After much thought and consideration, I’ve decided that there are really only two defensible reasons to start reloading. The first, and easily the most popular, is cost. No matter how you slice it, shooting guns is a great way to turn money into noise. There’s a pretty linear relationship between the amount of noise and the amount of money required to make that noise happen, but at a certain point, it becomes more affordable to roll your own.

The other reason is customization. In my mind, that’s the more realistic of the two, and the one that drove me to take up the all consuming time suck hobby. Part of what started my journey was American Gunsmithing Institute’s “Reloading from A-Z”.

I wasn’t a complete newbie on the topic, as I’d worked on the reloading process under the watchful eye of a good friend. I had certainly researched a lot of things online related to the topic, and even gone so far as to purchase components for usage at the aforementioned friend’s house. If you lack (reloading) friends, or have succumbed to analysis paralysis, AGI sure would like it if you checked out their DVD series.

“Reloading from A-Z” is, in a word, comprehensive. In another words, long. Really long. The four-disk series, led by Fred Zeglin, runs a shade under eight hours including potty breaks and disk swaps. Over the course of four disks Fred covers the following:

  • History of reloading
  • Reloading safety
  • Choosing Components
  • Introduction to Reloading Tools
  • What is really happening to the brass case
  • How to make a load plan for safe, accurate loads
  • Introduction to a wide range of reloading resources
  • Use of the Lee loader
  • Portable Reloading tools
  • Basic Case preparation
  • Case trimming Advanced case preparation
  • Case lubrication
  • Step-by-Step reloading of rifle cases – single stage press
  • Step-by-Step reloading of pistol cases on a single stage press
  • Priming tools and correct seating of primers
  • To crimp or not to crimp – dies and bullets
  • Use of multi-stage presses
  • Manual and Electronic powder meters
  • Powder Scales
  • Introduction to Progressive Reloading
  • Advanced reloading tools
  • Introduction to bullet casting
  • Alloying and Casting Lead Ingots
  • Hardness Testing cast bullets
  • Sizing and lubing cast bullets
  • Step-by-step bullet casting single/multi cavity molds
  • Additional resources and suppliers
  • Advanced reloading techniques by Darrell Holland

Generally speaking, I’m not much of an audio and or visual guy. I learned that fact pretty early on while making a valiant effort at being an engineering student. Lectures not punctuated by hands-on labs were good for about ten minutes of my attention span before it quickly turned into a scene from Peanuts.

My experience has been that I learn best when I have a book for the strategy portion, and a demonstration for the lab. I point all this out to say that A/V has never been the best way for me to learn, so my opinion on AGI’s method may be skewed.

At 133 minutes long, the first disk is made up of entirely of the theory side of reloading. Starting at the very beginning, Fred discusses the advances in firearms that led to the first metallic cartridges, and the original rationale for reloading (carry the raw materials and make cartridges as it suits you). It’s thoroughly informative, though Fred is a bit of a talker, and I think the salient points could probably be distilled to less than an hour.

If you’re the type who enjoys a conversational type of learning environment, and by that I mean a guy talks to you from the TV and you yell back or laugh at his jokes, then I think you’ll have a good time. The information was good, but I felt myself drifting off at times.

At 124 minutes, the second disk goes into the practical side of things, starting with building a load plan, putting a heavy emphasis on strategy throughout the entire disk. Fred starts with an overview of the loading kit. He starts with the barest of bare essentials, and steps things up to more luxurious standards. There’s not much of a discussion from Fred on why a reloader might spend more on various items other than “they’re nice” which was a bit of a disappointment. It is something I’ve spent a lot of time pondering while I’ve been heating up the ole Visa building out my reloading setup.

Forty minutes into DVD #2, and Fred finally gets to reloading. The rest of the DVD goes into overviews of the brass prep process, and while there’s a fairly good primer (get it?) on full length vs. neck sizing brass, there’s still a big emphasis on the how and not the why. More advanced reloaders will be sad to hear that Fred doesn’t cover much about trimming or neck turning until much later.

Once he gets his brass prepped, Fred gives an overview on the various priming tools available and how one would go about seating primers. After that part is done, he gets on to the powder filling part with a pretty solid discussion on the various ways in which you can accurately measure powder into your freshly sized, cleaned, chamfered, deburred, and primed cases. But wait, DVD #3 is where he actually puts powder in cases.

