Gunsmithing Tools & Techniques

Bench Technique: Approaching Zero Case Loss

Many shooters think brass surpasses even gold in value, and they go to great lengths to conserve it when forming cases for three top Contender cartridges.

Dents in case mouths must be removed with
a neck expander for the .444 Marlin or the
.44 Magnum before sizing the neck down for
.309 JDJ or .375 JDJ.
Wildcat shooters do everything they can to reduce case loss during the process of forming cases for their hand loads. This applies in particular when the parent case was difficult to come by, or when the forming process is involved, and the failure occurs near the end when the loss of the labor invested can be frustrating. We will take a look at the forming process for three popular wildcat calibers for Contenders and suggest methods that will minimize your case losses. By following these suggestions and with care, luck, and attention to detail, you can approach zero loss, the nirvana of wildcatters.

The cases covered include the wildcat .300 Whisper, developed by J. D. Jones of SSK Industries. It is offered in his premium aftermarket barrels as well as in T/C’s barrels. We will also look at two of J. D.’s most popular Contender calibers, the .309 JDJ, and .375 JDJ. Each case requires unique case-forming methods, and the problems and solutions encountered in working these rounds can apply to a variety of case-forming applications for handguns and rifles.

The Basics
In any case-forming process, there are some common, basic considerations. Always use unfired brass, if possible. If unfired brass is not available, use once-fired brass, but never any that has seen more use. If you are using military brass, you must remove the primer crimp and condition the primer pocket. There are lots of tools on the market to remove the crimp. I prefer one that swages rather than cuts so that no metal is removed. I use a swaging die from RCBS and then condition the primer pocket with the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center. Also, you must remember that military brass is usually heavier and has a smaller powder space, so charges must be reduced.

When working and forming brass, you must use a strong press that will not spring under the pressure of use. The press must also have a good compound linkage system to aid in powering the process. I use the RCBS Rockchucker II press.

You must lubricate all cases carefully, both outside and inside, for forming. However, the excessive lubricant must be avoided because it can collect and cause problems with oil dents, or in extreme cases, cause case failure. The most popular way to lubricate brass is to roll the cases on a lubrication pad that has been treated and then to lube the inside case mouths with a brush that has been rolled on the pad. A much easier way is to stand the cases in a loading block and spray them with a spray lubricant, such as RCBS Case Slick or One Shot Case Lube from Hornady.

After forming and before loading—and certainly, before any fireforming—all grease must be removed. By far the best way to do this is to tumble the cases. I use the RCBS Sidewinder tumbler with ground corn cob medium. After removing the clean brass, always inspect the flash holes for pieces of tumbling medium that might be plugging them. I use a small Allen wrench for this chore. Also, deburr the flash holes. Both RCBS and Sinclair International offer tools for this operation.

Finally, all cases should be run through a case trimmer, even those that do not require shortening. For those cases, simply “kiss” the mouth until the cutter is hitting all around. This will true the case mouth. Finally, chamfer and deburr the mouth inside and outside; the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center is one of the best tools for this job.

Before loading, each case must be carefully inspected for any defects or stress areas that show up as splits, cracks, or shiny stress lines in the brass. Any pieces showing these defects must be destroyed.

.300 Whisper
J. D. Jones developed this caliber, and it was originally conceived as a subsonic sniper round for a rifle, hence the name Whisper. It didn’t take long for the round to emerge as an excellent handgun choice. My Whisper barrel is one of J. D.’s 10-inch models, but Thompson Center also offers this chambering in both 10- and 14-inch barrels. Cor-Bon offers factory ammo in 125- and 220-grain loads. However. Their cases still carry the original .221 Fireball headstamp, and with no factory brass head stamped as .300 Whisper, we must still consider it to be a Wildcat, but one that is offered as a loaded round. In any event, most Whisper shooters will likely be making their cases.

The .300 Whisper will give nearly the same ballistics as a factory-loaded .30-30, mainly when using the 10-inch barrel length. Muzzle flash and recoil are much less than in the .30-30, however, and in most cases, accuracy is better. The heavy 200-grain and 220-grain bullets work well on steel targets, toppling rams well. They do not break the sound barrier; thus, are not subject to transonic effects on accuracy. The 220-grain Sierra load from Cor-Bon starts out at 1,040 fps at the muzzle, and because of its high ballistic coefficient, loses only about 70 fps over the 200-meter trip to the rams.

