Reloaded, dented brass, .223 Rem.

Reclaiming .223 Rem. Range Brass

It seems these days I end every shooting match on my hands and knees. No, I am not ripping off my shirt in celebration of a win like Brandi Chastain—I am picking up brass. I confess, I’m a brass hoarder.

By Bryce M. Towsley (RSS)
January 25, 2011

And if the rest of the competitors want to litter the range with their discarded cases, I see it as my civic duty to clean up the mess. (For more detailed photos associated with this article, visit the gallery.)

I recycle .223 Rem. brass through my Dillon Super 1050 progressive loader to use for practice and shooting more matches. So you might say I am a “green” shooter. But, I soon learned that with range brass, you never know what you are going to get. You can’t just dump it in the case feeder on your loader and go. You must process it first.


Step 1: Clean It

Range brass is full of dirt, dust, sand and debris that can be damaging to loading dies, as well as causing other problems. I shake the brass in a container with a perforated bottom. I use a five-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom and a cover for the top. By shaking it in small lots, I can shake out much of the dirt and sand.

Reloaded, dented brass, .223 Rem.

Brass needs to be clean. Here casings are getting a good scrubbing in vibrating case cleaners with a corncob medium. They'll soon joing the buckets of processed brass.

Then I wash the brass. I use an RCBS tumbler and fill it with water and a little detergent, or I use the company’s liquid case cleaner. This washes out most of the rest of the dirt and flushes out the stuff inside the cases. Afterward, I rinse several times with fresh water.

Step 2: Sort

Most range brass is a mishmash of different cartridges, so the brass must be sorted. I use Shell Sorter pans for a rough sort. This will separate the pistol brass and isolate much of the rifle brass. But, the final sort is always by hand. I buy two-gallon paint buckets at Home Depot, label them for a specific cartridge and line up the brass for the hand sort.

Reloaded, dented brass, .223 Rem.

If you run dented brass into a full-length sizing die, the outside dimensions will be fine and the dent will iron out when shooting. Deep dents with a crease, like those on the right, should not be reloaded.

Hand sorting ensures you have the right brass in the right bucket. It also lets you eliminate any steel or aluminum cases, as they are not reloadable. I also toss any that are severely damaged. Small dents or bent necks are fine, but any major crushing or any dent with a crease is tossed. After sorting, I let the cases dry for about a week, mixing and shaking every day or two to get the water out.

Step 3: Clean It Again

I put the brass in a vibrating case cleaner with ground corncob, sometimes with some added polishing agent and let it run until the cases are nice and shiny.

Step 4: Size and Deprime

Most progressive presses have a size-and-deprime station as the first stage. If your brass is of a known quality you can usually go right to loading, but range brass does not have a known history. You may have commercial cases or military cases. They may be once-fired or reloaded several times. So, you must go through a preparation process before you put them in your loader.

Reloaded, dented brass, .223 Rem., RCBS Trime Mate Case Center

To remove the crimp, an RCBS Trime Mate Case Center with TM Military Crimp Remover reaming tool will get the job done. The VLD case-chamfer tool in the front is used for the case neck.

The next step after cleaning and sorting is to lubricate the cases. I use a spray lubricant. The best approach is to stand them up in a block and spray in 50-case lots.

Then, run every case through a full-length resizing die with a deprimer. The reason for resizing is to fix all bent or damaged necks and to repair damage to the case body. Some dents in the body will remain, but the outside dimensions are fine and the loaded ammo will function. Small dents will iron out when firing.

Step 5: Trim and Debur

The reason the necks must be repaired is so you can trim the case to length. Cases that are too long can cause all kinds of problems. The best tool I have found for high-volume trimming is Dillon’s Rapid Trim 1200B Case Trimmer. I have this electric trimmer mounted in a dedicated single-stage press. You simply insert a case into the shell holder and raise the ram to trim it instantly. The process is so fast, it almost feels like cheating.

But, that feeling dissipates with the next step. You must chamfer/debur the inside and outside of the case mouth. I use an RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center for this chore.

Step 6: Remove the Primer Crimp

Any military 5.56 NATO case will have a crimp on the primer. Also, all Federal .223 Rem. cases—even the commercial hunting-style—will have a crimp. I suppose you can go through every single case and look at it, but I find that it is much faster to just ream the primer pocket on every case.

