Reloading: Loads for the Bunker

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Reloading

The rounds had been assembled in 1998. They fired without any type of problem and with good accuracy. I realize that there have been advances in bullets and powder, but for what I am doing these loads remain ideal.

No improvement will appreciably alter the utility of my handload. My to go 9mm and .45 handloads are a different story—I suppose few are more than six months old. They get turned around quickly!

man with reloading press loading ammunition

With attention to detail your loads should be at least as accurate and reliable as factory ammunition.

Like many enthusiastic handgunners, I own firearms I fire often and a few I seldom fire. Among the latter is a .44 Magnum revolver. While I appreciate the capability of the .44 Magnum, and at times, the piece is carried when hiking, I do not fire it often. I recently fired a 20-round box of handloads to keep my hand in with the hard-kicking beast.

I considered my needs and the ammunition situation. I have planned for the inevitable ammunition shortages as supply and demand take their effect on the market. While panic buying and hoarding are important factors, the reality is we are using more ammunition than ever before. IDPA, IPSC, PPC, steel silhouette competition and handgun training courses take a lot of ammunition.

The best means of ensuring a good supply of ammunition is to handload. Ammunition loaded by a competent individual is safe, reliable, accurate economical, and useful. As for your needs, like a good doctor, prescribe a realistic amount for your use. Practice loads are loaded in greater quantity and service loads in a smaller amount.

.45 ACP bullets in a plastic bag with red label

Be certain to properly label your loads.


Loading manuals cover the mechanics of reloading. Get two or three manuals and study. Take an NRA handloading course. Brass cartridge cases are the heart of reloading and the renewable resource. Save your brass or purchase a quantity of once fired brass from a commercial source. Or, get off to a good start with Starline Brass.

I do not sort brass for high volume practice loads in 9mm, .38 Special, and .45 ACP. I seldom sort brass in .45 Colt and .44 Special because every single case is Starline! Revolver brass may be simply stuck back in the box after firing. With the self loaders we get plenty of practice bending the knees and flexing the back. Sorting brass isn’t that difficult if you prefer but offers little real advantage in personal defense practice.

I do not sort .223 burner loads, I do sort .308 brass for the precision rifle. As for reliability, get with the program. Handloads should be at least as reliable as factory ammunition, and if you are a careful loader, the ammunition will be more accurate than most factory loads.

Hard cast lead bullets

Quality hard case bullets are ideal for economy.

Tips for Long Term Use

Use standard velocity 9mm and .45 loads. Standard velocity is ideal with hard cast lead bullets. With factory FMJ bullets, standard velocity is what practice loads are set at. If you can produce practice ammunition that functions well at slightly below factory pressure levels, that’s all the better they will be for comfortable practice and economical shooting. Wear and tear on the handgun is decreased with standard pressure loads. +P loads produce more flash and muzzle blast as well as recoil.

When loading service loads with expanding bullets, good velocity is fine but not at the expense of reliability and function. 1200 fps with the Hornady 124-grain XTP is a good standard for service loads, 930 fps with the 200-grain XTP in .45 ACP and 830 fps with the 230-grain XTP. The target will never know the difference if you put the bullet in the right place. If you do not, high velocity will not help.

Powder selection is based on economy and a clean powder burn. AutoComp, Titegroup, Clays, and Universal give excellent results. I moved to Titegroup as soon as it was introduced. I still use WW 231 as well, but if I had to live with a single handgun powder, Titegroup would be the one. Old standards, such as Unique and Bullseye, will still do what they have done for 100 years. Pay attention to load practice and particularly the crimp. A self loader demands a taper crimp for good function while a revolver must have a solid roll crimp. Use a headspace gauge, or a barrel removed from the handgun, to check proper chambering.

Cutaway of four pistol cartridge cases

Brass cartridge cases, top, are reusable. That is a Berdan primed Blazer aluminum case at the bottom.

Bullet selection is easy. Hard cast bullets have given good results for decades. Hard cast isn’t the same as lead. Lead is soft, hard cast is an alloy. Leading is limited and accuracy excellent.

Standard weight bullets are best for loading for the bunker, for storage, and to be certain that these loads function in every handgun. As an example, it is fine to experiment with lightweight bullets such as the 90-grain 9mm. The 152-grain .45 is very interesting. However, if you have a safe full of 9mm handguns and wish the load to be reliable and accurate in every handgun, 124-grains at 1100 fps for a practice load is ideal.

By the same token, the .45 ACP should be 230-grains at 800-820 fps. With revolvers you have more leeway. For use in a number of calibers straight across the board nothing beats the Hornady XTP. I use the 124-grain 9mm in both 9mm and .38 Super loads. The 230-grain XTP is ideal for .45 ACP loads.

