Welcome to the easy guide to reloading .223 ammo. First your ingredients: brass, bullets, powder and primers. I should point out that this simple three-step process works only with new unfired brass or brass that has already been resized (on a press) and trimmed to proper length. Using these steps on random range brass you may have picked up is going to be problematic at the least and dangerous at the worst.
In my case I am using:
- Brass – Lapua 223 Remington new brass: $63.99/100 cases
- Bullets – Hornady Match 22 Caliber (224 Diameter) 68 Grain Hollow Point Boat Tail (HPBT): $52.99/500 bullets
- Powder – IMR Smokeless Powder 4895: $28.99/pound
- Primers – CCI Small Rifle Primers #400: $32.99/1000 primers
Step 1: Prime the brass using a hand priming tool.
I use the one that came with my RCBS Press. This thing couldn’t be easier to use. Primers go in smoothly with consistent pressure. I can have some inconsistencies in pressure if I haven’t done a good job swagging the primer pockets of used military primed brass.This isn’t of course an issue when using this new Lapua unfired brass. I can crank out 100 cases in no time at all using this tool. I can’t speak for other hand primers but I can vouch for the RCBS hand priming tool. I would imagine that they all do a fair job though, it is a simple mechanism. Do be mindful of which direction you face the open neck of the cartridge though. If there is a problem and a primer were to go off, you really want that open end facing away from you. As always, safety glasses should be worn.
Step 2: Measure the powder and pour into the primed cartridges.
I am dropping my powder using the RCBS Powder Measure. This powder thrower came with the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Reloading Kit I describe in my article: Getting Started Reloading: Gear. It’s a decent powder measure and with a little tweaking can deliver fairly consistent charges. Unfortunately it isn’t well suited for the IMR Smokeless Powder 4895 that I am using. IMR 4895 is what is often referred to as extruded (stick or cylindrical) powder as opposed to a ball (spherical) powder. It’s pretty obvious when I throw an improper charge because I get a hitch in the operating handle. This isn’t a particularly big deal in this case because I am loading a small quantity of cases for testing purposes. If I was loading larger quantities of ammo for plinking or general range use I would be better served using a different powder measure or a different powder. If I get a light charge I simply throw the powder back in the hopper and try again. If I get a heavy charge I carefully knock a couple of the “sticks” back in the hopper. Each charge is confirmed on a separate scale and then poured into the cartridge. I typically do one cartridge at a time, immediately seating the bullet after pouring the powder. This reduces the possibility of double charging a cartridge. Practically speaking though, the powder of an individual charge is nearly to the base of the cartridge neck and attempting to pour another powder charge would result in obvious spillage.
Step 3: Seating the Bullets.
Last but definitely not least, seating the bullets using a single stage press. Once again I am using the basic RCBS single stage press. The beauty of this process is that the press only needs to have a single die installed to complete each round. Having to do multiple process’s on the press and changing dies for each process would significantly increase the time involved. Setting up the press with the bullet seating die is easy and the reference I use can be found here: How to Adjust Reloading Dies by Chuck Hawk. In the case of .223 I don’t crimp so I adjust the reloading die to solely seat the bullet. Crimping bottleneck rifle cartridges is a point of some debate especially when talking about reloading for semi-auto rifles like the AR-15 where the chambering of each round is more violent. Nevertheless, I don’t crimp my .223 rounds for my AR either. It is however important that every reloader be aware that the neck tension of bottleneck rifle cartridges must be carefully considered and resizing done properly to insure that a catastrophic failure does not occur.
So there you have it. As simple as 1-2-3 to make match quality ammunition. I typically measure each round to insure consistency and uniformity. Generally I see some variation in COAL of about 0.004 using a bullet comparator. Now its time to take these rounds out and shoot them. My current goal is to try to determine what over-all-length works best in my Tikka .223 bolt action rifle. I have rounds loaded 0.01, 0.02 and 0.03 inches from the rifling. Once I get a sense of how much “jump” these particular bullets like to the rifling I will begin to tweak the powder load to find the best accuracy. That’s a topic for another time.