One reason I use the RCBS Trim Mate is for the primer crimp reamer you can add to one of the four stations. Of course, two of the others have an inside and an outside chamfering/deburring tool.

There are two ways to remove the primer crimp—swaging or reaming. In fact, the Dillon Super 1050 has a primer swaging station built in. Dillon also has a very good bench-mounted swaging tool, but swaging is dependent on the case being supported inside with a stem against the top of the case web so the swager can reform the primer pocket. The problem is, not all case webs are the same thickness.

Reloaded, dented brass, .223 Rem., Dillon Super Swage 600

Another way to remove a primer crimp is with the Dillon Super Swage 600, but the process can be slow with mixed brass.

For the swager to work properly, you must sort the cases by brand and lot, and then readjust the swager for each new lot. If you have a big lot of the same cases, a swager is a very good way to go. With range brass, however, you will likely have a lot of different cases and it can take hours to sort and readjust the swager.

I like the RCBS TM Military Crimp Remover for a couple of reasons: This tapered reamer cuts away the primer crimp. The depth it cuts is adjustable and it indexes of the case head, so the cut is uniform on every case regardless of case-web thickness. It also leaves a bevel on the edge of the primer pocket. This bevel acts like a guide to feed the primers more easily into the pocket and makes progressive loading machines run much smoother. Most of the problems I have with loading .223 Rem. brass on any progressive loader are priming related. By putting a slight bevel on the leading edge of every primer pocket, I found many of my priming problems went away.

Step 7: Load the Brass

Your .223 Rem. brass is now prepped and ready to load on your progressive machine. It might be a good idea if you re-lubricate the cases before you run them into the sizing die.

You can sort all that brass by brand if you wish, but I find the process to be too much work. So to accommodate the difference in case capacity when using mixed brass, I use a moderate powder charge that is safe in any case. The velocity is a bit lower, but for practice it is not an issue. In fact, I use this load for much of my competitive shooting as well. In some ways it’s better, with less wear and tear on steel targets and on my rifles. As for accuracy? My load, even in mixed range brass, is often the most accurate when testing new rifles.

After loading, every cartridge is checked with a Dillon Case Gage to ensure it has proper dimensions and will chamber reliably.

Editor’s Note: Some ranges collect and sell brass to help fund it’s operation, so it’s important to always ask permission to police up discarded brass!

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10 Responses to Reclaiming .223 Rem. Range Brass

  1. Pingback: Brass | GunPundit

  2. Pingback: Tips for Reclaiming .223 Rem Range Brass « Daily Bulletin

  3. Edward Heaton says:

    Have you ever heard of the Giraud tool? (

    Trims faster and with less equipment (no press or shop vac required).

    It also chamfers inside and out during the trim process.

    I’m not sure how you can write for Shooting Illustrated and not be aware of it….the Dillon Rapid Trim is the furthest thing from my mind when I have to trim in bulk.

  4. Brian says:

    Because of the speed and the sharpness of the Dillon Rapid Trim chamfering the inside and outside of the neck is not necessary. But if that makes you squimish then get the Lee neck expanding die and put an ever so slight bell on the neck just like you do for pistol. This makes it easy to seat flat based bullets. I have a single tool head with the sizing and de-priming die, Dillon Rapid Trimmer and the Lee neck expanding die to bell the neck. I do about 1000 per hour. I then re-clean the cases to get the lube off, takes about 15-20 and replace the tool-head. The second tool head has a non-sizing Dillon/Lee de-primer die in #1, powder and prime in #2, powder check in #3, seat in #4 and a Lee FCD crimper in #5. SWEETNESS!

    Now the only real bitch is the crimp on military cases. I tried the RCBS Trim Mate with the RCBS military crimp remover tool but dang my hands get tired quick! I also have the Dillon Super Swage 600. But I’m too lazy to sort brass so I set it to a generic depth and forger about it! if I feel like one is real tight and that it might be ‘over’ swaged I just toss it. If it seems tough to prime on my XL650 I pull it and toss it in the scrap/recycle bin or a bin set aside to hold brass until I run it through the RCBS Time Mate.

