It takes balls to shoot light loads


May 1, 2003, 07:59 PM
I finally got around to testing some dual ball loads the other day, two .36 caliber round balls in a .38 spl case over a small charge of fast powder (Vihtavuori 310). Turned out the first attempt was a bit on the light side. The first shot hit dead center, both balls hit inside the two inch 10-ring of a UIT target at 25 meters. Yeeha.

The problem was that a shooting buddy who was looking over my shoulder said: "I saw them in the air!" This was on an indoor range!

Then it was his turn to try the same load. He was right, watching from behind I could also see a grey streak in the air on the way to the target. Then I saw the "self sealing" rubber curtains in front of the bullet trap move more than they should, and my shooting buddy said "ouch". The balls had bounced back from the curtain, one of them hit him in the leg, just hard enough to startle him.

My turn again. I heard the balls slap into the rubber curtain, then I heard them whizz past my head and smack into the wall behind me. I ducked. My buddies were laughing their heads off. Apparantly they didn't believe my reaction time was fast enough to make a real difference. :D

Anyway, we decided that a little more powder was needed. After a bit of testing, I now think I have a good load (20 per cent over the start load). Now it's time to load a few rounds and have some fun. Targets belonging to unsuspecting shooting buddies come to mind... :)

PS: Yes, it was a reminder. We wear eye protection for a reason.

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David Wile
May 1, 2003, 08:58 PM
Hey M,

I had a lightly loaded blackpowder .36 cal roundball rebound off an oak pole about 30 to 40 feet away and hit me on my shooting hand about 35 years ago, but I have never had any bullets do the same thing at any range - indoor or out.

I have a shooting range in my basement where I can shoot 72 feet from muzzle to paper. My back stop consists of a 4X6 foot sheet of half inch steel mounted at a 45 degree angle to the floor. At that angle, it gives an "apparent" size of 4 feet by 4 feet to the shooter. The bottom of the steel is about 24 inches off the floor and is imbedded in a pit of sand encased in the front by railroad ties. Thin sheet metal is mounted to both sides of the backstop to contain lead splatter. In the center of my main steel backstop, I have bolted an additional piece of 5/8 inch steel which is about 18 by 24 inches and gives an "apparent" size of about 18 inches square.

In the center target with the 5/8 inch steel, I can shoot any and all pistol loads whether they are cast or jacketed. I can also shoot medium power cast rifle rounds into that steel without any damage to it. I do not use any jacketed rifle bullets, however. They are too much for the steel and would eventually just tear it apart. For .22 target shooting, I can hang three targets at the same time and use the whole backstop.

I like to test different loads, and I have found that shooting pistol bullets at close range does offer some hazards from rebounding jackets and gaschecks. Plain old lead splatter also can be felt perhaps out to 20 feet. However, I have never had any bullet or even large chunk of bullet rebound out of my backstop. What generally seems to happen upon impact is that much of the bullet simply melts and splatters. The rest of the bullet, perhaps half or more, then simply slides down the 45 degree incline of the steel plate to rest in the sand pit.

I would not want to hit one of the railroad ties with a lightly loaded roundball, however.

Best wishes,
Dave Wile

May 1, 2003, 09:46 PM
M67-I have loaded the 2-ball load using bullseye and had a lot of fun with them. Have also used the Speer plastic shot cups to make shot loads with #8,9,12 shot. Also fun and effective at close range. You can also use your .38 special cases with the Speer plastic shot cup, same powder charge and THREE #1 buckshot (which just fit in the plastic capsule) for a tri-shot load. All are fun toys!

Be careful with these 'non-standard' loads as there are dangerous conditions that can arise for the careless!!!

May 1, 2003, 10:59 PM
M67 - What were firearm were you shooting from, and how was the noise level?

I loaded some 0.350 musket balls in 38 spl cases over a bit of Bullseye powder (fast) and a patch stamped from felt cloth with a sharpened cartridge case. Weapon used was Winchester 94 lever rifle, 24 inch barrel. Object was reduced noise level.

