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RCBS reloading kit
Courtesy RCBS

Besides being mechanically inept, I don’t have a particularly green thumb. In my 23 years of military service, tending to the greenery was a work detail, or, more often, a punishment (oops, I mean “additional training). So we have a strict separation of duties in our house: I mow and water, and the wife tends to the things that grow.

Luckily, she’s a good gardener. She insists that a nice salad or a pot of green chili tastes better when it’s filled with veggies she grew in her own garden. I feel the same sense of pride and satisfaction about shooting ammo that I’ve loaded.

Most shooters have probably considered loading at least some of their own ammunition at some point. Most likely that point was when they were handing over a large chunk of money for a box of the factory loaded stuff. Or in times like now, when finding the ammo you need isn’t easy.

Reloading is actually fairly simple. And except for a few tricky areas, it’s pretty safe. I know that doesn’t sound all that reassuring, but it should be. I’ve been reloading for 10 years. In that time, I would guess I’ve loaded well over three to 4,000 rounds. The cartridges range from pistol calibers like .38/.357 and .45 ACP, to rifle calibers .30-06, .308 and .30-30. Thus far I have yet to have even a single malfunction, let alone an exploding weapon — which is not so much a testament to my skills as it is to the fact that reloading just ain’t that hard.

A cartridge (the thing you put in the gun) is made up of four primary parts: pretty polly bites crackers. Primer, powder, bullet, casing.

parts or an ammunition cartridge bullet
By Bullet.svg: Quadrellderivative work: Indy muaddib (talk) – Bullet.svg, Public Domain, Link

1. bullet 2. casing  3. powder 4. rim (part of the casing) 5. primer

Helpfully enough for the mnemonically-challenged, there are also four basic stages of reloading.

1.  Resizing/decapping The pressures of firing a cartridge causes the case to stretch both lengthwise and width-wise (filling the chamber) Reloading begins by “squeezing” the cartridge back into its correct size before reusing it. A resizing die performs this function. Normally, the same device has a hardened metal ‘point’ that also punches out the old primer (the cap).

2.  Flaring/Capping Flaring opens up the case mouth slightly so the bullet can be inserted. Capping is, of course, the opposite of de-capping: you insert a new primer into the primer pocket of the cartridge case. Some presses flare and cap at the same time.

3.  Charging In this stage, you fill the cartridge case body with powder propellant (aka gun powder).

4.  Bullet seating/crimping In the final stage, you seat the bullet onto the cartridge and crimp it in place.

Though you can reload a lot of cartridges with a “progressive” press (also called a “turret press”), a basic single-stage press is the simplest way to get started. All of the big reloading companies (Lee, Lyman, RCBS, etc) sell single stage presses. Most offer “starter kits” that have just about everything you need (see: caveats below.)

Lee single stage reloading kit
Courtesy Brownells

My own weapon of choice is a Lee single-stage kit (pictured above) purchased from Cabelas in 2000. It consists of the O ring press and all of the basic tools needed for reloading. The ads claim that “all you need is this kit and a set of dies to get started.”

Well, yes and no. You can reload with the tools they give you, but there is one glaring omission. The kit does not come with a caliper or other measuring tool. Having a uniform overall length is critical when loading cartridges (because, after all, you want all of the cartridges to perform identically and if they’re not the same overall length, their velocities will be different).

Not only is uniform overall length important, but knowing the minimum and maximum permissible overall lengths for a cartridge is critical for safety and functioning reasons. Too long and the cartridge will not fit in the magazine. Too short and the cartridge could have dangerously high pressures that can cause a disaster.

reloading calipers
Courtesy Amazon

A $15 set of dial calipers will save you a lot of headaches and, well, you can imagine.

The Lee kit comes with detailed instructions on the process. Each set of dies also comes with a set of instructions that walk you through the process from case preparation through finished cartridge. Bonus! The Lee kit comes with a “hand primer”: a hand held device (not a part of the reloading press) that can be used to easily and quickly prime the cases. (The hand primer is the paddle-looking thing at the upper right in the picture.)

While reloading is generally a safe process, I use (and highly recommend) eye protection during the priming process. Primers contain fulminate of mercury. While I’ve never experienced a primer discharge whilst priming a case, I’ve heard of it happening to others. So I always put on the plastic glasses before priming.

ammunition reloading manuals

The other area where the Lee kit comes up a bit short: measuring powder. The Lee comes with a small balance-type scale. While it is accurate, it is also a finicky bitch to keep ‘zeroed’ and requires a lot of fiddling. For $80 you can get a decent electronic scale, which I would highly recommend.

Other than that, the only thing you really need is a place to work and brass, primers, powder and bullets. A garage is you least best option; powder and primers are both sensitive to humidity. A basement works well, as does any other space in the house that has a relatively even temperature. A sturdy bench is a must. The press requires some force (especially in the first stage of resizing/de-capping.)

NOTE: a safe and secure (i.e. locked) storage for components (particularly powder and primers) is a must.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll go into a little more detail as to the actual process, share some useful tips I’ve picked up (the easy way and the hard way) and give you the bottom line: a cost breakdown by cartridge. At this point, I’ll leave you with two thoughts about your home bullet depot: you can do it, and we can help.

Read part two in this series of reloading for beginners here

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  1. For starting out, I HIGHLY recommend that you get a RCBS 505 scale, which can be had for ~50 on eBay, and a tricker, instead of a cheap electronic scale, which will never hold zero and will drift all over the place with the vagaries of your electricity service. Even people with the Chargemaster 1500 dispenser/scale combo, a $300 device, have difficulty with holding zero and drift.

    In my experience, that $20 Lee powder measure that comes with the kit is very good (i.e. consistent), unless you are loading very long stick powders.

    • Those digital powder throwers tend to need set up and calibration before use and then can be slow to dispense charges. I can throw and trickle 3-4 powder charges in 2 minutes with a 0.05 grain tolerance.

