So you've finally decided to take up the art of reloading. After researching reloading bench designs you've constructed your own, personalized, handloading command center, which is now fully-equipped with shiny new dies and a freshly-mounted and lubricated progressive press. You have your reloading manual bookmarked to the powder load you've selected for your favorite plinker and you're ready to get started. Something feels missing though. Ah, yes, your reloading components.
You probably know by now that a single round of ammunition, or a "cartridge," consists of four critical elements; a brass case or brass casing (either name is correct, although here in the South we refer to it as a brass "casin") and the "three Ps"...a primer, powder and a projectile (this is the lead bullet). As a new reloader you likely won't be jumping right into casting your own bullets, so your primers, powder and projectiles will all be purchased new off the shelf. There is plenty to consider when selecting these first three components, but we will save that for another article. This brings us to the cartridge's backbone; the brass case.
When purchasing brass, you essentially have two options: new or once fired. New brass is just what you think it is; newly manufactured and never discharged from a firearm. There's nothing wrong with going this route, but you're going to pay a premium for that "new car smell." Once fired brass is less expensive because it has been fired a single time in the past...or has it? This is where things get a bit tricky. "Once fired" is a widely-accepted term for brass casings that have been previously fired. "So," you ask yourself, "how do I know if I'm purchasing once fired brass that has actually been shot once, or once fired brass that that has been reloaded and shot multiple times...and does it matter?" Good questions. If you're purchasing from a reputable dealer, there's a much higher likelihood that the once fired brass has been shot a single time. Companies like East Coast Reloading Supplies work to source their product from indoor ranges that only allow the shooting of new ammunition (if you have ever shot at an indoor range that asks to inspect a box of your ammo before you step up to the line, this is one of the things they are checking). Does brass that has been reloaded and fired multiple times occasionally find its way into the mix? Sure, but we would estimate that over 99% has been previously fired a single time.
Now...does this matter? Well, yes. It does. If you think for a second about the purpose of a brass case, it is to control an explosion that involves a tremendous amount of heat and pressure...enough to send a piece of lead flying downrange at 2,500 feet per second. Like all metal, if put through this stress enough times, it will eventually weaken and fail. This is why we recommend being very wary of purchasing brass from unknown sources, ESPECIALLY if you suspect that they themselves are a reloader. Why? Because chances are, they've already reloaded and shot the brass you are about to purchase multiple times.