For hunting game up to deer size, this caliber is surprisingly effective. Here the 125-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip has emerged as the bullet of choice, although many hunters prefer the heavier 150-grain Ballistic Tip.

The parent .221 Fireball cases are available only from Remington. Since the XP-100 handgun is now discontinued and no modern factory firearm is now being offered in this cartridge, brass can be hard to find.

J. D. designed this case to be completely formed in one pass of the sizing die. However, the failure rate can be a high, with split necks not uncommon. In my Hornady three-die set, there is one expander designed expressly for making the brass, but the failure rate is high with a lot of split necks. Instead, I use the full-length resizing die that is supplied with a tapered expander button. It gives me better results.

Allan Jones, who edits the Speer #12 Reloading Manual, prefers the Bullseye/Cream of the Wheat method, using 5 grains of Bullseye powder followed by ten grains of Cream of Wheat. He simply fills his powder measure with Cream of Wheat and doles it out like powder, followed by a toilet-paper plug. He says he has a zero case-failure rate with this method. Though this is true, my limited testing shows the extra work offsets the failure rate, so stick with the forming dies and accept the losses. To minimize these losses, it helps to chamfer the case mouths before sizing. Also, be certain that the inside of the case neck is well lubricated before expanding the neck.

With the small case capacity about bullet weight, pressures can escalate very quickly, so extreme caution must be maintained while working up loads. The first indication of pressure creeping too high is sticky extraction. Again, high pressures tend to expand the primer pocket, ruining the case for future use. Use caution with published load data: I have found some to be optimistic. In one case the starting loads expanded the primer pockets.

.309 JDJ
This may well be the best handgun-hunting caliber for deer and similarly-sized game ever developed. It is superbly accurate, flat shooting, and hits like Mike Tyson used to hit.

Like J. D.’s other hand cannons, the .309 uses the .444 Marlin as a parent case. These cases are only available from Remington, but because Marlin continues to chamber the cartridge, supplies will probably remain high.

When stepping up in caliber, as with the previous cartridge, there is more forgiveness in the condition of the parent case. Because we are necking down here, it is important that the new case not have any dents or defects in the case mouth. If you try to size the case with a dent in it, a wrinkle is likely to appear in the neck, ruining the case. To iron the dents out of the new cases, run them through a neck-expander die, either for the .444 Marlin or use a .44 magnum that is backed off the shell holder. Take care not to run them far enough up the expander to bell the mouth. Then chamfer the case mouth inside and out.

Forming the .309 JDJ requires two sets of dies. You will need the .309 JDJ of course, but you also need a .308 Winchester sizing die. If you simply attempt to run the brass into a .309 JDJ sizing die, the case will collapse and be ruined. The shoulder angle is too abrupt for the brass to handle the transition. Instead, you must run the brass into a .308 Winchester die. Back the die off the shell holder. Adjust the die until you can just close the Contender’s action with a sharp snap. Make sure that the shoulder is contacting the front of the chamber; this rimmed case must headspace on the shoulder and not the rim.

You can then load a 90-percent charge and fire-form the cases. J. D. tells me that he has achieved minute-of-angle accuracy with the fire-forming loads. I prefer to use the Cream of a Wheat method to save on bullets. Because of the larger case capacity, I used Alliant Unique powder instead of Bullseye. My charge is 12 grains of powder topped with enough Cream of Wheat to fill the case to the bottom of the neck. It is topped with a toilet-paper plug wedged into the neck.

After forming I like to require the mouth on a trimmer and chamfer, but J. D., who has made thousands of cases, says he thinks this step is unnecessary.

.375 JDJ
This is the big daddy of Contender cartridges. It has been used to stop charging elephants, but it is quite at home in the whitetail woods. It is amazingly accurate, and with a compensated barrel, it is not too brutal to shoot.

Again, the parent case is the .444 Marlin and all the preceding information about straightening out the neck before forming the case applies. That is the single most important thing you can do to ensure minimal case loss. After that run the brass through the sizing die, clean, and load it. That’s it. J. D. said he designed the .375 for simplicity.

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