These had to be loaded one-at-a time in the rifle as they were too short to load properly from the cylinder magazine. Noise level was higher than i expected; about like 22 short. Powder load was light enough that one ball lodged in the barrel and had to be removed with a wooden dowel I brought along for that purpose. Some time later when I disassembled the rifle for a major cleaning I found one of the felt patches in the receiver.

May 2, 2003, 03:51 PM
David, your range setup sounds great. The reason I had these rebounds was not the range I used. It is state of the art, the bullet trap consists of a series of angled armor plates that make the bullet richochet up into the underside of the plate above, then the it falls down on the floor as metal dust. Then we have the rubber curtains mentioned above to stop splatter. It works very well with anything from .22 to jacketed .44 mag. My mistake was shooting these very slow round balls into the rubber curtain, and when they failed to penetrate, they bounced back the full 25 meters. This range, btw, belongs to the company I work for. How about a major newspaper with its own pistol range in the basement? As you can see from my profile, it aint a US newspaper, I'm one of those dang furriners. ;)

critter, I have tried the plastic shot cups in .44, I think we used no. 12 shot. Fun, but it didn't really impress me as effective. I have thought about tri-shot loads. I actually assembled a test load with three .36 caliber balls in a .357 case, but it wouldn't chamber. I need either a smaller ball or a case with thinner walls. And yes, I am aware of the safety issues concerned, particularly the very reduced available case volume and what that may do to the pressure curves of even "light" loads. One thing you can never say often enough when doing this kind of thing is "be careful".

shu, I was using a six inch S&W 686. Noise was not a part of this project. I guess noise level is less than my regular .38 target loads, but I would not shoot them without hearing protection, especially not on an indoor range. The "quiet" aspect of these loads is fascinating. I don't (yet) have a long gun to test these .38 loads in. I do however have a .30-06, .31 caliber round balls and pistol powder...

May 2, 2003, 05:11 PM
Anybody have 'recipes' for these loads, or is everybody on their own here ;-).

Sounds like it'd be fun to sneak some of these into one of our club IDPA matches...hehe...

May 2, 2003, 09:39 PM
Here is what tickled me to experiment:

from Finnland.

May 2, 2003, 10:16 PM
Hey David, You would not believe how jealous I am of your basement range.

Note to self: get basement, get range.

David Wile
May 3, 2003, 12:31 AM
Hey Griz - Hey M,

My basement range isn't perfect by any means. I never installed an exhaust system, so, when I shoot big centerfire cartridges, it can get pretty smoke filled rather quickly.

Prior to my retiring in 1997, two friends from work and I used to have a regular 22 caliber bullseye shooting match every Thursday evening after work. All three of us used Ruger slabsides, and we did our matches with regular timers and such. Shooting the Ruger 22s, we could shoot one match after another without any problem from smoke. Start with a 9MM, however, and the air could get bad after just a few fifteen round magazines.

We had plans to install an exhaust fan behind the backstop to draw the smoke out, but my retirement changed things. When I left work, my two buddies continued to work, and, before long, we just started to grow apart. After five years now, we no longer keep in touch, and I do miss their company. Relationships change, and without our work environment to keep us together, our shooting interests were not enough to keep up our old relationship going.

All is not bad, however. Retirement is good, and we have made many new friends from our new activities in retirement. Now my shooting range is used primarily for testing different loads I have made. Occasionally there is someone who visits and asks if I want to shoot a round of 22 bullseye. and I never say no.

I see Griz is from somewhere in eastern Virginia, and I would suggest that if you ever get up near Gettysburg and Dillsburg, PA, give me a call if you would care to shoot a round. My E-Mail is in my profile, and my phone number is listed in the book. No alias for me. I would also say to M that if he is ever over this way from Norway, I would also be pleased to have him stop by for a shoot. If M were to come, however, I would have to also invite my good friend, Bob Christiansen, who lives in some Norwegian village in New Jersey. He would shoot me if I allowed him to miss an opportunity to meet one of his people from the old country.

I was also wondering, Griz, where you are from in Virginia. I went to school for a year at Fork Union Military Academy in the early 1960s, and my wife, daughters, and I lived in Alexandria, Dale City, and Fredericksburg in the late 1970s. Fredericksburg is still probably my favorite town. I am afraid I know zero about Norway, M, and my only impression is that it is too cold for me. Actually, Virginia and Florida are too cold for me in the winter. I would like to further south in the winter, but I do not speak Spanish.

