Building obsolete ammo.

Discussion in 'Ammo & Reloading' started by mm93, Oct 13, 2016.

  1. mm93

    mm93 Well-Known Member

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    Anyone who shoots older Marlins (or other old guns) has to occasionally go through the work of reloading ammo, as often there's no factory loaded ammo available. Sometimes there isn't even factory brass available, although companies like Rocky Mountain Cartridge Co., Captech Intl. (Jamison) and Bertram, have made the brass availability a bit easier!
    With a number of old Marlin Ballard rifles in obsolete calibers, I often have to make up brass from donor brass. My .40-70 Ballard uses Hornady .405 brass as a donor. My .Hepburn in .40-70 Sharps Straight likewise uses the same .405 brass as a donor. I end up sharing donor brass with them, but have to go through different steps to use it. Once formed and sized, they wont interchange, so I need to ensure they stay marked and separated once I get them built. I also have a couple Ballards in the .40-70 Ballard cartridge, and even they can't share ammo, as one Rigby Ballard is a .410" bullet and a tight chamber, while the other #1 1/2 Ballard uses a .412" bullet and a generous chamber. The tight chamber on the Rigby requires the cases to not just be sized and trimmed short from the .405 donor brass, but also the case necks need to be turned thinner to allow them to not expand with a seated bullet. Without neck thinning the cartridge wont chamber, so taking the necks down is a must.
    I use a K&M case neck turner to thin the necks. It is adjustable, and allows thin cuts to not take too much off. Remove too much, and the necks will deform easily during loading or cleaning. So just need to calculate what needs to be removed, and check as I go.
    http://ads.midwayusa.com/product/29...K&M-_-293609&gclid=CJjA4PaO2M8CFUtNfgodB5MNZw

    I buy mostly C&H4D die sets for my obsolete calibers. They are the most reasonably priced, and stock almost everything they list, so getting them is quick. I also occasionally load other calibers without buying a die set for that caliber. My recent purchase of a Ballard Pacific in .40-85 told me I'd be buying another die set, but I figured I'd wait until I built some ammo and fire formed the brass.
    I started by checking availability of brass, and hopes of keeping initial costs down too! I found .40-90 Sharps Straight brass at Bertram at a little over $3 a case! I also found RMC brass at $3.80 a case, but it's lathe turned, so it will give a lifetime of reloads. I went to my constant reference; Cartridges of the World, and discovered another possibility. The 9.3x74R brass had enough length, and a slightly smaller rim diameter. Base diameter was almost the same, and the 9.3 neck is .365" bottleneck, so maybe opening up the mouth would work?
    I ended up taking a chance on ordering three 20 round boxes of new Hornady 9.3x74R brass from Bud's Gun Shop. Price was excellent at $25 a box of 20, so easier on the wallet. Once the brass arrived I tried one out of the box in the Ballard chamber. It dropped right in, but of course was a little loose. Rim was smaller, but still large enough for the extractor to grasp and extract it. So it looked like it might be a good choice!
    Next step was getting to the .410" case mouth from the .365" case mouth. I used my case neck expander from my .38-55 die set to open them up to .380. Then used my Lyman M die to open the mouth up to around .400" After that I got out my Lyman .40-70SS die set, and used the expander die to run the case mouth out to .411" and slightly bell the mouth. This left the 9.3 case ready to load powder and bullets, but somewhat "wasp" shaped below the first 1/2" after the mouth of the case. I primed, and charged the cases, and seated a .411" bullet after slugging the bore to see what the gun needed. I like 2400 powder in many old large cases, so a light charge of 20.0 grs. was chosen to bump the cases out, and form them to the chamber.
    Sometimes cases are so undersized during forming that I fire form them using a small charge of pistol or shotgun powder. Something like 3.0 grs of Bullseye with a wad over the end of the case. After firing this "blank" the cases fully fill the chamber and are ready to reload and fire for accuracy with my powder and bullet. In the case of the .40-85 this wasn't necessary, and I thought it might even shoot halfway decent accuracy while fire forming.
    I took the loaded ammo out last Saturday when we were sighting in our rifles for elk hunting. I've hunted for deer and elk with my old guns for about 10 years now, and was sighting in an old Hepburn in .45-70, and Ballard in the same caliber. Neither gun shot my heavy 506 gr. bullets as well as hoped, so I gave up and decided to fire form the 40 rounds I built of .40-85 Ballard instead. Fired 5 shots without much aiming, and checked my spotting scope. The 5 shots had landed in a 5" group about 4" high at 100 yds with open barrel sights! So I decided to bear down and aim better, to see what happened with the rest! Fired another 20 shots, and checked the scope to find a 3" group! Handed the gun off to my family members to shoot, and they too got equal groups with it, other than a couple flyers caused by shooters not being used to set triggers and a 4 oz. pull! Cases all formed out great, and extracted perfectly. Putting them back in the chamber was easy, so they wont need full length sizing, just reloading.
    These are the various case forming steps. On the right is a 9.3x74R Hornady case. Middle expanded to .410", and left is a loaded case after fire forming.

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    After the great performance during the fire forming of the .40-85, I reloaded the cases with the same 300 gr. cast bullet, and 20.0 grs. of 2400 again. The Ballard Pacific will be my elk gun in a few weeks, and hope I get a clear shot at any bull elk, as I think the gun and cartridge should do the job nicely!

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  2. FordTruck

    FordTruck Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for the pictures and expertise.