I like to fly-fish. It’s not that trout are a delicacy that drives me to the water. Most of my catches return to their watery habitat. It isn’t the peace that comes with spending an early, crisp morning alone, listening to a comforting song as the stream persists on it’s journey to the sea, although that is certainly part of the draw. For me, the satisfaction comes in watching a brilliant trout rise to an imitation that I created on my bench in anticipation of the challenge. Succeeding using something that I made to meet the present situation is what sends me packing for the stream bank often.
Therein lies the reason for many that choose to reload their own centerfire cartridges for both target shooting and the field. Winning matches or harvesting game while using ammunition that you prepared with the shooting knowledge and abilities that come with reloading is both satisfying and fun.
But that’s not the only reason, and there are a number. Let’s start with the one that hits home most, the back pocket. Buy a box of factory loaded rifle ammunition, and you’re donating about 52%* of that cost to the company of choice for brass and the loading process. So, in simple terms, on a $12.00 box of 20 cartridges, you’d save $6.84 right off the bat at the bench. The brass from each round can normally be used at a minimum of 5 times, and up to as many as 20 times depending upon the caliber and powder charged used.
Reloaders are typically superior shooters, for two reasons. First, they can afford to shoot more because their price for ammo is less. Practice makes perfect. Secondly, reloading develops a thorough knowledge of firearms and their operation. That knowledge leads to a clear understanding of the technology behind shooting, and what it takes to make a centerfire weapon perform accurately. Today, factory loads are carefully manufactured for dependability and consistency, and have proven to be reliable for many marksmen. But, because they are mass-produced, they can not provide us with the flexibility for matching loads to our individual guns and distinct shooting situations. In almost every case, handloaders have a distinct advantage in precise accuracy over factory loaded ammunition.
Take for example the popular .30-06 caliber. Factory loads are typically available with bullet weights from 150 to 180 grains. What many .30-06 owners may not know is that bullet weights are available for their gun ranging from 110 to 220 grains, making it a very versatile cartridge. With each individual bullet corresponds an appropriate situation, varmint hunting versus elk hunting for example. And, for each weight, a range of powder loads is available providing even more flexibility. In a nutshell, reloading puts the marksman in the "drivers seat" when it comes to the accuracy and performance of their weapon.
There’s one other reason to get started reloading. It’s downright fun! If you enjoy the challenge and exhilaration in hunting, reloading adds a whole new dimension to it.
If I have convinced you to take a look at filling your own brass, then let’s take a look at the basics, and what all this involves. First of all, what can we reload? Just about everything except rimfire cartridges. If you shoot it, there’s more than likely a reloading die for it (we’ll talk about what "dies" are in just a moment). RCBS boasts, that besides their standard reloading dies, they have the tooling to make over 3100 custom dies.
Now we know that we can reload our caliber. The next logical question surrounds the equipment needed to get the job done. Although more is required in comparison to shotshell loading, the initial cost is still reasonable, and pays for itself very quickly. But, before we talk about equipment and cost, let’s take a quick look at how the process of firing a centerfire round works so that the reloading process makes more sense.
As pressure is exerted against the trigger, the previously cocked firing pin is released, striking the primer. The primer is comprised with a chemical that explodes with pressure. It then sends that burning mixture forward through a flash hole, igniting the main charge of powder. As the powder ignites and burns (all this happens very quickly), gasses are released, forcing the casing to expand and fill the chamber of the weapon at first, and then forcing the bullet from the case and down the barrel.
What remains after a shot is fired, as we all know, is a brass case - thus the first component in the reloading process. Reloading can be considered a science in anybody’s book, involving careful mathematical calculations, various variables, and repetitive experimentation. But, although there is a great depth of information available to the handloader, it all boils down to a few standard steps:
1. Carefully examine the condition of each case.
The pressure that casings endure when fired causes them to break down over time. Examine each for a split mouth, bulges, or other case defects that may be apparent. Refrain from using any case that is questionable. Clean any dirt or powder residue from both the outside of the case as well as the inside of the case neck.
2. Lubricate the case.
Although as a boy reloading with my father, we skipped this step, it should be included. Lubricating both the outside of the case as well as the inside of the neck will ease the resizing process and prevent undue stress on the brass.
3. Place the case in the press.
With the press handle in the upright position, slide the case into the shell holder.
4. Resize the case.
Gently, but firmly push the handle down, inserting the case into the resizing die. This step reestablishes the proper case dimensions while removing the old primer.
5. Check the case length, trim and debur if necessary.
A case can sometimes elongate after several firings, and must be trimmed to the appropriate length. Use a case trimmer to do this, remembering to use a deburring tool to remove burrs left behind after making the cut.
6. Prime the case.
Use your press to insert a new primer into the rear of the case.
7.Insert the proper powder charge into the case.
After choosing the recommended type of powder and weighing exactly how much should be used, pour the charge into the case using a powder funnel.
8. Seat the bullet.
After replacing the sizing die with the seater die, hold a bullet just above the case. Gently push the press handle down to seat the bullet in the case.
That’s it! You’re ready to fire. Although eight steps seems like a lot, they go quickly as you get the hang of it, and you’ll find that what seems like extra effort actually becomes extra fun!
As far as equipment needed to get started, I recommend choosing a starter kit, offered today by just about every reloading manufacturer. Each kit normally includes at least the basics: a press, scale, trimmer kit, deburring tool, case lube kit, powder funnel, and a manual. The starter kits do vary slightly from company to company as far as what they include, so choose carefully. Prices generally range from as low as $70.00 through $540.00 for the better kits.
Two other necessities include dies and shell holders, each being manufactured for particular calibers. Dies
are the cylindrical tools inserted into a reloading press that do most of the work, from resizing to seating the bullet. Shell holders secure the base of the case during the reloading process. Because a particular caliber can use only individual dies and shell holders, these items are typically not included with starter kits, and must be purchased separately.
You need each piece to make it all work, but the manual is critical. Make sure you have a good one at your side. There are a number of them available, including computer software as well. The manual is the map that helps you determine what loads have previously been determined to be safe for your cartridge, and how they will perform.
Now that you have the equipment, you need the components. Of course, that begins with brass casings. If you need casings, they are available for purchase, or you can gather them from non-reloading friends. Next are primers, the proper type being specified for each cartridge in your manual. Primers are manufactured in two different sizes, with 8 different levels of capacity, each required for different circumstances.
And finally, powder. There are over 100 different powders available, manufactured by a number of different companies. The characteristics differ with each, with the burning rate being the most interesting trait to the handloader. Reloading manuals provide guidelines, stating powders that can be used with the proper amounts, for each caliber available.
For the person that likes to take part in his or her hobby both at home and the field, handloading is just the ticket. Take it up, and your next match win or trophy will bring more satisfaction than ever before.
*Editor’s Note: Savings mentioned (52%) is based upon a .30-06 load with a 180 grain bullet, at today’s cost. Please note that reloading savings will vary from caliber to caliber.
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