Reloading Ammo for Beginners

Realoding bench with cartridges and shell casings

With the number of new gun owners on the rise, it’s pertinent to circle back to the importance of safety, not only when handling a firearm, but when loading and reloading ammunition as well. 

The unprecedented spike in demand has brought an unfortunate shortage of gun supplies, such as ammunition. Likewise, first-time gun buyers need to responsibly educate themselves and seek reputable data, manufacturers, and sources to guarantee this safety. 

Let’s dive into basic reloading tips for beginners and how to ensure optimal performance and responsible gun ownership. 

Get the Right Data and Materials

When loading and reloading, you are recycling the brass casings — mainly for the purpose of saving money. This often means shooting the brass on average six or seven times, without having to purchase factory ammunition casings and assembling new cartridges by hand each time you shoot.

To ensure safety while reloading, make sure that you purchase from reputable manufacturers and use the load data from the reloading manuals or the powder manufacturer’s online data. When handling such sensitive materials and recipes, you simply cannot risk your safety (and those around you) with word-of-mouth advice or guessing the load data. 

Choosing the right materials for your recipe will dictate your performance moving forward. More experienced shooters and ranges often prefer lead-free options in bullets and primers, which are intended to cut down lead exposure and enhance performance. For optimal pressure and accuracy, ensure you’re getting the right data and invest in the right materials. The importance of this truly cannot be stressed enough.

Bullets in stages of creation

Ensure Appropriate Protection

Keeping safety in mind, users who are new to reloading must invest in and wear appropriate protection at all times. Safety glasses, for example, should be worn not only when reloading, but any time you’re handling primers, since powder spills are prone to happen and it’s an unnecessary risk to reload without safety glasses. 

Even while cleaning, users must ensure safety by making sure that there is not a bullet in the chamber. To do so, eject the magazine, lock the slide to the rear, and do a visual and tactile inspection of the chamber. It is also highly recommended that you use a chamber flag when not preparing to load and fire or actively clean the chamber and barrel.

Following the manufacturer’s recommendations is part of the responsibility new gun owners must own up to, so it’s important to study these instructions for proper and safe reloading. 

reloading cartridges for rifled weapons

Ensure a Safe Environment

The pure essence of reloading safety is the proper handling, storage, and disposal of primers and powders. Therefore, you should keep a dry, temperature-controlled environment to store these components, completely out of the reach of people who shouldn’t have access to them or your firearm. 

Here are a few basic tips to provide a safe environment and order when handling your ammunition: 

  • Always go through consistent checks. This means a visual inspection of cartridges, charge, and the right amount of powder before inserting the bullet. 
  • Keep a record and safely dispose of the ammunition you’ve loaded. Label the ammunition you loaded, so you know the exact recipe and the date you made it. This tracking is critical in case there is a problem later. You will also be able to track which loads perform the best. You should avoid anything that you load that might have too much pressure.
  • If you have what qualifies as “bad” ammo, properly dispose of all materials by using a bullet puller to dismantle. Don’t throw loaded ammo into the trash; that’s wildly dangerous and irresponsible. 
  • Separate and perhaps save some components to reload again — only if it’s salvageable; if not, just dispose of them properly.

Reloading is an increasingly popular hobby among experienced shooters. It’s a recommended practice for beginners, especially those who are looking to save some money and learn the finer points of shooting and load development. Although it may sound simple, beginners must have the right data, gear, materials, and recipe to ensure responsibility, safety, and enhanced performance. Proper reloading, when done right, can be very satisfying and rewarding for all shooters, especially first-time gun buyers.

Do you have any reloading tips for beginners? Let us know in the comment section.

Ryan Donahue is the Director of Brand Management at American Outdoor Brands. Having turned his passion for anything firearms-related and his pursuit for 3 Gun competition glory into a role with American Outdoor Brands, Ryan Donahue is the model for the old saying, “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” He oversees many brands including CaldwellFrankford Arsenal, and Smith & Wesson accessories as the Director of Brand Management. Previously, he worked for over a decade in the Motion Picture Industry as a Director of Production. Ryan holds several patents for digital movie technology and is proud to have worked on alternate presentations for major Hollywood films such as: The Matrix Reloaded 2003, Casino Royale 2006, and Iron Man 2008.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. The one thing I did was I is I purchased multiple books on reloading. Then I cross reference them. I can’t stress enough you need to be safe.

