With .45 auto being the
number one caliber in handguns it's little wonder that so many people load for
this venerable classic. The 1911 style pistol along with all its variants has
been going strong for almost 100 years. Granted that the shift to 9mm for
military and police use is more in keeping with current trends (although the
police have moved more towards .40 S&W and .357 Sig calibers recently and less
departments are staying with the 9mm) the past and current sales of 1911 pistols
and other guns chambered for .45 ACP is still going as strong as ever. The
reasons for the cartridges popularity are its great ballistics, accuracy and,
ease to reload. The .45 ACP being a low pressure round is ideal in many ways for
cast lead bullets. When Colonel Jeff Cooper (The father of modern pistol craft)
gave his blessing upon the .45 ACP and began the original ďleatherslapĒ type
competition (the forerunner of I.P.S.C. (( International Pistol Shooters
Confederation)) the shooters took to this competition like the proverbial duck
takes to water. Here was combat style shooting at various targets and with
diverse distances. And the .45 ruled due to the scoring system that relegated
the .45 to MAJOR and the 9mm to minor by virtue of a stated power factor. Since
scoring became an important issue and feed reliability was a must it was found
that the IPSC shooters needed a bullet that was feed reliable, accurate and
would cut clean holes on paper for scoring purposes. The bullseye crowd had the
185 grain SWC that gave them two out of the three requirements. But the feed
issue with the short nose 185 was unacceptable to the IPSC crowd since an alibi
(allowable in bullseye) was not allowed in IPSC if your gun jammed. After some
searching it was settled that the bullet that met all the requirements was the
venerable H&G68 200 grain semiwadcutter. The bullet was developed by the famous
(but now closed) Hensley and Gibbs mold manufacturers. It was their number 68
mold designation and it became the Gold standard in the shooting world. Today
this bullet is the number one selling bullet period regardless of any other
caliber weight or shape.
The requirement that the bullets feed reliably fell upon, to some extent, the bullet makers to produce bullets hard enough to take the rapid and heavy cycling of these guns so that the bullets did not deform from being too soft which was a problem with the swaged bullets.
The 2/6 mix proved to be pretty reliable in this application but suffered from being a bit too hard for the pressures that the .45 ACP was generating and the powders being used during that time (mostly WW 231 and Bullseye). This resulted in breech bore fouling that usually ran about the first 1/2 to 3/4s of an inch inside the barrel. The initial engraving of a lead bullet, whether it was in a revolver or auto pistol, led to the most common type of fouling that was being seen and that was at the breech end. The three things that corrected this problem were powder speed, hardness of the alloy and proper sizing.
Most shooters lived with the problem as the match was usually over before the fouling became enough of an issue to cause a significant reduction in accuracy. Along the way a shot shell powder started being used because it was cheaper than the other powders and it metered well thru powder measures and lo and behold the powder caused far less fouling because of its slower and cooler burn rate and the accuracy was as good as anything else out there. The powder was WW452AA. After a while the powder was discontinued and replaced by WW Super Target which is still one of the best .45 ACP powders available especially if you have to make a power factor. Along the way other powders started to show up that reflected newer technology and were better suited to cast bullet usage. Hodgdon introduced Clays, a powder developed for (you guessed it) the new shotgun sport; Sporting Clays. Since this new action oriented sport was growing by leaps and bounds the shotgun crowd wanted a powder that was cleaner burning than the old traditional Red Dot. The new powders being formulated were moving towards flatter pressure curves and more progressive burn rates, meaning the powders burned faster at the end of their cycle rather than at the begriming and avoided the larger initial peak pressure associated with some of the older technology powders. This was due to the change from the old copper crusher method of measuring pressure to the more advanced piezo pressure transducer system that measured in pounds per square inch (psi). The advantage was also that for the first time ballisticians could hook the output of the transducer to an oscilloscope and see the entire burn trace as opposed to only reading the peak pressure as measured by the older copper crusher method. The newer powders didnít generate the same peak pressure but then they didnít fall off as rapidly as the older powders. A change in felt recoil was being experienced as the flatter pressure curves felt more like a shove than a snap and that was also a big plus.