Best wishes to all,
Dave Wile

May 3, 2003, 05:26 PM
braindead, recipes for these loads... I'm not sure I can give you one, there is a bit of trial and hopefully not too much error involved. The only difference from loading a "regular" bullet of the same weight is the fact that the round balls have to be seated deeper in the case. I seated mine just deep enough to give the top one a light crimp at its widest part. Because the case volume is restricted more than with "regular" loads, you should be extra careful, use light start loads and check for pressure signs. Max pressure and pressure curves will probably depend on your choice of powder, primer and maybe even brand of brass - thick case walls will result in less available case volume.

A couple of practical tips: I use that liquid squirt-and-shake lube from Lee (alox?) for the balls. Do not "bell" the case mouth, just press the ball into the case, if the ball is oversize the case mouth should size it by shaving off a ring of lead like the chamber of a cap n ball revolver. To start each ball, I put the case half way into the shell holder of the (single stage) press and push the ball against the frame of the press. Be careful. And do take a look at that Finnish site in shu's link, it's great.

Dave, I'm using an alias for a reason, my real name is √ėyvind and I don't want to be held liable for all the broken tongues if you 'muricans try to pronounce that... Anyway, one of my "girlfriends" is a Kongsberg Model 67, a sharpshooter's rifle built on a surplus Mauser action, and since 1967 was a very good year for both rifles and shooters... Thanks for the invitation, if I ever find myself in PA, I'll take you up on it. And if you guys ever come to Norway, send me a mail. But Dave, if you think Florida is too cold, you shouldn't come here in the winter. I live down south where it's warm and cosy. The last of the snow in the yard disappeared a couple of days ago, but we got another inch or two today (it will be gone tomorrow). I haven't seen the chilly side of -40 where I live for more than 10 years. Up north they were down to -55 C last year, that's around -67 F - and people still go to work and school and such, unless the weather is bad. "Bad weather" in those parts is when the asphalt blows off the road, I haven't seen it myself but I know people who have. Well, it isn't really as bad as I make it sound, but our winters can be an acquired taste for foreigners, I guess. :)

May 3, 2003, 09:05 PM
M67, after reading this thread, I ordered 5# of 000 Buck (.36") for experimentation with both single- and two-ball loads for .38 SPL.

I've tried the Speer capsules with 3 x #1 Buck in the .38 SPL. Like critter said, these can be loaded with the same powder and charges Speer recommends for the capsules filled with birdshot. I usually back off a few tenths of a grain from the Speer birdshot recommendations because capsules with 3 x #1 buck are about 17gr. heavier than the capsules filled with #9 birdshot.

The 3 x #1 buck loads using Speer capsules are close range propositions only. Since the balls don't engage the rifling at all, they spread out rapidly. And they usually leave a tell-tale hole (from the capsule's plug) in the target. Your buddies will soon catch on to your "trick shooting".


May 6, 2003, 02:07 AM
Years ago I tried some round ball loads, that Speer lists for the .44 mag - .433 dia round balls with 3 gr of Bullseye, as I recall. Seemed like a good idea for a super-low recoiling load, but too inconsistent. After a couple of squib loads that left the balls stuck in the bore, I gave up. More powder might have solved the problem, I suppose, but seeing Bullseye left unburned in the bore made me nervous.

Just for the record, half burned Bullseye stinks like the devil.:cuss:

May 6, 2003, 10:10 AM
I've got a copy of the Speer Reloading Manual #11. It has a number of round ball loads using the .433" round ball in the .44 Spl. and .44 Magnum and the .454" ball in the .45 Auto Rim and .45 Colt........

But nothing listed for the .38 Spl or .357 Mag.! :(

I guess I'll try W231, Bullseye and Unique with a single pellet of 000 buckshot (.360") and shoot for a chrono velocity of about 600 fps plus/minus 25 fps.


PS - I've got my Nylon Front-Sight 5/16" dia. drift punches and hammer ready to tap out any under-powered balls that get stuck. Hope I don't stick too many! ;)

May 6, 2003, 10:26 AM
Keep us posted ;-). I shot my chrony ;-)..

