Buying Better Bullets - Part II

Last month, I introduced both my avid readers to the concept of purchasing already cast lead bullets for skirmishing purposes. I explained that skirmishers practice this enterprise for various reasons, and we discussed the quality of precast bullets, which generally is quite good, often better than the beginning skirmisher could cast by him or her self.

This month, I want to report on the results that I had with the most readily available precast bullet for skirmishing, the Ball Accuracy Modern Minie. I tested the Ball Minie in a two-band Enfield custom Whitacre barrel, 33.5 inch and .580; and, a Dixie Gun Works 39.5 inch three-band Springfield barrel (made in Japan), also .580. In an effort to diminish or eliminate other variables, the same lot of powder was used for each test, used the same lube, and only used RWS caps from the same tin, and all tests for each individual musket were conducted on the same day within 60 minutes of each other.

Shooting the Ball Modern Minie

My first range test was with my two band Enfield, my skirmishing arm of choice for about 8 years. It's 33.5 inch Whitacre barrel throws most bullets better than I can shoot, and I was anxious to find out how the Ball Minie would stack-up.

I used the 10:1 rule for blackpowder shooting to develop my test loads. Basically, the 10:1 rule states that for every 10 units of payload, the shooter should use 1 unit of powder. This is a pretty good identifier of the starting point for load development, whether you are using 1 pound of powder under a 10 pound Parrott projectile, or 43.5 grains of FF under a 435 grain Ball Minie. The "perfect" skirmishing load may not be an exact product of the 10:1 rule, but it is the smartest place to start.

In addition to 10 43.5 grain FF Goex loads, I also made up some 48 grain and 39 grain FF loads, which are approximately plus and minus 10% of the starting load. For the sake of comparison, I made up some 35 grain FFF Goex loads just to fill the tray.

Test day was an overcast, sloppy day following a rainy evening. I hung the targets up at 50 yards and proceeded to load the first test loads, the 43.5 loads in the Enfield. The chronograph was sending me mixed messages, and after I shot the group, a trip down range told me all I needed to know about 43.5 grains of FF blackpowder under the Ball Minie in my barrel. The FF powder wasn't creating enough power or pressure to open the skirt of the Minie into the lands of the barrel before the slug exited, which result in 6 out of 10 bullets keyholeing. It made a lot of sense to me at the range, that the slower burning, low pressure FF powder just didn't have the chemistry to make the bullet work in that barrel. I just don't know why it didn't occur to me at home. With no friction between the bullet and barrel, that slug came out pretty fast, it just tumbled down range on a course of it's own.

A quick trip back to the basement to change loads from FF to FFF blackpowder resulted in two more test loads, 43 grains of FFF and 38 grains of FFF. Back outside, I tested the 43 grain FFF load first. The 43 grains of Goex FFF moved the Ball Minie along at a steady clip, measuring 764 fps (feet per second) on the chronograph. The 38 grain load came out a little bit slower, registering an average speed of 717 fps. The lighter 38 grain load had noticeably less recoil and a better group, even though the 43 grain load was faster. Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.

The Ball Minie did well in the two-band once I found the right powder, and I even took a couple boxes with me up to McNeil's Skirmish and plowed away at the targets up there for a while. Once I found out where I was hitting (funny how it doesn't hit in the same place off my shoulder that it does off the bench), I was doing as well as with my standard load.

I also tested the Ball Minie in a 39.5 inch Dixie barrel on my Harpers Ferry Model 1855 3-band. After what happened in the 2- band, I wasn't sure that FF would work, but 43 grains of FF was my starting load again on test day for the Harpers Ferry. The average velocity in the longer barrel was greatly increased. Forty-six grains of FF Goex pushed the Ball Minie through the chronograph screens at an average speed of 955 fps. It also provided a healthy kick, so I dropped down to 40 grains of FF Goex for my second test load. The results showed a loss of speed, but once again, a better group than the heavier charge and noticeably less recoil. Even the Extreme Spread and Standard Deviation of the velocities improved with the lighter load, a sign that perhaps that is the answer in the longer barrel.

For comparison's sake, I also recorded the velocity of the better two-band load in the three-band. The longer barrel resulted in better mathematics all around. The average velocity of the 38 grains of FFF Goex in the longer barrel was 899 fps, a 21% increase, which was accompanied by a better standard deviation and extreme spread as well.


As we discussed last month, there are lots of reasons for buying precast skirmishing bullets. Although I only tested one bullet available, the results were good and I have had success with other precast bullets in the past.

The Ball Minie performed well in both the 33.5 inch and 39.5 inch barrels, one custom made and one store bought. It appears that 38 grains of FFF Goex is a good starting point for readers who want to try the Ball Modern Minie in their 2-band rifles. And 3-band shooters would do well to try 40 grains of FF Goex as a starting load if they want to develop a skirmishing round for their front- stuffers.

I thought the quality of the Ball Minies was very good, and they were easy to get to work in both of the test weapons. They performed consistently under skirmishing conditions, and I wouldn't hesiatate to recommend them to a new shooter or skirmisher. I think precast bullets in general are a bargain, and the Ball Minie fits the bill.

In the not too distant future we will be looking into how long blackpowder can be stored safely and effectively, and looking into pistol shooting again. Until then, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun. And, for God's sake, don't forget to register and vote in November.

2000 by Tom Kelley

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