If part of your prepping plans involve firearms, then part of your prepping plans must also include ammunition for your firearms. Like many firearms enthusiasts, you may plan to reload your own ammo. If this is the case, then you must have stockpiles of powder, casings, primers, and projectiles.
My question to you is how much ammo and reloading supplies do you have put up for a rainy day? 100 rounds per gun? 1000 rounds per gun? How many guns? How many spare parts for each gun in your armory?
These are all very important questions to be considered. You never have enough is the answer, and you can NEVER have too much.
One thing you must keep in mind is that your AR15 and AK47-style rifles (I just said those two because they are the most common) have copper jacketed projectiles for a reason.
That reason is that they leave the barrel at supersonic speeds. So do your 9mm and .357 etc. hand gun projectiles. If you fire a lead bullet at supersonic speeds it will terribly foul your barrel, virtually eliminating the rifling and all accuracy.
So, if a time ever comes that you have to reload your rifles and you don’t have any more bullets to load you have a few choices.
- Load your ammo to subsonic speeds, which is detrimental to the function of many semi auto firearms, although hard cast lead can be used with some success.
- Use alternative materials like solid copper and brass projectiles for firearms that fire bullets at supersonic speeds. They already make these now so I know it will work.
- Make your own jackets for the projectiles. I saw a video on youtube where a guy used spent .22 casings to make bullet jackets for his AR’s .222/5.56 projectiles.
Like this guy, or this guy who makes jackets from scrap.
Sourcing lead, a.k.a. finding lead, can be a task unto itself, and it’s getting harder to do. The old go to for finding lead was taking a trip to the salvage parts yard on a lazy Saturday afternoon, when you have nothing else to do.
But that’s drying up because they are phasing out lead and starting to use steel and zinc wheel weights due to environmental concerns.
If you are concerned about a shortage of ammunition, I would stockpile as many projectiles and other reloading supplies that I could afford as well as cases of live ammunition. These are things that aren’t re-usable.
Once the gun goes bang, the bullet and powder are gone. The casing and primer are either still in the gun or on the ground somewhere nearby.
You could buy or make a brass catcher for your gun/guns if you are really concerned about catching and keeping all your brass. Free lead and free casings, these are dreams. The gun ranges save all the brass that people don’t pick up and scrap it or reload it themselves. The lead at outdoor ranges is in the ground, and the lead at indoor ranges is in the backstops/bullet catchers.
The people that own the range clean it up every so often and scrap it or keep it for themselves for reloading. You can’t have it, don’t even ask because they won’t give it to you. If you happen to be at the range shooting and the people near you aren’t keeping their brass ask if you can have it, even if it isn’t your caliber.
You can always trade it for your caliber later. And the .22 brass, no one picks that up. But as you can see in the video above it has its uses too. I would bet that the big hill that back stops the range at Knob Creek here near my house has several tons of lead in it. a hundred tons even. That range has been there since forever.
The lead you need for YOUR ammunition is out there somewhere; you just have to find it. You can buy it, of course, but if you are trying to “find” it, AKA get it free, then the first thing to do is ask around. Ask everyone you know, spread the word that you are looking for lead.
Besides the junk yard car wheels, finding lead is getting more and more difficult, mostly because so many people are looking for it now. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, “prepping” didn’t have the following it does now.
People are finally waking up to the reality that something could go wrong and their way of life could end, and then what will they do?
Other sources for lead that is sort of dangerous if you aren’t careful, is car batteries. They have twenty or thirty pounds of lead in each one. Unfortunately, they are also filled with acid.
The best way to deal with that that I can think of is to don the rubber gloves and eye protection, put on some old clothes, then go dump the battery out and fill it will clean, distilled water and let it sit for awhile. Then later you can dump that and flush it then finally crack open the plastic case and retrieve the lead.
In a SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situation, cars might be sitting around all over. They will all have a battery and possibly wheel weights. Older houses might have cast iron pipes in them.
These were all sealed with lead and oakum joints, oakum is hemp cord soaked with something like tar. That lead can be retrieved by heating the pipe joint with a torch to melt the lead out of by digging it out by hand if you have no other way.
Those old houses might have lead flashing around the chimneys and vent pipes coming out of the roof too. There might also be a lead liner under the water heater, washing machine, and shower stall in older houses.
That’s what they used to use until the late 1980’s or so. If the house wasn’t remodeled they might still be there. We’re talking about a twenty or so pound sheet of lead under there, that’s quite a few bullets.
Lead Bullet Alternatives
If you can’t find any more lead then you will have to come up with a new plan. Militaries often used wooden bullets for training purposes.
During WWII, German and Japanese soldiers were found with wooden bullet ammunition. This was probably due to a materials shortage at the end of the war.
There is argument on them ever being used in combat but I know for a fact that Germany used tin jacketed wooden bullets towards the end of the war. I know this to be a fact because my grandfather was a corpsman, you know, the medic with the Red Cross on his helmet in a white circle that supposedly was off limits to be shot. Instead it was a big ol’ target standing out on a battle field, and he was shot in it.
Well, he was bending over a wounded soldier and his head suddenly hurt and his helmet was on the ground. He felt his head and there was blood, but further probing proved to find no hole. He looked at his helmet and saw a hole in it, right on the Red Cross.
He had bits of metal and wood in his skin, it seems as if he was shot in the head with a tin jacketed wooden bullet that punched through his STEEL helmet, but exploded and only did superficial damage to his skin. So, in a pinch, jacketed wooden bullets will work at close ranges. They just don’t carry the energy to travel very far, so I would try to find something else.
