I’m one of those guys who enjoys reloading. Yes, I can save some money on a cost per round basis – if I place an hourly value on my time somewhere below the cost of 1/3 of a Wintergreen Tic Tac. The main reason I reload is that I like to tinker. Why experiment with 42 varieties of .357 Sig? Why shoot lead bullets at 1,000 feet per second out of my 1903 Springfield? Why not?
But lately, I’m having doubts about my patience for tinkering with one specific caliber. That would be .223 Remington, or when I’m feeling tactical, 5.56mm. Quite frankly, it’s a pain in the butt.
If it was a low volume shooting round, that would be one thing. Tinkering for hours to make a few hundred rounds of some caliber is fine if it will last a couple of shooting outings. But, as I have found out, my kids are capable of maintaining a constant cyclic rate of fire of just over 42,358 rounds per minute in semi-automatic mode with my sons DPMS A3 Lite AR-15 rifle. Doing some quick math, I might spend 42.8 hours reloading .223 ammo that lasts 19 milliseconds at the range.
Not only that, the process of reloading .223 ammo is somewhat complicated and has many important steps:
I gripe at my kids to pick up the .223 brass from the range.
Next, I have to cancel texting service on their phones so they can pay attention to the request I made in step 1.
Sort thousands of rounds of dirty brass to filter out the desirable .223 brass. Separate it from the 5.56mm brass that has gotten mixed in. Those Navy Seals have a bad habit of sneaking around mixing their military brass into my stuff. Sneaky bastards.
Call Discovery Channel, again, to request that Mike Rowe does an episode of Dirty Jobs about sorting range brass. Ask why they have stopped taking my calls.
Shoo my dogs away from nosing around dirty, leady brass that suddenly seems more interesting to them than bacon topped with Cheez Whiz.
Dump a pile of filthy .223 brass into my Lyman 1200 Auto-Flo Tumbler. This causes earthquake like sounds to reverberate from my garage for hours. Fortunately the neighbors no longer call 911 or the University of Southern California Earthquake Research Center.
After the brass is reasonably clean, I make sure that all of the walnut / corn cob / gritty tumbler media stuff is out of the cases. As the .223 case has a mouth diameter just smaller than a mosquito’s left nostril, this step is more difficult that it sounds. Shaking the case vigorously doesn’t always do it, so I’m thinking about rinsing them with an insect-sized Neti Pot.
Now for the brass depriming and resizing step. Here is where things get interesting. Invariably, at least 5 out of 4 cases will get stuck in the sizing die, causing me to stop the operation, drill out the case head, and remove it with bolts and a thread tap I bought at Wal-Mart. Yes, the stuck case situation might have happened one night after proper hardware stores were closed. Friends don’t let friends buy tools at Wal-Mart after all – that’s what pawn shops are for. Oh, by the way, Mighty Putty is on sale.
In a fit of impatience trying to get the show back on the road, I break the tap. What, anger issues? Me? Hey it was a cheap tap bought at Wal-Mart after all. It was asking for it.
Figure out how to remove a case that’s stuck in the die, that in turn has a broken tap stuck in it. This is a great time to go watch a re-run of Home Improvement. And ask my neighbor if I can borrow a flame thrower.
After the load of brass is successfully deprimed and resized, I break out the case trimmer. Don’t lose heart, we’re 10% of the way done.
My wife and kids decide to go on vacation. They know I will be trimming brass 18 hours a day for the next few weeks.
I gently move my dogs that have camped out on top of my feet. Apparently they think I have died standing in this position and are holding vigil.
Some ammo companies have the audacity to crimp their .223 primers in place. I have reason to believe that this is a plot by my dogs to keep me from moving for another couple of weeks as they are continuing to soundly sleep on my feet. Apparently my shoes are comfortable and smell nice. In any event, this step involves either reaming or swaging the primer pockets to make sure that new primers will actually fit. Swaging is the way to go here. You don’t cut away metal and the results are consistent. It’s kind of like making an auto part fit by hammering it really hard. Dillon makes an excellent swaging tool that is well worth the money.
Now we’re on the offensive and are beginning steps that are actually adding stuff back to the empty case. So you can think of this as the beginning of the 3rd quarter. Except that the Colts are ahead.
Using one of several highly scientific techniques, I stuff new primers into the newly reamed or swaged primer pockets. Depending on volume and how bad my mood is from dealing with stuck cases in my resizing dies, I will use the hand method or a progressive reloading press. If something really good is on TV, like Band of Brothers reruns, I use my hand operated Lee Auto Prime tool, since I don’t have DirectTV in my man cave. If Fashion Stars is on, and I therefore have no access to the TV due to the ‘Chicks Occupying Den Movement’, I’ll configure the Hornady Lock and Load Auto Progressive press to knock out a few steps at once – priming, powder charging, and bullet seating. But for discussion’s sake, let’s follow the hand priming route. It’s far more dramatic for this particular column.
If you’re feeling like the Anal Retentive Chef, it’s time to chamfer and deburr the case mouths with some sort of hand or electric tool. I’ve been dying to try out Hornady’s Lock and Load Case Prep Center, but for now am using stone tools fashioned from cinder blocks. Either that or I skip this step entirely.
It’s time for charging the case. This is fancy techno-speak for adding powder that makes things go bang. I like to use TAC by Ramshot as it works well, and more importantly, is really easy to measure consistently. And it looks like something people would identify as gunpowder.
It’s bullet time. The grand finale. The climactic moment. Add the bullet and crimp the case – usually in one simple step.
And now, last but not least, it’s final check time. As I put the rounds into plastic ammo boxes, I like to do one last visual check to make sure primers are there, they they are not upside down, that the case looks good with no cracks, and that there are no love handles on the case shoulder. Sometimes, a case will sneak through the system that is a tad to long, and when it gets to the bullet seating and crimping step, a very unsexy bulge is created at the shoulder. Not good. Mainly because it creates another step – pulling the bullet out and fixing the case.
And there it is. Just a few simple steps to prepare for my kids unleashing a hailstorm of .223 downrange – for at least 9 seconds.
Sometimes I think it’s just better to buy some bulk .223 ammo.