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Complications of Cartridge Case Life

When it comes to case life, too many variables preclude anyone from quoting specific numbers. So the rule is always inspect!

Complications of Cartridge Case Life

The dark ring around the firing pin hole of this Colt Government Model is eroded metal caused by loose primer pockets in cases that were reloaded well past their “best by” date. (Photo courtesy of Allan Jones)

My editor recently received a letter asking about cartridge case life. It was a great question, but it opened a Pandora’s box of ballistics issues involving firearm condition, case types and metallurgy, pressures, and more. This is akin to asking your mechanic, “How long will my car last?”

I have some .38 Special cases from 1969 fired exclusively with light target loads; they are still serviceable after logging 20+ firings. In the lab, I’ve had belted rifle cases become questionable for continued use after one firing. Case life is a concern specific to handloaders; if you shoot factory ammo, this point is moot.

In bottleneck rifle cases, survivability...

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