Reloading Ammunition for Fun and Profit

I admit it. I am a gun/firearm nut. I am not really irrational, just highly enthusiastic. The winter is hard for a gun nut. It’s cold outside and there’s snow on the ground. Hunting seasons are mostly finished and I am a bit old for trapping. I can fondle guns and ammunition but that is not satisfying.

Instead, I reload the empty rounds. Reloading has many benefits besides keeping fingers busy:

  • reloaded ammunition can be more accurate than commercial ammunition because the brass cartridge has been sized perfectly to the chamber and bore of the rifle in the process of firing and one gets to adjust the bullet, seating depth and powder charge each which may improve accuracy. It is not unusual to obtain half the size of groups on paper targets by reloading.
  • reloaded ammunition costs much less than a round of ammunition bought retail. For example, a typical round of .308 Winchester costs about $1+. Reloading with 2 cents worth of primer, 15 cents worth of powder and a 25 cent bullet saves more than half the cost. Of course, I save nothing but I do get to shoot more…
  • reloading ammunition is good for the environment because it is a form of recycling and by carefully choosing components, one can do more with less. For example, when hunting deer in the bush at close range I can use smaller powder charges effectively and less expensive round nose bullets. The sleek aerodynamic bullets cost much more and use more copper and lead.
  • reloading decreases dependence on any particular supplier so one can take better advantage of the market for components. For example, if Winchester raises the prices of their bullets one may be able to change to Hornady. Same with powders, primers or cases. I haven’t bought a case in years as other shooters litter the ground with their empties. It pays to use a commonly used calibre like .308 Win.

To really make effective use of reloading one must record the loading data and make measurements for quality control. Unfortunately, in my travels, my reloading log book has disappeared. It’s probably in some box in storage. Thus I am left only with labels written on my packages which are incomplete. I have started a database and will keep data there from now on. Now that the basement is finished and boxes will be unpacked there is still hope for reloading data recovery, but for now I am working up new loads as needed. I enjoy that so it’s not a complete waste. Another problem is that one of the pivots for my powder scale has gone missing. I expect to find that if I ever get my workshop unpacked. It’s not lost. I just don’t know where it is… 😉

I can describe the reloading process in a list of steps:

  1. recover the cartridge case. You can’t reload it if you don’t have it. This step is often complicated by water, bush, leaves, grass and sand.
  2. clean it to remove foreign matter.
  3. examine the case and discard any with split/cracked necks, bulges, corrosion, extruded metal near the head, and enlarged primer pockets.
  4. decap by pushing a thin rod down through the neck and through the flash hole (Boxer primers. Berdan primers are rare here and need other methods because of off-centre flash holes).
  5. give a quick wipe to the interior of the case with a Q-tip or washing in soap and water to remove GSR (gunshot residue). I do this mostly with a Lee Loader kit but I can also use a reloading press with dies for the particular cartridge, in which case case sizing may be combined with decapping.
  6. unless it’s a new case or one fired in another rifle, I neck-size only just enough to hold the bullet securely. This prolongs life and increases accuracy. Low-pressure cartridges like .222 Rem can be reloaded dozens of times before cracking. High-pressure cartridges like .308 Win are good for 20 reloadings or so. One advantage of the Lee Loader doing this is that no lubricant need be used. With a press, lubricant can get onto primer or powder and cause problems.
  7. seat the new primer just below the surface of the head of the case so there is little possibility of the bolt setting it off in chambering a round. The Lee Loader or press can do this but you can also obtain a specially designed priming tool with a variety of case-holders and primer-flipping tray. An updside-down primer is not good. Any time you work with ammunition or primers it is a good idea to wear ear and eye protection. I have shot many thousands of rounds over decades and only once had a perforated primer. I was glad to have had eye-protection. I have never had a primer go off outside a rifle but it would be loud.
  8. pour in a measured charge. Normally I do all charges initially with a well known powder and a precise powder balance but in production I use a volumetric measure and use the balance to check consistency. Even 0.1 grains matters. For safety I never exceed recommended charges and I always check for signs of excessive pressure like flattened primers and bulged cases. For any new combination of powder, primer, case, bullet and seating depth, I work up charges from a minimum starting charge in successive trials. Along the way, I check accuracy versus load.
  9. seat the bullet to the depth where the cartridge will still feed from the magazine, preferably just touching the rifling while holding the bullet firmly by the tension of the neck of the cartridge. To accomplish this I use a very precise stainless steel vernier caliper. It’s also useful for checking bullet diameters, case neck thickness and cartridge lengths. If a cartridge gets too long, the neck needs to be trimmed to length or the bullet may be jammed into the chamber rather than being free do move along the bore.

