Thursday, May 4, 2017

How Bullets are Made

There are some incredible new bullets on the market.  Both the hunting market and the self-defense market have seen a great deal of new technology being applied into making bullets that have a flatter trajectory, perform exceptionally on impact and shoot more accurately than ever before.  Bullet companies are using exotic materials to build bullets now.  Powdered tungsten and super plastics, as well as, aluminum are being used instead of lead and brass jackets. 

I’m sure most of us have seen the movie, “The Patriot” where Mel Gibson melts the toy soldiers to make round ball bullets for his pistol and muzzleloader. In the old days making bullets was easy, all you did was melt some nice soft lead and pour it into a steel mold and out would come a bullet which could be loaded and used.  We got a little more sophisticated and decided to make the bullets a little more uniform, so we started to push the soft lead bullets through a tube to make them all a universal size. This helped make the bullets shoot better and more accurately too.  As we started to make bullets go faster, we found that the soft lead would start to melt and foul the barrel quickly.  Then we started to use a patch or wax lube on the bullets to help stop the fouling.  Harder lead was made by adding tin to the lead but the bullets would not expand as well as soft lead bullets, so someone came up with the great idea of putting a small copper base on the bullet and, WOW, we could make bullets faster and still have them expand when it hit a game animal! 

As the velocity of guns got faster and brass cased ammunition became the norm, jacketed bullets had to be made better and stronger so they could withstand the higher pressure and velocity.  Jackets on bullets were made of harder brass and this became the way bullets were made for nearly 100 years.  All they did was take a brass tube, melt or press in a soft lead alloy then run the jacket through a press that would form or shape the bullet to look like the bullets you see today.  The softer the lead alloy and the amount of lead exposed would determine how well the bullet would expand.  Then bullet makers became more complex and started to make the jacket a different thickness; being thinner in the front and thicker at the base.  That way the front of the bullet would expand more and the bottom of the bullet could drive deeper in the big game being hunted.  Then a company called Nosler took it to the extreme and developed a bullet that acted like two bullets.  The base of the bullet was a hard lead and tin mix with a very thick jacket, the front of the bullet was made with soft lead and a thin jacket.   And they went one step further and swaged a thick brass center in the middle of the bullet.  The front end of the bullet would open and expand very easily on the animal while the back half of the bullet would drive through to the other side of the animal making great wound channels and killing the animal more effectively.  This was the first of the so-called controlled expanding bullets.  I remember shooting some of the first Nosler partition bullets, they shot terrible as far as accuracy but they killed better than any bullet I had used before.  It took Nosler years to perfect this bullet to what it is now, which is a very deadly accurate bullet.

Barnes started to work with a solid copper bullet which had no lead inside of it at all.  They were making bullets on old screw machines then went to huge swaging presses to form the inside and outside of the bullet.  This was a new and unheard of technology! At first, it didn’t work very well but after years of research and feedback from hunters and shooters, Barnes finally made a bullet that would shoot well and open to twice its original size with penetration all the way through the game animal.  The inside of a Barnes bullet is built with a hollow cavity and small cuts to create a bullet that looks like a flower after it hits something.  The front of the bullet will pull back like the petal of a flower and yet hold together causing terrible damage and in most cases, full penetration of the game animal. 

Today, the newest thing with rifle bullets is to make them longer, heavier and slicker so they have a higher ballistic coefficient. A higher ballistic coefficient means the bullets fly farther and shoot flatter.  There’s one problem with making a hunting bullet for long range shooting; it has to be fragile enough to expand well when it hits at long range.  So many times if you take a closer shot on animals that fragile long range bullet will explode on the bone of the game animal and not get inside to do the intended damage, which means not killing the animal being hunted!  If you know all of your shots will be long range then these bullets will work great but watch out for close up shots. And I hope you, the hunter, can do justice by the animal you are hunting and put the shot where it needs to go.


Pistol bullets have come a long way also. There are some really dynamic bullets on the market now.  Lehigh bullets are one of my favorite self-defense bullets.  Made with a large hollow point and a fragile jacket they will do great damage.  Inceptor is making some really different bullets for handguns.  Some of the bullets are made from plastic and have special driving bands which cause the bullet to spin when it hits the object being shot.  I have seen photos of wild boars that have been shot with these bullets and the damage is pretty amazing.  I can hardly wait to get some of these bullets to test and shoot at the range to see how accurate they are.  Anyway for a shooter or hand-loader, there are lots of new bullets to try out.  I just wish I could get brass to load more ammunition!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

First Time Shooters Don’t Have to be Young!

