Interview with Ron Dahlitz, the "Buffalo Bullet King"
I had the chance to catch up with the always busy Ron Dahlitz, the affable proprietor of the Buffalo Bullet Company, the largest market of muzzleloading projectiles in the world. Mr. Dahlitz graciously consented to this interview, and there is certainly a lot to learn about the Buffalo Bullet Company of Santa Fe Springs, California that isn't commonly known.
RW: Ron, thank you for taking the time to chat. For starters, let me ask how a nice fellow like you began making muzzleloading bullets? Also, what was the story behind the original patented "Buffalo Bullet," that you applied for in 1981 (U.S. Patent # 4,417,521) and was awarded to you back in 1983?
RD: In 1989, I had the opportunity for my first deer hunt with a muzzleloader. I shot a fork horn with my .50 caliber Thompson Hawken using a patched round ball. It was a solid shot in the chest and still the deer ran almost a quarter mile before calling it quits.
I decided that a better projectile was required for a clean harvest. At that time, the only other commonly available projectiles were hard cast, unlubed bullets that just would not expand on anything short of a granite rock! My neighbor, close friend, and mentor was Frank W. Snow, the founder of Sierra bullets. When I discussed with Frank the problems I had witnessed with muzzleloading projectiles, he suggested that I design a better bullet.
After numerous prototypes, it wasn't until we added two gas sealing rings to the bullet that excellent accuracy was obtained with higher velocity loads. These gas seals proved effective in stopping gas from escaping around the bullet. It was then that I applied for, and was granted the "Buffalo Bullet" patent.
RW: It has been my view that pure lead has been generally the best muzzleloading material that you can use for North American game, assuming muzzle velocities are held below 2200 fps. Is it fair to say that you share that opinion?
RD: By using only pure virgin lead, our projectiles invariably expand retaining most of their original weight while still offering deep penetration. We believe the quality of the lead we use is vital; that's why we periodically send out samples to independent testing laboratories to assure we are getting what we pay for, and that our customers are as well.
RW: What are some of the shortcomings of jacketed bullets, in a muzzleloading application, that you have seen?
RD: Unfortunately, most jacketed bullets used in muzzleloaders are nothing more than revolver bullets. They usually have very poor ballistic coefficients and are not designed for long range shooting. With the deficient ballistic coefficient situation, they rapidly lose velocity. When that occurs, they can behave just like a full metal jacketed bullet with little or no expansion. The copper jacket has the tendency to retard expansion at most muzzleloading velocities. That is the primary reason we use unjacketed pure lead. Removing the jacket allows the lead to do what it does best, expand.
RW: I believe all of your bullets, whether round balls, conicals, or saboted projectiles use swaged lead that eliminates the problems of hidden voids, or casting marks such as sprues in round balls. How important is swaging versus casting, in your experience?
RD: Swaging or cold forming has many advantages over casting. Casting has a tendency to harden the lead, defeating the goal of optimum expansion we can achieve with cold forming. Due to the precision of forming our bullets under tons of pressure in precision dies, higher uniformity and consistency of performance is obtained as compared to other methods.
RW: Where does all your lead come from? I believe all your bullets are held to a weight variation of less than two tenths of a grain. How do you insure this?
RD: Buffalo Bullet's lead is mined and processed in the United States. Independent analysis assures us of a 99% purity level. The combination of consistent lead and precision tooling gives us the match grade weight tolerance of plus or minus two tenths of one grain, batch to batch, bullet to bullet.
RW: Your bore sized conicals are available pre-lubricated with a film that offers some unique benefits over messy Crisco or Bore Butter. Can you tell me a bit about what it is without giving up any trade secrets, and what it does?
RD: Our specific lube remains a "trade secret," but it is a non-petroleum formulation that has proven to be extremely effective.
RW: What is the effective velocity limitation of your lubed conicals?
RD: Provided that you have an extremely high quality barrel, you can use our conicals at up to 1800 fps with little or no leading. For most hunting applications, we look to the 1500-1600 fps area for the best accuracy. At the average distances most game is harvested, the pure lead bullet will expand to a degree that ensures a clean kill.
RW: What is the most "unusual" lead order you have had? What do you consider to be one of Buffalo's most disastrous products, and what do you consider to be your most successful contribution?
RD: We once had an order for a very complicated shotgun slug, so complicated we were not able to manufacture it.
Two of our most unsuccessful offerings were a 490 grain .50 caliber conical, and a 510 grain .54 caliber conical. In fast rate-of-twist barrels, however, they shot extremely well. The objection seemed to be the recoil associated with these heavyweights. Most shooters avoided them due to the kick, so we dropped them out of our line.
Our most popular products are our black powder revolver bullets, the SSB line ("Special Sabot Bullets"), our Ball-Et, and our muzzleloading rifle scope protectors.
RW: According to sabot pioneer Del Ramsey, the sabot used in conjunction with your "Buffalo Special Sabot Bullet" (SSB) was the first to have a reinforced portion to support the boat-tail. As a matter of fact, your SSB is, to my knowledge, the first muzzleloading projectile to offer a true boat-tail to the muzzleloading hunter. How did the Buffalo SSB come to be?
RD: When the Buffalo Bullet Company was founded, flintlock or sidelock models with 1:48 and 1:66 rate of twist barrels were the standard of the day. Round balls and shorter conicals addressed their needs adequately. With the introduction of 1:28 twist, or faster barrels as currently found in most inline muzzleloaders, it became apparent that long range projectiles were needed. To address this need, a spitzer boat tail bullet with a very high ballistic coefficient was required. The basic idea was inspired by Sierra's "International Match" bullet. Scoped muzzleloaders can better take advantage of this type of projectile, naturally, as the effective limits of most human eyes are exceeded.
