Montana Gold Bullet factory tour

Kalispell, Montana was on the way home from Glacier National Park so Barb and I decided to see if we could get a tour of the Montana Gold Bullet factory. I have reloaded nearly 39,000 (38,684) of their bullets and have another 4,500+ in stock and ready for the Dillon 550.

I called the number on their website and set up a time for yesterday that worked for Norm and us.

We arrived a few minutes early at the unmarked warehouse like building. I took a picture of Barb out front and Norm greeted us a minute or so later.


I asked if we could take pictures and Norm told us, “No pictures allowed.” As we went inside and started the tour Norm told us production goes down during the summer and there wasn’t as much going on as there sometimes is. I asked if the election had also affected sales. He said it had made a big difference not just for Montana Gold Bullets but across the entire industry. He had looked at demand over the years and it has gone through several cycles. The first peak occurred after Bill Clinton’s election and the last peak being just before the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

Before we moved on I asked why they used brass jackets rather than copper like almost all other bullet manufactures. Was there a technical reason or was it the just the appeal of the gold color and the neat name made possible by that color?

Norm explained their company wasn’t the first to use brass. Remington, with their Golden Saber bullets, was the first and marketed them extensively. There are other companies who also use brass in some of their bullets. There are some technical reason why brass is better in certain circumstances but that isn’t the reason why his company uses brass. And it wasn’t the appeal of color and the cool name of “Montana Gold”. Also, he didn’t come up with the name “Montana Gold”!

He said he probably shouldn’t tell the story, then proceeded to tell us how the name came about. I’ll refrain from telling the story here but I’ll drop the hint that it was a San Francisco pathologist who came up with the name “Montana Gold” for the bullets produced by Norm’s company. Norm thought it was a cool name and adopted it.

The reason they use brass is because it was forced upon them, indirectly, by the U.S. government. Many years ago the U.S. Mint began producing small dollar coins that were a copper sandwich. The demands of the U.S. Mint for the particular grade of copper the bullet company was using made it impossible for Norm’s company to get the jacket material they needed. It was either go out of business, shutdown until they could get supplies, or change jacket material. They changed jacket material.

Another story he told was of a commercial reloader who bid on a contract for law enforcement ammo specifying, and supplying samples using, Montana Gold bullets. When he won the contract and started delivering the finished product the end customer noticed the bullets were actually plated bullets which are much cheaper to make and generally considered of lower quality. They complained to Norm, who reported he hadn’t supplied those bullets. Norm now refuses to do business with that reloader and, furthermore, does not allow reloaders to mention “Montana Gold” even if they are using “the real deal” in their product.

We saw the 70 pound lead-antimony ingots they use for bullet core material. As there are no more primary lead smelters in the U.S.they get their lead from Canada. They used to get their lead from mines in Idaho not too many miles away. At one time they even considered moving to Idaho to be close to their lead source as well as some economic incentives.

Barb was particularly impressed with the extruding equipment that squeezes the lead through an orifice like so much toothpaste making a lead wire of the appropriate diameter.

I was surprised by learning that because the metals alloyed with lead (to get the desired hardness) are of a different density the ingots may not be of sufficient uniformity to meet their final bullet weight tolerances. Depending upon how quickly the liquid lead alloy is cooled to a solid after being stirred they may cut off a section of the lead wire as scrap because can cause the bullet to be too light.

The thickness of the jacket material and the consistency of hollow point formation also have an effect upon the final bullet weight. Tolerances stack up. They keep the weight of their bullets to about +/- 0.3 grains and sell bullets that are out of tolerance as “seconds” to people who take delivery at the factory who Norm is confident will be using them directly rather than reselling them.

After being shown a bin of with tens of thousands (or maybe 100’s of thousands) of jackets I told Norm about finding one in a box of completed bullets. This seemed to bother him some. He told us there were at least three different places in the process it should have been been found.

They have several machines which are dedicated to certain bullet caliber and style and a few they reconfigure as needed. We saw large multistage presses which put the lead core into the brass cup then form the cup around the lead and size it to make a completed bullet. I was surprised that the machine only produced about one finished bullet per second. That one machine takes about 40 minutes to produce one case of bullets the postman delivers to my door (actually–the sidewalk near the street, then he rings the doorbell).

I told Norm I had used their .401 diameter, 180 grain, complete metal jacket bullet until fellow shooter Don W. reported he got better accuracy with the jacketed hollow point bullets. As the price was only a fraction of penny more I tried those bullets and found Don was correct. I too got slightly better accuracy compared to the CMJs.

