Having read Elmer Keith’s books in the past concerning his helping develop the .44 magnum, I was a bit skeptical of claims of making kill shots at incredible distances with cast bullets in a handgun. Since the man lived and died long before I came around, I’ll admit I was intrigued. So I decided to do a little bit of “testing” with cast lead bullets myself.
What I’m going to post here today might leave some visitors to this website a bit skeptical themselves, but facts are facts. I started off my experiment with hard cast bullets of 170 grains weight made from hardened wheel weight alloys and a gas check on the base. I loaded these with a healthy dose of IMR – 3031 powder from a load data book. Fired through my chronometer they averaged 2,000 feet per second. It’s important to note here that any reloader should ALWAYS follow listed safe loads published for their rifle and bullet weight in the caliber of their choice — NEVER ! NEVER stray from that if you value your firearm and enjoy using your eyes ! Stoking the loads a bit hotter than listed in the book can have dire consequences. You can imagine how much it would suck to have a firing pin or part of a rifle bolt stuck in your eye socket…
My chosen platform for this test is a standard Winchester 94 Legacy model in .30-30. The only modifications I’ve made are a nicer trigger job, and the rifle is topped off with a fixed 4 power magnification scout scope mounted over the barrel and forward of the receiver. (A nod to the late Jeff Cooper)
The firing position is as shown in the photo… forward elbow propped on a large granite rock.
To give you an idea of the firing range, here’s the vantage point from the firing line. Where I live in Maine we not only have some very dense underbrush with very limited shooting distances, we also have the barrens. Literally hundreds of square miles of very open spaces where the majority of America’s blueberry crops are grown. Measured distance was slightly over 400 yards. 423 yards to be exact. The “target” is a large rock to the left and slightly behind the large tree in the background.
Now before I get chastised for shooting at big rocks and the potential for a dangerous ricochet, keep in mind that we’re miles from anyone else around. Many miles from highways and houses. Also, shooting at a big rock allows my spotter, Wayde Batchelder, to see the impact of my bullets through his 60 power spotting scope. The first 6 shots were low, and I walked the shots upwards until I was able to calculate how much to hold my horizontal cross hair above the target. And even hard cast lead projectiles do “splatter” on impact with the rock making them easier to see.
After Wayde had confirmed I had hit the rock several times, I then proceeded to “paint” the rock with lead…. 40 more shots in a row. The wind had no value on the shot strings as it was blowing from our 6 o’clock position from behind us. The rock had plenty of lead splattered all over the front. Some a bit high, but the majority was pretty close in together.
At the end of a rather lengthy shooting session, I’m standing in front of the rock with my dog to give you an idea of the size of the target at the 400 yard distance. I took my time and made the shots slowly and very deliberately. The Winchester 94 is a hunting rifle, not a target rifle. They’re NOT designed for minute of angle shooting, but “minute of deer”. The faster you shoot these guns, the quicker the barrel heats up, and a Winchester of this nature has a wandering zero as the barrel gets hot. In my opinion (and we know how opinions can be) if I’m shooting any faster than one shot every three to four minutes, I’m not shooting slowly enough. This rate of fire doesn’t allow the barrel time to cool enough to keep a decent zero.
This is the view from the target back to the firing point, 400 yards away. The cluster of pine trees to the center right just behind the firing point rocks.