Editor’s Note: this is the second incarnation of an article published in 2017.
The popularity of plated bullets has grown dramatically in the last decade.
There are several good reasons for their popularity. First off, plated bullets are less expensive than jacketed bullets. Plated bullets, if loaded correctly, can be just accurate as jacketed bullets at distances of over 100 yards.
However plated bullets necessitate a slightly different loading technique. That’s because they are softer than jacketed bullets, which have a hard brass casing to protect them.
Sometimes, but not always, plated bullets will require a reduced load than the jacketed (or cast lead) variety. They cannot be “pushed” as much as the jacketed variety, particularly with magnum or some +P loads, where the velocity can be higher than 1200 ft/s.
This isn’t an issue with .45 ACP, 38 special, 44 special and other calibers where the velocity is significantly below 1200 ft/s.
Lack of data for plated bullet reloading
Choosing the right amount of powder or “load” for plated bullets, might seem confusing for beginners. It is confusing! There is very little published loading data out there for specifically plated bullets.
Virtually all of the reloading guides don’t feature data for plated bullets.
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. To obtain this data you can either purchase their guide or obtain it free online.
To make matters even more perplexing a slightly different technique is required to load plated bullets. This is especially the case if you’re using brand new brass. With new brass it’s easy to crush the case and/or mutilate your bullet. Plated bullets are softer and more fragile than the jacketed or cast variety. I’ve covered some of those techniques below.
In the meantime, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to understand the structural differences between various types of bullets.
Plated, Jacketed and Cast Bullets
It’s helpful for reloaders to understand the nuances between different varieties of 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 brass 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 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.
Reloading data for Plated bullets
What data to use?
Rainier suggests 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?
As alluded to above, it depends on what kind of bullet you are shooting.
Donny Shride, founder Rainier Ballistics, recommends keeping the velocity below 1200 ft/s.
If you are shooting magnum, 9mm,10mm loads. To determine the velocity, check the reloading guide to see how fast the load you’ve chosen will push the bullet out of the gun. It’s important not to push a plated bullet too much. Doing so could deform it which decreases accuracy.
Pushing a plated bullet past 1200 ft/s could result in shedding plating, which turn diminishes accuracy. The plating is much thinner than a conventional brass jacket bullet and when the rifling engages the plating with too much velocity, the added centrifugal force in effect squashes the bullets and damages the plating.
The best way to prevent this is to keep the velocity below 1200 ft/s.
In my experience is there’s no good reason to push a plated bullet to the max.
To get accurate loads, even when shooting 9mm or 10mm bullets you can get great accuracy just by looking at the tables provided in the Western Handloading guide or manufacturers’ loading guides such as Hodgdon’s, which are available online.
How to use a reloading guide for plated bullets
Let’s start with the 9mm, arguably the most popular bullet in use today as an example. Rainier has a several varieties of hollow-point bullets which are extremely accurate and don’t need to be pushed to extremes. Their most consistently accurate in my testing, is their 115 grain HP (hollow point). They have just started producing a new version of this with an octagonal shaped cavity. I tested it with many powders and found that I got the best groups (so far) with Hodgdon’s CFE pistol powder and Ramshot’s Silhouette. (The best CFE loads were between 5.4 – 5.8 gr.)
I was able to track down this data by checking on the Hodgdon website which tells us that the top velocity (using 5.9 grs) for a Nosler 115 gr JHP (jacketed hollow point) bullet is 1185 ft/s. The Nosler bullet is similar enough in profile to the Rainier bullet so that you’re dealing with “apples and apples”. If you’re choosing a load for a particular plated bullet and you can’t find a specific recipe in the Western Powders guide, try to find a jacketed bullet with a similar shape and you’ll be fine.
This is how I arrived at using Nosler’s recipe in Western’s manual for this particular Rainier bullet. The Hodgdon data stated that their recipe would result in the bullet traveling well below the “redline” of 1200 ft/s. Note that CFE is a relatively new powder in Hodgdon’s product line which presents an issue for loaders seeking data from the traditional printed loading guides.
The problem is that the data is simply not available in the manuals on this powder. However, you can find it on the manufacturer’s website. Always good to do your homework!
