True Confessions Of A Scrounger


Containers come in all shapes and sizes

For as many different shooting disciplines there are, handloader’s share a host of common traits, no matter their chosen shooting activity. Should the handloader casts his own bullets, it magnifies these traits tenfold. My basement, garage and any other vacant space I manage to find is full of plastic containers, jars and metal cans full of bullets, cartridges, and sorted brass. Throw cardboard boxes full of freezer bags of brass into the mix and you get the idea handloaders love/need containers, lots of them!

Handloaders were recycling containers before recycling was politically correct, only we don’t return our containers, we keep ‘em! As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to strategically walk the dogs the night before “recycling day” to raid my neighbors bins of proper containers. Five-pound coffee cans are highly sought out prizes and mental notes are taken for future recon missions.

Hot alloyed lead ready for turning into ingots.

Lead The Way To My Heart

It’s funny how lead, a caster’s precious metal, and lead, as in leading soldiers into battle, are spelled the same way, yet our brains pronounce it correctly when reading it. Well, mostly. My mind always sees it as lead, the precious metal. I’ve been fortunate to rarely pay for lead, due to my scrounging abilities. During my time as a cop, I always carried several 5- gallon buckets in my trunk, should any lead opportunities appear. Even the buckets were scrounged from local diners.

Cop Stop

Over the years, cops befriend every gas station manager in their beat for obvious reasons. The further your beat from the station, the more vital these relationships. Besides the obvious reasons, along with a hot cup of coffee, I always chose gas stations with a working garage.

These gems had discarded wheel weights (WW). I’d get to know the mechanics, tell them my wants/needs, leaving them a five-gallon bucket to put any WW in. The nice mechanics even learned to tell the lead WW from the zinc, or iron ones. I’d give them my cell phone number and they’d let me know when the bucket was getting full.

A wonderful resource of lead for the daring handloader.

Fair Grounds

Part of my duties as a motor officer included working the county fair, affectionately known as the “goats and scrotes” detail. Again, I made a nice discovery early on my fair detail days. Every fair has a machine gun booth where you try shooting out the red star for a prize. They use lead 7 1/2 bird shot for the BB’s. The spent BBs are collected in a trap behind the back wall. The traps are emptied nightly into five-gallon buckets.

Lead is considered a hazardous material, so the carnies needed a place to unload it. I was more than happy to help them out. A full bucket of BB’s weighs over 300 pounds and it will rip the handle through the bucket if you try to pick it up. You need to tilt the bucket, picking it up from the bottom. Since I was a motor officer, I’d always bring my car the last night to haul my lead

Carnie Caution

One year was particularly good. The carnies had five full buckets waiting for me. It was a payday I wouldn’t forget. Carnies are not the most couth of people. I understand we all do things we wouldn’t normally do during emergencies. While loading the buckets, I thought I smelled something. I also noticed the lead shot was highly oxidized. I didn’t think much of it, until I got into my cruiser that night. It smelled like a barn. The carnies used the lead buckets for urinals, and it had time to simmer, fester and ferment.

I sucked it up, driving home with the windows down. Hey, it was still a lot of lead, free lead! I eventually melted it down into ingots, alloying it with pure lead, depending on its intended purpose.

Self explained

A Perfect Excuse

While shooting with a buddy a few years back, I told him the oxidized lead story. After a particularly bad shot, I told him it was the leads fault, as the bullets I were shooting were from one of the buckets the carnies “christened” and making a piss poor shot was only natural…

Just as there’s no free lunch, free lead can have a price you might not notice until it’s too late. Keep your powder dry, your lead hot and always carry some five-gallon buckets in your vehicle.

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