August 03, 2020
By Lane Pearce
I’ve been reloading for nearly 50 years, but until recently, I had never loaded plated bullets. I should have started using them years ago.
Once rifled bores and smokeless propellants became the norm, shooters soon discovered the rifling and hotter gases damaged lead bullets, negatively affecting accuracy. It didn’t take long for strong copper, copper alloy, and mild steel bullet jackets to be developed to sheathe the softer lead core. The improved cup-and-core bullets meant firearms firing smokeless munitions could reliably and accurately provide much greater power and range. The monolithic copper and copper-alloy bullets of today have completely eliminated lead in many modern bullets.
Jacketed bullets are complex, so they’re more expensive to manufacture. Plated bullets are like a hybrid version of a jacketed and cast or swaged lead bullet. The plating acts as the buffer between the lead core and the rifling while it’s accelerating and spinning down the barrel. Although they look like a jacketed bullet, the copper plating is not as robust, so they are typically loaded with less aggressive, cast bullet load data.
According to Marketing and Sales Manager Justin Taylor of Berry’s Bullets, Berry’s plated bullets are formed by first pouring molten lead alloy into multiple mold cavities. Excess material is sheared off to make slugs of uniform weight. Then the slugs are individually inserted into precisely machined dies and struck by a hydraulic punch to form the desired shape. Thousands of these are carefully cleaned and placed in a drum filled with a heated chemical solution and a specific quantity of copper blocks. The container of copper acts as the anode, and over a specific period of time (hours), the electrolysis process leaches copper ions from the blocks and deposits them on the lead slug surfaces.
The plating thickness ranges from four- to nine-thousandths of an inch depending on the bullet’s intended velocity. After plating, the bullets are punched through a sizer die to ensure the specified diameter is achieved.
I obtained a good sampling of Berry’s plated handgun bullets and weighed and measured a sample of each bullet. Weights varied no more than a half-grain for the 9mm and .38-caliber bullets and a grain or so for the .44- and .45-caliber bullets. My calipers indicated a half-thousandth of an inch maximum difference in diameter.
Tips for Loading Plated Bullets
Berry’s doesn’t offer specific load data but suggests using published data for the same caliber and weight jacketed or cast bullet as long as the estimated velocity does not exceed the limit noted on the product label. Researching my load manuals, I discovered both Western and Hodgdon offer specific data for Berry’s plated bullets. I concluded, after assembling several hundred rounds, only two reloading steps require special attention.
First, the case mouth must be flared to ensure the bullet will align easily when seating and the heel won’t snag the case. Second, after seating the bullet to the required cartridge overall length (COL), you should back off the seating stem and adjust the die to lightly crimp the case mouth onto the bullet shank.
If you use a separate taper crimp die, again lightly crimp the case mouth to remove the flare. Remember, the plating is relatively thin, and unlike cast or some jacketed bullets, plated bullets don’t have a crimping groove. Taylor emphasized that a crimp that is too heavy will likely cut the plating, and when the round is fired, the rear portion will strip off the core.
Also, gas blows by the bullet base, further damaging the bullet and causing it to tumble. Accuracy is ruined, and the bullets will keyhole. Customer calls reporting poor performance are almost always the result of excessive crimping or shooting the bullets too fast, according to Taylor. Every bullet I tested was rated up to 1,250 fps except the thick-plated 9mm/.357 Sig bullets that can be loaded to 1,500 fps.
Half of Berry’s production goes to OEM ammomakers and the rest to the hobby reloading market, so you may have already experienced shooting plated handgun bullets and not known it.
As the chart shows, Berry’s plated bullets performed admirably in my handloads. The 9mm Makarov and 9mm Luger velocities of 1,000 fps and 1,100 fps respectively were quite respectable, especially in the short-barreled SIG SAUER P365. The snubnosed .38 and .45 ACP handloads also turned in good results. The .357 Sig handloads could have been loaded even hotter. The .44 Magnum loads were also a bit modest and could have been pushed harder. And the .45 Schofield cowboy loads recorded lower velocities than expected but delivered excellent accuracy.
Plated bullets cost about the same as cast bullets unless you pour your own. Even so, there’s no lube or sizing required and no need to wipe your fingers often when reloading. Comparable jacketed bullets cost up to 50 percent more. Of course, plated handgun bullets can’t match the magnum performance of much more expensive, large-caliber, jacketed handgun hunting bullets. But for plinking, target shooting, and routine personal-defense needs, the very good performance of handloads loaded with Berry’s plated handgun bullets was eye-opening for me.
You owe it to yourself to try Berry’s plated handgun bullets.