In DVD #3, Fred gets to actually filling cases, and gets into a pretty solid rhythm of discussing safe powder measurement and management techniques. One of his tips that I’ve implemented and find useful is to store your powder in a different part of the shop than the area where you load. Bring one jug of powder over, use it, put back whatever you didn’t use, and move the can back. Simple stuff that the less experienced reloader might not know to do is sprinkled liberally throughout. He also demonstrates several of the various powder measures out there, including their setup and usage. Again, so real help on why you might pick a balance beam and trickler over an automagic electronic dispenser/scale combo.

With the cases charged, he shifts into a discussion of seating methods including crimping vs. not crimping, and the usage of a three die set vs a two die set. Its all fairly informative stuff, and follows in the vein of the prior two DVDs. Conversational to the point of being chatty, with plenty of information conveyed on the how, but not the why.

The last part of the third DVD, and really the only part that felt rushed, was the section on “advanced” brass prep. Most of this focused on neck turning, primer pocket uniforming, and annealing. Again, there’s meat to what Fred is saying, but I found myself wondering why a reloader might pursue these particular activities. There’s a discussion of how annealing can extend brass life, but I never got the information on how much it would extend brass life, and if that’s worth it. In fact, in an effort to learn more about the process, I took to the internet and did a lot of reading to find that the annealing technique Fred teaches is one of the least precise ways to go about it.

There’s a fourth DVD in the series, and it is taught by a different instructor. The entirety of the DVD is devoted to casting bullets, the peak of gunny perfection. While I appreciate that the material exits, I couldn’t bring myself to sit and watch it. I don’t see myself casting my own bullets anytime soon, and I think that when I do get to that point, I’ll probably find an old timer with a couple thousand pounds of wheel weights to show me the way.

I have no doubt he has a tremendous amount of reloading knowledge. But for a DVD series that advertises solving not just the “how” but the “why” of reloading, I came away a little disappointed. The three DVDs that I watched were packed with information, most of it useful, but very rarely did I gain an understanding backed by objective study on why I would choose say… a beam scale over an electronic unit. That’s the sort of thing I won’t begrudge a free or cheap publication from omitting, but at $500, AGIs course has to be damn near perfect, and I feel like it fell short.

Specifications: AGI’s Reloading from A-Z

  • Format: DVD
  • Run Time: 7 hours 44 Minutes
  • Price: $497

Ratings (out of five stars):

Overall Rating * * * 
If you’re the audio/visual type, and you’ve got the extra scratch laying around, you won’t be worse off owning this DVD. In fact, I truly believe that if you do what Fred says, you’ll make good quality, consistent ammo. But I also think I would choose to spend $500 differently.

35 Responses to Course Review: American Gunsmithing Institute – Reloading from A-Z

  1. $500 is more than enough for someone to buy all of the tools (and I’m talking nice tools like a Redding press/ powder handling equipment and Redding or Forstner dies) you would need to reload at least one caliber. Doesn’t sound like you learned much more than you would have by reading the ~200 page prologue of the Berger reloading handbook.

    • This is way over priced. You can gain a functional knowledge off of youtube videos. Add to that a quality reloading manual and youre set. A Lee Challenger Press and a few die sets would cost well less than that.

      • I feel the issue with YouTube videos is, it can be hard to distinguish the wheat from the chaff in terms of getting info that improves your reloading knowledge versus info that’ll get you killed. And some YouTube channels, while they give great info, absolutely SUCK on the production end. And there are some slickly-done channels that are sometimes at best just fluff, and at worst, flat out dangerous.
        AGI at least has the air of authority. On that basis, they really should be delivering a better product for that kind of money.

      • Another resource are online discussion boards. I’ve spent some long hours combing the reloading section of the “The High Road” website.

        http://www.thehighroad.org/index.php

        The guys there are very knowledgeable and enthusiastically answer your reloading questions. I’d have to say 1/3 of what I’ve learned came from reloading manuals and the instructions that accompany the equipment; 1/3 came from the information from the THR website (and others – 65grendel.com for one); 1/6 came from YouTube videos and the rest from trial and error. The Joes & Janes at THR have helped a lot.

