Finding the right load for your rifle will greatly improve the rifle’s accuracy and do wonders for your confidence. The load development process is for another article. For this article I want to focus on the process I currently go through loading my ammunition. Keep in mind there are lots of different ways to go from A to B when loading quality ammo. The process described here isn’t THE way to do it. This is only A way to do it. I also put emphasis on “currently” because I believe the process is evolutionary. As new and better equipment comes to market and techniques improve, the process may change.
One other thing I should probably mention is application. I am primarily a PRS (Precision Rifle Series) match type shooter and hunter. Ask an accomplished F-Class guy how he does things and you’ll likely find him clipping kernels of powder with nail clippers and turning necks on brass. So keep that in mind as you read about my methods that work for my needs.
I’m going to start assuming I’ve just come back from a match with a pile of dirty brass. So a few of these initial steps might be skipped if starting with brand new brass like Alpha Munitions, my favorite! Or if your brass has already gone through a few of these steps.
Back from the match and I’m a little tired. I’ve also got a pile of dirty brass that likely has some kind of Sharpie on it so it is easier to spot on the field after a stage. I like to de-prime the cases before tumbling. There are several benefits in doing this now instead of during the re-sizing. First, it’s a great opportunity to inspect the brass and make certain I don’t have a wrong piece mixed into the batch. Trust me, stuffing a .308 case into a 6.5 Creedmoor sizing die kinda sucks. Second, when I tumble the brass the primer pockets will get clean (or at least a lot cleaner than if they had primers still in them!). Third, the brass will dry faster without primers since the air can flow through the cases. And lastly, this is a great opportunity to knock back one of my favorite beers (Windcheater Ale!) in an Armageddon Gear Beer Bivy. Let’s face it, there aren’t many steps in the reloading process where drinking beer is acceptable (or even encouraged!), so take advantage of this step!
Wet tumbling with stainless steel media will really get the brass clean. I put several drops of Lemishine and some dishwashing liquid in the tumbler to aid in the cleaning. Tumbling in the Frankford Arsenal tumbler for two to three hours does the trick. Why wet tumble? It gets the brass SO much cleaner than dry tumbling will. I don’t want all that nasty carbon fouling and dirt in my quality sizing dies! So, why not get the brass as clean as possible before annealing and sizing?
Once the tumbler is done I dump the contents into the Frankford Arsenal media separator top to drain the contents. This prevents the SS pins from washing down the sink as I rinse the brass. Then I get out as much of the SS media with the Frankford Arsenal magnet. Place the SS pins in a separate tub to dry. The brass can then be dumped into the main separator and spun to get some of the water off and hopefully most of the SS pins. (Okay, picture below is sifting corncob media, but I use the same sifter for the wet/SS media.)
CAUTION!!!! When using Stainless Steel media to tumble brass be sure to get ALL the media out of the cases before loading. Longer SS pins can sometimes get stuck inside cases. If that happens, it is possible to fire SS media through the bore which could damage the bore and/or cause serious injury to the shooter.
Next up, drying. I use the Frankford Arsenal dryer. I dry the brass at 160 degrees for about two to three hours depending on how much brass is in the batch. Halfway through the time I’ll change order of the trays by reversing the stack. In other words, the one that was on top now goes on the bottom, etc.
Primer pockets are next. If the primers were crimped, I’ll swage or ream the them. I rarely used crimped cases but some factory ammo (like a lot of .308 Win) will have crimped pockets. I try to avoid crimped pockets but ran into a huge batch while loading ammo for a friend with once fired Federal .308 Win brass. So if I need to do it, I’ll ream them with the Lyman Case Prep center.
The Lyman Case Prep center comes in handy for truing the primer pockets and/or cleaning the pockets. The pockets only need to be trued once in a case’s life and it isn’t necessary on quality brass like Alpha Munitions. When I started loading for my 6.5 Creedmoor I started like everyone else with Hornady brass. So, if I’m working with once fired Hornady or similar brass at this point I’ll use the Lyman tool to true the pockets.
Our SS media tumbled brass will have the primer pockets fairly clean, but not 100%. The Lyman tool gets used here to clean the pockets. Is it necessary? Maybe. I do it for best peace of mind and consistency. I know lots of successful shooters who never clean pockets though.
