(Continued from Part 1)
My mention of custom tailoring brings up a great point: The variety of factory ammunition loading combinations has really waned over the past 15 years, at least in my area. It used to be common to be able to purchase .30-06 ammo in bullet weights ranging from 110 grains (woodchucks/ groundhogs) 130 grains (coyotes/ medium predators) 150 or 165 grain (deer/ antelope) 180-200-220 grain (bear). These days I only see 150 and 165 or 168 grain ammo on store most store shelves, unless going to a Cabela’s, where you will pay a special premium to find a wider variety. For some, cost is not a concern, and that’s okay. But as a handoader I can customize my ammo for the game I’m hunting and the maximum clear distance I can shoot where I hunt, which is about 300 yards.
A side note: You can measure maximum shooting distances where you hunt with Google maps or Google Earth. You can also see what the government can see about your area – just multiply the Google magnification and definition shown by 20 times better resolution. That knowledge of knowing your distances, without guessing, is priceless when taking a shot. With your rifle sighted at 100 or 200 yards and knowing your bullet velocity for a given load, the bullet drop for distances is easily calculated and tables are listed in all the better loading manuals, and a custom drop calculator with graphing capability is included in Sierra’s Infinity Loading software. That is a purchase with value that well exceeds the cost.
Knowing velocity and drop, along with practice gives you the key confidence to take a shot because you know you can make the shot. It was not mere coincidence that after I started handloading I also started filling my deer tag almost every year.
The information known regarding velocity and energy at varying distances, along with specialty purpose bullets can be applied to any target to maximize terminal stopping power of your loads. This will allow you neutralize a threat with fewer shots fired. This can be a strong tactical and psychological advantage over adversaries in a Without Rule of Law scenario, particularly if you have a magnum rifle caliber in .308 caliber or larger.
Fast forward to my handloading endeavors today, I am loading for my family, some friends and a few cousins who have started hunting with us a couple years ago. I have an additional press to speed things up, a Lee Precision Classic Cast Turret press. Many people who load have told me this is their hands-down favorite press. It has auto indexing for short action rifle (.308 and shorter rifle and pistol calibers) advancing the turret to the next operation with each stroke of the handle. While it is not a true progressive press (my next purchase) it will still produce an impressive 120-to-200 cartridges an hour, depending on caliber. However, there is still a single operation at a time occurring on this press, minimizing the chances of an error.
With all that said, the following outlines what I have discovered to streamline the entire process for getting the most bang for your buck, pun intended.
Re-Working Fired Brass
As I said, it all starts with the brass.
(Note: The following descriptions are for bottlenecked cases with a shoulder, I approach pistol cases differently)
So the first order is resizing and de-capping (removing the primer from the primer pocket) the brass.
It’s very important to lubricate the case and neck just enough, without getting excessive lubricant on the case shoulder, which could cause a collapse or a deformity of the shoulder due to excessive lube inside the resizing die. For an initial lube I dissolve a 2 oz. tube of Lee Precision Case lube in approximately 8 oz. of isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle. I fill my loading blocks with cases, and “mist” the cases from 3 or even 4 different sides to ensure coverage. I allow them to dry, leaving a thin white film on the cases. I then sit at the press with a container of Hornady Unique case lube OR Imperial Sizing Die Wax. They are almost identical in appearance and consistency.
I will apply a very thin coating of either of those lubes to the case body with my fingertips. With both of these a little goes a long way. Then every third or fourth case I dip the case neck in Imperial Dry Neck Lube, and it keeps the expander rod/decapping pin in the die operating smoothly. I will re-apply slight amounts of the Unique or Imperial lube to keep just enough on my fingertips. Before long you get the “feel” of just how much is enough. Once I “get my hands dirty” it’s not uncommon for me to resize and de-cap anywhere from 150 to 600 cases. I make every effort to “do them all until thaey all are done” as this is one of the more mindless tasks of loading. For this operation I use my Lee single stage press. Set the resizing/decapping die according to the manufacturers written instructions.
JWR Adds: Rather than using my fingertips, I use an ink pad to apply case lube. It takes a while to learn just how much lube to apply to cases. Most large office supply stores sell virgin un-inked ink pads–and I suppose that those are also now available on eBay.