Normally when a first-time shooter asks to shoot one of your guns, they are kids.  This is not always the case.  There are more first time shooters buying guns, learning to shoot, and getting their concealed license, than ever before.  Gun sales in America are through the roof!  If you are in the gun business then you are busy.  Sales are not just to men and the everyday hunter.  Women are buying more guns than ever before.  Twenty years ago, women made up less than 5% of the shooting and hunting community.  Now day’s women make up more than 30% of all gun related sales.  In my custom business about 30 % of the hunting rifles I build are for women or kids. 

The other day my daughter in-law was over for the weekend and after watching a segment on the news about a robbery and murder, she said to me “I think I need to get a handgun and my license”. “Can you take me shooting and let me try some of your pistols”.  I told her (with a smile on my face) we can go shooting in the morning and I would have several hand guns for her to shoot and have fun with.  I put together a group of handguns which would make great carry guns and would also be fun to shoot.  I had 2- 380 ACP pistols, 1- 22 caliber pistol, 1-38 Special revolver, a 17 HMR revolver and a 32 ACP pistol, along with plenty of light target ammunition to shoot.   I asked my daughter and wife to join us to make it fun and easier for Christine to get comfortable with shooting the handguns. 

Make it fun:  Shooting should be fun, too much time can be spent on how powerful a gun is, how far it can shoot, or how accurate it is.  Most shooters don’t care about these things at first.  They just want to learn how to shoot safely and have fun doing it.  Set up several different targets so the shooter doesn’t have to look for the holes as they shoot.  Make a game out of your shooting experience.  Tell the shooter to shoot two shots into the left target, two in the right target and one in the center target.  It gets boring just shooting at the same bulls-eye, change it up and keep it exciting and uncomplicated.

Shoot close:  If you are shooting handguns it is best to shoot at close range, about 7 to 10 yards is good.  The most important is that new shooters hit the target.  They want to see the hole in the target so they know where they hit.  The marker target is a good way to make it more fun and easier to see your hits.  You might be able to make shots at 25 or 50 yards but this is not about showing off how good you are, it is about having a good time with a first-time shooter. 

Low recoil:  I have been told hundreds of stories about how the father or boyfriend put a 12-gauge shotgun in the hands of a girl and watched her fall on her butt when she shot it.  Then, they tell the story over and over and laugh about it, like it is real funny.  Well, that is something the shooter will never forget!  And what could have been a positive experience has turned into a negative and left that first-time shooter never wanting to be around guns again.  Start with a small gun, a 22 is perfect.  Prepare them for the recoil; let them know what is going to happen and how much recoil to expect. Move the shooter up slowly in caliber size as they want to try bigger guns.  Most women can handle the recoil of a 45 ACP or 44 Mag if they know what it is going to feel like.  In fact, my wife shoots a 454 Casull better than I do. 

Watch the noise:  The noise is the worst thing about shooting.  Guns are loud and many times, the first-time shooter will have problems with the noise of the gun and not the recoil.  Wear good hearing protection; try the foam earplugs and ear muffs together.  You might want to wear noise cancelling headsets so you can hear the shooter ask a question yet not hurt your ears from the crack of the gun.  Talk loud enough so the shooter can hear you tell them what to do.  It’s not a good idea for them to take the hearing protection off when guns are going off around them. 

Keep it safe:  Safety is the first, second and final rule!  Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction at all times.  Never point the gun at any thing you don’t intend on shooting or killing.  Don’t pick up or play with the guns during the cease fire.  These are just a few of the safety things that you need to go over before you get to the range.  Don’t be afraid to teach the shooter about the gun and the safeties on the gun, as well as, how it works and how to clean it. If it is interesting then they will be interested in how the gun works.  Don’t get over technical, keep it simple.


Christine and the girls shot every gun I brought and went through 5 boxes of ammunition, and had hits all over the targets.  They all had fun and learned a little about all the different handguns they shot.  In the end, they all liked the Beretta 380 ACP the best.  It fit their hand better, it weighed more so it had less recoil, and it holds 13 rounds of ammunition.  None of the girls liked to reload the clips (fingernails got in the way) so I did lots of loading for them.  Christine came away with a feeling that she can now shoot a pistol and hit the target, and that she could actually shoot a bigger gun than she first thought.  Most important she had fun!  My wife and daughter, who both shoot often, had fun shooting at the closer range and showing off a little.  It was a good day for the entire family and a new beginning for a new shooter.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It’s the Little Things

Many times it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the way we shoot.  I had a customer call me the other day and said the custom rifle he had bought from us would not shoot.  I asked him what he was doing and what type of ammo he was shooting through the rifle.  He told me that he had a gun shop mount his scope, they also sold him a lead sled and what they considered very good ammo. He wanted to return the rifle to have us check it out and figure out what we had done wrong.

