Category Archives: Handloading

“Triple Deuce”— The .222 Remington

The first Of The Highly Accurate Post-WWII
Varmint Cartridges Still Has Much To Offer.

The .222 Remington appeared in 1950, but thanks to the .223 Remington, most shooters don’t realize how revolutionary it was. Believe it or not, before the .222 appeared, every commercial American .22-caliber centerfire cartridge was rimmed or semi-rimmed.

Varmint hunting as we know it today started in the early 1900’s, because that’s when American big game populations were at their lowest. The first popular cartridges were rounds like the .25-20 WCF originating in black powder days for falling-block single shots and lever-actions. Rims were necessary for extraction in the single-shots and helpful in the levers.

The first smokeless .22 centerfire designed for varmint shooting was the .22 Hornet, a wildcat developed in the 1920’s. Townsend Whelen’s writings made the Hornet so popular Winchester started producing ammo in 1930, before any commercial rifles appeared. The first factory-produced Hornet rifles were bolt actions, but during the 1930’s Winchester also introduced the rimmed .218 Bee, (the .25-20 necked down) and .219 Zipper (the .30-30 necked down) in their Model 65 and 64 lever-actions.

In 1935 Winchester chambered the .220 Swift in the Model 54 bolt action and, the next year, in the Model 70. The Swift’s rim is the same size as the .30-06’s, but the case body is smaller, due to being based on the 6mm Lee Navy cartridge. In bolt actions the “semi-rimmed” case is often a pain. The one Swift I’ve owned that always functioned perfectly was a Ruger No. 1B, because it doesn’t have a magazine.

That’s how things stood after World War II, when millions of “war surplus” bolt-action rifles started being converted to sporters. Varmint hunting and benchrest shooting became even more popular with the hordes or returning soldiers, and while some early benchresters used falling blocks, most eventually realized bolt actions provided more accuracy potential.

One of those enthusiastic shooters was named Mike Walker, Remington’s Director of Research for many years, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 101. Today Walker’s primarily remembered for the controversial “Walker trigger,” but he also helped develop button rifling and designed the .222 Remington.

Walker decided the future of accuracy lay in a moderate capacity .22-caliber cartridge for bolt actions. No rimless case then available held the right amount of powder, so he developed one with a head about 3/8-inch in diameter. The gunwriters of the day often called the .222 a scaled-down .30-06, a comparison made thousands of times since, but in reality its proportions are closer to a scaled down 7×57 Mauser—but comparing a new American cartridge to an old German cartridge probably wouldn’t have been a good idea so soon after the war.


Rifles with full-length stocks aren’t supposed to be very accurate,
but John’s Sako .222 shoots very well.

The .222 made its debut in 1950, and in a chapter of the 1951 book The Ultimate in Rifle Precision put together for the Bench Rest Shooter’s Association by Townsend Whelen, Walker noted: “Groups of 1/2-inch were quite often obtained with factory ammunition in a heavy-barreled rifle…, Several people insisted, among them Warren Page, that some bench rifles should be made in .222 caliber and tried at Johnstown [Pennsylvania, the biggest benchrest match in those days]. Due to more pressing matters such as trout fishing and chuck and crow shooting, no rifles were made until two weeks before the shoot.” Walker placed second in the 100-yard match with his slapped-together rifle, and the .222 went on to dominate benchrest shooting for the next quarter-century.

By 1950 the .218 Bee, .219 Zipper and .22 Savage High Power were essentially dead, thanks to the transition to bolt actions, and the .222 also filled the varmint performance gap between the tiny .22 Hornet and the super-fast .220 Swift. The Hornet had always been handicapped by light, blunt bullets with poor ballistic coefficients, due to short magazines, and .220 Swift rifles kicked more and fried barrels quickly. The .222 seemed just right, and shot extremely well in Remington’s new Model 722 bolt action, becoming one of the major successes of the post-war era.

During the 1950’s, the US military started looking for a smaller cartridge for infantry rifles, since the 7.62×51 NATO (commercially the .308 Winchester) recoiled too much for sustained automatic fire, and required soldiers to carry relatively heavy, bulky ammo. Several rifle and cartridge designs were tested, and the .222 Remington and Eugene Stoner’s rifle got into the mix. Eventually it was decided to increase the powder capacity of the basis .222 case somewhat, for both functional and ballistic reasons, and in 1958 the M16 rifle in 5.56x45mm NATO became the US infantry rifle.

In 1964 Remington introduced a civilian version of the 5.56×45, the .223 Remington. The .223’s ballistics were a little zippier than the .222’s, and with lots of cheap military brass, .222’s sales started fading. In the 1970’s the advent of the PPC benchrest rounds almost killed it off—but not quite.


The .222 has been called a scaled-down .30-06 many times over the decades,
but in reality its dimension are closer to the 7×57 Mauser.


Five-shot groups were all John could ask for from a sporting rifle of this vintage.

Despite the practical advantages of the .223, some varmint hunters still find the .222 superior. Its lighter recoil often allows shooters to watch the bullet strike through a scope—not always possible in .223’s—and the smaller powder capacity and longer neck extend barrel life.

The present .223 trend is to faster rifling twists and heavier bullets, but the .222 originated with a 1:14-inch twist designed for maximum accuracy with 50- and 55-grain bullets—the same basic principle still used in 6mm PPC benchrest rifles. Consequently, the .222 performs best at ranges out to around 300 yards, where relatively light, fast bullets shoot flatter and don’t drift much more in the wind than heavier, high-BC bullets at lower velocities. And 300 yards is about as far as most shooters can hit small rodents in typical field conditions.

I’d owned several .222’s over the years, including an original Remington 722 sporter, but in the spring of 2014 I found a Mannlicher-stocked Sako L461 carbine on the used rack at Capital Sports & Western in Helena, Mont. The small-actioned Sakos have always been considered among the best-made and most accurate .222’s, so naturally it came home with me.

There wasn’t much time before that summer’s rodent season, so I threw together some loads with 40-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips and H4198, one of the standard powders for the .222 during its benchrest heyday (in fact Mike Walker used 21.0 grains and 53-grain bullet in the Johnstown shoot). During the winter of 2015 I tried a bunch of different bullets and powders, including some of the new Accurate powders LT-30 and LT-32. Like the present version of H4198 and H322 (another excellent .222 powder) they’re temperature-resistant, and have quickly caught on among benchrest shooters, due to consistent velocities in warm and cool weather and very low shot-to-shot variation.

The .223 Remington is the medium-sized .22 centerfire these days, but the .222 Remington still has advantages for shooters who search for every tiny edge at moderate ranges. You might be one.

Six of John Barsness’s 11 books are on firearms and shooting. Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

.222 Remington Handloaded Ammo Performance

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet weight, type) (brand) (grains weight) (fps) (inches)
Barnes 30 Varmint Grenade W296 20.0 3,948 1.24
Barnes 30 Varmint Grenade H322 25.0 3,609 0.95
Hornady 35 V-Max A1680 22.5 3,791 1.14
Nosler 35 Ballistic Tip LF LT-30 21.5 3,411 0.52
Berger 40 Varmint HP LT-32 22.5 3,387 0.44
Nosler 40 Ballistic Tip H4198 21.5 3,397 0.71
Sierra 40 BlitzKing A2015 22.0 3,416 0.60
Speer 43 TNT Green RL-7 21.5 3,409 0.72
Hornady 50 V-Max H322 22.0 3,073 0.71
Nosler 50 Ballistic Tip TAC 24.0 3,016 0.87
Speer 50 TNT HP LT-32 21.0 2,964 0.75
Berger 52 Target HP LT-32 21.0 2,959 0.41
Nosler 55 Varmageddon Tip H322 21.5 2,946 0.53
Sierra 55 HP CFE223 25.5 2,988 0.77

Notes: Handloads all shot from Sako L461, 20-inch barrel.
All handloads used Nosler brass and CCI BR-4 primers.
Velocities in 24-inch barrels would be about 100 fps faster.

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Sixgun/Levergun Combinations

The .44 Magnum Pairs Up Perfectly.

The real era of sixgun/levergun combinations arrived in the late 1870’s when the Winchester 1873 came out in the new .44 WCF (Winchester Centerfire). Sometime around 1878, perhaps even earlier, Colt began chambering their Single Action Army in .44 WCF, or as it is more commonly known today, the .44-40. Now it was very possible, probable and practical for anyone on the frontier to have a sixgun and rifle chambered in the same reasonably powerful cartridge. In short order both the Winchester and Colt were also available in .38-40 and .32-20 and all these combinations were really solidified with the arrival of the Winchester Model 1892 chambered in all three cartridges.

Fast forward to the 1950’s. In December of 1955 Smith & Wesson began providing test sixguns chambered in the new .44 Magnum to well-known shooting personalities. It wasn’t long before shooters wanted a .44 Magnum levergun and they were accommodated by an Arizona gunsmith, Ward Koozer, who converted .44-40 Winchester ’92’s to .44 Magnum. I wanted one! The only problem was there was no way I could afford one. Looking back now, I wish all those .44-40’s had stayed original. I currently have both a Winchester 1892 and an El Tigre chambered in the original .44-40 and I would not think of converting them. The El Tigre was made in South America in the 1930’s under license from Winchester and mine outshoots the original.


A short-barreled Ruger .44 Magnum matches up nicely with a .44 Magnum levergun.

