There are three reasons to take up reloading, but they all boil down to control over your ammunition. When you handload, you control the cost of your ammo, you control the availability of your ammo and you—and you alone—control the quality of your ammo.
Up until recently, I think cost was the primary reason people got into reloading. The economics of reloading are inescapable. On a per-round basis, handloading can save you anywhere between 40 and 67 percent, depending on your choice of components. After you get experienced with reloading, you might want to move on to casting your own bullets, which can save you up to 80 percent per round. So where you might have spent a bit over $200 for a 500-round brick of .45 ACP practice ammo, by handloading, that same money will put almost 900 full-metal-jacketed (FMJ) rounds into the ammo can. By casting your own bullets, you can fill the ammo can with 4,000 rounds of .45 ACP for that same $200.
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Cost is still an important consideration, but, lately, control of ammunition availability has increased in importance. Over the past year we have all experienced shopping in stores where the ammunition shelves were bare. These days, whenever I’m in a sporting goods store, I check out the ammo supplies. Last week, I was in a big box store with a sporting goods department. Their ammo cabinet had one box of .40 S&W FMJ rounds and two boxes of .45 ACP hardball. There was no 9mm, .38 Special, no .22 LR. Heaven help you if you needed low-demand rounds like .41 Magnum or .44-40; you could look for months before finding any. This is another reason any serious prepper should consider handloading.
The final consideration is quality. Personally, I shoot a lot of .45 ACP ammunition. I do most of my plinking with lightly loaded, cast-lead .45 ACPs. I have one custom 1911 specifically set up for that load. But I also carry 1911s every day as my concealed-carry pistols. For training with those pistols, I have developed a jacketed bullet load that duplicates the velocity and accuracy of the Federal Hydra-Shok rounds I carry for self-defense. Handloading allows me to tailor each of those rounds to their precise purpose.
The Right Press
The advantages to reloading are obvious, but to the uninitiated getting started may be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. To reload safely and efficiently, you need to have two things: knowledge and equipment.
Certainly the biggest decision new reloaders face is which reloading press to buy. In my opinion, when you are starting out, it is more important to learn how to make quality reloads than it is to quickly turn out a lot of poorly made ammunition. A single-stage press is a much easier platform on which to learn how to reload than a progressive press. And you will always have a need for a single-stage press. Single-stage presses are simple to use, and they are relatively inexpensive. Excellent presses can be had from any of the major manufacturers for between $100 and $200. And, regardless of brand, they are so rugged your great grandkids will still be reloading on yours in the 22nd century. So get one and learn to make good ammo. It may be all the press you ever need, but if you find that you can’t keep up with your shooting volume, then you can think about turret presses or progressive presses.
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Personally, I own four presses, and I use them all. Most of my high-volume handgun reloading is done on a Dillon 550B progressive press, but when I’m working up a new handgun load, I do it on a nice compact RCBS Reloader Special-5 press. When I’ve settled on a load that performs as I want it to, I move it to the progressive press. But there are another half-dozen handgun cartridges, like the .32 French Long and the .45 Auto Rim that I don’t load enough of to justify configuring the progressive. I just load those on the RCBS single-stage press. Finally, all my big, black-powder rifle cartridges are reloaded on a single-stage press. So I say learn the craft on a good single-stage press, then add either a progressive press or a turret press if your reloading volume warrants it.
The next two pieces of gear go together. You need to dispense precise powder charges. Pretty close might be good enough for government work, but it doesn’t cut it in reloading. An accurate scale is essential. There are basically two types of scales to choose from. Balance beam scales are the least expensive. Their design hasn’t changed much since the days of the pharaohs. They are pretty much foolproof, but they are less convenient to use than digital scales. The cost of digital scales has really come down. These days, you can get a decent digital scale for a little more money than a high-quality balance beam scale. I use an RCBS Rangemaster 750 digital scale. I periodically cross-check it against a balance beam scale, and it is always right on the money.
Powder measures adjust to throw the appropriate charge of powder. You’ll use the scale to determine when you have the measure adjusted to throw the correct powder charge. Powder measures can be either standalone units like Hornady’s Lock-N-Load or RCBS’ Uniflow, or they can be mounted right on the reloading dies, as Dillon does with the powder measures used on its progressive presses.
You’ll also need a set of calipers. I recommend the digital type, but a lot of people still prefer the old-school dial readout variety. I use my digital calipers about 95 percent of the time. The purpose of calipers is to measure the length of cartridge cases to determine if they have stretched and need to be trimmed. It’s important to measure the overall length of completed ammunition to ensure it is within specs.
Finally, you will need a set of reloading dies and a shell holder for each caliber you intend to reload. The shell holder is a small part that mounts on the ram of your press. It is made to hold the base of your cartridge securely during the reloading process. Check to see if it is included with your die set; if it isn’t, order one separately when you buy your dies.
Pistol die sets typically have three dies. The first die resizes and de-primes the fired brass. New primers are inserted after this step. The next die expands the case mouth to receive the bullet. Powder is added after this step. The third die seats the bullet and crimps the finished round. Some die sets have a fourth die so crimping can be done independent of seating the bullet. Most handgun dies are available in carbide versions. They are worth the few dollars extra that they cost because you don’t have to lubricate the cartridge cases with carbide dies.
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Rifle die sets usually have two dies. The first die resizes the brass and de-primes the case on the down stroke, and it expands the case mouth on the up stroke. After using this die you will insert a fresh primer and then charge the case with powder. The second die seats the bullet and crimps the case. As with pistol cartridges, there are separate crimp dies available. But, unlike with pistol dies, you won’t find carbide rifle dies.
Get The Load Out!
There are certainly more reloading gadgets that you can buy, but if you get the gear mentioned here, you will have everything you need to ensure you’ll be prepared with high-quality ammo.
For More Information
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This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.