Sales of plated bullets have never been greater. They are less expensive than jacketed bullets and if loaded correctly, can be just as accurate.
However, among many reloaders there’s always been ambiguity about what data to rely on and the technique you’ll need to reload for them.
Why the mystery?
Perhaps the biggest reason is that major reloading guides such as Lyman’s, Nosler, Speer, etc don’t publish any data specifically for plated bullets. Granted, some of the guides do publish data on cast lead bullets but cast bullet data is not necessarily commensurate with plated bullet data.
The only source of data I’m aware of for plated bullets is Miles City, Montana-based Western Powders which sells the popular Accurate and Ramshot products. For other reloading guides this a sin of omission.
Before we go forward to discuss reloading plated bullets, let’s take a moment to define terms. There are three major types of bullets—cast, jacketed and plated.
Cast bullets are fabricated from molten lead that has been poured into a bullet mold. Cast bullets can be manufactured to various degrees of hardness depending upon the lead alloy. They usually cost the least, but can be very “dirty” and often cannot be used in indoor ranges. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, depending on the hardness and quality of the cast bullet, they can be pushed to magnum velocities.
Manufacturing jacketed bullets begin with a copper cup, which is “drawn up” into the form of a jacket. Lead is then swaged into the jacket. They are generally are more expensive than cast or plated, but can be shot at magnum velocities and require less cleaning than cast bullets.
Plated bullets are kind of a hybrid with special characteristics that need to be addressed in order to get the best performance and accuracy. They begin as a swaged lead core. The plating process works through electrolysis as the lead cores are tumbled in an electrically charged bath containing high-grade copper ingots. The copper clings to the lead and the longer the bullets remain in the bath, the thicker the plating. They are not as expensive as jacketed, cleaner than cast and will not lead your barrel. But you will have to stay away from the high end of the spectrum when it comes to magnum velocities when shooting them. Thus, you’ll need to load accordingly.
What data to use?
Rainier suggests (and I agree) that in general you can use jacketed bullet load data (as published in the popular guides) when loading their projectiles. Their website states, “There is no need for adjustment when using jacketed bullet load data.”
Rainier recommends a starting powder charge between the listed minimum and maximum load found in various published and reputable reloading manuals.
How far can you push your load?
It depends on what kind of bullet you are shooting.
Donny Shride, founder of Rainier Ballistics, recommends keeping the velocity below 1200 if you are shooting magnum, 9mm, 10mm loads. Thus check the reloading guide to see how fast your your bullet will be going down the range. Pushing a plated bullet too much could deform it which definitely decreases accuracy.
My experience is that there’s no good reason to push a plated bullet to the max.
As a case and point I’ve used Rainier’s 10mm bullets to shoot at long distances with great accuracy. I load their 180 gr HP bullet with 12.5 gr of AA#9 powder. According to Western Powers Reloading & Load Data Guide the beginning load is 12.1 gr and goes up to 13.5 gr, topping out at a velocity of 1235 FPS. With this load I can put the bullet exactly where I want it without pushing the limits of the projectile.
If I can accomplish my goal, which is to whack an 8” gong at 100 yards with my 1911, what’s the point in stuffing the case with more powder and producing more recoil?
On the other hand, say with a 9 mm bullet you need to load the case up.
Case and point: I’ve had great success with Rainier’s 124 gr 9mm bullets at distances of 25 yards and longer. The Western manual suggests that you load a Rainier 124 gr HP with between 4.9 gr and 5.8 gr of True Blue powder. I find that 5.6 gr works very well for this bullet, which is probably around 1050 FPS–which is well below the 1200 mark.
If you are shooting bullets that always fall in the subsonic realm such as .45 ACP or .38 Special, .44 Special, etc you can pretty much match loads commensurate with jacketed bullets. Naturally, if you can reference Western’s manual that has plated bullet data, by all means do so.
