Reload Your Own
By Ron Spomer
You don’t have to handload your own ammunition to be a deadly shot and excellent hunter, but it helps. Factory rifle ammo is powerful, dependable, accurate and made in enough varieties to handle any hunting requirement. So why does anyone reload? Let’s count the ways …
- Save money. Folks who shoot a lot can justify the costs of reloading tools amortized over a decade or more. Depending on the quality of materials used, reloads can run one-third to one-half the cost of new factory ammo. Of course, that doesn’t count your time. Depending on the type of reloading machines you employ, you might crank out one to five boxes per hour. Most people don’t count this because loading for them is a fascinating, satisfying hobby. Shooting a deer with a factory cartridge: $2.50. Shooting a deer with a homemade cartridge: Priceless.
- Improved performance. This is a big reason for reloading. Factory ammo must be “one size fits all.” This means it must bow to the lowest common denominator, i.e. old rifles incapable of handling the kinds of pressures, thus velocities and performance, of fully modern guns. A classic example is the 7x57mm Mauser, a splendid deer round that factories load to 46,000 cup (copper units of pressure) in case they are fired in old rifles. Modern rifles can easily handle pressures to 50,000 cup, the equivalent of 100 to 150 fps more velocity. Handloaders also improve performance by sizing cases to precisely fit their particular rifle’s chambers and by custom seating bullets for the ideal match to the rifle’s throat. Such custom fittings often improve accuracy significantly. Reducing a load’s power is another handloader’s trick. Stuff a 30-06 case with a small dose of the right powder and you can make it recoil like a .243 Win. and match the trajectory and energy of a .30-30. Great for teaching and practice.
- Obsolete and rare cartridges or guns. Some cartridges are sold in limited configurations or no longer available at all. Check out the selection of .222 Remington Magnum, .264 Win. Mag., .307 Win., etc. at your local sporting goods store. If you have a rifle chambered for an unpopular cartridge, reloading can breathe new life into it.
- Wildcat cartridges. Serious gun nuts often chamber their rifles for odd cartridge shapes never sold commercially, such as the 30-06 necked down to 6.5mm or .243 or the .221 Remington Fireball shortened and necked to .17. These must be custom formed and loaded.
- Challenge, hobby, fun. Some people just like creating things, working with their hands, taking as much control of their lives as they can. If you enjoy growing your vegetables, tuning your car, building your own deck, etc., you’ll probably love handloading.
- Educational. Learning to reload inspires you to learn more about ballistics and ammunition/gun performance. The result is you often become a better shot.
- You shoot more and better. Because reloads save money, you’ll probably feel better about practicing more often. That’ll make you a better shot. What a deal.
So how do you begin and how tough is it? Start by buying a reloading manual, a recipe book that includes all the information you’ll need. And it’s easy. My brother and I taught ourselves with a couple reloading manuals when we were in high school, starting with shotshells and progressing to the slightly more complicated centerfire rifle cartridges. Rimfire cases can’t be reloaded. You can also research how-to information on the internet. Barnes Bullets offers a video reloading instruction course through its Barnes Copper Club at www.barnesbullets.com. There is a fee. Handloader magazine at http://www.riflemagazine.com/magazine/index.cfm?magid=634 is another great resource.
You can spend a small fortune on specialized equipment, but a basic starter kit for rifle / handgun loading should set you back only $85 to $300 dollars, depending on brand and quality. Here are the basic tools you’ll need:
- Press. This is the tool that pushes and pulls cases through the loading steps.
- Dies. These are the metal chambers into which the expanded, fired case is pushed to squeeze it to original size. You can buy dies for loading any cartridge.
- Scale. For weighing powder charges.
- Shell holder. A platform that grips the shell rim and holds it in the press. One size fits many cartridges.
- Lube. This oil or wax is applied to brass to prevent it from sticking in the die.
- Chamfer/deburring tool. Bevels case rims so bullets start easily.
- Case trimmer. Cuts case necks to original size after they stretch too long from repeated reloadings.
- Funnel. This fits over the case mouth so you can more easily pour the powder in.
- Calipers. Measures case length, bullet seating length and other important dimensions.
- Priming tool. Seats the new primer in the case. Most presses include a priming arm, but some people prefer a separate, hand-held unit.
With those tools on hand, all you need are empty brass, fresh primers, powder and bullets. Some combination (from the recipes in the reloading manuals) should have your rifle shooting like the proverbial house a’fire, and then you can practice inexpensively until you really are a crack shot. If you have spare time, enjoy working with your hands and wish to learn everything about shooting, look into this handloading business.
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