  2. Depending on what your goal is determines how you reload. If you plan to reload to save money, you will have to reload A LOT to recoup the cost of the equipment and your time. Personally, I load for accuracy, so that is what I’ll talk about. Accuracy is synonyms with consistency I load .308 win and have had 10 rounds with a spread between 2692 f/s to 2697f/s. It is important to use the same reloading components, bullets, primers, powder and cases. In a shouldered rifle case it is important to have the same neck tension (inside diameter of the neck). Equally important is the thickness of the head. Usually, quality brass is pretty consistent, however, I have found some head thickness vary from .185 to .238 in .308 win. This changes the pressure and the velocity drastically. Generally speaking the case is the key to consistency Always stay within the data from the powder manufacturer. Usually, the best load is slightly under the max load. A component that is not usually mentioned is a good quality chronograph. Preferably one that mounts on the barrel. This instrument is the easiest way to verify the consistency in your loads. This also provides accurate data for the ballistic calculations. On YouTube, Panhandle Precision is a good source for the details. Reloading can be a bottomless rabbit hole, but can be very rewarding when you hit the target at significant distance. Good luck, good shooting. – Herb

  3. Avoid distractions. If you want some background noise, like music, do NOT play something you may be tempted to sing along with or listen to the words. Your concentration should be on your reloading. Play something you don’t have to think about, such as a classical, (i.e., Beethoven, Mozart, etc.). Your concentration should be all on the reloading. SAFETY!

  4. I began reloading handgun ammo back in the late 70s. Having not done any though for the past 35 years or so, I got some “refreshing ” info and purchased a new Lyman Ultimate Reloading kit. It included an 8 station press, carbide 38spl/357mag dies, case trimmer, Turbo 1200 vibration case cleaner, calipers and a top of the line Gen-6 digital powder measure. Though I had to wait nearly 8 months, it was worth it. A bit has changed over the past 40 years, but there are some great manuals for nearly everything.
    You can find out much on your own, but connecting with other reloading guys is the best advice I can give. Since my reloading “mentor” was all up to date, his guidance & advice was invaluable. Gonna begin reloading? Check around and search out someone who’s current and experienced. Most are more than willing to pass on valuable information.

  5. I have been loading since I was a kid. We did it all including casting bullets and loading steel shot. That said, here are a few tips that I use, every time: When selecting your powder (ater finding the appropriate load) leave the can out until you pour the unused powder back into the can. This keeps you for “cross pollinating your powders”. Never touch a primer with bare fingers unless they are absolutely oil free. They destroy primers by placing them in oil. Use tweezers if you must handle them and never touch the inside of the primer. The heavier the bullet, the lighter the powder charge must be. Loaded rounds store best in boxes, either factory or plastic. Keep you reloading area clean and your press clean and oiled (lightly). I am using the same press I bought 30+ years ago. Most important, check your scale THREE times for the correct charge. It is easy to get off .1, 1, or 10 grains. Overcharges can cause serious injury. I saw a rifle explode and blow a man’s finger off right beside me at the range. Reloading is an enjoyable activity.

  6. I want to say thank you to everyone who posted information, to help us who are beginners. I so wish I could have spent more time learning from my Dad, but God called me to a distant state for ministry.
    He’s gone now, and I have his reloading equipment. I want to pick up where he left off!

    1. Greg,
      Far too many belong to the fraternity of people feeling the loss of a parent and wishing they had more time together. Enjoy the reloading equipment. It is a great hobby and every time you are at the reloading bench, I hope you feel just a bit closer to your dad. My dad was a woodworker, not a shooter, but I still enjoy my time in the woodshop. ~Dave

  7. What Dale says — no primers = no reloading. I thought I had a pretty good supply, but was about ready to add another case when the supply disappeared. Oops. I’ll be done before summer, probably by Easter.

    Straight cases (i.e. most pistols) should reload more than 6-7 times. I’ve had bad lots of brass split after 2-3 cycles, but most of mine are hitting 20 trips with just slight attrition as I damage or lose a case. Unless your pistol is pulling the rims off or something, just keep checking for damage and dimension change. Bottleneck cases (i.e. most rifles) can wear out more quickly from fatigue, stretching, and how you resize — read the manual (while you’re waiting for primers).