By the mid-1960’s both Winchester and Marlin were at least advertising .44 Magnum leverguns and I well remember an article at the time by John Lachuk, (who I was later to meet and call a friend) in which he said if he had his druthers, he would just as soon grab his Marlin and a companion .44 Magnum sixgun and head for the hills. That really captured my imagination and I ordered a Winchester .44 Magnum as a companion to my 4-inch S&W and 4-5/8-inch Ruger Flat-Top .44 Magnums. Two things changed my mind about the Winchester. Remember, this is now post-1964. When I went to the gun shop to pick mine up, I was not at all happy about the finish. Sitting next to it was a Marlin 336, which looked so much better. I left the shop without the Winchester but with the Marlin. Nearly 45 years later I still have the Marlin which was used to fire many of the test loads for this article.

Since those first two .44 Magnum leverguns arrived, several others have been offered. Marlin’s offering is now the Model 1894, with an action more suited to the .44 than the original Model 336. Winchester chambered their Model 94 .44 Magnum offering in 16-, 20-, and 24-inch versions before closing their plant in 2005. Browning offered their Model B92 in a 20-inch lever action carbine for a short time. Rossi still offers both blued and stainless steel replica Model 1892’s and Ruger’s original semi-automatic Deerstalker carbine is long out of production, but it has been replaced by the excellent bolt-action Model 77/44.


John purchased this Model 336 Marlin .44 Magnum in the mid-1960’s. It matches
up with a pair of custom Ruger .44 Magnum Bisleys.

Leverguns chambered in .44 Magnum are not nearly as picky about bullet choice as the same guns chambered in .357 Magnum. The latter almost demands a gas-checked cast bullet while at least some .44 Magnum leverguns work fine with plain-base cast bullets. However, many of the best loads for sixguns are too long to chamber in most .44 Magnum leverguns. We are speaking here mainly of those sixgun cartridges prepared with the use of Keith-style SWC cast bullets. The Micro-Groove barrel of my Model 336 Marlin does not like these at all, however they will work in currently manufactured Marlin 1894’s which are Ballard rifled, and they also shoot well through Browning’s B92. However, all is not perfect as with all of these rifles Keith bullets must be crimped over the front shoulder to feed reliably, as well as having the proper length to feed at all.

Two excellent SWC cast bullet designs work well in every sixgun and levergun I have ever used them in. They are the Lyman 431244GC, a 255-grain gas-checked bullet designed by Ray Thompson in the 1950’s, and NEI’s 295.429 GC, a 290+ grain gas-checked bullet. The latter is basically a Keith bullet made 40 grains heavier and fitted with a gas check. While both of these shoot well in rifles they must also be crimped over the front shoulder for reliable feeding and proper OAL.

The most accurate cast bullet design and load I have found for use in my Micro-Groove barreled Marlin is the SAECO 240-grain flatpoint gas-checked bullet designed for long-range silhouette shooting. Over Alliant 2400, the load puts three shots in 5/8-inch at 50 yards. The downside is its mediocre accuracy in my Winchester and Browning .44 Magnums.

When it comes to jacketed bullets, all of the standard weight versions from 240 to 265 grains work just fine through .44 Magnum leverguns when crimped normally for use in .44 Magnum sixguns. If I had to choose one .44 Magnum jacketed bullet load to do absolutely everything in both sixgun and levergun, it would be Hornady’s 265-grain JSP over 23 grains of WW296. Originally designed for the .444 Marlin, it shoots superbly in both my Marlin and a 5-1/2-inch Ruger Bisley Model, clocking out at 1,621 fps and 1,317 fps respectively. The load was also my sixgun silhouette load for several years back in the early 1980’s.


This 1894 Marlin .44 Magnum and Smith & Wesson Model 29 are a
favorite combination of one of John’s friends.

.44 Magnum Handloaded Ammo Performance

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(Brand, Bullet Weight, Type) (Brand) (Grains Weight) (FPS) (Inches)

Gun: Marlin M336 .44 Magnum 20-inch barrel, Bushnell 4X scope

Hornady 240 JHP WW 296 24.5 1,728 5/8
Speer 240 JSP 2400 22.0 1,672 7/8
Hornady 265 JSP WW 296 23.0 1,621 1-1/4
Lyman 431244GC* 2400 20.0 1,624 1
NEI 295.429KTGC* WW 296 21.5 1,547 1
SAECO 240 FPGC 2400 20.0 1,674 5/8

Gun: Browning B92, 20-inch barrel, Factory Sights

Hornady 240 JHP 2400 22.0 1,679 1-1/4
Speer 240 JHP WW 296 24.5 1,661 1-3/4
Hornady 265 JSP WW 296 23.0 1,541 2
Lyman 431244GC* 2400 20.0 1,615 1-1/4
NEI 295.429KTGC* WW 296 21.5 1,533 1-1/2
SAECO 240 FPGC 2400 20.0 1,659 3

Gun: Winchester Trapper Model 94, 16-inch barrel, Factory Sights

Hornady 240 JHP WW 296 24.5 1,686 1
Speer 240 JSP 2400 22.0 1,711 1-1/2
Hornady 265 JSP WW 296 23.0 1,563 1
Lyman 431244GC* 2400 20.0 1,550 1-1/2
NEI 295.429KTGC* WW 296 21.5 1,516 1-1/2
SAECO 240 FPGC 2400 20.0 1,440 2-1/2

Notes: Groups the product of 3 shots at 50 yards. Chronograph screens set 10 feet from the muzzle.
CCI 350 primers in Federal brass. *Must be crimped over front band to feed through action of the
Marlin and Browning.

.44 Magnum Handloaded Ammo Performance

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(Brand, Bullet Weight, Type) (Brand) (Grains Weight) (FPS) (Inches)

Gun: Ruger Bisley Model .44 Magnum, 5-1/2-inch barrel

Hornady 240 JHP 2400 22.0 1,679 1-1/4
Speer 240 JHP WW 296 24.5 1,661 1-3/4
Hornady 265 JSP WW 296 23.0 1,541 2
Lyman 431244GC* 2400 20.0 1,615 1-1/4
NEI 295.429KTGC* WW 296 21.5 1,533 1-1/2
SAECO 240 FPGC 2400 20.0 1,659 3

Notes: Groups the product of 5 shots at 20 yards. Chronograph screens set a 10 feet from muzzle.
CCI 300 primers in Federal brass.

Easy-Shooting .44 Magnum Handloaded Ammo

Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(Brand, Bullet Weight, Type) (Brand) (Grains Weight) (FPS) (Inches)

Gun: Winchester Model 94 Trail’s End 24-inch barrel

Oregon Trail 240 SWC Unique 7.5 1,154 7/8
Oregon Trail 240 SWC WW 231 7.0 1,087 3/4
Oregon Trail 225 RNFP Red Dot 6.0 1,099 1-3/4

Gun: Ruger Super Blackhawk, 7-1/2-inch barrel

Oregon Trail 240 SWC Unique 7.5 954 1-1/4
Oregon Trail 240 SWC WW 231 7.0 957 1-1/4
Oregon Trail 225 RNFP Red Dot 6.0 909 1-5/8

Alliant Powder

2299 Snake River Avenue
Lewiston, ID 83501
(800) 379-1732

Hodgdon, IMR & Winchester Powder

6430 Vista Drive
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455


P.O. Box 1848
Grand Island, NE 68802
(308) 382-1390


475 Smith Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 632-2020

Marlin Firearms Co.

P.O. Box 1871, Madison, NC 27025

Oregon Trail Bullet Company

P.O. Box 529, Baker City, Oregon 97814
(800) 811-0548


411 Sunapee Street, Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442


2299 Snake River Avenue
Lewiston, ID 83501
(800) 627-3640

By John Taffin

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The Magnificent 7×57 Mauser

Reloading A Classic With
Current Bullets And Powders.

Over the decades I’ve owned more than a dozen 7×57 Mausers, and the old round has probably taught me as much about handloading for smokeless rifles as any cartridge, partly because 7×57’s vary like spring winds. Basically the 8×57 Mauser necked down, the 7×57 was designed in 1892 for a new Mauser rifle adopted the next year by the Spanish military, and was eventually used as the military cartridge of several other countries.

It gained fame on the losing sides in the Spanish-American and second Boer wars, where both rifle and cartridge proved superior to the .30-40 Krag-Jorgensens and .303 Lee-Enfields used by the winners. This persuaded the US to develop the M1903 Springfield and a rimless .30 caliber cartridge. The British were slower on the uptake, but did have a somewhat more powerful cartridge called the .276 Enfield in the works when development was halted by World War I.

The 7×57 almost immediately became a popular sporting cartridge, and in the first half of the 20th century was probably chambered by every major sporting rifle manufacturer in the world. (The British, however, called it the .275 Rigby, probably due to them “owning” so much of the world.) Probably the cartridge’s most famous fan was professional ivory hunter W.D.M. Bell, who used it on a bunch of elephants, but the 7×57 (or .275) was also the favored “light” cartridge of Jim Corbett, author of the best-selling Man-Eaters of Kumaon, a collection of his adventures with leopards and tigers in British-ruled India.

The original military load used a full-metal-jacket roundnosed bullet of 173 to 174 grains at approximately 2,200 feet per second, providing plenty of penetration on both enemy soldiers and elephant skulls. But after the almost universal military switch to lighter pointed bullets at higher velocities during the early 20th century, most countries used a 139-grain spitzer at about 2,750 to 2,800 fps. Softpoint hunting ammunition is still primarily loaded with minor variations on those two bullets.

Most modern American hunters would consider the 7×57 a decent deer cartridge, but it’s always had a reputation for killing larger game. My friend Kevin Thomas, an African professional hunter of wide experience, has carried a 7×57 as his light rifle for decades taking several eland the size of North American moose among hundreds of other animals. While I haven’t hunted any elephants or eland with my 7×57’s, I have taken North American game up to and including bull moose, as well as elk-sized African game such as wildebeest and kudu, and despite the relatively modest muzzle velocities, it works on open-country game. Mine have taken pronghorn and springbok (the African equivalent of pronghorn) at ranges out to 400 yards.

