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Reloading Ammo-Bullet Basics Part 1

Perhaps the most expensive part of the cartridge is the reloading brass casing itself. That’s also why it is often reused multiple times until it is no longer safe to use. If the case is the most important part, the bullet comes in a close second. Unfortunately, the bullet cannot be reused. However, the job of the bullet is the most important.

The bullet is what gets the job done downrange, whether that be puncturing a tin can, a paper target, a groundhog, a big game animal, or even (heaven forbid) another human being. The effectiveness of the cartridge rests upon the bullet. Furthermore, the bullet is the prime determining factor of accuracy. Sure, case uniformity, powder charge, and primers play a role, but the bullet has the most effect when it comes to accuracy.

Today’s reloading shooter has a vast assortment of bullet types to choose from for any caliber you need to reload. And, while there are over a hundred rifle cartridges alone currently in use, many use the same caliber of bullet. In part 1 of this 2-part series, we will look at bullets types that are not often used in reloading brass.

The Beginning Bullet types

While it was once common to shoot round stones and pieces of metal out of a gun, today we have several bullet types from which to choose from. Often, the decision on bullet type is determined by what the round will be used for. Let’s look at some common types and what they might be used for.

The lead Ball

Perhaps the first actually bullet shot from a gun, lead balls are primarily used to be shot from muzzle loaders, though shotgun shells are essentially filler with many lead (or steel) balls called bbs. There are also some cap and ball revolvers used today, as well. They are capable of excellent accuracy and pack plenty of punch for small game hunting. The soft lead expands (flattens) readily upon impact, and lead balls can inflict very lethal wounds.


Also primarily used in muzzleloading rifles, these lead “conical balls” offer an increase in sectional density, along with an increased weight. These two things combine give conical bullets the ability to penetrate deeper and retain more energy down range. However, the disadvantage of using conical bullets is their decrease in accuracy. This stems from the fact that it’s difficult to align the bullet perfectly with the bore as you seat the bullet in the muzzle.

Modern Lead Bullets

The simplest bullet for modern cartridge firing guns is the lead bullet still commonly used in revolvers. These are the direct descendants of the black powder conical. Lead is a very soft metal, and it is rubbed off the bullet by the heat and friction of its trip down the bore. It jams into the rifling grooves and degrades accuracy. It can also be difficult and time consuming to remove. Modern lead bullets are usually not pure lead, commonly being alloyed with 1.5-5% antimony to reduce the leading that occurs at the higher velocities (compared to black powder arms) achieved by most modern cartridge arms. Lead bullets can be cast or swaged. Cast bullets usually contain more antimony and leave less lead fouling in the bore after firing

Often, lead bullets are used in small calibers and low-velocity rifles, such as the .22 short, long, and long rifle cartridges. This is because lead is cheap and easy to acquire. In part 2, we will look at some of the more advanced bullet types in today’s shooting world.