  8. I’ve found the hardest part for me is setting the die to the exact point it needs to be spec wise for each cartridge. It would be great if there was a guide dedicated for die setup. If anyone knows of a really good one any replies will be greatly appreciated!

  9. As a complete novice who has no idea where to begin, but with the desire to learn to reload…. What would be the steps to begin? ie…Beginner books, equipment, tools, supply URLs, etc Thanks in advance

    1. Find a local gun club and get a mentor. I am sure there are plenty of people will to to teach you some thie tricks and keep you from falling into the traps. ~Dave

  10. gauges: make sure you buy case length gauges for each caliber you are reloading. Primer pocket gauges, and even rifle headspace gauges. Only if you measure the round components/steps during and after will you have a good round. You are the only one responsible for the amount of “explosive powder” going into each round. Buy a manual scale, electronic scale of good make and capable of measuring very small amounts of powder. Too little powder the bullet may separate from the case and get stuck in the barrel. Next shot (bam – you blew up the gun). Too much powder you can have case separation, primer blow back, and possible gun/rifle damage.) read, read, study, study, good luck. It is fun and not cheap by any means.

  11. This would be well and good if only you can find primers. The most recent price I found for a box of 1,000 primers was $130.00 and that’s if & when I could find them. Before Covid I used to be able to buy the same box of 1,000 for $30.00. I refuse to pay these ridiculous prices and have stopped reloading till the price goes back down or is at a somewhat reasonable price. Whats next to have it’s availability grossly inflate or become unavailable, powder?

    1. Primers are the hangup to commercial ammunition manufacturers being able to produce more ammunition. If they could get more primers, they could meet demands and lower ammo costs across the board. ~Dave

  12. With the modern kits (LEE) available, beginners have an easy time to start reloading. After ~50 years, found that the biggest mistake new and even “old time” reloaders make is to not clean their dies every so often. I have (TEXAN) dies that are 40+ years old, and still use them to load .308 rounds. I did use up a number of Lube Pads, and lost my powder scale to water damage during a move. Otherwise, a 20 something youth starting to reload can find they are still using the same gear after 50 years. Do note that CLEANING your brass has to be the FIRST thing to do before doing anything else. Don’t have to be an expensive operation, as the HARBOR FREIGHT Rock Tumbler, and a mixture of DAWN dish soap, LEMI SHINE, and a package (~4 oz,) of 18 gauge wire brads (nails) works for doing small batches of brass. DO look up (on the internet) how to slick up the Tumbler, as this will make it work much better.

  13. Reloading isn’t difficult, just take the time to ensure everything is correct. I started reloading back in 1988 and have loaded over 5,000 rounds a year since that time (except for running out in 2020’s pandemic).

    So far, I have not produced any bad rounds. But I also set aside part of my basement to reload in, built walls, installed a dehumidifier and a metal locker for all components. I bought decent equipment and took care of it.

    Follow the recommended loading data, inspect, clean and trim recycled cases, confirm the power measurements, case lengths, etc. Use quality powders and primers.

    Keep a log of the load data for every box produced and the accuracy from each box. Over time and varying loads, you will be able to dial in some very accurate loads for your firearms.

    Don’t rush the process.

  14. For beginners, I suggest starting out simple. Like a single stage press, so they can get comfortable at every step, before progressing to a progressive press. A good place to start is straight wall cartridges like say 9mm, .357, .45, and CARBIDE dies so case lubrication is not needed, as necked cases are little more challenging. Start out with tools that simplify the operation, like Lee offers trim cutters that are set to the nominal case length for the respective cartridge, so it will be the same lot after lot, and do not have to remember what it was set for. Lee also offers a disk system for powder charging, so once a load is decided, using the same disk lot after lot, gets the same results. Yes single stage and simple may take longer than a progressive press system, but the knowledge gain will be ingrained for safety. Using a Frandford Arsenal digital scale, makes checking powder loads easy, by first weighing the empty base case, push the tear button to make the empty case read ZERO, add the measured powder, then re-weigh the respective case with powder, gives the respective reading for THE POWDER ONLY. Once confidence is built, add more sizes, and maybe eventually a progressive system. Enjoy

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