RW: Generally, I've found your 375 grain Buffalo SSB to be one of the most forgivingly accurate bullets you can use, in a wide variety of guns. Has that been your experience, and could you share your thoughts on why that is?
RD: The 375 grain SSB is one of our most popular bullets. As you pointed out, this particular bullet is a very forgiving bullet in most rifles, including both inlines and sidelocks. This has been true even with slower, 1:48 rate of twist barrels as well as faster 1:28 barrels. It appears that many have found this bullet to be the "optimum" projectile for many (or most) muzzleloading applications.
RW: Having tested over fifty different models of muzzleloaders in the last few years along, it is obvious to me there just are no muzzleloading standards today in terms of barrel dimensions. What challenges does that present to a bullet manufacturer, such as Buffalo?
RD: Unfortunately, you are correct. There are no "standards" for blackpowder rifles, as SAAMI has for centerfires. The best muzzleloading bullet manufacturers can hope for is a happy medium to address the requirements of the "average" rifle's barrel dimensions. This is one of the reasons many competitive shooters use strictly custom barrels.
RW: There have been some wildly exaggerated ballistic coefficient numbers thrown about by other manufacturers. What are the ballistic coefficients for some of your Buffalo SSB bullets, and how were they arrived at?
RD: Buffalo Special Saboted Bullet (SSB) does have some of the highest ballistic coefficients of any muzzleloading bullets on the market. Our ballistic coefficients are independently documented as true 100 yard chronograph to chronograph values using Oehler chronographs. For example, the .45/50 375 grain SSB has a real-world G1 BC value of .296, the 435 grain version is .342.
RW: Ron, when a new muzzleloading enthusiast is looking for the "better" performing projectiles for his gun on deer, caribou, bear and elk, what guidelines can you offer to help narrow the search down to four or five possible best performers from the huge number of bullets on the market?
RD: I feel that a pure lead swaged bullet that fits a particular rifle is a good start. As to what bullet is "best" in a specific rifle, only testing with different bullets and powder charges can determine that. The average whitetail will likely be taken under 100 yards. Given that scenario, the Buffalo Ball-et or the lighter SSB's will neatly accomplish the task. For larger game, with 1:28 rate of twist barrels or faster, we offer all lead conicals and the heavier SSB combinations.
RW: What are your thoughts on long-range muzzleloading, which I'll arbitrarily define as 200 yards or more?
RD: An experienced muzzleloading hunter with an accurate, scoped rifle and the proper bullets can be very effective to 200 yards. It does take a very experienced outdoorsman to estimate 200 yards, however. My own personal approach is to limit my shots to 150 yards, assuming no wind and everything "about right." Most of the fun and challenge in muzzleloading, for me, is to get as close as possible to the game before taking it. I'd much rather pass up a shot altogether than take the unnecessary risk of wounding or crippling an animal, and perhaps never recovering it.
RW: What have you found to be of general help in improving the accuracy of a muzzleloading rifle?
RD: One of the first things I do is with a new rifle is spend fifteen to twenty minutes with #0000 steel wool drenched in gun oil to very gently smooth out manufacturing tooling marks; that has given substantially good results for me.
I believe it is important to take an uncapped muzzleloader and open the action so there is an escape path for barrel air to the atmosphere prior to loading. When seating your projectile, you will hear the air escaping through your nipple or breechplug, as the case may be. If this is not done, in some cases when you remove your ramrod after bullet seating, compressed air will force the projectile away from the powder charge. It can destroy accuracy, and is potentially hazardous if it duplicates the "short-start" condition.
RW: What are your thoughts on "fire-lapping" in muzzleloading rifles?
RD: Don't do it. It is just too hard to control. Sanding metal back on is not an easy task, and eroding your barrel with valve-grinding compound is a haphazardous, high-risk maneuver. The #0004 steel wool approach I mentioned, if necessary, is a much more prudent approach.
RW: Can you offer any general preferences as to propellant type and charge amounts for today's inlines?
RD: It all depends on the projectile being used. I've had good results with Goex blackpowder, Hodgdon Pyrodex, and Hodgdon Pyrodex pellets as well. I don't believe in excessive charges of powder--those exceeding 100 grains by volume, or more than two pellets. I've never found them to be required to cleanly harvest game, and I'm not interested in exceeding published powder manufacturer's maximum loads. I feel the best approach is just to accurately place a shot, get an expanding bullet inside of your animal, and let your bullet do its job. That's all that I can ask for.
RW: What can we expect to see in the way of new products from Buffalo Bullets?
RD: Well, rest assured that we have several new items in various stages of development, and the consumer can expect to see several exciting new offerings from Buffalo Bullets. We are always looking for improved projectiles to offer our customers. We won't be specific until these new offerings have passed our final developmental and testing phases, of course, as only when we are totally satisfied with the final product will they become available. But, certainly, it is realistic to expect new products that raise the bar a bit to be available in the very near future.
I'd like to thank Ron Dahlitz and the Buffalo Bullet Team for taking the time to give us a glimpse into their thoughts. I can certainly agree that for most muzzleloading applications inside 150 yards, the range where most North American game is taken, pure lead is the best projectile you can use to humanely turn your sprightly quarry into a tortoise with rigor mortis. Buffalo Bullet Company has no website, but their products are available from your local dealer. For a catalogue or specific information, contact Buffalo Bullet at: 800-423-8069.
Copyright 2004 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.