      Also, don’t smoke when realoading. And only use a vacuum cleaner you think is disposable to clean up powder spills.

    • I just use a powder measure checking them periodically with a analog scale. Don’t think i’d measure them all individually, unless I was a world renown assassin trying to make a 3000 yard shot.

  2. The Lee scale is junk. Hornady used to sell a small digital for $30 that was up and above 10X better. Minimally.

    Also if you’re looking to save money reloading, forget about it for common calibers unless you home cast. 9mm, 5.56 etc. the difference is typically pretty minimal if you’re buying bullets.

    The more exotic the caliber the more the savings tend to be with exception of the giant magnum cartridges that you’re lucky to get 125 rounds per lb of powder. Then again if you’re shooting 338 Lapua 100 rounds will probably keep you shooting for a long period of time!

    If you’re running commercial bullets all calibers above are pretty easy to load for typically. I have loaded 9mm and .45 ACP with Lee molds and find those to be trickier around COAL where as the commercial bullets tended to be less so.

    My favorite caliber to reload is .38/.357 mag. Dirt easy for the most part. Powders like Unique give a lot of flexibility in making loads. BEWARE OF H110/W296 IF YOU ARE A NEWB. DO NOT DEVIATE FROM LOAD DATA.

    • Don’t forget that 9mm and 5.56 are the first to go out of stock in a buying frenzy. At times like this I’ll gladly reload common ammo for little profit over being empty handed.

      • 9mm doesn’t make sense for me to reload in normal times. .02-.03 for primer, .03 for powder, .09-.10 for plated bullets. For the same price, or a couple more cents a round, I can get commercial ammo at case prices. I find reloading best for rounds I can’t buy or that are accuracy matched to a specific gun.

      • .223/5.56 is very easy to load for. Small Rifle Primers are commonly available. You can use a large range of fast to medium powders. And projectile weights for the very common .224 diameter bullets can range from 45 to 80 grains (but check your barrel pitch, 12″ up to 55g, 9″ up to 70g, 7″ up to 80g).

        It is a great learner cartridge for reloading.

      • My hang-up is picking up my 9MM brass. Lots of moving and shooting makes this a PITA so much that I start focusing on where my brass went. So I quit reloading for semi-auto handguns and just focus on shooting.

    • I would run the math on that before saying such things. Even with hollow points, i load match grade 9mm for about half of what a box of steel cased Russian ball goes for off the shelf:

      $90 for 1k bullets, $20 lb for powder (i use titegroup, 3.5gr per charge, 7k grains in a lbs, so 2k rounds per pound). $30 per 1k on primers. Brass cost isnt factored, but i havent had to pay for brass in years for 9mm. Its easy to find. So that works out to about $13 per HUNDRED. You can find cheaper everything obviously, but ive shot 10s of thousands of that load. And with a good press 100 rounds is a 10-15 affair to load.

      • Yeah you’re at 7.00 a box ish. I’d be curious what “match” 9mm bullets you could pick up for $100/K. That’s better than I could get hard cast for from memory. Been so long since I actually payed for pistol bullets. I’m home casting on scavenged lead.

        You’re saving 25-30% probably vs range ammo. I was talking from cost perspective. While my .38 spl is more accurate the savings are way more impressive on a $17 box of .38 vs a $10 box of 9mm considering the component cost is virtually identical and the time to load a box of 9mm on even a proggy much less a single stage.

        5.56 is largely the same deal and at some level worse because of the amount of work to actually size the cases and in the cases of crimped brass the de crimping operation.

        Yeah there’s always ammo shortages but that really ignores that there were years where it was almost impossible to get primers and powder in certain areas.

        • I buy .40 HST 180gr pulls for under $80/1000. Add a 3-cent primer and a penny of powder, and I can produce match-grade HST that has lower standard deviation for velocity than the commercial stuff. I once bought 3 boxes of commercial HST at $.80/rd, but that was only for testing, calibration, and carry purposes. Federal just isn’t OCD enough for me.

          I also homebrew my beer. Also better than the commercial stuff. It all depends on how much time you have, and what you think is more important.

          What I build is only for range practice, although I maintain a “vinter’s reserve” for SHTF.

    • The Lee scale is junk. Hornady used to sell a small digital for $30 that was up and above 10X better. Minimally.

      I would rather have the lee analog scale than the Chinese Hornady digital one. The Lee analog scale is probably also from China. I’m just saying – I wasn’t very impressed by the Hornady digital one.

      I have been reloading for amazingly dirt cheap. I got a couple hundred pounds of wheel weights from local mechanics/car maintenance shops for free. They just gave it to me.

      The brass I got from an auction – They just shovel the brass into buckets and sell. The brass is once fired from a local military base.

      The bullets are cast from the wheel weights and powder coated. The rest are fairly cheap. Primers and powder. Those I never buy online, because the hazmat fee puts them over retail value. So I buy from my local reloading shop that buys them in bulk.

  3. I started with a very simple Lee reloader for .45 Colt, but it was a real pain to hammer out the cases after hammering them into the reloading die.

    I subsequently bought an RCBS single stage press (being a cheap bastard) and a set of carbide dies for the same caliber, eventually adding .45ACP. The carbide dies allow reloading without lubing the cases, saving a rather messy step. I haven’t tried 9mm; 9mm have been so cheap, and I have an adequate supply right now, that I haven’t bothered to buy a die set, bullets, etc. The RCBS has a capper for primers which is much easier that the hand presses. I typically resize and decap, then clean the brass. Electronic scale was purchased at the same time, and that makes a huge difference in making consistent loads, unless I am reloading black powder cartridges. the other nice thing is that you can find a wide variety of bullets, from lead to HPs, to suit your fancy. The .45 colt can take a 300 grain bullet, which has some pretty solid ballistics hot loaded and shot out or a modern lever gun.