I'd probably try to shoot for 850fps or so..just for the heck of it (and the report should be similar to my usual load..aka the SO will not notice anything amise until he tries to score the targets ;-).

May 7, 2003, 12:52 PM
I vaguely recall that the old Lyman Cast Bullet manual had round ball loads. I believe they even had a round ball load for the .38 SPL. Can anybody out there verify this? TIA! Don

May 8, 2003, 04:07 AM
A long time ago I had a 38 special load I used to shoot just for fun. It consisted of three 50 gr. wadcutters stacked one on top of the other pushed by 2.7 gr. of Bullseye. IIRC the 3 projectiles printed within a 6 inch circle at 15 yards. I always thought that if the accuracy had been a tad better, that it would have made a great defensive round.

May 14, 2003, 07:03 PM
I just tested out a few single ball loads using 000 Buck and W231 in the .38 SPL.

I started out with 2 grains of W231. It got out of the barrel, but BARELY!

I kicked the charge up to 2.5 gr. And this seems to be a pretty good starting point.

2.75 grains flattened the pellet completely in my .22LR bullet trap.

I took a sized, belled and primed case. I then added the charge, pressed the ball in and ran a sizer die over it with the deprimer stem REMOVED to hold the ball firmly in place.

Accuracy reports to follow.


May 14, 2003, 08:32 PM
M67, how do you get those .360" balls into the .38 SPL case?

TIA! Don

May 14, 2003, 11:26 PM
I push the balls in with a pin gauge locked in a bullet puller.

I have writen Norm who wrote the rec.guns faq, and I have written the Finns the Shu gave the link for above.
When I tell them about "expansion ratio" for optimizing to get the velocity up and keeping the noise down, they don't get it.

Almost no one into cars has any trouble understanding "compression ratio" and how it relates to engine efficiency.

Why is "expansion ratio" in guns so hard to understand?

May 15, 2003, 08:30 AM
Expansion ratio? Are we talking about burning powder expansion now? Just making sure I don't miss the segue ;-)

May 18, 2003, 12:58 AM
The goal of many lite loads is to be quiet.
The noise increases with the amount of powder loaded. Seating the bullet deeper gives higher peak pressure and higher efficiency.
A .457" ball over .7 gr Bullseye in a 45/70 seated in the mouth of the case will bounce off wood. The same powder and ball seated deep into the case to crush the powder against the primer makes the same pellet gun noise, but will penetrate 1" of wood.
The deep seated load has a higher expansion ratio. That means the expanding gasses double in volume more times before the bullet escapes.

May 19, 2003, 07:03 AM
Now that is an interesting thing, I presume the deeper seeting causes more of the powder energy to be used to push the bullet in the barrel, as opposed to making noise after the exit of the bullet.

May 19, 2003, 06:42 PM
I am not good enough with the thermo to proove it , but after some thinking it seems to minimize noise you would (after getting the load subsonic to eliminate shock wave) want the pressure in the barrel at time of bullet exit to be as low as possible.

Thus the pressure should peak as early in the ride as possible. We know to avoid bullet setback or short oal as a cause of high pressure. In this case we intentionally push the bullet well back, but keep the peak pressure low by using a very reduced powder charge.

Peak pressure is reached early, gasses continue to expand, continuing to accellerate the bullet so long as pressure remains above atmospheric. A long barrel helps by giving a longer ride. We are trying to keep the exit pressure low, and the bullet is not accelerating as fast as with a normal load.

May 19, 2003, 07:33 PM
OK, I'm a history-major, so I'm not supposed to understand fancy concepts like expansion ratio and such. This is the way I understand it in "small words". The burn rate of powder accelerates as pressure increases. In a small case pressure will increase more rapidly, causing the remaing powder to burn faster, which will increase pressure, etc. until all the powder is consumed. This causes peak pressure to be reached sooner. As the bullet moves down the bore, the volume behind it increases, causing the pressure to drop - but that doesn't really matter, since the bullet already has sufficient velocity for the purpose. The same charge of the same powder in a larger case will increase pressure more slowly, giving the bullet time to move and increase the volume behind it, lowering the pressure before all the powder is consumed. The result is less efficient combustion and lower peak pressure. In both cases the volume and velocity of the powder gas as it escapes the muzzle is low enough to make relatively little noise. The reason to be careful when doing this is that a very small case volume may cause pressure to increase to a dangerous level even if the same charge is safe with more available volume in the case.

