Powder Coated Bullets & How to Load Them
In an age of constant price increases and the weakening Rand, all dedicated sports shooters as well as occasional sports shooters are trying to save money on reloading components wherever they can. As South Africans have been shooting lead cast bullets for many years, the changeover to conventional CMJ (Complete Metal Jacket) and FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) bullets was quite easy as the pro’s outweighed the cons. Shooting traditional lead cast bullets meant lube grooves were a must to try prevent excessive lead fouling in the bore. This would however leave a strong odor in the air and smoke flowing out of your pistols barrel which prevented many folks from doing much target practice in indoor shooting ranges. On the other hand, a lot of reloaders out there continue to shoot lead cast bullets as they are a lot cheaper than CMJ or FMJ bullets. This is just an example of a pro and con of lead bullets but I am not going to go into detail about lead cast bullets as the purpose of this write up is to delve a little into the new era of bullets for South Africans, powder coated bullets (PC). Although Americans have been using PC bullets for many years, it’s only been a couple of years since we started seeing private individuals casting and powder coating their own bullets as well as a couple now renowned bulk manufacturers wholesaling to gun and online stores for retail distribution.
There are many details to go over when reloading but I am not going to go into full detail about bullet seating depth, setting up of dies, estimated powder charges etc. I will however do a simple once over with you on the basics of loading PC bullets and will publish the next article at a later stage going more in depth about the factors listed above.
So what is a powder coated bullet?
In simple terms, these bullets are lead casts that have a powder coated jacket (polymer). The powder coating is applied by either the “shake n’ bake” method or spray on using heat afterwards to bond the polymer to the bullet. This polymer coated jacket takes the place of copper or copper alloy plating and is prepared by commercial manufacturers on large scales as well as private individuals for personal use on the range.
- Economical to shoot
- Cleaner – There’s no lead fouling or excessive smoking in and from the bore due to no wax on the bullet
- Customization – If you do your own PC, you can use different colors. Example of this? You can use a different color PC for a different load i.e. 115gr bullet can be coated red while a 147gr bullet can be coated green
- Accurate – PC bullets have yielded excellent results by many
How to Load Powder Coated Bullets:
Generally speaking, the loading process is not much different than conventional plated bullets. Here are a few easy steps to prepare for the loading of PC bullets assuming you are using a single stage press and have already resized and deprimed your brass cases (to make the explanation process easier):
- Get load data for the same bullet weight you will be loading in your reloading manual for lead bullets
- Apply flare/bell the case mouth
- Insert new primer (Steps 2 and 3 can be reversed depending on personal preference)
- Powder charge your brass case
- Seating the bullet
Here I will explain my loading process of the Silver Rapids 125gr Bonded Polymer Jacket (BPJ) 9mmP Bullet discussed in the 5 steps from above:
1. Get Load Data
Due to local propellant shortage, you may have no other choice but to use imported powder for your loading process. Sometimes these powders do not have load data for lead bullets. If there is no data for lead bullets of said weight, I would suggest using plated bullets data and deducting 0.3gr from that to give you a minimum starting load. Theoretical example: a 125gr CMJ bullet minimum load starts at 4.5gr. Minus 0.3gr, will give you a starting load of 4.2gr.
It is imperative to first get load data for the powder you are using to safely start the load development process. Once you know what you’re minimum powder charge is with the powder you have available, you can move on to the next step.
2. Apply Flare/Bell The Case Mouth
Applying flare/belling the mouth of the case is extremely important when loading powder coated bullets. The main reason for this is that if you attempt to seat the bullet without flaring the case, the case wall will shave/peel off the PC as its being seated deeper into the case. This will cause the PC to “hang” over the case mouth or wedge itself up against the bullet and will cause feeding issues as the diameter of the bullet is now thicker.
You may be wondering how to flare a case if you haven’t before. Most pistol carbide dies come with a flaring die included. The most popular 9mmP die set being sold and used in South Africa is the LEE Pacesetter Carbide 3 Die Set. This die set includes a 2 in 1 powder through and flare die. Click here for more information on the powder through die and how to set it up correctly. So how much flare would I recommend? Just enough so that the base of the bullet sits snug inside the case mouth. Adding more flare is a simple task. With a case in the shell holder, turn in the die 1/8” at a time while raising the ram rod up to full stroke. Test by putting a bullet into the case mouth and checking if it sits fare inside. If you need to flare more, turn the die in 1/8” until desired flare is obtained. See picture provided below by Silver Rapids on flaring (Figure 1).
