Optimum Accuracy with Cast Bullets
in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94

Copyright 2003 by Junior Doughty

In my previous article on Cast Bullets in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94, I wrote: "To my way of thinking, a 2 5/8" 5 shot 100 yard group approaches the maximum obtainable jacketed or lead bullet accuracy from a Model 94 30-30 Winchester lever action, especially with iron sights."

The truth: one reason I spent so much time and money on this project was to show my redneck buddies that I could shoot better groups with iron sights, cast bullets, and in a lever action than they could shoot with scopes, jacketed ammo, and in high-dollar bolt action rifles.
I decided to test my assumption. Using iron sights, I would see just how well I could shoot cast bullets through Ol' Bill, my Buffalo Bill Commemorative 30-30 Winchester Model 94. My goal was consistent 5 shot, 100 yard groups of circa 2" using iron sights.

I would need perfect, indexed bullets and perfect, indexed cases. The bullet would be the Lee C309-170-F because Bill liked that bullet and so did I. The cases would be fully prepped Winchester cases because research informed me that Winchester cases were heavier than other brands. Therefore, their internal capacity was less; thus giving non-maximum powder charges higher loading densities than with other brands of cases. A high loading density usually means better accuracy.

Click for full size popup photo Step 1 = replace Bill's factory front sight.

Bill had a Williams 5D peep rear sight, so no replacement was needed there. Here you see the replacement front sight—a Lyman 17AHB Target Front Sight at .404" height. For shooting at round bullseyes while testing loads, I installed the smallest, round insert that came with the sight. For squeeze-out-the-accuracy groups at square bullseyes, I installed the narrowest post insert.

Step 2 = buy new Winchester brass with the same lot #.

Click for full size popup photo Sinclair International said if I bought 500 new Winchester cases it would be from the same lot. I bought 10 bags of 50 cases per bag. It was all the same lot #. Here you see 2 of the bags. I stashed away 5 bags, 250 cases, for future use.

Step 3: fully prep the brass—250 cases.

This was by far the hardest, most tedious part of the entire process detailed here.

Many of the case mouths were slightly dented from banging around various warehouses and delivery trucks so I began by full-length resizing all 250 cases in a Lyman die. I then trimmed the cases with my little Lee hand-held trimmer. I then inside and outside chamfered the case mouths.

Then the real prepping began, case preparation steps not usually performed.

  • Outside neck turning.
  • Flash hole de-burring.
  • Primer pocket uniforming.
Click for full size popup photo From top to bottom in the photo, see, (1) my Forster trimmer with its neck-turning attachment installed, (2) a Lyman Flash Hole De-burring tool, and (3) a Lyman Primer Pocket Uniforming tool.

Uniforming primer pockets probably helps accuracy very little, if any—at least on my lot of cases. The tool removed almost no brass from the primer pockets.

After de-burring 250 flash holes, I now consider that step necessary for the preparation of new cases. I de-burred cases at my kitchen table while watching television. I'd twist the tool around inside a case, then turn the case upside down and tap it with my finger, dumping the brass shavings on the linoleum floor between my feet. After a while, I looked down and there between my feet was a little pile of shavings. It looked like a pile of gold dust. About every 3rd flash hole had contained a burr.

Click for full size popup photoThis photo shows the brass shavings left over from de-burring 50 R-P 7mm (223) TCU cases. That's quite a pile of shavings from only 50 cases.

We see a 7mm TCU case on the left and the de-burring tool at top. Note how the tool seats on the case mouth. Needless to say, the cases must be the same length. To adjust the tool, loosen the collar and slide it to the proper position. I adjust it to cut a shallow cone in the top edge of the flash hole.

Click for full size popup photo I've always believed in neck turning new cases for accuracy. This photo from a previous loading session shows a neck-turned case. I adjust the Forster neck turner so it removes brass from about 60% of the neck of an average case. Every case I've ever turned was thicker on one side than the other side. In this photo, the turned, thick side, (shiny side) faces the camera.

The 250 cases then fully prepped, i.e., as uniform as humanly possible, I tumbled them for several hours in walnut media. That removed all brass shavings from the cases. I then washed the cases in dishwater and rinsed them in tap water. That removed all traces of walnut media. After drying them overnight, I then sorted the 250 fully prepped cases by 2 Standard Deviations.