Conventional wisdom early on held that semi-autos needed fast powders to cycle properly but the evidence over the years seems to contradict that belief. Most autos do very well with medium to medium slow burning powders and the result is usually better accuracy and a cleaner gun. For many years Bullseye and 231 ruled in auto applications and while they are still in use there are better choices available out there today. Bear in mind that powder development for pistols ranked last with powder manufacturers as their primary sales of powder went to the shotgun and rifle crowd. Only the explosive growth and demand of pistol shooting over the last twenty-five years changed their mind on this subject. Today the Handloader / Reloader has a wealth of choices available to them with respect to powder selection. There is also some false economy that some people indulge in with respect to finding powders that will give them the most loads per pound of powder rather than getting the best powder for the job at hand.
Some of the same things that applied to revolvers applies to the autos as well.
For the most part 99% of all .45 1911 style pistols do perfectly fine with .452 diameter cast bullets. This includes Kimbers, Les Baer and Springfield Armory guns as well. If you are that concerned then by all means measure the barrel to get a true dimension. Most problems that some individuals encounter with cast bullets being .001" over nominal diameter has more to due with chambering issues with the reloaded ammo than with the actual bullet diameter. Improperly loaded ammo that has an excessive bulge from improper loading can cause many headaches and the result is to blame the bullet for being oversize and causing the bulge. Lee has sold a lot of Factory Crimp Dies that feature a carbide size ring that forcibly reshapes the finished round into one that will chamber into any factory spec barrel. The problem is that this also resizes the bullet as well and causes a detriment to accuracy. The solution is to not take a band aid approach to correct the problem AFTER it has occurred but to take the necessary steps beforehand to prevent it in the first place. I will cover this in much more detail in the 'Press and Dies' section of this guide.
On the other hand 9mms should always be measured. The extreme variance in barrel dimensions is staggering when I look back upon it. The range has run from a tight .355" to a exceptionally loose .358" diameter on some guns. For the longest time Berettas were among the most notorious in this respect while Sig Sauer was at the very tight end of the tolerance.
I get a good number of inquires about lead bullets being used in Glocks so Iím going to express my thoughts on the subject. The most common thing heard about Glocks, as well as H&Ks and Kahrs for that matter, is that you should not use cast bullets in these guns due to the polygonal rifling used in these guns. It is said that such rifling causes dangerous pressure spikes in such guns and the result is a dangerous KB (kaboom) destroying the gun and injuring the shooter. This is due in part to the fact that the polygonal rifling impresses the rifling into the bullet rather than engraving the rifling thru the bullet as with conventional lands and grooves. Couple this with any fouling and the over pressure problem becomes even more acute. So my first piece of advice is to NOT DO IT. And Iím not going to be held liable should you not heed that advice and venture forth on your own.
Now having said that, I can tell you that many people load cast bullets in guns like the Glocks and they have shot tens of thousands of bullets thru them with no problems If one were to go to the Glock Forum and the Reload section there are many threads about this very subject. The important thing in making this work is know what you are doing before you start. Number 1 is the use of quality cast bullets in the intended application. The second thing is to get the bullets sized to nominal dimensions rather than the standard .001" diameter that most cast bullets are done at. The next thing is to use clean, cooler, slower powders for the application and work the loads up from there. The gun needs to be clean of any copper or moly fouling. The gun needs to be checked after the first 5 rounds fired for any signs of fouling from the bullet load combo you are running. If the load is clean then proceed to fire another 5-10 rounds and then check for any signs of fouling along the way. If the load exhibits any signs of excessive fouling then you have to stop, rework the load, clean the gun and start over. Eventually you should be able to work out a load that will permit you to run about 100 - 150 rounds between cleaning. The .40 S&W is the worst culprit due to the fact that the pressure curve is a very peaky one to begin with and the chamber is unsupported in the Glock barrels. HS-6 has served me well in this application.
If all this seems like too much effort then you can always get an after market barrel with conventional rifling and not worry about it. There are a number of quality after market barrel makers that will fulfill this need should you chose to go in that direction.
Thank you for letting me be of service to you,
Bob Palermo / President. firstname.lastname@example.org
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