Cast Bullets in a 30-30 Winchester Model 94

Copyright 2003 by Junior Doughty

Buffalo Bill Commemorative 30-30 Winchester
Buffalo Bill leaning on a log. The rear of ol' Bill's lever isn't missing. It's obscured by a weed. Bill is 1 of 112,923 Buffalo Bill Commemorative Winchester Model 94 rifles manufactured in 1968. He's worth about $300 in today's money.
I bought ol' Bill around 20 years ago for $200 at a gun show. Ol' Bill is a Buffalo Bill Commemorative Winchester Model 94 30-30. I thought he was a handsome fellow with that heavy octagon barrel and silver fore end cap and butt plate—not to mention the gold medallion inlaid in the stock on the right side and bearing the likeness of Buffalo Bill. And running down the tang is engraved the signature of Buffalo Bill: W.F. Cody Chief of Scouts.

Heck, it's a good thing the guy at the gun show didn't want $300 for ol' Bill because I would have paid it.

Bill looked new except for deep scratches in the fore end cap and a little bluing wear. I replaced the cap, and I think I added the silver saddle ring—memory fades after 20 years. I installed a Williams peep rear sight and an Uncle Mike's swivel set. To make the factory bead front sight work better for target shooting, I filed it flat on top. It's now an upside down semicircle .084" wide.

Bill's short, 20" octagon barrel was stiff, and I saw in that short, stiff barrel the possibility of good accuracy. The installation of the peep sight increased Bill's sight radius from 16" to 23 1/4"—a 45% increase and another harbinger of good accuracy.

I shot a few cast bullets through ol' Bill, enough to see a potential for 3" or so groups at 100 yards, and then I stuck him in a closet. In that and other closets he remained almost unfired for 20 years. Ol' Bill's only excitement came about 10 years ago when my son-in-law used him and killed a nice buck with an RCBS 180 gr FP bullet pushed with H4895. One shot, one deer. Then in March 2003, I decided I needed a cast bullet rifle with fast repeatability for hog hunting.

A cast bullet in my 45-70 Handi-Rifle would drop any hog that ever lived, but if I missed, I wanted a fast follow-up shot. Wild hogs are dangerous game in my opinion. A vivid memory from my childhood is the very long hour a friend and I spent in a tree while an enraged wild sow tried to root the tree up, knock it down, chew it in two, and climb it. My friend had shot her in the butt with squirrel shot. (No, I never went hunting with him again.) I remember watching the hog chew the muzzle of the .410 bolt action shotgun I had dropped at the base of the tree. I wished for a string from the trigger to my finger.

WARNING:   Casting bullets is dangerous. In addition to the dangers inherent in working with molten metal, lead is known to cause birth defects and cancer. Work outside or exhaust fumes to the outside. Wear safety goggles or glasses. Wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking. Never allow liquids near casting area.
So out of the closet came ol' Bill. A 20 year wait was over. I possessed two bullet molds for 30-30: the RCBS 180 FP and the Lee 170 FP. Cast of wheel weights and with lube and gas check, their bullets weighed 195 grs and 177 grs respectively. I picked the Lee 170 FP for two reasons:

  • To me, Lee aluminum molds are much easier to use than iron molds.

  • The day might come when I want to cast 30-30 bullets on a campfire; therefore, I'd want an easy to use mold.

Click here to learn how to cast bullets on a campfire.
I plugged in my Lee electric pot and cast about 200 170 FP bullets. As a side note, I used for the first time my Lyman casting thermometer, and it made bullet casting much easier and faster. It was simple to keep the melt at a good casting temperature. If you don't own one, get one.

Here's the data on the Lee C309-170-F bullet cast from wheel weights:

BulletAverage WeightNose DiameterGroove DiameterBand DiameterLength
Lee C309-170-F172.5 grs.299.280.3095.940

I sorted those bullets by 2 Standard Deviations which gave me bullets
Click here to learn how to sort bullets and cases by Standard Deviation.
weighing between 172.2 and 173.1 grs. To size and lube those bullets, I used both my Lyman 450 Sizer Lubricator and the trick Lee press-mounted sizer and liquid Alox lube. The Lyman sized the bullets .310"; the Lee sized them .309".