    The things I am still learning about, and it is a steap curve, is all the various kinds of powder, and the intricacies or reloading a necked rifle cartridge. The latter requires additional equipment, and I am still leery of giving it a go.

    • I have a brand new RCBS “Rock Chucker” press that’s never been used, still sitting in the original box in my storage. The dies and notes that an older friend said were meant to go to me upon his passing were accidentally given to someone else by his surviving wife, so I’d have to get the dies and supplies.

      The only experience I have with reloaded ammo was a small stash of .308 Win given to me once by relative who was purportedly a master hunter & reloader. Not even into the first box, the primer of one of the cartridges blew out the back of the casing, jamming the bolt and squibbing the bullet. Had to enlist the services of a shop gunsmith to “repair” my gun. I tossed the rest of that batch of reloads into the range’s Live Ammo can and have never considered reloading since.

      Maybe one day. For now, I have literally years’ worth of factory ammo stockpiled.

      • Reloading can be fiddly. I don’t trust anyone’s reloads except my own. They’re not as OCD as I am.

        Reloading is a process, and a lot of things can go wrong in a process. (Former process engineer speaking here.) If you’re mechanically minded and a stickler for checking your work, no problem. All others should just buy the commercial crap and be content with their plebeian rations.

        • Got 100 rounds of reloaded .45/70 with a Pedersoli 1874 Sharps Silhouette I picked up.
          Also got 200+ LaserCast 405gr bullets & 100 unused Star brass.

          The reloads were labeled 12.5gr Trail Boss, but I pulled the bullets and re-weighed the charge for each, then reseated the bullets.

          Trust but verify.

          For a portable setup, I travel with a Lee Hand Press.

          At home I have an old RCBS Rockchucker (bought in 1982), and several Lee Load Master progressive presses for pistol calibers.

      • For almost anything under .50 BMG, the Rock Chucker is entirely sufficient to the task. It’s built hell for strong, and it can resize or knock back the shoulders on just about anything.

        You’ll need a study bench if you need to resize or bump larger cartridges. For something like 9, .45, .223, etc – you could c-clamp it to a table.

    • Okay, Dan/TTAG, this is really getting absurd. Yet *another* one of my (rather bland and vanilla) posts being blocked by the filters…for what?…I never cuss or use vulgar language…no racial or ethnic references…

      All I was trying to write was about my own RCBS loader. Why does this happen at least once per week, requiring me to whittle nearly everything away in a futile attempt to discern *why* your filters are rejecting my comments?


  4. I got into reloading to save some money and to be able to shoot more. I definitely shoot more, which costs more money. Saving any? No.
    Reloading is another black hole into which you throw more money!
    That said, I’m really glad I started. I have all the ammo I want, my ammo is of very high quality and is tailor made for my guns..
    Just don’t expect to really save any money.

    • I looked into a progressive loader with dies for 9mm and 5.56. With the amount I shoot per month with in-laws and friends, it would take me 3-4 years to pay off the equipment, not including supplies. Once CA decides to pen a bill for some crazy ammo tax, then I’ll look into reloading and then buy before the bill becomes law.

      • Yup. Same here. Although if the challenges to AB63 remain bogged down in court with no traction a year from now, I might start buying and stashing 9mm and 5.56 bullets. For now, I’m starting with the capture and storage of my spent factory casings. I hope never to need them, but CA…

      • So get a single-stage press, and learn how to run your cases through the press, one operation at a time in (eg) 200 round batches.

        People think that you can’t reload a “lot” of ammo on a single-stage press. They’re wrong. I don’t have a progressive. I’ve been looking at one this year (very carefully), but I’ve reloaded plenty with a single stage press.

        I find single stage presses for dirt cheap at estate sales. Matter of fact, I find all sorts of things for dirt cheap at estate sales I had a lady who was clearing out her husband’s shop tell me to take her husband’s 6″ Wilton vise (which was in near pristine shape) for $50. I elt really guilty ripping her off like that, so I gave her $100.

        The vise would have sold for $500 to $600 if it were under an auctioneer’s hammer…

        I find that reloading equipment often goes very, very cheaply, because widows a) have no idea what it is, and b) it’s often heavy, and c) women (on the whole) get pissed off at husbands who own heavy “stuff.” My wife has packed our house with all manner of fabric and fiber stuff, which is very bulky, and some of kinda pricey. I know, within a good approximation, what a skein of angora yarn is worth vs. cotton or synthetic yarn.

        She has no idea, and no interest, in learning what reloading equipment is worth. This is fairly typical. Widows usually have no idea what this stuff is worth.

        So frequent estate sales, especially the DIY sales.

        • After using a Lee hand press for years with no issues I just recently got a Hornady Classic Press kit in a friends divorce 😉 Then a week or two later she brought me a Lee Pro 1000 Her now ex husband got a .223 casing stuck in his resizing die on the first try and gave up. They have been sitting in boxes for 5 or 6 years and she has moved them around PA and to Arizona and back. Several pounds of powder and some dies were included along with the assorted reloading stuff from the kit.

          Like the widows you mentioned, she didn’t want anything to do with this stuff, she just wanted it gone because she isn’t moving it again. It was bulky, heavy, and taking up space. If I didn’t take it it was going in the dumpster. Since we help her out with all kinds of things she refused to take any money for it, but she shoots .40 so I will drop off 1000 or so rounds for her once I get the Pro 1000 up and running.

          It took a few days, and two sets of channel locks and a freezer to get the die out of the turret, an oven and the channel locks to get the casing out of the die, and some WD 40 and the channel locks to get the decapper pin moving again.

          I already cranked out a couple of hundred rounds of 9mm on the Hornady. My new .380 dies arrived from Midway this last week with some more turrets and shell plates for the Pro 1000, and a Lee Breech Lock adapter for the Hornady and some other stuff.

