Developing a Consistent Reloading Procedure

By Bob Campbell published on in How To, Reloading

You have to understand the reason you want to reload to determine the best procedures, and level of detail, you want to put in each load. Economy is always one reason, but that does not mean the goal of producing accurate ammunition is in any way lessoned. This means a consistent procedure is required. If you are ready to start reloading, or potentially up your reloading game, here’s how.

Three rifle cartridges styles

Three bullet styles during a testing phase—all were pretty accurate, but one was a stand out.

The steps we take must be uniform and so must our components. While it is enjoyable to experiment with various components, we should find a standard load that does the business and stay with it until we fully evaluate another load that is truly superior.

An advanced handloader may develop both short- and long-range loads and alternate recipes with both the lightest and the heaviest bullets. However, he or she is probably an experienced. They may have drop and wind tables taped to his rifle stock. Then again, we may wish to keep things simple and maintain a single load for most of what we do.

In my favorite .22 caliber centerfire, the 52-grain Sierra match bullets are often very accurate, but the 55-grain JSP bullets also give good results. Depending upon the supplier, ‘Match’ sometimes costs more and we have to determine whether the rifle can deliver additional accuracy. I think we will find that makers of ‘Match’ bullets don’t make bad bullets in another line, simply less expensive bullets for other applications.

.35 Remington cartridge and bulets

Careful load practice will even improve old numbers such as the .35 Remington.

The powder that pushes these bullets should be one proven to produce good results in the caliber. We look for accuracy in varmint loads, but also power. I like loads that are not quite in the maximum range. This increases cartridge case life and makes resizing easier. Naturally, these loads are not as hard on the rifle or the barrel. However, wind drift and bullet drop are more of a problem with the lighter loads. After all, the reason we wish to use a .223 or .220 Swift is speed. So, we have to look toward the higher end, but not forget a healthy dose common sense at the same time.

As I am writing these words, I think, with consistency in mind, we must also consider whether the components we have invested so much time and effort in will be available when we need to replenish our stock. I have had good luck with Norma as an example, but despite the best efforts of our distributors, these components seem to come and go in availability. The same is true of Lapua.

For the big-game hunter who conserves his loads, this is not nearly the problem presented the to the varmint hunter who may use thousands of cartridges in the space of a single year. And, when all is said and done, American makers such as Hornady, Nosler, and Sierra can equal or exceed the quality of any foreign maker, without question. Most of us don’t realize it, but there is little demand for long-range accuracy in European hunting. Most animals are driven to a relatively short-range shot and varmint hunting is unknown.

a 180-grain .357 loaded into a .351 Winchester case

The author loads the 180-grain .357 into a .351 Winchester—another interesting bit of handloading.

When we purchase 500 cases, 5,000 primers, and eight pounds of powder, we realize a lower per unit cost and ensure our loads will be consistent and repeatable. A bit of shopping will give you an idea of the most reasonable suppliers. If you choose to purchase your components in small lots, then it is even more important to maintain a reliable source.

When it comes to powder selection, I like to use a powder that meters consistently. That means a fine-grained powder such as Varget, one of my favorites, or H 4895. Once the powder selection is made, I use a consistent rhythm in loading the cases. I tap the handle on the fill stroke to ensure the powder has properly metered, but I also tap the handle on the empty stroke. It is important for the chamber to be filled consistently, and the metering to be the same each time I manipulate the measure. I often charge 50 cartridges at a time, then look into the cases, and weigh a charge every 20 cases or so.

Before moving to bullet seating, you’ll need to consider powder selection. There is really no super or magic powder, although some burn cleaner than others. Others, such as IMR 3031, seem to give excellent results in practically every caliber.

