Jim Henderson and the author

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I made 300 rounds of wad ammo to test at Nighthawks tomorrow evening. Previously I was seeing a couple of high primers per hundred so if all 300 shoot OK, I’ll pronounce the “cure” complete.

Here are the load details. (This is my normal “wad” load.)

Parameter Setting Tolerance
Bullet 200 gr LSWC n.a.
Primer WLP n.a.
Brass Mixed n.a.
Hodgdons Clays 3.8 gr ±0.1 gr
OAL 1.240″ ±0.003″
Crimp 0.469″ ±0.002″


Late Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Nope, dirty primer pockets were not the cause of the high primers I’ve been having.

In fact, testing today revealed a huge number of high primer failures. Previously I was seeing one, two, maybe three per hundred but earlier this evening I fired fifteen rounds but more than half of them took multiple strikes to fire!

Fortunately, two other very capable Bullseye shooters were there and, in the finest of traditions, they turned their complete attentions to my problems.

First, we disassembled my 1911 and inspected this, that and the other.

“Nope, the firing pin isn’t bent.”

“And the firing pin hole looks round and its tunnel isn’t jammed up with dirt.”

“Here, Ed, shoot some of my wad ammo in your ball gun.”

Ten rounds later we pronounced my gun as working normally. We turned our attention to the ammo.

“Hey, these primers look high — that’s a lot if you can see it!”

“And yeah, there’s a whole bunch like that in this box alone.”

We concluded that the ammo was, indeed, at fault. I said I’d call Dillon tomorrow and talk it over with them to see what they suggest.

Next Day

An hour after talking with Dillon I had checked and tweaked everything they suggested but had not found anything out of whack. The reloading machine was completely in tolerance and working fine.

So I pulled out the ammo and set aside all the visible and feel-able high primers. Out of the 300 rounds I had made, I pulled more than 50 that were instantly suspect.

And that’s when I saw it: all the suspect rounds had the same headstamp, Aguila!

Thinking back, for several months now I’ve been buying that brand of ball ammunition since I hadn’t yet worked up my own load. And after firing, I had been adding that brass into the general supply.

Since I travel a lot, shoot a little and reload only once every couple of months, the Aguila brass was originally a very low proportion of my overall mix, maybe 1-2%.

Months later, after shooting a lot of ball a lot of Aguila brass had accumulated at the top of the brass bin — and that’s mostly what I reloaded for this test batch.

I think that explains the sudden increase in high primers.

So with this recognition in mind, I seperated all the Aguila reloads from the rest — they constituted 50% of the test batch.

Now things were starting to make sense.

The last check was to look at the now empty brass from what I had fired last night. Sure enough, 11 of those 15 were in Aguila brass. I felt sure that explained the “more than 50% failure rate” I experienced.

Test Reloads Before Firing

Above are two of the reloads.

If you look carefully at the picture on the left — in Aguila brass — you can see white-space between the steel straight edge and the brass in the “high” primer round. But for the “normal” primer round on the right, there is no gap. (Sorry, I did not record if it was Aguila or not when making this picture.)

I’m satisfied with this explanation.

All the evidence fits.

What remains now is to do some final tests to confirm that it really is the Aguila brass that’s causing the problem.

So I’ve set all of the Aguila reloads aside. More than half have abnormal looking or feeling primers. If fired, I should experience the classic high primer failure of needing multiple strikes to make them go “Bang!”

And of the remainder in non-Aguila brass, they all appear to have normal primer heights. They should fire on the first strike.

My next trip to the range will be Thursday.

If testing confirms that the Aguila brass is the culprit, then I’ll go through my entire supply of brass and purge all of it.

Are we having fun yet?

Oh yeah, you bet’cha. I love debugging!

Stay tuned.

1 thought on “Made 300 to Test

  1. Hi Ed, I’ve made it point (for different reasons) to have same head-stamp lots with all my brass. Guess your dilemma illustrates another good reason to do so.

    You might not need to throw all the Aguila brass in the trash hopper, unless it’s a relatively small sampling of your inventory. You could, assuming the inclination exists, recut the primer pockets. An RBCS Case Prep Center would be the way to go on that deal.

    Before reworking them, I’d want to verify the depth of the center in the primer pocket. If the pocket is simply too short, I’d pitch them. If not, maybe the pocket walls were designed to taper into the bottom for addition surface friction, these I’d recut.

    Good luck.

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