Last step on the primer pockets is deburring the flash hole. Like truing the pockets, this only needs to be done once and really only to once-fired factory loads that have lower quality brass. I use the RCBS hand tool. Be sure not to grind around in there and oval out the hole! It doesn’t take much force to lightly debur the hole. Setting the cartridge stop helps prevent he cutting head from misalignment.
Next up is annealing. If you want the absolutely best annealer, spring for the Annealing Made Perfect induction unit. It will cost you about $1000. I’m still using an Anealeeze flame unit and am very happy with it. It costs about one third what the AMP unit costs but does have an open flame and isn’t going to be as precise and consistent as the AMP. If you bother to anneal, you should do it every time. It will soften the brass to work it less during the re-sizing operation. Remember, consistency is our goal so if you anneal, do it every time you re-size brass.
On to the sizing. Full-length is the way to go in my world. This is one of those areas where some F-Class or bench shooters might argue for neck sizing only. But for my needs the reliability I get from full-length sizing is a must. At some point neck sizing only will result in a case that is too snug to fit in the chamber. I like Redding dies the best and prefer non-bushing dies. Again, find what works best for YOU. The goal here is to bump the shoulder between .001 and .003.
Remember to occasionally measure the cases to ensure things are being sized correctly. I use the Hornady gauge to measure the shoulder before and after resizing on the first few pieces I size in a batch. That tells me the dies are set correctly. After a few (3 to 5 usually) pieces I call it good and won’t bother checking again as long as that die stays firmly in place.
I also use calipers to measure neck thickness the same first few re-sized cases both before and after they are sized. I feel this is more important when using dies with bushings, but I still do it out of habit to ensure the necks are being sized correctly.
I line up 10 cases on a lube pad then spray lightly down the mouths and shoulder. One light pass is all you need. If you start seeing dents in the should areas, chances are you are using too much lube.
I want a consistent overall case length. The best trimmer I’ve found to give me that is the Henderson Precision Tri-Trim machine. It uses a collet to hold the base of the cartridge and the proven Forster cutting head to trim the case, chamfer and deburr all in one operation. It is simple, fast and the results are the most consistent cases I can get.
At this point the case lube needs to be removed so it’s off to the dry tumbler. The wet tumbler is overkill for this step. I use corn cob media in a Frankford Arsenal vibrating tumbler. Only 20 to 30 minutes is needed.
At this point my brass is prepped and ready to load. I usually store it in properly labeled containers.
Okay, it is match week and I need to get that ammo loaded. Like most PRS shooters, I’ve waited until about two days from the match. Doh! So, grab a bin, prime 50 pieces and place in a loading tray. I work in batches of 50. Just easier for me that way. I use the RCBS hand priming tool.
After I’ve primed my batch I set neck tension and ensure mouth concentricity by using a neck turning mandrel. I simply put the mandrel on the press and run each case into it.
With the cases primed and neck tension set, it is finally powder time. I use an A&D scale with Auto Trickler and Auto Throw setup. It will throw a charge to the kernel (.02 accuracy) in less than 10 seconds! Some guys will dump powder in all the cases then seat bullets. This powder thrower is so fast and accurate that I like to dump a charge in a case, move the funnel to the next case, return pan to scale and while the next powder charge is being thrown I seat the bullet. I am never waiting on the powder dispenser so why not? With this setup I can charge and seat bullets in 50 cases in about 20 minutes.
A note on the seating dies. I prefer Redding micrometer seating dies. The micrometer makes tweaking the dies super easy, fast and consistent. This is especially important as you change loads (seating depth) over time, try new bullets, etc. I keep a logbook of all my seater die seating for various calibers, bullets and what COAL (Cartridge Overall Length) that setting will give me.
That’s it. Seems like a lot but when done in batches it isn’t bad. Remember, this isn’t THE way to reload quality ammo. It is merely my current way. The goal here is consistency. Be consistent in whatever methods you use and chances are you’ll have a much higher level of success getting those impacts. Since this is an evolutionary process for me, I welcome all feedback and suggestions on how YOU do things!