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The Best Metallic Cartridges for Reloading

By Chuck Hawks

Alex Boughamer suggested this topic for an article in an e-mail, as he was interested is buying rifles now, but planning to reload in the future. I agreed that the subject might be of interest to other Guns and Shooting Online readers and potential reloaders.

All cartridges suitable for reloading must use standard diameter large (.210") or small (.175") Boxer type primers. It is not worth attempting to reload Berdan primed cases or cases using odd diameter primers.

The most important thing to understand is that, in general, most common smokeless powder cartridges are pretty easy to reload. Problems such as thin (weak) brass and unusual cartridge designs do exist, but they are rare.

Since most rifle and pistol cartridges are easy and straightforward to reload, future reloadability is not usually a major concern when selecting a new gun. Still, some cartridges are a little better than most from the reloader's standpoint, and a few are more difficult than average. I will try to touch briefly on the reasons for this.

Handgun Cartridges

The easiest and most straightforward handgun cartridges for the reloader are the rimmed, straight wall, revolver cartridges. Examples of such cartridges include the .32 H&R Magnum, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, and .44 Magnum.

Most of the magnum revolver cartridges are fairly modern creations and are based on fairly thick walled cases that offer long brass life. These are excellent handgun cartridges for the reloader. And revolvers have the added advantage of retaining fired cases in the cylinder for convenient removal.

On the other hand, auto pistol cartridges and very small cartridges are the least desirable for the reloader. For one thing, the guns eject the brass automatically, scattering it everywhere. For another, most headspace on the case mouth, preventing the use of a straightforward roll crimp. Small cases are always more hassle to handle and reload than larger cases. Combine an autoloading pistol with a small case, such as the .25 ACP, and you have the worst of all possible worlds for the handgun reloader.

Rifle Cartridges

The simplest of all rifle calibers to reload are rimed or belted, straight wall cartridges intended for use in a single shot rifle. Typical examples would include the .45-70 and .458 Winchester Magnum as applied to a Ruger No. 1 rifle. These are reloaded much like a standard revolver case, except that no bullet crimping is required for use in a single shot rifle. (I dislike crimping bullets in cases as it works the case mouth excessively and shortens case life.) Reloading doesn't get any easier than that!

Rimmed and belted cases have a huge advantage over rimless bottleneck cases in that it is basically impossible to mess-up the head spacing. It is possible, by improper resizing, to degrade headspace of any cartridge that headspaces on the shoulder, which can potentially create a hazardous situation.

Unfortunately, rimless bottleneck rifle cases that headspace on the shoulder are the most common type today. The most reloader friendly of these headspace on a fairly sharp, but not abrupt, 15-30 degree shoulder that is adequate in area to easily maintain proper headspace against the blow of a firing pin, have long necks (in excess of one caliber), and use a full diameter head and moderate body taper. That is about as good as it gets among rimless, bottleneck rifle cartridges as far as the reloader is concerned. A good example of such a case is the 6mm Remington.

Actually, most popular rifle calibers are pretty easy to reload. The 6mm Rem., for example, is preferred over the .243 Win. by reloading purists, due primarily to its longer neck and slightly greater case capacity, but I have never had any problem reloading very accurate .243 cartridges.

Bottleneck belted magnum cases are supposed to be less desirable for reloading than standard rimless types due to the possibility of head expansion immediately in front of the belt, where it is difficult to fully resize. So are cartridges used in rifles whose bolts lock at the rear, due to the possibility of case stretching. But I think that these considerations are mostly theoretical. I have reloaded belted magnums and cartridges for rear-locking Winchester and Marlin lever action rifles (mainly the .30-30) for about 40 years without any problem.

On the other hand, I generally full length resize my cases, as most must be able to feed reliably in more than one rifle. And I never exceed published maximum loads. Perhaps that is why I have less trouble than some reloaders who just neck size their cases or are trying to reload super powerful or super accurate cartridges tailored for a specific rifle that are out of spec in some area (C.O.L., for example). Such reloads are much more likely to cause problems in another rifle than factory loads or reloads that adhere to all SAAMI or CIP specifications.

So, as regards bottleneck rifle cartridges for reloading, the easiest to reload are probably standard rimless cases (rather than semi-rimmed, belted, or rebated rim numbers) with a neck greater than one caliber in length and a broad shoulder with an angle between 15 and 30 degrees. It is also helpful if the chosen cartridges are ones for which a wide variety of bullets are available and a number of powders are suitable.

For the most uniform and reliable ignition, cartridges that require an action no longer than standard (.30-06) length, and a case capacity no greater than the standard length magnums (.270 Wby. Mag., 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag., etc.) are probably desirable. Ideal cases should have enough body taper for easy entry into a resizing die, but not so much that case stretching is accelerated.

A large number of contemporary rifle calibers, including many of the most popular U.S. and European cartridges, fall within those parameters. Examples of such cartridges include, but are not limited to, the .222 Rem., 5.6x50, .22-250, 5.6x57, 6mm Rem., .257 Roberts, .25-06, 6.5x55, 6.5x57, .270 Win., 7x57, .280 Rem., 7x64, .30-06, and .338-06.

On the other hand, if your cartridge of choice happens to be a bottleneck belted magnum like the 7mm Weatherby Magnum, a rimmed bottleneck type like the .30-30, or a cartridge with a neck shorter than the bullet diameter, such as the .223 Remington or 8x57 Mauser, don't worry about it. You will find that reloading these and similar cartridges is really not a problem.

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.