The Value of Range Brass

Heretofore, I’ve picked up 45 ACP empties at the indoor range I use in Scottsdale AZ. The ROs have even been so kind to sweep empties from others in my direction (after the other shooters have left) because they had observed me doing so. Over many weeks and months, then, I’ve accumulated quite a collection.

But I’ve also had troubles once that ammo was reloaded, most commonly with “fat rounds” that won’t go all the way into the tight chamber of my 1911’s competition-grade barrel.

After struggling with a lot of jams, I bought a Dillon case gauge and tested my reloads and discovered that a full 30% of a batch of just-reloaded rounds would not fit!

So I went through all the reloaded rounds in the cabinet and culled out the bad ones. There were far too many to disassemble so they just went to the “bad live round” bin at the range for disposal. Boy, that was a lot of work down the drain. There’s got to be a way to either reshape this bad brass or at least of identifying and discarding it before reloading.

My first attempt at a solution was directed at the Dillon Square Deal B’s partial resizing. I reload on this progressive press and love it but had observed that the resizing only seems to go about half way down the brass. I figured that, at least in some cases, it was just unable to resize far enough down the shell. So, I picked up a single stage press, added a Lee Full-Length resizer and ran everything through before reloading.

After reloading, I used the case gauge again to see if this batch was any better. Sadly, the rejection rate was still very high, maybe 20% or so and a lot of rounds had to be disassembled. Although the full-length resizing did appear to help some, there were other problems dominating the situation.

Then, through the Bullseye-L email list, someone mentioned the “Martindale gauge”. I ordered one from Mr. Martindale and it arrived a couple of days later. I sent him my $7 (cash) by return mail.

Basically, the Martindale gauge is a drilled-out nut. Empty shells either go all the way through, or they get hung up.

Earlier this week, I went through my clean brass supply and tested everything and, lo and behold, almost 25% of my brass would *not* go through the Martindale gauge! I set aside the “good stuff” (that passes) and tried full-length resizing some of the bad stuff and then retesting. A small amount of it will then pass, but not very much. Martindale’s instructions said his gauge would check the web and rim which full-length resizing cannot correct. And apparently, that is exactly the problem I was seeing!

So, using only the good brass (as passed by the Martindale gauge), I loaded 100 rounds and tested the result in the Dillon case gauge. Only two were rejected, and only by 0.022" (sticking out the back of the gauge). Zounds, that is so much better than the 25-30% failure rate I used to see.

I also added a Lee Factory-Crimp die into the mix, after as an extra step in the single-stage press after the progressive but I don’t think that die made a substantial contribution to the issues at hand in this test. Instead, it just made an accurate crimp a lot easier to achieve, and more so to measure to my satisfaction of accuracy.

To settle my curiosity, I marked those two barely-failing the Dillon case gauge rounds and then mixed them in with the other 98 before leaving for the range Sunday afternoon. At the range, I went through my normal routine of shooting a 900 with Slow, Timed and Rapid targets. (At the end, I “use up” any remaining rounds just focusing on trigger control and ignoring the target.)

At the range with those 100 rounds I had two instances where the slide did not fully close. In each case, I removed the round and inspected it carefully. One of them was one of the marked rounds. The other marked round ran through the gun without problem but, from that one that did stick, I’m convinced the Dillon case gauge is a productive step in my process.

The other round that prevented the slide from closing was, well, at least visually, nothing seemed awry. So, for both of the rounds that kept the slide from full closing, I put them back into the magazine and tried again, and on the second attempt, both rounds worked fine. (My guess is they were a tad long [C.O.L.] and the first chambering seated the bullet a little deeper so, the second time, it would chamber OK.)

Finally, after this range visit, I took my fired brass – and only *my* fired brass home and tested them in the Martindale gauge. Of the 100 pieces of brass, one would not go through, and it was one of the shells the Dillon case gauge had previously identified.

So, I’m convinced of several things.

  • The Martindale gauge should be used before reloading and anything that won’t pass through should be discarded. (There is a small percentage that *might* pass if resized but, the number was so small I deemed it not worth the effort.)
  • The value of the Lee full-length resizing die as opposed to what the Dillon Square Deal B provides is uncertain at this point. Although it is an extra step, I am going to keep it in my process for the time being. Later, if I get tired of the extra cranking, maybe I’ll do a test to get a definitive answer but, for now, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
  • The Dillon case gauge should be used after reloading and anything that won’t “pass” that test should be disassembled and the brass discarded.
  • Picking up and reusing my own brass, tested as above, works great.
  • Picking up and using “range brass” is of questionable utility. Certainly it should all be tested in the Martindale gauge before reloading but if the 30% rejection rate I found in my general collection is indicative of what I will find in the future, I’m not sure it is worth the “bend and grab” effort needed to collect it in the first place.

Reloading is definately fun!

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