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Common sense tells us that if you want to be a good shooter, you need to shoot often. Facts tell us, though, that our wallets won’t allow us to shoot as often as we want or need to. While resorting to the .22 caliber firearms is often cited as an acceptable alternative, at some point you need to shoot your primary gun. The answer to buying factory ammo is to reload your own. I started reloading in 1984 when I got my first Colt 1911 .45 auto. Shortly thereafter I received a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver for Christmas, along with my first reloading kit. Mom must have known something, or it was Divine Providence, that led her to get both of those items at the same time, because I found out very quickly how expensive .44 ammo was!
Not Somewhere Between Rocket Science and Black Magic
Reloading is seen by many as being somewhere between rocket science and black magic. Nothing could be further from the truth! Reloading is a safe activity, as long as you pay attention to what you’re doing. Making our own ammo allows us to tailor a particular load to our particular situation. We also aren’t left at the mercy of the manufacturers during times of short supply, such as we saw in 1994 and again in 2008. While a lot of folks were scrambling to find practice ammo, I was at my loading bench making as much as I wanted.
If you’ve chosen a caliber that isn’t that common, such as .38 Super, 10mm, or .41 Magnum, reloading isn’t just a nice hobby but becomes almost a necessity. Making your own ammo can allow you to shoot that old rifle that belonged to your grandpa and for which you can’t find factory ammo anymore, too.
Preparing to Reload
Basic Overview of Beginning Reloading
This is going to be a basic overview of beginning reloading, since reams of paper have been written on the subject. I’m just hoping to get you started down the right path.
Let me put this note in right now: Reloading is a potentially dangerous activity. Neither I nor the publishers assume any responsibility in your loading practices. My loads are safe in my guns. Take appropriate precautions when handling reloading components.
Get Reloading Manuals and Read
First, get a reloading manual, preferably three or four of them, and read them from cover to cover. They all say many of the same things, sometimes just a little differently. Every company has their own way of measuring velocity, pressures, et cetera. My personal favorite is the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Manual, which has data from many different sources. It’s usually the first one I grab when I’m looking up a new load or caliber. They will all cover the basics of what goes on when reloading your own: de-priming and resizing the case to factory configuration, seating a new primer, adding gunpowder, and seating and crimping a new bullet. The manuals usually have good pictures in them to help you along.
Talk to People Who Reload At Local Gun Shop
Next, go to your local gun shop (or two or three) and ask to talk to the individual who knows the most about reloading their own ammo. I’m pretty lucky in that I have a friend who has been reloading for nearly 60 years, making my 25 years seem paltry. They can probably answer a lot of your questions and give you some good recommendations. If you have a friend or family member who is willing to help you along, that’s even better. Getting some hands-on experience before venturing out on your own will help assuage some of the fear that most have about making their own ammo.
Obtaining a Reloading Press
Begin With Single Stage Reloading Press
At this point, we’re going to assume that you’ve decided to continue on with learning how to reload your own ammo. Now you have to get a reloading press, but which one? Should it be a progressive or single stage? I always recommend that a beginner use a single stage press. A single stage press means that each operation has to be done to every round you intend to load. Then you go on to the next operation and the next. Yes, it can be tedious and slow, but you will get a better feel for each operation, and you can inspect your brass at each step to see what is really going on. Plus, you will always have the opportunity to use the single stage press later on, even when you decide to move on to something more advanced.
My single stage press, an RCBS Rock Chucker, is 35 years old, and it is still going. I’ve seen some older presses in gun shops that were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s and worked just fine. I use it for developing new loads for my pistols and for my rifle ammo, since I don’t shoot near as much rifle as I do pistol.
Progressive Press by Dillon Reloads Over 100 Calibers
My progressive press is made by Dillon Precision and is their model 550B. This press will reload over 100 calibers (and yes, I have friends that reload that many or more!) A progressive press means that with each pull of the handle, a new fully loaded round is made. It’s accomplished with the use of a turret style head of some type, allowing each round to be moved to the next phase of the operation. We’re going to focus primarily on the single stage though, since it’s easier to show you each step.
Basic Accessories For Reloading
Reloading dies are next. These come made for each individual caliber, and you’ll need new ones for every caliber you decide to reload. Most of the reloading companies make dies, but some, like RCBS, make them for nearly every caliber ever made and then some. Dies come in two, three, and four die sets, depending on what caliber you’re loading for. Once again, this comes back to reading the manuals and asking questions. A shell holder is needed and may be purchased separately, or it is sometimes included with the dies. This is what holds the case in the reloading press. One shell holder can hold several different sized cases, such as the 30-06 shell holder that will also hold .243, .270, and .308 because they have the same case head size.
A powder dispenser is necessary, since it holds the powder you’re going to put in the case. You adjust it for a certain amount of powder, whatever amount the reloading manual says. This gets measured on your powder scale. The powder scale lets you precisely measure the amount of powder that you are putting in the case. Follow what the manual says; do not guess at how much powder to put in!
Those are the basic accessories you need to reload. But, you also need to get the components, i.e., what bullet do you want to use, what primer, what powder? You thought we were done? Not quite…
Components for Reloading
Unless you’re doing something task specific (hunting, precision shooting, et cetera), your basic full metal jacket bullet or lead bullet will be fine for practice. I do use specific bullets for certain things and have my own preferences. Only through a lot of study and experimentation will you find your own.
Primers come next. They’re made in small and large pistol, and small and large rifle. They’re also made in magnum versions, which we won’t worry about right now. You can get them in packs of 100 or an entire sleeve of 5000. The manual will tell you which size you need for your particular cartridge.
You also need gunpowder, and there are many different kinds. Some are specific for rifle, pistol, or shotgun, and some are multi-purpose. Powders are not all the same! Do not substitute one for another! The results can be disastrous. Use the powders specified for your cartridge in the manual. (See the recurring theme here?) Also, you may find references to very popular loads from famous gun writers in print and on the internet. Do not jump in and start using these without a thorough knowledge of what you’re doing! Some of these “legendary” loads were developed several decades ago. Over time, powders and primers have changed and those old loads may not be safe in your gun. With any new load you work on, the story stays the same: start low and slowly work your way up.
This is just a small, quick overview of how to get into reloading. Mountains of paper and gallons of ink have been used up in the last eighty years detailing the finer points of it. I truly enjoy it and sometimes wonder if I shoot more so I can reload more, or vice versa! Reloading allows me to tune a load to my particular guns and shoot something not offered by the factories. As long as I have primers, powders, and bullets, I can keep shooting even when the gun store shelves are empty. If I cast my own bullets, it becomes even simpler. (But that’s the subject for another article.) Try reloading your own ammo. You just might find it as addictive as I do.
Steve Collins owns Martial Arms Tactical, LLC in SW Missouri, teaching concealed carry and defensive firearms and tactics classes. He is a former member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and an NRA Certified Instructor.
- Ammunition Reloading for Survival, by NC Bluedog
- A Crucial DIY Skill: Ammunition Handloading, by Aaron L.
- Reloading Ammunition For WTSHF- Part 1, by S.B.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 72 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned
Portable Solar LLC . The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from
onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from
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Round 72 ends on September 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a
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