        That Lyman 310 looks pretty cool.

  2. There is a third defensible reason… the state in which you live has decided to institute an ammunition registry, and you’d like to avoid a visit from the authorities due to your high ammunition consumption.

      • They can try, but that’s where it becomes obvious what they’re doing.

        And if that indeed comes to pass, it will be after a national ammunition background check law and reloaders will have stockpiled the powder’s, primers, and bullets to last them decades.

      • They have included bullets in the prop 63 ballot proposal. However they did not include powder, casings, or primers. Blanks are also considered as non-ammunitions. Also, having just read the bill, it seems that no one has mentioned anything about the initial $25 million start up cost for 63. This will no doubt be appropriated through the usual demonrat process. It seems “The Golden State” has lost its lustre.

        • It’s still the Golden State. All gold for the state, none golden but the state, the golden state over all.

  3. Honestly this ain’t rocket science. And certainly not something that requires a $500 DVD set.

    I watched a youtube video, read the instructions in my reloading manual, and read the machine instructions. After that I was loading with a single stage.

    Progressive machines are a little hard to get started, but you can start pumping out ammo once everything is setup. I think it took me maybe a day and a half from unboxing the Dillon 650 until the first round was crafted.

  4. 5 bills for a guide seems way high if it doesn’t get into the whys. Those whys are how people who do precision shooting are precise because they allow you to make truly gun fitted ammo.

    Another reason is to bring life to a dead caliber, or create your own.

    Wildcatting is a hobby unto its self. I talked with the guy who started the design of .357 rimless Magnum and regrettably he canned the project and the materials went away otherwise I would love a go at doing it. You aren’t getting that ammo at Cabela’s but you can make it

  5. “The other reason is customization. In my mind, that’s the more realistic of the two . . . ”

    Question: people keep saying that reloading saves money, but then they usually add something like what was said above.

    Does this mean it’s NOT realistic to expect to save money reloading?

    If I didn’t care about customizing my ammo, or ensuring topnotch quality, or being self-sufficient – if the only reason I might consider doing it is for the savings – does reloading make sense?

    • I think people usually justify their purchases through the cost savings argument. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Its your money, do what you want with it.

      If you’re only considering reloading for cost savings, you need to have a realistic time horizon measured in years and round count. Generally speaking, I’d say pistol shooters are the group who, most likely, are loading up the Dillon and going to town. But to break even on that investment, you need to police all your brass, buy in bulk, and plan on many thousands of rounds before you are ahead. On top of that, you really need to put a number on your time.

      I have a lot of interests and hobbies. Many of them are time intensive and I don’t have unlimited hours in the day. I reload for precision because I want the limited range outings I have to be pleasantly accurate. But I’m also pretty heavily invested in time saving (read expensive) equipment to ensure that I spend more time shooting less time reloading.

      You may be better served by using one of the bulk brass trade in programs to offset the costs of your shooting habit. Again, it depends on how much you shoot. If you do less than 2500 rounds a year of a caliber, and you don’t carry about precision or accuracy, stack it high and deep. If you shoot something like 10K or more a year, you might be able to cost justify a nice reloading setup.

    • The cost thing often gets an unfair apples to railroad tracks comparison.

      You can handload (not reload, there’s a difference) QUALITY ammunition far cheaper than you can buy QUALITY ammunition. But, what too often happens, folks compare the cost of loading high-end ammo to the cheapest foreign bulk loaded low qc crap they found on the ‘Net one time 2 months ago.

      I’ll give you an example. I load 9mm ‘self defense grade’ ammo with with chronographed velocity standard deviation less than Speer Gold Dots, and overall ‘accuracy’ to match the tight velocities. I’ve gotten <3" groups at 25 yards, for example. The bullet involved is a high quality superexpanding JHP that performs very, very well in real life hunting scenarios on big game.

      The cost per round, assuming brass is owned and reused, is on par with the lowest end fodder that spits rounds all over the paper and FMJ or round nose bullets.

      So, it is a cost savings for me hand load. YES. Higher quality ammo for the same price as low end junk ammo is a win. Even if a few cents more per round, that's a win. I'll take accurate any day; if I know the ammo is performing, any deviations from "hit" are on me, and the quality of my training improves.