Norm said the decreased accuracy with the CMJs probably was because my crimping die was just a little to tight. If crimped too much it will end up as an undersized bullet. Because of the construction of the base on a FMJ, and even a JHP, as a slightly undersized bullet is fired it will expand back out and be just fine. But the base of a CMJ with the brass (or copper) disk doesn’t expand like the FMJ and JHP and “rattles” as it traverses the barrel resulting in a decrease in accuracy. By backing off the crimping die a little bit you should get the same accuracy.

Near the end of the tour Norm pointed at two work stations with women flicking bullets, one by one, off a conveyor belt. “That”, he said, “Is the most difficult job here. It takes a special kind of person to do that and when we find someone who can do it we take special care of them.” These women do the visual inspection of every bullet. They don’t work full days and yet Norm told us you can see from their faces they are drained and tired at the end of their shifts. They considered going to some sort of sensors and computer sorting but the visual computer in the human brain can’t be beat yet.

Barb and I spent nearly an hour with Norm and the stories and discussion continued until both Barb and I were in pain from standing. We had hiked over 33 miles in the previous four days and felt we could hike some more but not stand. My knees were “talking to me” in an angry tone so we thanked Norm and left with new appreciation and attachment to Montana Gold bullets.

Clean your bore

I was at the range the other day with a .22 LR pistol. Things were going well for a while then, fairly rapidly, deteriorated. I checked the sights and the screws that hold the barrel in place and every other mechanical thing I could think of. Everything looked good.

I put up a fresh target at 10 yards and using two different types of ammo put some carefully aimed rounds downrange. The two targets on the right in the picture below are the result.


The result was very discouraging. I then put some rounds downrange with my .40 at the target on the top left above. Okay, so it’s not just me.

I checked the target carefully and could see some of the bullets were impacting the target sideways. But this is the same ammo that I have shot thousands of rounds with excellent accuracy and even greater range!

I took the gun home and cleaned it. I frequently just clean the slide and other moving parts and don’t clean the bore of the barrel. How many rounds had it been since I clean the bore? I just don’t know. Probably at least a couple thousand.

I went back to the range and tried the same two types of ammo.

This is the first set:


That’s better. But still not what it should be.

So I tried the second type:



And back to the first set:


That’s what I expected.

The bore needed to be cleaned, then it needed a little bit of fouling.

Good to know.

100K rounds

Barb and I mostly stayed home this weekend because of the heat and extraordinarily smoky air from the forest fires. Otherwise we probably would have gone on a hike. So… I reloaded ammo and puttered around my “library” (includes computers, guns, ammo, reloading bench, reloading components, and gun cleaning bench). I reloaded 600 rounds of 40 S&W yesterday and 600 rounds today using up almost all of the Fiocchi primers.

Combined with the stuff I had reloaded in the previous few days this month I topped the lifetime total rounds reloaded mark of 100,000 rounds. My logs show I have reloaded 100,027 rounds. 73,514 of those are .40 S&W.

Rounds in the last month

In July I loaded 65 rounds of 30.06 for daughter Kim and 2048 rounds of .40 S&W. Nearly all of the .40 S&W was Montana Gold JHP for practice at the local indoor range. There were also a few other bullet types when I was testing the Fiocchi primers.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 2,424 rounds.
30.06: 608 rounds.
300 WIN: 1692 rounds.
40 S&W: 72,065 rounds.
9 mm.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 98,430 rounds.

Year to date I have loaded 12,712 rounds.

August is going to be a very busy month with things other than reloading keeping me occupied. I also plan to make a bunch more 30.06 rounds, which are much slower than pistol ammo, or I would make the prediction that I would break 100,000 lifetime total rounds loaded sometime in August. Instead, I expect to reach that milestone in September.

Fiocchi Small Pistol, No Lead, primers

I do a lot of indoor shooting and the possibility of lead poisoning is something that concerns me. I get a blood test for lead every year and it stays within the “normal” range but when I wasn’t doing much shooting for a couple years it went to almost undetectable levels. Hence, I know I have a lead source in my environment and it’s probably either the indoor range and/or the reloading.

When I saw Powder Valley had no lead, small pistol, primers available I ordered some to test. I didn’t know they were even available to the reloading community. These primers would probably reduce the lead exposure at both the range and when handling the reused brass during reloading.