          I’ve been working a lot, so I have not gotten the pro 1000 set up yet. Now with 5 days off ahead of me I plan to have it cranking out .380 by later today. For you guys calculating savings, go look at some boxes of .380. If you can find any right now.

          I have saved all of my range brass that didn’t escape for years, even before I had reloading equipment, and later even if I didn’t have dies for that caliber yet. And I always offer to sweep up other people’s brass if they don’t want it. So brass is essentially free.

          Old widows and divorced friends are great for reloaders and fly tiers alike 😉

        • Crim,

          Be strict with your powder on the .380. A tenth of a grain in the < 4 grain charge is a larger percentage of the charge than say, 14 or 15 grains in a .357. I have a couple RCBS Uniflow powder dispensers, one small bore for pistol, one large bore for rifle, both with the micrometer upgrade. I find them to be very consistent. YMMV, especially as some powders meter by volume better than others.

          I'm currently using 3.6 gr of Bullseye behind a 95 gr cast bullet for .380. (4.25" barrel on Browning 85% scale 1911.) Thinking of trying something cleaner once I burn through the Bullseye on hand.

  5. Nice, like it, good advice, hope to see more parts soon. Having a mold made right now for casting a 6mm ARC, 100 gr Powder Coated bullet to save big bucks. Bullet has .461 G1 BC, to keep it supersonic beyond 1,000 yards, with up to a 2800fps muzzle with 1:7.5 twist. Problem is getting a good Lee Precision factory crimp die. The available Hornady 6mm ARC seating die uses roll crimp technique which is not very friendly to a PC bullet. Crimping is required in an AR class auto loader. The bullet design is optimized to function in 6×45, 6mm Creedmoor and 6mm ARC calibers and probably more 6mm. Until I can get a good safe factory crimp I am likely to carefully hand chamber in the 6mm ARC AR, while testing. Reloading doesn’t make for low cost shooting, it just allows you to increase activity at a lower rate of expenditure.

  6. Just a quick note, as I’m on my way out the door for materials:

    Fulminate of Mercury was last used in primers maybe up to, oh, the turn of the 20th century. Mercury fulminate has a problem in that it makes the brass in cartridge cases brittle and corroded, and unsuitable for reloading.

    After that, the industry went to a potassium perchlorate mixture, but this was the old “corrosive” primer compound.

    Then we went to a period of using lead compounds and these were non-corrosive, but left lead in the powder fumes in indoor ranges, which wasn’t good to inhale.

    Now I’m not sure of the chemical composition of priming compounds, but we’re a long way from mercuric compounds.

    A tip for all: Keep your powder in a cool, dry location. The “dry” part is obvious, but the “cool” part is not. There are single base and double base powders. If double-base smokeless powder is kept where it gets too hot, it will start to decompose – and you’ll know this because a brown cloud comes out of the jug or jar when you open it. That’s not good.

    • Not necessarily. Keep an eye out for a used setup or go for one of the “starter” sets. Just pick one caliber for a start. Get into it with a son, grandson, younger neighbor or other enthusiast. I’ve dumped a set of reloading equipment on two of my three sons and one grandson. This stuff is just as much an heirloom to pass along as your firearms.

      • Depending on caliber and the cleanliness of the cases you will use, you can start at under $40 for the loading die and decapper/capper. That’s for a .45 acp by Lee Precision.

        But like I said below and others have mentioned NOW isn’t the time to start as components are scarce too.

    • Not necessarily.

      I knew a guy who used to reload .30-06 for DCM matches while watching TV. He used a hand reloader. They work.

      • I hand prime (personal preference), but to de-cap/re-size/seat and crimp, I often sit in my recliner at the cabin and use my Lee Hand press instead of going downstairs to use one of my bench presses.

        you can get one on Amazon for less than $60.
        a set of dies, a scale, a loading block and a set of calipers.

        there you go.

        get a harbor freight rock tumbler, fill 1/2 full with de-capped brass, add warm water, a squirt of dawn detergent and a cap of real lemon juice.
        shiny clean brass.

        run 30 min, dump, rinse and dry on a towel.

        look at the powder insert in with Lee dies and find a suitable load that works with the dipper included.

        manufacturers don’t weigh charges, they do it by volume.

        practice throwing charges and weighing until you get the hang of it.

        but you gotta want to learn and be meticulous!!

  7. Bought a hand loader from mequon and a RCBS scale back in 1980 to make rifle loads in 357 mag. Added a full length mequon kit in 30-06. Everything fits nicely into a backpack. Not fast, but makes nice loads.

  8. It’s like anything else. Unless you are very disciplined you experience mission creep. I now have very specialized trimmers, tumblers, ultrasonic cleaners, automatic powder dispensers, a salt bath anneal-er, 300+ dollar competition grade dies, at least $1.5k worth of powders sitting on my shelves, wierd concentricity devices, and several other expensive things I won’t even tell myself about to much less my wife to keep the cost hidden. I also have hundreds of pounds of brass cases that I scurry about ranges like Gollum to collect. It is an expensive madness. Kinda wish I spent my money on more practical things like the proverbial hookers and blow.

    • Sounds like you have too much of a problem on your hands. No worries…your pal here will be glad to help a brother in arms. Just send me whatever you don’t “need”. I’ll pay the shipping.

      • Sweet! My wife and mother in law are on the way. I didn’t trust commercial delivery services to follow through so I hired some Russian dudes who I am told are “in the business”. Best yet – I generously paid for it myself ‘cus that’s the stand-up kinda guy I am. Thanks again!;-)

  9. I’ve enjoyed reloading since the mid ‘70’s. (Holy sh!t, I got old!).
    I’ve had a couple of primers pop off. They are loud.

    It’s quite easy when you get used to it. Just pay attention. No distractions.

  10. The CSM never lets anyone touch his grass… it’s not your fault.

    I am also learning the reloading skillset. Thankfully, I have a ton of help. I Still don’t do pistol loads though.