There really isn’t any argument about the 7×57’s capabilities as a big-game round. Instead its problems revolve around variations in action strength and chamber dimensions. Rifles chambered for the 7×57 have been manufactured for over 120 years on anything from Remington Rolling Blocks to the most modern bolts, and the length of chamber throats varies considerably, even in modern rifles. The longest throat of any 7×57 I’ve owned was in the Ruger No. 1A listed in the handloading data, and the shortest on my present Kilimanjaro Walkabout, chambered with a Pacific Tool & Gauge “USA Match” reamer with a throat shorter than SAAMI standard. The difference in throat length between the two rifles amounted to almost 1/2 inch, and the rest of my 7×57’s have ranged in between those extremes.


The original military load of the 7×57 (left) used a 173- to 174-grain
roundnose bullet, eventually replaced by spitzers of around 140 grains,
like the hunting load on the right.

This results in widely varying pressures with the same powder charges and bullets, and sometimes in accuracy troubles. A few rifles with very long throats have refused to shoot accurately with bullets weighing less than 160 grains, due to the long jump shorter bullets have to make before they hit the lands.

Some published handloading data limits pressures to antique levels, while some includes cautions to “use only in modern rifles in good condition,” but even in modern rifles I tend to load to a certain velocity level rather than a specific charge weight. With appropriate powders, velocity correlates strongly with pressure. In barrels 21 to 24 inches long, 2,800 to 2,900 fps with bullets in the 140-grain range is easily obtainable with modern powders, and around 2,600 to 2,700 with bullets in the 160-grain range, and 2,500 to 2,600 with 175’s.

But the powder charge required to reach those levels varies considerably from rifle to rifle. As an example, with IMR4350 or H4350 and 140-grain bullets, the charge required to reach 2,800 fps can vary up to 3 grains, even in barrels of equal length. (Somebody will probably object to lumping those two powders together, because H4350 is “supposed” to be slower burning. If you take a look at the latest data, however, many times IMR4350 turns out to be slightly slower when loaded with the same bullet in the same cartridge.)
I’ve been handloading the 7×57 using the velocity method for a long time and have yet to encounter the slightest problem, but if you don’t feel comfortable with the approach then sticking to published data is the only alternative. Good luck, since it also varies around 3 grains with 140-grain bullets.

While some of my fellow 7×57 fans are firm believers in the original bullet weight of around 175 grains, I’ve never been all that impressed with the performance of 175’s. Some hunters claim the slow 175’s perform more predictably than faster spitzers, but I’ve yet to encounter the slightest problem with either sufficient penetration or that debatable characteristic called “killing power” with other cup-and-cores such as the 139-grain Hornady Spire Point or 160-grain Sierra GameKing. Typical 7×57 muzzle velocities don’t put much stress on bullets, one reason the cartridge has such a reputation for consistent performance.

On the other hand, on a number of occasions I also haven’t been impressed with how quickly heavy “premium” bullets kill big-game animals. Light-to-medium weight bullets at higher velocity seem to do the job quicker, while penetrating plenty. Two favorites are the 140-grain Nosler Partition and 156 Norma Oryx. Both expand easily on deer-sized game, yet penetrate sufficiently on larger game, and do more interior damage than heavier premiums at slower velocities.


Many Americans think of the 7×57 as a deer cartridge, but many hunters use it on
much larger game. John has taken moose (above) and kudu (below) with his
Kilimanjaro rifle.


These days the 7×57 is being replaced in the USA by more recent cartridges. (Ruger has probably chambered the 7×57 in more rifles than any other American company in the past few decades, but in 2014 their website didn’t list any.) It’s been replaced by the 7mm-08 Remington, since the 7mm-08 provides the same ballistics in a case fitting in “short” bolt-action magazines. The 7×57 is a little long for such magazines, though handloads worked OK in the 3-inch magazine of a New Ultra Light Arms Model 20, especially with lighter bullets.

Factory 7×57 cartridges are considerably shorter than many of today’s long-action magazines, though they fit just about perfectly in magazines designed around the 8×57 and .30-06. These are becoming rare, and modern shooters apparently are offended by cartridges that don’t use every fraction of an inch of magazine length. However, the 7×57 feeds fine in long Remington 700 actions, despite 0.5-inch of extra room. My present 7×57 was built by Kilimanjaro Rifles on the shorter version of the Montana 1999 action, and the 3.15-inch magazine is just right.

The 7×57’s virtues have always combined relatively mild recoil with enough bullet weight and velocity for almost any hunting. Today there’s a much wider selection of bullets for every purpose, whether we’re hunting whitetails near home or bigger game in other countries. While the 7×57 isn’t used much in the 21st century for really dangerous game, it works very well for everything else, especially if handloaders understand its quirks and history.
By John Barsness

Kilimanjaro Rifles
707 Richards Street, Suite 201
Honolulu, HI 96813
(877) 351-4440

New Ultra Light Arms
P.O. Box 340
Granville, WV 26534
(304) 292-0600

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Power Plus Versatility

Reloading The .357 Magnum
For Sixguns And Leverguns.

The .357 Magnum first arrived in 1935 in the magnificent Smith & Wesson, which in those days was known simply as “The .357 Magnum.” Now it is the Model 27. The .357 Magnum provided heretofore unheard of power in a sixgun. In the last quarter of the 19th century there were sixgun/levergun combinations in .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20.

I haven’t the slightest idea who it was that first came up with a .357 Magnum levergun, however, by the 1950’s many shooters were having Winchester Model 1892 .32-20 lever guns re-chambered and re-barreled to .357.

You would think the arrival of the .44 Magnum in the mid-1950’s and then Winchester and Marlin both bringing out .44 Magnum leverguns in the 1960’s would kill off the idea of combinations in the smaller magnum. It didn’t. Over the years, even though the .44 Magnum had arrived and was followed by bigger and bigger magnums, the .357 Magnum not only retained its popularity, it actually grew. And to go with excellent sixguns from Colt, Dan Wesson, Ruger and S&W, we also saw many leverguns in .357 Magnum.

If I could only have one centerfire rifle it would be the light-handling and extremely versatile .357 Magnum levergun. Certainly it is not a long-range rifle, however, just like the .357 Magnum sixgun, it will do at least 95 percent of what most of us need a rifle to do. Browning and Rossi both offered replicas—Rossi still does—of the Winchester Model 1892, while Winchester chambered their Model 1894 for the .357 Magnum. Today Miroku even offers an 1873 “Winchester” .357 Magnum. However, even though I shoot all of these, my favorite was originally advertised probably close to 40 years ago as, “At last, the perfect companion to the 357 Magnum handgun. The new Marlin 357 Magnum carbine.”

I first started loading for the .38 Special and .357 Magnum in both a Highway Patrolman and a Flat-Top Blackhawk in 1957, and when I got my first Marlin Model 1894C .357 Magnum, I had plenty of ammunition on hand in both .38 Special and .357 Magnum cases, using Elmer Keith’s Lyman 358429 bullet loaded over Hercules (now Alliant) 2400. This had been my standard bullet going all the way back to my teenage years and I normally followed Keith’s recipe using his bullet and 13.5 grains of 2400 in .38 Special cases and 14.0 grains in .357 Magnum brass with the bullet crimped over the front shoulder. Using the crimping groove in .357 brass gave an OAL too long for the cylinders of my Ruger and S&W guns. Both loads worked well in my pair of .357 sixguns, however, the first time I tried them in the Marlin I discovered what worked in one version of the .357 Magnum did not necessarily work in the other. Plain-base cast bullets loaded over full charges of 2400 simply did not work in the longer barrel .357 Marlin.


Taffin’s .357 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk from 1956 (above) started out using heavyweight
.38 Special loads and now performs well with heavy-bullet .357 loads. Heavyweight
bullets in an original 10-inch Ruger .357 Flat-top Blackhawk (below).


The solution was found in the excellent design of Ray Thompson, who was a true bullet genius. Gas checks are copper cups, actually more like caps, fitted on the base of the bullet, a design dating back to the early 1900’s. It was first used on rifle bullets for long-range shooting, and Thompson adapted it to sixgun bullets designing two .44’s, a .45, and his best, the 358156GC, for use in the .38 Special and .357 Magnum. In fact, it has two crimping grooves: The top for use with .357 Magnum cases and the bottom to allow the bullet to be seated out further in .38 Special brass.

The Marlin .357 Magnum levergun and Thompson’s gas-check bullet was truly a marriage made in heaven. Thompson designed it for the sixgun and we soon found it did very good double duty. While the plain-based bullet was pretty much confined to speeds we would consider mid-range loads, the gas checked Thompson could be driven to nearly 1,500 fps in long-barreled .357 Magnum sixguns and 1,900 fps in the Marlin with little or no leading and excellent accuracy. It is, in fact, mandatory for use in some .357 Magnum sixguns for best accuracy and no leading. Elmer Keith had no use for gas-check bullets, saying they were unnecessary, however, I have yet to be able to come up with a load using Keith’s bullet that will shoot as well as Thompson’s bullet in most .357 Magnum sixguns. If I had only one bullet mold for the .357 Magnum it would be Thompson’s 358156. This was also Skeeter Skeleton’s favorite .38/.357 bullet and the mold is still available from Lyman.

The Lyman/Thompson cast bullet 358156GC over 14.0 to 15.0 grains of 2400 works well enough in both sixgun and levergun to be a good choice as the all-around, do everything and anything load. Jacketed bullets in the .357 Magnum will normally work fine in both the levergun and sixgun; however, cast bullets normally require a gas check to come up with a full house load, which will work in both sixgun and levergun.


Taffin started out his granddaughter the right way:
With a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum.


