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  1. #1
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    Default 7.62x54r Accuracy Survey: Lead Core vs. Steel Core

    I've been shooting Mosins now for a year or so, and though I am an ardent handloader and have been for 30 or so years, I buy alot of Milsurp ammo because it can be quite cheap. Thusfar, for my Mosins, I've purchased Czech Light Ball, Hungarian Light Ball, Bulgarian Light Ball, Bulgarian Heavy Ball and a case of the U.S. Gov't contract stuff from CDNN (JMS). Though I've owned several Mosins, I have owned a '39 Tula for quite a while now and have fired all types of ammo through it including handloads. It is a very accurate rifle especially with handloads.

    I buy the surplus ammo because it's cheap shooting, but honestly, I bought most of this stuff for components, and since I have a range at my house and love testing ammunition for its accuracy ability, I shoot alot. The Czech stuff really didn't shoot too well, nor did the Hungarian. The Bulgarian Light was odd; of 10 shots, it'd group may 6 or so nicely and sling 4 out of the group. I disassembled the ammo and found quite a bit of variation in bullet weight and diameter. This probably explains the flyers. Handloads with the pulled and weight sorted light Bulgy bullets shot well. Had pretty much the same experience with the Bulgarian HB, but the bullets seemed to be held to closer tolerances. The (JMS) was quite accurate, but even more so if I broke the ammunition down and carefully reassembled the components.
    I tried handloading pulled steel core bullets, but accuracy was lacking.

    Given this, I've noticed that the lead core ammunition (Bulgarian LB & HB and JMS) was more accurate than the steel core (Czech and Hungarian LB). I then remembered reading something in one of my Handloader magazines. It was regarding lead core bullets vs. the Barnes X which is solid copper. The author made the point that very often the solid copper bullets do not begin to shoot accurately until pressures approached maximum. This is due the fact that bullets, when kicked in the butt with tens of thousands of pounds of pressure combined with overcoming the atmospheric pressure present in the barrel, tend to become "squashed", for lack of a better term, and take the shape of the inside of the barrel. This phenomenon is illustrated in, I believe, the Lyman #46 Reloading handbook.
    Obviously, a bullet made of solid, albeit soft, copper would require much more pressure to obturate or form to the bore than would a lead core bullet with a thin soft copper jacket. So it would seem that a steel core bullet would retain its shape (not obturate)when fired due to the hardness of the steel core. So, unless you had a steel core bullet that closely fit the barrel, it seems to me that there would be a potential for poor accuracy.
    In my mind, this would explain why lead core bullets, at least for me, tend to shoot better than steel core bullets. Maybe at this point I should elaborate on my criteria for accuracy.
    I do all of my shooting at 100 yds. as I don't have a 50 yd range (yet). When I begin to seriously check a rifles accuracy potential, I'll normally use my own cast bullets because they can be sized to a rifles barrel (groove diameter)which removes one of the elements of poor accuracy; undersized bullets. If the rifle shoots well with cast bullets, then I'll try surplus ammo. At 100 yds. I deem anything over about 3 1/2" as unacceptable. That may sound stringent, but I want to hit where I aim.
    So my question is: Has anyone else noticed the tendency of lead core ammunition being more accurate than steel core? I understand that good steel core ammo will be more accurate than poor lead core, but generally speaking, anyone seen any tendencies? What I'm looking for here is people who've fired different kinds of MilSurp 7.62x54r in the same rifles. NOT "Well, my Mosin loves AlBulHungian Medium Ball steel core, but I haven't tried anything else...."
    Looking forward to input!
    35W

  2. #2
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    I can speak from only offhand shooting, but YES, over the years I have noticed that lead core ammo shoots a good bit better than steel core.

  3. #3
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    Since I'm just starting to shoot milsurp ammo, how does one know what kind of core it is?

  4. #4
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    Surplus ammo is almost certainly NOT going to be solid copper. Therefore, your choices are steel or lead. I find that a fridge magnet sticks to steel core ammo pretty well. It certainly works on Wolf and S&B 7.62x39.