  11. Reloaded for almost 40 years. Rolling your own is as fun a hobby as shooting the stuff. Save money? Maybe. Have ammo to shoot when shelves are empty? Definitely!!

  12. My buddy and I started reloading at the first of the year. I was a newbie and he was just getting back into it. He taught me the basics and between the two of us, we went from a single stage with 2 die sets to a progressive with every caliber we own at the ready. Price wasn’t really a factor for doing so, but availability and rifle cartridge customization was. I love it and shoot waaay more as a result. I’ve also managed to load some great 7mm mag at half of a comparable factory load. The progressive is great for target loads and the single is designated for rifle rounds. As others previously mentioned, pay attention and be willing to learn. It’s a great way to get more intimate with your shooting and firearms.

    • ^^^THIS^^^. Right here.
      Fantastic drive, attitude, and willingness to learn.

      And the more you learn, the more you learn. Trust me, it makes sense.

    • The biggest reason to reload is that you can use components that are far better than what you see in factory ammo, especially the primers and the bullets.

      I’ve mentioned this result here before, but I have an old post-64 M70 in .270. It never grouped worth a damn with 150 grain bullets. With 130’s, it was “eh, OK”, but 150’s would group no better than about 2.5″ at 100.

      First box os Barnes TSX bullets I put through the thing, the recommended starting load, groups 3/4″ at 100. Done. I quit load development right there. That’s now my elk load.

  13. With modern manufacturing methods, for both ammo and firearms, the need to reload is not as critical as it was about 30 – 40 years ago. HOWEVER many firearms can still benefit from reloading, as the bullet/powder charge can be “tuned” for that specific firearm. Accuracy can be improved by a “tuned” load.

    Second benefit of reloading is that most reloaders end up shooting more often. It could be a reduced powder charge/lighter weight bullet for “Plinking” or small game. It could be a “practice load” that matches a “defensive load”.

    Main reason for reloading is that is relaxing. Also thereis the pride of knowing you are shooting ammo you made yourself.

    • The fun part is tuning the load for a specific firearm. My 4″ Ruger GP100 (.357) shoots the tightest groups with 14.5 grains of H110 behind a 158 grain plated round nose. My Son’s 6″ S&W 686 does it best with 15 grains. YMMV, every gun is a little different.

  14. Unfortunately right now, it’s a terrible time to START reloading, as just like ammo, reloading components are drying up. I can still find powder, but like post sandy hook, small pistol primers are getting very hard to find. But you’d still be able to get into I suppose if you are loading full size rifle cartridges.

  15. I’m trying to formulate my thoughts on this. It seems there are two groups of people that would probably want to reload:
    1) heavy pistol shooters, progressive turret
    2) long range bolt action shooters, single stage or rotating turret

    The problem is that there are a lot of gas gun rifle users, and I’m currently of the opinion that reloading for gas guns isn’t something worth doing (which is getting more and more common). Am I wrong? Thanks for any replies.

    • There is no reason you can’t load for a semi-auto rifle. As long as you full length resize you won’t have a problem.

      I don’t particularly like reloading for rifle because I don’t like trimming cases, but I did wear out a RCBS 3-way cutter after just shy of 10k rounds of .223.

      With ammo prices right now it’s definitely worth it to load even common calibers like 9mm and 5.56.

      • I have an AR with the Wylde chamber. (.223 dimensions, 5.56 length throat – supposed to be good for either round.) I had to not only full length resize but pick up a set of “small base” dies to get this rifle to chamber the reloads reliably. If you’re going to reload for .223/5.56 it’s a good idea to read up on the specific differences so you can build your rounds to the optimum for your rifle. (I.E. the 5.56 is typically loaded to higher pressure so your rifle chambered in 5.56 may not cycle well with .223 manufactured ammo or lower powered loads. This may improve with break-in as the rifle becomes less new and tight.)

    • There is no reason you cannot load for a semi-auto rifle (or shotgun).

      The one thing that is different reloading a semi-auto (or revolver) is that you want to choose bullets that have a cannelure or crimping groove, and roll crimp (as opposed to taper crimp). This keeps the bullet from “walking out” of the case under recoil in the magazine or in the non-firing chambers on a revolver. It’s not as much of an issue on AR’s as it is on Garands and M1A’s (or AR-10’s, FAL’s – the 7.62 rifles).

      One of the advantages to reloading in a gas gun is that you can choose cleaner-burning powders to help keep the gas system clean. In 5.56, there are now powders that help keep copper fouling from building up in your barrel. (Hodgdon’s CFE-223, as an example).

      As an example of reloading for a gas gun: The Desert Eagle is a gas-operated semi-auto. The original ones were chambered in .44 RemMag. Many of the factory loads in .44 burned kinda dirty – and it didn’t matter, because the .44 Mag was a revolver round, right? Well, it did matter on the Deagle, which could powder foul the gas system in about 70 rounds with the wrong factory ammo (eg, Remington). Load your own with a cleaner-burning powder, and suddenly the Deagle was a lot of fun to shoot.

  16. Saving money? On .45 Colt definitely. A GREAT price for loaded rounds is .50 a piece. They usually run .75 yo a buck, and the hot loads run upwards of $1.50. .45 Colt is a low pressure round, so brass can be reloaded multiple times. Lead bullets are cheap, and I find good deals at Midway on seconds for JHPs or other expanding rounds from premium manufacturers. They shoot just fine.

    • You can save money even with the common calibers as long as you are not buying expensive bullets. I usually buy Berry’s Plated bullets for .380, 9mm, .40, .45 and 38/.357. I’d have to go check again but I think the materials for a box of 9mm will run me around $7. You don’t find manufactured ammo that cheap. When you do the math on the other calibers the savings is greater because they are not manufactured in such vast quantities as 9mm. (Caveat – I buy bullets, primers and powder in bulk when it’s on sale, not during dry times when it’s expensive.)

