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Dangers of Pure Lead 'Cowboy' Bullets



One of the dangers of firearms usage is that users often don't understand the dynamics of what they are dealing with. As ONE example; let’s discuss the danger of using pure or almost pure lead bullets such as those used in normal 'cowboy' type loads.

These very soft pure lead bullets shed a lot of their material when they are fired and first hit the rifling’s. A great deal of lead will sluff off the bullet and become deposited in front of the chamber and after continued firing will often fill the rifling grooves. The amount of lead that sluffs off and where it sluffs off, will vary with barrel smoothness or other internal features of the barrel. So, what is the danger?

If you have been shooting pure lead bulleted 'cowboy' loads in your 45 colt rifle/revolver or 45-70 rifle (insert any cartridge any firearm may be chambered for) and a severe leading of the barrel has occurred and you then load and fire a higher pressured jacketed or hard cast load, (such as our 45 colt+P ammo or our 45-70 magnum ammo) those severe lead deposits will act as a bore obstruction as the harder and less 'slick' jacketed bullet is forced into a barrel that has become constricted with lead. Because the jacketed bullet or hard cast bullet is harder than lead and not 'slick' like a lead bullet, it will not squish/size down like lead bullets at lower pressures will as they pass through the lead deposits in the barrel. The result is very possibly pressures that are raised beyond what the firearm design can withstand.

I've seen rifles and revolvers 'come apart' (blow up) in real life with the above scenario.


In essence there is nothing wrong with 'cowboy' loads if you never switch to higher pressured loads, WITHOUT REMOVING THE LEAD DEPOSITS FIRST.  You can shoot all the pure lead bullets you want and never clean the barrel, if you keep shooting ONLY pure lead bullets. (Though, your accuracy will likely fall) However, once you switch to higher pressured ammo featuring jacketed or hard cast bullets, you need to make sure you've first removed the leading from your barrel.

Hard cast bullets have little in common with a lead bullet and even a poorly designed hard cast bullet will not lead foul a barrel as badly as a soft pure lead bullet will. Cowboy type loads are not the only offenders……As an example, early (1940’s-60’s) versions of Remington and Winchester 357 magnum ammo featured pure lead bullets and when you fire pure lead at the pressures of full power 357 mag. ammo, it will lead foul most barrels immediately and foul them to the point of causing bullets to key hole or tumble—accuracy is lost to a high degree. I’ve also seen the Remington “FBI load” in 38 SPL, which features a pure lead bullet, lead foul barrels so badly as to render the firearm useless in terms of accuracy. To learn more, read my essay on The Differences Between Hard Cast and Lead Bullets.

You get what you pay for and there is a reason that pure lead bulleted ammo is cheap to buy.


Bore obstructions are also caused by cleaning a firearm and leaving a light coating of oil or solvent in the barrel—do NOT do this. After cleaning and oiling your barrel, run at least two tight dry patches down the bore. A microscopic amount of oil will then be left in the crevices of the barrel steel and will protect the barrel from corrosion. Leaving a light coating of oil, solvent or any material in the bore can cause a bore obstruction, especially when firing high pressured ammo. Little strands of cotton cleaning patches can come off the patch and be left in the barrel….these strands of cotton can cause a bore obstruction in varying degrees.

While out hunting, I’ve also seen folks get rain water down the barrel of their rifle and then pull the trigger……this can and has blown barrels into shrapnel. I once had one of my varmint rifles (a 22-6MM, 1/8 twist) setting by the window seal of my bedroom for a couple months. When I saw a distant coyote, I fired that rifle at him and missed by a couple feet at only a 150 yards—then I discovered my bolt would not open without banging on it. What I found was that a hornet had crawled down my bore and lodged himself in the chamber next to the bullet and case mouth. When firing that rifle, which was loaded with a very high pressured and fast cartridge, (a 75gr. 22 cal. bullet @ 3800 fps) my pressures went sky high. After that occurrence, my bores stay taped with brittle masking tape that I can shoot through without ever effecting accuracy or pressures.

I have a hunting buddy that refuses to tape the bore of his hunting rifles and will carry that rifle with a shoulder sling, muzzle up, for many days while going through pine trees and while being rained on. One time he pulled the trigger in my presence, missed his target and found his bolt frozen shut. Upon examination, it appeared at least one pine needle had fallen down his bore in the days he had been carrying that rifle around the woods and going under pine bows, open muzzle up. He learned the hard way about firing a rifle with a bore obstruction.

The purpose of this little essay is to serve our customers. We hope it is of some value to you.  

God bless and good shooting,