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American Handgunner Sept/Oct 2009 - Page 36
John Taffin HANDLOADING SAGE ADVICE FROM THE HANDLOADING GURUS n early writer for GUNS Magazine, Kent Bellah, wrote articles that always caught my eye, and in my youth, I paid attention to his stuff. The article I remember which influenced me most was entitled “The Two Gun Man Comes Back.” With this piece Bellah hearkened back to the time when it was normal for one to carry a sixgun and levergun chambered for the same cartridge. He had a 31/2" S&W .357 Magnum which he mated up with a custom Model 92 Winchester converted to .357 Magnum by Ward Koozer. I really wanted such a combination, however it would be nearly 25 years before it became reality. I had been loading for the .38 Special and .357 Magnum in both a Highway Patrolman and a Flat-Top Blackhawk since 1957 when I finally was able to buy a Marlin .357 Magnum levergun. I followed Keith’s recipe using his bullet and 13.5 grains of #2400 in .38 Special cases and 14.0 grains in .357 Magnum brass with the bullet crimped over the front shoulder. Using the crimping groove in .357 brass gave an OAL too long for the cylinders of my Ruger and Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums. Both loads worked well in my pair of .357 sixguns, so I saw no reason why they wouldn’t work in the Marlin. They fed well and shot terrible! I soon discovered it was an exercise in futility to try to obtain good results with plain-base cast bullets and fully charged loads in the Marlin with Micro-Groove rifling. Very recently Marlin switched back to Ballard rifling on their leverguns and this should help the problem of shooting cast bullets. SIXGUN/LEVERGUN COMBINATIONS: A ThE .357 MAGNUM A good all-around .357 Magnum load for both levergun and sixgun is the Lyman/Thompson #358156 gas checked bullet over 15.0 grains of #2400. Hornady and Sierra 140 The Ruger .357 Blackhawk grain JHPs and 170 grain is a grand companion bullets from Sierra and Speer. sixgun to the Marlin .357 levergun. Bullet Genius t he answer came from Ray Thompson. Thompson’s great contribution is the gascheck bullet. He did not originate the idea of gas checks (which are copper cups fitted on the base of the bullet) as the design dates to the early 1900s. Thompson adapted it to sixgun bullets designing two .44s, a .45, and his best, the #358156GC, for use in the .38 Special and .357 Magnum. This gas-check designed bullet was just what was needed for the Marlin. The gas checked Thompson could be driven to nearly 1,900 fps in the Marlin with little or no leading and excellent accuracy. I have yet to be able to come up with a load using Keith’s bullet that will shoot as well as Thompson’s bullet in most .357 Magnum sixguns. Elmer Keith had no use for gas check bullets saying they were unnecessary, however if I had only one bullet mold for the .357 Magnum it would be Thompson’s #358156, and the mold is still available from Lyman. When I started shooting .357 Magnum sixguns and even later when the Marlin .357 levergun arrived it was almost mandatory to be a bullet caster to be able to do a lot of shooting. Times have changed over the last 30 years and the floodgates of reloading supplies and components have virtually been thrown open and today we can pick from a long list of excellent .357 Magnum jacketed bullets from such companies as Hornady, Nosler, Sierra and Speer. Several companies offer hard cast bullets with gas checks in various weights, and Oregon Trail offers both semi-wadcutter and roundnosed flat point designs. I use these latter bullets for loads in the 1,0001,100 fps range in my Marlin. In addition to great choices in bullets we also find many choices when it comes to powder. For my fullhouse .357 Magnum loadings I normally go with the great old standby #2400 as well as H110, L’il Gun, WW296, and AA#9; for easy shootin’ loads with cast bullets Universal and WW231 both serve me well. Loads assembled with these two powders may be easy shooting, however they are also more than adequate for varmints and small game. What’s Best ? ooking at the loading data it’s easy to compare loads with sixgun and levergun and see how they fare. The Speer 140 JHP over 17.5 grains of #2400 is number one for the sixgun and number four for the rifle while Hornady’s 140 JHP over 15.5 grains of #2400 is number five for the rifle and number four for the sixgun. The best rifle load proved to be Speer’s older 160 grain copper cupped, lead core bullet over 18.0 grains of L’il Gun, but this load is only average from the Smith & Wesson. The Lyman/Thompson cast bullet #358156GC over 15.0 grains of #2400 does not make the Top Five of either list but works well enough in both sixgun and levergun to be a good choice as an all around load. All this proves two things. Just about any load assembled with jacketed bullets will serve adequately in both the levergun and sixgun, however the key is experimenting with a varied array of loads if the best possible combination is desired. L * Note: To see John’s list of loads go to www.americanhandgunner.com and click on the Web blast with John’s reloading data. 36 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009