View Full Version : How many times can a cartridge safely and reliably be reloaded

October 31, 2010, 11:45 AM
I've been looking at getting into reloading brass .380 and possibly 9mm. One question that seems to have a very wide spectrum of answers from dealers I've talked to is how many times can a cartridge (380 / 9mm in particular) be reloaded safely. I've heard answers from 'a few times' to 'hundreds of times'.

If you're trimming (removing material) from a cartridge, by definition you can't do this forever. My gut feel is the latter reply is well off-base.

Anyone have any criteria / general ideas on when you specifically quit reloading a particular cartridge, either qualitatively or quantitatively? I'm primarily interested in brass and not steel cartridge reloading.


October 31, 2010, 11:58 AM
9MM brass is very sturdy and hardly stretches in the hand loading process and only require very infrequent trimming. A single 9MM case may very well last for "hundreds" of hand loads. I have never seen one of mine split. Nevertheless, on the other hand, 38 Special cases seem to only last me about 10-15 loadings being very thin in the neck-body area. So, it depends upon the particular cartridge you are hand loading. 9MM Luger, is one of the most durable to the point where many hand loaders claim that they are more likely to lose a case than they are to retire it because of case failure (splits).

A prudent hand loader will retire a case when the neck splits (far enough down so that it cannot be trimmed to published "trim to length". Or, the primer pocket has stretched to the point where it will no longer hold a primer securely (you will be able to feel the difference in the force required to seat a primer where the pocket is too loose).

October 31, 2010, 12:07 PM
Load'em til you lose'em! If they split, toss'em. Should last 6-8 firings but could go a few more or may split before. Trimming usually isn't necessary with straight walled pistol cartridges. If your range is like mine you'll come home with more brass that you fired so its really a non-issue. I'd recommend tumbling range brass before sizing to protect your dies. Taper crimp helps keep things uniform with mixed brass as well.

October 31, 2010, 12:16 PM
The chamber pressures on a .380 are so low that I've loaded them until the headstamp has been pounded flat.

October 31, 2010, 12:21 PM
I collect so much brass, between going to the range, shooting with other people, and randomly buying factory loaded ammo here and there to keep my brass count up, I shoot and reload my brass until I start noticeing my brass beginning to get weak and start to split, toss those and keep on treading along.

One thing I will add, anytime I reload brass, whether its mine or brass Ive picked up I always tumble it before I reload it.

T. O'Heir
October 31, 2010, 12:54 PM
Case life in entirely dependent on the load. Using light target loads(not many for .380, but not many people load it) will last for eons.
Trimming isn't an issue. Pistol brass rarely needs it.
"...steel cartridge reloading..." They don't get reloaded. Steel isn't elastic like brass and it's hard on the dies if you try it. Usually berdan primed too.

October 31, 2010, 12:56 PM
I dont want to hi-jack the thread but what about 45acp brass? Most of my manuals say 6-7 times and then discard. That might be true with some rifle brass but what about 45acp?

October 31, 2010, 01:05 PM
"I've heard answers from 'a few times' to 'hundreds of times'."

Well, guts aside, you've heard the correct answers. Depends on how hot you load 'em and how well you load 'em. :D

October 31, 2010, 01:38 PM
Pistol/revolver and rifle/belted rifle are so different in case life that they don't compare whatsoever.

And when talking about anything you shoot from a handgun, I wouldn't waste even one moment counting or trying to keep track of how many times you've loaded or fired it. Handgun brass is very forgiving and it'll typically let you know when it's ready for the recycle bucket.

In handgun brass, it's almost always going to be a neck split. A longitudinal split from the mouth moving down the brass a short way. You can hear it as well as see it, when you drop a handful or even one piece of brass, it makes a distinctly different sound when it clanks against the other pieces.

October 31, 2010, 01:47 PM
I use mid to high range load data for 9mm/40S&W/45ACP and have a test batch of brass that's been reloaded over 100+ times. I stopped counting after 100+ reloadings. I want to qualify myself by saying that I use tight chambered Lone Wolf barrels in my Glocks to shoot 9mm/40S&W and I get minimal expansion of cases that are easy to resize.

I reload 45ACP using high range load data and have not seen case splits from my reloads in 15 years.

I usually toss cases if they have loose primer pockets or wear/damage I have any concern with during sorting.

