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In the early days of cartridge-firing handguns, bullets were made of lead. Pressures produced by black powder were low, and bullet velocities were subsonic by a large margin.

When autoloading handguns chambered for 9mm Luger and .45 Auto came along, velocities were higher, and the challenge of moving cartridges from the magazine into the chamber arose. In an autoloader, that is a slam-bang operation. Still, many target shooters used lead bullets with good success.

To prevent leading of handgun barrels and feeding issues, ammunition companies solved the problem by utilizing jacketed bullets, which have lead cores surrounded with a tough copper jacket. Handgun bullets available now are simply awesome, and they perform wonderfully.

Today, except for a few revolver calibers, one must search for handgun ammunition loaded with lead bullets. It was inevitable that someone would design handgun bullets with lead cores—but covered with a thin, copper plating instead of a “real” jacket made of the alloy of copper and zinc (known as “gilding metal”). Thus, handgun bullets vary from “naked” lead to copper-plated lead to a lead core with a tough outer jacket.

Like other shooters, I read a lot of material, some of which is related to the performance of plated bullets. As I have studied the subject, it has become apparent that there are three areas of concern: The first has to do with preparing loads with plated bullets when most reloading data published by bullet manufacturers deals with other types of bullets.
The second issue has to do with velocities produced with plated and jacketed bullets when other loading parameters are the same.
The third issue has to do with the accuracy of plated bullets, especially when fired in autoloading handguns.

Where uncertainty exists, myths arise.

gw-1605-reload-06

In order to remove as much of the human element as possible, the Kimber Custom II was fired fully supported. It had no trouble giving excellent accuracy with plated bullets.

Tackling the Myths

For example, I recently read one report stating that most plated bullets will not consistently hit a target a foot square at 50 feet. The reason was purportedly that the thin plating did not resist deformation when it strikes the feed ramp in an autoloader. I have shot so many five-shot groups measuring 2.5-3.0 inches at 25 yards with plated bullets of different brands and calibers that I know that is a myth. Tests I have performed with jacketed and plated bullets of the same caliber and weight with the same loads have shown that there is not a great deal of difference in velocity.

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These have been casual observations during load testing. Having just read a report on plated bullets, I thought it prudent to conduct a more extensive comparison of plated and jacketed bullets.

Plated and jacketed bullets were selected for the .45 Auto in three weights: 185, 200 and 230 grains. Three different manufacturers were represented for each type of bullet. Cartridges were prepared as pairs, with all parameters kept identical except for the type of bullet.

Velocities for the 185-grain loads were measured at 10 feet from the muzzle of a Colt Gold Cup National Match using a Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph. The 200- and 230-grain loads were fired in a Kimber Custom II. The accompanying table shows the load characteristics and the results obtained.

The data in the table reveals some interesting facts. First, with the same load, weight of bullet and, as nearly as possible, the same overall length, there is a negligible difference in the velocity for plated or jacketed bullets. In most all cases, the average velocity was slightly higher with the plated bullets, but the difference is within the standard deviations. The 230-grain HSM plated bullet gave higher velocity than did the 230-grain Speer Gold Dot, but that is simply a result of it having to be seated deeper to feed through the tight chamber of the Kimber.

“… with the same load, weight of bullet and, as nearly as possible, the same overall length, there is a negligible difference in the velocity for plated or jacketed bullets.”

Second, if there is any significant difference in accuracy, it is going to take a machine rest or a better shooter than I am to discern it. The reason for showing group sizes that include the best four shots is to eliminate the effect of that jerked trigger or slip of the gun on the rest.

Shooting was conducted with the forward end of the pistol resting on a leather bag and the hand supported on a small bag. Therefore, most human effects were eliminated, but eyes that are close to 80 years old still give rise to issues.

It is interesting to note that in all cases but two, the best four shots gave a cluster measuring less than 2 inches. That is as good as I can shoot. There is no discernable difference in accuracy between plated and jacketed bullets.

As the testing was underway, loaded cartridges fed from the magazine into the chamber were removed, and the noses closely examined. There was no more than a scratch and no nose deformation with any of the three brands of plated bullets. If poor accuracy is obtained with plated bullets, it is highly unlikely that deformation caused by the feed ramp is responsible.

The bullet pairs used in this project are (left to right, with the plated bullet first): 185-grain Rainer and 185-grain Nosler, 200-grain Berry and 200-grain Hornady XTP, and 230-grain HSM and Speer Gold Dot.

The bullet pairs used in this project are (left to right, with the plated bullet first): 185-grain Rainer and 185-grain Nosler, 200-grain Berry and 200-grain Hornady XTP, and 230-grain HSM and Speer Gold Dot.

Fact vs. Opinion

So, opinions aside, the facts show that velocities are not much different for plated or jacketed bullets when the same load is used. Difference in accuracy for the two types of bullets with the same loads is slight. Noses of plated bullets are not significantly deformed as the cartridges are moved from the magazine to the chamber during firing.

Expansion and performance of plated bullets have not been evaluated, but that will be the subject of a future study. I have used a lot of plated bullets of several brands with complete satisfaction —and will continue to do so.

Of the pistol powders available, these five were selected for load testing.

Of the pistol powders available, these five were selected for load testing.

Loading Data and Results Obtained With Plated and Jacketed Bullets in .45 Auto

Bullet

Case

O.L., in. Powder Grain, Vel.

Group, in.

185-grain Rainier HP

Speer

1.218 Titegroup 5.5, 942

3.19/0.79

185-grain Nosler HP

Speer

1.219 Titegroup 5.5, 928

3.16/2.82

185-grain Rainier HP

Speer

1.218 Win. 231 6.0, 925

2.59/2.27

185-grain Nosler HP

Speer

1.219 Win. 231 6.0, 917

3.54/1.22

200-grain Berry HP

Speer

1.216 CFE Pistol 6.8, 939

2.06/1.63

200-grain Hornady XTP

Speer

1.219 CFE Pistol 6.8, 916

2.09/0.79

200-grain Berry HP

Speer

1.216 IMR 4756 7.4, 944

2.57/1.35

200-grain Hornady XTP

Speer

1.219 IMR 4756 7.4, 970

1.93/1.70

230-grain HSM HP

Hornady

1.195 IMR 4756 6.9, 842

1.93/1.82

230-grain Speer Gold Dot

Hornady

1.224 IMR 4756 6.9, 842

1.60/1.06

230-grain HSM HP

Hornady

1.195 Unique 6.0, 866

1.97/1.19

230-grain Speer Gold Dot

Hornady

1.224 Unique 6.0, 824

2.07/1.87

Note: Velocities are shown as the average for five shots. Group size is for five shots/best four shots at 25 yards.

These loads were safe and reliable in the author’s handguns, but neither the author nor the publisher accepts any responsibility for their preparation and use by others or for typographical errors.