There is no question that the brass you select is among the most important items in your reloading supplies. For those of you who are new to the world of reloading, “brass” refers to the cartridge case in which you load your primer, powder, and projectile. Choosing the perfect brass is one of the more challenging steps when getting started in reloading, as finding a brass you really like often comes down to trial and error.
If you are reloading just for “plinking” or varmint hunting, the brass you select only needs to be carefully inspected for cracks, bulges or any other signs of pressure damage that has weakened the case. If you are a bench rest shooter desiring the most consistently accurate ammo possible you need to adhere to a few more considerations in your brass selection. Here are a few quick tips that will help you find the best brass for your intended use:
Brass cartridges are not designed for infinite firings and will eventually fail, so it’s best to only work with those cartridges for which you have a known firing history. Brass rarely suffers catastrophic failure but even small problems can cause complications in your firearm. Thus, it is highly recommended that you only reload new brass you have fired yourself or brass that is reputably known to be “once fired”.
Types Of Retail Brass
Retail brass comes in three main types:
• Military brass
• Bulk brass from big makers
• Premium brass from high-end makers
All of these types offer certain benefits, but also have their own limitations. One of the deciding factors to consider is which you would rather spend – your money or your time?
Military brass is typically made out of good-quality materials to uniform specs. It’s often relatively inexpensive, especially the once-fired variety. This makes it ideal for reloaders who shoot high volumes of ammo. While you can save money by choosing once-fired military brass, it will cost you more time, especially if you intend to prep it for high-accuracy applications. Brand new military brass is out there but costs more and due to current shortages might be more difficult to find than it once was.
Military brass often has a crimp in the primer pocket. You’ll have to remove the crimp prior to resizing. Another concern with military brass is that it may have been fired in anything from a match rifle with a tight chamber, to a machine gun with a long chamber. When prepping once-fired military brass for high accuracy applications, make sure you use a full length sizing die so it resizes the base of the case.
Bulk Commercial Cases
Bulk commercial brass like Federal, Remington and Winchester is available. It’s often priced in the middle range and it’s made to uniform specs that offers consistent primer pockets that don’t have to be swaged, which saves you prep time over once-fired military brass. Bulk commercial brass should be full length sized, trimmed and chamfered prior to loading as it’s not quite perfect.
Premium brass from makers like Lapua, Norma and Nosler costs a bit more. Premium brass is made out of high quality alloy to demanding specs and is almost always carefully annealed, which makes the case stand up to repeated firings and saves you money in the long run. Lapua brass is made to strict tolerances in concentricity and wall thickness. Norma brass is known for its very consistent wall thickness and drilled, not punched, flash holes that help ignition. Nosler brass comes with the necks already sized and the case mouth chamfered both inside and outside.
Weighing Your Brass
No matter what kind of brass you choose one step that is key to getting high accuracy is to sort the brass by weight. Many folks like to sort their brass before prepping, but it might be better to sort it after prepping, especially for high-accuracy applications. A good practice is to use cases that weigh within plus or minus .2 or .3 grains of each other. A high-quality scale is critical to sorting brass by weight. This is a must with military or bulk commercial cases. Even premium brass should be weighed and sorted as it’s very common to have 10 out of 100 cases outside that critical weight range.
Like any other complex process, it’s important to begin reloading with your final goal in mind. Do you want to make lots of ammo for plinking or varmint hunting, or are you trying to win a bench rest match? Once you know the goal, it’s easier to decide what type of cartridge case will best help you achieve it. Knowing the benefits and limitations of each type will help you make properly informed choices.