, so the routine is to load, aim and fire within a minute of blowing.  Experiment-your rifle may require more breaths.

Using a good lube and blow tube, I find that I can fire my rifles all day without cleaning.  After finishing a shot string, I leave the action open.  On humid days, the fouling takes on a shiny, damp appearance.  On dry days (most days out west), the fouling looks dry and hard.  Just before the next shot string, I blow 6-10 breaths through the bore, and the fouling dampens and softens.  The first shot is typically right in the group.


Chapter VII

Rifle and Cartridge Case Care

Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Care

When I finish for the day, I blow through the barrel a few times and begin cleaning.  I prefer a one-piece rod, at least ¼” in diameter and preferably 5/16”.   I drill a case to slip over the rod and use it as a chamber guide so I don't rub the rod against the rifling.  I use a .40 or .45 caliber jag, as appropriate, with a thick 100% cotton flannel patch.  These can either be purchased or cut from yard goods (I make my patches 2¼” square).  I wet the patches with water with a bit of Murphy's Oil Soap added as a wetting agent (some shooters use Dove dish detergent) in a small spray bottle.  The first patch cleans out most of the black material.  The second has much less, and the 3rd to 5th patch is clean.  The last patch is used to wipe the lube and fouling from the muzzle, and then one or two dry patches dry the bore.  Finally, one patch with good moisture-displacing oil protects the bore until the next shooting session.  That patch is used to oil the muzzle, wipe the outside of the barrel and action, and target sights.  

I never use modern bore solvents or brushes in my bores.  I believe the bore gets seasoned with the wax and oil.  Of course, I never shoot smokeless powder in my rifles, either.

I'm not an advocate of removing breechblocks frequently.  I generally remove the breechblocks once per year if the rifle is being used frequently.  I clean my rifles lying on their sides so that any water from the patches does not get into the actions.  An oily patch in and around the action cleans and prevents rust.  

Cartridge Case Care

Black powder cartridge cases require care shortly after shooting to prevent corrosion that shortens case life, and this typically takes more time than cleaning the bore.  I remove primers at the range after each shooting stage and drop them into a bottle of water to which I have added a splash of Murphy's Oil Soap, Buffalo Whiz, or Oxy Clean (some shooters use Dove or Simple Green).  When I get home after the match, I scrub the insides of the cases using a test tube brush.  I cut off the end and chuck it into a cordless drill to make it go faster.  When I've finished cleaning the cases, I rinse them several times to get rid of the soap, with a final rinse in hot water before I lay them on a towel to dry.  Don't do this inside, except for the final rinse-the rotten egg smell is quite strong.  

Until recently, this is how a cared for cases.  I tumbled my cases in walnut shell media before reloading them, but all that does is to make them shiny.  After cases are clean and dry, I put them into a vibratory case cleaner for several hours to remove remaining powder residue and restore the shine.  I used walnut shells with a fine abrasive designed for this task.  Some shooters use ground corncobs.  Either work well, with walnut shells doing a bit better job cleaning and corncobs producing a shinier case.  There is nothing wrong with shooting cases without this last cleaning step, since it really is purely cosmetic in nature.

Recently, I began using ceramic media.  After the cases are rinsed, they are put into a tumbler wet, and a bit of liquid supplied with the ceramic media are added.  For vibratory cleaners, it is necessary to clean smaller batches than using walnut or corncob media.  Experiment with your cleaner to determine how many can effectively be done in a batch. I've found that ~30-35 is the maximum for the Midway cleaner, and 50-60 in a Lyman Magnum.  Use only enough ceramic media to partially cover the cases.  Vibratory tumblers are working correctly when cases have media jammed in them and the ceramic media cleans the inside of all the cases.  Ceramic media also does a nice job of cleaning the primer pockets.  

I am told that the Thumler's Tumbler, originally designed for rock polishing, works much better with ceramic media than the vibratory cleaners, allowing larger batches to be cleaned in each batch and not jamming in cases.

With case polishing complete, you are ready to go back to the case sizing section of this discussion and begin the process all over.  You can take the things you learned from the initial equipment setup and go more quickly this time.  You can also begin to fine-tune your load, using what you learned when firing your first black powder cartridges.


