Processing Brass For Practical Rifle/3Gun
The AR is the dominant platform for Practical Rifle and 3Gun and if you’re like me you shoot a lot of rounds through your AR during a match and even more during practice sessions. I think we can all agree that these rifles have a never ending appetite for ammo which means time on the reloading bench for us. I know most of us would rather be out shooting than reloading which keeps me looking for ways to shave time off of my reloading process. The reality is that the most time consuming part of the entire ritual is the processing of the rifle brass, getting it ready to dumped into the case feeder takes up most of the time in construction of the new cartridges. But over the years changed up little things here and there to speed along the process to the point where I now spend very little time working with the brass as compared to how I used to do it. One thing I should note is that this process is how I work my 5.56 brass for Practical Rifle and 3Gun which affords me an acceptable time vs. effort trade off and is probable not suited for long distance precision shooting which has different demands and tolerances.
The other thing to consider is equipment. This entire process could be radically reduced by throwing money at it so the other variable is cost vs. effort. You could easily speed this process along with a Giraud Power Trimmer and a Dillon 1050 which swages your brass during the reloading process. I have neither of these and typically put more money towards consumables than equipment. So for the budget sensitive this process is probably more relevant than those who have the higher end reloading tools, you lucky devils.
The basic principals of rifle caliber case preparation include:
- Swaging or reaming
- Primer pocket clearing
After a little analysis and discussion with some of my online friends I’ve settled, at least for now, on the following process for prepping my brass for reloading. I more or less cover all of the basic case prep principals with the equipment I have and have, at least I think, stuck a good balance between time, effort, and most importantly, quality.
The first thing I now don’t do is clean my brass. I used to drop all of my cases into the tumbler to clean them up before I got started but I now do it at the end because it allows me not have a dedicated step for deburring and chamfering.
I now start by trimming my cases with a Possum Hollow Kwick Case Trimmer chucked in a drill that’s in a vice on my bench. I have a zip tie over the trigger that allows it to operate hands free as well as a little box underneath it to catch all of the brass shavings it produces. I just hold the case by the head and insert it into the trimmer which measures off of the case shoulder (datum) so it’s as easy as sharpening a pencil with an electric sharpener. Usually the next step after trimming is deburring and chamfering but I now omit this step since all of the following steps do an adequate job of removing the burrs before I seat the bullet.
The next thing I need to do is to decap the cases so I can remove the primer crimp from the military brass. You can skip this step if you’ve already removed the crimp or the case never was crimped to begin with. To decap my cases I dump them all into the case feeder of my Dillon XL650 which for this step has a toolhead holding only a single die, a Lee decapper/resizer die but you could also substitute a universal decapping die for this step if you like. I now just pull the handle until all of the cases have had their turn through the decapper/resizer die and no longer have a primer in the way.
Now that the primer has been removed each case must have the crimp removed so the new primer can be easily seated without being damaged so I run them all through my Dillon Super Swage 600 and put the freshly swaged case into the waiting bowl of my vibrating tumbler.
After a couple of hours in the tumbler the rifle brass looks like new and is ready to be reloaded. It has been trimmed to my specifications, it has been deburred, and the primer crimp has been removed, good as new! It’s now all dumped back in the case feeder, ready for it’s trip through the next toolhead to be resized, primed, charged, have a bullet seated, and finally crimped to complete the process.
One side note worth mentioning is that I use a small base RCBS X sizer die that uses a mandrel that sits against the neck of the case preventing the case from stretching during the resizing step so the next time it needs to be reloaded no trimming is required.
The next time this batch of cases show up for reloading it’s a quick trip through the tumbler and they’re ready to be lubricated and reloaded. No trimming or swaging required!
I know this may seem a little different than how you were taught to reload your rifle brass, but believe me, this new workflow will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend prepping your cases. And the less time you spend reloading the more time you can spend shooting!