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Bottlenecked Fun

Bottlenecked Fun

The Art Of Reloading Pistol Cartridges.

Handloading bottleneck pistol cartridges requires careful attention to the details, but the author's tips can make your reloading session more successful.

One of my favorite pistol cartridges is the .357 SIG. You could describe it as a 9mm Luger on steroids. Developed by Federal Cartridge and SIG-Sauer in 1993, the ".357-caliber" label is a clever marketing ploy because the bullet diameter is actually 0.355 inch, i.e., 9mm. The .357 SIG case is basically a modified .40 S&W but with the resulting, skimpy bottleneck stretched approximately 0.020 inch so that it will hold the bullet more securely.

Ballistic performance is simply awesome. The .357 Magnum loaded with 125-grain jacketed bullets at 1,300+ fps is widely acclaimed as a most effective manstopper. Federal's goal for the .357 SIG round was to essentially duplicate that level of performance in an autoloading pistol. The .357 SIG cartridge has been adopted by several pistol makers and, subsequently, more than just a few law enforcement agencies.

My current inventory includes a SIG 239, Glock 32, S&W Sigma, Beretta 8357, and FNP-357. With that many pistols to feed, one must handload. And there's the rub. Loading a box of bottlenecked pistol ammo is about two and a half times more tedious (I mean fun) than loading a box of .30-06 cartridges.


Because you have to lube 50 instead of 20 rounds per box before sizing and then clean the sticky mess off afterward. It's nothing like reloading straight-walled revolver brass or typically tapered pistol cases that can be sized with no lube required and carbide dies.

Let me share a few tips I've learned to ease the burden when reloading .357 SIG and other bottlenecked pistol cartridges.


Lubing & Sizing Cases
First, spray lubes work well and save time. I just spread the cases out in a cardboard box, liberally squirt them on one side, and then jostle them around so the opposite side is exposed. After spraying on more lube, I always shake 'em a couple more times to ensure they're evenly coated. Then I let them sit for a few minutes so the volatiles can evaporate. If you're loading nickeled brass, you'll probably need to augment the process with a little Hornady or Redding grease to ensure a case doesn't seize in the sizer die.

I adjust my RCBS sizer die according to instructions, i.e., so it is firmly touching the shellholder. The sizer has a substantial expander plug, so I've never bothered to brush the short necks before sizing.

Of course, if I'm a little sloppy while spraying the lube and some gets inside the necks, that probably helps the expander work easier. After sizing, I dump small batches onto a large, cotton towel (donated to the shop by my wife) and roughly wipe as much of the residual lube off as possible. Then they all go into the case tumbler for final cleaning.

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Favortie Loads For Bottlenecked Pistol Cartridges

BulletPowder (Type / Grs.) Case PrimerVelocity (fps) Extreme Spread (fps) Standard Deviation (fps) 25-Yard Accuracy (in.)
.30 Luger Ruger KP-89
Hornady 93-gr. FMJ Power Pistol/ 5.5 R-P Rem. 1 1/2 1159 36 11 2.80
Hornady 93-gr. FMJ AA No.5/ 5.8 R-P Rem. 1 1/2 1104 57 17 3.40
7.62 Tokarev (.30 Mauser) Czech VZ-52
Hornady 85-gr. HP/XTP* AA No.9 / 12.9 Starline CCI 500 1651 41 14 4.50
Sierra 85-gr.JSP AA No.9 / 12.9 Starline CCI 500 1607 69 20 5.00
Hornady 86-gr.JSP AA No.9 / 12.9 Starline CCI 500 1572 66 25 4.30
*The Hornady 85-grain HP/XTP 0.312-inch-diameter (.32-caliber) bullet was lubed and swaged down to 0.309 in. using a Lee cast bullet sizing die.
7.62 Tokarev (.30 Mauser) Czech VZ-52
Hornady 93-gr.FMJ HS-6 / 7.3 NNY Fed. 100 1264 45 17 2.50
.357 SIG FNP-357
Hornady 124-gr. HP/XTP Power Pistol / 9.1 R-P CCI 500 1417 34 10 4.00
Hornady 124-gr. HP/XTP AA No.7 / 10.8 Speer CCI 500 1344 43 10 3.30
Sierra 125-gr. JHC True Blue / 8.2 Zero CCI 500 1262 60 17 4.50
Speer 125-gr. TMJ VV N105 / 10.7 Zero Fed. 100M 1418 68 16 3.50
Hornady 135-gr. JHP Power Pistol / 7.4 R-P CCI 500 1196 27 9 3.30
.400 CorBon ASAI onePro
Nosler 35-gr. JHP 800-X / 10.5 CorBon CCI 350 1425 86 29 4.00
Hornady 155-gr. HP/XTP AA No.7 / 12.2 CorBon CCI 350 1298 49 16 3.20
Hornady 155-gr. HP/XTP Power Pistol / 9.3 CorBon CCI 350 1320 29 7 4.00
Wichester 155-gr. FMJF Blue Dot / 11.0 CorBon CCI 350 1289 69 19 4.50
Notes: Accuracy is the average of two 10-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 6 feet from the guns' muzzles.

Chamfer the inside of the case neck so the bullet can be easily seated.

Cleaning Primer Pockets
I have a fetish for clean primer pockets, so that's the next step. And while I'm brushing the residue out, I make sure that any tumbling media particle lodged in the flashhole is removed. I also randomly spot check the case lengths just to make sure they're within spec.

The local county sheriffs carry .357 SIGs, and their shooting range is about a half-mile from my shop. They don't pick up their empties, so I always have a good supply of SIG brass on hand. I haven't reloaded any of it more than a couple of times, so it hasn't needed trimming yet. If you're loading cases over and over, occasional trimming will definitely be necessary.

Chamfering Case Mouths
The final case prep step is to lightly chamfer the inside of the case mouths. Of course, if you have to trim a batch of brass, first debur them. With a revolver or typical tapered pistol case, you flare the mouth to assure the bullet can seat easily. While many rifle bullets have a tapered boattail that ensures easy seating, that's not so with most pistol bullets.

Most bottlenecked rifle brass necks are at least one bullet diameter long and will not collapse if the bullet is slightly cocked as it's seated. Again, that's not true for the much smaller, bottlenecked pistol cases. The chamfer is absolutely needed to help guide the flat-base bullets into the short neck without damaging the case. You also must be a bit more careful as your fingers guide the bullet into the mouth of the seating die.

Besides, as you can see in the chart, there will be ample opportunity to enjoy the fruits of any extra effort. Just be especially attentive with these somewhat finicky cartridges and your handloads should perform just fine.

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