    In this way I rarely have to do anything but pull the handle on my Dillon XL650 to prep brass or load bullets. Just the way a lazy loaded likes it! 8^)

    • Gaylord Hodgson says:

      I am a novice reloader of 233 brass. when picking used brass at the range, how do you know which is 5.56 x 45 and which is 223? I am to understrand than you should not use 5.56 in a 223 rifle . If not,why not.

      • trooper says:

        @Gaylord – The factory-loaded cartridge is different between .223 and 5.56; once the case is fired, you can pick up and reload any spent brass you like from the range… The difference between LC/NATO 5.56×45 and Civilian .223 Remington has to do with the pressure of the load, not so much the dimensions of the cartridge. You should not fire NATO brass in a Civilian .223 chamber for several reasons, but mainly because the pressure is about 8-12K PSI higher. I have fired NATO/LC M855 in my .223 bolt action rifles – and it will fire… But consider the fact your (bolt gun) is not an M4, and you should be more focused on reloading quality, accurate rounds for your rifle… leave the NATO stuff for the AR’s… To clarify: Once you resize and trim NATO 5.56×45 brass in your .223 die – it is essentially a .223 case, ready for your favorite load. :-)

  5. Rob says:

    I have brass that I picked up from our out door range that has some slight weather color to it, Will this be a problem?

  6. Richard Reno says:

    Range brass that is discolored from rain/moisture of a day or two should be OK. But brass that has the dark brown to almost black color should not be used. Range brass or any brass that his hit the ground or concrete for that matter needs to be washed first before depriming.
    This is my process: I place about 100 pieces or 223 brass in a laundry bag (3 bag max per laundry load) and wash with my regular laundry cloths using the long cycle. The brass will come out looking almost factory fresh but must be dried fast or it will tarnish. To keep the brass from tarnishing I place my laundered brass out into the open sun to dry (checking after an hour or so to see if it is dry).. So pick a sunny day to dry your brass! I use this method only for cleaning range brass that has hit the ground or brass of unknown origin. Next step is to deprime the brass. Notice! I did not say size and deprime. What we are doing here is getting the primer out which leave the primer pocked still dirty. After depriming the brass they will go into my hornady magnum sonic cleaner along with 1 heaping tablespoon of citric acid and regular fresh water to the fill line on the sonic cleaner. What will the sonic cleaner do? The sonic cleaner removes all the carbon or dirt that did not come out from the laundering, the citric acid remove most if not all the tarnish which leaves you cases looking like new. Run 50 pieces of your brass (223) in the sonic cleaner for 25 minutes this will remove all your carbon fouling from the primer pocket as well as inside the case. The case will need to be rinsed with fresh water to naturalize acid and then should be placed back into the sun to dry inside and out. Citric acid will not eat away your brass like other acids do and as such is perfect for cleaning brass. Do a Google search if you want more information. You can also dry your brass in the oven set at 200 degrees for 1 hour to get rid of the moisture if the sun is not out or it is too late in the day. Since I live in south Florida I just wait for the perfect day and let the sun do its work.
    I have adopted this method of cleaning my brass since I know of no better way to get brass totally cleaned of dirt or dust.
    If you elect to use a tumbler or vibrator you will have dirt and media residue left over from cleaning. You can wash your brass in fresh water after this process to remove the dirt and dust, then dry in the sun or oven as described above.
    Since I shoot expensive custom rifles and pistol in competition it is important to me that no foreign debris or cleaning abrasive compounds enter my bores or other parts of my guns that a tumbler or vibrator might leave in so called clean brass. I believe once you try this method you will never think of tumbled or vibrated brass again in the same way!
    Give it a try and post your results with your fellow shooter/re-loaders.


    • william farley says:

      Hey Richard, do you know of any places that I can get a large quantity of once fired brass for a good deal. Everyone is probably asking the same question but I was hoping maybe you can help me out. Just started loading .223 ammo. Having a realy good time with it but I’m having a hard time finding supplies.

  7. Robert Houtz says:

    I have some .308 brass some Winchester and some Remington Peters head stamps that have crimps around the outside of the case mouths and can be seen on the inside of the case as well, seems to be factory crimps, the RP has 4 while the Winchester brass has 6 they are fairly deep on the Winchester as well. Is this worth reloading? Everywhere I look people talk about primer pocket crimps but not about the case mouths

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