October 31, 2010, 02:50 PM
I've been looking at getting into reloading brass .380 and possibly 9mm. One question that seems to have a very wide spectrum of answers from dealers I've talked to is how many times can a cartridge (380 / 9mm in particular) be reloaded safely. I've heard answers from 'a few times' to 'hundreds of times'.

If you're trimming (removing material) from a cartridge, by definition you can't do this forever. My gut feel is the latter reply is well off-base.

For those two cartridges (and the .45 Auto inquiry), you should never have to trim the cases. The only exception is if you're firing the cartridges in a non-semi-auto firearm (single shot pistol, derringer, revolver, lever action, etc.).

Auto-loading pistols will slowly beat the brass enough for measurable shrinkage to be noticed. If you ever reach the point that the cases are short enough to cause head space issues, toss them. Otherwise, keep loading until they crack.

I have 9mm and .380 Auto brass that is beyond its 20th reload (in contrast, many of my dad's over-max loads destroy the brass within 4-5 loads) . As others have said - case life depends greatly upon how hot you load stuff, and how much the firearms beat up the cases. And, of course, where you shoot makes a difference, too. Cases don't like impacting crushed gravel or concrete, don't appreciate being stepped on, and you won't recover as many in grassy areas.

October 31, 2010, 03:20 PM
My reloading experience has been mostly with .44 mag.; .243 and 30-06. I would say some has been loaded dozens or even scores of times. If you see a split toss and keep going.

October 31, 2010, 04:36 PM
I reload 223 and 45 acp. 223 i get at least 10 runs with it(mild loads)
as for the 45 acp. i have some that are going on 15 times reloading already.

The first issue i have seen is loose primer pockets and some case splits.

Dave R
October 31, 2010, 05:13 PM
I've been reloading about 10 years and have never seen a pistol case wear out. I don't keep track of how many times I've loaded each piece of brass (for pistols) but it has to be over a dozen. Iload .45acp, .380acp and 9mm.

I have some rifles that tend to split necks after 10 uses or so: .223 and .17/357mag wildcat. And I have had one case head separation on a .223 that had been loaded 10 times.

But pistol brass seems to last approximately forever. Or maybe I'm losing them before they wear out...

October 31, 2010, 08:18 PM
When I was shooting PPC (mild target 38 wadcutters) I would load a lot of around 1000 cases until I started noticing splits at the case mouth. When I got more than 2-3 split cases per 100 I'd discard the entire lot after that loading-usually 6-8 firings. Some headstamps lasted longer, some not as long. Splits indicated a loss of elasticity and quite likely inconsistent neck tension. Shooting leg matches generated enough once-fired brass that it worked out well. Didn't hurt to hang out with the better-funded teams that generated once-fired brass like Uncle Sam generates paperwork. ;)

October 31, 2010, 11:54 PM
I've been reloading my 9mm cases for several years, but have no idea how often any individual case has been through the process. Some of the headstamps are getting pretty thin, but the cases still seem to work fine.

I read a thread several years ago where a guy said he'd been reloading the same 45ACP cases for 20 years. (Now he may have had enough cases to shoot for a whole year without reloading any one twice, but that wasn't the way I took it.)

November 2, 2010, 06:40 AM
Do not ignore the affect chamber size has on brass life.

Mike Irwin
November 2, 2010, 08:14 AM
I have some .38s and .45s that are on the high side of 40 reloads. Some of the .38s may be over 50 at this point.

A case will let you know when it doesn't want to be reloaded anymore.

November 2, 2010, 08:31 AM
When I was reloading, I never kept any sort of record about how many times I'd reloaded a case, so I have no idea, even based on personal experience. But as I recall, only .38 special cases ever developed splits. As for all the other cartridges I reloaded, all handgun cartridges, I don't think I ever lost a cartridge except if I accidentally crushed it in the press, although I've literally lost cartridges when shooting, especially the more unusual ones, like .380 or .38 Super. I did notice that nickel plating might start to flake off over time, if it was a plated case but it didn't affect the life.

I never reloaded rifle cartridges, even though I went through a few .45-70s intending to get into that chapter in the book but I never got around to it, not shooting them enough to justify. I had picked that cartridge because it was a straight walled case. I consider reloading of bottleneck cartridges to be an advanced exercise, at least if you go to the effort of annealing the case mouth.

Maybe someday.