The results:

  • Average weight = 135.07 grs
  • Extreme Spread = 2.3 grs
  • Standard Deviation = .67 grs
  • + 2 SD = 136.4 grs
  • - 2 SD = 133.7 grs
Weighing them by my fast "Too High Pile" and "Good Pile" and "Too Low Pile" method, I soon had:

  • Too High = 9 weighing more than 136.4 grs
  • Good = 225 weighing between 136.4 grs and 133.7 grs
  • Too Low = 16 weighing less than 133.7 grs
I then indexed the 225 "good" cases. To index a case, I took a black permanent marker and put marks on the turned, thick side of the case—one mark on the case head above the primer pocket and another mark near the base of the case.

Click for full size popup photo Here we see an indexed case in my Lee Auto-Prime. In other words, the thick side of that case faces the camera, even if it's only .0005" thicker than the other side of the case. The indexed case is placed in the exact same position in the shell holder for each subsequent step of the reloading process. In my two loading presses, the positions of the shell holders on the rams are kept the same.

I had one final procedure with the 225 good cases. I needed to determine the average usable case capacity, i.e., the inside volume to the base of the neck. Using fired cases, I weighed the cases empty and weighed them again but containing water to the base of their necks. By subtraction, I then determined the weight of the water. As water weighs 15.4 grains per cc, I soon knew the average usable case capacity of my 225 good cases—2.381 cc.

Checking some R-P cases I had on hand, their average usable case capacity equaled 2.458 cc. Obviously, my Winchester cases would give higher loading densities. For example and using H4895 with a VMD of .0728, 25 grs of H4895 occupy 1.82 cc. That's a 74% loading density for R-P cases and a 76% loading density for Winchester cases. That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but the cast bullet "experts" say you need at least 75% loading density for target grade accuracy.

  • VMD = volume in cc of 1 grain of powder
  • 25 x .0728 = 1.82
  • 1.82 ÷ 2.381 = 76%
Knowing my Winchester case's usable case capacity of 2.381 cc and having a VMD table on hand, I can easily compute the loading density for my case with various loads with various powders. For example:

  • 25 grs H 4895 = 76%
  • 25 grs Varget = 77%
  • 22 grs H 4198 = 69%
  • 30 grs IMR3031 = 96%
  • 13 grs 2400 = 40%
All work completed on the cases, I turned to the bullets.

Step 4: cast a batch of hard, near perfect bullets and index them.

In order to index them, I opened my Lee C309-170-F mold, and in the center of one of the mold halves, on the nose portion, I etched a scratch with a screwdriver blade. I wanted the scratch deep enough to be visible in bullets cast from the mold, but, yet, not deep enough to affect the bullet's exterior ballistics.

I filled my 10 lb Lee pot with hard lead alloy and cast a batch of scratched-nose bullets. After visually sorting them, I had 308 bullets. I then sorted those bullets by 1 Standard Deviation. I used 2 SD for the brass and 1 SD for the bullet because the brass needs to be uniform and the bullet needs to be extremely uniform. The bullet results:

  • Average weight = 167.43 grs
  • Extreme Spread = 1.8 grs
  • Standard Deviation = .401 grs
  • + 1 SD = 167.8 grs
  • - 1 SD = 167.0 grs
I ended up with 22 bullets in the "Too Heavy Pile," 270 bullets in the "Good Pile," and 16 bullets in the "Too Light Pile."

Click for full size popup photo The two bullets on the left are as dropped from the mold. Look halfway down the noses and you'll see the scratch. The 3rd bullet shows the scratch covered by an index mark. The 4th bullet is after seating a gas check and lubing in my Lyman 450 Sizer-Lubricator.

Note that I adjust the 450 so the bullet's crimping groove fills with lube and a little lube oozes onto the bullet's nose.

Click for full size popup photo And, yes, I index the bullets in the 450 Sizer-Lubricator. The index mark faces the same direction for each bullet. After a trip through the die, .310" in this case, I turn the bullet 1/4 turn and run it through the die again. That ensures the bullet's concentricity and the complete filling of its lube grooves.

With gas checks and lube, ready to load, the bullet's average weight = 172.16 grs.

Cases fully prepped and sorted and indexed and bullets cast and sorted and indexed, it was time to start loading.

Step 5: loading uniform, indexed cases with extremely uniform, indexed bullets.

I neck size my fired 30-30 cases in a Lee Loader tool. Believe it or not, I use a very thin smear of Junior Lube as outside neck lube. It works like a charm. To size the cases, I align the index mark on a case with an index mark on the Lee tool's sizing die, then whack the case on the head with a brass hammer, driving it into the die and sizing only the neck.

As the case neck is then perfectly round on the outside, and we know from the work of the Forster neck-turning tool that no case neck is perfect, the inside of the squeezed-down neck is now imperfectly round, i.e., out of round. That would cause non-uniform bullet pull and inaccuracy.

