Sometimes we call it handloading, but most folks call it reloading. After all, what makes it all worthwhile is being able to reuse that expensive brass case. We pop out the primer, resize the brass, re-prime, and reload it with powder. Then, we seat the bullet. Those are the steps to reloading your own ammunition.
It isn’t always about economy and saving money. Sometimes, it is about accuracy. The gear isn’t particularly expensive. A good loading setup will cost a bit less than a good quality 1911 — perhaps in the Glock 9mm pistol range. If you get started early in your shooting career, the equipment will pay for itself many times over.
Some shooters like to produce a quantity for practice, others concentrate on loading a pet rifle to its best accuracy potential. Both are valid pursuits. Many of us engage in both bulk loading and loading for accuracy. Sometimes we look at different brands and types of gear and overlook the mechanical aspect. You probably need a little mechanical ability, and you most definitely need the ability to pay attention to detail.
First, obtain a Barnes, Lyman, Hornady, Speer, or Sierra bullet loading manual. The ABC’s of reloading is a thick book well worth a read.
Safety is important. Safety includes keeping powder in its original can, keeping primers in the original case, and paying attention to the powder charge and seating depth and double-checking it on a regular basis. Once you understand safety basics, look to nuts and bolts information such as setting loading dies for the correct length and depth, and careful management of the powder measure.
If you take the time to study the loading manuals, and perhaps even take an NRA-sponsored loading course if one is nearby, you will find the time invested well worthwhile. There are several good names in the field of loading gear — Hornady, Lyman, RCBS, and Redding come to mind. I have had good results with mismatched gear in some cases, but overall, the best choice is to make the gear match. At least it will all be the same color…
Dies are hard items that last forever if cared for. A powder scale should be a cutting-edge item and should not be purchased on the cheap. Ask those who have been in the reloading game for years what they use. If a fellow begins with RCBS, he will sing its praises — and rightly so. But another gentleman may feel the same concerning Hornady or Lyman.
Be certain to take a hard look at the features of each piece of gear. I would not choose the cheapest gear. Be certain spares are available. Certain small parts must be replaced from time to time. For example, decapping pins should be kept as spares.
The better the gear, the greater the resale value when you decide to move to another setup. Pistol dies are delivered in three die sets and the majority of rifle dies are delivered in two die sets. A tip, if you begin with pistol loading — as most of us do — purchase a heavy-duty die press such as the RCBS Rock Chucker. A lightweight press may be a knuckle buster if you move to full-size rifle cartridges.
And don’t forget the nuts-and-bolts gear like a quality case trimmer. If you use enough rifle cartridges, you will eventually have to trim cases as they stretch as they are used. If you become a volume loader, you will need a good quality, heavy-duty case trimmer. And don’t forget, the old-timers may know the mechanics of loading and the quality of certain brands, but there are more up-to-date choices often enough.
When you enjoy the shooting sports, that is all that really matters. A .22 rifle or a .300 Magnum may put a smile on your face. The joy of cutting a ragged hole into the paper or taking game with handloads you put together is something worth bragging about.
I began loading with a Lee Loader as a pre-teen. I learned a few things, but this was a very basic kit. I recommend purchasing one of the loading kits such as the Lyman American to get started. Otherwise, you will become quickly frustrated and perhaps even give up.
I cannot stress enough, the amount of study I put into my choices. The time from a handful of components — brass, primer, powder, and bullet — to loaded ammunition got shorter and my results were better. I let accuracy be my guide. I moved into an RCBS single-position press and eventually a Hornady Lock-N-Load press. I once owned a progressive press that knocked a cartridge out with every pull of the lever.
Single-Stage Versus Turret Press
A single-stage press is what most of us begin with. Even once you move to a more advanced press, you may wish to keep the single-stage press on hand for select chores. The single-stage begins with a die screwed in and ready to begin.
The sizing die is used first. As the case is resized and primed, you move to the second die, a neck expander with the pistol cartridge. Usually, you charge the powder at this point, although it may be done separately.
Next, you screw in the seating die, using this die to seat the bullet and crimp a bullet in place. The most efficient means of using a single-stage press is to complete each stage with as many cases as possible — de-prime a few dozen cases, as an example, and then move to the next stage.
A turret loading press begins with three dies and the powder measure screwed into place. Some presses require the handloader to move the turret to the next stage. Progressive types will move the turret as the device handle is cranked.
A cartridge is more quickly loaded, and the rate of cartridges per hour is much faster. You will need to change the die set and shell holder for each caliber. The progressive press requires some finesse. I recommend a single stage for beginning. This will teach you the nuances of loading, and you will be familiar with each step before adding speed to the equation.
Loading cartridges is simple enough. Take the spent cartridge case and place it into the shell holder. Be certain to properly line the case mouth up and work the lever, bringing the case to meet the cartridge-sizing die. The die resizes the case. (It expanded on firing.) The next step uses another die. You may rotate the progressive press or change dies in the single stage.
The case-mouth flaring opens the case mouth. A slight flare is needed in the case mouth to allow seating a bullet. During this stage, a primer is inserted into the cartridge case. While separate tools are used, most die press tools have a priming arm.
The powder charge is addressed next. Some powder measures mount on the case mouth flaring die. Before you perform this chore, the powder charge has been carefully set using a powder scale. The powder measure drops a measure of powder into the case. When using a single-stage press, I like to visually inspect the cases in a loading block to ensure that I have neither chopped short and failed to charge a case, or dropped a double charge.
The Final Step – Seating the Bullet
Seat the bullet in the cartridge case using a crimping or seating die. The bullet is moved into the case and a crimp — moving the brass case against the bullet — is applied to the cartridge case. Inspect the cartridge case to be certain the bullet is properly crimped, the primer is seated properly, and that there are no dents in the cartridge case.
Words to the wise, follow the instructions. Do not begin with high-end data showing maximum velocity. Use moderate loads. The firearm will last longer and be more accurate. It is also important to remember that some firearms get high velocity with modest loads.
A tight, match chamber or thicker brass will generate more pressure and more velocity. Therefore, we have beginning loads. Wear safety glasses when loading and do not allow distractions. In the next installment, we will discuss working up suitable loads for a specific firearm.