3. Insert New Primer
Case preparation may differ from person to person so whether you are flaring your case first or inserting the primer first, it doesn’t matter. Remember, I am going off the basis that we are loading on a single stage press so this will differ if using a progressive press as the primer is first inserted before flaring and charging the case. There are many ways to insert a new primer into the case and no two methods may work well enough for different individuals. I personally am a fan of the new LEE Auto Prime as I often do not have enough time on my hands, I simply hand prime while watching a movie late at night when I have some free time. It works very well and low maintenance without costing an arm and a leg. My LEE Auto Breech lock Pro press has a manual priming system which I use occasionally but we will go over different LEE priming equipment on another article which will be added to the blog. Whatever your preference is, just make sure your primer is seated deep enough so that it does not protrude the primer pocket.
4. Powder Charge Your Brass Case
Whether you have a digital scale, beam scale, auto powder dispenser or even a powder measure, this step will determine your charge weight for further trips to the shooting range! I encourage you to get a digital scale if you don’t already have one to maximize your time and efficiency on this step. A couple hundred bucks can get you a basic reloading scale that is easy and accurate to use during load development such as the Marksman iii Reloadr Scale.
If the powder charge theoretically starts from 4.2gr as discussed in step 2, a few test loads will need to be conducted first before settling on the correct load for your firearm. Through my personal testing over the years, a 0.1gr difference in charge weight does not have a large enough difference to be a deciding factor on my own load development. I usually do my load development in 0.2gr increments on 9mmP working up to max charge. My usual method is to load a minimum of 10 cartridges per test load/batch. So if we go off that basis and are working from our theoretical 4.2gr start load, I would charge my cases as such:
10 x 4.2gr
10 x 4.4gr
10 x 4.6gr
10 x 4.8gr etc.
5. Seating The Bullet
The final step is to seat the bullet into the case but DO NOT OVER CRIMP PC BULLETS. A light taper crimp is recommended for PC bullets. Although many reloaders use a Factory Crimp Die for conventional plated bullets, a lot of reloaders do not use them with PC bullets. The reason for this is that PC bullets are a lot softer than CMJ or FMJ bullets. The Silver Rapids Bullets lead hardness has been tested at 14 BHN (Brinell Hardness Number) while the copper jacket of conventional CMJ bullets are around 300 BHN. Over crimping of these bullets will most likely cause bad accuracy results mainly due to a squished bullet causing tumbling or “key holing” through the target. Silver Rapids recommend a crimp of 0.380” for optimal results. See Figure 2.
The COAL may differ from firearm to firearm but over many months and feedback from many of my clients and other shooters alike, I am seeing an emerging trend of reliable feeding between 27.5mm – 28mm on most modern and older pistols. On a side note, many of my clients that own CZ PO-7’s and 9mm chambered Glocks seem to have to seat a tad deeper than older firearms as the bores “lead in” seem to be quite short but remember, no two firearms are the same so what may be good in yours, may not be in others.
Final thoughts on PC bullets are short and sweet, once you have found a good load for your firearm and smooth out the smaller bumps on the way such as how much you should flare or how much crimp to apply or even an adjustment on your powder charge, chances are that won’t go back to conventional plated bullets. They keep your bore nice and clean with no excessive fouling or smoke which is a bonus over shooting lead bullets. However, all this aside, the biggest deciding factor for me is the price. At the time of publishing, the BPJ bullets were at least R150.00 – R200.00 cheaper per 1000 than other plated bullets and you know what that means… Added reason to reload and definitely a bigger reason to shoot more! Yes, yes I know, you don’t really save because you are now shooting more but isn’t that the point?
Next time I will go more in depth about different parts of the reloading process such as preparing and inspecting your cases before loading, priming the cases, case gauging your ammo and eventually shooting the test loads. Pictures and video links will be provided in the upcoming post so keep a look out till then!
Please feel free to comment below on your preferred load on the Silver Rapids 125gr BPJ Bullets or pictures of groupings, tests or anything that you found while reloading these bullets. If you’d like to be added to our weekly newsletter for updates to the blog and promotions click here.