Bullets John favors most for use in the .357 Magnum include (left to right)
the standard weight 158-grain, Oregon Trail 180, NEI 200 and Lyman 210.

I also have a second favorite cast bullet, a very close second I might add, and it is also gas checked, however this one is about 35 percent heavier than the Lyman/Thompson 358156GC weighing right at 200 grains. It is from NEI and numbered 358.200GC.

When using heavyweight bullets in the .357 Magnum we have to be cognizant of two things. Powder capacity is reduced so great care is needed not only in what powder is chosen, but also how much is to be used, and we also have to contend with overall cylinder length. Before loading a significant amount of heavyweight .357 Magnum loads it is a very good idea to make sure the bullet selected does not protrude past the front end of the cylinder when crimped in the crimping groove. Normally speaking, a longer bullet will shoot more accurately than a standard length bullet.

The powders I use most for both standard and heavyweight bullets are 2400, 4227, AA9, H110, and WW296. With the latter two reserved for jacketed bullets and heavyweight bullets. If I had to pick only one powder for heavy bullets in the .357 Magnum, or even in the .44 Magnum or .45 Colt for that matter, it would be either H110 or WW296. The powder charge I drop most with either one of these excellent powders is 13.5 grains when using the NEI 358.200GC. These are both ball powders and magnum primers are absolutely required for proper ignition and especially so in cold weather. With 2400 and 4227, there seems to be a constant disagreement over whether to use standard primers or magnum primers. These days I pretty much lean to standard primers with the former and magnum primers with the latter.

When I started shooting .357 Magnum sixguns, brass and bullets were very hard to come by. Most of us used .38 Special brass and were literally forced into being bullet casters to have a supply of bullets. Today we have a virtual supermarket of reloading supplies and components allowing us to pick from a long list of excellent .357 Magnum jacketed bullets from such companies as Hornady, Nosler, Sierra and Speer. Several companies offer hardcast bullets with gas checks in various weights, and Oregon Trail offers both semi-wadcutter and roundnosed flatpoint designs. I use these latter bullets for loads in the 1,000 to 1,100 fps muzzle velocity range in the Marlin.

For full-house .357 Magnum loadings I normally go with the above-mentioned powders, however for easy shootin’ loads with cast bullets Universal and WW231 both serve me well. Loads assembled with these two powders may be easy shooting, however, they are also more than adequate for varmints and small game.

With cast bullets I mostly stay with gas-check bullets in all full-house .357 Magnum loads simply because they seem to shoot a lot more accurately without any problem with leading.
By John Taffin

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Varminter Supreme

Handloading The .204 Ruger.

The .204 Ruger appeared in 2004, the commercial end-result of considerable .20-caliber wildcatting. Hornady developed the cartridge in cooperation with Ruger, and it’s basically the .222 Remington Magnum necked down, with a slightly steeper 30-degree shoulder angle.

The first factory ammo featured a 32-grain V-Max at a listed 4,225 fps and a 40-grain at 3,900, and the .204 buzz soon became overwhelming. In mid-April of 2005 I purchased the cheapest rifle my local gun store had on hand, a synthetic-stocked Savage Model 11 sporter, along with several boxes of Hornady ammo. While April may mean sunshine and tulips in other parts of the world, in Montana it resembles March. More than a week went by before half-calm weather appeared, and even then my range-bag thermometer read 35 degrees, but sometimes we must sacrifice comfort to acquire knowledge.

Both Hornady loads grouped five shots well under an inch at 100 yards, and considering the cool temperature, muzzle velocities were pretty close to advertised, the 32’s clocking 4,141 fps and 40’s 3,823. Now I had some empty cases, and the ballistics lab at Western Powders provided some Ramshot TAC data for 32-grain bullets. Introduced in 2000, TAC had become one of my favorite powders for high-volume varmint shooting. It’s a clean-burning, temperature-resistant ball powder that meters easily through small case necks, and also includes a decoppering agent, nice when shooting hundreds of rounds a day.

The maximum load listed by Western resulted in velocities close to the factory ammo with 32-grain Sierra BlitzKings, with fine accuracy. I sighted-in the rifle an inch high at 100 yards, my standard procedure with rodent rifles, and during a prairie dog shoot in May discovered the 32’s shot so flat the crosshairs could be held right on out to 300 yards. This wasn’t totally surprising, since for years I’d shot prairie dogs with the .220 Swift and 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips handloaded to over 4,000 fps—but with the .204 I could watch through the scope as the bullets landed, impossible with the Swift’s recoil, and in my experience not possible even with .223 Remington sporters when using the common 50-grain load.


John’s first .204 was a Savage Model 11. He’s now on his third rifle and fourth barrel.

Of course, watching-the-shot depends to a certain extent on stock shape, how firmly we hold our rifles, and scope magnification, but since then I’ve been able to spot my own shots from all three of the sporter-weight .204’s I’ve owned. However, I apparently do hold my rifles fairly firmly, and often set scopes on only 10X or 12X even when shooting prairie dogs at 400 yards. Eventually I took an informal poll on the internet chat room, and about two-thirds of the shooters said they could spot their shots with a .204 but not a .223, while the other third said they couldn’t tell any difference.

One indisputable ballistic fact is the .204 provides a fine combination of flat trajectory and minimal wind-drift. Flat trajectory supposedly doesn’t matter as much since the advent of laser rangefinders, but when shooting western ground squirrels the target is really tiny and the ground itself often level. Consequently laser rangefinders don’t always provide the exact range, and a flat trajectory remains an advantage at typical ranges.

I’ve hunted prairie dogs with a bunch of excellent shots over the decades, including top military snipers, national high-power champions and world-record benchrest shooters, and have yet to see anybody hit more prairie dogs than they miss much past 350 yards in normal conditions. Oh, once or twice a year a dead-calm day occurs on the high plains, and consistent hits can be made beyond 500 yards, but otherwise the wind’s blowing.

I usually use 26- to 35-grain bullets in milder winds, but above 8 or 10 mph switch to plastic-tipped 40’s, because they drift noticeably less. In fact, at 500 yards they drift about the same amount as 68- and 69-grain match bullets from the .223 Remington. This astonishes shooters who still believe bullet weight controls wind-drift, but in reality ballistic coefficient plus velocity are the two variables.

The .204 Ruger does tend to wear out barrels faster than the .223 Remington, but as my friend Melvin Forbes of New Ultralight Arms says, “Somebody makes new barrels almost every day!” At first I traded off my .204’s when accuracy started to go, and eventually ended up with a Remington 700 VTR. After 1,600+ rounds of often hot shooting the VTR quit consistently shooting minute-of-prairie-dog beyond about 200 yards, but I chanced across a brand-new Remington 700 stainless .204 barrel on the Internet for $75. This beat any trade-in deal, and after I screwed it on to the VTR’s action the headspace was within SAAMI specifications. As you can see from the results it shoots extremely well.

Over the previous decade TAC had worked so well in various .204’s that I’d gotten into a real rut. (If it ain’t broke, why fix it?) But new powders had appeared, and candidates were selected from a search of all the latest handloading info, the primary criterion velocity, because the .204 is all about velocity. (The lone exception is H4895, because so many .204 users on said it was their powder of choice, so I gave it a try.)


The most accurate load in the recent test with the Remington 700’s
stainless barrel was the 35-grain Berger with CFE223, a powder that
also stood out with 26- and 32-grain bullets.

The brass was Remington from factory ammo fired in the stainless 700 barrel, neck-sized using a Redding S-die. The primers were CCI 450 Magnums, partly because the .204 is one of the longer cartridges using small-rifle primers, and partly because many of the powders were harder-to-ignite sphericals. The original 450’s merely had thicker cups than CCI 400’s, to withstand higher pressures, but eventually the priming compound was made hotter as well. These were the hotter 450’s. The charges of all the test handloads all are within 0.1 grain of the maximum load I could find in my literature search.

It should be noted that the 29.0-grain charge of TAC is 1/2-grain more than Ramshot lists for 32-grain bullets. It came from the Nosler Reloading Manual 6, but when Nosler’s 7th manual appeared the maximum charge had been reduced to 26.0 grains. What the ?!? I contacted Nosler, and they pointed out the latest data wasn’t just for 32-grain bullets, but also their 34-grain flat-based hollowpoint, and said the 29-grain load was still good to go with their 32’s.

The overall leader among the newer powders turned out to be Hodgdon CFE223. This just happens to be another spherical powder with a decoppering agent, slightly slower burning than TAC. The best powder for the 26-grain Barnes Varmint Grenade, a “non-toxic” bullet legal for use in California, turned out to be X-Terminator, another Ramshot powder, though without the decoppering agent in TAC. IMR4166 is not a typographical error, but one of the three recently introduced “Enduron” IMR powders sold by Hodgdon. The Endurons are also temperature-resistant with a decoppering agent, though extruded single-base rather than spherical double-base. It looks like a good choice for heavier .204 bullets.

The .204 Ruger still isn’t as popular as the .223 Remington among varmint hunters, because few commercial cartridges ever match the popularity of military rounds. Hunters who give the .204 a workout find it has virtues of its own.

Six of John Barsness’s 11 books are on firearms and shooting. Rifle Handloading and Trouble-shooting was published by Deep Creek Press in 2012, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barness

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Barnes Var. Grenade 26 X-Terminator 29.5 4,279 0.51
Barnes Var. Grenade 26 CFE223 31.5 4,072 1.07
Hornady V-Max 32 MR4166 28.5 3,797 0.72
Nosler Varmageddon 8208 XBR 29.0 3,967 0.72
Nosler Tipped 32 CFE223 31.0 3,894 0.64
Nosler Tipped 32 TAC 29.0 3,916 0.55
Nosler Ballistic Tip 32 TAC 29.0 4,019 0.75
Berger Varmint 35 IMR4166 28.1 3,690 0.73
Berger Varmint 35 CFE223 30.5 3,825 0.48
Hornady V-Max 40 H4895 27.5 3,560 0.87
Hornady V-Max 40 TAC 27.0 3,718 0.62
Hornady V-Max 40 CFE223 29.5 3,573 1.12

Notes: All loads in Remington cases with CCI 450 primers.