For example, I shoot Rainier’s plated 185 Gr HP bullet using 5.9 gr of AA#2. The Western manual calls for between 5.6 and 6.6 gr specifically for the plated bullet. (Speer’s manual suggests you shoot the same jacketed bullet using between 6.0 and 6.7 gr of #2 whereas the Nosler manual suggests between 5.3 and 6.3 of #2).
In the same vein True Blue is always a good bet for 45 ACP and I shoot 7.8 gr of this powder to get decent results with the Rainier 185 gr plated 45 bullet. (The Western manual calls for between 7.6 and 9.0 gr of True Blue).
The best thing to do is own as many loading manuals as you can muster. If there’s any question, you’ve got some dependable sources to dig into instead of relying on someone’s recipe off the Internet which may or may not be dependable.
Tips on Loading Plated Bullets
One thing you’ll learn is that loading plated bullets entails a slightly different technique than jacketed bullets. They are more fragile in a sense (they are definitely softer without the jacket) and have to be loaded accordingly.
On a progressive loader, after you’ve primed and sized the bullet you’ll need to make sure that the bell is large enough to securely seat the bullet. Thus you’ll need to over-flare the case mouth a teeny bit more than you would with jacketed bullet. Don’t over-bell or you’ll weaken the brass but don’t under-do it either.
I can’t overstate the importance of this.
A jacketed bullet is much more robust than a plated projectile. Think walnut vs. marshmallow. If a plated bullet is forced into the case mouth without proper spacing it could “mush” things up. (I’ve destroyed more bullets, particularly .45 ACPs, than I’d like to admit).
Crimping correctly is also key. Rainier recommends very little crimp on the bullet, just enough to put pressure against the bullet without denting or deforming the plating. If you were to pull the bullet out of a case with the proper crimp you would find no more than a scratch on the surface of the plating. Using thin blade on calipers, any crimp indentation over .003 is too much, especially in revolvers where you have a throat that allows more obturation and then ‘resizing’ in the forcing cone. This becomes more critical in the higher pressure/velocity cartridges.
Use high quality brass
When I started reloading, I used to collect range brass. Nothing wrong with that if you’re on a budget and you’re just banging away on a Glock where accuracy is not an issue. The problem with scrounged range brass that you is that you’re collecting items from different manufacturers with slightly different dimensions and varying quality. Ergo, every round you crank out could be slightly different in size and it becomes a nightmare if you want to make uniformly consistent ammo. If you’re serious about getting good groups and leveraging quality bullets from Rainier and other manufacturers, forget about the range brass. I’ve used Starline over the years with great success.
If you’re using brand new brass, managing the belling/crimping process is even more critical—particularly with the .45 ACP. Loading new .45 brass you’ll definitely have to size and chamfer the case—even with a high quality product such as Starline. A new case will have a jagged mouth which can create problems when you seat the bullet so you’ll need to rectify this.
That can be done with a chamfer/deburr tool which you can pick up from Brownells or other reloading outlets. Once the brass is fired you won’t have to go through this process again.
Using jacketed data is a good bet when loading for plated bullets but for sure check out what Western’s guide has to say.
They have data both on Rainier and Berry’s, another popular brand. Proper case flare (Goldilocks style–not too big, not too small) and not-over crimping are critical, particularly with the .45 ACP. Once you get your loads dialed in you’ll find the plated bullets, particularly the 9 mm and 10 mm HP projectiles, can be incredibly accurate.
One last note. Donny Shride, the owner of Rainier Ballistics suggests that his company’s hollow point bullets are ideal for those interested in practicing their self-defense shooting skills. However, he highly recommends that gun owners purchase factory rounds for use in their home defense weapons rather than reloaded ammo. “Reloaded ammunition can be used against you in court,” says Shride. I agree whole hardheartedly. No sense in making your life more complicated than it has be.
The author is not responsible for mishaps of any kind, which might occur from the use of this data in developing your handloads. It is the user’s responsibility to follow safe handloading guidelines to develop safe ammunition. You use this data at your own risk. No responsibility for the use or safety in use of this data is assumed or implied.