It’s a recipe that has worked for decades. Reliable reloading data can be obtained from bullet or powder manufacturers. Pay attention to overall length of loaded rounds. Seating the bullet deeper can cause higher pressures. Pressure is good because it propels bullets but too much can damage rifle or shooter.

I use these resources:

Reloading can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing but if you are willing to learn, the benefits are enormous. National and local regulations may restrict reloading and storage of components and ammunition so consult the rulebooks. Generally, good practice is to store no more than necessary and store with consideration given to tampering and fire. Smokeless propellants burning produce a rapid production of gas (not an explosion) so they must be stored in lockers that will release pressure. e.g. wood planking. Several component makers have published how-tos and reloading data and have been in business for decades. Winchester, Hornady and Sierra make great bullets and Hodgdon, Winchester, and IMR make great propellant powder. Those powders are “cannister-grade” and made to tight specifications ensuring continuity of reloading data. To be sure check loads carefully when changing batches.

Enjoy. I enjoy every shot I fire because I know the ammunition was made by me as best it can be made and is customized to my equipment and shooing situations. Factory loads designed by lawyers and salesmen just don’t please me.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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6 Responses to Reloading Ammunition for Fun and Profit

  1. John Smith says:

    9 great steps for reloading.
    Thank for share this great article. I am very new with hunting.
    Keep posting!

  2. Andrey says:

    Totally agree with your thought about enjoyment when firing your own cartridges.
    The last time I hunted, I felt that clearly.

    We have a duck species in our region we call “northern ducks”, and they have a pretty heavy feather cover. So, I started my hunt with factory-made shells. And you know, when I shot from a distance of about 40 yards, I saw that I hit a duck, but it wasn’t downed. I just heard a sound of a hit but didn’t take that duck. Now imagine that this happens several times in a row.

    So I go out from the lake to our camp with empty hands. And during a break, I talk to a guy who happens to have his own shells, reloaded by him. He just laughed at me when I told him that I tried to take a northern duck from such a distance using factory shells. Then he just shared some of his shells with me so I could feel the difference.
    That saved my hunt – I took 5 ducks with that shells.

    So yes, hand-made shells are way better.

  3. Boyd S. says:

    Nice, extensive article on reloading! I have a turret press myself. Loading .357s and .45 ACPs. Allows me to get away from the missus when I can. 🙂

  4. kolter says:

    All I do is shop around!
    -as cases get reused, cost per load drops. so that’s a moving target (heh)
    -I have to ship projectiles so shipping drives up the cost of the lead.
    -I’m limited to RNFP or SWC so that there are no points pressing into the primers (Henry Big Boy, has a tubular magazine)
    -primers aren’t special. I’m currently running CCI large pistol.

  5. Kolter wrote, “my costs per cartridge are about 70cents right now”.

    That seems high. Perhaps you should shop around.

    .451 230 gr RN $138/1000 = 13.8 cents each at Higginson Powders

    Do you need rare/expensive primers for that, to be authentic? You could probably shoot 1000 rounds per pound of smokeless… Maybe you could add something to make smoke…

    230 GR. CAST LRNFP IMR 800-X .452″ 1.580″ 6.2 746 9,100 PSI 9.0 1003 13,200 PSI

  6. Kolter says:

    As a cowboy action shooter in Canada, I don’t have much choice but to reload, as I can’t find any .45cal dealers anywhere.

    I buy my powder and primers from a local sport shop(Better buys)
    I have my brass shipped from wholesale sports.
    and my lead comes from bullet barn.

    I use a lee press myself, and hand-loaded 1200 cartridges last year. will probably do 2000 this year.

    my costs per cartridge are about 70cents right now. I track that cost on a spreadsheet, and it’s the cost of all supplies/rounds loaded, so I watch that number jump when I buy something, and drop as I load.

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