Reloading - It's a Blast

By Jeff D. Smith
September 2004

It all started with a beautiful sunrise.  On the eastern horizon, the night sky was giving way to an array of colors.  I sat in a double ladder stand with my 10-year old daughter with thoughts shifting between looking at the magnificent sunrise and hoping to see a deer later in the morning.  The area was so void of ambient light, the sky was still filled with thousands of stars. Amber had spent all summer getting ready for this morning – opening day of firearm season.  As if on queue, a herd of deer came up the draw to feed on white oak acorns around our stand.  She put the crosshair on a mature doe and we had fresh venison all winter.  The happiness I had that day outweighs all my previous endeavors of trying to outsmart a host of game provided by Mother Nature.  Amber played a big hand in her success that day.  I didn’t buy her a rifle, sight it in and hand it to her to hunt with.  She was involved in every step of the process.  She worked up a cartridge load and handloaded the shell used to harvest the deer.  Handloading is one of her favorite parts of the shooting process.  It was very special to her to be involved in the process of getting ready to hunt and then seeing all the hard work pay off. 

A lot of people ask, “What’s the difference in handloading and reloading?”  They’re very similar and can be used interchangeably.  Handloading is more of a custom process that normally takes more time to produce a quantity of ammunition, where as reloading is more mechanical in nature producing bulk ammunition.  At least that’s my take on the two but it’s like splitting hairs.  I have a Dillon pistol cartridge reloading press and can reload hundreds of cartridges in an hour.  Handloading fifty rifle cartridges can take several hours.

In a quick overview of handloading, four components make up a rifle or pistol cartridge.  They include the case, primer, powder and bullet.  The following steps are used to prepare the case for loading: clean the case in a tumbler, clean the primer pocket, debur the neck where the bullet is located and trim the overall case length (COL) to the desired length.  Trimming is normally only done every four to ten shots depending on the caliber and how “hot” the cartridge was loaded.  Next, the primer is seated in the primer pocket, the powder is funneled into the case and the bullet is seated.  You’re now ready to shoot.

Reloading can be an inexpensive hobby.  Several companies offer a reloading package with all the basic hardware needed to reload cartridges.  The RCBS RC Supreme Master Reloading Kit contains everything needed to start reloading except the caliber dies.  The kit cost around $250.00 and dies around $22.00 a set.  For less than $300.00, you can be up and running.  Bullets are normally sold in packages of 50 or 100, primers in packs of 100 and powder by the pound.  A pound of powder will load approximately 100 to 150 rounds depending on the caliber.  A 300 Winchester Magnum will call for more powder than a 243 Winchester therefore you’ll get more rounds per pound with the 243 Winchester. 

The cost of handloaded ammunition is significantly lower than purchasing store bought premium ammunition.  I can load premium components for approximately $6.00 to $12.00 a box.  The price difference is in the bullet selected.  Some bullets are inexpensive and others are quite pricey.  If I were getting my Ph.D. in ammunition, I would write my dissertation on "Bullets".  I love bullets and bullet research.  With that said, there’s no "Perfect Bullet" for hunting. When I'm working up a load for a rifle, the bullet selection is based off a set of criteria to determine the type of bullet needed for the hunting style used by that weapon.  I’m a big fan of Nosler bullets.  They make a quality product that consistently performs as designed.

Handloading can be a safe hobby; however I would recommend wearing safety glasses when loading ammunition.  The use of solid common sense will go a long way in life and also applies to loading ammunition.  In my experience, the most dangerous part of reloading is seating the primer.  Make sure you keep the “bullet end” of the case pointed away from your body, especially your eyes, when seating the primer.  Most rifle loads will fill the case between 70 and 100% full of powder.  It would be impossible to “double charge” a load – one of the old misconceptions for reloading.

I’ve only had one occurrence when a handload failed to fire. Of course, as with Murphy’s Law it was while hunting.  I was hunting in a pine thicket with a Thompson Contender pistol chambered in 30/30 Winchester.  A doe came by at 40 yards and put the crosshair on her shoulder.  I squeezed the trigger, the hammer fell but the primer didn’t ignite.  That pistol has three hammer settings: centerfire, rimfire and safe mode.  My first thought was I had the hammer set to rimfire or safe mode.  I checked the switch and it was set to centerfire.  Keeping the pistol pointed in a safe direction, I cocked the hammer and squeezed the trigger with the same result.  The deer sensed something was wrong and left the area.  After holding the pistol in a safe direction for several minutes, I removed the cartridge and the firing pin had struck the primer.  It must have been a bad primer.  I’ve fired thousands of handloads and only had that one problem.  Handloads are very dependable.

Through handloading, you can build custom ammunition that is a perfect fit for the chamber of your rifle. The bullet is seated at the right depth, you choose the powder/primer combination that shoots the best in your rifle and you choose the bullet that is suited for you’re hunting style. Now all you need to do is squeeze the trigger and you have a finely tuned shooting machine.

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