Cast Bullets in the .356 Winchester
Date: Feb 01 2012
A few years back, I bought a Winchester Model 94 Angle Eject carbine .356 Winchester. Shooting a lever action is great fun; but the .356 never came close to achieving any degree of popularity, and factory ammunition is expensive and difficult to find. Handloading reduced the cost of shooting, and a steady supply of .356 cartridges is as close as the loading bench.
Jacketed bullets still cost upwards of 30¢ apiece, so I started loading cast bullets to reduce the cost of keeping my .356 fed and myself entertained. After several months of experimenting with a variety of powders and cast bullets weighing from 200 to 245 grains, I found a number of combinations that provided good accuracy.
The .356 has a maximum overall cartridge length of 2.56 inches. Only cartridges with an ever so slightly longer length will cycle through the Model 94’s action. Plus Winchester warned shooters years ago to shoot cartridges loaded with only flatnose bullets, because during recoil the tips of roundnose or pointed bullets might fire the primer of the cartridge ahead of it in the tubular magazine. Those restrictions can limit the number of cast bullets for the .356.
Some chatter on the Internet says cast bullets weighing 300 grains will fit in the .356 case with a cartridge length short enough to cycle through a lever action. This is all conjuncture, though, because no corroborating pictures or cartridge lengths were given.
I tried loading 245-grain roundnose bullets cast from a Lyman 358318 mould, originally intended for the .35 Winchester, in the .356. The Lyman bullet seated to an overall loaded length of 2.58 inches cycled through the Model 94, but the bullet really wasn’t a good fit. At that cartridge length, the base of the bullet sat slightly below the bottom of the case shoulder, the full diameter of the bullet was inside the case neck, and there was really nothing to hold when the case mouth was crimped. I have shot some of these roundnose bullets in my Model 94 with BL-C(2) that grouped about 1.5 inches at 100 yards, but they were loaded one at a time into the chamber. That’s sort of a pain, so I went looking for another heavy bullet.
The Redding Reloading Equipment catalog lists a mould for the SAECO .35-caliber, 245-grain flatpoint gas check bullet. With a bullet length of 1.043 inches and with the case mouth crimped as far forward as possible in the crimping groove, cartridge length was 2.60 inches. Alas, it would not cycle through the Model 94’s action.
A bullet seated with the top of its front driving band a smidgen in front of the case mouth resulted in a cartridge length of 2.535 inches and easily cycled through the Model 94’s action.
At that length, though, the bullet’s crimping groove was inside the case neck. So the solution was a taper crimp. To apply a taper crimp, I removed the sizing button/primer punch stem from a .356 sizing die and ran the cartridge necks a short way into the neck sizing portion of the die. That removed the flare from the case mouths and swaged the case necks tightly around the bullets. It worked great. After firing four cartridges, the bullet in the last cartridge remaining in the magazine had not moved a bit. With a velocity of nearly 2,000 fps from the 20-inch barrel, it is pretty much a full-power load for the .356. Winchester’s long-discontinued 250-grain jacketed bullet load had a muzzle velocity of 2,160 fps from a 24-inch barrel.
Moulds that cast 200-grain bullets are a good match for the .356. I tried bullets cast from the LBT 358- 200-FN, SAECO 200-FPGC and RCBS 35-200-FN moulds, and all three shot well up to 2,000 fps. That velocity could be increased upwards of 500 fps, but the bullets were cast of wheel-weights, and their accuracy starts to deteriorate at higher speeds. That velocity, however, is just right for the bullets to expand when they hit game out to 150 yards or so.