During the severe ammo and reloading component shortage during 2013 and 2014, many folks have been forced to find alternatives to their normal suppliers. As a high-volume reloader this shortage hit me particularly hard. At first I was feeling pretty good because I had several thousand rounds “in the bank” and knew I could shoot the entire 2013 summer with the ammo I had on-hand. Little did I know that this would drag on for over a year. My beloved Montana Gold Bullets became almost impossible to find in stock and I was forced to consider other alternatives.
Although my experience with MGB has been excellent I was well aware of a number of bullet manufacturers/suppliers that were providing metal plated and/or polymer coated bullets at a significant savings. Many folks I know are using these sources to good effect so I decided it was worth a try. One relatively new company in this market s is XTreme Bullets, Inc. Several folks I know starting using them so I placed an order for 500 of the 147 grain 3.57 cal. bullets for 9mm. The shipping was incredibly slow. Granted there was a holiday during the period in question but even so it took over two weeks to receive my first shipment. (Subsequent shipments were 7-10 days) MGB bullets typically arrive within 2-3 days of ordering so that was a fairly big step in the wrong direction from my perspective. But some bullets are better than no bullets, right?
On receiving the first box I opened the rather attractive cardboard box and saw those impressive copper jewels staring back at me. I loaded the bullet feeder and got to work. Immediately I started seeing a problem: the bullets would not stay upright after they were dropped into the case. As the shell plate cycled on my Dillon XL650 the bullets would lean or even fall off the case. I realized I could perhaps increase the case mouth bell and solve this issue but for the moment I decided to simply insure stability by hand. After loading a few dozen rounds I began to inspect them. I noticed several things. First, the bullets had a lot of irregularities on the surface. Pits, bumps, lumps, etc. This was new to me but others tell me this is normal with plated bullets and that it wouldn’t affect ballistic performance. That didn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling but OK, let’s play this out. Second, I noticed a fair number of rounds had plating bunched up at the case mouth. This was disturbing. Some rounds even had two prominent “wrinkles” where the jacket meets the case. Some of these were obviously not going to work in the gun.
I set aside cases that didn’t fit the case gauge and took the rest to the range for chrono. I found that the rounds were actually slower than my MG bullets of the same weight, using the same powder charges (I tested a fair range). That seemed to contradict several sources that told me plated was usually between lead and jacketed, i.e. faster than jacketed but slower than lead. This meant that I would need to use more powder to get similar velocities. Not what I expected but the powder cost increase would be negligible. During the course of the chrono testing I encountered many times where the gun would not fully go into battery and getting the round out of the pistol was extremely difficult. On closer inspection, the rounds causing this problem were always ones with the deformed plating at the case mouth.
Now, in the interest of absolute fairness I have to point out a few things. First, my reloading style is that of a high-volume, medium-precision single parent. I want to get things done quickly in the little time I have. This means I really don’t like having to “baby” the rounds as they are constructed. Second, having seen several guns blow apart, I really REALLY like having a powder check die in my press. This is a Dillon part that does a rough check of the amount of volume inside a case. Unfortunately it takes one station of my 5-station press. Given that I also have a bullet feeder in station 4, that only leaves me a single station to both seat and crimp. I do so (for 9mm) with the excellent RCBS seat/crimp die and have had absolutely no issues with the MG bullets doing so. I could probably address this deformation issue if I abandoned the powder check and reverted back to separate seat and crimp dies. I could also try increasing the bell of the case, as mentioned previously in order to keep the bullet upright on the case, but I don’t think this alone would resolve both issues.
So was I ready to throw in the towel on XTreme? Not just yet. I found out that one of my buddies was actually using the “Heavy Plated Concave Base” (HPCB) version of XTreme bullets rather than the original version. The HPCB has a thicker plating so I figured I might have better luck with it than the thin plated ones. I ordered 500 HPCB 147gr 3.56 cal. bullets. After the one week-plus wait I received the second shipment and was immediately loading rounds. Sadly, the same issues existed with the new ones. I think it was slightly better but the failure rate was still quite high. At this point I was finally ready to call it a failed experiment. The extra work trying to keep the bullets upright and the failure rate were far more than the 2 cents per round I would have saved over MG bullets. I have however ordered 500 230 gr. .45 bullets to load in a different press. For those and .40 cal. bullets the price differential is far more impressive. I hope they work out. Stay tuned.
It is important to note that my friends that use these are still very happy and I have to acknowledge that my particular style/system of reloading is simply not compatible with these bullets, at least for 9mm. One good thing I have to say is that XTreme sells 500 count lots for the same per-bullet price as larger orders. This contrasts sharply with MG, who charges much more for smaller lots than they do for the multi-thousand count cases that I buy. For someone who doesn’t want to spend $365.00 at a time to get a good price on bullets, XTreme is a good alternative, provided you can overcome the issues I’ve mentioned. Kevin reloads on a single-stage press and as such he has no problem at all with XTremes so as usual, “Your Mileage May Vary”.
Oh, I almost forgot: XTreme has the slickest website I’ve ever seen in the shooting world. Most impressive.
PS – in mid-2014 MB bullets are now back in stock almost every day. My last order was placed on a Friday and I got the bullets on Tuesday.