Nearly 20 years ago, I picked up a like-new Ruger Speed Six 357 for $125. I wanted a cheap gun for personal protection that could get carried a lot without being babied. Everyone knows that snub nose revolvers are inaccurate, so I didn’t expect much from the little pocket gun.
For a while I loaded 125 grain jacketed bullets, but I couldn’t afford to practice with them, besides, I sometimes carried the gun for protection while camping or hiking, and a 125 grain hollowpoint is not the ideal bear load. A hard cast Lee 160 grain GCSWC proved to be surprisingly accurate in the little popgun, less than 5″ at 50 yards, and 1250 fps. I shot this load happily for many years. It accounted for deer and black bears and a few pests. The snubby was easy to carry and 100% reliable. I might have gone on shooting the GCSWC forever. But it wasn’t perfect. For some reason, it insisted on being cast of 50% lino. Wheelweight was not as accurate. And over time the Lee mold’s alignment became pretty loose, so the two halves of the bullet didn’t quite line up. Time for a new mold.
What kind of bullet? I could have done worse than to imitate the Lee SWC. But there is always room for improvement. I wanted a bullet that would 1) group less than 5″ at 50 yards, 2) do this with straight wheelweight, and 3) it would be nice if it had a bigger metplat. Because of several bad experiences with plain base bullets in other revolvers over the years, I just assumed that a gas check would be the way to go.
Bore Riding bullet ? A bore rider had worked surprisingly well in a S&W; 44, so it seemed like the logical choice for the 357. 160 grains, gas check, 75% metplat. Accuracy was around 6″ at 50 yards, not bad, but the gun can do better. When I tried inserting the bore riding bullet into the Ruger’s forcing cone, most of the bullet disappeared into the barrel. In other words, this bullet was jumping a long way before it caught the rifling. The Ruger has a gentle forcing cone angle. Perhaps bore riders are better suited to revolvers that have a steeper angle.
85% metplat ogival flat point I knew an 85% metplat would be risky, having had a bad experience with an LBT OWC that refused to stabilize, but I was seduced by that big, sexy metplat. I tried it in both a plain base and a gas check version. Groups were poor, 8″ or more at 50 yards, and the holes in the paper sometimes looked oval instead of round. The bullet was not stabilizing. But the plain base bullet shot no worse than the GC bullet, and it didn’t lead the barrel, either, a first for me.
80% metplat ogival flat point Since the 85% metplat wouldn’t stabilize, I dropped down to an 80% metplat, with a plain base. No more oval holes, but accuracy was 6″ – 8″ with the usual load of 16 gr.296. The 80% flat point doesn’t take up as much powder space as most other bullet designs, though, though, so I gradually added more powder. Groups shrank as velocity increased, meeting my goal of less than 5″ at 50 yards. Compared to the GCSWC, I was getting equal accuracy, with a bigger metplat, a cheaper alloy, and with a plain base. The forcing cone was perfectly clean. There was just a tiny bit of grey color towards the muzzle, but not enough to cry about.
Softer alloy Just as I had assumed that a gas check would be better, I also assumed that a hard alloy would be better. All testing up to this point was with heat treated WW, about 30 BHN. To prove to the world that soft alloys just don’t work as well as hard alloys in magnum handguns, I loaded up a few air-cooled WW bullets, 12 – 14 BHN. Groups were still under 5″ at 50 yards with the soft, plain base, flat point bullets, and the barrel was still clean. Huh?
Gotta try a gas check OK, so I was wrong about soft alloys and plain base bullets. How was I supposed to know that this $125 snub nose would be the best wheelgun that I have owned to date? Still, I knew that a gas check would make it even better, and maybe provide a little more velocity to boot. A gas check version of the 80% ogival flat point produced 7″ groups, and velocity was 40 fps less than the same load with the plain base bullet. The barrel was cleaner than the PB load. Hey, one out of three ain’t bad.
Deeper Grease Grooves A copy of the 80% PB flat point was made except with deeper grease grooves, 0.320″ diameter instead of the usual 0.331″. There was no change in accuracy or in barrel condition.
Powder volume We often think that if we increase the powder space, by using a bullet with a long, fat nose, we will gain velocity.
|boolit||nose length||length inside case||powder charge (H110 or 296)||velocity|
|160 gr. SWCGC||0.25″||0.45″||15.8||1250|
|160 gr. flat point||0.275″||0.35″||18.0||1180|
In fact, what really happens is that more powder is required to reach the same velocity. Save the long noses for heavyweight bullets. Not-so-heavy bullets may be better off with a short nose.
Best load to date Ogival flat point, plain base, 80% metplat, wheelweight (BHN doesn’t matter), Felix lube, size to throat diameter, and a lot of H110/296. I would like to find a way to safely get the velocity back up to 1250 fps, but otherwise, this is a fine load.