With everything going on right now in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, ammo shortages and price gouging are everywhere. As a bullet caster and avid reloader I figured there had to be a way that I could load and shoot my AR on the cheap. Having reloaded for years and casting for my .45 auto for the last few years I thought that cast bullets in the AR platform would be a great idea. And having plenty of lead to play with doesn’t hurt either.
Toying with this idea for a while I did A LOT of research online. Most of this included reading posts on various forums and the so called horror stories of people that have tried it but mostly it was people that just assumed it wouldn’t or shouldn’t work. And while their theories sounded valid, I had serious doubts as to why it wouldn’t.
The number one reason I read not to even attempt shooting cast through an AR is surprise, surprise- leading. Whether it be the gas tube or piston depending on your setup, or even the barrel itself, I read that it was doomed to fail. I have to admit that I was very disheartened that I had given this idea so much thought and it was bound to fail or even worse, blow up in my face(as some have said might happen).
With school and work, I had put the idea on the back burner for awhile. I mean, why pour a ton of time, money and energy into something that couldn’t work? One day while I was at the gun shop I work at, a guy brought in several older used bullet moulds. My boss being the casting nut he is, bought all the moulds from the guy. After the seller left, I took a look at my bosses haul to see if there is anything the I’d be interested in. Ah the joys of working in a gun shop. I get first dibs on any of the cool stuff that comes in before it goes out on the shelf to be resold. Yah- what do we have here? One of the moulds was an RCBS 22-55-FN. If you don’t know how RCBS codes their moulds, its pretty simple. 22= .225 caliber, 55= bullet weight and FN mean Flat Nose. Of all the mould manufactures, I think RCBS makes it the easiest to see what you have. I had only used Lyman moulds in the past(452630 to be exact) and unless you’re really good at remember codes, its hard to know what’s what. Also in the lot was the bullet sizing die for this caliber. Needless to say, against my better judgment, I bought em both. I mean, if it didn’t work, I was only out $60 and I have always planned to buy a .22 K-Hornet anyway and it’d work for that just fine.
My new mould
One of the biggest things that encouraged my experimentation was that there are a few companies that are selling .22 LR adapters for AR platform rifles. For those that are unfamiliar with these devices, they replace the bolt carrier group in an AR and allows it to fire cheap(cheap is a relative term these days, if you can even find .22’s anymore!) through your rifle. Part of the adapter fits into the chamber of the rifle and basically forms a new chamber.
Ciener .22LR AR-15 conversion kit.
My thinking behind this is that .22 LR use softer lead that what I’d be casting and shooting. Plus the Ciener conversion unit like in the picture above has been around for years and most everyone seems to give excellent reviews of them. All this and I never hear of anyone with leading issues.
Okay, that settles it. Time to jump head first into this project and see what happens, but where to begin? Knowing what I know about cast bullets, there is one powder that is kind of unique in that you can use it in just about ANYTHING! If the crap were to hit the fan and I could have only one powder it would be this powder. What is this mystical, magical powder you ask? This powder is so unique that they named it just that- Unique.
As I have only cast for my pistol in the past, I only had lead made from wheelweights. Also reading everything I have, everyone said that I must use linotype or a lino-wheel weight mix. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m cheap and very impatient. Linotype ain’t cheap! I went ahead and cast up around 100 or so to start with. One thing about the small cavity moulds like this(or at least mine), it likes to be run hot. It did take a while to get everything where the bullets were completely filled out. Straight wheel weights have a BNH(Brinell Hardness) around 9-11. I have always water quenched my bullets for a few reasons. The main reason is because I like pretty bullets(Barney was always my favorite) and don’t want them all dented up from dropping them on each other on a towel. The second reason is to make them harder. One of the interesting qualities of lead is that they will be harder if dropped into water, than they will if left to air cool. Water quenched wheel weights have a BNH around 15. Linotype has a BNH of 19.
I got those bullets sized and lubed. And as I said before, I’m impatient. This particular bullet design requires a gas check(a small metal cup – usually copper that is designed to help with leading and reduce gas cutting and blow by). I didn’t have any in yet and loaded some anyway, albeit they were light loads. Before I get any further. ALWAYS load with recipes from a manual. Reloading is a fun and rewarding hobby, but can be dangerous if you use improper powders and charges. Using a light load of Unique, I loaded up 15, 5 each with an increasing powder charge and headed down to my neighbors to try them out. I had a feeling they wouldn’t cycle with such a light load, and I was right. They all fired beautifully, but required me to manually cycle the bolt after every shot. Got back home and stripped the rifle down and everything looked great. Even with no gas check, leading was nowhere to be found.
Cast bullets straight out of the mould
Doing some more research I learned about aluminum gas checks. I had only seen copper before and the idea of aluminum kind of scared me. But all the reviews I read about them sounded promising. Placed an order on eBay for 1000 and in a couple day they were here. Now for the real testing. I loaded 50 cast, checked, sized and lubed bullets. I started with a powder charge that was .5 grain heavier than my first test load and progressed .5 grain each step.
Again they shot great but could never get them to cycle.
Aluminum gas checks
Duh!!! After doing some more reading, I figured out why I was never getting the bolt to cycle. It was my powder. For as much as I love Unique, its not the powder for this application. If I were shooting in a bolt action, Unique would work perfectly. Unique is a fairly fast “pistol” powder and that’s what my problem was. The powder was all burning up before the gas could reach the gas port in the barrel. I needed a slower powder. Something like a light rifle powder. Telling my boss what was going on, he gave me an old canister of Reloader 7. Its burn rate is slow enough on the chart, but not too slow. Plus the powder was free, so I was willing to give it a shot.
Luckily the Lyman #47 manual that I have has load data for Reloader 7 and went from there. Again I started low and increased by .5 grain increments until I got about half way up the data range and switched to .2 grain increments. I only loaded 50 with 5 of each load. This time as I reached the end of the lot I loaded, I started getting case ejections. The only problem was that the bolt wasn’t coming back far enough to strip a new round off the magazine.
Next time at the range- success!! The next 40 I loaded and testing began where I had left off before, still going in .2 grain increments. I got to where it was cycling reliably and had a few more levels hotter to shoot and never had any issues.
One of the issues I had worried about in the back of my head was bullet disintegration. The barrel on my rifle has a 1-7″ twist and have had problems with light weight jacketed bullets flying apart at high speeds. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was a 50gr Speer bullet leaving my barrel with a little trail of smoke and then having a bigger puff of smoke at around 30 yards away. To date, all my shots with this bullet combination have been under 25 yards. But I don’t foresee having separation problems as all shots on paper have been fairly accurate and haven’t had any key holes.
Having put a total of around 200 of these cast bullets through my rifle to date and only then cleaning it, I can say that i have very little to no leading. The goal of this experiment was to see it if could be done, and I believe I have achieved this. I believe in this so much now that I have on order a 75gr mould when it comes back in stock. I now have a practically never ending supply of almost free bullets which was a secondary goal. If you are interested in casting for your AR rifle, give it a shot. With a little time and patience you can have a cheap alternative to high cost jacketed bullets.
Gear used in test:
Spikes Tactical AR-15
Lee Pro 4-20 lead pot
Lyman 4500 lubrisizer
Lyman T-mag turret press
I purposefully left out load data for safety and liability reasons.
If you live in Central NC, come check out our shop:
Acme Bullet Company
1052 E. Harden St.
Graham, NC 27302