To alleviate that problem, I then run the cases into a Lyman sizing die just enough for the .308" diameter and perfectly round expander ball to traverse down the entire neck and back up the entire neck, making it perfectly round on the inside.

Yes, I know I could buy a neck sizing die with a .308" expander ball, but the combination of Lee die and Lyman die works for me. I ain't messin' with success.

Click for full size popup photo This photo shows an indexed case and an indexed bullet on the ram and ready for seating. Note two things from top to bottom:

  • The index mark on the bullet is aligned with the index mark on the case.
  • Like in the above photo of the Lee Auto-Prime, the index mark on the base of the case is aligned with the opening of the shell holder, which in turn is aligned with the ram.
Click for full size popup photo Here we see the final step in the reloading for optimum accuracy process—an indexed bullet seated in an indexed case and crimped with a Lee Factory Crimp Die. Note the crimp far below the bullet's crimping groove. Lee's Factory Crimp Die is one of the better products in a line of better products. Jacketed or lead, channelure or no channelure, it'll crimp a case mouth into a bullet anywhere you want.

In the case of this case—and for accuracy— I put the crimp low so the forward band, the driving band, just enters Bill's lands. It seats with slight thumb pressure or with almost imperceptible force from the lever. I chamber these target rounds by hand, but they feed through Bill's action just fine. The C.O.A.L. is 2.580" vs the standard 2.550".

If you'll look closely at the above photo in the full size version, you'll notice a narrow, ring-like band of brass removed midway of the neck by the Forster tool. This case didn't have much of a thick side, but this side was thicker.

There are three keys to accuracy: (1) uniformity, (2) uniformity, and, (3) uniformity. Here's an accuracy step seldom mentioned: using cases fired the exact same number of times—firing uniformity.

Click for full size popup photo The two plastic buckets are recycled and washed Planters® peanut containers. The one on the left reads fired (1). The one on the right reads fired (2). When I reload and fire the last case in the bucket on the left, it moves to the right and becomes labeled fired (3) as in, Hey, these cases have all been fired three times.

In a few years when I'm working on bucket fired (20) or so and I start getting split necks, I'll junk all the cases and start over with my stashed 250 new ones.

Step 6: let's shoot groups!

Click for full size popup photo Here we see a loaded round hand-chambered in Bill and ready for the bolt to push it the rest of the way in. Note the index mark positioned up. That not only orientates the previously fired and now neck-sized case thick-side up, the case will now perfectly fit the chamber in which it was previously fired. Why? Because it was previously fired in the exact same position.

So, do you see what we have here? We have indexed cases loaded with indexed bullets, and with both case and bullet indexed to each other and indexed to the rifle's chamber.

Indexed X 4 = uniformity X 4 = accuracy².

And at the heart of every loaded round is a powder selected on the basis of a 75 % loading density with medium velocity cast bullet loads.

Shown near actual size on the right, see my new accuracy standard for cast bullet, iron sight, 100 yard, 5 shot groups in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever action.

The target was a black, 2" square a few inches up and to the left. To shoot the group, I used a flat, .050"-wide post-type Lyman 17A insert, and I aligned it slightly below the flat bottom of the square bullseye. Then I slowly raised the barrel until the sliver of white between the black, flat target and the black, flat post disappeared. Then I squeezed Bill's trigger.

The load:

Winchester case
Lee C309-170-F bullet @ 172 grs ready to load and sized .310" in Lyman 450 Sizer-Lubricator
Bullet lube = Lee stick Alox
24 grs H4895 (71% loading density)
CCI BR-2 primer
Velocity = 1729 fps

Here's another group near actual size and shot after I ran out of H4895. This group was shot using an aperture-type, .093"-diameter insert.

The load:

Winchester case
Lee C309-170-F bullet @ 172 grs ready to load and sized .310" in Lyman 450 Sizer-Lubricator
Bullet lube = Lee stick Alox
25 grs Varget (77% loading density)
CCI BR-2 primer
Velocity = 1750 fps est.

I suspect a square bullseye and a post sight insert would have reduced this group at least 1/2".

One thing I know—I reached my goal of consistent 5 shot, 100 yard groups of circa 2" using iron sights and lead bullets in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever action. But after looking at the group shot with 25 grs of Varget and my least accurate sight insert and worst target, I'm wondering if consistent circa 1 1/2" groups are possible.

If you have a dusty Winchester commemorative with a heavy octagon barrel hanging around your closet, maybe you should let it out. It might be a dandy lead bullet shooter.

Copyright 2003 by Junior Doughty

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