      The question of 'cost value' of handloading deserves a deeper look than JUST the number on "price per round." Value != price in general, and this is certainly one of those cases.

    • Yes. For .30-30 alone, I figure that my investment is $150 in non-consumable tools, dies, and molds, plus about $150 for my reloading rig in general. A box of WInchester softpoints costs me about $16 at Wally-World, while I can churn out cast-boolit reloads for about twenty cents each, or about four bucks a box. I save about $12 per box of reloads, so my payoff period for EVERYTHING is twenty-five boxes. I shoot, on average, one to two boxes per week. In about four months, my reloading has broken even. If I count .45ACP, allowing me to amortize my non-caliber-specific startup costs across two calibers, that period gets even shorter. I have reloading and casting set up for every centerfire caliber I shoot, and only occasionally shoot rimfires due to ammunition scarcity. When full-power rifle rounds are only ten cents more than CCI Standard Velocity, why would I?

  6. I was fortunate and was taught by a good friend who instilled a safety first mindset.
    In 40 plus years, I’ve never had a serious mishap. I’ve had a couple of primers pop off, but never any bad reloads. I’ve got a few presses. Each has a purpose.
    A progressive press like the Dillon 650, is super fun. I can churn out a thousand rounds of .223 or .308 in a short afternoon.

    • I have fourth and fifth reasons:

      (4) It’s fun in its own right. I’ve long believed bench rest shooting with custom smithed rifles is essentially a reloading competition as much as a shooting one.

      (5) It’s challenging. Loading fodder is relatively easy. Loading match grade is harder. Getting into wildcatting requires some pretty serious attention to detail.

      I wonder why handloading needs to be ‘justified.’ Those that ‘get it,’ get it. Those that don’t won’t no matter what justifications are offered.

      • I wonder why handloading needs to be ‘justified.’ Those that ‘get it,’ get it. Those that don’t won’t no matter what justifications are offered.

        Very simply, because some are of a utilitarian bent. If the initial setup cost and time to learn and actually do the loading doesn’t pay off for them somehow, they won’t be interested, no matter how intrinsically rewarding it might be to people like you and me. They’re not wrong, they just have different priorities. (If you want wrong you can go dig up a hoplophobe. Personally I’d rather let sleeping dogs*** lie.)

        • Some folks need to make friends with the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.” How many of same folks that fret over the costs of loading gear would agonize over the question of whether to buy a gun to begin with?

          It’s like the gun itself ever pays for itself…monetarily, I mean.

          Loading brings much ‘value’ to the table, not all of which can measured in fiat currency terms. Different folks are going to value those elements differently, and that’s cool. I just think it is kind of a head scratcher to pee and moan so much over the monetary “cost” of handloading while only looking at the value it provides one dimensionally.

  7. I should add that you don’t even need a single-stage press to reload, as long as you’re not trying to full-length resize your cases.

    If you have one of the cartridges it supports, the Lyman 310 tool can be used to reload rifle and handgun cartridges. As a plus, after you’ve reloaded a few hundred rounds on your 310 tool, you’ll have forearms like Popeye.

  8. You would have to be elbow licking retarded to spend that much on a DVD set about reloading. Any quality reloading manual should have a decent intro on the topic and from there, as has already been mentioned, it isn’t rocket science. Any basic analysis of what goes into a round of ammo would allow you to figure out the reloading process pretty damn quick.

    There are heaps of videos online that explain how to set up your gear and then you just go slow until you get yourself squared away and then you can start to do the fancier stuff.

    $500 would be far better spent on some quality gear to make your life easier as you start out.

    The only real danger faced by anyone of average, or better, intelligence some reloading is the risk of becoming addicted and spending more time reloading than at the range. Due to the cost of ammo most Aussie pistol shooters reloading and we don’t have too many with the nickname “Stumpy” so most of us haven’t cocked up yet.

  9. If you want accuracy on a budget, it is easier to tune your ammunition to the rifle instead of tuning your rifle to the ammunition.

    And it cuts costs dramatically. My reloading equipment was paid off in the savings of even budget ammunition in about a year. The cheapest .223 factory ammo in my part of the world is about 60-70 cents a round. I can reload budget ammo for less than 20 cents per round. Match grade stuff costs about 40 cents per round with 25 cents being the projectile.

