With the current difficulty in getting ammunition, and the high prices when you find it, those who reload have a distinct advantage. If they have a back stock of components, and all reloaders do, they can keep shooting without too much to worry about. Granted, primers have been difficult to get and expensive when available, but it is still better than trying to find loaded ammo and paying today’s prices. As an introduction, handloading or reloading is the process of individuals loading firearm cartridges or shotgun shells by assembling the components (case/hull, primer, powder, and bullet or shot), rather than purchasing completely assembled, factory-loaded ammunition.
When first considering whether you want to reload, here are some things to think about. First, reloading is a very safe hobby — if you follow the precautions and use common sense. When reloading, it is very important not to allow any distractions to be present.
That means no texting, watching TV, listening to music, or anything else that will compete for your attention. If you are not the type of person who pays attention to detail, then I would advise against you taking up reloading. I have been reloading for over 55 years and have never had a mishap. I believe it is a great skill to have and well worth exploring.
Centerfire cartridges are fired when the firing pin of the firearm strikes the primer cap at the base of the cartridge. In turn this causes the primer to detonate, thereby igniting the propellant in the cartridge. Unlike a rimfire cartridge, where the rim gets deformed by the striker, a centerfire cartridge case generally remains intact after being used. This means the cartridge case can be recycled after it is fired which is what makes reloading possible.
Historically, handloading referred to the private manufacture of cartridges using all newly manufactured components, whereas reloading referred to individuals making cartridges using previously fired cases with new bullets, shot, primers, and powder. In today’s lexicon, most make no distinctions between these terms, while others find the differences important. Go Figure! Some experts opine that handloads tend to be of high quality, while reloads tend to be just functional.
Reasons to Reload
Regardless of what you call the process, there are many reasons to reload including: economy, increased accuracy, performance, ammunition shortages, hobby interest, survival skills, and high prices. Of course, there are people who reload their own cartridges just because they like it. The practical reasons to reload include the following:
With the increase in price, ammunition is no longer affordable for many to purchase new ammunition.
Recurring shortages of commercial ammunition is a good reason to reload. Additionally, someone may be using a cartridge or firearm that is obsolete and the ammunition is no longer available.
The ability to customize the performance of your ammunition is a common goal. Any shooter interested in the greatest accuracy, consistency, and precision will also reload. Many handloaders customize their cartridges to their specific firearm using cartridge cases that have been fire formed in the chamber of a specific firearm.
Handloaders can create cartridges for which no commercial equivalent exists. Those calibers are referred to as wildcat cartridges.
Handloaders also have the flexibility to make reduced-power rounds for a milder-recoil to encourage newer shooters to become proficient before trying a full-power loading.
It is unfortunate that this even exists as a reason, but with our Second Amendment under attack, it must be brought up. An example of this would be California. Those not wanting to be registered to purchase ammunition, have only one option and that is to handload.
Those explanations only touch on the most obvious reasons to motivate someone to take on reloading as a pursuit besides the fact that it is fun and very satisfying to make one’s own ammunition.
The most expensive part of the cartridge is the brass case and fortunately it may be reused many times. That puts the cost of brass in the reloader’s control. The second most expensive part are the bullets and unfortunately these cannot be reused after firing. Naturally, it is generally impossible to find and most often gets badly deformed or breaks up into many pieces.
Therefore, bullets need to be either purchased from a manufacturer or made by hand. The next component that needs to be purchased is the propellant, i.e., gun powder. There are many different types of powders available for reloading, and your choices will be governed by the type, size, and caliber of cartridge to be reloaded. Depending on the type of cartridge cases being refilled, the reloader may be able to refill so many cartridges that the cost of propellant (per cartridge) may be lower than the cost of the primer.
To determine the best choice of powder for your particular needs, a good reloading manual is indispensable. With a reloading manual you can look up the caliber you are loading and get the correct type and amount of powder necessary. Most of the manuals are published by bullet manufacturers and the data in them was developed in labs by professionals — it should be followed closely.
Also, the books give you a lot of great information on reloading techniques and problem solving. I would recommend 2–3 reloading manuals from different sources, as they are a good investment. The least expensive component is usually the primer and these are generally purchased in bulk. They are sold in boxes of 1,000 primers packaged in boxes of 100 and during normal times they typically cost about $30–40 per 1,000.
Let’s go over the components in a bit more detail, starting with the brass. You will need to get some reloadable brass, empty brass, or “once-fired brass” as it is commonly referred to, to get started. Empty brass can be obtained from several sources. One way is if you bought some factory ammo and shot it.
While you are at the range, you can also scrounge brass that others leave on the ground. You will be amazed at how many people who shoot, don’t reload, and leave perfectly good high quality brass on the ground. If you go that route, ensure you thoroughly inspect every case for safety reasons.
You can also buy once-fired brass from various sources, if you wish. Remember, the case lasts for many reloadings, so any costs will be amortized over the number of times reloaded. Personally, I have some brass that has been loaded as much as 25 times. If you don’t “Hot Rod” your loads and overwork the brass, certain calibers have a long life.
The bullets are usually the most expensive component of the reloading process because bullets are a one-time use. In other words, they are expendable. However, bullets for handgun ammunition can also be the best place to save money. I will not discuss making your own bullets, because it falls out of the scope of this article.
You do, however, have the choice of casting your own lead bullets — if you so choose. However, for someone new to the practice, this introduction recommends that you purchase pre-made jacketed bullets. One place to save is to use plated bullets. Plated bullets are a more economical alternative that was made available to the handloader in the 1980s.
Copper-plated bullets are lead bullets that are electroplated with a copper jacket. Since the jacket provides the strength, soft lead can be used thereby keeping the cost down. Plated bullets work well in many handgun rounds if one stays below the recommended maximum velocity of 1,250 ft/s. They are not recommended — nor are they strong enough — for rifle cartridges.
The next component is the propellant. It must be remembered that modern smokeless powder is a propellant and not an explosive, so it will not explode. However, if exposed to flame, it will ignite quite easily and burn very rapidly and intensely. It is recommended that it be stored safely and secured in a fire resistant container.
When handling powder ensure there are no open flames or other sources of ignition present in the area. That means no smoking! Other than that smokeless powder is completely safe to handle. When stored properly, in a cool dry place, in its original container, it will last for years.
The final component needed is the primer. Priming the case is the most dangerous step of the loading process, since the primers are pressure-sensitive. The use of safety glasses or goggles during priming operations can provide valuable protection — in the rare event that an accidental detonation takes place.
It is also of paramount importance to always store primers in their original packaging and never dump them in bulk into a container of any type.
You need to select the correct primer for the job. There are small and large types. They are broken down to handgun and rifle. Then there are magnums and standard as well as match grade. If you are not sure which to use, consult the reloading manual. The reloading manual will list which primer should be used in the cartridge you are reloading.
Additionally, there are also the costs of purchasing the equipment needed to facilitate reloading. Here is a partial list of some items you will need:
- Case cleaning system
- Caliber specific dies
- Case trimmer
- Vernier caliper
- Powder scale
- Priming tools
- Bullet puller
These items only need to be purchased once and can be used for many years without replacement. Depending on the type and quality of the equipment you are looking at purchasing you can expect about a $600–1,000 investment for a complete reloading starter kit, plus the cost of your expendable supplies (primers, powder, and bullets) to get you started. Don’t forget, you’ll need at least one reloading manual preferably more.
I hope this short explanation ignites your interest and starts you on the road to this satisfying and productive endeavor.