.204 Ruger Factory Ammo Performance
Load Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet type , weight) (fps) (inches)
Hornady V-Max 32 factory load 4,141 0.94*
Hornady V-Max 40 3,823 0.76*
Winchester HP 34 3,695 94**
Remington AccuTip 40 3,658 0.75**
Remington AccuTip 40 3,739 0.82**

Notes: *Savage Model 11, 24-inch barrel, **Remington 700, 24-inch stainless barrel

.204 Ruger Handloaded Ammo Performance
Bullet Powder Charge Velocity Group Size
(brand, bullet type, weight) (brand) (grains weight) (fps) (inches)
Gun: Savage Model 11, 24-inch Barrel
Sierra BlitzKing 32 TAC 28.5 4,083 0.81
Gun: Ruger 77 Mark II, 24-inch barrel
Hornady V-Max 32 TAC 28.5 4,047 0.91
Sierra BlitzKing 32 TAC 28.5 3,995 0.47
Sierra BlitzKing 39 TAC 27.0 3,692 0.69
Hornady V-Max 40 TAC 27.0 3,721 0.56
Nosler Ballistic Tip 40 TAC 27.0 3,785 0.62

Notes: All loads with Hornady cases with CCI BR-4 primers.

Gun: Remington 700 VTR, 20-Inch Barrel
Barnes Var. Grenade 26 TAC 31.5 4,219 0.49
Sierra BlitzKing 32 TAC 28.5 3,898 0.80
Nosler Ballistic Tip 32 TAC 29.0 3,828 0.73
Berger Varmint 35 TAC 28.0 3,771 0.68
Nosler Ballistic Tip 40 TAC 27.0 3,490 0.99

Notes: All loads in Hornady or Winchester cases with Federal 205M primers.

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd.
Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Berger Bullets
4275 N. Palm St.
Fullerton, CA 92835
(714) 447-5456

Hodgdon Powder Company
6430 Vista Drive
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island
NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671
Bend, Oregon 97709
(800) 285-3701

Ramshot Powder
Western Powders
P.O. Box 158
Miles City, MT 59301
(800) 497-1007

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry Street
Sedalia, MO 65301
(660) 827-6300


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Reloading The .44 Special

It May Be The Most Important HANDGUN
Cartridge Of The 20th Century.

When I wrote my first book, Big Bore Sixguns, I put forth the idea the .44 Special was the Cartridge of the Century—20th century of course. The .45 Colt and the .38 Special arrived in the 19th century, so the .44 Special, which arrived in late 1907, competed with the .357 Magnum (1935), .44 Magnum (1955) and .41 Magnum (1964). Now most, at least those who are not devotees of the .44 Special, would immediately say no way the .44 Special could compete with these three magnums. That is true, however only with factory loads.

It is very difficult to try to figure out exactly what Smith & Wesson was thinking as far as the .44 Special. They had been chambering their top-break sixguns in the magnificent .44 Russian since the 1870’s. Standard loads for the .44 Russian used a lead bullet of about 250 grains at 750 feet per second. When the longer case .44 Special arrived it was a dead ringer for the .44 Russian with the same bullet at the same muzzle velocity and was even loaded with black powder. The great grand difference was the new sixgun, the first N-Frame from Smith & Wesson. Officially it was the 1st Model Hand Ejector, also known as the New Century and best known by collectors and shooters alike as the Triple-Lock.


The Keith bullet makes the .44 really Special. Keith bullets, here shown
standard and hollowpointed (above, left and middle) and the hollowpoint
version John recovered from a 600+ pound feral pig. The Keith bullet has
been the standard for loading the .44 Special since the 1920’s. In addition
to Keith bullets, the Thompson 429244 gas checked (far right) is also an
excellent bullet for use in the .44 Special (below).


The Heath Bullet

The Triple-Lock was a beautifully made sixgun and got its name from the fact it locked at the front of the ejector rod, at the back of the cylinder, and then with a third meticulously machined lock where the yoke meets the frame. All this security was certainly not needed for the extremely mild .44 Special factory load, however, it would soon open some very large doors. Not too long after the arrival of the .44 Special sixgun and cartridge, a man by the name of Heath in Massachusetts designed what would become known as the semi-wadcutter bullet. During the 1920’s. (and we have no way of knowing if he ever saw the Heath design). Elmer Keith came up with what is universally known now as the Keith bullet.

There are many bullets and bullet designs offered bearing the name Keith, which has become somewhat generic, however, just because a bullet is of the semi-wadcutter design does not make it a Keith bullet. Elmer laid down specific specifications for a bullet bearing his name, namely three equally sized full-caliber driving bands, a deep crimping groove between the middle and top bands, and a large grease groove between the middle and bottom bands. Of course, the bottom is totally flat with no bevel.

I started loading for both the .44 Special and .44 Magnum in the 1950’s and my standard choice, my first choice, for a bullet for loading the .44 Special at the all levels desired is what is normally known as the Keith bullet—not a generic design but one close to what Elmer had in mind. I started with the Lyman 429421, which Elmer had designed in the late 1920’s for the old Ideal Company which preceded Lyman.

I also especially like the Keith bullet as it drops from both the RCBS 44-250KT and the NEI Keith 260.429 molds. I have a 4-cavity aluminum mold for the latter which makes casting very easy, and although I have a 4-cavity steel mold for the original design as well as an old H&G 4-cavity 503 Keith, at this stage of my life I find them so heavy it is fatiguing, so with the Lyman and RCBS Keith bullets I have two molds for each and run two at a time.

Cast from my alloy, which is normally old-style wheelweights or a 50-50 alloy of pure lead and type metal, all Keith bullets weigh approximately 250 to 260 grains. I recently read a declaration of the “fact” for reloading the .44 Special a cast bullet is standardized at 0.430-inch. This is a very simple answer and is definitely not the case if you’re looking for the best possible accuracy out of a particular sixgun. Bullets should be sized to fit chamber throats, and I have American-made .44 Specials whose chambers throats are as tight as 0.427-inch and as large as 0.433, as well as a Spanish copy of the old Smith & Wesson Triple-Lock, which has 0.437-inch throats. Trying to make a 0.430-inch bullet work for every one of these would be an exercise in futility if I was concerned about accuracy. I size my .44 bullets to fit each particular sixgun as close as possible.

Now let’s get down to why I consider the .44 Special the Cartridge of the last century. In the late 1920’s, Keith, after blowing up an old black powder .45 Colt Single Action Army, switched to the .44 Special to get the power he wanted. At first he had No. 80 powder to work with and got up to 1,100 fps with his bullet. When 2400 came along he switched to it and was able to get 1,200 fps. Remember, the factory loading was only 750 fps. At the time he was using the older style .44 Special brass, commonly known as balloon-head brass, which has more case capacity than modern solid head brass. Keith used 18.5 grains of 2400 in old style brass only. When I duplicated his load using the older style brass and 2400, I got just over 1,200 fps from a 7-1/2-inch barrel.


Appropriate powders for the .44 Special in the Colt Single
Action include Unique, 2400 and 4227.

When the new solid brass arrived in the 1950’s, Keith cut his load down to 17.5 grains of 2400. This is still a very hot load, and especially with currently produced 2400, I normally use it only in .44 Special brass to be fired in .44 Magnum sixguns. I did use this load a few years back to take two feral pigs one of which weighed over 500 pounds and the other right at 650 pounds. I used the Keith bullet in hollowpoint form and the bullet went all the way through the smaller pig and we found it mushroomed on the offside under the skin for the larger pig. Performance was perfect.

The .44 Special Keith load pre-dated the .357 Magnum and when the latter arrived Keith said his bullet at 1,200 fps was still a much better choice for game than the new .357 Magnum 158-grain bullet going 200 or 300 fps faster. Keith’s experiments with the .44 Special, which he shared with readers for nearly 30 years, is directly responsible for the advent of the .44 Magnum. We can easily say without the Special there would not have been the magnum.

I rarely use the Keith load these days in .44 Special sixguns. In fact, today I usually cut back to 15.5 grains of 2400 for my top loading of the Keith bullet. I only go above this level with lighter weight bullets. At this stage of my life I am not looking for the most powerful loads possible. My standard loads are assembled with 7.5 grains of either Unique or Universal, 17.5 grains of 4227, or 8.0 grains of Power Pistol.

Depending upon barrel length, sixgun and bullet, these loads will normally be in the 900 to 1,000 fps range, and are certainly capable of doing everything we normally expect a sixgun to do. If I’m looking for a little more velocity, I normally go with the Lyman/Thompson 429215GC. Lubed, sized and with gas check applied, it weighs around 220 grains. For this bullet 8.5 grains of Unique results in 980 fps in a 4-inch-barreled S&W, while 15.5 grains of 2400 delivers 1,140 fps. With a 5-1/2-inch-barreled sixgun such as the Colt New Frontier or Freedom Arms Model 97, 9.0 grains of Unique is just under 1,150 fps.


John shooting the late Bill Grover’s West Texas Flat-Top Target .44
Special. This was Bill’s personal sixgun and has cylinders in
.44 Special, .44 Magnum and .44-40.

