For this article we are going to assume that you are an experienced reloader who has all the usual equipment and appurtenances. This said, we are going to look at how to make better ammo and reload some of the more common wildcats.
Most of us realize that cartridge cases fired once in the rifle they are to be reloaded for are more accurate than new factory brass. This is because the once-fired brass is now fitted exactly to the dimensions of the rifle’s chamber, while new brass is sized for some nonexistent average chamber.
Once you have your once-fired cartridge case you have two options. You can full-length resize it to near factory dimensions, or you can neck-size it, leaving it as close to the dimensions of your rifle chamber as possible.
If you are going on an expensive hunt, I suggest that you resize it full length and then after you have loaded the ammunition, try each cartridge in the rifle to make certain that every cartridge you are taking will chamber properly and easily. This is because sometimes neck-sized brass will require a good bit of force to chamber completely. This is nothing to worry about in most instances, but if smooth operation might make or break an expensive hunting trip, it is something to contemplate.
If you are looking for the utmost in accuracy, you need to neck-size your brass. Then when you are reloading the ammo, seat the bullets as close to the beginning of the lands and grooves as possible, but not in contact with them. If the magazine of your rifle will allow the bullets to be seated out that far, usually about 1/16th of an inch off the lands and grooves will give the best accuracy.
You can achieve this by trial and error, seating a bullet farther and farther out until one touches the lands and grooves. Now turn the seating stem of your bullet seating die one full turn in. One turn on most dies is 1/16th of an inch.
If you have the bullet in contact with the lands and grooves, it will substantially raise pressure and give no better accuracy. There are also tools which will allow you to measure this and avoid the trial and error method.
One thing often overlooked by reloaders is the necessity of regularly trimming brass. After a couple of reloadings brass will flow and stretch, becoming longer and longer. Brass that is too long raises pressure. What you are looking for is brass that is the correct length and all the same length. If you have brass that is all different lengths, even if none of it is too long, you will never have all the accuracy the rifle is capable of.
Another thing to think about is that most rifles will perform better with loads near the top end. I don’t mean overloads, but good, stiff loads, near the upper end of what the loading manual says is maximum.
But never start at the top. Start at the bottom and carefully work your way up, loading a few rounds and shooting them to determine pressure and accuracy. If you start to see signs of over pressure, back off a grain or so and call it good. If you aren’t getting the velocity you want, try a different powder, but don’t overload the round. Not all rifles will accept maximum loads.
I have several rifles in wildcat calibers. My favorites are a .222 Remington Magnum Ackley Improved and a .243 Winchester Ackley Improved. When loading for these rounds it is necessary to fire-form the standard brass to fit the improved chamber. This is fairly simple if the rifle has been chambered correctly.
Ackley Improved chambers should be chambered to provide a crush fit on factory ammunition. That means that when you chamber a factory round, you should feel a bit of pressure as you close the bolt. If you don’t feel that pressure, you have a problem with the chambering that needs to be addressed by a good gunsmith who is familiar with the peculiarities of the Ackley Improved rounds.
If you have the rifle properly chambered, all that is necessary to make your improved brass is to chamber a factory cartridge and fire it in the rifle. After firing you have an improved cartridge case. You then neck-size the cartridges you have fire-formed and start your load work-up.
Because it is likely you will have no published loading data for your wildcat, start with one of the middle loads for the factory cartridge it is based on and start working up. You will probably be able to gain about five percent above published data. But be very careful, as often, or even most of the time, these cartridges do not show pressure signs like the standard cartridges will.
The case wall is straighter, and the shoulders much more square to the bore. This causes the cartridge to grip the sides of the chamber and not back up against the bolt, which is what causes the primer to appear normal, even when the loads are approaching maximum.
It is better to use a micrometer to measure the cases at the web, just in front of the extraction groove, before and after they are fired. When you have approximately .0005-inch expansion you have reached maximum for that cartridge. Do not go higher or you might blow a primer, which can be anywhere from frightening to devastating, or get a cartridge stuck in the chamber. Take it from someone who learned this the hard way.
If you have specific questions on reloading, you can contact the author at the address below.
Note: Neither the author nor Texas Fish & Game magazine is responsible for the use of the information contained in this article. These practices are safe only in the guns of the author. Use by the reader is understood to be at his own risk.
—story by Steve LaMascus