    I’ve been reloading for about 18 years and the cost savings to me make it worth while to spend a few hours a month at the bench.

    • Exactly right about tuning the ammo to the rifle not the rifle to the ammo. I bought a 7mm-08 Savage package rifle for whitetail hunting with the help of a buddy. Same buddy is an expert reloader who got me hooked on reloading too. He helped me develop 2 loads for the gun a “practice load” with a light weight bullet and the “deer load” for hunting with a heavier. The loads shoot close enough to each other I can shoot 40 rounds of practice ammo and 20 rounds of hunting ammo in a range day without any shoulder problems. We have a great time working together reloading then going shooting. Making my own ammo puts a bigger smile on my face when I shoot it well. Having the practice ammo has allowed me to become proficient with my rifle with out blowing my budget. All around its good.

      I recommend getting a friend to teach you the finer points of reloading. If you don’t have one seek one out.

  10. There are only two defensible reasons NOT to reload: time and effort.

    I have a Lee turret press, and I can turn out handgun ammo at about 1/4th the cost of “average” factory ammo. The cost of both factory ammo and reloading components (not to mention apparatus) is highly variable so the cost is a rough estimate, but it definitely comes to a fraction of factory ammo. It would be even less if I cast my own.

    The real cost is time. I’m slow and careful, so it takes time to turn out my carefully handcrafted .44 Magnum ammo that doesn’t beat you up and will shoot MOA in any gun that can do it (uniformity is the key), at 1/4th the cost of quality factory ammo.

    Also, it takes careful attention to every round and every step of every round, including case prep, cleaning and lubing the dies periodically, and just not rushing the process. For me this works out to about 50 rounds per session before I’ve had enough. This sort of prolonged concentration can be tiresome.

    It’s a commitment, and as we know, a lot of people don’t like that. It’s totally worth it, and it’s fun. Not like shooting is fun. More like putting a crossword puzzle together is fun.

    It’s never going to be for everyone. Doesn’t have to be.

  11. Wow $500 for a DVD set. I started reloading two years ago using with a Lee Anniversary Kit and a downloaded copy of the Lee Manual. I also bought a Lyman manual just for a general comparison. Between the Lee Manual, the Lyman manual and the instructions that came with my first die set, .38 special I got started. I tracked the cost of my equipment and components and compared to the $24/box price for .38spl at my local gunshop, figured I had recovered my costs within the first 500 rounds. Component costs for that round were 1/3 of the retail price. I have since gone on to load 9mm, .223 Rem, and .45acp. Truth is, overall I probably do spend more on ammunition than before, but I’m shooting a lot more than before too. If you are motivated and have a sense for mechanical things, there are better ways to spend the $500.

  12. Reloading lets me shoot more for the same dollar, be it pistol or rifle.

    An extreme example would be a coated lead 203gr 300BLK round can be hand loaded for about $0.15 ea.: powder, primer, bullet, in reformed .223 brass. Factory 300BLK always seems to be about $1/round for a similar weight jacketed round. Not apples and apples loads for sure, but both shoot fine for my practice and plinking needs.

  13. There’s also the NRA reloading course — one day, with hands on, less than $100 when I took it. Highly recommended

  14. One reason I reload is sometimes there isn’t a commercially available round that fits my needs at any price. For example, I have a P64 that is … unpleasant … to shoot with any factory 9×18 round. I have a special load that makes this pistol an absolute pleasure to shoot (and is cheaper, and 100 reliable).

  15. I learned most of my basics from another mans bench , an old timer , passed now , but he loved the craft and had many a trick , particularly in the fabrication of the bullets and molds . I copied many of his notes and have in the 20 plus years since filled several note books on my own , I love the ART and I don’t use the term lightly , if done with love and attention to details and a quest for the perfect , it is art . Art that you destroy is also very fun . The last decade has almost been exclusively been devoted to long distance perfection in 06 , my favorite ( by far ) reload . I have played with some odds over the years but I enjoy the versatile 06 . I have found some if the YouTube vids informative and even discovered a couple new tricks but nothing compares to a good old manual .

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