They are a bit more expensive than the Winchester primers (WSP) I normally use. Before shipping the Winchester WSP primers are $28/1000 (2.8 cents each). The Fiocchi no lead primers are $57/1500 (3.8 cents each). A penny per round difference… hmm. Okay, I would pay that if it significantly reduced the lead I’m getting into my system.

Due to a mixup by Powder Valley I ended up (after a couple of weeks) getting 1500 Fiocchi standard primers as well as 1500 of the no lead primers. They came in a brick of 10 trays of 150 primers per tray:


They are, ironically, a lead grey color:



I made up my indoor loads and ran them over my chronograph:

PF SDev ES Min Max
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, WSP
180.22 5.4 921.50 165.87 11.5 38.0 905 943
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, Fiocchi No Lead
180.22 5.4 916.67 165.00 16.6 56.0 897 953
Montana Gold JHP, CFE Pistol, Fiocchi standard
180.22 5.4 879.00 158.22 44.3 139.0 803 942

Hmmm.. The standard deviation and especially the extreme spread are worse with the no lead primers. And the Fiocchi standard primers are terrible! The velocity is lower and the standard deviation and extreme spread is through the roof. I loaded up some more rounds and tested them and got essentially the same results.

With the polymer coated bullets I use outdoors and CFE Pistol powder the results were even worse. The standard deviation went from about 10 fps with WSP to about 18 fps with the Fiocchi no lead primers (I haven’t tested the Fiocchi standard primers with these bullets).

I really don’t want to keep two types of primers around. I want to minimize the number of components types rather than expand them. And if I increase the standard deviation on the match ammo I would need to increase the mean velocity to insure I continue reliably making major PF. Increasing the velocity also means increasing the reloading cost above that of the increased primer cost, and increasing the recoil to solve a “problem” I don’t really have.

I think I’m going to continue using the WSP primers.

** Yes, I know these aren’t reliably making Major Power Factor, I’m increasing the powder charge some based upon this data. This load is just for practice anyway. I have never used them at a match. For USPSA matches I have been using Black Bullets, WSP primers, and ETR7 which has been repeatedly tested to give me a PF of a little over 170 with a SDev of about 9 fps.

Rounds in the last month

In June I reloaded 1947 rounds of 180 grain Black Bullets and 1753 rounds of 180 grain JHP Montana Gold bullets in .40 S&W. This, 3700 rounds, is most I have reloaded in a single month with the exception of when I first started reloading and loaded 10,944 rounds of 9mm in the month of October 1996.

This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223: 2,424 rounds.
30.06: 543 rounds.
300 WIN: 1692 rounds.
40 S&W: 70,017 rounds.
9 mm.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 96,317 rounds.

So far this year I have reloaded 10,599 rounds. By this time last year I had reloaded 9,094 and ended up the year with a total of 18,265. I only need to reload another 3,683 rounds to reach my goal for this year of 100,000 rounds. I might even reach this goal this month.

So you think you’re a rifleman?

A friend is putting on an Independence Day rifle match at his place in Latah County, Idaho;

Five shots from each of four positions (standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone), 4 black bull’s eyes (one for each position) each being 4 M.O.A. in angular size at 25 meters. That’s a target size of about 1.1″. You have a total of ten minutes to get into your various positions and make your 20 shots.

“Four M.O.A.”, you think, “I can hit that all day”, right? We hit one M.O.A. targets at Boomershoot, at distances such that the shifting wind is a major factor, so 4 M.O.A. is a piece of cake, right?

Uh uh. Using a light, but quality AR carbine in 5.56 mm, the best I’ve done so far in practice is 8 hits out of 20 shots. I’m not using a shooting sling, as that’s something I’ve never worked out. Other than your body and possibly a sling, there is no support allowed.

Any rifle in any caliber, centerfire or rimfire.

I noticed right away that the sight heights on my ARs (I use optics) are such that I needed to re-zero for 25 meters (about 27.5 yards).

Try it and report back.

I would love to see a match like this done in the form of a mountain woods walk, so you have the added issues of the portability of your equipment, your physical condition, your ability to shoot under some degree of physical stress (such as aiming while winded) and using improvised shooting positions due to terrain and flora. Too often we tend to want a “shooting range” set up all nice and ideal and level and comfortable, and in that case we are sometimes missing the point. Anyone who’s hunted for more than a few seasons will understand, and in fact hunting includes all of the above (plus the unpredictable nature of the target(s), doesn’t it?

