Revolver Bullets: Soft vs. Hard
I’ve done some experimenting on the topic of soft vs hard bullets and since I see the value of both for hunting and shooting, I have decided to write about what my observations have been. I have seen many “colorful” threads detailing the topic and with the ton of pissing matches going on, there really is good knowledge on both sides should a person have an open enough mind to listen. Too many individuals here are so darn hard headed that they become bloated with the inability to sit back and listen or simply be polite. If you are one of these people please feel free to read on but hold your tongue if you decide you have the need to bash the tread. I believe that what I have learned from members here and how it translated over for my own experimenting can help others in the long run so I feel it is worth mentioning.
General statements vs soft and hard bullets:
Those who have hunting purposes, a soft bullet is a good tool to use as there is expansion which will create a larger wound channel if that is what is desired. A hard bullet also has its place as it brings with it the ability to penetrate and take some of the largest, deadliest animals that walk the earth and in addition a hard bullet can also be used to hunt even those animals that are not man eaters.
Target shooters, paper punchers, or pop can shooters etc. it comes down to what works best in your particular firearm. Shoot soft or hard bullets it makes not difference to me as long as you are happy and shooting your desired accuracy.
Playing around with the two differences:
Revolver: Ruger Super Redhawk 454 Casull 7 ½” barrel open sights
Barrel groove diameter: .452
Barrel throat diameter(where the rifling starts in the barrel): .454
Chamber cylinder throats: .455
Bullet: LBT LFN 280 grain Plain Base bullet
Powder: 12 grains of Herco
Velocity: 1,150 fps
I usually run a harder bullet from my magnum revolver (water quenched 18-20 BHN) which when sized came out to .455, but have read enough people who have made it work with softer bullets so I figured I would give it another whack since a bullet of 18-20 BHN hardness has hardly any expansion on an animal and I am not out to shoot a grizzly bear any time soon so don’t need the super penetration. With the harder bullet I had no problems with leading and was capable of consistent 1 ½ to 2” 30yrd 6 shot groups from a rest which is really good for me with open sights as I am not the greatest in the land type of handgunner.
So on to the soft side of things. I loaded up some 11.5 BHN wheel weight bullets, sized at .454 and headed to the range. Accuracy was decent 2 to 2 ½” but I headed back and started cleaning the bore from the heavy leading which had accumulated at the start of the barrel (1 ½ iches). Well heck I’m foiled again on the soft side of things or………………..am I???
After reading a post by a member here who swears by soft bullets and I do believe him as I've read his numerous posts; he is very knowledgeable. He also has posted up his proof with pics; you know the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Anyway, he stated in a recent post that he has best accuracy with bullets that are sized .002 over his cylinder throats. He also stated he shoots 44 mags to 1200 fps with soft bullets…………………….so what gives here with what I am doing.
This is where I start to think, .002 over throat diameter. I took one of those 11.5 bullets that I had so much leading with and made up a dummy round. I sized my brass, then flared the case and finally seated the bullet. Next I pulled the round and from the once .454 bullet I found it to be swaged down to .452. Remembering my revolvers specs, can you see the problem with the bullet and my barrel throat diameter (GAS BLOW BY)????
So next I took my .454 lube/sizer die and honed it out to a point where I could seat the soft bullet and pull it leaving a bullet at .454. I took this same load to the range and like magic the bullet didn’t lead the barrel and I had equal accuracy as I did with the harder bullets. Now one can see by sizing over the cylinder throats that by the time the bullet is seated it really ends up being swaged down to the cylinder throats diameter or closely to them.
NOTE: This is a consideration if your revolver is designed as it should be (throats are larger than the barrel’s groove diameter or possibly equal to).
Sizing a softer bullet .001 to .002 over cylinder throats can result in a bullet that is at cylinder throat diameters once seated in the brass and can yield good results. This is easily determined by making a dummy round, pulling the bullet and then checking the bullet’s diameter.
As for those who have tried soft bullets and it didn't work:
Individuals may have sized their bullets initially to their cylinder throats diameter and ended up with a small bullet due to seating which allowed for gas blow by. Gas blow by can yield leading and reduced accuracy.
And for the third option there is the possibility of using hard bullets that are sized to cylinder throats and upon seating the bullets don't swage down so there is good success there as well.
It comes down to bullet fit which has been said about a million times on this forum, but what is not examined is bullet fit of soft or hard bullets once the bullet is seated. Bullet fit has been stated on here as I have said but I have not read it in this regard (I am not saying someone has not posted it, I am saying I have not read it yet). I hope this helps shed some light for all of you who cast and reload as this may help out with your shooting endeavors.