Next I put the cases in my tumbler and polish the cases until all lubricant is removed and the brass looks new. This is an easy part, until you need to separate the cases form the media. I used to use a sifting pan, similar to panning for gold. Now I have a rotary sifter from Frankford Arsenal which works excellently and minimizes most spilled media. By the way, I suggest doing your media separation outdoors or in a garage or shed if possible. This helps minimize the cleanup if you have a spill accident–as I have made, several times.
The next step is measuring overall case length which I do with a Lyman Case Gauge. I sort the brass in two containers- one for “good” length, one for “over” length. After all are checked, I then proceed to trim the cases and inside and outside chamfer the case neck.
For .223, .308 and .30-06 caliber I utilize the Lee Quick Trim Case trimmer which trims the case, and chamfers the neck rim inside & out all simultaneously. This operation is performed in my Lyman Single stage press. I use this press exclusively for the case trimming. I used to use the hand version of this trim die, I recently upgraded to the version which utilizes a cordless drill or screwdriver for power turning. Once I used this to trim cases, I never looked back! A word of caution: when using the power option, adjustment is critical and care must be taken not to try to trim too quickly or the case mouth will be ruined. A smooth, slow feed when trimming is what is needed with the power option, if you do you will have great results. After cases are trimmed, they are returned to the “good” length container.
Currently for other calibers, .270, .30-30, etc, I use a Lyman Case trimmer which looks like a small lathe. It has an excellent quick release case clamp which holds the case by the head, and a caliber-specific diameter pilot guide to hold the mouth true while trimming. With this trimmer, the case length is trimmed in one operation, and then the case mouth is chamfered inside and out by hand with a Lee Case mouth chamfer tool. Since these are all done in separate operations, it takes a little more time, but still yields high quality results. Any caliber I load in batches of 300 or more at a time, I purchase the caliber specific Lee Quick trim die. At less than $20, the time savings is worth the investment.
Uniform Primer Pockets
So you think we are ready to load these cases yet? Not so fast, cowboy! Next we need to give some attention to those primer pockets. Depending on the manufacturer and primer, some pockets are absolutely filthy. Also, a small minute piece of tumbling media will become lodged in the flash hole 70% of the time (one of the downfalls of “dry” tumbling). So next I’ll take a Lee primer pocket reamer and insert it into my cordless drill and clean the pockets, removing 90% of the crud, doing all cases that look like they need it. If the flash hole is still blocked after cleaning the pocket, I use a thin piece of steel wire to dislodge the tumbling media from the hole.
At this point, if loading a non-military caliber, your cases are ready to load. However, calibers such as 5.56, some .223, .308 and .30/06 may have a crimped primer pocket. Typically, military loadings have crimped in primers to prevent the primer from becoming dislodged from the pocket when the cartridge is slammed by the bolt of the rifle during extremely high rates of fire. In order to seat a new primer, this crimp must be removed. If you don’t first remove the crimp and attempt to seat a primer, you will mash the primer, deform it, or have to use excessive force to seat a primer, causing an unsafe situation.
The crimp looks like a slight rebated indentation on the inside rim of the primer pocket. If in doubt, ask someone who has loaded that caliber, or use a crimp removing tool anyway just to be sure. Initially I used a Lyman small primer pocket hand reaming tool ($12-14) for my .223/5.56 brass. It’s a slow process, but it does the job very well. After about 400 cases and my forearms feeling like they were the size of Popeye’s, I put the reaming tip in my cordless drill, against the advice of the manufacturer. I was very careful to use a slow speed and not to over ream. While a great improvement, it is still a tedious process. The only saving grace is this operation only needs to be done to a case once. However, it also requires you to be cognizant of keeping your brass separated while you are shooting and practicing by which ammo has had pockets reamed from any brass that may be new and will require the pocket to be reamed when you load it. Just something to keep in the back of your mind not to mix newly once fired military brass with your brass that has already had this operation performed.
I use large plastic empty recycled coffee containers to keep all my brass sorted in lots, using a Post-It label taped to the lid to note the various stages of processing. That provides me a no-cost source of containers.
(To be concluded in Part 3.)