For those who don’t cast their own bullets there are several custom casters offering Keith bullets. I often use the Oregon Trail Laser Cast 240-grain SWC. This is not a true Keith bullet and even has a bevel base; however, it often amazes me how well it shoots. With 6.0 grains of Unique and a 5-1/2-inch sixgun, the result is a very pleasant shooting, and accurate, load of 825 fps, or slightly more than the original .44 Special loading from more than 100 years ago. Going up to my standard load of 7.5 Unique registers just over 1,000 fps from a 4-inch S&W Model 1950.

Speer offers what I consider just about the perfect jacketed bullet for the .44 Special. This is their 225-grain SWC-HP. This is one of the first “jacketed” bullets offered by Speer nearly 50 years ago. It is a natural outgrowth of the half-jacketed bullets of the time, and unlike traditional jacketed bullets, this one consists of a full-length copper cup with a lead core. I push this one a little more with 16.5 grains of 2400 yielding over 1,200 fps from a 5-1/2-inch single action.

For the recently offered lightweight .44 Specials sixguns, such as the 3-inch S&W Model 396 and the Charter Arms Bulldog Target revolvers, I use the Speer 200-grain Gold Dot HP designed for the .44 Special over 7.7 grains of Universal. Muzzle velocity is 750 to 775 fps and groups under 1-inch for 5 shots at 20 yards in the 5-inch Charter Arms.

Most of my .44 Special shooting these days is through what I call Perfect Packin’ Pistols. These are single-action or double-action sixguns with barrel lengths from 4 to 5-1/2 inches. They holster easy, carry all day without weighing me down and shoot very pleasantly with minimum felt recoil. The .44 Special may be well over a century old, but for the reloader it is still brand-new.
By John Taffin

Alliant Powder
P.O. Box 856
Lewiston, ID 83501
(800) 379-1732

Hodgdon Powder
6430 Vista Dr.
Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

Lyman Products
475 Smith St.
Middletown, CT 06457
(800) 225-9626

Oregon Trail Bullets
P.O. Box 529
Baker City, OR 97814
(800) 811-0548

605 Oro Dam Blvd.
Oroville, CA 95965
(800) 533-5000

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Avenue
Lewiston, ID 83501
(800) 379-1732

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Revisiting The .300 Winchester Magnum

New Powders, New Bullets Abound.

Editor Jeff was a little startled when informed a year ago that I’d been writing the handloading column for five years, and agreed it might be time to revisit a few subjects, partly due to relatively new developments in powders and bullets. I chose the .300 Winchester Magnum for the first look-again because it’s probably the most popular centerfire magnum in the world.

The original column looked at accurate handloads in several rifles over the years, most using well-known powders and bullets. This time the handloads were selected from the latest data, and were primarily chosen for top velocity, since some of the newer powders result in considerable velocity gains. Also included were some newer bullets.

The test rifle was my Heym SR-21, a modern bolt-action with three locking lugs, resulting in a very low handle lift, allowing about any scope to be mounted without interfering with the bolt handle, a common problem with standard 2-lug bolt actions. It’s also extremely accurate, partly due to the excellent hammer-forged barrel, and partly due to the fine single-set trigger, breaking at a very clean 2-1/2 pounds unset and under 1/2 pound when set. In fact, I use the Heym frequently to test new scopes, since the accuracy and recoil quickly reveal any mechanical faults. (By the way, this rifle has the standard 24-inch barrel of most American .300 Winchesters rather than the 60-centimeter Euro-equivalent, about 23.6 inches.)

The bullets tested ranged from 130 to 220 grains in weight. Only a few years ago most big-game hunters wouldn’t have dreamed of using a 130-grain bullet in a .300 magnum, but the Barnes TSX changed that, since the solid copper design results in a solid refusal to disintegrate, even at very high impact velocities. And the 130-grain loads recoiled noticeably less than those with heavier bullets, something I appreciated during an afternoon of shooting off the bench.


The Heym SR-21 is a 3-lug bolt action, with a very
fine set trigger and hammer-forged barrel.

The fastest load listed in the Barnes manual used Alliant Reloder 19, a powder proven very accurate with 165- to 168-grain bullets in more than one of my .300 Winchesters. With the 130 TTSX, the maximum charge of 83.0 grains resulted in almost 3,600 feet per second—slightly more than Barnes lists—with very good accuracy. For those who prefer lighter bullets at warp speed this is a fine load, partly because the plastic tip enhances ballistic coefficient considerably over the original hollowpoint 130-grain TSX.

The 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip might be considered a little too expansive for use in a .300 Magnum, but I know a Southern landowner who prefers this bullet in his .300 Winchester for culling the over-abundant whitetails from his crop fields. The reason? “Every time you shoot, the deer falls right there. You don’t have to go looking for ’em.”

A couple decades ago most handloaders thought 180-grain .300 Winchester handloads were doing pretty well when they approached 3,100 fps, but several powders will now reach 3,150 to 3,200 fps in 24-inch barrels, in particular Accurate Magpro and Ramshot Magnum. I’ve generally gotten better accuracy with Magnum, but Magpro does quite well in some rifles. The most accurate 180-grain load, however, used Hodgdon’s H1000. Velocity wasn’t super-fast, but I’ve seen this powder result in ultra-fine accuracy with 180’s in other .300 Winchesters as well.

The 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip featured in one of the fast Magpro loads was beefed up considerably a few years ago, because so many people wanted to use them on elk. The jacket’s base is now so thick the bullet normally retains almost as much weight as a 180-grain Nosler Partition, and penetrates very well. At around 3,200 fps it’s a fine elk bullet, for either close or long range.


The tiny cluster in the middle of the larger group just above the scope’s
turret was made by three 210-grain Berger Hunting VLD’s, one of the finest
long-range .30 caliber big game bullets available.

Many hunters prefer spitzers weighing at least 200 grains, for additional penetration and less wind-drift. Along with the handload chart, I put together a comparison of the exterior ballistics of the 200-grain Nosler Partition and 210-grain Berger Hunting VLD out to 600 yards. The Berger resulted in the finest accuracy of the entire test, not unusual for these excellent bullets. (Just for fun, I also included the ballistics of the 130-grain Tipped TSX, the polar opposite of the 210 VLD in every way from weight to construction—though both work very well on game.)

For the heaviest animals in North America, such as brown bears or moose, some hunters prefer traditional 220-grain roundnose bullets, and the .300 Winchester Magnum will easily push these to 2,800+ fps. While most hunters think of roundnose bullets for shorter ranges, that sort of velocity makes the 220 very effective even at 300 yards or more—and very few brown bear hunters shoot beyond 200, much less 300. (Alert readers will probably notice that the charge of Retumbo for the 220 Hornady is a grain heavier than for the 210 Berger. This is due to the shorter bearing surface of the Hornady, resulting in lower pressure.)

For those who might want to use their .300 Winchester for more typical whitetail hunting, I included Hodgdon’s 150-grain reduced load with Trail Boss. This shot accurately enough for deer at “woods” ranges, but I’d use roundnose bullets designed for the .30-30 rather than the Speer spitzer listed, because a spitzer probably won’t expand at such low velocities.

New powders and bullets have resulted in an even more versatile .300 Winchester Magnum, and despite its supposedly antique belted case it will no doubt continue as the world’s leading centerfire magnum well into the 21st century.

Five of John Barsness’s 10 books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Loony News: The First Five Years, a paperback collection of the quarterly Internet newsletter by John and his wife Eileen Clarke, was just published by Deep Creek Press. It’s available through, or P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

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Kinder, Gentler .338’s

There’s No Reason a Game-Getting
Gun Has To Kill On Both Ends.

The first commercial cartridge using 0.338-inch bullets was the .33 Winchester Center Fire, with a 200-grain flatnosed bullet at 2,200 feet per second. Introduced in 1903 as the first smokeless-powder round for the big 1886 lever-action, it never sold very well. Big lever-actions were already declining in popularity, since bolt-actions easily handled more powerful, longer-range cartridges, and the .33 WCF disappeared from Winchester’s line-up in 1940 with the introduction of the .348 WCF in the Winchester Model 71.

Winchester’s next .33 came along in 1958, mostly through the promotion of Elmer Keith, then a staff writer for GUNS. He’d long believed in heavier, larger-caliber bullets for big game, and over the decades settled on .33 caliber as providing optimum performance on animals from mule deer to moose. Keith and his partners—gunsmith Charles O’Neil and Don Hopkins, a wealthy rifle enthusiast—developed a pair of wildcat .33’s, using 250- and 300-grain British 0.333-inch diameter bullets for the .333 Jeffery, rather than the stumpy 200-grain .338 bullet for the .33 WCF. The .333 OKH (O’Neil/Keith/Hopkins) was the .30-06 necked up, while the .334 OKH used a modified .300 Holland & Holland belted case and, with some changes, became the .338 Winchester Magnum, using 0.338-inch bullets instead of the British 0.333-inch.

The .338’s original factory loads featured a 200-grain spitzer at a listed 3,000 fps, a 250-grain spitzer at 2,700, and a 300-grain roundnose at 2,450. Keith didn’t approve of the 200-grain load, mostly because he’d grown up with cup-and-core bullets, finding heavier bullets at moderate muzzle velocities penetrated deeper on game larger than the average whitetail—something still true of such simple bullets.

The .338 didn’t become immediately popular, primarily because hunting game larger than deer wasn’t common back then. Elk weren’t nearly as numerous as now, and most Americans hunters didn’t travel beyond their home state, whether to Idaho for elk, or Canada and Alaska for moose and grizzlies. But that soon changed, and today the .338 Winchester Magnum is the most popular “medium bore” hunting cartridge in the USA and Canada, and quite a few African hunters use it as well.


One of the most accurate loads in the .338 Federal featured the
200-grain Speer Hot-Cor, and it expands perfectly at such
moderate velocities.