USPSA status update

As I have mentioned before (and here) on the weekend of June 3rd and 4th I took the USPSA Range Officer class. I procrastinated some on the take home test and turned it via email on Saturday June 17th. On Sunday, June 18th I participated in the USPSA match at Marysville Rifle Club. A few minutes before the match started I received an email from the instructor saying I had passed with a 96% and was once again a certified RO. There were lots of ROs on my squad and I didn’t exercise my newly acquired RO powers.

After having some misses in the first two stages I did do well enough in the classifier that I bumped my classification score up to just barely into B class again (60.2098%, B class is 60.0% to 75.0%) after turning in C class classifiers for several years.

When I was shooting matches regularly in the late 90s I had a classification as high as 68.5272% with occasional individual classifier scores above 75%. But I basically stopped shooting for several years. What is interesting to me is that my skill level, according to various drills I have kept records of, is now as high as it ever was but my classifier results are a much lower percentage than they were before.

When I took the Intensive Handgun Skills class in February of 2016 the instructor, Greg Hamilton, commented that USPSA classification levels have dropped about one full class in the last 15 or 20 years due to the increased skill level of the top shooters. Shooters are classified according to what percentage of the best shooters scores they achieve. So if the best shooters improve and you stay the same your classification level will drop.

<Heavy Sigh>

I was hoping to make A class someday but I should have put the effort in 20 years ago when I was younger, quicker, and it was easier. I’m now in a Red Queen’s Race to just hold on to my B class status.

And their point is?

From The Washington Post:

The gunman who opened fire on a GOP baseball team in Virginia had a local storage locker with more than 200 rounds of ammunition that he visited daily, including less than an hour before he shot more than 60 times at the team during a morning practice June 14.

I sometimes reload 200 rounds in the morning before I go to work. And then I shoot that many or more at the range at lunch time.

This explains why he got so few solid hits. He didn’t practice enough. But they don’t even suggest anything along those lines.

[sarcasm] I wonder what their intended point is? [/sarcasm]

To me this demonstrates their ignorance and/or maliciousness.

Quote of the day—Kevin Imel

If you are good enough shooter to shoot a perfect double then you are a good enough shooter to put them a little bit apart.

Kevin Imel
USPSA NROI Range Instructor
June 3, 2017
[This was at the range officer class I was taking a couple weeks ago.

“A double” at a USPSA match is two bullet which created a single hole (which may be oblong in shape). “A perfect double” is two bullets which created a hole which is a perfect circle.

A shooter will get credit for two (or more) shots which are distinguishable but not if they are indistinguishable (a perfect double).—Joe]

New shooter report

Nearly everyone I work with is a shooter. I have two peers. One was in the army for several years then helped build targets for Boomershoot this year as well as participate. The other has more NFA toys than he is willing to tell me about. My lead is former special forces. My boss is a former cop. His boss, our director, and her husband have helped make the targets for Boomershoot for the last three years as well as participate.

There was one exception. The intern. Caitlin’s last day as an intern will be next week. After a break she will return as a full time employee in August. She did well as an intern but there was a flaw. She hasn’t done any shooting since she was 10 or 12 years old. And it wasn’t that much.

Today, we set out to fix that flaw.

I started her out with some dry fire and she was rock solid. No jerking the trigger, excellent follow-through, and she picked up the mechanics almost instantly.

I put her on a suppressed .22 pistol with slow fire at about eight feet. She was nailing it with about a 1” group. Okay, 12 feet. The group size increased some but still well within the black of the target. Okay, 20 feet. Still in the black.

Okay, let’s try something else.

I removed the suppressor to reduce the inertia and put the target at about eight feet. I had her starting at low ready and then put one shot on each of the four bull’s-eyes. Her splits were probably 1.5 seconds and she was still nailing the targets. She shot magazine after magazine and kept the shots all in the black with the splits decreasing into the sub one second range:



I got out my powder puff loads for the .40. She couldn’t hold the gun firm enough to get reliable cycling but said the recoil wasn’t a problem so we tried a couple rounds of major power factor. She shot those just fine. No recoil issues. So, I gave her a full magazine.

Start at low ready and put one shot on each target…

Still almost exclusively in the black with the splits again approaching one second:


Okay. She’s a keeper for our team.

Quote of the day—David Hardy

What we’re seeing is a long term trend as Americans rediscover their love of guns and shooting. This is catastrophic for the antigun movement.