The Lee sizing and liquid lube process was fast and easy. I dropped the as-cast bullets in a zip sandwich bag, squirted in some liquid Alox, kneaded the bag a few seconds, then removed the bullets and stood them on wax paper to dry. After about 20 minutes of drying, I placed a gas check on the base of the bullets and ran them nose first through the sizer. All sized, I threw ‘em back in the zip bag of lube, kneaded a little, then stood 'em on end again and let dry again. Took about as long to say it as to do it. I sized about 50 bullets with the Lyman and about 50 with the Lee.

In cardboard storage boxes in the spare bedroom, I found 3 partial boxes of R-P cases fired an unknown number of times and fired in either Bill or in a less fortunate 30-30 rifle I sold in hard times. I discarded the ones spotted with 20 years of verdigris, and I then full-length re-sized and de-primed the rest. I then cleaned the primer pockets and trimmed them. I tumbled them in walnut media for 12 hours, making them bright and shiny. As a final case preparation step, I dropped them in an empty gallon milk jug, added a squirt of dishwashing liquid, then covered them with hot tap water and started shake shake shaking.

The cases clean of walnut media dust, I rinsed them and let them dry overnight. The next morning I sorted them by 2 Standard Deviations. They averaged 128.09 grs and weighed between 126.5 and 129.7 grs.

My 20 year old MTM Handloaders Log showed no mention of the Lee 170 FP for some damned reason. But for the 180 RCBS FP, it showed poor groups with Reloader 7 and BLC-2 and good 1800 fps, 100 yard, 3 3/8" to 4 3/4", 3 shot groups with H4895. So I decided to start my shooting with H4895, thinking I could perhaps reach 2000 fps muzzle velocities with the 170 gr Lee.

As my shooting bench is maybe 20 feet from my loading bench, I could load 3 rounds and quickly shoot them, running them through my Chrony chronograph. My targets were NRA # B-8 25 yard pistol targets with the 5 1/2" bull and placed at exactly 100 yards.

I quickly discovered 3 facts:

  1. The Lyman sizer pushed the bullet through the die via the nose, and the force required to seat the gas check not only slightly deformed some of the bullet noses, it slightly bumped up the nose diameter. It squeezed the bullet downward, and since the band portion was against the die wall and could not expand, the nose expanded. Occasionally, a loaded round was somewhat hard to chamber. That was not good while hunting dangerous game.

  2. The Lee sizer pushed the bullet through the die via the base, and the force required to seat the gas check had no effect on the nose diameter. All loaded rounds chambered easily.

  3. Neither the Lyman-sized bullets nor the Lee-sized bullets shot worth a hoot.
Below, see the results of 20 groups of 3 shots with various amounts of H4895 and with the Lee C309-170-F bullet sized with both the Lyman Sizer Lubricator and the Lee Sizer:

H4895 weightsVelocitiesAverage
Extreme Spread
Group Size
27.0 to 30.2 grs1829 to 2011 fps109 fps6 1/4"

The smallest 3 shot group was 2 3/4" and the largest was 10 1/2". Extreme Spread varied from a low of 25 fps to a high of 177 fps. Each shot left unburned powder in the bore. Obviously, I was getting erratic ignition and/or poor burning. Bill was an equal rights rifle. He seemed to like neither Lyman sized bullets nor Lee sized bullets.

Then it struck me: maybe Bill didn't like the velocity of those bullets. Or maybe he didn't like H4895. I decided to try lower velocity loads of H4198—and hit paydirt.

I started getting 3" to 4" 3 shot groups with an average ES of around 50 fps. One 3 shot group measured a tiny 1 5/8" with an ES of only 26 fps. Bill liked H4198 and lower velocities. Below, see the results of 19 groups of 3, 5, and even 10 shots with H4198:

H4198 weightsVelocitiesAverage
Extreme Spread
Group Size
19.4 to 23.0 grs1662 to 1866 fps67 fps3 5/8"

The smallest group was 3 shots in 1 5/8", and the largest was 3 shots in 5 1/4". Lowest ES was 18 fps and highest was 104 fps. I could detect no measurable difference between groups fired with the bullets sized .310" in the Lyman Sizer Lubricator and .309" in the Lee Sizer. Neck sizing the cases with a Lee Loader also gave no noticeable improvement in accuracy. A 20x scope might have made a difference. But not iron sights.

Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo. 10 shots @ 100 yards = 4 7/8".
On the right, see the 10 shot group.

  • Load = 23.0 grs H4198
  • Average Velocity = 1866 fps
  • Extreme Spread = 46 fps
  • Standard Deviation = 13 fps
  • Group size = 4 7/8"
Obviously, ol' Bill liked medium velocity loads with H4198, which burned slightly faster than H4895. It was time to select a final load and zero the rifle sights for that load. This was a hog hunting load, remember?

I selected 21.2 grs of H4198 because the combination of Lee dippers 1.3 cc + .5 cc = 21.2 grs H4198. I wanted to be able to load my hog-hunting rounds in my tent, i.e., Lee dippers instead of a fragile and hard-to-pack powder scale.

Below, see the results of 5 groups of 5 shots, all shot while adjusting the sights. All 25 rounds were loaded with the 1.3 cc + .5 cc Lee dippers. Both Lee sized and Lyman sized bullets were used.

Average VelocityAverage
Extreme Spread
Standard Deviation
Group Size
1774 fps56 fps22 fps3 7/8"

Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo.
Before I go further with groups, look on the right and see the best way to adjust peep sights—with dial calipers. Forget trying to use the tiny lines on the sight's scales, even with a magnifying glass. To determine the amount of adjustment needed, both windage and elevation, use this formula:

  • desired bullet impact movement in inches ÷ range in inches x sight radius = sight movement in inches
To move Buffalo Bill's groups 1" at 100 yards (3600") with Bill's sight radius of 23.25", I used these figures:

  • 1.0 ÷ 3600 x 23.25 = .0065"
In the above photo I wanted to lower the group about 1 1/2" at 100 yards so I lowered the peep sight slide about .010".

Click here to learn how to cast bullets in a campfire.
The rifle sighted for my new hog load, the thought struck me that I might want to cast my bullets in a campfire in addition to loading them in my tent. I wondered how the bullets would work loaded as cast, i.e., eliminating the sizing step. After all, the .3095" diameter bullets were not sized at all by the Lyman .310" sizing die, and they were barely sized by the Lee .309" sizing die. Both dies basically only seated and sized the gas checks and in the instance of the Lyman, applied lube. I could easily take the Lee sizer camping and use it with my Lee Hand Press, but maybe the bullets would shoot ok without sizing at all, just with lube. I had noticed when pushing the base of the bullets into the gas checks prior to sizing in the Lee sizer that the checks stayed on the bullets.

I pushed the base of an as-cast bullet into a gas check, then raised the bullet and gave it a shake. The gas check stayed in place. Then I wondered if the check would fit inside the mouth of a fired case. I tried it. It fit. The bullet sat atop the case with perhaps the bottom 1/3 of the gas check inside the case mouth. If the un-sized, un-belled neck would seat the gas check—and if Bill easily chambered the resulting loaded round—I could eliminate 3 steps:

  1. bullet sizing
  2. case or neck sizing
  3. case mouth flaring/belling
Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo.
I gave it a try.

The photo on the right shows me finger applying gas checks to bullet bases. I just pushed the bullet down into the check, and the check stayed in place on the bullet.
Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo. Low-tech bullet lubrication.
I dropped the as-cast, gas checked bullets into the zip sandwich bag you see on the left side of the photo. Then I squirted in some of the Lee Liquid Alox you see in the bottle in the center of the photo. I kneaded the mass in the bag for a few seconds, then let it partially dry in-bag for maybe 20 minutes.

The lube partially dry and the consistency of thick molasses, I removed the bullets and stood them nose up on wax paper. Some 30 minutes later, they were ready for seating in cases.

