Let’s start reloading!
In the previous article I looked at some general issues relating to projectiles, but in this article I’ll focus on the various types of projectiles available and the process of selecting a projectile suitable for your specific shooting activity.
There are numerous types of projectiles out there, and manufacturers seem to be coming up with new variations all the time. The recent popularity of lead free projectiles and the requirement of some ranges to use these projectiles is a case in point.
The most commonly used projectile shapes are:
- round nose
- hollow points
Additionally, projectiles may be jacketed, usually with a thin copper coating, or covered in a variety of lubricating coatings. Copper washed projectiles are also available. The copper wash coating is similar to a copper jacketed projectile, but somewhat thinner. It is advocated as a cheap compromise for firearms that recommend the use of copper jacketed projectiles, such as gas operated firearms or those with polygonal rifling.
There are lots of variations on these basic types, e.g., jacketed or semi-jacketed hollow points, round nosed wadcutters, etc. All have their uses. Figure 1 shows a number of commonly used pistol projectiles. Left to right 9mm (4), .38/.357 (4), .44 Mag (1) & .45 ACP (2).
Another specialty type of projectile employs “gas check” rings, a ring of slightly harder material, usually copper, around the base of the projectile. This ring is used to prevent hot gas escaping past the projectile and melting the lead projectile as it travels down the barrel, which would otherwise increase lead fouling of the barrel. The gas ring also serves to clean any lead build-up in the barrel. These types of projectiles need to be used strictly in accordance with reloading tables to ensure maximum gas pressures are not exceeded.
The base of the projectile may also be flat, slightly concaved or even hollow. The concave or hollow base moves the center of mass of the projectile further forward for a given projectile weight, increasing longitudinal stability. There are also aerodynamic issues associated with concave base projectiles, but for short range pistol applications, these are not particularly significant.
I’m going to focus on the more mainstream handgun projectiles used for target practice and competition shooting. In previous articles, I advised against reloading ammunition for personal defence, and thus I’m not going to address the selection of projectiles for that purpose.
The most common types of targets used for target shooting are paper and metal. Sorry Destinee, I‘m not sure about projectiles for use against kitchen appliances, although .500 caliber hollow points seem to do the job nicely!
Projectile Issues – Semi-Auto Pistols
Many semi-auto pistol manuals will advise you to use round nose or conical nosed ammunition to minimise the possibility of mis-feeds. This is mainly due to the possibility of the sharp edge of a wadcutter type projectile catching on either the front lip of the magazine or not feeding cleanly into the pistol’s breech. If you have trouble with wadcutters in a semi-auto pistol, try round nose wadcutters. If they still wont feed, stick to round nose or conical projectiles. Most hollow point projectiles are based on either a conical or round nose, and should feed OK in most semi-autos.
Projectile Issues – Revolvers
Selecting projectiles for a revolver is somewhat less problematic as there are no feed and extraction issues to consider. Pretty much any shape of projectile will work in a revolver.
Projectiles – Paper Targets
After a projectile penetrates a paper target, the paper tends to fold back over the hole making it harder to see from a distance, not to mention causing more than a few arguments in competitions when the hole is close to a line. This is particularly true with round nose and conical projectiles. Wadcutters and semi-wadcutters, on the other hand, tend to cut a clean, round hole, which is useful if you want to check the fall of shot before recovering the target or patching it out. Figure 2 shows an example of a paper target with three holes; #1 was made with .357 semi-wadcutter, #2 with a 9 mm conical and #3 with a 9 mm round nose flat point projectile.
Wadcutters, because of their flat nose, are not as efficient aerodynamically as round nose or conical projectiles, and will loose their accuracy quicker as range increases. That is, they have a lower ballistic co-efficent than do round nose or conical projectiles. From my observations, wadcutters are generally OK out to 50 yards, but beyond that range, not so good. Personally, I’d limit using full wadcutters to 25 yards, and go to a conical/round nose or semi-wadcutter/round-nose wadcutter beyond that. As previously stated, wadcutters are also largely restricted to use in revolvers as they may not feed reliably in some semi-auto pistols. Figure 3 shows a button-nosed and a full wadcutter projectile. Note the sharp edges of the face of the projectile.
I have had great success using 9mm round nose wadcutters (Figure 4) in my Beretta 92FS and .357 semi-wadcutters (Figure 5) in my S&W 686 revolvers.
If you are going to use round nose or conical projectiles, there are some neat paper targets available which have an embedded colored layer which is different to the target’s face color. When shot, the bullet hole has a ring of color around it which shows more clearly the position of the shot.
Projectiles – Metallic Targets
Selecting projectiles for use with metal targets is less problematic as you don’t need to consider the hole being made. The issue is more about range to the target. Conical and round nose projectiles will retain their accuracy for longer over extended ranges. Wadcutters and hollow-nose projectiles, because of their lower ballistic co-efficients, tend to slow quicker and are therefore less accurate over longer ranges.
If you are shooting at “popper” or falling plate type metal targets at close range (out to 25 yards), pretty much any type of projectile will work. At ranges beyond 25 yards, I’d seriously consider using a conical or round nose projectile.
If you are shooting at both paper and metal targets, and want to keep the number of different loads you are using to a minimum, consider semi-wadcutters or round-nosed wadcutters.
In the next article I’ll move on to look at the various types of propellant powders which are available for reloading standard cartridge ammunition.