Clark, does this make sense? If nothing else, I managed to make myself slightly dizzy - although that may also have something to do with the amount of blood in my caffeine-stream...

Don:I took a sized, belled and primed case Skip the expansion, if you don't bell the case mouth, the case will size the ball as you press it in, by shaving off lead. At least that worked for me.

I hope I can be back with some "real" test results by the end of the week.

May 20, 2003, 02:24 AM
that sounds good.
I must be expalaining or understanding it wrong.

And yet another way:
Ususally hand loaders want long OAL to keep the peak pressure down. With lite loads, one wants the OAL short to get the peak pressure up. There is so little powder, one wants all the pressure one can get.

I like to press the ball on just the primer in revolvers. In long center fire bottle necked rifles, I like Alex Adaprters. I can carry one for 7.62x54R adapted to 32 acp loaded with 1/2 gr of Bullseye and a lead ball pressed on the powder. I can carry a deer rifle and an adapter in my pocket with a load that can kill a grouse with the noise of a pellet gun.

May 20, 2003, 02:53 PM
M67, I've tried unsized cases with the single ball loads and this is what happens:

I pushed the ball into the case and it shaved a little "ring" off the ball as I seated it to flush with the case mouth.

So good. But at this point the ball is so loose in the case, it easily falls deeper into the case. You can pick up the case and easily shake the ball back and forth.

I had a brilliant idea (or so I thought). I decided to run a sizer die over the case once the ball was seated. It still would move back and forth in the case.

So I came upon a solution (maybe not the best). I use a sized and belled case. I then insert the ball to one half diameter into the case (no shaved lead). I then run a sizer die with the decap stem removed to hold the ball in place and put a slight roll crimp on the case holding the ball at its widest diameter.

Problem: Powder burn is not complete (even with fast powders) and wide variations in shot-to-shot velocity occur.

Advantage: A recovered ball showed that the full size (.360) ball engaged the riflings fully and provided fair accuracy.

Suggestions? TIA!


May 20, 2003, 08:19 PM
Don, I'm just experimenting myself. I haven't had the problem you describe. The difference can be that you load a single ball. I have only tried "double shotted" loads. With a single ball seated in the case mouth, you get a large case volume and a very light projectile. The combined effect of that is probably the reason for incomplete combustion and variation in velocity. What I think happens with two balls is that the bottom ball is pushed so far into the case that it is "wedged" in by the thicker case wall in the bottom part of the case, while the top ball is held in place by a light crimp. This stops the bottom ball from rattling around, and the combined weight of the two projectiles probably also helps in building pressure. It takes more time to get the double weight moving and that allowes the powder to burn more completely. Although I'm not sure how uniform my own loads are either, I hope to do some proper accuracy and velocity testing soon.

I don't really have a suggestion on how to solve your problem. It's something to think about.

Right now the time here is 2:15 am, and my employer stopped paying me 15 minutes ago. I'll think more tomorrow. :)

May 21, 2003, 01:24 PM
M67, I think I've come up with an improved single ball solution.

I use a sized and belled case. I seat the .360" ball a bit over half it's diameter from the case mouth and crimp (about 1.279" OAL). The ball can not be pushed further back into the case and the crimp provides for a more complete powder burn. No lead is shaved off the ball so the riflings get a full grip on the ball.

Still experimenting......... but getting closer to perfection!


May 22, 2003, 08:05 PM
I push the balls in with a pin gauge locked in a bullet puller.

Clark, thanks for the suggestion. I have a bullet puller, but I got lazy.

I use an RCBS #10 case holder to seat the 000 Buck pellet in my .38 SPL loads. I hold the case holder over the ball and push it down with a properly adjusted crimping die. I then adjust the crimping die to put a final crimp on the round.

If you turn the case holder over, you'll see why it works so well. It pushes in the .360" ball in with no deformation.

