Cartridges that are Difficult to Reload?

Difficult Brass

Difficult Brass

Difficult BrassField & Stream Online Editors

During the height of the wildcatting frenzy, you often heard that such and such a cartridge was "difficult to reload," or "easy to reload." I was never quite able to grasp this, as it didn't bear out with any relationship to anything I observed, and I was never able to find an explanation for why some rounds were tractable and others weren't.

The primary recipient for this calumny was probably the .220 Swift. When you read about it, you were almost certain to encounter a tightly packed wad of gibberish as to how it was possessed of rare and magical qualities that had to be understood lest you blow yourself up, melt your barrel, or pop your primers. Jim Carmichel, who loved the Swift, spent a good part of his career debunking this, and he was right.

When I finally got a Swift, I found it an extremely straightforward proposition. It was a rifle built by a cantankerous roofer and part-time benchrest rifle builder who cared only how rifles shot, not how they looked. His name was Seeley Masker, and he put together a firearm of stupendous ugliness from a 26-inch Hart barrel, a Stolle action, someone’s 2-ounce trigger, and a fiberglass stock. The gun was so awful looking that I had to warn people before I uncased it. That aside, all it did was shoot. No magic, no voodoo, no ritual incantations, just 4,000 fps- plus with 50-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips and outstanding accuracy.

Judging by my own experience, I could say that the .270 is a difficult cartridge to handload, because I’ve owned two that drove me to the brink of madness. One was a gorgeous sporter that Joe Balickie built on one of the left-hand Mauser actions that P.O. Ackley imported from Japan. No matter what I fed that rifle it sprayed bullets all over the target, until finally I found that a now-discontinued powder called Hodgdon 205 did the trick.

The other was an Ultra Light Arms .270 that put me through the same process. I shot and shot and shot, and got shotgun patterns for my trouble. Then I tried some 140-grain Trophy Bonded slugs that had originally been .284 instead of .277 until they were squeezed down in a die, and they shot small, sensuous groups. The rifle went on to a long and glorious career, and killed everything it was aimed at.

From this, you could say that the .270 is hard to load, but then you would be wrong, because I’ve owned probably half a dozen others that said, “Sure, anything you want,” and proceeded to group splendidly from the get-go.

Some rifles are hard to load for; I have no argument with that. I’ve owned at least half a dozen that would not cooperate and which I finally sold out of exasperation. One was a very nice Mauser-actioned .338 that I spent a whole summer shooting Nosler Partitions through, gaining a whole lifetime’s worth of recoil, and enriching Bob Nosler to the point where he could probably buy Bend, Oregon, if he wanted it for some reason. I even had the rifle rebarreled, but no dice, so down the road it went.

Some expectations are unreasonable. I’ve never been able to get genuine magnum velocities out of any of the Ackley Improved cartridges; no way will you get 7mm Weatherby ballistics from a .280 Ackley Improved and still keep both eyes and all ten fingers.

Watch your brass and your ass and eventually you will prevail, and if you don’t, sell the gun rather than blaming the cartridge.