Never Have Reloaders Been Able To Put So Many Obsolete Guns Back Into Service.
Early in life I realized my drum beat differently than most others in the world. Here’s one major for-instance: Never have I ever watched on television even a single ball game of any sort.
The same has always held true for my shooting and handloading career. Back when I avidly hunted elk most of my friends carried .270s, .30-06s. The rare one packed a .300 Magnum. I chose a 7mm Remington Express—the name Remington tagged on their .280 in the late ’70s in a bid to make it more popular. Those same friends shot .222 or .223 Remingtons or .22-250s for varmints. I used a .222 Remington Magnum.
When diving into the world of BPCRs (black powder cartridge rifles) in 1981 the obvious pick for a novice would be .45-70. I even already owned appropriate dies and bullet molds. Nay, I had to go for a .50-90. When the NRA formulated the BPCR Silhouette game many shooters turned to .40-65 from .45-70s in an effort to get away from heavy recoil. That particular .40 caliber round was picked because its brass could be formed from readily available .45-70 cases. Instead I went for the .40-70 Sharps Straight, whose cases had to be made by cutting down .405 Winchesters, which weren’t all that plentiful either.
The same has been true with handguns. There exists a staunch following for .44 Special. I prefer .44 WCF/.44-40. Handguns for .22 LR are extremely popular. I hadn’t owned one for decades until a friend gave me a Smith & Wesson Model 18 a few years back. One editor told me I should get a lifetime achievement award for being the only gun’riter to tackle handloading the ancient .44 Smith & Wesson American, the very first reloadable handgun cartridge introduced in 1871.
Perhaps it’s my fondness for all aspects of handloading that made many cartridges now considered oddballs seem attractive. For many of those rounds the only way to get proper projectiles is to make them which is no problem because I’m one of the rare fellows who enjoy bullet casting. How else could anyone get bullets for a .44 S&W American? It shares bore dimensions with no other handgun caliber.
In days gone by reloading for oddballs was far more difficult than now. Reloading oddball ammunition has gotten popular enough that even some major component manufacturers have joined the march. For example, until the last few years if someone wanted jacketed bullets for the 6.5x50mm Italian Carcano or the German 7.92×33 Kurz they were out of luck. The former is the only 6.5mm round to use 0.268-inch bullets instead of 0.264-inch ones. The latter cartridge was meant for 123-grain 0.323-inch bullets and the lightest on the market weighed 150 grains. Hornady has stepped into the breach with both examples. They now make a 160-grain 0.268-inch diameter roundnose and a 125-grain 0.323-inch hollowpoint. (Why hollowpoint instead of full metal jacket is a puzzle but I’m extremely grateful anyway.)
Then there was the matter of cases. Just a couple of decades back if a shooter wanted to step outside the straight and narrow he was going to have to form his brass from some other more common case. With .44 S&W American I had to get RCBS case forming dies to convert (of all things) .41 Remington Magnum brass into the old .44. To make those .405 Winchester cases proper for .40-70 Sharps Straight they had to be cut from 2.58 inches to 2.50 inches in an RCBS file/trim die. I did about a 1,000 of them. Only Norma made brass for 7.7x58mm Japanese and it was expensive. Otherwise it had to be made by from .30-06 by shortening them from 63mm (2.494 inches) to 58mm (2.270 inches). All of that was labor intensive to say the least.
The first glimmer of salvation in regards to cartridge case availability was BELL Brass. They offered “basic” cases most of which were 3.25 inches long. Then it was up to the handloader to cut it back usually in the aforementioned file/trim dies. Just in the realm of old Sharps .45 caliber cartridges these were the lengths needed: .45-90: 2.40 inches, .45-100: 2.60 inches or .45-110: 2.875 inches. I cut hundreds of them.
All things related to obsolete and oddball brass now is so much better. After BELL others began taking up the slack. One was Bertram of Australia. Bruce Bertram picked up on my fondness for .40-70 Sharp Straight and at one SHOT Show even presented me with 297 such cases with my name on the headstamp. (Why the odd number? Three cartridge collectors visited his booth before me and made off with a sample each.) Bertram brass is available still from Huntington Die Specialties.
One of the greatest domestic benefactors to American shooters of the oddball cartridge has been Starline. That Missouri-based brass manufacturer picked up on the need for other than run-of-the-mill cases back in the 1990s and began making ones like .45 S&W Schofield, .44 Smith & Wesson Russian, .41 Long Colt, and then to the joy of the BPCR crowd they added some rifle cases to the lineup. Read that as in big rifle cases, the smallest of which is .38-55 and they go on through .40-65, .45-70, .45-90, .45-100, .50-70 and .50-90. They’re even making those really odd .56-50 centerfire Spencer cases.
Even better, Starline is willing to make proprietary cases if a company places a big enough order. You can get Japanese 8mm Nambu brass from Huntington Die Specialties. Starline makes it. If you buy .44 Colt factory loads from Black Hills Ammunition, Starline made that brass too.
Still, not all cartridge case needs for oddball cartridge shooters can be filled so easily. Sometimes we need to turn to cases made overseas. There is a Serbian company named Prvi Partisan that makes both factory ammunition and brass and bullets for reloading virtually every military cartridge one can imagine. When I bought a Japanese Type 99 7.7x58mm Light Machine Gun, in order to have enough brass to shoot that thing my option was forming brass from .30-06s or buying Prvi Partisan ones. I bought 1,000!
