By Mike McNett
Every day across the country, more and more people are trying to figure out how to stretch their dollar. One of the ways that shooters can make their dollars work harder for them is to do some work themselves. The way to do this is to reload. Historically, reloading has been popular for three reasons: 1. Reloaders want to control the specifications of their ammunition. 2. Reloaders want to save money. 3. Reloaders have historically been able to get more consistent results than with factory ammunition. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of getting started. First you will need to get a press. I prefer starting beginners with a single stage press, the simpler the better. Next we will need a scale and make certain it is made for reloaders and that it measures to 0.1grs. so you can make good consistent loads. You will next need a set of good calipers that measure to 0.001” for overall length consistency. Then you will need to choose a set of dies that are made specifically for the caliber that you are going to load. Next, you will need to get a reloading manual from your favorite bullet manufacturer. This is very important as the loads listed in the manual will be made just for the bullet that you will ultimately be sending downrange. You are almost there! You will now need components.
There are four components to a loaded cartridge: brass, powder, primer and bullet. Getting primers is easy. First choose a brand and make certain that you get the right size. The easiest step is getting brass. Just make sure that the head stamp on the brass matches EXACTLY with what is stamped on your barrel and you are good to go. Preferably, you can use the once-fired brass that you have already collected. Powder and bullet are very subjective and will depend completely on which bullet manufacturer’s manual that you buy and the intended purpose of the loaded round.
I would highly suggest trying at least two different powders while working up your load. Lastly, is bullet selection. I could write another article solely about making that determination and it still wouldn’t cover all of the variables in making that decision. I will suggest that you don’t skimp on bullets. Good bullets cost good money, there is no way around it. Remember, it is the only part of your entire setup that will actually come into contact with the intended target. Good bullets are important.
Spend some time to familiarize yourself with your scale, reloading manual and press. Make sure that you get a good feel for how it works BEFORE you start loading rounds that will be set off in front of your face! Start at the suggested starting load and remember that the number beside “MAX LOAD” is there for a reason. Don’t load above it.
You should set aside a dedicated space for your reloading project. Don’t forget that you will need to keep your concentration. Set aside a spot that is out of the way where you are less likely to get disturbed.
Now let’s get to the fun part! Most reloaders will want to fully size their brass. This means that you will lower the ram on your press (with the correct sized collet in place to hold your brass) and screw the sizing die down until the die touches the collet. Raise the ram and then lower the die ¼ of a turn. Your sizing stage is ready! Apply a small amount of lube around the case neck and shoulder. Not too much. Then you will need to size each piece with complete strokes, all the way down and all the way up. Next, set up the priming station. Set the priming ram to seat the primer .002” below flush with the case. This will make it nearly impossible to get a high primer. A high primer will lead to a mis-fire! After you have fully seated the primers into your cases, then we will move on to powder and bullets.
Assuming that you have prudently chosen your powder and bullet combo, you are ready to proceed. For starters, I would highly recommend that you choose the starting load from your reloading manual. Then you must zero your scale to make certain that it measures the same each time that you sit down to load. Zero it every time you reload! You will need to set your scale to the desired weight to the closest 1/10 of a grain. You will then need to unscrew the sizing die from the press and insert the seating die. Now you will need to select your cartridge length. The easiest way for a beginner to do is either to call a bullet or ammunition manufacturer and ask the proper length or to use your calipers to measure the length of a factory loaded round. Once you have this measurement, the easiest way to set the length is to take the loaded round and set it in the collet and raise the ram GENTLY so that you do not shorten the loaded round. Adjust the seating die so that it just barely contacts the round when the ram is fully raised. Take the loaded round out and place an empty case in the collet. Put your desired bullet in the case and raise the ram all the way. Measure the round. It should be slightly longer than the factory round. Adjust the die ¼ turn down and you should have the right length. Use this “dummy” round to set the length each time that you load this cartridge.
Now that your length is set, you can load some of your own ammunition! You have already zeroed and set your scale to the starting load, so go ahead and measure your charge. Use your funnel to pour the charge into the primed case. Next you will take the case and set it in the collet. Place the bullet in the case mouth and raise the ram all the way. When you lower it you will have your first loaded round! Take it slow and make certain that powder makes it into each case! Many experienced reloaders have loaded a round or two without powder and let me tell you that it is no fun getting a stuck bullet from your bore. I would suggest that you load at least a box of ammunition at the starting load. This will give you enough to see how accurate that your load is in your rifle. You may need to tinker with the load later to make it really accurate in gun, but this will get you in the right ballpark.
Now that I have explained how to get started with making your own ammunition, you are probably saying one of two things: 1. I am so excited that I can finally make my own hand-crafted ammunition or 2. It sounds like a lot of fuss and my time is worth a lot to me, what is the alternative? If you answer #1, you have probably found a hobby that will be enjoyable and that will help you to understand the nuts and bolts of ammunition and how it can help you shoot better. Just be persistent and don’t give up too quickly.
If your answer is #2, then you are left wondering what is the alternative. I know that you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t want to improve your shooting and possibly save a few bucks. I would suggest buying loaded ammunition that is hand loaded to +/- 0.001” in overall length and +/- 0.1gr weight powder charge. I would suggest that you get factory new ammunition that is hand inspected individually at a price that is surprisingly low. Doubletap Ammunition meets these exacting standards. Check out Doubletap Ammunition at www.doubletap.net . Doubletap has loads in more than 100 calibers and more than 400 individual loads. All of them hand loaded and hand inspected.
Hand loading can truly be a joy and if you choose to be persistent, it can give you a life long hobby that is very rewarding. Just be very cautious, don’t get distracted and stay below published max loads and it will be a skill that you can pass on to your kids and grandkids!