There’s A Wide Divide Among Shooters
Who Coat Bullets And Those Who Don’t.
By Dave Anderson
In the world of rifles, not many topics have provoked as much controversy as the use of moly coated bullets. Moly coated bullets have been around for a long time now. I think one reason for the controversy is, at least at first, no one explained exactly what the purpose was.
As we’ve all read many times, molybdenum disulfide is a very “slippery” product. Once the bore has a thin coating of moly, when moly coated bullets are fired through it pressure is reduced, as is velocity. Typically pressure is reduced by a larger percentage than velocity.
When the powder charge is increased to bring pressures back to where they were with uncoated bullets, it is typical to see velocities a bit higher. Since many shooters think the purpose of handloading is to increase velocity over factory loads, it seemed logical to assume the primary benefit of moly coating was to increase velocity.
In practice the velocity increase is typically on the order of 2 to 3 percent, meaning for cartridges with muzzle velocities in the 2,500 to 3,000 fps range the increase was around 50 or 100 fps. This isn’t high enough to cause much excitement.
So a handloading shooter might buy a box of moly coated bullets, get a minor velocity increase and find his overall shooting experience and quality of life pretty much unchanged. Then he’d hear horror stories of moly attracting water and rusting the bore. Or he’d hear how, under the layer of moly in the bore, evil gremlins were hard at work at various barrel-destroying schemes.
Even more ominously he’d read how the moly could never be removed. Out would come the cleaning rod, brushes, patches, solvents, and hours of work in a desperate attempt to save the bore. Then he’d trade off the rifle and vow no more moly for me, ever! Keep the vile stuff away!
Currently there are three materials used in coating bullets. Molybdenum Disulfide (“Moly”) has been used for years and is still a popular choice. More recent alternatives include Hexagonal Boron Nitride (“HBN”) and Tungsten Disulfide (“WS2”). Since moly is what I’ve been using I’ll focus on it here, and discuss the other products in future columns.
Even when the anti-moly backlash was at its peak I knew of several riflemen who continued using it, all of them high-volume shooters. Among them were Jeff Hoffman, co-owner of Black Hills Ammunition, reserve police officer and SWAT team rifleman, David Tubb, winner of multiple championship rifle matches, considered by many as the best rifle shooter in the world and Doug Koenig, another national and world champion, and the best all-around shooter I know.
Except for whatever test and proof loads were fired at the factory,
this All-Weather Ruger 77 Hawkeye .223 has been fired only with moly
coated bullets. At presstime, it has been fired a bit over 600 rounds
without being cleaned, and with no loss of accuracy. Scope is Leupold
Mk4 3.5-10×40 in Leupold rings.
les, if their owners were to keep an accurate count, actually fire from a couple of dozen to maybe 200 rounds in a year. If the owners were into varmint shooting or some kind of competition, the round count would go up, of course. But the moly users I know fire thousands of rounds annually.
They don’t use moly-coated bullets to gain a few fps velocity. They do so in order to maintain accuracy over longer cleaning intervals. I once asked David Tubb if he felt it necessary to clean the bores of his match rifles every 20 or 30 rounds. I remember how he laughed, “I clean my barrels every 600 rounds whether they need it or not.”
It isn’t as though bore cleaning takes too much time and work. I don’t find barrel cleaning great fun but it’s no big job either. My view is most shooters clean too little or too much, and I’m coming around to think too much is worse. At busy ranges it seems some shooters clean far more than they shoot, plying the cleaning rod industriously and often without a bore guide, doing more harm than good. In my perfect world the only thing going through the bore would be more bullets.
Another benefit is longer barrel life and reduced throat erosion. Norma of Sweden did some tests, controlling variables as much as possible, and found a significant increase in accurate barrel life, from 50 percent to as much as double. Even the most conservative estimates I’m aware of suggest at least a 20 percent increase in accurate barrel life.
Many shooters using moly report better ammunition consistency, with lower extreme spreads and standard deviation. Minor inconsistencies, which might not be evident at 100 or 200 yards, become more apparent as the range increases.
Moly coating seems to bring out strong feelings from many shooters, either “always” or “never!” I can’t work up any strong emotions either way. I fire a lot of rounds annually but they are spread over a lot of rifles, some of which are on consignment.
Personally I use coated bullets in a relatively small number of rifles which get shot a lot, for practice and because I like shooting rifles. Currently my most-used centerfire is a Ruger 77 Hawkeye All Weather .223. I bought one several years ago and liked it so much I later bought a second identical rifle which has been used exclusively with moly-coated, Hornady 55-grain V-Max bullets.
A key to good performance with coated bullets is to start with a really clean bore. The easiest way to do so is when the rifle is new and has only been fired at the factory. I don’t have a hard and fast rule, but as a rough guideline if I think it will be shot 500 rounds or more annually, for varmint shooting, competition, or fun and practice, I’ll use coated bullets exclusively.
A batch of 280 .223 cartridges loaded to feed Dave’s Ruger 77 Hawkeye
All Weather workhorse rifle. Why 280? With the powder charge he uses,
280 rounds use 1 pound of Hodgdon H-335 powder. Bullets are Hornady
55-grain V-Max, moly coated, using Lyman products.
Before firing a moly-coated bullet, clean the bore thoroughly. Even with a new,
out of the box rifle Dave cleans the bore with powder and copper solvents,
J-B Bore Paste, and then Outer’s Crud Cutter to remove the J-B. He runs two
or three patches with Super Moly Bore Cream through the bore to get the bore
thoroughly coated with moly, then a dry patch to remove any excess.
Some bullet makers offer moly, which is certainly the easiest way to acquire them. The selection tends to be fairly limited, if available at all, and most likely you’ll have to apply the coating yourself. Lyman Products offers an outstanding kit for applying moly, including an electric tumbler, moly powder, plating media, and fine finishing media.
The kit includes detailed instructions, which I won’t duplicate here. I can add, when they say a little moly goes a long way, believe it. Take care not to inhale powdered moly. I use it only outside, generally on a nice hot calm summer day. When loading the tumbler and separating bullets from the media I wear a top quality respirator from my farming days, used when mixing chemicals for crop spraying.
Instructions say to wash bullets, which may or may not be necessary. With the Hornady bullets I mostly use in my .223 I haven’t found it necessary, but don’t handle the bullets; just open the bag and dump them into the tumbler. It’s as easy to do a big batch as a small one; I seldom do fewer than 500 bullets at a time.
Even a rifle new from the box has been fired for function and proof testing at the factory, and likely has some sort of preservative in the bore. Clean thoroughly with powder and copper solvents. I also use J-B Bore Compound to get the bore really clean, and finish with Outer’s Crud Cutter to remove the J-B.
I then apply Lyman’s “Super Moly Bore Cream” to the bore, using two or three patches to get a good heavy layer of the cream in the bore, so it gets down into the rifling grooves. The last step is to patch out the surplus cream with a few dry patches.
As I write this, the Hawkeye .223 has fired a bit more than 600 moly-coated bullets, has never had the bore cleaned, and still fires the same sub-MOA groups as it did from the beginning. Some of my buddies are of the school: “I clean the bore even if I fire only one shot, just as my daddy/the army/a firearms instructor taught me!” The very thought of 600 rounds without cleaning maddens them. Guys—I promise—if I get to 1,000 rounds with no loss of accuracy I’ll clean the barrel. Even if it doesn’t need it.
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