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How to Reload Your Own AmmoWords by Sean Utley
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Handloading or reloading accomplishes a few things. It teaches shooters about ammunition and also greatly decreases the cost to shoot. Always follow manufacturers’ reloading guidelines before attempting to reload.
Kent Sakamoto, senior product line manager for RCBS, has been handloading since 2002. “There are those that like to handload and those that have to handload,” Sakamoto said. “There are two reasons to handload — to save money and to improve performance.” Did you know that nearly two-thirds of the cost of one round of ammunition is in that little brass case that gets left on the ground? Handloading means you can send more ammunition downrange for less money.
Not all cartridges are created equal. Larger cartridges can be cost prohibitive to purchase in large quantities, making the move toward handloading a smart option. With products and tools from RCBS, you’ll become proficient. Now, let’s go through the steps of handloading.
Take the time to carefully inspect each case. Spent cases are the foundation for handloading quality ammo, so be sure to inspect them closely. Look for dents, dings, cracks or corrosion. Anything that compromises the case could cause pressure problems within the firearm’s chamber.
After inspecting them, it’s time to clean. Place the cases in a cleaning medium, which can be in dry or liquid form. For my reloading, I used RCBS Formula 1 Walnut shell; it’s composed of finely crushed walnut shells that are mixed with a polish. Then place the medium in a vibratory cleaner and let the cleaner do the work.
You can also clean your cases with the RCBS Ultrasonic Case Cleaner. This electronic device uses a liquid cleaning medium to get the cases spotless. Just pour the Ultrasonic Case Cleaning Solution into the tub, drop the cases into the basket and place the basket in the tub. Once you’re done, drain the media using the supplied drain tube.
After cleaning the cases, you’ll need to resize them. Each time a round is fired, the brass case expands and slightly contracts, thus altering its shape. Cases need to be as close to their original dimensions as possible.
To accomplish this, a sizing die must be used in conjunction with a reloading press. One of the oldest and most popular reloading presses is the RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme. Made of cast iron and insured with a lifetime warranty, it’s robust and features a handle that utilizes compound leverage. The resizing die is secured in the press and, once properly set, will resize cases to the specified dimensions by constricting the case walls and resizing the case neck.
The RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme also forces out the old primer in the process of resizing.
Once you’ve resized the case, measure it with calipers to check the length. If it’s not correct, you’ll need to trim it down to proper length. Use a manual or powered case trimmer.
5. Final Prep
After trimming, you’ll need to further prep the case by deburring the case mouth and flash hole, cleaning the primer pocket and chamfering the case neck. Chamfering and deburring the case neck creates a gentle angle that makes it easier to seat the bullet in the case.
6. Seat Primer
After case prep, it’s time to seat your primer. Take care with primers so as not to damage them or contaminate them with any oils, solutions or liquids. You can get an auto priming system for your Rock Chucker Supreme or you can use one of RCBS’ hand-priming tools. The goal is to make certain that the primer is seated into the primer pocket at the proper depth.
The proper seating depth is flush with the case head. If the primer is seated too shallow, you could accidentally set off the primer when not shooting. Too deep and you can crush the primer and cause a misfire. Note: Cases that have crimped/staked primer pockets require additional care. The staking must be removed in order to insert a new primer.
7. Load Powder
Every step in handloading is crucial, but loading the powder tops the list of important steps. If there’s too much powder in a cartridge, it could be catastrophic.
How do we know proper load amounts? By using a reloading guide. Manuals like Nosler’s Reloading Guide give new handloaders the ultimate resource for loads. The manual contains information regarding the minimum and maximum charges for a given bullet weight and brand of powder. It also notes which loads have shot most accurately.
Once you know the proper powder charge for your application, make certain it is measured correctly. A few grains off in your charge doesn’t look like much on paper, but it could mean the difference between an enjoyable day of shooting or a trip to the ER. Using instruments, such as an RCBS Uniflow Powder Measure and Range Master 2000 Electronic Powder Scale help ensure the charges are correct.
Weigh your charges, making changes to the measure as necessary. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, fill your cases with the powder charges, stopping periodically to ensure your measurements haven’t shifted.
8. Bullet Seating
The final step is seating your bullet into the case. A seating die, which comes in your die set, ensures that bullets are seated to the proper depth. The reloading guide will give you the proper measurements for overall bullet length. Insert the case into the shell holder of the press and hold the bullet on the case mouth to guide it into the die while pulling the handle of the press. You’ll feel some resistance as it initially seats. Then you’ll need to remove the cartridge and measure overall length again to see if you need to seat the bullet deeper. A long cartridge will not fit into the magazine of your rifle and will not function properly. Bullets seated too deep can cause increases in chamber pressure, so take care during this process.
After the bullet is seated, you may need to crimp the bullet. This crushes the case mouth around the bullet so that it doesn’t move deeper into the case under recoil of the weapon. All pistol rounds need to be crimped and some rifle cartridges do, too. The use of heavy recoiling semiautomatics and lever actions may require you to crimp the bullet. Crimping typically isn’t necessary in bolt-action rifles. Keep in mind that crimping typically increases pressures.
Honing in and Tuning out
Handloading is an involved process. Reading through these steps can make the process seem daunting. However, RCBS’ reloading video gives a great overview of the process. Couple that with the Nosler reloading manual and your undivided attention, and you have a recipe for success. Mistakes and errors are always a possibility, so distractions like cellphones and televisions have no place in the reloading room.
Take your time, and focus on the task at hand. Good luck and happy loading!