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The "Ranging Shot" Is A Regular Column In The IHMSA News
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at
Volume 19, Issue 4 - May
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
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Todd Spotti
     The lowly brass cartridge case gets no respect. In spite of all of the gizmos that are sold for case preparation, very few shooters bother using those tools. There’s no doubt that the case is generally taken for granted as being merely a receptacle for the bullet, powder, and primer. Don’t believe me? Just listen in on any conversation about reloading. The first thing everyone talks about is the bullet. Then it’s the type and amount of powder. Primers may get a mention, but cases are rarely, if ever, seriously talked about. Bullets and powder are definitely the stars that everyone likes to discuss.
     Additionally, many, if not most, shop for cases based on price alone, believing that one brand is pretty much as good as another. At the other end of the scale are those shooters that religiously buy only one brand of cartridge case, and never waver in their belief that their brand is best. When you ask them why their brand is better than the other brands (who also have their ardent advocates) the answers can get a little vague.
     When Nosler announced that they were getting into the brass business, I have to admit that I was a little surprised. How could Nosler compete with the likes of Remington and Winchester who have well over a hundred years of experience, and control 90% or more of the civilian market with all the related advantages of that scale of manufacturing? Well, rather than try to compete on price, Nosler decided to compete on quality. In other words, they would try to offer the best cartridge cases available on the market, and call those cases “Custom”.
     So what makes these cases “custom”? Well for one, all the cases are weight sorted. So what does that mean? It means that each and every case is weighed, and any cases that that don’t meet their standard are kicked out of the run to probably end up on the scrap pile.
     I was curious about this, and so went through the tedious process of weighing each of the fifty Nosler 204 cases that I had recently picked up. (As you know, I believe the 204 Ruger has real potential as a half scale cartridge, but only time and experience will tell.) My trusty Ohaus digital scale told me that the Nosler cases ran from 101 - 99.3 grains in weight. This was an extreme spread of only 1.7 grains. However, out of the 50 cases, 47 were actually within a half a grain of each other! This is outstandingly consistent.
     Why is this a good thing? Brass cases that have a wide variation in weight will also have equal variations in powder capacity due to the thickness or lack of thickness of the brass. That difference is very likely going to result in velocity variations. Velocity variations will then result in variable accuracy, especially beyond 100 meters. To be truthful, these velocity variations won’t be huge, but when you’re trying to hit a half scale chicken at 200 meters or a ground hog at 250, every improvement in accuracy counts.
     Did you know that Nosler cases are also totally ready to load right out of the box? For instance, the case mouth is already chamfered. The flash hole has also been de-burred on the inside, and the case has been even sized for you. If you’re like a lot of people these days who are always pressed for time, you’ll appreciate the fact that Nosler has already taken care of these things. However the thing that impressed me the most about these Nosler cases was how clean and perfect the primer pockets were.

 For some reason, primer pockets for the big names seem to be an after thought. For one, they’re almost always concave and often have tool marks on the bottom to boot. I’ve even seen oval flash holes, and worse, off center flash holes. The Nosler’s are perfectly flat, smooth as silk, and have perfect flash holes inside and out. Just the appearance of these perfect primer pockets told me that here was brass that was a cut above the herd. Seating my primers in these cases was actually a pleasurable experience. With most other cases, the seating process often feels mushy. With these, the seating process was crisp i.e. the primer went in smoothly and hit the bottom of the pocket, firmly giving just the right amount of crush on the anvil. Very nice.

Nosler brass right out of the box

     One last thing. Nosler cautions that its brass is thicker (has less case capacity) than others and recommends that you use starting loads first and then work your way up. The advantage of the thicker brass is that it’s stronger, and therefore should be able to be reloaded more times than other thinner brass. Indeed, Nosler says that they’ve reloaded cases as many as 33 times without any primer pocket stretching.
     I decided to check whether the Nosler’s were really heavier or not, and weighed 50 Remington cases for comparison. While the Nosler cases averaged 99.67 grains in weight, the Remington cases weighed in at 89.66 grains - just over a ten grain, or around a 10% difference. That’s significant. In these days of exploding prices for brass, the durability of the Nosler’s has a lot of appeal for me.
     I also checked the variation in the thickness of the brass at the case mouth. If the brass is a lot thicker on one side of the mouth and a lot thinner on the other side, the bullet won’t be as centered with the bore as well as it would be otherwise. Off center bullets = less accuracy. I measured a dozen Nosler cases in six places around the circumference of the mouth and found only one thousandths of a inch in variation in one small location. Pretty darn good.
     The bottom line here is that these Nosler cases are right up there with the quality of the best of the European imports like Lapua and Norma. They’re strong, durable, and very consistent in construction. To get this kind of quality, you’re going to pay more, but you’re going to get more too. It’s well worth it.
Dan Wesson Help
     I was recently contacted by a shooter in Tampa, Florida who has an unfired, 357 Mag Dan Wesson revolver that is one of a special IHMSA series of 100 guns. I’m pretty sure the gun was sold before 1980 or so through IHMSA’s newspaper of the time, The Silhouette. The gun is engraved with silhouette animals on the barrel shroud, and has the original IHMSA logo with the rectangular border, on the frame. The shooter is trying to get some information about their gun. If anyone has any info or suggestions on where to get info, drop me an e-mail at
Case Annealing
     I haven’t talked about this subject in a couple of years but as I’ve noted, the price of brass is going crazy. Even the availability of some brass has been somewhat sporadic as well. The point here is that we should be doing all we can to keep our brass cases in top condition for both accuracy and to make it last as long as possible.
     This is especially true for cases that take a lot of work to make in the first place.
     We all know that super high pressures are the prime enemy of all cartridge cases. Loose primer pockets and even case head separations are the inevitable result.

