Quality control

For USPSA matches I’ve been using 40 caliber 180 grain, polymer coated, Truncated Cone, bullets from Black Bullets International. They are very accurate, clean to reload, clean to shoot, and don’t have a jacket that comes back at you when you shoot at steel. I have reloaded almost 11,000 rounds using these bullets.

My only complaint about them is the quality control appears to be a bit marginal. One time I found a 125 grain 9mm bullet in with the 180 grain 40 caliber bullets and a few bullets which weighed as little as 177.5 grains.

The most concerning to me, which isn’t that big of a deal if you take it into account in your reloading, is the weight variation. They are advertised as 180 grain bullets. I have had batches that averaged 181.26 grains. And, most recently 179.2 grains.

Looking a bit closer at the data (a sample of 20 bullets) I found:

Mean Standard Deviation Min Max ES
179.2 0.574 178.3 180.7 2.4

If I had assumed the bullet weight was the advertised 180 grains, adjusted my load for 925 fps to get a 166.5 Power Factor and expected to meet the 165 minimum PF required to “make Major” at a USPSA match I would have ended up shooting Minor with a PF of 164.9 if chrono man had pulled a 178.3 grain (or less) bullet. This would have made me rather annoyed. One has to take into account the variation in bullet weights too, not just the average or the minimum from sample. The statistics are a bit complicated and beyond the scope of this blog post but after taking into account the weight variation, velocity variation, and temperature sensitivity of the powder I had to load for a PF of about 175 at 70F to have less than a 10% chance of shooting Minor at a match where the chrono tested was done when the temperature was near freezing.

Okay, fine, that’s not really a big deal. I can tell the difference between a 175 PF load and a 165 PF load but it doesn’t make that much of a difference in performance.

Today I found another thing to annoy me about their quality control:



It looks as if the bullet mold was not completely closed when the lead was poured. Why wasn’t that caught by some quality control process? When Barb and I toured the Montana Gold Bullet manufacturing facility QC was clearly a big deal. The bullet above clearly would have been rejected. But I have other indicators that Montana Gold may be an exception in the QC department.


9 thoughts on “Quality control

  1. Ugh. Speaking as a guy who works in QA (albeit not in a bullet factory), that makes me twitch. The weight thing might be due to something as silly as a tiny miscalibration on a scale, but those mold lines. EW!

    • Then again, ISO 9000 certification means you have documented quality processes that you follow. It doesn’t promise that quality products result from those documented processes, that’s not part of the exercise.

      • Yeah, ISO just establishes that you have actual recorded procedures and that they’re (mostly) being followed. It doesn’t offer certification of the results of said procedures.

  2. Sorry Joe, your just going to have to load for the heaviest bullet, and suffer. Its tough when your fighting in mili-seconds. but, without the “make major” standard it wouldn’t be much of a competition either.
    QC seems to be the first line cut in a budget crunch. years ago Speer use to visually inspect every bullet. not sure about anyone doing weight inspection. who knows any more. Lots-O-Luck in your quest!

    • I’m considering switching bullets. There are lots of polymer coated bullets out there. I’ll buy some “samples” (500 is a sample for me) and see what might be a good replacement.

      Montana Gold holds their bullets to +/- 0.3 grains and visually inspects every bullet.

      Hornady HAP bullets are almost as good (I found an extreme spread of 0.9 grains) but probably aren’t visually inspected. And I would prefer to not shoot them at steel.

      • “500 is a sample for me”. I couldn’t be more jealous in a good way! that great! like Jerry said, “your going to have to be the first on the range, and last to leave.”
        I ordered a bunch of 55gr. from Montana gold. They were just for blasting. but seemed very consistent visually.
        I thought Hornady hyped their HAP round as steel safe? good luck in your quest.

  3. I started USPSA competition in the early 1980’s and I quickly learned that the strict criteria for competition is no valid measure for self-defense.

    But it’s a valuable tool for training us to be very careful about our ammunition reloading practices.

    The variation of 6.0 grains of powder vs 6.2 grains is not likely critical in self-defense loads; similarly, a tenth grain variance in bullet weight is probably not critical in self defense ammunition.

    Loading for competition, however, teaches us to be very precise in loading for defense. For example, OAL may not vary because a tenth of an inch in Over All Length may make the difference between ammunition which cycles sleanly every time and one which will not chamber if (for example) the previous round was not powerful enough to cycle the slide in your 1911. Also, a revolver which is loaded with ammunition containing a primer which is not adequately seated will stop the :ALWAYS RELIABLE” revolver from cycling to the next cartridge .. high primers are much more critical in revolvers than semi-automatics.

    EVERY round you load into your self-defense firearm must be cycled through the action of your pistol; even if the round seems to be perfect, you may discover that your reloaded ammunition is not as perfect as a casual visual examination may seem.

    Even “new brass” may be flawed. Imperfectly formed brass, spurs on the mouth of cases, and even (in loaded ammunition) imperfectly seated primers may be found in a sufficiently large number of rounds.

    When your competition ammunition is studiously examined and tested, you can be sure that the same ammunition may be competent for self-defense purposes.

    Shoot the saem ammunition in Competition as you use for your carry gun … which implies that your competition ammunition should be loaded to the same power factor as your defense ammunition.

    After all .. we practice defense when we practice competition.

    Don’t we?

    • Like Rob Leatham said, “Some say combat shooting is different from competition shooting. it is. but I’ve never met any combat shooters that want to get in a gun fight with me.”

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