Not all brass is created equal. This truth might not matter that much if you’re reloading a large batch of plinking or varmint rounds. It becomes absolutely critical when you are trying to achieve superior accuracy, such as with benchrest competition ammo. When the highest possible level of accuracy is the goal, it really pays to start with quality brass, and then carefully perform the standard case-prep techniques we’re all so familiar with. That said, there is more than one way to get quality brass.
Types Of Retail Brass
We’ve probably all scrounged brass from ranges, bartered for it with friends and shooting buddies, even scoured garage sales and estate auctions looking for that one big score. With all reloading components so hard to find due to market pressures lately, we’ll have to get even more creative when it comes to getting our brass. When you can find it, 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 would you 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, making it ideal for reloaders who shoot high volumes of ammo. Brand new, unfired military brass is out there - and costs more - but due to current shortages might be more difficult to find than it once was. 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.
Military brass often has a crimp in the primer pocket designed to prevent primers from falling or blowing out and jamming machine guns. You’ll have to remove the crimp prior to resizing. An RCBS Primer Pocket Swager is the perfect tool for the job, but like everything else gun-related lately, it might take a while to put your hands on one. The Wilson Primer Pocket Reamer, used with the popular Wilson Case Trimmer many of us already own is another option, as is the Hornady Primer Pocket Reamer. 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 your die also resizes the base too, like the new RCBS AR Series Dies.
Bulk Commercial Cases
Bulk commercial brass is available from sources with famous names - Federal, Remington and Winchester. It’s often priced in the middle range, usually higher than once-fired military brass, but lower than premium brass. It’s made to uniform specs and offers consistent primer pockets that don’t have to be swaged, which saves you prep time over once-fired military brass. For those interested in replicating factory loads for hunting or target shooting, it only makes sense to use the same factory brass. Even so, bulk commercial brass still should be full-length sized, trimmed and chamfered prior to loading. It is good stuff, but not quite perfect. For high-accuracy loads, bulk commercial brass will still require some work, but not as much as once-fired military brass.
Premium brass - from makers like Lapua, Norma and Nosler - does cost more, but as the old saying goes, you do get what you pay for. 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. With premium brass, you might spend quite a bit more up front, but you save lots of case prep time for the first loading, and are then able to reuse the same cases over and over again.
Lapua brass is made to strict tolerances in concentricity and wall thickness. As of this writing, we can say that we do have a confirmed shipment of Lapua brass in our pipeline, and it will hopefully be for sale on our website within a few weeks. 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.
Weighed In The Balance
No matter what kind of brass you choose - military, bulk commercial or premium - one step key to getting high accuracy is to sort that 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, like the RCBS Chargemaster 1500, is critical to sorting brass by weight, which simply must be done with military or bulk commercial cases. Even premium brass should be weighed and sorted. In a box of 100 high-quality cases, it’s not unusual to find as many as 10 cases that are outside that critical weight range. One feature of Nosler Custom brass is that each box is pre-sorted into lots that weigh within a ½ grain of each other before the cases leave the factory, which helps save you more time.
Like any other complex process, it’s important to begin handloading with your final goal in mind. Do you want to make lots of ammo for plinking or varmint hunting? Are you trying to brew up that perfect hunting round to drop a trophy moose in its tracks? Or are you trying to win a benchrest match? Once you know the goal, it’s easier to decide what type of cartridge case will best help you achieve it. Military cases, bulk commercial cases and premium cases can all be part of high-quality handloads. Knowing the benefits and limitations of each type will help you make properly-informed choices.