     Neck splits are more common. These are the result of the brass being work hardened by being expanded and contracted during the reloading  process and then being expanded again when the bullet is fired. Have a gun with generous dimensions in the neck area? Well, the case neck will be expanded/worked even farther. Additionally, it’s not well known, but just seating the bullet in the case puts the neck under tremendous stress. All of this adds up to eventual cracking/splitting in the neck area and lost targets.

     Annealing is a simple process of applying heat to the case necks to eliminate any brittleness that has built up over time, and to restore the case’s natural resiliency. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around about annealing, even from big name gun writers. The problem is that most people over do it, and apply way too much heat. I remember my first experience with annealing many years ago. I went over to a buddy’s house who said he knew how to do it. He stood my cases up in a pan of water and then got a propane torch and heated the necks to the point where they were glowing red and then orange. The edges of the case mouths were even glowing white hot. It all looked fascinating, and I was very impressed by this semi industrial looking display of pyrotechnics. “That ought to do it.” He said. “All set.” When I got home, I charged the cases with primers and powder. So far so good. When I attempted to seat the bullet, the neck collapsed! “What the #$*! is this! “I shouted. I tried another, and got the same result. The over heating of the necks had made the brass dead soft. All 100 cases were ruined and had to be thrown away along with the primers that had been seated in them. I was not a happy camper.

"Many over heat cases necks when using the pan and propane method of annealing."

     There’s nothing wrong with the pan and propane method of annealing. We just have to use a little restraint with the torch. It’s inherently safe as the water will effectively protect the case head from the heat. This is important because you NEVER want to risk getting the case head softened. If it does get softened, the head could blow off with all kinds of nasty consequences. Subsequently, I like to have the cases standing up to their middles in the water. OK, before using the torch, you want the cases to be clean and shinny. If they’re not, we won’t be able to see a color change that will tell us when the right amount of heat has been applied. So tumble your cases or what ever before hand.
     Set the torch on a low to medium setting. Now take a test case, place it in the water, and make light pass from around 6-8 inches away. We want the neck to turn a slight pink and blue color. When that happens, the anneal is perfect. If nothing happens, come in closer with the torch. If you can, rotate the pan to apply the heat on all sides evenly. That’s all there is to it.
     You’ll quickly discover that while this method is simple, it’s also awkward and clumsy. Consequently, it really is suited for only small numbers. The problem is that with numerous cases sitting in the pan at the same time, it’s very difficult to apply the heat evenly around all of the cases as they stand in the way of each other. On the other hand, if you anneal one at a time, it takes forever to get the job done. So, if you’re doing anything over 10-15 cases, get one of Ken Light’s little annealing machines.

Ken Light Mfg, BC-1000 Automatic Case Annealing

Ken Light Manufacturing

Annealing; By Ken Light

 As you know Ken is a faithful advertiser in the IHMSA NEWS and was a long time silhouette shooter. I’ve got one of the very first annealer's that he ever sold, and the thing has been as reliable as a Redding reloading press i.e. nothing ever goes wrong with it. Ken’s machine has a round aluminum plate about 1.5” thick with holes in the top of its circumference. Place the cases in the holes and plug in. The plate will then rotate the cases in front of a pair of propane torches. The individual cases will also rotate in the holes as well, insuring that all sides of the case are exposed to the same amount of heat. A pool of water in the center of the plate insures that the temperature of the plate and cases never exceeds the boiling point of the water. This is far below the temperature needed to excessively soften brass. The machine is simple, effective, and fast. 100 cases can be done in around five minutes easy.
     So how often should you anneal your cases? It depends on your loads. If you shoot super hot, annealing after 3 times would be about right. Regular silhouette loads would need annealing after around 5 times. Pistol brass should be annealed more often because it goes through a belling process that bottleneck cases avoid (unless you use cast bullets). Belling case mouths is extremely hard on brass, so it would be not unreasonable to do a light anneal after every other firing. The bottom line here is that if you want to preserve the inherent accuracy of your loads, and extend the life of your expensive and hard to make cases, annealing should be part of your regular case processing procedures. You can anneal by hand, but the Ken Light machine is a lot better and faster.
Micro-stamping Part III
     A couple of months ago I wrote about California passing a law that will require all semi auto handguns sold in the state to have their firing pins tips engraved with identifying information. The theory is that if a semi auto is used in a crime, the criminal can be traced by using the information stamped on the primer of the ejected casing. This scheme is totally unpractical for many technical reasons which I outlined at that time. The legislature’s own study also concluded that micro-stamping was unworkable. I also warned that the proponents of micro-stamping were working to spread this type of legislation around the nation. I’m sure there were readers that thought I was exaggerating and that micro-stamping was a just California problem. Well, it may very well be your problem soon.
     Xavier Becerra, a California Congressman representing the 31st Congressional District (which includes Hollywood), recently introduced the National Crime Gun Identification Act in the House of Representatives. The language of his bill is almost identical to that of the micro stamping law that passed in California. I urge you to educate yourselves on this foolish piece of anti gun legislation and exercise your rights as a citizen by contacting your Congressional representative and urging them not to vote for this bill. Contact info for your representative can be found in the telephone book under “US Government”.
Good luck and good shooting. Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.