  5. #5
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    Whelen, in my particular rifle (1918 Rem. M91), lead core heavy ball shoots the smallest groups. In particular, Yugo heavy ball shot the tightest groups period. I've gotten good results with steel core (Czech, Hungarian and Albanian LB), though.

    I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that lead is naturally denser than steel, which gives it a better sectional density and "carry." IMHO, it's a lot like when you throw a regulation baseball compared with a similarly sized wiffle ball.
    Last edited by Son of the Gun; 02-28-2008 at 11:39 PM.
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  6. #6
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    I have had noticably better results in multiple rifles with 70's Hungarian LB which is steel core. In fact, one of my Mosins that really likes it is a '46 M44 with a .314 groove diameter. Last time I had it out with the Hungarian LB, my last 3 targets a 100 yards ranged from 1-7/8" to 2-1/4" c-t-c.
    There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.
    H. L. Mencken

  7. #7

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    The steel core ammo that I've sectioned has a thin layer of lead between the jacket and the core. The steel core itself is not having to form to the barrel.

    A magnet is not a good test of the type of core with 54r because most ammo has a steel alloy jacket that will attract a magnet. The only surplus 54r ammo that I've found that is not magnetic is the Yugoslavian heavy ball.

    If you can't determine the core of the bullet by markings on the case or a color code on the bullet itself (silver for steel) then you have to pull a bullet. If it has an open base, as most do, then just scratch it with something and it will be readily apparent if it is steel or lead. You could also just look here. http://7.62x54r.net/MosinID/MosinAmmo.htm

  8. #8

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    Hungarian steel core.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ammo004s.JPG  

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by 7.62x54r View Post
    The steel core ammo that I've sectioned has a thin layer of lead between the jacket and the core. The steel core itself is not having to form to the barrel.

    <snip>
    Right, the steel core isn't, nor could it form to the bore. Steel isn't malleable like lead. That is why I I've found generally speaking that lead core seems to shoot best. I'm not talking about one rifle that happens to love steel core ammo. I'm talking about firing both steel and lead core ammo in several different rifles. I really believe the lead bullets with that huge amount of pressure behind them, form to the bore better. If there are any cast bullet shooters here, they'll understand this as obturation. It's the same principle that allows a slightly undersized cast bullets to shoot well in a slightly oversized bore. Many times such cast bullets aren't accurate until they're punched in the rear with suffucient perssure to obturate them to fill the grooves of the rifling.

    You know, I just finished setting up a 50 yd. target stand on my 100 yd. range here at the house. I have 5 types of ammunition; 2 steel core and 3 lead core. Think in the next few weeks I'll run an informal test of this ammo in my Mosins.
    Interesting to hear others experiences on this subject!
    35W
    Last edited by 35Whelen; 02-29-2008 at 09:08 AM.

  10. #10
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    Thanks, you answered a question for me... I couldn't figure out why I would have three holes all under an inch apart and then one off by 2 inches.... I have been shooting from a tin of 440 rounds I think heavy ball Hungarian.. (It has a yellow tip).

    Shooting the high end Wolf brand I could maintain a nice tight pattern, but I was basically testing to see if I could maintain a tighter pattern with the bayonet attached versus Un-attached, so I didn't shoot all that many Wolf rounds. My 91/30 seems capable of handling the yellow tipped stuff, but every now and then extraction is stiff and I have to resort to pulling the cocking knob back and giving the bolt a swift whack.

    I'll need to find a load of ammo that is all the same to conduct a better test.

    KKKKFL

  11. #11
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    Been through any kind or surp I can get my hands on and buy whatever is cheapest at the moment.
    I find no real discernible difference in them at 200yds, steel core vs light ball or whatever.
    Steel may be slightly more prone to flyers as I think they sometimes get the core lopsided in mnfr. process.
    There does seem to be quite a different powder recipe from country to country. Some are clean, others filthy dirty, some are flame throwers and some are mild.
    Late 80's Yugo seems most consistent but the steel poly/laquer coated cases are a real PITA when they cement themselves in the chamber.