Appendix A

Cartridge Calculations

Measurement  

Clarence's Shiloh and

457193

Your rifle

Clarence's Shiloh and 457122

Your rifle

1

Rear of barrel to bullet base

1.574

1.668

Plus

2

Length of bullet driving section

0.602

0.500

Equals

3

Distance from base of cartridge case to front of driving section for bullet touching rifling

2.176

2.168

Subtract

4

Goal for distance from front of driving section to rifling

0.010

0.010

Equals

5

Goal distance from base of cartridge to front of driving section

2.166

2.158

4

Cartridge Case length

2.095

2.095

Subtract

5

Rear of barrel to bullet base (same as Line 1)

1.574

1.668

Equals

6

Goal distance, end of case to top of wad after compression

0.521

0.427

Subtract

7

Goal compression

0.200

0.200

Equals

8

Goal distance, end of case to top of wad before compression

0.321

0.227

9

Distance from base of cartridge case to front of driving section for bullet touching rifling (same as 3)

2.176

2.168

Plus

10

Bullet overall length

1.050

0.900

Subtract

11

Length of bullet driving section (same as 2)

0.602

0.500

Equals

12

Cartridge overall length

2.624

2.568

Measurements in bright green; Goal inputs in light grey; Goal outputs in bright yellow

You can do these calculations manually, but I have a spreadsheet that makes all the calculations when the necessary data is entered.


Appendix B

Sources of Information, Equipment, Supplies

Sights

Montana Vintage Arms, Belgrade, MT (406) 388-4027 www.montanavitagearms.com

These are my personal choice.  It will cost ~$625 for a long-range Soule rear sight and front sight with level.  Hadley eyecup with adjustable apertures is $75.

Parts Unknown, Winnipeg, Manitoba (204) 487-7185 (evening best).  It will cost ~$350 for a set similar to those above.  Don't even consider anything cheaper.

Baldwin Sights, Jones, OK (405) 948-8613 or (405) 399-2875.  About the same price as MVA, a little heavier and have an adjustable rear aperture standard. Very good sights!

Wads

John King, Kila, MT (406)

John Walters, Moore, OK (405) 799-0376  (John also sells tin and pre-mixed alloys at competitive prices)

Almost anything you need

Buffalo Arms, Ponderay, ID (208) 263-6953

Midway USA, Columbia, MO (800) 243-3220 www.midwayusa.com

Cast bullets

Mt. Baldy Bullets, Cody, WY (307) 527-6680

Classic Bullets, Dodge City, KS (620) 430-0733

Ceramic Media

Stuart Chaffin, Natchez, MS, (601) 455-8452

Sagebrush, Sidney, NE, (888) 552-7376

Dave Maurer,

Magazine

SPG, LLC, Cody, WY  (307) 587-7695 www.blackpowderspg.com


Appendix C

Casting Lead Bullets

First of all, let's talk about safety.  Handling molten metals at high temperatures requires correct personal protective equipment and constant attention.  Done properly, it is safe.  Done improperly, it can be very dangerous.  Must-wear safety equipment includes safety glasses, insulated leather gloves, cotton or wool clothing (synthetics like nylon and polyester melt and stick to skin, making any burn worse), and constant use of the gray matter between the ears.  Potential injuries include serious burns and blindness.  One additional comment-make sure your lead is DRY, with no condensation or any other moisture on it.  One drop of water turned into steam at 800o releases enough energy to splatter lead all over a room and the people in it.

Lead is a suspect carcinogen.  The vapor pressure at casting temperatures is very low, but I recommend good ventilation to prevent inhalation.  The primary routes of lead exposure are ingestion and inhalation of lead dust.  I recommend that casters do not eat or drink while casting, and thoroughly wash their hands after casting or handling lead bullets before handling food.

Successful shooters use a wide variety of melting pots to cast lead bullets.  Any of these can work well if they keep the lead at constant temperature.  

For many years, I used a gas-fired furnace that utilized on low-pressure ring burner set inside a frame on which a 2-quart cast iron saucepan was placed.  A rudimentary heat/wind shield covered the rig.  With this setup, I was able to keep 40-45 pounds of lead at 800o with very little variation.  I could cast 250 bullets without adding lead to the pot.  The gas required that this rig be used outside.  Even with the heat shield, this rig was not pleasant to use when temperatures were higher than 60o.   I recently switched to a Waage electric furnace and have had excellent results with it, so will describe how I cast with it.