  17. For me reloading is knitting for an old man. I enjoy my production on a single stage press. Never measured the cost saving. However I don’t ever worry about running out of recreational ammo.
    But the big VALUE comes from knowing how to reload your own ammo.

  18. The article neglects to mention case cleaning. Case cleaning equipment is usually not included in the starter kits. Case prep in itself is a multiple step process. I do all the case prep, including belling, before ever inserting a primer. That saves me wasting a primer on a case that cracked in the belling step.

    Oh, and don’t think you’re going to use handloads for self defense. The legal can of worms that goes along with that is somewhere you don’t want to go.

  19. Got news for y’all. When ammo gets scarce, components for reloading get scarce also.

    Try and see what you can buy right now and you’ll find out it’s not the life saver it would seem to be.

    It only works if you have a stockpile already built up and that also works for factory made ammo.

      • You get around component shortages the same way you get around ammo shortages. Stock up!

        What makes me laugh are the occasional spam email, “Free Ammo For Life!” trying to sell me a reloading for newbs book or something.

      • For some of us in CA, it’s a way to get around our ammo BGC law. You know, the one that doesn’t work but has been upheld in court for some reason?

    • For a given amount of money you can buy reloading supplies in bulk that will leave you with quite a bit more loaded ammo than if you buy bulk factory ammo.

      I’d recommend focusing on powder and primers first unless you need specific bullets (long range rifle, etc). If you aren’t picky you can usually find an available bullet that will work. You can also substitute small rifle primers for small pistol primers because they are the same size. I was given 12k small rifle magnum primers by a friend and am currently using them to load 9mm. They work great in PCC and most hammer fired pistols, but are too hard for striker fired pistols. Standard small rifle primers are a little softer so ymmv. Note that large rifle primers can’t be used in pistols, the primer cup is deeper. Also, don’t use pistol primers in rifle cartridges, they aren’t as hard and you can end up blowing primers.

  20. The sooner one invests in reloading, the sooner you take control of your ammunition, however at the moment things are scarce.

  21. I’m interested in reloading and have an old friend who does(50 miles away). If I ever get down there(was going shooting but the apocalypse happened). And I’m getting bifocals & cataracts out. Right now I don’t shoot enough to “save” $ and my ammo stash is OK.

    • “And I’m getting bifocals & cataracts out.”

      You’re gonna love the result, provided you keep a few things in mind.

      Medicare will only pay for single-focus lenses. The good lenses will cost around 1,500 additional, if not higher. Tell your surgeon you shoot, so he can help you choose what you need…

  22. Just got a Lee Loadmaster .45 kit for father’s day 😉
    I intend to save money loading…. but it isn’t a strict requirement….. I’m a hopeless “tinkerer” and it’ll be fun to do… “Loading therapy”….

  23. I’m far from an expert reloader, but some points in the article seem “off” even to me:

    -A progressive press does have a turret, but manufacturers use the former term for presses that automatically perform all functions except pulling the lever, and “turret press” for those where the user must manually index the turret between steps.

    -Too often a gunwriter sets up beginners to hate / quit an activity by recommending they “practice with [something cheap, crappy, and frustrating] first, then move up when you’re more experienced”, when it is the newb who will benefit most from a modest upgrade. The small price difference for a [manual] turret press over a single-stage is more than justified vs. the huge annoyance of having to manually disassemble and re-set-up the whole press between each step (while leaving a batch of cases sitting around full of powder, for example).

    -As noted in the article, some reload for extreme precision, and others to save money. For the latter, measuring powder dispensers may be preferable to either fumbling around with a manual-balance scale for every cartridge, or paying a lot for a digital one.

    • In more detail, a Turret press generally has the dies move to perform each operation sequentially on a single round. Some do automatically index, but there is one casing in the press waiting to have each procedure performed.

      So for turret you put the casing in and go through all of the procedures like you would with a single stage, but instead of taking out the die and replacing it with the next die for each operation you just rotate the turret so the next die is over the single round being worked on. Or it rotates itself.

      A progressive press has multiple casings in the shell plate and each pull of the lever performs one or more separate functions on all of the cases in the press simultaneously.

      For a progressive press each pull of the lever is decapping/resizing 1 casing, belling/capping/and charging another casing, seating a bullet in a 3rdcasing, and possibly factory crimping a 4th casing, and maybe even double checking a 5th to make sure you didn’t screw up something all at the same time (lock out die, or powder cop die). Depending on the press, and the user it could be set up to do all kinds of things.

      On volume based powder dispensers you always use a scale to either double check the charge or dial it in as part of your set up. So you always need a scale of some kind. Also, every now and then you want to pull out a freshly charged but bullet-less casing and double check the charge before continuing.

      • Agreed – but again, there’s a difference between using the PITA manual balance scale (which often comes free with the kit) to double-check your volumetric powder dispenser every so often, and spending a minute fiddling with it for every one of hundreds of rounds.

  24. Finally, an article on loading/reloading, kudos…

    Nice primer(pun intended) article…

    I have also chosen Lee for all my loading/reloading, with a few Frankford Arsenal items thrown in…
    Started out loading 9mm yrs back, chose the Lee Pro1000 Progressive, knowing what I now now, probably wouldn’t have gone with a progressive press to start with, but I’m glad I have it now…for rifle, I use a Lee Breechlock single stage, mighty fine press, I can switch dies in seconds, no need to reset them all the time…
    I hand prime ALL brass, handgun or longgun, makes no difference, may take a bit longer, but I completely control the process…
    ALL dies are Lee…
    For powder measure, I went digital with the SmartReloader iSD, every bit as accurate and consistent as other brands costing 2-3x more…

    Many 10’s of thousands loaded, many 10’s of thousands more to go…

    • I call bullshit, unless you’re casting the bullets yourself, the bullets alone are some in the $1/bullet(or better) range…
      About $0.30 powder(avg 75-80gr for 260gr bullet)
      About $0.04-5/primer(LRM, brand your choice)

      Time for a math redo…

      • “I call bullshit, unless you’re casting the bullets yourself, the bullets alone are some in the $1/bullet(or better) range…
        About $0.30 powder(avg 75-80gr for 260gr bullet)
        About $0.04-5/primer(LRM, brand your choice)

        Time for a math redo…”

        70 grains IMR 4320 or Reloder 16 $.28
        CCI Mag Primer < $.03

        Then add
        Speer Hot Core 235 grain bullets $.34 (total $.65)
        Western Bullet 285 Grain Cast with Gas Check $.22 (total $ .53)

        I also have some Sierra Game King 300 grain that were on sale for $.64, so they are more if you need long range higher BC. So they would run just under a dollar a round.