Some bullets in the photo look cocked to one side, but that's due to the uneven surface of the wax paper, not mis-installed gas checks.

Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo.
Here you see a bullet started into an un-sized, un-belled case and ready to seat. The Lee 170 FP perfectly fits the neck of a 30-30 case. With the case mouth crimped in the bullet's crimping groove, the base of the gas check exactly aligns with the base of the neck.

Notice the gas check maybe half way inside the case mouth. I'm using a Lee Hand Press and a Lyman seating die. Each bullet traversed the length of each case neck with slight, even force. The beginning 1/8" required the most force as the gas checks fully entered the case mouths and seated or partially seated into the bullets.

Note: The above seating method won't work with a hard bullet. The case neck isn't strong enough to force the gas check lip into the surface of the bullet. The un-seated gas check will swell the case neck, making it look like a snake that swallowed an egg. The loaded round won't chamber. Test case neck gas check seating with a reject bullet and case.

The Lyman seating die was adjusted for the exact same crimp used for seating all previous bullets—medium heavy. I didn't want any round in Bill's magazine with a bullet pushed inside the case.

The acid test came when I chambered in the rifle the rounds I had loaded in un-sized cases—all chambered easily. Then came group shooting. I shot 2 groups of 5 shots each. Below, see the results:

Average VelocityExtreme SpreadStandard DeviationGroup Size
Group #1 1755 fps38 fps8 fps3 7/8"
Group #2 1764 fps52 fps22 fps3"

Click here to learn how to load bullets in a tent.
So un-sized bullets loaded into un-sized cases not only worked, they worked well. That meant loading in a tent would require few supplies and loading tools.


  • fired cases
  • primers
  • powder
  • bullets
  • gas checks

  • bottle of Lee Liquid Alox
  • zip sandwich bag
  • Lee Loader de-prime tool and re-prime tool
  • Lee 1.3 cc and .5 cc dippers
  • Lee Hand Press with Lyman seating die installed. The Lee Loader's crimping method doesn't appear precise or I would use it and eliminate the Lee Hand Loader and Lyman die from my tent-camping reloading kit.
Click here to learn how to cast bullets on a campfire.
With the addition of a few more supplies and equipment I could also cast bullets on a campfire and load them in camp.
Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo.
On the right, see Group #2 from the above table.

When aiming at the 5 1/2" bull, I placed the bull directly on top of the rifle's flat front sight. My zero point, then, was about 1 1/2" up from the bottom of the bull.

Below, see trajectory and energy data:

Bullet weight = 177 grs;   BC = .268
muzzle-1.0"1760 fps1217 fp
50 yards1.87"1638 fps1054 fp
100 yards1.54"1522 fps910 fp
150 yards-2.55"1415 fps787 fp

From the above data, my hog load looks good for 100 yard shots and borderline for 150 yard shots.

Click for full size popup photo
Click for full size pop-up photo.
Just for the heck of it, I loaded 5 rounds of un-sized bullets into un-sized cases with a lighter load of H4895. That's it on the right. To my surprise, 24.0 grs of H4895 put 5 shots in 2 5/8" with 4 shots in 1 3/4".

  • Average velocity = 1729 fps
  • Extreme Spread = 61 fps
  • Standard Deviation = 23 fps
To my way of thinking, a 2 5/8" 5 shot 100 yard group approaches the maximum obtainable jacketed or lead bullet accuracy from a Model 94 30-30 Winchester lever action, especially with iron sights. But I believe with a 20x or better scope, carefully prepared cases of the same lot #, individually weighed bullets, gas checks, primers, and powder charges, and with cases and bullets indexed . . . well, I'll bet a stiff, octagon-barreled Model 94 could put 5 of those perfectly designed Lee 170 gr FPs in just over an inch at 100 yards.

I believe that, yes I do.

The thought crossed my mind to readjust Bill's sights for the H4895 load, but I left them as they were and stayed with H4198 powder. I loaded 10 rounds with 21.2 grs of H4198—6 for Bill's magazine, 1 for his chamber, and 3 for backup. We're ready for wild hogs, the meaner the better.


Copyright 2003 by Junior Doughty

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