The mild .338’s are particularly useful on game larger than deer, but aren’t
necessarily only “woods” rounds. One of the virtues of the milder .338’s is
they work very well on big game with cup-and-core bullets.

Due to lots of new “premium” bullets since 1958, along with the Nosler Partition (a decade old when the cartridge appeared), not many hunters use anything over 250 grains anymore, and many prefer lighter bullets. But Elmer’s cartridge still kicks too much for many hunters, the reason a Montana elk outfitter of my acquaintance carries a .375 H&H: “I use it to finish off bulls my clients gut-shoot with their brand-new .338’s.”

Over the next 40 years several commercial .33-caliber cartridges appeared, but the .340 and .338/.378 Weatherby and .338 Lapua Magnum kicked even more than the .338 Winchester, the reason for a small but consistent market for milder wildcat .338’s. The primary choice was the wildcat .338-06, sometimes called the .338 OKH, because the three partners switched to the “American” diameter after Winchester and Nosler bullets became available. Around 1998 A-Square (which has gone through numerous changes over the years) turned the .338-06 into a factory round. Both A-Square and Weatherby chambered it for a while, but as of right now there is no factory ammunition or even headstamped brass. Consequently most shooters treat it like a wildcat, making their own brass and ammo from .30-06 cases.

I’ve been fooling around with the .338-06 and .338 Winchester Magnum for over a quarter-century now. Both my original rifles were “cheap customs,” put together part-by-part (and partly by me) as my budget allowed. Both started off as fairly heavy rifles, because they were among my first chambered for a cartridge larger than the .30-06, and I’d heard stories about recoil. The .338-06 was a somewhat lighter rifle, but after eventually owning rifles chambered for far larger cartridges I decided the .338 Winchester Magnum didn’t kick all that much. So I sold the .338-06 and lightened my .338 Winchester to about 8 pounds with scope, sling and full magazine, partly because I’d discovered it shot fine with .338-06 level handloads with 200- to 225-grain bullets. I used them for deer and “magnum” loads for larger game.

In the 21st century, however, a couple of other mild .338’s were finally introduced as factory rounds. The first was the .338 Federal, the .308 Winchester necked up, appearing in 2005. This looked like a nifty round for a light bolt-action, so I obtained a Kimber 84M Classic and started playing with the little rifle.


John’s squinting, not because of the recoil of the Kimber .338 Federal,
but because of the bright July light outside the shooting shack.


The .338 Federal and .338 RCM cases are exactly the same
length, but the Ruger round holds considerably more powder.

Three years later Ruger and Hornady brought out the .338 Ruger Compact Magnum, one of the short, fat, beltless rounds that were supposedly going to make belted magnums obsolete. Instead, the long-run popularity of the short-fats has been rather limited, but I’ve been fooling with a Ruger Hawkeye Guide Rifle in .338 RCM for a few months now. The fired cases hold about 1.5 grains more than .338-06 cases made with necked-up Norma brass, so it’s essentially a short-action .338 OKH.

The primary point of the .338 Federal and .338 RCM is reduced recoil compared to the .338 Winchester Magnum. The .338 Federal produces muzzle velocities very similar to the .30-06 with equal bullet weights, and even with 225-grain spitzers at around 2,450 fps the little round is capable of surprising performance beyond “woods” ranges, but 250-grain bullets are just too long to leave sufficient powder room in the small case. The Kimber only weighs 2 ounces over 6 pounds with a Leupold 3×20 Big Bore scope in Leupold mounts and, while recoil is definitely noticeable, it still ain’t anything like a typical .338 Winchester. While Federal lists brass on their website, a lot of handloaders neck up abundant .308 Winchester brass.

The .338 RCM’s fatter case holds considerably more powder, so can handle 250-grain spitzers at about the same velocity as 225’s in the .338 Federal, even in the 20-inch barrel the round was designed for, making it more versatile but increasing recoil. The Hawkeye Guide Gun has removable spacers to adjust length of pull, plus a muzzlebrake that can be removed and the threaded muzzle fitted with a small cap or a “muzzle weight,” essentially a blank brake preventing any change in point of impact after sighting-in. A 3×20 Big Bore was also mounted on the Guide Gun, bringing the weight to 8-1/2 pounds, and even without the brake the Ruger kicks less than the light Kimber.

With a pair of rifles in .338 Federal and .338 Winchester Magnum there’s really no need for a .338 Ruger Compact Magnum, but for a hunter who doesn’t like recoil but wants to use heavier bullets than any .30 caliber, the .338 RCM or a .338-06 A-Square would be an excellent choice. The .338-06 has the advantages of easily available .30-06 brass and a couple extra rounds in the magazine of a typical bolt action, while the .338 RCM fits in a short action, and factory brass is reasonably available.

In all three rounds inexpensive cup-and-core bullets work well, something that would warm Elmer Keith’s heart. For any hunter interested in a kinder, gentler .338, any of the three “sub-Winchesters” will do the job.

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

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Alliant Powder
P.O. Box 6, Radford, VA 24143
(800) 276-9337

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd., Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Federal Cartridge Company
900 Ehlen Drive, Anoka, MN 55303
(612) 323-2300

Hodgdon Powder Company
6430 Vista Drive, Shawnee, KS 66218
(913) 362-9455

3625 Old Potash Hwy, Grand Island, NE 68802
(800) 338-3220

1 Lawton Street, Yonkers, NY 10705
(888) 243-4522

New Ultra Light Arms
P.O. Box 340, Granville, WV 26534
(304) 292-0600

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671, Bend, OR 97709
(800) 285-3701

Ramshot powder
Western Powders
P.O. Box 158, Miles City, MT 59301
(800) 497-1007

Sierra Bullets
1400 West Henry Street, Sedalia, MO 65301
(660) 827-6300

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Avenue, Lewiston, ID 83501
(208) 746-2351

Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
200 Ruger Road, Prescott, AZ 86301
(928) 541-8892

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Monolithic Bullets

Superb Performance And Reliable
Expansion Are THE NEW “Normal.”

One of the interesting terms used today is “monolithic bullets.” Mono meaning one and lithic meaning stone, so the primary meaning of the word literally means an object comprised of one large stone. Over time, however, meanings expanded to include not just rocks but unvarying societies, certain silicon chips and even bullets made of one metal. The last is intriguing because originally all bullets were made of one material, and aside from lead many were stone.

The bullets called monolithic today are made of copper or the copper-zinc alloy brass, including the mild brass known as gilding metal, consisting of at least 90 percent copper. Brass and copper bullets are considered non-toxic when ingested by animals or humans. Non-toxic bullets are required by law in some parts of the US, particularly where California condors might eat parts of animals killed with lead-cored bullets, but are required for all hunting in several European countries. (Europe also often has higher standards against toxic ingredients in primers and powders, but that’s another story.)


Many hunters use relatively light monolithic bullets to hunt large
game with the reputation for being very tough to put down. Eileen
Clarke used a 150-grain Nosler E-Tip from her custom Kilimanjaro
.308 Winchester to take a South African zebra.


Monolithic bullets are also harder than lead, so don’t deform as much when striking a target, particularly useful when hunting larger animals, since they usually penetrate deeper than lead-core expanding bullets. They also act differently inside firearms, again because they’re harder. Even the toughest jacketed lead-core bullets can be more easily squeezed down in a slightly under-sized bore, or “bump up” to fill slightly over-sized grooves.

Copper and brass are far less flexible. This resulted in problems with the first Barnes X-Bullets, made of copper with uniform, ungrooved shanks. The biggest problem was accuracy, since their lack of flexibility only allowed them to match certain bores precisely. When they did match bore diameter, accuracy was excellent, since unlike lead-cored bullets, the uniformity of the copper made bullet balance very consistent.


Brian McCombie used a single 150-grain Hornady GMX from a
Mauser Model 12 in .300 Winchester Magnum on his South Texas nilgai


But copper is softer and “grabbier” than gilding metal, the standard material for bullet jackets, so it tended to not only strip off in the bore, but also raised pressures. All-copper bullets are also longer than lead-cored bullets of the same weight and caliber, resulting in more contact between the bullet shank and bore. As a result, after a few shots, copper often built up inside the bore to the point where accuracy soured, and the copper fouling was difficult to remove.

The first solution tried by Barnes was a friction-reducing coating. This reduced pressure and fouling, but the bullets still had to match bores closely for the best accuracy. The eventual solution, of course, was grooves in the X-Bullet’s shank, resulting in the Triple Shock X-Bullet. The grooves reduced both pressure and fouling, and as a result TSX’s normally rank among the most accurate hunting bullets made.

Eventually hunters got used to using lighter bullets, since monolithics penetrate just as deeply as heavier lead-core bullets with the side-benefits of flatter trajectory over normal hunting ranges, plus lighter recoil. My wife Eileen has used monolithics on pronghorn ranging in weight from the 40-grain Cutting Edge Raptor in the .22-250 to the 90-grain Nosler E-Tip from the .243 Winchester with no problems, and many hunters of 500+ pound animals regularly use monolithics from 120 to 150 grains.

The same benefits usually apply to handgun bullets, and today quite a few companies make monolithic bullets for handguns. Partly this is because of environmental requirements (most larger American bullet companies also sell bullets in Europe) but it’s also because today’s designs work very well for various kinds of shooting.


Because they’re perfectly balanced, monolithics tend to be very accurate.
This Sako .280 shoots 120-grain Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullets just as
well as Sierra GameKings.

Weight Retention

One side effect of the Barnes X-Bullet was acceptance from a group we might call “weight-retention junkies.” During the first part of the 20th century, lead-cored bullets were plagued for years by excessive weight loss during expansion, especially at high terminal velocities. This was exactly the reason for the development of “premium” hunting bullets, starting with the Partition in the late 1940’s, and also for handgun bullets such as the Speer Gold Dot, made by plating the jacket to the core. As a result, higher weight retention became synonymous with deeper penetration, though in reality the frontal area of expanding bullets has more effect.