        Or the grouse and bunny load —
        Speer .375 round ball and 5 grains of Bullseye (powder $.02, primer $.03, projectile $.07) total for this one 12 CENTS!

  25. Reminds me of the reason why I got into tying my own flies for fly fishing 20 years ago. I invested thousands in materials and equipment in order to save myself from having to pay $2 – $3 per fly at the shops. I will never break even on my investment, but there is a certain satisfaction about being able to whip out 20 flies within a couple of hours for the king salmon run, using my own patterns designed through trial and error. I imagine that reloading has parallels to this, from an enjoyability standpoint.

    • ^^THIS^^

      There’s the argument that building your own 80%-er AR or P80 Glock isn’t cost effective over a factory gat, but the skills learned and satisfaction earned of knowing that you know more about your guns than 95% of all gun owners do (and can modify or repair on your own) is priceless.

  26. I got started by doing the math for .308 Winchester, then added pistol dies and a brass tumbler. While 9mm is only cost effective in mass quantities, .38 Special works out as cheap enough to be worth it. It was a long wait for shipping and still a bit of a,scramble for components but my last trip to the store turned up 1000 pistol primers and a pound of rifle powder. One note when stuff is tight is be flexible with powder. Varget is a super popular powder so it is impossible to find and most other Hodgdon and IMR is rare too.

    • I’ve been using Unique for .45 caliber loads, but wanted some H110 to try some heavier rifle loads. None is to be found anywhere in town, and one of the stores is a big box store. According to one LGS, the recent run on ammo means the commercial loaders are getting served first and the rest of us have to wait until the surge passes.

    • Varget has become my “goto” powder for just about everything I load for, I try to keep several #’s on hand…
      I’d like to try IMR Enduron 4166, but it’s a ghost, haven’t seen any in the wild since it was introduced…

    • Right now, you can find Varget and H4350 (two very popular rifle powders) online at several large reloading distributors.

      Varget and H4350 are very popular powders with rifle reloaders because they have a very low interaction of temperature with the standard deviation of velocity. IMR 4166 (a new “extreme” powder) is also pretty good in this aspect, but not as good as H4350 and Varget. If you’re shooting in a fairly stable temperature environment, you could look into other rifle powders that do well: IMR 4064, IMR 3031, etc. I”ve always been able to find 4064 online, even in the maddest rushes and panics, and it has worked OK for me in ’06 class cartridges.

      • I’ve really come to like Varget because it’s temp stable…Like I said, I’ve yet to see Enduron 4166 in the wild, and have never tried 4350…I’m on Grafs now looking at Vihtavuori powders, trying to figure out where they fit in with my reloading…looking at burn rate charts, I can see that some are very close to what I’m using…Varget and N140 are right next to each other, so that would be a close match…

  27. If you really want to save money you need to buy in bulk from places like Graf and Sons or Powder Valley. You can order 48 lbs of powder and primers in one shipment (5k primers is 7-8 lbs)

    If you get a Curio and Relic FFL ($30 for 3 years) you can get a dealer account at Graf’s and Brownell’s.

    I usually buy bullets at Graf’s or RMR Bullets.

    Also if you know you are going to be loading a bunch of pistol ammo, don’t buy one of those single stage kits. Get a progressive from Dillon or Hornady and a good digital scale.

  28. I just got done making 50 rounds of 45 Colt an hour ago and saw this new article. Total price for 50 that I make myself? $10.77 according to the reload cost calculator. That’s with a 13HBR 255 SWC, 6.0gr of Red Dot, CCI Large pistol primer and brass I pick up at the range. Sorted by headstamp of course. 😉

    I have been reloading for 10 years as well. I started with 9mm, 45 and .223 to “save money.” I shoot more than most folks I know and break even. I make bullets for guns ranging from 32acp to 45 Colt and .223 to 300 WSM. I save LOTS of money on some and almost nothing on others. Like many others here I have way too many presses, gadgets and brass but I can tailor make my rounds any time I want to. I shoot an average of approx. 12000 rounds a year including .22 cal The problem with all that shooting is that I wear out guns faster than most folks.

    Sandy Hook opened my eyes to the difficulties of staying supplied during crisis situations. When I see the “panic buying” and read about the anxious hand wringing I smile to myself.

    I reload because I really enjoy it and I enjoy shooting. I’ve met great people, learned a lot about guns/bullets and know there is so much more for me to learn. It is a good hobby if you’re careful.

  29. It kinda boggles the mind, none of the “starter” kits come with calipers for measuring cartridge overall length. It’s definitely not something you want to guess on.

    The dial calipers are fine for this purpose. You can also get decent digital calipers (measuring increments of 0.0005 inches) at places like Harbor Freight for pretty reasonable cost.

    I also agree with the recommendation for a digital scale. The balance scales that come with those kits are accurate but slow you down considerably.

  30. Rookie Question of the Week: Are bottle-necked cartridges (.357 SIG, 5.56, etc.) to some degree more challenging to reload than straight walled ones?

