A Great Box Of Shells


By Tank Hoover

It started out as a regular box of shells. I was preparing for a handgun elk hunt in Idaho with good buddy Dick Thompson. Dick and I are huge Elmer Keith fans so a cast Keith bullet was the obvious and proper thing to bring for my handload on the hunt. I have a 1970’s vintage Lyman 4 cavity 454424 bullet mold dropping the prettiest bullets weighing in at 260 grains. The meplat, or nose of the bullet, is large, almost taking on the appearance of a full wadcutter. My load is 20 grains of 2400 sparked by a large pistol primer, in .45 Colt brass from Starline. This load clocks out at just over 1,200 fps.

I read a story where a Keith fan meets Elmer at a gun show. He tells Elmer he uses his advertised load of 18.5 grains of 2400, but has several unburned kernels left in his barrel after the shot. Elmer tells him to bump the charge up to 20.0 grains and he will get a clean burn. He then winks, as only Elmer can, and says, ”It’s what I do.”

So I have a classic, vintage load with pertinent history behind it. I cast, size/lube the bullets .452″ using LBT bullet lube and then load them in nickeled Starline brass. I fill a plastic 50 round box, smoke gray in color, for the trip. I will be shooting them from a Ruger Bisley Hunter with iron sights, sporting a 7.5″ barrel.


Tank’s great box of shells.


A good load starts with a good bullet. Tank likes cast bullets, and the
Lyman 454424 fits the bill. Designed by Elmer, it’s a classic bullet, still
effective and scratches that nostalgic itch.

Worked Just Fine

Luck is with me and I take a nice cow elk at 120 yards, give or take. At the shot she swing her head at the entrance wound, as if stung by a bee. She’s stung all right, three wobbly steps and she tilts over. Elmer’s finest, consisting of 260 grains of WW alloy, center punches both lungs and zings right through her.

A couple weeks later is Maryland’s opening day of firearms season and I’m lucky enough to take a buck and doe with the same outfit and box of shells. This box is quickly developing a track record and I like it.

Five more whitetails are taken from the same box — all one shot kills.

It was never my intention to load a special box of shells, it just happens. Shooting this humble cast bullet load from an iron-sighted revolver takes me back in time. It puts the emphasis on the hunter, not the equipment. Basic doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

As Elmer says, you can eat right up to the hole, too.

It’s good to know our roots and revisit them from time to time. Experiencing and appreciating what our mentors went through, understanding the how and why’s, being able to duplicate the way they did it is inspiring. It brings you closer to them as you actually experience their feats, walking in their footsteps.

Any animal is a trophy when taken with an iron-sighted sixgun. I’ve been fortunate enough to take a few to experience the rush, pride, and feeling of accomplishment. The challenge is tough and you must have a willingness to fail when limiting yourself with a sixgun. I’m no purist in the sense of Dick Thompson or John Taffin. I still love my rifles, and admit to taking them out from time to time. I have the upmost respect and admiration for the purists of the sport, for more times than naught, these guys are going home empty handed.

As Dick Thompson says, “I’d rather shoot a grasshopper with a sixgun than a 6X6 bull elk with a rifle. Dick traded in his rifles over 40 years ago now and is still bringing home the meat.

Some may just see a plastic box of about a dozen left-over handloads and spent brass. To me, it’s a box of memories, adventure and fulfilled dreams. This box of shells has been to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Idaho and West Virginia. Each empty case, with its cratered primer, is a reminder of past experiences of the hunt.

I hope everyone has the chance to load a box of shells as lucky and special as mine.

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