What Would Elmer Do?

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By Tank Hoover

Some Thoughts On Cast Bullets…

Recently, I was sorting some freshly baked Powder Coated (PC) bullets of the Keith persuasion. I had cast up a nice pile of Lyman 452423, and his taller brother, the 454424 bullets.

For the uninitiated, these are just numbers. To the die-hard Elmer follower and fan, these numbers are the combination known and needed to unlock the box to shooting a classic, proper “Keith” cast bullet, designed by the man himself. Some call any bullet with shoulders a “Keith” style bullet, but a true Keith student never would. Elmer had strict guidelines for his slugs.

They had three full-diameter, equal-width bands with a square lube groove. Elmer was known to use pump grease as a lube and the square groove held it in place better than a rounded groove. Over the years, manufactures “bastardized” his design as time went by, frustrating Elmer.

The 452423 was the answer for the .45 Auto Rim cartridge and the 454424 is made for the .45 Colt. The 452423 weighs in around 235 grains, depending upon the alloy used, while the 454424 goes around 260 grains, give or take, depending on your mix.

While separating my stash of PC Keith’s, my mind wandered to a cast bullet forum on a popular social media website. Someone was complaining about how PC cast bullets seemed to be taking over the website and the forefathers of cast bullet shooters would disapprove. I pondered on this question as I parted my pile of projectiles. Hell, I even cogitated on the new cast bullet “wonder” coating, wondering what Elmer’s opinion to the new technique would be? Would he approve? Would he PC his cast bullets if he had the means?

Here’s Elmer posing in front of a mighty fine muley he took.
This is from a friend’s collection who owns the picture.

Elmer was always searching, experimenting for better results for
himself and the next generation of shooters, do you?

Let’s Ask

Not having an Ouija board on hand and lacking the skills, or a possessed-cat, to hold my own séance, I did the next best thing and opened my books, the books Elmer had written. I own every single copy he has written and the others written about him. Through his writings, I’m able to speak his language, on his terms, and have learned a lot over the years.

Elmer was never satisfied. He wasn’t a complainer mind you. His mind was always working, thinking of ways to make things better. Just the fact he designed his own bullets is proof in point he was always looking to improve the performance on things.

After shooting a Billy goat 11 times with Remington black powder factory loaded ammo with soft lead slugs, with a tiny flat, Elmer knew there had to be a better way. He knew through experience a large flat-nosed bullet made a larger, permanent wound channel and made game animals succumb to their wounds faster. He wanted two holes in his critters, an entrance and an exit, as they would leave more blood out and more air in.

Elmer was ever the experimenter. He blew up his .45 Colt single-action army with hot handloads as he celebrated our Independence on the morning of July 4th one year. With shells stuffed with too much fine blackpowder and oversize .458″ slugs designed for the .45-70, his cylinder “let loose!”

Those of us with afflictions for the .44 special and .44 magnum can thank our lucky stars, too. For at that moment, Elmer, looking at the thin walls of the .45 Colt cylinder, decided the .44 Special was the way to go with its thicker chamber walls. Elmer later went on to design his famous Lyman 429421 slug for his heavy loaded .44 special.

Elmer was constantly experimenting. He was consistently looking at ways to get better performance from his guns, loads and bullets. He was an innovator.

A couple years ago, my good friend Dick Thompson told me of a new technique he learned while vacationing in Arizona. It was called powder coating. Being fully satisfied with my traditionally cast/lubed/sized slugs, I was skeptical and kind of offended, in an Elmer Keith follower sort of way. Having immense respect for Dick’s opinion, I literally gave it a shot. I was impressed! After thinking it over, I figured out a lazy, easy way of powder coating my cast bullets in less time, with less effort and with many benefits.

Here’s a vintage Lyman 452453 with the modified rounded groove. This is just fine
for Tank as it makes casting easier. That square lube groove likes to hang-up in
the mold for the freshly cast bullet.

Tank’s Lyman 454424 four-banger from the 1970’s. Again, the mold has already
been modified from a “true Keith” bullet with smaller, rounded lube groove,
but it is Tank’s favorite variation of this bullet. Lyman 452423 on far left
next to the Lyman 454424 for comparison.

Breaking Tradition?

I think PC cast bullets is the biggest innovation since the humble gas-check. Bullets can be driven faster, more accurately, with cleaner barrels, dies and fingers. I can do other things while my bullets tumble and bake without pulling on the arm of my RCBS Lub-A-Matic.

Some may see me as breaking tradition with PC bullets, but then again, I’m keeping some mighty fine company by doing it. I really think Elmer would approve! Today we are fortunate in we can walk in the footsteps of our heroes and duplicate how they did things.

Or, we can fast-forward to todays newest, most innovative cast bullets and PC. We can size/lube them or we can PC them. It’s all in what nostalgic itch you want to scratch.

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