Begin by arranging everything in a way that is comfortable for you.  I place the furnace, tools, extra casting metal, and a mould heater on a portable table, the bullet storage area on another portable table to the left, and a stool in front of them, oriented so that you can comfortably fill the mould, drop the bullets, and do the other necessary tasks without disrupting your casting rhythm.  I cast in my garage, and everything is arranged so that a fan pulls air past me, past the furnace, and out a window or door to minimize the potential for any lead or flux fumes.

My portable tables are similar to inexpensive tray tables, but shop-made and much heavier duty.  My bullet storage tray is made of ¾” plywood, with ¼” plywood sides and lined with several layers of cotton towel.  It is sized so it holds 8 rows of 30 bullets.

My mould heater is nothing more sophisticated that a square metal electrical junction box and cover, with a hinge to keep the cover in place.  One side of the box is cut away so that a mould rests squarely on the bottom of the box.  The opening should be large enough to allow placing the dipper into the box for preheating, as well.  The box sits on an inexpensive single burner unit (<$9 at Walmart).   A ¼” hole is drilled in the cover for the thermometer.  The thermostat is adjusted until it keeps the base of the box at an indicated 500o.  You may want to optimize the setting for your mould.

With everything arranged to your liking and the furnace full of metal, I turn on the furnace and mould warmer approximately ½ hour before I plan to begin casting.  The furnace is covered with several layers of aluminum foil to reduce heat loss.  The first time you do this, you will need to adjust the thermostat for both the furnace and mould heater.  After that, don't touch the settings.

I cast at 800o.  When the furnace reaches that temperature, I flux the metal.  I use GAR flux, but candle wax or beeswax also works well.  (I do not recommend Marvelux; in my experience, it causes buildups in the pot, and in the humid south causes increased corrosion.)  A small lump is placed in the pot, and stirred using the dipper (it cleans the dipper as well as the metal).  If your flux doesn't auto-ignite, have a lighter handy to light it to prevent excessive smoking.  I stir the pot for 30 seconds or so, allow the flame to burn out, skim the dross using a stainless steel tablespoon, and collect it in an aluminum soft drink can with the top removed.

Beginning with a preheated mould, it takes only a few bullets cast as indicated below for the mould to stabilize at casting temperature.  I generally cast the first 15 bullets a little faster and throw them back into the pot, and find that subsequent bullets are normal weight, indicating the mould is heated.

My technique is the one recommended by Paul Jones.  I fill the dipper, tilt the mould 90o, place the two together, and rotate them until the mould is vertical.  I hold the dipper in place for ~3 seconds, pour a quarter-sized sprue as I remove it, and place the dipper back into the metal.  I allow the metal to solidify, cut the sprue, tap the mould hinge pin, open the mould and drop the bullet, tapping the hinge pin again if necessary to dislodge the bullet.

I cast using a clock to ensure that I maintain a cadence that keeps the mould temperature constant.  This is important because variations in mould temperature produce bullet weight variations.  Adopting this technique significantly reduced weight variation, compared with my previous technique of counting.  

As an example, most of my 530-540 grain base pour moulds allow casting a bullet every 40 seconds when the temperature is below 55 degrees.  At :00, I fill the mould as described above.  I rest the mould on the corner of the table holding the bullet tray.  If mould and metal temperature are correct, it will take 10-15 seconds for the metal to solidify.  While I'm waiting, I inspect the prior bullet and place it in a row in the order cast.  At :30, I place the mould over the furnace and break the sprue with a gloved hand and drop it back into the furnace.  I turn the mould 90o, tap the hinge pin with a rawhide mallet, open the mould over the bullet tray, tap the hinge pin again if necessary to drop the bullet, close the mould, and swing the sprue plate.  At :40, metal again flows into the mould.  Repeat at this frequency until you have a tray fill of bullets or run out of time.  Adjust the timing to match your technique, mould, and ambient temperature.  

In general, nose pour moulds require higher metal temperatures and/or faster casting cycles to get quality bullets.  I believe the metal in the nose cools faster than the base, requiring higher mould temperature to assure additional metal is drawn in as the metal begins to solidify.  One 410 grain 40 caliber Hoch mould requires casting one bullet every 25 seconds, and one 540 grain Pioneer mould required a 30 second casting cycle, at the same conditions described above.

For a more detailed discussion on the casting cycle, see Darrel Hedges' excellent articles “The 8 step Casting Cycle) show the URL.  The technique I use is consistent with his analysis.

