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Steel-Cased Reloads, Cracks, And Fireforming Wildcat Cases

by Lane Pearce   |  January 4th, 2011 0


The author successfully reloaded Russian .45 ACP steel cases several times with excellent results. He recommends lightly lubing them before resizing with a carbide die.

If you’ve been to a public shooting range, I’m sure you’ve noticed the empty cartridge cases strewn about. Apparently, many shooters still haven’t discovered the economy of reloading. Among all of the fired cases lying about, you’ll find dull steel and bright aluminum-gray pieces mixed in with the usual golden yellow brass empties.

At my club’s range, most of our members reload, so discarded brass is the exception rather than the rule. But sometimes I find a batch left scattered. I’m a hoarder, so I can’t help but pick it up and see if it can be safely reused. A box of obviously fresh but once-fired .30-06 or .45 ACP cases will work perfectly well for me after I’ve cleaned and reloaded them properly.

But what about the steel and aluminum cases? Can they be reloaded? The aluminum cases are typically Berdan-primed. I understand the munitions makers do this to discourage us from reloading them. So, even though they are perfectly safe for one firing, you shouldn’t attempt to reuse aluminum cases.

The same logic applies to Berdan-primed, steel cases, usually military rifle calibers. However, some factory steel-cased handgun ammo is advertised as noncorrosive and features Boxer-type primers. Several ST subscribers have asked, “Can it be reloaded?”

I had never tried, but after receiving their inquiries, I thought, “Why not?”

Several days later at the range, I found nearly a whole box of once-fired Wolf .45 ACP steel cases. Most of them were in good condition, with some having a few flecks of rust. I culled out those that were severely bent or otherwise damaged, and when I returned home, I dumped them into the tumbler with the rest of the empties for cleaning.

I always use a carbide die to resize .45 ACP cases so I don’t have to lube them. However, I decided to lightly apply a dab of Redding Imperial sizing wax just to be on the safe side. Of course, then I had to wipe off the lube after sizing. Other than this minor change in the process, I followed the same steps required to reload brass cases.

I cleaned the primer pockets, adjusted the expander die to slightly bell the case mouths, seated Remington 21/2 Large Pistol primers, adjusted the powder measure to throw the desired charge–4.8 grains of Titegroup–seated the Hornady 230-grain FMJ bullets to the correct overall length, and taper crimped the case mouths. I soon had 30 rounds of odd-colored but apparently useable handloads.

I purchased a box of factory Wolf ammo so I could compare their performance to that of my handloads. My Ruger KP-90 decocker is the most reliable and rugged pistol I own, so I knew it could handle my test loads. I wasn’t surprised when both batches of ammo printed several quite similar 31/2-inch, 10-shot groups on the targets. The chronograph printouts indicated almost identical velocity measurements, too. But there was one frustrating factor. The dull gray, empty, steel cases are camouflaged well by the gravel surrounding the shooting stations, and I can’t stand losing even one case when I’m shooting!

I’ve since loaded the original 30 cases and the other box of Wolf steel cases up to three times. I’ve discarded three cases that, apparently because there’s no evidence of excessive smutting or gas leakage, cracked after being fired. Each failure was immediately obvious when I inspected the fired cases prior to reloading.

So, with a little extra effort and care, you can reload steel-cased, Boxer-primed pistol ammo. Give it a try.


Lane experienced failures of steel cases in three out of 30 cases that he handloaded up to three times. The failures included case-wall bulges and ruptures.

Another Wildcat Project
Being an engineer, I like experimenting with new cartridges. With the plethora of new factory rounds introduced recently, one would think I’d have more than enough to work with without creating something new. But I sometimes wonder why the factory guys don’t think a particular configuration is such a good idea; the belated .338 Federal comes to mind. In those cases, you just have to do it yourself!

If you’ve read some of my columns, you know I like to build a wildcat rifle/cartridge combo occasionally. The latest venture is altering the .270 WSM into .25-caliber wildcats. This time, we’re fitting Montana 1999 actions with three-groove, 8-inch twist Lilja barrels.

Several of the rather staid members of my wildcatting group settled on simply necking down the parent case to duplicate an existing wildcat, the .25 Pronghorn. However, a couple of the more daring participants–including me, of course–are going a bit more exotic. We’re reforming the front end of the .270 WSM to match the .25 WSSM’s configuration. That will reduce the already over-bore capacity and form a longer neck with a less abrupt shoulder. Tentatively, we’re calling it the .257 USM (Unimproved Short Magnum).

I reworked some cases to make up a few dummy rounds for the gunsmith who is fitting the barrels to our actions. The Montana action accommodates a greater overall length than the WSMs, i.e., 2.860 inches. He’ll cut the throat long enough to allow us to load the heavier .25-caliber bullets with the bullet heel near the base of the case neck.

I happened to look at the dummy cartridges recently and discovered one had developed several longitudinal cracks at the neck-shoulder junction. Although I’d considered doing so, I didn’t anneal them either before or after reforming. Obviously, that was a big mistake! Fortunately, I’d done only a few. I’ve made up another batch and annealed the .270 WSM cases before reforming them.

More on this later.

The Easiest Way To Make Cases For A Wildcat
I have two more wildcat projects on the agenda in the near to not-too-distant future. I recently received an E.R. Shaw Mk-VII rifle. A writer friend informed me earlier this year that the popular barrel maker intended to manufacture complete rifles. When I learned they were to be chambered for various wildcat as well as factory loadings, I promptly ordered one in .280 Ackley.

As many of you may know, P. O. Ackley w
as an acclaimed gunsmith and also an avid shooter and accomplished handloader. He developed several wildcats by simply “improving” the case shape of popular factory rounds to enhance performance. The Ackley improved cartridges have less body taper and a sharper shoulder. Because of the increased case volume, they can hold more powder.

However, a unique feature of an Ackley improved round is that it shares the same headspace as the parent cartridge, so factory ammo can be safely fired in the same rifle.

As I write this, some Nosler Custom .280 Ackley Improved ammo and a set of Redding reloading dies are in transit to me, but I’ve already test-fired a couple of Federal factory loads in the new Shaw rifle. Just like Mr. Ackley promised, .280 Remington cartridges chamber easily and fireform perfectly. Making cases for a wildcat couldn’t get any easier!

Oh, about that second wildcat project. I won’t say anything more now except that it’s the first time the gun’s peculiarity is dictating how to proceed.

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