Other metals can be used to make projectiles. They already have solid copper and solid brass projectiles. Frangible projectiles are made by pressing metal dust and epoxy in a mold.
These work just fine apparently, but the turn to dust when they strike hard surfaces like steel or brick. They still punch through a car door, they just won’t make it through much more than that.
Here is a good example of a frangible projectile. Notice how it broke up in the ballistics gel and how the retrieved projectile looks like it was made from powder. These will disintegrate on a hard surface:
Here is an example of a composite projectile:
Here is an example of a solid copper, non expanding projectile:
Here is an example of a solid copper expanding projectile:
As far as making your projectiles from solid copper and/or brass, you could probably cast projectiles to create desired profiles like hollow points or penetrators. By grinding these metals to dust then mixing them with epoxy you can create frangible projectiles.
If you are trying to source other metals that will make projectiles another that comes to mind is tin solder, you know, the stuff you solder copper pipes together with. This has a low melting point and is 50% lead so would probably act like hard cast lead.
If you found a large source for the solder then you could add a little lead from the wheel weights or other source to make the metal more bullet-like.
In a world short on resources you will have to get creative. But one thing you will need for sure is a bullet mold, unless you think you can make that too. But if you buy some bullet molds for various calibers and start stockpiling lead now along with your ammo and reloading supplies, you might get ahead of the game a bit.
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.
A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.
The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.
6 thoughts on “Sourcing Lead and Alternative Bullet Material”
Corbin swage was only viable option in 1993…
.22 cases could be sourced from boy scout places by the 5 gal buckets
Excellent article. An issue that has to be dealt with for the most commonly available metals (other than lead) is the relatively high melting points. For example, lead melts at 621 degrees F. That is certainly achievable, as many of us have experienced when casting our own lead bullets with a propane burner and a cast iron pot. The challenge increases significantly for other metals that would be accessible, however.
Zinc – 787 F
Copper – 1984 F
Nickel – 2651 F
I’ve never attempted to cast bullets with anything other than lead, but I imagine you would have to have access to oxyacetylene for metals like copper and nickel. Obtaining a supply of that gas would probably be problematic post-SHTF.
@ ben. steel is forged with fire made from wood with some air blown into it. Forging temps are around 2000-2200 degrees F. Nickel is too hard for bullets. I am a Gold/Silver smith and have a little experience forging steel. It isn’t really that hard to melt metal. Man has done it for 1000’s of years.
Thanks for reading. E
So it’s SHTF and your scraping away to survive and you have run out of bullets. Did you run out of powder? Primers? If you need to have all three to use your rifle why exactly would you want to have to assemble them yourself when you are probably busy post SHTF doing something else (like trying to survive). Aside from the ability to make some specialty rounds in small numbers reloading post apocalypse makes zero sense to me. weather you buy bullets or buy the supplies to make bullets ultimately at some point you will run out, period!
I agree with the author the best place to find lead is to source it at your local range as it will already have the alloys needed in the metal. I would not add shotgun slugs or lead shot as they are pure lead. However, shotgun slugs are perfect for making bullets and round balls for black power firearms. Newer lead shot is bismuth and will soften your alloy. Do not use the lead from jacketed bullets in your alloy as many contain zinc and will ruin your good allow. Zinc is 112-116 bhn. Copper has a bhn of 80-85 and soft brass is 60 bhn. Regular brass is 192-202 bhn. Another good reason to own a good ole’ 30-30. The bullet originally used 30 grains of black powder and a .30 caliber bullet. Bullets can be cast from any lead, copper, or brass. alloy. Lyman #2 alloy is the best all around alloy. It is composed of 90% lead, 5%tin, and 5% antimony. It is about 16 on the Brinell scale. It is the antimony that makes up the hardness of a lead bullet. Antimony itself is not easy to find other than ordering it from a smelter which is expensive. Tin would also be hard to come by. But it is available as it is used to plate steel food cans. Al though grandma’s old stuff could be a limited source of tin. Pewter is 85 to 90% tin. Tin is not a hard metal it is 1.5 on the Brinell scale. Tin is used in bullet allow to significantly improve the cast-ability of the bullet alloy. Without tin (Which is difficult and expensive) to get a good cast bullet as the alloy won’t pour as near as well. Softer lead bullets can use a copper, brass, or aluminum gas check on the base to increase the velocity. The hardest bullet you would ever want to use is copper or you wear-out your barrel fast. My recommendation is to buy one or two bullet molds in the weight your barrel twist rate fires the best and cast and lube or powder coat a good supply of your bullets now. Stock pile two or three hundred pounds of bullet alloy and the other supplies you will need for future use. You can also stock up on commercial bullets and other supplies at current prices. I guarantee the prices won’t go down. Properly stored gun powder is good for decades. I’ve personally used surplus ammo from WWII that was fine because it was stored properly by the respective governments. Ultimately, as a last resort we would need to return to flintlock black powder fire arms. Modern compound bows and archery equipment such as arrows and strings would no longer be usable due to shortage of arrows and strings. However, traditional archery equipment can be made and would be a high demand skill in a post apocalyptic world. Remember the Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin in movie the Patriot casting round lead balls over a campfire.
Another use for that lead you stockpiled is fishing sinkers. Buy the molds made by Do-It industries, Denver ,Iowa. Their large egg sinker molds throw a sinker large enough to use in a sling. Lead has its uses even when you un out of primers, powder, and cases.