Barnes X-Bullets got their name because of serrations inside the hollowpoint allowing the front of the bullet to expand into four “petals,” forming an X-shape. Early X-Bullets often lost some petals and, due to the fixation on weight retention, the loss of even one petal was often judged a partial failure, even if whatever the bullet hit died quickly. This was because many shooters assumed higher weight retention and deeper penetration meant quicker kills, something that isn’t true. If it was, hunters would only use non-expanding “solid” bullets.

In fact, an expanding bullet shedding some weight usually creates a larger wound channel, and a bigger hole means faster results, something generally confirmed by forensic science. This was why John Nosler designed the Partition with a softer, disintegrating front core combined with harder rear core, so it would kill smaller big game like deer quickly, yet penetrate deeply on large animals like moose. Yet today some hunters consider any Partition that loses the front core a failure, like a Barnes X-Bullet that loses its petals, even after recovering either bullet from an animal that died quite suddenly.

The fixation on 100 percent weight retention even slightly puzzled Randy Brooks, but he gave his customers what they wanted, adjusting the X-Bullet design until they almost always retained all four petals. As a result TSX’s do penetrate very deeply, and while they kill very well if placed correctly, if off a little (say in the rear half of an elk’s lungs) they don’t tend to kill as quickly as bullets that lose some weight. Consequently quite a few of the fans of the TSX and similar bullets often “aim for bone,” meaning shoulders and spine, instead of the lung cavity.

One virtue of 100 percent weight retention is less meat loss on game animals, but this is compromised when shooting bone, since bone fragments act very much like bullet fragments, and shoulder and spine are surrounded by far more meat than the rib-cage. Consequently, other bullet makers have constructed their monolithic expanding bullets to lose the petals. The list includes Norma’s Kalahari rifle bullet, and both the rifle and handgun Raptors from Cutting Edge.

When handloading monolithic bullets it’s imperative to use loading data for the specific bullet, since both the metal, whether the shank is grooved or solid, and a possible coating will have major effects on pressure. Lighter bullets are usually preferable, since their shanks are shorter, reducing pressures due to less bore contact and leaving more powder room inside the case, particularly important when loading handgun cartridges. If we follow those basic guidelines, monolithic bullets can provide very fine performance, both in rifles and handguns.

Four of John Barsness’s nine books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

Barnes Bullets
38 N. Frontage Rd.
Mona, UT 84645
(435) 856-1000

Cutting Edge Bullets, LLC
75 Basin Run Road
Drifting, PA 16834
(814) 345-6690

GS Custom Bullets USA
(269) 861-2553

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

Norma USA

Nosler, Inc.
P.O. Box 671
Bend, Oregon 97709
(800) 285-3701

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The Classic .32 ACP

These handloads were worked up for the
short barrels often found ON SMALL pocket
guns LIKE the Beretta Tomcat.

The .32 Automatic Colt Pistol has long been a cartridge of contradictions. It was developed by John Browning in 1899 for one of his semi-auto handgun designs, introduced as the Fabrique Nationale Modele 1899, and other firearms companies soon started producing .32 ACP pistols, including Colt, Savage and Walther.

The cartridge became the standard for police and military use in a number of European countries, and some famous people used handguns chambered for the .32 ACP, including American president Theodore Roosevelt and the fictional spy James Bond. (Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, switched him to a Walther PPK .32 after noted British firearms authority Geoffrey Boothroyd said Bond’s original choice, a Beretta .25 ACP, was a “lady’s gun.”)
By the mid-20th century the .32 ACP was one of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world, but in America it’s often lumped with the .25 ACP as an inadequate “mouse gun,” and as Massad Ayoob suggests, “Friends don’t let friends carry mouse guns.” Still, a lot of people carry .32 ACP’s, including several American cops I’ve known—though as a well-hidden backup to their primary handgun, due to the tiny size of many of today’s .32 ACP’s.

My own first .32 ACP was an FN Model 1910, one of the standards for European military and police use. The 1910, like the Walther PPK, was more of a medium-sized pistol than a true pocket pistol. Mine was well-worn and would barely keep its shots on a pie plate at 15 yards, but never jammed or otherwise misbehaved. However, many if not most of today’s .32 ACP’s are much smaller, befitting their role as backups. Eventually my 1910 was transformed into a Beretta Tomcat, one of the most popular modern .32’s. This proved to be just as reliable and far more accurate than the FN.

The one “problem” with such ultra-compact semi-autos is their short barrels, usually about 2-1/2 inches, rather than 3-1/2 to 4 inches for “standard” size .32 ACP’s. This obviously reduces velocity, especially since Beretta specifically recommends against using “+P” ammunition such as the CorBon 60-grain JHP load, listed at 1,050 fps from a 2-1/2-inch test barrel. In contrast, the .32 ACP velocity standard of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute (SAAMI) for a 60-grain bullet is 970 fps from a 4-inch test barrel, and available handloading data from SAAMI members Alliant, Hodgdon and Hornady adheres to the standard level.


The 00-buck practice load grouped just as well as any of
the jacketed loads, and fed and ejected perfectly.


Per usual, I gathered all the data available before running my tests, but unfortunately the present component shortage prevented me from trying all the powders listed as producing the highest velocities, especially Hodgdon AutoComp and Titegroup. Even Hodgdon didn’t have any, and a search of local stores was so fruitless I got laughed at more than once.

The shortage almost affected one of the bullets used. There weren’t any .32 ACP bullets on local shelves, but I had some Remington 71-grain full metal jackets found at a gun show a few years before. Hornady and Speer sent along some 60-grain jacketed hollowpoints, though at the time Hornady was apparently out of 85-grain XTP’s. I do have a Lee bullet mold for a 93-grain roundnose used in the .32-20, but though some handloaders report using it in the .32 ACP, there wasn’t any data for bullets that heavy, and I wanted to see if 85-grainers would develop enough zip in the Tomcat’s 2.4-inch barrel. Luckily, during my chastening powder search I came across a box of Hornady 85’s tucked away in a dark corner of one store.

One other projectile tried was 00 buckshot sized down to .311 in a Lee tube. I’ve been experimenting with shooting buckshot as bullets in handguns and rifles over the past year or so, something I’d read about here and there for years, and the present shortage of handgun and rifle bullets suddenly turned it into a good idea. Anybody who actually uses a pocket-sized .32 ACP should surely practice considerably, and the shortage doesn’t include most shotgun components.

I found a 5-pound box of Hornady 00 at a local store for $25.99 (the label even says “Hornady Bullets”) and they turned out to be pretty hard and very consistent, averaging 0.330-inch in diameter and 53.2 grains in weight. Since Montana doesn’t have a sales tax, the per-pellet price was just under 4¢ apiece, compared to over 18¢ for the 85-grain Hornady XTP’s. I rolled them in Lee Alox liquid lube and let them dry overnight before sizing, then lubed them again after sizing. After loading and crimping, I wiped the slightly sticky Alox off the exposed lead with a cotton cleaning patch soaked in rubbing alcohol.

The brass used was Remington and the primers Remington 1-1/2’s. It should be noted that many European cases are thicker-walled than American cases, apparently because some European guns have groove diameters much closer to our .30 caliber, around 0.309 inch. The Beretta’s measured 0.311, but some other brands (especially older guns) will vary more. The listed SAAMI maximum for bullet diameter is 0.3125 inch, with an allowable smaller variation of 0.006. The Remington FMJ’s and Speer Gold Dots are listed at 0.311, and Hornady XTP’s at 0.312.


The box kept brass on the left side of the bench, where it was more
easily found than in the ankle-high grass on the right side.

At first glance the case looks like many rimless handgun rounds, but is actually semi-rimmed, headspacing on the rim rather than the case mouth, so trimming isn’t as critical as with the 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. (The rim can cause hang-ups inside the magazines of some guns and, in older guns with worn or oversized chambers, a heavy firing-pin fall has been known to punch the case into the chamber.)

Rather than test-fire at the typical 25 yards, I shot at 7 yards, the supposed average gunfight range. This is far more realistic with the little Tomcat, especially with its 3-inch sight radius—and the sights are unlikely to play any role in real-life situations anyway. Five-shot groups with all the jacketed loads averaged around 2 inches, and the buckshot load grouped similarly! It also fed perfectly, even though the overall cartridge length was over 0.1-inch shorter than SAAMI’s suggested minimum of 0.940, and didn’t leave any leading in the bore.

Only two powders were tried with the 85-grain XTP’s, because there’s far less data for 85’s than for 60- and 71-grain bullets. The super-low velocities indicated there isn’t much point in using them in short-barreled .32 ACP’s, and even the 71 FMJ’s weren’t exactly speedy. But the 800+ fps velocity of the 60-grain Speer factory load I usually carry in the Tomcat was approached or matched with either the 60-grain Gold Dot or XTP with most powders. A 60-grain bullet at 800 fps may not be a super-stopper, but as a retired law enforcement friend remarked, “With a .32 ACP you’re not exactly unarmed!”

Four of John Barsness’s 9 books are on firearms and shooting. His latest, Rifle Trouble-Shooting and Handloading, was published in 2012 by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

Beretta USA
17601 Beretta Drive
Accokeek, MD 20607
(301) 283-2191

Hornady Mfg. Co.
3625 Old Potash Hwy.
Grand Island, NE 68802-1848
(800) 338-3220

P.O. Box 700
Madison, NC 27025
(800) 243-9700

Speer Bullets
2299 Snake River Avenue
Lewiston, ID 83501
(208) 746-2351

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