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American Handgunner March/April 2010 - Page 32
John Taffin HANDLOADING SAGE ADVICE FROM THE HANDLOADING GURUS I n the middle years of the 20th century big bore sixgunners (those shooting revolvers chambered in .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Auto Rim and .45 Colt) almost to a man used bullets designed by Elmer Keith and/or Ray Thompson. Jacketed bullets were not generally available to reloaders until well into the 1970s, so it was simply a matter of shooters either buying factory ammunition or casting their own bullets. Lyman, Hensley & Gibbs, SAECO and other mold manufacturers did a brisk business keeping sixgunners shooting. Of the two men mentioned, Elmer Keith is certainly the best known. In fact we can find a mountain of information about him both biographical and autobiographical. Thompson is just the opposite. Trying to find much about him is like trying to catch smoke with a teaspoon. I have been collecting, clipping and saving old gun articles for nearly 50 years. Many raY ThomPSoN: BullET GENIuS of these articles came from issues of the American Rifleman from the 1920s through the 1950s. In all of those articles I have only found one reference to Ray Thompson the man. That article dates back to 1943 and simply says he is getting excellent results with the .401 Boser, a wildcat cartridge which pre-dated the .401 PowerMag and .41 Magnum. The most information available, at least which I have found, is in the 1958 Lyman Handbook of Cast Bullets. This is all it says: “Ray Thompson knows a handgun well, both from the practical and theoretical sides. His work as a Forest Ranger gives him ample opportunity to test his bullets on game as well as the time to solve designing and loading problems.” And that’s it. My friend Terry Murbach located Thompson’s son in Ohio several years ago, however he either knew little about his father or Ray Thompson’s decided not to share it. superb .45 bullet in the .45 Auto Rim. Keith Wrong? T hompson’s great contribution is the gas-check bullet. He did not originate the idea of gas checks, which are copper cups fitted on the base of the bullet. We do know the gas checked design goes back to the early 1900s. The concept became Lyman’s, who patented the gas check in 1906. Elmer Keith had no use for gas check bullets in sixguns and was blunt about it. I have to disagree with Keith on this point, as I find gas check bullets very useful in sixguns. They are Two classic .44 bullets: Elmer Keith’s 250 grain SWC compared to Ray Thompson’s 255 grain #431244GC. almost necessary for full power loads in the .357 Magnum and many .44 and .45 sixguns simply shoot gas check bullets more accurately than plain base bullets. If I had only one bullet mold for the .357 Magnum it would be Thompson’s #358156; this was also Skeeter Skeleton’s favorite .38/.357 bullet. Ray Thompson designed four gas-check bullets for Lyman. They are #358156, #431215, #431244 and #452490. All are still offered by Lyman, however the two .44 bullets have had the 431 replaced by 429 in their nomenclature. The 1958 Lyman Handbook of Cast Bullets also contains Thompson’s thoughts on his bullets: “I designed these bullets with gas checks primarily for the elimination of leading in Magnum loads, with excellent accuracy both at long range and target. Bullet 358156 is designed with two crimping grooves — the first groove for use in crimping the .357 Magnum and the second groove for crimping the .38 Special case, allowing more powder space using 2400 powder for Magnum loads in heavy-duty guns. Bullet 431215 is a high speed bullet for long-range shooting. This bullet proved to have superior accuracy. The late Al Barr wrote that he had 11 consecutive shots in less than a 2" sure call at 50 yards using armrests, backed by 21.5 grains in old-style cases with this bullet in hollow-point style. Bullet 431244 is the bullet I use on game such as boar, bear and timber wolves. Bullet 452490 I have never really tried out, but shooters down in Texas wrote me it was just what the doctor ordered for their Model 1950 S&W .45 Auto Rim making clean kills at 100 yards on coyotes using armrests from top of car. Using these gas check bullets one can’t go wrong, no matter what you use them for, plus eliminating of leading when using hot loads.” Thompson’s #452490GC is an excellent bullet for use in the .45 Auto Rim or the .45 Colt. .357 Magic hompson’s .357 Magnum bullet is one of the very few cast bullets I have found to shoot well in both a sixgun and companion levergun. I mostly load it with 14.0 grains of #2400 which gives 1,300 fps muzzle velocity in a 43/4" Single Action and nearly T 1,500 fps in an 83/8" Smith & Wesson. With 22.0 grains of #2400 in the .44 Magnum, the 255 grain #431244 will do 1,475-1,575 fps depending upon barrel length, and for the .44 Special the lighter 220 grain #431215 over 8.5 grains of Unique achieves the same muzzle velocity. If you have a sixgun that simply won’t shoot well, or leads up, or both, give Thompson’s gas check bullets a try. * 32 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • MARCH/APRIL2010