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Making .20 VarTarg from .223 Remington

Bio pic72

To start this project, I purchased 1,000 once fired .223 Rem Winchester cases. Winchester cases are supposed to be the thinnest cases of the many manufactures; a lot of shooters don’t like Winchester cases for that reason. I don’t see any difference for my type of shooting.

I always anneal and small base size any brass I use for a project. That way all the brass starts out the same, even though they were probably shot in many different rifle chambers before I got them.

When annealing brass that is going to be reformed, I put the flame of my torch more on the shoulder than the neck to soften it for forming. I set my torch for about a one-inch long internal flame, with an external flame of around two and a half inches. I spin the case in my drill about 1/16 of an inch off of the internal portion of the flame, right where the shoulder meets the body of the case.

With the Winchester cases I used a five count, one thousand one, one thousand two, and so on. I settled on the five count by trial and error. At five, the case starts turning blue under the flame and annealing is done. I then drop the case into an aluminum pie pan to air cool. I’ve used this method for many years and I don’t remember the last split neck I’ve had.

Where you put the flame on the case and the manufacturer of the case both effect the count. That’s where the trial and error comes in: look for the case to just turn blue under the flame. On other projects the count was eight when I held the flame at the mouth of the case instead of the shoulder. On those projects I wasn’t pushing the shoulder back, only annealing the neck. It took a couple more seconds to reach the blue case condition.

Next I small base sized my brass and tumble it to remove the sizing lube. I found that sizing lube is too thick to form brass and messed up several pieces of brass before I figured it out. Instead, I started using Imperial Sizing die wax to do that job. Very little Imperial Sizing die wax is needed. Rub the case between the first two fingers and thumb to put the wax on the neck/shoulder area. When you think you rubbed all the wax off, that is about the right amount.

After small base sizing, I formed them to .221 FireBall using my standard Redding sizer die with the decaping assembly removed. This produces what I call a “Long-Neck-Almost .221 FireBall”. It doesn’t give you a true .221 FireBall case because the decaping assemble is removed; therefore the expander ball hasn’t expanded the neck out to the standard .245 OD (Outside Diameter) for the 22 calibers. What you have is a “Long-Neck-Almost .221 FireBall” with an OD of around .243 inches with a shoulder angle of 23-degrees. Because the cases were already small base-sized we’re not doing much actual sizing just pushing the shoulder back a bit. Using my Wilson case gage for the .221 FireBall, I set the die up to leave the case a little long. I did this so I’ll be able to adjust the final case head space (20 VarTarg, 30 degree shoulder) to the completed rifle when it’s finished at a later date.

I cut the case off using a Mini Chop Saw from Harbor Fright. On one of the forums I visit, someone wrote, “My friend uses a Mini Chop Saw from Harbor Freight…” So, off to Harbor Freight I went and sure enough they had one left. I rigged up an L-bracket and adjustable bolt to make a case stop so all the cases are cut to the same length, about 1.400″ inches. It works great.

A Harbor Freight Mini-Chop Saw in action.

A Harbor Freight Mini-Chop Saw in action.

Next I used my Hornady Case Prep Center to trim the cases to 1.395 lengths, chamfer, deburr, and clean the primer pocket.

Once I got the Almost .221 Fireballs prepped, I used my Redding 20 VarTarg sizer die to finish forming them. I used Imperial sizing die wax because I have to push the shoulder down some to get the 30-degree angle and to size the neck to 20 caliber with an OD less than .232″ (which is diameter of the neck chamber of my 20 VarTarg). When I made up a dummy round by seating a bullet (no primer or powder) the OD was .236″, WAY TO BIG FOR THE CHAMBER. If you could chamber a loaded round the results would be a pinched, very tightly chambered round. If shot, the pressure would be sky high, very dangerous and potentially cause damage to the rifle and shooter.

Hornady Case Prep Station and Forster Trimmer set for outside neck turning.

Hornady Case Prep Station and Forster Trimmer set for outside neck turning.

Using my Forster outside neck turner, I turned the necks of the cases .234″ OD to .229″ OD. I made up another dummy round and found the OD at the neck to be .230″. Just right: two thousandths clearance.

Now using my completed rifle; I tried chambering the dummy round. The first dummy round didn’t chamber. The datum was to long (shoulder not pushed back enough). I went back to my sizer die and adjusted it down a little. Another dummy round was closer but not quite there. I wanted the bolt to just close completely with a little pressure. Again back to the sizer die and another dummy round. This time the bolt closed with just a little pressure. JUST RIGHT. The ram on my press with the shell holder installed, was just off the base of the die. I planned to use this set-up to load all of the brass for fire forming. After the brass is fireformed I’ll back-off the sizer die a little and just form the fired brass enough to re-chamber without pushing the shoulder back.

From left to right: .223 remington, Long-Neck-Almost 221 Fireball, A prepped case, and finally a formed 20 VarTarg.

From left to right: .223 remington, Long-Neck-Almost 221 Fireball, Prepped and turned cases, and finally a formed 20 VarTarg on the far right.

Next I loaded up a few different loads to fire form and to confirm my procedures for making of my 20 VarTarg. Problems cropped up after I checked the fired cases. When I size any brass and fire it, I want a new bullet to just slip into the mouth of the fired case. That tells me my case has enough room to expand and release the bullet in the chamber even after it shrunk back down a thousandth or two. With the first firing, bullet wouldn’t easily slip into the case even though the OD was .231″ to .232″. The neck was still too thick.

I now had two choices. I could go back and turn the OD to .228″ (I turned them first to .229″) and hope that would be enough, or inside neck ream the fired case.

With the fired cases I can use my Forster inside neck reamer. The “Forster inside neck reamer is ground .0025” – .003” larger than maximum bullet diameter, therefore neck reaming should be done after a case has been fired with a full load and before the neck or full length sizing operation”. I couldn’t use the inside neck reamer before on the formed brass because I would have taken out to much brass from the neck. When I sized them the next time they wouldn’t have had enough neck tension to hold the bullet.

If I would have used a forming die and reamer for the 20 VarTarg I would have been able to ream the neck while each case was in the forming die, probably saving some time.

Out to the range again to fire the inside neck reamed brass to check my work. This time they were right. The OD was .231″ to .232″ and a bullet just slid into the case mouth. From now on I’ll not only have to outside turn but inside neck ream as well because of my method of forming.

Now I’m ready to load and shoot ground squirrels and/or prairie dogs to my hearts content.

My .20 VarTarg with its Osprey Global MD 6-24 X 50 scope.

My .20 VarTarg with its Osprey Global MD 6-24 X 50 scope.

Is this process easy, NO!! It takes time. Plus, I wasted several pieces of .223 Rem brass experimenting with the process of making my 20 VarTarg. BUT, with the cost of everything going out of sight and the non-availability of .221 Fireball or 17 Rem Fireball brass, making the cases made sense. I already had the equipment to do most of this project except for the 20 VarTarg die set. I just had to take the time. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the 20 VarTarg with the 1,000 pieces of brass for many years to come.

Bio pic72Meet Will Scherer: I’m a varmint shooter in the West shooting 4,000 – 6,000 varmints a year. I’m retired military with 8 years Air Force, 12 years Army, and 11 years Federal Service. For 12 years of my military career I was a Master Instructor and Supervisor of the Electronics Principles course at Lowry AFB in Denver. My last 9 years with the military I was a civilian GS-11 course writer. Charged with putting together all the books, materials, and equipment our students needed to complete 43 weeks of electronics training; preparing them for their military career.