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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
A question every handloader wants answered is: "What is the max load in my rifle?" Some want to know if they can get more velocity out of the rifle and some want to know just to tell how close their favorite load is to being dangerous.
Each reloading manual publishes a max load for each cartridge but that is for the pressure gun they used to work up their data. Their pressure gun will develop different pressures than your rifle with the same load. You may be at considerable higher or lower pressures depending on how your rifle differs from the pressure gun. This is also the reason that none of the manuals agree on max loads, they all have different pressure guns so they get different results.
There are ways to determining how close to max you are. Some of the classic signs of too much pressure are flattened primers, swollen case heads, etc. The problem with these signs, is the pressure has gotten to the dangerous point before they show up. There is another way that J. W. Hornady(founder of Hornady Reloading) once told me as just a passing comment at a trade show. His comment was "If you're getting good brass life, you haven't got enough pressure to hurt anything."
I took that to heart because it made good sense to me. Pressure is what kills brass. Brass for low pressure loads seems to last forever. The higher the pressure the quicker the brass dies. I set my standard at ten reloadings for new brass. That means after I get a load worked up using the classic watching for primer flattening and case head expansion, I take one brand new case and reload it until it dies. I keep track of what it takes to kill that case and if it is less than ten loadings, I cut back on the powder charge. I've had to cut back on a couple of loads over the years that were well below the "book max". I've also have a couple rifles that are safe IMHO, with quite a bit above what the manual says is safe. This method also works for wildcat cartridges where there is no published pressure gun data.
I'm not advocating ignoring or exceeding the published data that Hornady, Sierra, Lyman, Nosler, Barnes, etc put in their reloading manuals. What I am doing is trying to give you one more tool to tell just how close to catastrophe you are with your favorite load.
One point to make clear. When I speak of brass life determining pressure. I am talking about the rear half of the case. especially how tight the primer fits the primer pocket. That is generally where the brass shows the effect of pressure first. Normal pressures won't show in the primer pocket at first, but repeated firings will slowly open up the pocket until a primer won't fit close enough to stay in. Use one of the hand primer seating tools, that will give you a good feel for how much effort it takes to seat a new primer. When it starts getting a lot easier, you have killed that case. If the primer starts falling out after just a few loadings, make sure your life insurance is paid up or back off a bunch on that load.
Brass failure in the front part of the case generally isn't from excessive pressure. Neck splits and things like that are from over working the brass.
BTW: When you load a case that many times, be sure to check to make sure it doesn't exceed max OAL for that caliber. They get longer the more times you load em.
 

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Good info GunDoc................I've found that brass life is also porportionate to the amount of powder your using......the hotter the load, the more it strecthes and thus less life. I've had "top loads listed" flatten my primers. I use 3 different manuals, and choose the load that is close in weight/grain in all the books and work from there. I never exceed the "top load listed".
 

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Gotta be careful even when using the manuals. When I first began reloading about twenty years ago, I was loading some .44 mags. Using Speer manual for loads. Loaded per book using Unique powder, CCI large magnum pistol primers and Speer bullets. Used lowest listed load. Pierced the primers on several rounds. Gun was a Ruger Super Blackhawk. Didn't shoot any more of the ones that I had left of that load. Never used that combination again. Always start at the bottom of the chart, work up slowly, always looking for signs of excessive pressures, use in sound firearms.
 

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Performance

I always laugh at the guys pushing the envelope with their reloads. Trying to get 300 Win Mag power out of at 30-06 and stuff like that. I always live by the rule that if you want more performance out of your gun, upgrade the gun, not the powder charge. That's one thing I like about really versatile loads like 10mm Auto in pistols and the 30-06 in rifles. So many bullets of all weights to chose from, and powder loads from one end of the scale to the other. For the pistols, you just adjust your recoil springs to the load you like.
 
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