Shooter Interviews – Ken Melgaard of Copperhead Bullets

Michael Bell

I would like to open by saying that after seeing first hand the effort involved in making match grade bullets I will never, ever again complain about their price. To quote Tony Boyer, “ Be glad they charge so little”.

Copperhead Bullets has existed since 2005. It started basically as a hobby to provide 6mm target bullets for Ken who was a serious short range bench rest shooter.

Bullet making was always a part time operation and so, by Ken’s own admission, customer service was occasionally compromised!

This has now changed as Ken has retired from his occupation as a ballistics technician with Thales and is moving into full time bullet making.

Ken’s interest in precision shooting and equipment, like so many of us, evolved out of popping rabbits as a teenager. The natural progression to fox shooting occurred shortly thereafter at which time he became friendly with other like minded people including long time 500 metre fly shooter Barry Tucker.

Articles in the Sporting Shooters Association magazine by Brendan Atkinson fuelled Ken’s interest and a bench rifle followed. After ringing Brendan, Ken attended his first match, the “Southern Varmint Titles” in South Australia. Interestingly, this was also the first match for Stuart Elliot who was our last subject in this series of interviews!

“I attended matches regularly for a good while”, says Ken “ but other interests slowly took over until I got a job at ADI. This reignited my interest in bench shooting big time”.

“I have shot a lot of short range bench rest but also have shot quite a lot of 500 Fly going back to the early 1990’s and also my share of F – Class”.

Ken’s crowning achievement was representing Australia at the 1999 world short range bench rest championships in Italy.

How did you eventually get into bullet making?

It was quite instinctive for me. I was shooting bench rest matches and obviously the projectiles are a large part of precision shooting. I thought it was something I might enjoy and it solved the problem of supply!

What is the process, ie , How do you become a bullet maker?

Having decided this was something I wished to do I made contact with Clay Spencer in the USA (who became a very good friend). He gave me great advice and supplied me with dies to make 67 grain 6mm PPC projectiles. Shooters became interested in my bullets and I started selling them in a semi-professional manner.

Bullet Making Dies.

6mm PPC bullets aren’t your only product, what happened next?

It quickly became obvious to me that there was demand for quality “home grown” bullets so I expanded into other varieties including my 6mm 103 grain VLD which is used successfully by so many 500 Fly shooters.

Can you tell us all a little more about this particular projectile?

Long range shooting was taking off in Australia and I wanted to supply a projectile. I spoke with Clay Spencer who told me he had started making a 6mm VLD and that he could obtain some very good dies made by Niemi.

Clay told me that he had done extensive testing re the weight of this bullet and had concluded that 103 grains was the perfect weight for this bullet design!

I should now say that as far as design is concerned we are in the hands of the die makers. Niemi designed the shape and Clay tested to conclude the perfect weight of 103 grains. It is possible to adjust the weight a little by making the lead core slightly bigger or smaller but because of the incredible success of this projectile I don’t think I will be mucking around with it much (if at all ).

What are your future plans for bullet making?

Now that I’m retired from Thales I intend to put a lot more time into supplying the full range of weights and calibers.

I can supply varieties of 20 , 22, 6mm , 6.5mm & 30 cal with plans to also supply 7mm long range if interest is there.

Do you sell your bullets outside of Australia?

I have had requests from Europe, New Zealand the USA and even New Caledonia but of course Australia is my main market.

What would be your most successful projectile?

Apart from the full range of 6mm PPC ( & 22 cal ) projectiles that have won their share of trophy’s my 118 grain 30 cal is earning a great reputation shot through slow twist barrels and of course the 103 grain 6mm has enjoyed  great success at 300 & 500 meter Fly matches but also at NRAA F-Class matches. It’s likely this projectile has won well over 50 matches with who knows how many top 3 finishes.

In fact I can accurately claim that Australian records have been shot using my short range 6mm’s, my 118 grn 30 cal and the 103 grn 6mm VLD.

I’m anticipating that my 140 grain 6.5 mm will also be a bullet to contend with and am also very excited about my future 7mm long range bullet.

Well… you better give us an explanation of how you go about making an A grade projectile!

Ok,  There are only 2 elements used…J4 copper jackets and lead core.

Basically a piece of lead core will be pressed into an un pointed copper jacket and then have the open end closed over to make the bullet shape.

Basic Elements; Lead core & J4 jacket

Step 1 is to weigh the copper jackets for uniformity.

Step 2 is to cut lead core into lengths that are slightly heavier than actually required to bring the combined weight of the copper jacket & lead core to the desired projectile weight. The lead core is then slightly lubricated.

Core Cutter.

Step 3 is to squeeze ( swage ) the lead core to it’s precise dimensions and get rid of (extrude) the surplus lead.

 This is done by pushing the lead core into a “swaging die” using precise amounts of pressure every time. The surplus lead escapes the die via a tiny hole in it’s side.

Core Swaging

The lubricant is then washed off the lead core by soaking in petrol & thinners then boiling in detergent to get them squeaky clean & free of all contaminants.

Finally the cores are washed in water with a small amount of vinegar in order to slightly oxidize the outside of the core. This is necessary so that the lead core will bond to the jacket when it is inserted.

Step 4 is to swage the lead core into the copper jacket.

This is done using a “core seating” die  which pushes, under pressure, the lead core into the jacket. It is necessary for the lead core to expand precisely and to have a uniformly snug fit against the walls of the jacket. The slight oxidization of the core will allow the core to bond to the copper.

J4 Jacket & swaged lead core.

At this point I might check with a bore scope to see that the core has indeed expanded fully against the jacket wall as this is paramount in getting uniform projectiles.

Step 5 uses a “pointing up” die which shapes to projectiles nose.

Simply put, the jacket & core are pushed into the die, again under exact pressure to put the final shape on the projectile.

The core seating & pointing up dies are sold as sets and a different set is needed to make flat based & boat tail designed bullets.

Pointing up.

Step 6  Finally the finished bullets are washed in acetate, dried & boxed for shipping.

What do you think is the most important aspect of bullet making?

No one area is more important than another. Bullets won’t fly properly unless they are put together with consistency. Exact pressures are required at each point and that’s why I now use a hydraulic system that applies exactly the same amount of pressure every time a ram is raised.

It is a labour of love though as each projectile does need to be constructed individually.

Ken Melgaard, thank you very much for your time it’s been an eye opener and a half!

Further to this I should explain that Ken inspects each and every projectile to make sure the meplat is just so. He also has a Juenke machine that he uses to inspect jackets by lots and also sample lots of his finished projectiles.

To my mind it’s a huge amount of work just to have each bullet exploded violently out of a barrel and destroyed completely by crashing it into a dirt mound down range!!

I agree with Tony Boyer….I am glad they charge so little.