Upon adding a French Model 1936 MAS rifle to my collection, brass dimensions were checked out. The nearest case from which the 7.5x54mm French can be made is 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser But only those made in Europe by Lapua or Norma. American 6.5x55mm brass is too small at the case head by about 0.010 inch. Since I wanted to use my Lapua 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser brass in my Swedish Mauser rifles, I was happy to find that Prvi Partisan also made the French round in the form of factory ammo and brass for reloading.
Let’s go back to the German 7.92x33mm. As said, Hornady makes the bullets now. In a former era to get suitable cases you would have to shorten .30-06 (or 8x57mm or 7x57mm) cases to 1.299 inches in a file/trim die and then inside neck ream them. Not now; Prvi Partisan makes them properly headstamped and ready to load. I bought 2,000! Then I decided to give a Hungarian Model 1895 8x56mm carbine a try. Not only is its 8x56mmR case an oddball size but proper bullet size is 0.329 inch instead of 0.323 inch as normally associated with 8mm. Prvi Partisan sends over both brass and bullets for that one. All of my Prvi Partisan brass and bullets have been purchased from two sources. One is the company of Graf & Sons in Missouri and the other is Buffalo Arms Company of Idaho.
Buffalo Arms offers one other service for us odd people who like to shoot odd balls. They will do the chore of making cases for calibers so out of the mainstream that even outfits like Starline or Prvi Partisan haven’t taken them on. I have had to turn to Buffalo Arms twice in recent times for help in this respect. First was when I bought a French Model 1935A pistol for old times’ sake. (A 1935A was my first ever handgun.) Its chambering is the 7.65mm French Long, which is essentially the .32 Auto but lengthened from 0.680 inch to 0.780 inch. Buffalo Arms starts with .32 Smith & Wesson long brass, cuts it to the proper length, trims off its rim, and then cuts an extractor groove in it. And they do all that for a relatively modest cost of 57¢ each.
Just last month in my most recent bout of impetuosity I bought Japanese Type 26 9mm revolver. Its cartridge is a rimmed case 0.87-inch long and it was used in no other firearm ever. Cases for 9mm Japanese revolver can be made by cutting .38 Specials back from their 1.16 inch length but here’s the fly in the ointment. Rim thickness of .38 Special is 0.058 inch but Japanese 9mm revolver case rims are only 0.030 inch. That presents no problem to Buffalo Arms with their fine array of machinery. They sell 9mm Japanese revolver brass for 62¢ each. I have cut, formed, neck-turned, neck-reamed and otherwise sawed on thousands of cartridge cases in order to make them into something else. Never, ever, will I do that again as long as there is a Buffalo Arms. (They also sell custom cast bullets but as said earlier I don’t mind handling that for myself.)
Components for oddball cartridges such as bullets and cases are useless without reloading dies with which to put it all together. When I started my oddball cartridge reloading career dies for other than mainstream calibers were awesomely expensive. In 1981 I think my first set of .50-90 Sharps dies cost over $150 at a time when those for common calibers ran about $20. Again, we are in a much better age. Lyman and RCBS both offer dies for many obsolete calibers priced no higher than for ordinary ones. I have Lyman dies for .45-90, .45-100, .45-110 and .50-90 on the reloading bench and alongside them are RCBS “Cowboy” dies for rounds like .32-40, .38-55, .38 S&W, .44 Russian, .45 S&W Schofield just to name a few.
When I began my binge on reloading World War II’s most significant infantry weapon calibers I also turned to Redding for .30 Mauser, .455 Webley, 7.62x54R Russian, 7.92x33mm Kurz and both 6.5x50mm and 7.7x58mm Japanese. Lee and Hornady respectively supplied 8x56mmR Hungarian and 6.5x52mm Italian die sets.
And once again there is this important factor to consider: components and reloading dies for odd balls do no one any good unless there is data for safe powder charges to go with them. Sometimes it must be searched out but reloading data for at least some powders are available for most every round I’ve mentioned in this article. Hornady’s Handbook Of Cartridge Reloading 8th Edition has much information found nowhere else. I’ve turned to it for the Japanese rifle cartridges, the French and Italian ones plus the German 7.92×33 Kurz and 7.62x54R Russian, especially when I wanted to reload that latter round with 0.312-inch bullets instead of 0.308-inch ones as listed in other manuals. Lyman’s 49th Reloading Handbook has smokeless data for many black powder rifle and revolver cartridges such as .40-65, .40-70 Sharps Straight, all the big .45 caliber rifle rounds plus .44 Russian and .45 S&W Schofield in revolvers.
I did have to go all the way back to Lyman’s 1960 handbook No. 42 for powder charges for my .455 Webley revolvers and actually felt important when one of our major powder companies called me for a starting load with one of their propellants for 8mm Japanese Nambu.
Traditionally gun’riters as a whole try to stay on the cutting edge of rifle and cartridge development and how they pertain in today’s hunting fields. In my usual out of step manner I’ve made a career of going in the other direction.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
660 Vermeer Ct., Ponderay, ID 83852
Graf & Sons, Inc.
4050 S. Clark, Mexico, MO 65265
3625 West Old Potash Hwy
Grand Island, NE 68803
Huntington Die Specialties
601 Oro Dam Blvd. East, Oroville, CA 95965
475 Smith St., Middletown, CT 06457
1300 W. Henry, Sedalia, MO 65301
605 Oro Dam Blvd., Oroville, CA 95965
Redding Reloading Equipment
1089 Starr Rd., Cortland, NY 13045
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