January 04, 2011
By Lane Pearce
By Lane Pearce
The author test-fired handloads composed of Speer's new-for-2010 180-grain, .30-caliber bonded bullet in a .30-06 Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye and was impressed with its performance. The bullet will replace all existing Hot-Cor bullets.
In my day job, I've helped launch Space Shuttles for nearly 30 years. As you might imagine, we test every significant hardware design before it flies--and all significant changes to previously flown components to certify they still comply with stringent performance requirements. Typically, the preliminary critical data resulting from a major test effort is compiled into a flash report immediately after completing the testing.
As I write this, I've just returned from a new product seminar at CCI-Speer's facilities in Lewiston, Idaho. Both Federal Cartridge and Speer presented their revamped handloading strategy to several industry scribes. These two companies, along with RCBS and Alliant Powder, comprise the civil ammunition and reloading segment of the ATK conglomerate. We had the opportunity to load and test some of the new products--to be available in 2010--for both accuracy and terminal ballistics performance. Here's my flash report.
Over 50 years ago, brothers Ray and Vernon Speer founded CCI and Speer Bullets, respectively. Today, CCI manufactures primers and rimfire munitions, and Speer still makes bullets and centerfire handgun ammo. Federal Cartridge markets a complete product line of metallic and shotshell munitions. Federal used to make all of the rifle and handgun bullets for its ammunition, and the company still makes some of them now, but years ago the firm began using selected bullets from various component companies in the highly successful Premium ammunition products.
A few years back, Federal and CCI-Speer became partners, and their product focus has undergone several adjustments since then. Federal markets improved and premium munitions, and Speer sells component bullets and the very popular Gold Dot law enforcement, personal-protection, and hunting handgun ammo. Behind the scenes, Federal had acquired Jack Carter's Trophy Bonded rifle bullet line, and Speer marketed them as reloading components. A few years ago, Speer developed a series of new bonded bullets that Federal loads and sells as Fusion ammunition.
At the recent writers' conference, ATK's marketing team outlined its proposed handloading plans for both companies. Federal will soon offer as component bullets the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Trophy Tip, and Sledgehammer Solid, under the well-known Federal Premium banner. Twenty selections, ranging in caliber from .270 to .474, are planned. All will feature gilding metal (95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc) bodies that are grooved and flash-nickel plated (except the Sledgehammers) with bonded lead cores.
Although the bullets loaded in Fusion cartridges are made by Speer, they will continue to be branded and marketed as Fusion rifle and handgun components. Altogether, there are 16 rifle bullets in calibers ranging from .243 to .338 and five handgun bullets in .38 to .50 caliber, all packaged 50 rounds per box. A separate Fusion reloading database will be available on the new Fusion website in addition to a special printed load data pamphlet.
Speer designed the Hot-Cor bullet long before bonded bullets became popular. While the Hot-Cor design is not a true bonded-core bullet, the special process of pouring molten lead alloy into a conventional jacket cup before forming the final ogive and nose profile is unique to Speer. It also can cause more variation in final bullet weight, which is not conducive to optimum accuracy.
The new Speer bonded bullet retained 95+ percent of its weight in preliminary tests.
The current Hot-Cor bullet lineup will be replaced by a series of new flat-base hunting bullets that feature electrochemically bonded jackets. The goal is to offer an all-purpose series of big-game bullets available to handloaders at an economical price. Speer provided preproduction samples of 180-grain, .30-caliber bullets for us to load and test-fire. And although the accompanying photo shows the proposed bullet with a cannelure, Speer engineer Steve Moore stated that production bullets will not have this feature.
In the Lewiston lab, I assembled several rounds of .30-06 ammo with the new 180-grain bullets over 57.0 grains of Reloder 19 in Federal factory-primed cases. Three rounds from a Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye topped with a Nitrex 3-9X 40mm scope grouped into roughly an inch on a fresh target at 100 yards. The first shot struck nearly dead center, and the next two rounds were almost touching about an inch directly above the first one.
That's pretty good results for the limited load development.
Another writer fired a test round into ballistic gelatin. The estimated velocity was about 2,650 fps. It penetrated close to 18 inches and, after it was extracted and cleaned up, weighed 175.8 grains, i.e., weight retention exceeded 96 percent. As you can see in the photo, it expanded to a classic mushroom shape that measured almost 3/4 inch across. I fired three additional rounds later with almost identical results.
And, just in case another writer relates this story, my first shot actually punched through a quarter-inch-thick Lexan lip surrounding the fixture supporting the gelatin blocks. It still penetrated 18 inches and weighed 174+ grains! The other two struck the block (without passing through an intermediate barrier) and weighed about 171 grains each, or 95+ percent retained weight.
Speer will continue to make economical lead and jacketed handgun bullets for plinking and target shooting. No changes are anticipated for the entire Gold Dot personal-protection/LE component bullet line. The current Gold Dot hunting bullets will also be retained but may be renamed to further discriminate between the intended purposes. Of course, most of these are also used to load Speer factory handgun ammunition.
In addition to the new to-be-named rifle bullets planned to replace the original Hot-Cor products, the TNT, Plinker, Grand Slam premium, and Match and Special Purpose jacketed bullets will continue in production for now. As demand occurs, new bullets will be developed and added to the catalog. In fact, I was almost assured that a new .20-caliber
bullet is in the near-term, product planning stage.
As I stated at the beginning, Speer is a significant contributor to the ATK civil munitions bottom line. Corporate ATK surely has adequate technical and financial resources and, I believe, a renewed commitment to bringing the brand back to the forefront as a reliable, economical, and top-performance reloading component supplier. Federal's joining the fray can only assure success.
We were promised an assortment of production bullets within the next couple months. When they arrive, I will extensively load and test each one. Rest assured, future new Federal/Speer bullet product reviews will not be just flash reports.