David Hardy
June 5, 2017
Additional confirmation of a theory
[At the USPSA range officer class last weekend a data point was mentioned that supports this view. The observation was made that local USPSA matches have a lot of people in them. The last match I was at (May 21st USPSA match at the Marysville Rifle Club) had 108 shooters.—Joe]

Quote of the day—Kevin Imel

A .38 Super vasectomy is not recommended.

Kevin Imel
USPSA NROI Range Instructor
June 3, 2017
[Kevin said this just after showing a video of a USPSA shooter almost shooting himself due to the compensator on his open class gun catching on the pocket of his loose fitting short during the draw.

Participating in USPSA matches are extremely safe. As near as USPSA records can determine no one, in 40 years of the sport, has ever died due to being shot while participating in a match. There have been heart attacks and auto accidents while going to and from matches which resulted in death, but not shooting accidents. Skiing, high school football, and a lot of other sports are far more dangerous.

But, the potential is there for serious injury or death and it is the job of the range officers to keep it safe.

I’m taking the USPS Range Officer class again because I let my RO certification expire in 2014. I just wasn’t shooting enough in 2012 and a few of the following years. I’m now shooting a lot more and I am going through the class again to get caught up with all the changes in the rules since the last time I took the class in 2012.—Joe]

Rounds in the last month

I reloaded 1899 rounds of .40 S&W this month. They were all 180 grain Black Bullets for USPSA style matches. And nearly half of them were loaded last Monday: 


This brings my lifetime reloaded ammunition totals to:

223.log: 2,424 rounds.
3006.log: 543 rounds.
300WIN.log: 1692 rounds.
40SW.log: 66044 rounds.
9MM.log: 21,641 rounds.
Total: 92,344 rounds.

I’m getting down to the last of the powder I use for these bullets and will soon be switching over to 180 grain Montana Gold JHPs I use for practice. I probably only have 500 or so left. So, on Monday I ordered three cases (7500 bullets). Looking at my order history on the Montana Gold web site I noticed something interesting:


It was almost exactly a year ago that I ordered the same quantity. The pile of bullets in this picture (over 22,000 bullets) is now just one case and a few small boxes. I have enough loaded ammo with Blue Bullets and Black Bullets (match only) that I probably won’t need to purchase any more of those this year. But I can see the end of the Montana Gold ammo and bullets approaching since I use those up in practice fairly rapidly.

0.005” makes the difference

Nearly a year and half ago I started having problems with my STI DVC. Sometimes the trigger pull would be MUCH greater than others. At times it would be so great that I could barely get it to fire. And it only happened at matches! On the next stage it might be just fine. It would never do that while in practice or when I was drying firing it at the bench at home.

Then, finally, three weeks ago, Ry and I were in the training bay at West Coast Armory and it did it again. I dropped the magazine, ejected the round in the chamber and tried dry firing it several times. It was just fine.

Okay. What gives?

I put the magazine back in and chambered a round. Impossible trigger pull. I dropped the magazine, ejected the round, and dry fired again. Just fine.

Magazine in and dry fire? Nope. It was a heavier trigger pull than I could manage.

I pulled on the trigger as I slowly removed the magazine. CLICK!

It’s the magazine! How in the world does the magazine affect the trigger pull? I tried it with other magazines. Three out of my eight magazines had the problem. Visual inspection did not reveal anything different about them.

This explains why it only happened in matches. I almost always use different ammo in practice than at matches (the indoor ranges where I practice require copper jacketed bullets and I shoot polymer coated bullets at matches) and the magazines with some left over match ammo are not used in practice. It finally happened that I removed the match ammo from the proper magazine and used that magazine in practice.

A day or two later I had the time to diagnose the problem with the magazines. I did some measurements and found the “bad” magazines were about 0.005” longer than the “good” magazines at the spot where the trigger bow goes around the magazine:


If the magazine was 1.366” or less everything was fine. The “bad” magazines were in the range of 1.367” to 1.371”. The 1.367” magazine had a noticeably harder trigger pull but not so much that it was much more than “odd”. And even with the 1.371” magazine if the trigger were pulled off to one side or the other rather than straight back then it would fire much easier.

I suspect the problem is really with the trigger bow rather than the magazines. If the magazine easily fits in the magazine well the gun should work. But putting the magazines in the vise with a couple blocks of wood and squeezing them 0.005” seemed less risky to me than messing with the trigger bow. My gun now works just fine with all the magazines.

I really should get the STI Trigger Stirrup Die from Brownells for the proper fix.

Man, that was a perplexing problem for such a long time.