In the .38 Special, the 125-grain XTP is useful and offers sterling performance in the .357 Magnum. These service grade loads will serve well in a worst case scenario. When loading for critical use, I perform extra procedures. This includes applying case mouth to the bullet just before crimping.

I also add a dot of finger nail polish across the primer of handloads that are intended for long-term storage and possible critical use. Simply achieving a seal when the primer is seated is sufficient for most use, but this is simply an extra step that ensures reliability. Be certain to properly mark each loading. Factory ammo boxes are fine, but MTM plastic boxes better. I have many that have been in use for decades.

Shortages are real. Hoarding and panic buying cause them. When an ammunition drought is on the horizon careful load practice and storage will lessen the hardship.

Do you reload? What is your bunker strategy? Share your responses in the comment section.

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Comments (21)

  • Norm


    1000 in an evening or he’ll get discouraged and quit? I’ll have to disagree. I started with a top of the line Dillon and that was a mistake; I used it for years and never really learned all the nuances of reloading until I got a single stage.

    Get a standard caliper to start with and learn how to read it. Same with a micrometer, but to get started with pistol calibers that’s not even needed. Several places sell outstanding digital scales for less than $30, (as opposed to the $175 my first Dillon scale cost.) Get a good single stage press first; even a cheap Lee Challenger will work, and if you get a Lee Turret or other progressive later you’ll have the single stage for dedicated decapping or trimming with one of their trim dies.

    You need a tumbler with SS media like a paper rear end at this stage, (but it would last a lifetime!) Get a good vibratory tumbler with walnut and corncob medias, or a sonic cleaner to start. Getting the case gauge for each caliber is a good idea for sure.

    As for space, large and rugged is ideal, but plenty of guys started reloading with a Lee hand tool on their coffee table and did fine; Lee actually sells a small stable 3 legged metal bench that will work in a small apartment space easily. In other words, it’s a hobby that can expand as you grow with it, just be organized about it. Both my presses are on relatively small work 24″ x 48″ and 30″ x 60″ work areas, and that’s plenty for me.

    You should be able to crank out a couple hundred rounds an evening easy starting out slow, and that’s plenty. Go slow, learn the process, pay attention, periodically weigh your powder if not each load, avoid distractions, work in batches and develop a system and a rythym, then look for process / speed improvements later.


  • Bob


    Lee Pro1000 with case feeder and bullet feeder accessories, and a really good digital scale (several vendors). For straight wall cases and polishing, corn cob in a vibratory polisher – add brass polish for tarnish protection. For shouldered or better polish, steel pins in rotary tumbler. Digital micrometer. Dies and case gauge for each caliber you make. One good load book to compare powders, get basic parameters. Clean, rugged, flat, large workspace. Cool, dry storage. A Lee turret press is handy for odd other tasks. Patience. With this you should be able to make 1,000 9mm/evening. With less, your output will be so low you will likely quit.


  • Derek


    I’m interested in loading but don’t want spend money wastefully. So, can someone give me a list of the basic necessities for reloading? Unless it is necessary to buy the Cadillac level gear, I’m happy with Chevy. Thanks!


    • Norm


      Your best bet is to get a good entry level book like “The ABC’s of Reloading,” and that will give you a good overview of the tools needed.

      However, just offhand, you need a press, dies, powder measure, case trimmer, scale, calipers, funnel, primer flip tray, case lube and possibly pad, case holders, loading tray, and a good reloading manual, preferably several. Those are just the basics, and I’m sure I forgot something obvious. Oh yeah, a powder trickler is a big help, if not a necessity.

      Once you get into it you might end up with both hand tools for some processing as well as some powered, as well as multiples for others, for instance both a balance beam and electronic scales. Most of the major press manufacturers sell starter kits with a press and most of the above to get you started.

      Of course, the obvious, powder, primers, bullets, and brass would help!

      The only advice I can give is to buy the best you can afford, although some presses give you a great value and quality like the Lee Classic Cast, which I really like for rifle reloading; I use a Dillon progressive for all my pistol calibers. Others mileage may vary, but whatever works. Last I looked I had stuff from Dillon, Lee, RCBS, Hornady, Redding, Sinclair, and probably a couple of others.

      Bottom line, after all the above, you won’t be saving much money, not like back in the day when you could save 70-80% on a loaded round, but you’ll get to tailor your own loads and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

      Good luck!


    • Gary Kozanecki


      Take a NRA course. I started reloading about a year ago. I took the NRA course and was able to make some reasonable decisions on equipment I would be interested in using.


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