Copper plated bullets can offer shooters who put a lot of rounds down range some substantial benefits. They don’t smoke like cast lead bullets do, so you don’t have to breathe the
vapors or try to see through clouds of smoke for follow-up shots. Additionally, they don’t leave lead deposits in the bore, and they generally cost quite a bit less than jacketed bullets.
Plated vs. lead vs. jacketed.
Jacketed bullets are usually made from soft lead wire cores swaged (pressure formed) into shape and then pressed into a thick walled (.012”) jacket made from rolled copper plate
material. Internally the cores are soft, but the thick copper jacket makes the projectiles more rigid, permitting them to be fired accurately at high velocities. Due to the manufacturing
method employed, jacketed bullets usually show very little variance in dimension or weight.
Copper plated bullets can be made from swaged lead cores or cast lead cores. Since cast bullets do not have to be pressure formed, they can be alloyed with certain metals to harden
them, so swaged cores tend to be somewhat softer than cast.
Swaged cores offer the benefit of consistent weight from bullet to bullet and are cheap to produce, while cast bullet weights tend to vary a little more, and they are more labor
intensive and thus more costly to produce. Since copper plating is usually applied thinly through a chemical/electrical process (.003-.005”), it doesn’t offer the same rigidity as the
thicker rolled jacketing material used in copper jacketed bullets. This means that plated bullets with harder cast cores can typically be loaded to higher velocities without deforming or
separating from the plating. In handgun calibers, small variations in bullet weight mean very little in terms of accuracy, whereas bullet hardness does matter. Hard cast bullets do go
through a swaging process to ensure they are dimensionally true, but this is more of a final sizing operation than a forming process.
Plain old hard cast lead bullets are usually great dollar value and can be as accurate as jacketed bullets. But of course the down sides are the smoke, the inevitable build of lead
deposits in the bore, and the air born lead particulate that is generated when the bullet is fired. So with either flavor you choose there is a price vs. performance trade-off to consider.
Most people will be able to shoot the softer swaged-core plated bullets in moderate velocity loads. But when you start getting up around 1000 fps, core hardness starts to become more
Loading plated bullets.
Since the plating material is softer than that of true copper jacket material, one has to be careful in both the degree and type of crimp they apply to their loads. Unless the bullet
has a cannalure, avoid roll crimping. The roll crimp will tear the plating material and destroy accuracy.
Set the taper crimp on your loads by incrementally testing. A proper crimp should show just the tiniest imprint of the case mouth on the bullet. Do not apply so much crimp that the
bullet is being crushed in any way; all that is required is to basically straighten out the case mouth bell once the bullet is seated to the correct depth. Normal case drag will do the
If you are currently loading lead or jacketed bullets and want to make the switch to plated, you will have to adjust your load recipe. Typically, charge weights for plated bullets will
be somewhere between that of lead and jacketed, tending more towards lead. So look in the loading manuals for a good lead load and start there, working up in 1/10th grain increments until
they loads chronograph according to your needs. As always, watch closely pro signs of pressure. You will also have to take into consideration the bullet profile and length. Note that small
decreases in seating depth can result in huge pressure spikes, so be sure to adjust your dies to compensate if necessary.
Good luck with whatever choice you make and get out there and shoot!