We had shot the gun before we shipped it to the customer and knew it had shot very well.  However some things can happen in shipping or maybe we didn’t tighten a stock screw before it left.  When the rifle came in I took one look at it and started to laugh.  The “quality” scope was a $200 Japanese scope with “made in China” stamped on it.  The big box store who sold him the scope and had mounted it, had replaced the Talley Ultra-Light rings we had included on the rifle originally with a $15 dollar set of Tasco rings and not one of the screws had been torqued down or even tightened.  The scope was set at about a 10 degree angle from being straight and you could see where it has slipped in the rings from shooting.  Now, we never recommend shooting our rifles in a lead sled, they put pressure on the forend of the stock which changes the harmonics.  I don’t think you are going to take a shooting bench or a vice when you are out hunting, so we always shoot the gun off sand bags with it against your shoulder like you would in a hunting situation.  You could see marks on the stock where the vice had tried to hold the stock in place.


We mounted his $200 Japanese scope correctly in a set of good Talley Ultra-Light rings.  We made sure the scope was straight and perpendicular with the bore of the rifle.  If you don’t do this, your bullet will not only be dropping straight down but it will also be dropping to the side.  With a 400 yard shot, the bullet can drop 30 inches and be right 15 inches without any wind effect.  If a scope is loose in the rings, it can jump forward with every shot, then your groups will definitely open up.  With a minimal .002” slip on a scope, the rifle will give you 2 inch groups at 100 yards!
 With the scope mounted straight and tight we took his rifle back to the range and shot it at 100 yards.  The scope had very heavy cross-hairs and no parallax adjustment but we were still able to shoot .650” groups with the rifle.  Now this is not as good as when we shot the rifle before but when we shot the gun we had used a good 12 power target scope with good ammo which was built for this particular rifle. 

There are so many little things that can make a rifle shoot better and don’t cost a great deal of money.  First and foremost is to use good scope mounts.  A good set of rings make a big difference in knowing the scope will not slip or come loose when shooting.  Second, make sure the scope is mounted correctly and aligned with the axis of the rifle.  If you never shoot past 100 yards then you will never know the difference, but if you plan on shooting long distance then you will need to have a straight scope.  Make sure the base screws are torqued with a little Lok-Tite to the receiver.  If a base screw comes loose or breaks, your shots will be erratic.  You might get 2 or 3 shots together then have a flyer or your shots will start walking on you when you shoot.  Having a loose or broken base screw can be hard to find and many times you have to remove and remount the scope before you know what is going wrong.  Make sure the stock screws are snug.  A loose stock screw can cause you to shoot bad groups.  On a big caliber rifle which kicks hard, a loose stock screw can cause the action to slip in the stock and break a nice piece of wood.  Make sure the rifle is not too long for you and that the eye relief is set right for you.  If you are having to push your head forward to see clearly in the scope that either the rifle is too long or the scope is mounted too far forward.  If you have to stretch your head to see every time, your eye won’t be in the same place every time, so your groups will change with every shot.  Now we have just been talking about the scope, there are many other little things which make a big difference.


A good crisp trigger will make you a better shooter.  If you have to concentrate on the trigger pull then you are not thinking about the cross-hairs or where the bullet needs to go.  A clean gun will shoot better than a dirty gun.  If a bullet has to push copper or brass out of its way as it goes down the barrel then it will shoot different as the brass and copper build up.  Take the time to break in your barrel.  If you will take an hour or two when you first get your new gun with shooting and cleaning after every shot for 10 to 20 shots, then your rifle will shoot better in the long run.  Shoot good ammo and find out what your rifle likes.  Even a good custom gun will be particular about types of ammo and bullet weights.  You need to try several brands and weights to find what really shoots well in your gun.  Last, take time to practice at the range.  Don’t just shoot off a bench.  Simulate as closely as you can, a real hunting scenario.  Try shooting off hand or off a bipod or shooting sticks.  One of the best experiences for someone who wants to take shooting to the next level would be to go to one of the long range shooting camps here in Texas.  One of my favorites is the FTW SAAM course in Barksdale.  Their instructors are former Navy Seals who really know their stuff when it comes to guns and shooting.  It’s a fun experience and you come away with a new appreciation of what shooting is all about.  And finally, the more practice you get, the better chance you will have when you have to make that once in a life time shot.  The rifle and scope can’t do it all.  The person behind the trigger has to be just as capable.