    • They reload just the same.
      One minor word of caution. Don’t use too much lubericant. If too much lube is used, you can easily dent the shoulder/neck area of the brass. These rounds tend to not chamber well and can cause sticky jams.
      I use a spray lube from Dillon that’s less viscous than that rcbs stuff that comes in the kits.

      • “They reload just the same.”

        Well, for the most part. With straight-wall cartridges you can use a carbide sizing die that eliminates the lubrication requirement. The other issue I find with bottle-necked cartridges is getting the cleaning media to dump out. I spend more time fiddling with emptying the .223/5.56s. The .30 cal stuff dumps easier.

        And… What’s already been said elsewhere in this thread regarding cannelures and roll crimping.

  31. I would like to reinforce the comment from Dyspeptic Gunsmith that mercury fulminate has not been used in primers for about a century. Most current primers are based on lead styphnate which was developed to replace corrosive primer compounds in the late 1920s. More recently, Federal has developed and patented the CATALYST primer system that removes the lead and does not contain any heavy toxic metals (uses a mini-thermite reaction between bismuth trioxide and aluminum). However, to my knowledge this new technology is still in its early days of implementation by Federal. Most ammunition on the shelf still contains lead compounds.

  32. The #1 reason to figure out reloading – isn’t for cost savings now – it’s for our near future when Dementia Joe and VP Stacey Abrams sign a 50% ammunition tax as part of the inevitable gun control that will follow. Purchasing supplies and learning the craft may be the only ammunition that is available in our Orwellian future. Think about that and act. No one is coming to save us.

  33. Pro-tip: The longer you can keep humidity at bay the longer your primers and powder will last. If you buy in bulk this is important. I keep primers, powder and even ammo in steel, not plastic, ammo cans with desiccant bags. (Plastic breathes.) I’ve found a few large cans (the guy called them 40mm) which will fit two 8 lb bottles of powder with room for a few smaller bottles or several boxes of primers and several desiccant bags.

    Another Pro-tip: I read somewhere in my years of doing this (or perhaps heard it in a YouTube) that the little bit of humidity inside loaded ammunition will migrate downward with gravity. If you store your ammo horizontally this can lead to uneven burn rates from one side of the case to the other, causing inconsistent accuracy. To avoid this always store your ammo vertically. Could be an old wives tale, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

  34. Once you start reloading for precision the cost differential is amplified. I can load 0.5 MOA 556 for $0.25-35/rd compared to nearly a dollar for the commercial stuff. And the fun is tuning a load to a particular barrel.

  35. I’m just here to lobby for the green chili recipe making its rounds. Green>red; Hatch rules; no beans dammit

  36. Been reloading for 30 years…wish I had started way sooner. RCBS basic kit.

    I have loaded with my father in law on a Dillon Square Deal progressive.

    And loaded several thousand rounds with a Ideal Tong Tool (nut cracker).

    Most of my shooting has been 38 specials, followed by 357, 45 Long Colt, and 44 Magnum. No bottlenecks for me. Carbide is king.

    It seems to become it’s own hobby for many (like fly tying) but it has allowed me to shoot more for less than I would have spent. It also allow me to shoot fun cartidges like 38 S&W for fun and varmints.

    My wife got me a Hornady Lock and Load Prgrssive to load 9mm. I have it rarely as the cost savings are not as great for 9mm and the cases make my arthritic thumbs hurt.
    So i guess I’ll set it up to load 158 grain 38 specials since that I mostly shoot for fun.

    Well worth the investment even if you shoot nasty bottleneck cartridge like 223 and 30-30.

  37. Glad to see reloading post. I would say progressive press performs all stages with one pull of the lever as cartridges rotate through. Turret press, with each pull, performs a single function. I would recommend Lee Classic Turret press to new reloaders. Take out index rod and you have a single stage press basically. Single stage is nice to have too, but I would still go with Lee Classic Turret for new handloader who wants to load rifle and pistol. I like my progressive for high volume pistol though.
    Other thing I would mention is I don’t like lee perfect powder measure for fine powders. Both I’ve had leaked all over. Replaced with Redding and Hornady and never a problem. I would like to try Lee auto disk though to see if better.

  38. been reloading about 40 years! Easist way for me to start hand loading was to buy a a classic lee loader in .38 spl! Only thing I could afford
    I loaded about 750 rounds before I Made a Kit gun in .45 ACP and started loading them with a Classic Loader also. started shooting IDPA so needed faster way of churning out expendables, so invested in Lee single stage some used dies and Wa-la faster times just not fast enough, bought a Lee One thousand and churned out about 30k rounds before I quit IDPA. too spendy. (plus ridiculous rule that went against the grain of this Combat Vet, it was turned into another game) then on too rifle reloading made my own precision rifle in 7mm-08; this has been fun over the years, have loaded all common rifles and pistols and used a lot of powder a great hobby.

  39. I’ve been reloading (the preferred term is actually “handloading,” even though it’s done with tools) since 1971, which is 49 years. I suppose I can overlook the author’s youth and lack of experience. 3,000-4,000 rounds? Really? I still have every log book I ever scribbled in, and I’ve handled just a smidge over 2.6 million rounds.

    At no time during my life have primers had a trace of fulminated mercury in them unless you were smuggling them in from a former Iron Curtain nation.

    As for getting 10-12 loadings from his low-pressure .38 Spl. brass, he must not be holding his mouth right. With a load that light (3.0 gr. Bullseye), I’d be anguished if I weren’t getting 20 or more uses out of it.

    I do wish he’s dwelled more on crimping, whether a taper or crimp, the necessity or desirability of crimping, as well as when crimping shouldn’t be applied.

    I like his choice of a Lee press, but I’ve used a 3-hole Lee Turret Press since they became available. I managed to wear my first one out and am on my second one now. I use it as though it were a single stage press simply because I never have to adjust my dies once they’re set up in the turret. And the turret keeps the die set together (unless you have a separate crimping die for certain cartridges).


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