A major part of being self reliant is the willingness to take our personal protection into our own hands. As survivalists and preppers, most of us own firearms and are at least somewhat proficient in their use. That takes practice and ammo costs money. I believe that training and practice are worth every penny, especially if you ever need the skills in a defensive situation. If you shoot much at all, you’ve noticed that the price of ammo is constantly going up. Honing the shooting skills can quickly get expensive. The best way to reduce this cost is reloading your own ammunition. I want to give you the basic information that will let you decide if reloading is an endeavor that would benefit you personally. I won’t be going into great detail on the processes because I’m a firm believer that the most important information should come from published, trusted sources. I can recommend where to get technical information about reloading processes and load data. You should never trust load data that isn’t published in a book from a component manufacturer.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to learning to reload is the misconception that the initial startup costs are too high. I’ve proven personally that you can get the equipment and components you need for a reasonable price, less than $100 in some cases. Another major stumbling block is the idea that reloading is complicated and dangerous. It’s a very simple process and will only be dangerous if you don’t follow simple directions and pay attention to simple safety guidelines. I’ve been reloading for years and years without any sort of accident or mishap. Reloading is no more dangerous that filling a car up with gas or using household cleaning chemicals. With all of that said, we can get into the fun stuff!
The best place to start is to cover how ammunition is constructed. Then I’ll move into the actual reloading process. I’m going to be breaking this into two Articles, Centerfire cartridges and Shotshells. Each has its own basic construction and process, and use different equipment. Today we’ll be covering centerfire cartridges.
Centerfire cartridges can be anything from the little .25 ACP up to the 50BMG. As different as they may seem, these two cartridges are constructed the same way and of the same materials. All of the components in a cartridge are a case, a primer, a bullet, and a propellant. Cases are generally made of brass, but some are steel or aluminum. Brass is the only suitable material for reloading. Bullets can be made from all sorts of materials, but the most common are lead alloys and lead alloy jacketed with copper. A primer is the small round button on the bottom of the cartridge. They are a small metal case with a chemical mixture inside that ignites with explosive force when struck by the firing pin of a gun. This small explosion is the “spark” to ignite the propellant charge. Propellants, commonly referred to as powder or gunpowder, come in various textures and burn rates but all of them serve the same purpose. They burn rapidly and create a high volume of hot gas. This hot gas expands rapidly and provides the force to move the bullet down the barrel and out to the target. Different propellants have different burn rates that are suited for specific purposes. Generally speaking, pistol and shotgun powders burn very fast compared to most rifle powders.
The process to reloading these cartridges can be boiled down to inserting a primer into a case, adding a powder charge through the neck of the case, then seating a bullet into the neck. Of course this is stating it very simply and there are a lot of other factors that go into reloading. There are a couple of steps added if you use cases that have been used before. Depriming is the first. The old primer needs to be removed. Resizing is a big step in using fired cases. This forces the brass back into specified size and shape. Cases that have been fired multiple times can “grow” in length, so they must be trimmed back to proper length. Once these steps are taken, the case should be back to factory specs and can be reloaded. For the step by step, we’ll assume the use of new brass that won’t require additional steps. The basic steps are as follows:
1. Priming the case
This step is pretty self explanatory. You use a priming tool to insert a new primer into the primer pocket on the bottom of the case. Because the case now contains a live primer, it should be handled accordingly. Treat it as you would a live round.
2. Adding the powder charge
Using published load data for the cartridge and powder you pick, you add a very specific amount of powder to the case. Different equipment setups do this by different means, but it can be as simple as pouring a measured amount through a small funnel.
3. Seating the bullet
Once powder is added, a bullet is seated into the neck of the cartridge. The bullets usually are of a slightly larger diameter than the case neck, so it is a tight fit to protect against the bullet falling into the case or coming out of its own accord. Some processes call for using a special tool to crimp the bullet into place. This usually isn’t required, but it does have some benefit.
At this point you have a live round of whatever cartridge you are loading. Now I’m going to get considerably more technical about components. You can’t just pick powder and bullet combinations at random. The first step in selecting a combination is finding published load data for the combination you want to use. The reason you should only use published load data is because the cartridge, bullet and powder combination have been thoroughly tested to ensure they will work together in a safe and efficient manner. Developing your own load data requires substantial knowledge and specialized equipment. You might run into some reloaders that claim to develop their own loads by estimating chamber pressures and velocities. This is an unsafe practice since there are countless variables that can influence pressures and velocity. Sticking to published load data from bullet or powder manufacturers is the only way to ensure the load you use is safe. A lot of people decide what bullet they want to use, then look at load data to determine what powder will meet their needs. For any given bullet and cartridge, there might be a dozen or more suitable powders. I base my powder choices on several things; recommendations of other shooters, availability, and price are determining factors for me.
Bullet selection should be based on your desired purpose. Are you going to be using this ammo for practice? An inexpensive full metal jacket (FMJ) should work well. Are you going to be big game hunting? There are hundreds of bullets designed specifically for hunting. Are you shooting long range at varmints? “Varmint” bullets are available that basically come apart on impact to prevent ricochet. Other experienced shooters and reloaders can help you select the right bullet for the job.
Some words of advice and caution… I’ve been pretty adamant so far about following published load data in this article. That means follow the load data to the letter. Do not substitute powders or bullets. Any deviation from the data can take a safe load into the world of ruined gun and injured or dead shooters. I’ve intentionally been vague on details of each step of the process and the equipment to use because no one should read an article on a blog and think they know enough to jump right into reloading. At this point, if you are interested you have some reading to do. A good manual on reloading is invaluable to a new reloader. A mentor with years of experience is even better, but that’s not always an option for some of us. I never had a mentor and I’ve been successful as a reloader. For those that plan to be “self taught”, I cannot recommend a specific book highly enough. It is Modern Reloading by Richard Lee. Richard Lee is the founder of Lee Reloading, a reloading equipment manufacturer. With this one book, you will gain enough information to become a competent and safe reloader. I’ve read several books on the subject, but this one is by far the best. The book is very inexpensive, so if you are interested but still unsure if you want to reload, you can buy it without much investment.
Since I mention in the title about saving money, I thought it was only fair to show you how much money you can save by reloading. I’ll use one of my favorite cartridges as an example. The .270 Winchester cartridge is a pretty common cartridge so it usually isn’t expensive to buy factory ammunition. Premium hunting ammunition ranges from $35 to $45 per box of 20 cartridges. If I reload using comparable components, I can load a box of 20 for $13.50. If I save by brass cases and don’t need to buy new brass, that cost drops to $9.20.
If I reload the 40S&W pistol cartridge using brass I already have, I can put a box of 50 rounds together for around $11.
With prices like this, practice starts to get a lot more manageable. I can shoot quality ammunition made with good components for the same price or even cheaper than buying cheap imported ammunition with steel cases and crappy bullets.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me with the first link in the blogroll on the right side of the webpage. Hopefully this article will give you enough information to figure out if reloading is something you might be interested in. Stay tuned for a companion article on reloading shotshells.
I’m including this link as a resource. It is very thorough and contains more information that I can give in one article. While it is very thorough, I still recommend buying a copy of Modern Reloading to have as a reference.