Do you have a reloading tip or a specific procedure that others may find useful? Share your answer in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (13)

  • Vic vapor

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    .
    Haven’t reloaded in many years. When I did, I was doing so for my dad, my brother, and me. Mostly .357 Magnum. We each had one, and having ammo made them fun to shoot.
    The load we all liked was a Speer 146 grain half-jacketed hollow point, driven by 11.5 grains of Herco, with cci standard primers. I never got a chance to Chrono them, however, on deer and armadillos, they were spectacularly performing projectiles.
    I mostly used Remington brass, non nickel.
    Seemed the nickel ones could only get about 5 cycles out of them before the necks began to split. The straight brass would go double that many loadings.
    Deprime, clean the pockets, inspect.
    Then resize. Wipe and check for length.
    Then enlarge the necks, and inspect for splitting.
    Prime, scoop and trickle the powder charge to exact. Then set the bullet in the case mouth and move a tray of 50 to the seating and crimping.
    Check each cartridge in a chamber to make sure no bulging occurred.
    Never had one not fire. No puny pops. The only way they weren’t factory was the burnishing of the case walls from the sizing die.
    Economical wise we were shooting between 150 to 200 full power loads for what a box of factory cost. Rewarding wise, as I type this, I still remember the feeling of, “I did that”.
    If I get my budget straightened out, I’ve got this s&w 329pd 44 Magnum I’d like to get set up to reload for and get away from these one dollar a shot 😨
    Thanks Bob.!
    .

    Reply

  • Terry Nixon

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    I have noticed very few choices in .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition. It seems the only thing I ever see is FMJ stuff, or premium JHP stuff in 20 round boxes at outrageous prices. What ever happened to being able to buy semi and full lead wadcutter ammunition for punching holes in paper? Thank goodness I can reload and cast bullets myself, but sometimes time doesn’t permit doing it.

    Reply

  • BRASS

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    Used to live in Newport, NC about a mile f/intercostal waterway. After hurricanes & heavy rains we’d see water moccasin’s & other snakes seeking higher ground. While WM’s are at home in water, they can’t survive in it but so long. Came home one day & saw the middle son had one cornered up against the brick chimney in the side yard, & had every long handled garden implement we own’d out there to kill it. It was about four foot giving it a strike range of about 2 ft but I admit it was difficult to get close enough to strike a fatal blow. I just used my .45 w/load of snake shot to the head, & that was the end of it.
    My wife, an avid Gardner would spend hours every weekend working along the many yards of flower beds. Our neighbor killed a good sized copper head that was sleeping under his lawn mower when he started it, & laid it over the fence between our yards until he finished, not knowing my wife was coming out to tend the roses on that line.
    She was on her knees going down the fence line where we had about a dozen big roses blooming, looked up & saw this big snake hanging over fence looking at her. Not knowing it was dead, she screamed bringing me running.
    Upon realizing it was dead, I threw it in the garbage bin & went back to whatever I was doing. I meant to get it our & bag it, but I forgot. Living in rural-suburban area we had contracted garbage pick up but, the crew had to manually open the bins & dump them. They weren’t happy with me when they opened that one.

    Reply

  • Bruce Davenport

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    After having a Champion target person taught me to handload more than 6 years ago I have found that using several manuals ( Don’t ever rely on one) I have found that backing down on some loads helps to control the felt recoil and makes follow up shots a lot easier.

    Reply

  • Clarence

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    Although it increases the cost, I use a quality dispenser / scale combo and weigh every charge. Time wise, it is about the same as using a measure, and I know every one is the same.

    Reply

  • Cervus-Venator

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    I’ve been reloading since I was sixteen back in 1980 as a handed down hobby from my father. It is not an everyday thing for me and most of my reloads have been focused on my hunting rifles. Like Spencer mentioned, I found that weighing each measured charge helps with consistently producing accurate results and when I am reloading 100 rounds of .270 with my specific recipe every powder measure gets weighed to the exact amount each time. If I happen to lose a grain or two on the transfer to the case, I toss it out and start over. I know it sounds a little OCD, but in that rifle I don’t want to sacrifice my accuracy because I felt that in my loading process was “close enough” at that time. I want to know that the load is as tight to my specifications as it can be.