With the electric furnace, it is necessary to add a pound of metal for every 13-17 bullets, depending on whether they are in the 400 or 540 grain range.  When I heat the furnace, I place 3 ingots around the rim to allow them to preheat.   Periodically, I drop an ingot into the melt.  I try to time this so the heater is operating and toward the end of the heating cycle (the metal is almost hot enough to turn off the heater).  I stir the melt with the dipper, and the ingot melts very quickly.  I experience an ~20o drop in metal and ~0.3-0.4 grain drop in bullet weight for the first bullet cast after I add metal.  Within 3 bullets, the weight is back to normal.  I immediately place another ingot on the rim for preheating.

I flux every 45 bullets or so, without disrupting the casting cycle, in order to avoid cooling the mould.  I have small lumps of flux pre-sized, and drop one into the furnace immediately after filling the mould.  I stir it with the dipper and make sure it begins burning to minimize smoke.  I continue to follow the casting cycle until the fire goes out, and then skim the dross between pours.  I generally do not see change in bullet weight during the fluxing operation.

After I finish casting for the session, I fill the pot with reject bullets and ingots so that it is ready for the next casting session.

I store my moulds in a large GI ammo box in which I have made shelves and have a large sack of dessicant.  Even in the humid south, I have no problems with mould rusting, and do not need to de-grease moulds before use.  I occasionally coat the top of moulds with a graphite spray to keep the sprue plate operating smoothly.  I use a small amount of moly lube on the pins to prevent wear.  Use lubricant very sparingly; a drop of oil that wicks into the edge of a cavity completely ruins a casting session because it prevents bullet fill-out and necessitates de-greasing.


Appendix D

Smokeless Powder Loading

Primers and Priming

For smokeless powder, any of the normal Large Rifle (non-magnum) primers will work well.  I generally use Federal 210's.  

Powder Selection and Measurement-Smokeless Powder

There are two smokeless powders I'd suggest.  They are SR4759 and XMP5744.  Both are moderately fast burning powders.  

There are a number of other powders with similar burning rates, but all of them seem more position-sensitive.  That is, they may shoot very well if the powder is always positioned against the primer but erratically if the powder is at the bullet end of the cartridge.  There are also a few very slow powders that allow you to fill or almost fill the cartridge case, but people who've shot a lot of smokeless powder don't speak highly of them, so I'd avoid them.

SR4759 is made by IMR, and is a large-grained, bulky powder.  XMP5744 is a smaller-grained powder and not as bulky, but not sensitive to powder position.

You can forget all the details about loading black powder for smokeless.  Here, you set the measure to drop the desired weight of powder, use the larger funnel rather than the .17 caliber funnel, and eliminate the drop tube.

For the .45-70, with XMP5744, use 28.5-30 grains with either bullet.  I'd start with the 28.5 grains for the 400-grain bullet and 30 grains for the 340 grain hollow point.  If you ever try 500 grain bullets, start with ~26 grains.  For 4759, I'd start 2 grains lower for each bullet weight and work up to these levels.

Load Development-Smokeless Powder

There are many less variables with smokeless powder than black powder.  Simply select the desired powder charge, set the powder measure to drop the correct weight of powder, and load each case.  Since the case won't be full of powder, set all the cases in a loading block and make sure none of them has a double charge of powder.  This would produce very high pressures that could damage the rifle, and you'd really feel it on your shoulder even if it didn't.  Don't use a wad over the powder when using smokeless powder.

Bullet Lubes-Smokeless Powder Cartridges

The lubes discussed above also work very well for smokeless cast bullet loads at similar velocities.  The oils and waxes protect bores from rusting.  I shot the beeswax lube with cast bullets in .303's and .30-06's for several years without (ever) cleaning, and the bores look as good as they ever did.  Bullets can be purchased with either SPG or similar lube or a modern lube-I'd stay with the SPG or similar variety.

Shooting and Rifle Care-Smokeless Powder Cartridges

With smokeless powder, the shooting is easier, since there is no need to use the blow tube.  However, the bore cleaning is more difficult, since normal bore solvents need to be used to remove smokeless powder residue.  That typically takes more time and effort than the black powder cleaning described above.

Cartridge Case Care-Smokeless Powder

This is easy again.  There is no need to do anything with the cases until you get ready to reload unless you want to tumble them and make them shiny.  Trim as above if needed.