I'm using MUCH less powder now that I'm seating deeper and putting a more aggressive crimp on the case. Still have some unburnt powder with W-231. Think I'll try Bullseye because it's a bit faster.


May 23, 2003, 01:19 AM
I just tried out a two ball 000 Buck load in .38 SPL. Powered by 2.0 gr. of W-231.

At 10 ft. the two balls almost went into the same hole. I could see two separate smear marks on the back of my bullet trap. I'd estimate they were about 1/2"center to center at this range.

Powder burn was more complete with the heavier payload. The load was also louder than the same charge weight with single ball. No surprises there I guess.


May 23, 2003, 01:45 AM
With the lead balls, I get allot more power if I put layers of polyporpalene between the balls and the powder.

To do that I put an "over powder" 28 ga wad over a case with powder that I have inside chamfered the case until sharp. I then put a board in the press and the case cookie cutters the wad. I put at least 2 wads in.

I then press the ball and wads down deep into the case until the ball is compressed into a wad cutter shape.

May 24, 2003, 02:27 PM
I finally got around to shooting a few groups with the double ball load. Accuracy isn't all that great, but at least it's a starting point, and I don't know how much more one can expect from round balls. The attached picture is of a typical five round/ten ball group at 25 meters (S&W 686). As far as I can tell, the spread of each pair is about the same as from shot to shot, with a tendency for each pair of balls to print one high and one low. Whatever that means...

I also discovered that there is a huge difference between brands of brass. The first loads I tried were loaded in Winchester brass, chosen for the simple reason that they were in the box closest to the press. I found it quite easy to seat the balls, both single and double. I intended to try different brands just to see if there was any difference. This happened in a "scientific" way, I used some Speer cases - thinking they were the same as before. I ruined two or three cases and invented a couple of new words before I discovered the mistake. The brass alloy in these cases seem to be harder, it was much more difficult to seat the balls because I had to use more force. Accuracy and point of impact was pretty much the same, though.

Now I'm going to have to try some loads with wads and see if that will help in the consistency/accuracy dept. I have really done what I intended to do when I started this, just load up a few rounds to see if I could make it work. But this is more fun than I thought, I just have to see if there is more accuracy potential in this. :)

June 9, 2003, 04:25 PM
Well you guys got my interest up in giving this a try. I went out and bought some Hornady .36 round lead balls for muzzle loading. Way more expensive that 000 buck but I wasn't eager to have a whole sack of 000 buck laying around.

I loaded 1 ball over 3.0 of Unique. I had trouble with keeping the ball from dropping into the case and resting on top of the powder. I finally got to the point where I could press the ball into the case just about to the center line of the ball. I then put a crimp on the case to hold the ball in place.

I found the accuracy of the loads where the ball fell into the case and the ball was resting on the powder to be better than the rounds where I had crimped the case mouth onto the center of the ball. I also had problems whith these loads not burning all of the powder where the loads where the ball was resting on the powder had complete burns.

As far as accuracy goes, the loads with the ball deeply "seated" were more accurate than the ones with the ball crimped at the case mouth.

My target was a 1 liter plastic pop bottle hanging from a string in the target stand at 25 feet. My first (and only) shot to hit it did not puncture the plastic!!! Just made the bottle swing like crazy and wrap the string around the target it was tied to.

June 10, 2003, 01:02 AM
Chamfer the inside of the mouth of the case until it is sharp.

Put some thick polypropalene over the sharp mouth and a piece of wood in the press for the poly to press against. This will cookie cutter a wad over the powder. Velocity and accuracy will increase when the wad stops the gas cutting. You may be able to then decrease the powder charge. Check velocity with penetration into wood.

June 10, 2003, 09:18 AM
How about Dacron pillow stuffing as a filler between powder and ball? Love those muzzle loading terms! :D

June 11, 2003, 04:16 PM
I fired a few over the chronograph yesterday. Two balls over 2.4 grains of VV 310 gave an average of 690 fps, a single ball over the same charge averaged 835 ft. I also measured a five-shot group (ten balls) at 25 meters, shooting from a rest (rolled up jacket on the bench). It measured just under five inches. (4 and 27/32 if I managed to read those medieval measurements off the calipers - in the modern world we would have called it 123 mm :p ).

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