    Now for some of my other loads, like the .300 AAC Blackout, I’ve been tinkering with different recipes for different purposes both in super and sub-sonic. I was narrowing in on a subsonic load based around the Hornady 208 grain A-Max. That is a projectile that they no longer produce so my efforts for developing this load went up in smoke. I then moved over to the 200 grain ELD-X, but I really wanted something that has decent expansion at a low velocity. Hornady has developed a load in 190 grain called the SUB-X which looks to be a great expanding subsonic ammo. I just have not seen them offer the projectile as a component yet so that I can start testing different powders and loads with it.

    In all I load for the .223, 6mm, .270, 7mm-08, 7mm-Rem Mag, .300 BLK, and the .308. While I have a lot more rifle calibers than that, I just don’t have the time to reload for them all and I still use factory ammo for a lot of them. The reloading is a hobby for me and hopefully one day I’ll have more time to dedicate to it. In the mean time I still have a specific load for a few of the calibers mentioned above and will continue to work on and develop loads for the others. It is all part of my stress relief from my everyday work life.

    Reply

  • Chuck Cochran

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    I started reloading nearly 40 years ago, and my how things have changed since I bought my first Lee Loader in .357 Magnum. Now, I reload several different pistol and rifle cartridges including the .357, although I now use a press (I still have that Lee Loader sitting in a box). Through the years I’ve picked up many tricks and learning experiences. I agree Bob, that consistency in the process steps is a necessity to producing accurate and repeatable results. Whether your using the latest progressive press or a single stage press, the attention to detail is a must, for turning out good accurate reloads. Well written article with which I happen to agree 100%.

    Reply

  • Jim in Conroe

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    I use Hornady dies with a micrometer adjustment on the seating die. Still, I have a problem with repeatability in seating the bullet to the desired COL. For that reason, I check COL every five rounds, if I am loading for general range use, and for each round if I am loading for a hunting trip.

    Reply

  • Spencer

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    Only for reloading handgun cartridges do I trust my powder measure. Fast burning powders I use for my pistols seem to measure much more constant than powders I use for my 22-250. For all bottleneck rifle cartridges, I always weigh my charges. I’ve read that it doesn’t hurt accuracy enough to worry about using metered charges. My experience doesn’t bear that out.
    I reason that accurately weighed charges +or- 1/10th grain can only increase my odds of consistency giving me loads that shoot more consistently the same as long as I do my part when shooting.
    I never give myself a break when shooting groups. In my mind if my groups are bad then I haven’t done my part at the reloading bench. Essentially…… when my groups are not up to my expectations, then only I am to blame.
    It helps me a lot that I enjoy making precision handloads as much as I do shooting 1/4 inch groups or smaller. Just to be clear, that doesn’t happen nearly as often as I want.
    My eyes have gone to crap so I seriously considering getting cataracts in both eyes removed. I’ve been told that often this operation gives renewed vision that gives people vision good enough that allows some to discard their glasses completely.
    Then the possibility could exist that my ability to shoot accurately really isn’t worth a crap. So it is the joys of old age. I’m less than 6 months away from 78. I know some of you old farts out there understand what I’m talking about. :-)

    Reply

  • Karl

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    UNLESS YOU MEET ONE [OR MORE] OF THE FOLLOWING ,DON’T BOTHER RELOADING:
    -SHOOT >=10 BOXES OF FACTORY AMMUNTION PER YEAR
    -HAVE AN ODD CALIBER WHETHER YOU CAN NOT LOCALLY AVAILABLE AMMO[WE IN NYSTATE CAN’T BUY AMMO UNLESS THROUGH A FFL,THEREBY NEGATING ANY COST SAVINGS]
    -WANT T TWEAK LOADS TO A SPECIFIC FIREARM
    –HAVE THE PATIENCE TO BECOME COMPETENT AND THOROUGH IN YOUR LADING PROCESS

    Reply

    • Big Daddy

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      And your spelling, Karl!

      Reply

    • Jonathan

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      I don’t know about having quantity requirements or anything like that, for me reloading is 60% of the enjoyment I get out of my hobby. The other 40% is seeing the results of my work and hanging out with friends at the range. I often don’t go through more than a box of ammo every three months.

      Reply

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