Someone once said that if you aren't casting bullets on your own, then you really aren't reloading. There's a lot of truth to that. Most reloading of handgun, rifle and shotgun ammo is like baking a ready-mix cake-you just dump in the ingredients according to the instructions and the results are pretty much predetermined. Casting bullets, however, gives you control of a whole new dimension of reloading and ammo performance, with virtually limitless variables and possibilities.
Hand-cast lead bullets, of course, go back hundreds of years before the appearance of jacketed bullets. (It was not until well into the 20th century that jacketed bullets equaled the accuracy of fine lead bullets cast by hand.) The great bison slaughter of the 18th century was carried out with cast-lead bullets. Hunters would retrieve bullets from buffalo carcasses, then remelt and recast them over campfires and kill more buffalo with the same lead the next day. Nowadays there are hunters who still prefer cast-alloy bullets for their hunting pistols and rifles, and a number of rifle competitions are limited strictly to cast-lead bullets.
It is among handgunners, however, that cast-lead bullets are most widely used. This is for several reasons, the most common being economy. With 10 pounds of scrap wheel weights, which can be found cheap or free at most tire and auto service shops, you can cast over four hundred 150-grain, .38-caliber bullets or nearly three hundred 240-grain bullets for your .44 Magnum.
There is a common but mistaken notion held by some shooters that cast bullets are naturally inferior to jacketed bullets and are fit only for casual plinking. Such opinions have probably been caused by the poorly cast bullets that some shooters seem content to load and shoot and also by commercial cast bullets that sometimes are of poor quality. Also, cast bullets have a reputation for causing an ugly condition called "leading"-hard-to-remove traces of lead in the barrel resulting from bullet friction. (The lubrication grooves in cast bullets are designed to minimize this.) This situation, like almost all the other misinformation spread about cast bullets, is simply the result of faulty casting and preparation techniques.
The fact of the matter is that lead- alloy bullets, when correctly prepared and loaded, can measure up to very high standards of accuracy and performance. There are legions of hard-core pistol shooters who depend on their cast bullets for top accuracy in target competitions and would never dream of firing anything else in their highly tuned target pistols. Also, there are lots of hand loaders who simply enjoy the process of casting bullets. It's very soul-satisfying to open a mold and drop out a gleaming bullet that only moments before was silvery soup.
When you begin casting your own bullets, the sky truly becomes the limit on what you are able to accomplish with your load. From changing the shape of the bullet to altering its density, you can experiment and create your own, one-of-a-kind projectile. There are hundreds of molds available, depending on which caliber you want. Plus, if you have the skills and equipment, you can create your own.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article where we will look into what you will need to do to prepare, what you need to purchase, and how you can cast your first bullet.