I also needed a recipe for Rainier’s new 124 gr 9mm bullets. In this case I don’t have to look for a jacketed bullet with the same form factor as the Rainier Bullet (such as the Nosler). Western has a great load for this projectile which is between 4.9 grs and 5.8 grs of True Blue powder. (This same recipe also appears in the Nosler manual). These respective loads, according to the tables, range between 951 ft/s and 1093 ft/s. I find that 5.6 grs works very well for this bullet, which translates to around 1050 FPS–well below the 1200 mark.
A third example of loading for accuracy without pushing the bullet to its limits is with the Rainier 10mm, 180 gr HP bullet.
I load their 180 gr HP bullet with 12.5 gr of AA#9 powder. According to Western Powders Guide the beginning load is 12.1 gr at 1086 ft/s and goes up to 13.5 gr, topping out at a velocity of 1235 ft/s. At 12.5 grs the velocity will be well within the safety zone and I can put the bullet exactly where I want it without overclocking the limits of the projectile.
This particular bullet has a flat trajectory which makes it accurate to 100 yards and beyond.
If I can accomplish my goal, which is to whack an 8” gong at 100 yards with my 10mm 1911, there’s no point in stuffing the case with more powder, producing more recoil and possibly deforming the bullet.
Trying to make a plated bullet perform at the same velocity as a jacketed bullet is a not desireable. Too much velocity results in shedding plating which turn diminishes accuracy. The plating is much thinner than a jacketed and the rifling engages the plating and the added centrifical force “mashes down the bullets” and in effect damages the plating. Generally, a bullet with damaged plating is not an accurate bullet. The best way to prevent this is to keep the velocity below 1200 ft/s.
Reloading Guides will help your cause
There several reloading guides that will help you determine the proper loads for plated bullets and recommended powder to use, particularly if you’re loading for accuracy. If you’re just plinking at cans or shooting at large steel plates, crafting a super accurate load is of very little consequence. However, if you’re a hunter or a target shooter, devloping an accurate round is a big deal.
The second category are the bullet manufacturers who publish data specifically to be applied to their own products. Examples of these are Nosler, Sierra, Speer, Hornaday and Barnes. However, as I’ve mentioned, you can apply the data from these guides to plated bullets with similar weight and form. Thus, chances are a recipe for a 124 gr 9mm bullet from Sierra is going to work quite well for similar Rainier bullet. (Data from bullet companies are only published in book form, rather than online).
The third category of reloading guides is occupied by one company, Lyman, which covers both cast and jacketed (but not plated) bullets. They also include data from all of the major powder manufacturers, which comes in handy.
Here are the guides (in book form) that I’ve reviewed:
Lyman is by far the most comprehensive. By remaining agnostic, not tied to a single a bullet or powder manufacturer, they cover a wide range of products. They have particularly good coverage of handgun data. What I like about this loading guide is that they will specify a powder for a bullet. Most guides (except for Nosler and Sierra) don’t get this specific. Case and point: If your loading Rainier’s 45 ACP 185 gr HP Lyman suggests HP-38 from Hodgdon.
The Speer book is helpful to those who reload because they also cover both jacketed and cast bullets. They cover a wide range of powders but don’t provide recommendations in this regard. They are also primarily concerned with rifle data but have a great deal of handgun info as well.
The Sierra reloading guide comes in a binder type format that allows for some flexibility. Its primary focus is the company’s rifle bullets, but they do produce a wide variety of jacketed handgun bullets as well, so this is a good reference to have. What I like about this guide is (like Lyman) they will recommend a specific powder for their bullets. For their 45 ACP 185 gr HP bullet they suggest Titegroup. Keep in mind that with Sierra’s or other guides that provide powder recommendations, it doesn’t always mean that their recommendation will be the only powder that will be the most accurate. There will certainly be others on the list that will be equally accurate.
Nosler is a bullet manufacturer that has clearly put a lot of work into their reloading. It gets specific with powders for loads they have been very helpful in my reloading practice. For example, they recommend True Blue powder for their 9mm 124 gr HP bullets and I’ve gotten some stellar groups with this load for similar Rainier bullets. For me, this was worth the entire price of the book. A recommendation gives you a good head start saves a helluva lot of time.
If you are shooting bullets that fall in the subsonic realm such as .45 ACP, .38 Special, .44 Special, simply match your loads commensurate with what the loading guides call for with jacketed bullets.
