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Reloading 101Words by Chris Hendrix | How To Get Started
Getting into reloading can seem like a monumental task. Lots of specialized equipment is needed, and trying to figure out how to get up and running can be daunting. However, reloading is what will allow a lot of newer shooters to really branch out within the hobby. Reloading is a great way to make inexpensive practice ammo, or to create loads that will perform better in your firearms. It can also open new opportunities to shoot firearms for which factory ammunition is not readily available.
The best way to get into reloading is to find someone with a setup and have them show you the ropes. However, if you’re new to shooting this might not be an option. Here we will give you a high-level overview and introduction to the process. Always remember that there are many helpful resources online when it comes to reloading.
The best way to jump into reloading is to order a prepackaged reloading setup. This will give you almost everything you need right out of the box and will provide the best value. While it may be tempting to go and order a fancy progressive press right off the bat, this is not recommended for beginners. A single-stage press, like RCBS’s Rock Chucker Supreme, is a great press for reloaders of all experience levels, and is the press the author personally uses.
When reloading, remember to take your time and to always start below the max load and to work up higher depending on how your firearm handles the ammunition. Keep in mind that there is a learning curve to setting up some of the steps, and it is more than likely you’ll ruin a few cases in the progress.
Preparing the case for your reloads can be as time consuming as you want to make it. Remember that the more uniform your brass is, the more consistent your final ammunition will be. The big savings to reloading is re-using your brass. The number of times you can reuse brass will vary depending on the power of the load used, and the action of the firearm. Bolt guns and revolvers tend to leave your brass looking nice, while semi-autos can chew them up and leave them covered in carbon.
If you’re not quite ready to jump right into some of the case-prep steps but still want to get reloading, you always have the option of purchasing brand new or already prepared brass at many big box stores.
The first step of case prep is to clean the case. The primary method used is throwing cases into a tumbler with media and polish. This is often quite time consuming, and should always be done in a well circulated area, such as outdoors or in a garage. Tumbling can take a long time, and should be done until the brass is clean and looks nearly new. Some reloaders skip this step, but remember that what you don’t remove from your cases is going to ultimately end up within your reloading dies and your chamber.
Resize and Deprime
The next step is to resize and de-prime the cases. This is the first step for which you will use your reloading press. It is important to lightly lubricate the cases at this point as getting a case stuck inside your dies can be a nightmare to deal with. At this stage it is best to use the instructions for your individual dies. Die sets can vary greatly, and some perform several steps at once, while other sets have an individual die for each step in the process.
Some reloaders prefer to de-prime their dies separately from resizing them, but the easiest option for a beginner is to use a full length die set, which will de-prime the case while at the same time resizing the brass and expanding the case mouth. For rifle cartridges, such as the popular .223 Remington, it is likely easiest to use a two-die set. The first die will de-prime, resize and slightly expand the neck for accepting the bullet. The second will seat the bullet and apply a crimp to hold the bullet in place, if desired.
Trim to Length
Finally, the last step of brass prep is to make sure the brass is the proper length. When brass is fired multiple times, it will start to lengthen and stretch out of spec. This is fixed easily with a case trimmer. After trimming, always be sure to chamfer and deburr the neck of your case.
Once your brass has been de-primed and resized, you are ready to move on to the loading of the cartridge. Before anything else, you will prime the cases. Make sure to use the primers that are recommended for the ammo that you are loading. Just because a different primer may fit does not mean that it is necessarily safe to use. The most common and easiest way for a beginner to load primers is with a hand priming tool. These are simple, effective and fast. While priming, be sure to visually verify that each primer has seated correctly, and that they are seated at a uniform depth.
Charge Your Cases
Once your cases are primed, it is time to charge the cases. Once you know what load you’d like to use, the fastest way to accomplish this is with a powder thrower or a powder trickler. Both of these come with instructions and are easy to use to get your loads dialed in. This is the stage of reloading where you must exercise the most care. The worst thing you can do while reloading is to accidentally double charge a case, which could cause damage to your firearm, or worse, injure the shooter. It is recommended that you pick a process and stick with it without deviating so as to always remember where you are in your reloading tray. Always visually look over your charged cases to verify that they are uniformly filled before seating your bullet.
The last step for your reloading is to seat your bullet of choice into the charged and primed case. As with the resizing dies, there is some variability on dies and you can set them up to seat the bullet to the desired depth with the desired amount of crimp, or no crimp at all. Crimp is recommended for use in semi-autos such as the common modern sporting rifles.
Label Your Loads
Finally, be sure you label all ammunition you load by bullet type and the powder charge. This lets you know what the ammo is and what you should expect from it. You should always start with a lighter load and then build up to max loads while testing with a chronograph to make sure that you are getting the expected velocities. Additionally, make sure to monitor your cases for signs of excess pressure, such as flattened primers.
Reloading can seem like a complicated endeavor to undertake, but once you jump in it really is not as complicated as it seems. While there is some initial cost outlay, reloading is the cheapest way to shoot in times of uncertain ammunition prices and availability. In addition to the cost savings, it is very rewarding to load your own ammunition, whether it be for big-game hunting, a precision rifle match, or just plinking cans at your local range.