  12. #12
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    Several things to keep in mind about 7.62x54r surplus ammunition:

    1. Most of the post-war manufactured stuff was intended to be used in machine guns and as a result, accuracy requirements are not as tight as ammunition intended to be used in rifles. I have taken Albanian ammo, broken it down and sorted the projectiles by weight, re-weighed the powder to a more uniform charge, and reseated the projectiles. This "tightening-up" of the cartridges resulted in a 50% increase in accuracy.

    2. By design, the lead cored "L" ball, with its recessed, conical shaped base will obturate better in the bore, giving better accuracy (in theory).

    3. Some rifles just shoot heavy ball better. It may be because of the longer bearing surface of the projectile, or for other reasons. MY rifle shoots lead core heavy ball poorly. The heavy ball was designed for improved long range performance in machine guns, not rifles.

    4. Steel core ball can have accuracy issues due to the steel core being non-concentric with the jacket. I have a sectoned round in my collection that has a very obviously crooked core. However, the most accurate mil-surp 7.62x54r in MY rifle has been 1980's Soviet steel core ball.

    I think that by and large, the accuracy potential of mil-surp 7.62x54r is mostly due to where it was made (Com-Bloc, under opressive communist rule) and what it was made for (machine guns).

    D.D.

  13. #13
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    If the majority of 54r ammunition is made for machine guns, why is it not linked ammo? It's also usually in 10 or 20 round packets, which suggests to me that it's packaged for rifles. Maybe someone can shed light on my question. To stay on topic, I have used several types of ammo, and there are so many variables between rifles, and ammo, I have nothing conclusive to add. I did fire a few rounds of Hungarian LB through a laminate stock Izshevesk and it seemed to do real well with it.

  14. #14

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    What difference in accuracy have you noticed between the steel core and lead core? As in, what group sizes have you seen for each?

    Just curious

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Devil Dog View Post
    Several things to keep in mind about 7.62x54r surplus ammunition:

    1. Most of the post-war manufactured stuff was intended to be used in machine guns and as a result, accuracy requirements are not as tight as ammunition intended to be used in rifles. I have taken Albanian ammo, broken it down and sorted the projectiles by weight, re-weighed the powder to a more uniform charge, and reseated the projectiles. This "tightening-up" of the cartridges resulted in a 50% increase in accuracy.

    2. By design, the lead cored "L" ball, with its recessed, conical shaped base will obturate better in the bore, giving better accuracy (in theory).

    3. Some rifles just shoot heavy ball better. It may be because of the longer bearing surface of the projectile, or for other reasons. MY rifle shoots lead core heavy ball poorly. The heavy ball was designed for improved long range performance in machine guns, not rifles.

    4. Steel core ball can have accuracy issues due to the steel core being non-concentric with the jacket. I have a sectoned round in my collection that has a very obviously crooked core. However, the most accurate mil-surp 7.62x54r in MY rifle has been 1980's Soviet steel core ball.

    I think that by and large, the accuracy potential of mil-surp 7.62x54r is mostly due to where it was made (Com-Bloc, under opressive communist rule) and what it was made for (machine guns).

    D.D.
    Another thing to consider is that by pulling the bullets and reassembling, you are likely freeing the bullets up in the neck and making the bullet pull more uniform. I spoke with a gentleman who has worked on US service rifles for decades and he said that just breaking the bullets loose in the neck and re-seating on Lake City M2 ball has a dramatic positive influence on accuracy. He said the bullet pull on the LC M2 was all over the map. I imagine that with steel-cased 54R that is 40-50 yrs old, this may be even more of an issue.
    There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.
    H. L. Mencken

  16. #16
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    The reason the majority of 7.62x54r is not packed on links is simply the fact that this was not how the Com-bloc did it. Most of the belts for the PK, etc... are of the non-disintegrating type and were intended to be reloaded over and over again. This is also how the German army did it during WWII for the most part. Boxed ammo was loaded into the re-useable belts and then placed into the ammo cans. Same thing with 12.7 and 14.5 MG rounds. They are packed loose in the spam cans because they are loaded into the re-useable belts prior to use.

    No doubt that a uniform bullet pull is part of the accuracy issue, but when you have a range of powder charge and bullet weights of many grains, that can be a real accuracy killer too.

    D.D.

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