Let’s look at Rainier’s 185 gr HP bullet as a case and point. There are numerous loads for this projectile, but I have Accurate Powders on hand and found that 5.9 gr of AA#2 was right on.
I stuck with the Western guide because it has a specific recipe for the particular powder (AA #2) that I had on hand for this Rainier bullet, which is between 5.6 gr and 6.6 gr specifically for this specific Rainier plated bullet.
That was a no-brainer, but what if you don’t have the Western manual handy?
Since all you do is match the equivalent load for a jacketed bullet, simply look it up in another manual or two. Speer’s suggests you shoot their 185 gr jacketed bullet using between 6.0 -6.7 gr of #2 and the Nosler manual suggests between 5.3 and 6.3 grs of #2. So now you have a range between 5.3 – 6.7 grs.
A smart thing to do is purchase as many loading manuals as you can muster or as mentioned earlier, all the major manufacturers have their data online, so it’s easy to consult their websites.
Of course, the forums all post member’s “pet loads” but you have to be careful. Referring to a manual is always preferable.
Techniques for loading plated bullets
Loading plated bullets entails a slightly different technique than jacketed bullets. Given that they are softer (without the copper jacket) they must be handled with more TLC.
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. You’ll need to apply the “Goldilocks” principle. Don’t over-bell or you’ll weaken the brass but don’t under-do it either or you risk damaging the bullet.
With enough flare the bullet can be set up vertically on the seating die so that the bullet doesn’t tilt.
Once you’ve seated the bullet you’ll need to add a slight crimp. Overcrimping plated bullets is the biggest mistake a beginner can make.
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.
In other words, take it easy when crimping because it’s easy to put a dent in a plated bullet vs. the jacketed variety.
For accuracy standardize with one type of brass
Rainier bullets, if loaded properly, are extremely accurate.
If you’re serious about accuracy and “standardizing” your loads, one tip when reloading Rainier bullets (or any bullets for that matter) is to use one brand of 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, consistently made ammo. If you want good groups forget about the range brass. I’ve used Starline over the years with great success.
Loading new brass
If you’re using brand new brass, managing the belling/crimping process is critical. Loading new necessitates sizing and chamfer the case. A new case will have a jagged mouth which can create problems when you seat the bullet, so you’ll need to smooth out the sharp edges.
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.
Another option is to use dies with a Titanium Carbide dies which in my experience, glide over the jagged edges of new brass and make loading plated bullets less problematic. I’ve had good success with the new Premium series die set for handgun cartridges from Redding, which makes high end reloading equipment. They make a three (3) die set which includes a Titanium Carbide Sizing Die, a Special Expander Die and a Seating Die with that includes a Bullet Seating Micrometer.
Of interest is their expander die, which unlike the Dillon system, which creates a smooth entry radius for the bullet and a tiny shelf that allows for more stable placement of the projectile to keep it aligned properly before it’s seated.
The Dillon system, on the other hand, combines the expander function with a powder drop. Generally, this works quite well, except when you’re using new brass. In this case the powder drop funnel can “stick” to the mouth of the brass. This means instead of a smooth operation, you’ll have to add extra pressure on the up stroke of the handle to pry the funnel from the case mouth. This causes the whole platform to abruptly pop up, usually resulting in powder from the shell being expelled all over the shell plate.
In addition to this issue, as mentioned earlier, there’s also a chance that the jagged edge of new brass will cause the bullet to adhere to the side of the case in the seating process. That can mean uneven entry caused the bullet to get dinged a crushed shell casing.
To avoid this hassle, I’ve found that Redding’s Titanium Carbide dies work very well. They seem to have much more lubricity. The nice thing is that you don’t have to hassle with the chamfer/deburring process if you use them. Just use the new brass as is.
Using jacketed data in any loading manual is a good bet when loading for plated bullets at subsonic speeds. As mentioned previously, the Western reloading guide has a lot of data for plated bullets.
Proper case flare and avoiding over crimping are critical. Once you get your loads dialed in you’ll find the plated bullets, particularly the 9mm and 10mm 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. “Legal cases involving hand-loaded rounds often mean the defendant has to hire ballistics experts,” he said. Suffice it to say, Shride suggested, that can really make a law suit even more expensive.
If you’re going to use a gun to for home defense, Shride says, “You’re much better off buying a box of defensive ammo at Walmart.”
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.