Reloading for the Absolute Beginner.
A few weeks ago I completed loading 65 rounds of 30-06 hunting ammunition. This is the culmination of my first reloading experience, which began late last summer. At this point I feel I can declare myself competent and have learned a few things about the process that I wish I had known when I first took it up. The most time consuming aspect of reloading ammunition is getting started, which is exactly as it should be. Reloading is not something to be done lightly and it is critical to understand each step before you do it. But this is not to imply that reloading is complicated or difficult. When considering the volatile chemical reactions that occur when gunpowder is ignited and the finite measurements that are made when trimming brass, measuring powder and seating bullets, reloading is remarkably simple.
When I first started looking into metallic reloading I found that the general format for instructions consisted of a declaration that reloading was quite easy, it requires a minimum of tools and equipment and anyone can learn how to do it. This was followed by several lengthy paragraphs laden with jargon and technical information that sounded complicated. Finally a list was provided of the basic, necessary gear one would need to get started with the stipulation that a multitude of other equipment was also essential. This left me confused. Do I need the basic set of equipment (single stage press, dies, scale, caliper, priming device, file) or do I need the full list (progressive press, dies, scale, funnel, caliper, priming device, case trimmer, powder hopper, brass tumbler, bullet puller, chamfering tool, Christ knows what else)? And just how complicated is reloading, and how much terminology do I need to know?
After acquiring a press and getting it set up I felt like I had a slightly better sense of things. I checked out some online reloading pages and thoroughly read the directions that came with my press and the information in my load manual. A load manual really is an essential item. They are published by bullet manufacturers and each manufacturer makes it’s own manual specific to it’s product (I shoot Sierra bullets, therefore I have a Sierra load manual). The load manual is where you will get case length dimensions, powder charges and other crucial data. After reading websites, directions and load manual data I found several contradictions. My solution was to reread everything carefully. This cleared up the discrepancies and soon I understood perfectly what the steps were and why they were recommended. Once I made it that far I felt I could move on to the first step: resizing and depriming.
Lots of reloaders assert the necessity of cleaning brass. This is not a bad idea, but it is not critical. If your brass is nice and shiny it does not need to be cleaned. The brass I was working with had only been fired once and was quite clean for the most part. I gave each case a brief inspection to make sure it was safe. Next, in preparation for resizing/depriming I applied case lube. This is a thin paste that prevents your cases from getting stuck in the die. Some instructions stated to use only a very small amount, some claimed that a generous amount was crucial. I tried a small amount and came very close to getting a case stuck (if you are running the risk of getting a case stuck, you will know before the case makes it all the way into the die; as you pull the lever and the case begins to rise into the die, the whole operation will come to an immediate halt unless you pull like hell on the lever). I applied a bit more lube and things worked smoothly. The depriming step is included and is achieved via a sturdy metal pin, not unlike a firing pin, built into the resizing die. As the lever is pulled the final few inches this pin pops out the used primer.
|An assortment of reloading equipment. Lee Breachlock press at right, load manuals at top, 1llb canister of powder and powder scale at left, box of sierra bullets at 50 round box of loaded ammo at center, powder scoop and funnel at bottom.|
The next step is case trimming. This can be very fast or time consuming depending on how you choose to proceed. But the first thing to do is determine what length you need to trim your brass to. This will be stated in your load manual. Be sure to adhere to this dimension as closely as possible when you are getting started. With experience you can make adjustments but the beginner should not deviate. Once you have decided on a trim length you can trim your brass with a case trimmer, of which there are dozens of makes and styles. They can run in price from eight dollars to 100 dollars and quality is only one price-effecting element. Some are highly adjustable and universal, others are cartridge specific. If you aren’t sure which style to get and you don’t plan on reloading a lot to begin with you can get by with a standard metal file. Hold the case firmly in one hand and gently file down the mouth. This takes some practice to master. It is easy to cant the case and thereby file at an angle but if you pay attention and rotate the case ninety degrees every four or five file strokes this can be avoided. Be sure to frequently measure your length with calipers to determine when enough is enough. After the proper case length has been reached a chamfering tool should be used to put a slight taper inside the case mouth to help seat the bullet.
After trimming comes priming. This can be done on or off the press. I use a Lee Auto Prime to prime off the press and so far in my short reloading career I love it. It is simple to use and only takes a little practice to become proficient. It also allows me to spend time with my family while I prime cases. I can watch a movie with my wife or play with my daughter and still get some reloading done.
The second to last step is adding powder. If there were one step to pay absolute attention to this would be it. There are several other steps that, if neglected, can result in catastrophe but nothing will ruin your day like an improper powder charge. Too little powder could result in a bullet lodged in the bore which is a royally miserable scenario at best and a big disaster at it’s worst. Load too much powder and you could be off to shake hands with St. Peter without ever realizing what happened. How much powder to use? That all depends on the powder you are using (there are dozens), the cartridge you are loading, the bullet you’ve chosen as well as several other factors. Again, you should be using a load manual which will tell you what kind of powder and how much to use. Powder charges are often measured by weight but powder hoppers use precise volume measurements to throw a consistent charge.
The final step is bullet seating. I chose to load Sierra 165gr. Game Kings due their proven track record and basic but very precise design. Needless to say, bullet seating requires the press. Install the bullet seating die and adjust it to the proper setting (there are several good online references that provide excellent instructions. I like http://www.chuckhawks.com/adjust_reloading_dies.htm). Place a bullet in the case mouth. Get it oriented as close to vertical as you can and slightly press it down to help hold it steady. Pull the lever and run the case all the way into the die. The bullet is now seated. You will need to check the cartridge overall length with your calipers to make sure it is seated deep enough. The first cartridge will have to be done in gradual stages to get the seating depth right. After that you can seat bullets to your heart’s content.
That covers the basic steps. The whole business can certainly get more complicated as you gain experience and confidence but the basics will get you out burning powder. Once you get that far a whole host of ammunition possibilities become available regarding bullet make, bullet weight, velocity and other factors. This allows you to custom load for your guns and shooting conditions. Combine your custom reloads with some practice at the range and you’ll be ready for anything hunting or competitive shooting has to throw at you.