It’s no secret that some reloading components have been scarcer than an honest politician. And when you can find those components, there are too many retailers acting like politicians and willing to gouge us. While high-demand cartridge cases such as the .223 Rem. can sometimes be in short supply, I’ve never bought a .223 Rem. cartridge case in my life, and I don’t expect I ever will. Here’s how I get all mine for free.
While I do shoot some factory ammo occasionally and save those cases, the majority of my .223 Rem. shooting is done with reloads, and the majority of those reloads are built on brass scrounged at my local shooting range. One of the keys to being a good brass scrounger is to watch the range schedule and look for days when it’s rented out to law enforcement agencies. As a rule, these folks shoot only factory ammo and are sloppy about picking up the empties. I try and show up shortly after they are done, bring a bucket and go “berry picking.” If I’m really desperate, I might also look at the range schedule for shooting competitions where ARs are used. Most of these civilian shooters shoot reloads, but there are always some people shooting factory ammo who don’t care to pick it up.
Using scrounged brass for your own reloads is perfectly safe as long as you follow one key rule: Use only once-fired brass. Using brass that has already been reloaded and has an unknown history is asking for trouble and not worth the risk. Once-fired brass is safe.
Identifying once-fired .223 Rem. brass is easy if you pay attention to the details of the cartridge case. One clue, although by no means foolproof, is the color of the primer. In my part of the world, virtually all handloaders use a silver-colored primer, but many factory loads have a brass-colored primer. That’s a quick and easy screen, and one I often use while picking at the range. When I’m sorting further at home, I’ll take the additional step of looking closely at the mouth of the cartridge case. Reloaded brass will have a chamfered mouth (see photo), while the once-fired version won’t. Combining those two features virtually guarantees the once-fired status of the brass.
After the brass is verified as being once-fired, I process it like any other. This includes a good cleaning in my Lyman vibratory tumbler, sorting by headstamp and then full-length resizing, trimming and chamfering. Depending on where I intend to use the brass, I might process it further, including neck-turning and weight-sorting for use in precision rifles. If the brass is intended for an AR-15 or some other semiauto, than I’ll likely do nothing further after the trimming and chamfering step before loading it.
It’s worth mentioning that unless you like a lot of work, you should avoid crimped primers. And if there is any indication of offshore manufacture, you should also check to ensure the cases aren’t Berdan primed. Breaking just one decapping stem on your sizing die will reinforce the need to add that step.
Handloading is economical because the brass case, which is the most expensive component of the cartridge, can be reused. And if we can get those cases for free, it really helps reduce the cost of shooting. Scrounged brass is that free source and is perfectly safe as long as it’s screened carefully.