It seems I can’t walk out my door these days without getting into some sort of nonsense argument over bullets or cartridges. Granted, I do start some of those arguments, but the latest one was more of a conversation about movies. Long story short, I got into a conversation with a guy at my local big-box gun store while out shopping.
The back-and-forth started like usual while I browsed the reloading component section for some .38 caliber plated lead bullets. I found my box of Berry’s and elbowed my way past said guy who smiled and said something to the effect of “too bad you can’t use them over again” while complaining about the price of his favorite brand of lead.
I agreed and then made a fatal error; I stopping to check out the price on another box. The guy took this as my decicion to stay and engage in a half hour of small-talk while I tried desperately to get away to the ever-longer checkout line. Despite my best efforts, he ended up in line behind me and so began an agonizing lesson in talking to strangers.
The guy asked me if I watched The Walking Dead, and I admitted I did. Now, I’m a fan of Rick and the rest of the crew, but I have wondered how he seems to have a never ending supply of .357 for that Python of his. Plot armor and complete ineptitude aside, Rick and his troupe never seem to be in short supply of bullets and are constantly able to make expert-level headshots with every pull of the trigger.
I’d barely made it to the candy by the checkout counter when we arrived at the point in conversation when he alleged that Rick could actually make pistol reloads with a simple hand press, a box of primers, and a pound of powder. Sure, he certainly could. The guy in line then said something interesting. He thought that Rick and crew actually reused the bullets, not just the brass.
I puzzled over that and agreed it was possible, but only in a world where ratings mattered more than logic. I managed to check out and made for my car, put it into sport mode, and floored it.
My wife loves to hear stories about what people in gun stores say. She finds most of gun culture to be completely absurd and actively calls out people that step over the ‘commando’ line whenever we shoot or hunt. Her amount of knowledge and subsequent ability to poke fun at the community makes her a deadly buzzkill at most competitions or gun counters. I told her about my adventure and she mulled the numbers for a moment. Seeing no immediate holes in the logic, she suggested we catch some bullets just for the sake of it.
Neither of us looked online or talked to anyone about it. I was determined to be unbiased in my evaluation because, you know, science. Or something.
For this test I elected to go with a gun I knew would be able to handle the task. My Smith & Wesson 642 always comes in handy and this time was no different. I loaded up the pistol, still equipped with fantastic Hogue Piranha grips, and let fly. The 158gr plated lead bullets were powered with some Trail Boss powder and were fired into a makeshift bullet trap about ten feet away. I measured the diameters of each of the test bullets and found them all to be a very uniform .358 inches, just as advertised on the box.
Velocity with was measured at a moderate 775 fps from the 642’s short barrel. I find that Trail Boss gives very consistent velocity, but really maxes out most cartridges at under 1000fps as you can’t compress the powder safely.
I was happy with the results and recovered my trapped bullets. They were mostly undamaged and appeared that they could be loaded up and fired again. I took the bullets home and measured them, recording a range of diameters. All bullets measured between .350” and .355” with the average being .353”. It must be noted that some bullets were slightly deformed, but these were weeded out.
This is the part of the story where I reassure you that I’m a professional and a seasoned reloader. I took the fired bullets and sorted them at .353”, polished them with a bit of steel wool, and proceeded to load them. Now comes the part where I mention that I don’t recommend that you try this little stunt at home.
The wife and I took the zombie loads and proceeded to fire them again. What happened was pretty remarkable.
Not only was there almost no change in velocity, but there was hardly anything different at all. Velocity averaged a slightly higher 800 fps and accuracy was unchanged. I had honestly thought that there would’ve been a far greater difference in performance. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem quite right so I went ahead and loaded and fired an additional handful of pre-fired bullets. Same results.
Since I’m not one to be easily defeated, I took the twice-fired bullets and loaded those up again. Like the first (well, second) time they averaged .353”. I fired the twice-fired bullets and came up with identical results as the earlier firings.
There has to be a maximum number of times a bullet could be fired before it isn’t able to function like normal, but I haven’t found that number yet. I have in my possession three bullets that have been loaded and fired a whopping ten times. The rifling marks appear to be ‘overwritten’, but have smoothed out somewhat. The bullets could probably be loaded and fired another ten times based on their good condition.
I’m pretty confident that since the plated bullets have lost no weight and have only ‘slimmed’ by an average of .005 over ten firings, they’re perfectly capable of being used over and over. The only game-over moment comes when a bullet gets damaged or mashed beyond use. I have not had a chance to test this theory in a semi-auto pistol yet, but I intend to at least try it in the future. My concern with that would be the thinner bullets would cause malfunctions in the cycling process.
My takeaway from this made me realize that in some cases, the bullets can be used over again, thus validating the random chatty stranger and his assertions about a TV show that has gone on about two seasons too long. Now, how Rick manages to get the bullets out of the zombies or off the ground behind them reliably is another story for another day, but the concept is sound.