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The cap-and-ball or the flintlock enthusiast is a handloader in the nature of things. Being an enthusisast, he enjoys the loading process almost as much as the shooting. We could compare him to the trout fisherman who finds the darkest winter months brightened with glow to the east, that promise, invisible to some of us, that spring is mustering her forces for the grand march. He is busy with fly-tying, rod-winding and reel-tuning, or he is, if he likes to do things for himself.
No less hopelessly hobby-gripped is the pistol shooter who handloads. The gleaming empty centertfire cases flung through the ejector port of his semi-auto or punched from the cylinder of his sixgun are "golden numbers"in thier promise of enjoyment ahead. At times, some of us have shot mainly for empties to reload.
It's fun, and it's healthful relaxation, this careful unhurried handling of the components-cases, bullets, powders and primers. Bigtime match shooters and those on their way to such skill have complained about the labour involved, even when they used quqntity production tools. To me, some of those wails lacked the ring of sincerity. I pitied the winners equally for the toil of keeping their long rows of medals bright and shiny! One evening I put up several hundred 45ACP with a slow old tong or nutcracker tool. Plain honesty now recreates this chore as having ninety percent pleasure.
Handloading is economical: the tools pay for themselves in a few hundred rounds, unless our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we buy a more elaborate outfit than our shooting will justify. Unless the tools are downright poor-and few are-their design and weight and power mean very much less in quality production than the skill and the care we use when operating them, We can develop the skill, and without the care we have no right to use them at all.
Any gun accident affects not only the shooter who is guilty of it, and perhaps innocent bystanders, too, but also our whole circle. Accidents get publicity, and almost everyone reads the news. Accidents give us shooters a bad name.
Digitizing your reloading Room
Reloading is an old-school art that is often passed down through generations. It’s most common to start reloading because you have a family member who teaches you. Most people are surprised when they start reloading to see just how old some of the methodology and equipment really is. There are few, if any, digital tools in basic reloading setups. Most reloading setups contain a sliding scale, a pair of calipers, and a powder thrower. These relatively simple tools allow an experienced reloader to create ammunition to very precise specifications.
There is nothing wrong with using the old school tools and techniques of reloading and many old timers may refuse to change what’s worked for them for decades. However, the old way isn’t always the best way just because it still works. New technology and equipment has allowed reloaders to bring their precision to an entirely new level.
The benefits to digital and electronic material are self evident. Using digital and electronic equipment in reloading allows you to reload both faster and more precisely. Faster is better, because it allows you to load more rounds in less time. This can be very important when loading range ammo. When you’re able to load more precisely, however, you will see the benefits downrange. This is important if you handload your ammunition for match or hunting purposes.
Many serious shooters can improve their reloading experience with a few simple pieces of equipment from RCBS.
RCBS has changed that with their Electronic Digital Calipers. These calipers are quick and easy to use, instantly displaying your measurements in both either the imperial or metric systems out to three decimal places. These calipers allow you to measure internal, external, depth and step measurements. They also include a sturdy carrying case for storage.
RCBS Electronic Digital Micrometer
RCBS Chargemaster Combo 120 Vac
Once again, just because this method works does not mean it is the best option. RCBS’s Chargemaster Combo 120 Vac has everything you ever wanted for accurately charging your cases. The Chargemaster will work with any powder and can accurately dispense loads quickly. The hopper will hold up to one pound of the powder and it will dispense 60 grains of extruded powder in 30 seconds. The Chargemaster can accurately dispense loads from 2 grains to 300 grains to an accuracy of 0.1 grain. And it includes the Chargemaster 1500 electronic scale.
RCBS Rangemaster 2000 Electronic Scale
Electronic scales vary greatly in quality and often times you get what you pay for. However, the Rangemaster 2000 from RCBS is a great choice even on a tighter budget. The scale electronically measures your components to an accuracy of 0.1 grains quickly and accurately. Included with it are two calibration weights so that you can calibrate your scale as often as necessary to achieve peace of mind. The scale is capable of working both from A/C or with a nine volt battery. Additionally, for the left handed reloaders out there, RCBS has included an ambidextrous scale pan.
RCBS AmmoMaster Chronograph
The ability to have the readout right in front of you is very nice. The AmmoMaster will also do some simple math functions such as calculating string averages so that you can record your data quickly and accurately on the range. The unit itself is quite sturdy, and it uses plastic side supports for its diffuser instead of metal ones. RCBS also sells the side supports separately online, because while none of us will admit it, we all know that accidents happen with chronographs.
Let’s skip the appetizer and get right to the meat and potatoes of a manufacturer’s claims
for a new cartridge case technology to replace the 150-year reign of brass. Here’s what Shell Shock Technologies (SST)
says about their two-piece, nickel-aluminum-stainless steel 9mm Luger NAS3 cases:
Taking the last two claims first, OK, it would be pretty handy to effortlessly pick up our brass
with a magnet after shooting a match stage. Coloring our cases means we can instantly separate our brass from that of other
competitors. Plus there’s that unquantifiable “cool factor” of nonchalantly bringing something interesting,
useful and attention-getting to a match. Many pistol competitors are also handloaders, so the other claims—did I mention
“40 reloadings” and “no trimming?”—are of eyebrow raising interest to us.
The NAS3 case is a nickel-stainless steel alloy cylinder crimped to a nickel plated
aluminum case head. Stainless steel does indeed have a higher tensile strength than brass and so the case material doesn’t
“flow” forward on firing and eventually need trimming, like a brass case, and it can withstand much higher chamber
pressures than brass. For the handloader, however, we must redefine “stronger.” The crimped joint between
the NAS3 two-piece case head and body is a weak point for handloading. Though I just called the case body a “cylinder,”
perhaps “funnel” would be a more descriptive word. The base of the stainless steel cylinder has a hollow tube
extension that forms the primer’s flash hole channel; the end protruding into the case head is flared and crimped to
bond the two pieces together.
My informal method comparing corrosion resistance to that of brass was to leave a couple cases
in a saltwater solution for two weeks, expose them to the outside air for another two weeks, then compare them to similarly
treated brass. The NAS3 nickel-stainless steel case body survived just fine, but its nickel plated aluminum
case head corroded as much or more so than brass. A claim refutation, it appears, but let’s have a reality check: the
test result satisfies curiosity but means nothing in the real world unless you store your cases in a saltwater solution.
This derives from beveling the flash hole from inside the case, a well-recognized accurizing
trick used in precision shooting like NRA Long-Range and High Power competition. SST also enlarges the flash hole, not for
shot-to-shot consistency, but helpful for reliable ignition when reloading with lead-free primers for indoor shooting. The
enlarged flash hole is possibly desirable from a manufacturing standpoint, an aid perhaps in crimping the body-to-case-head
The last two claims regarding case stretching and 40 reloads are simple to check; though tedious
and time consuming, they’re worth the effort. For the sake of alacrity in presenting you the SST case here and now,
allow me some time (and pleasant weather) to attend the range with calipers and loading press to see whether we can get those
40 reloadings from a single case. Stay tuned for a report with reloading and chronograph results in the not-too-distant future.
For now, let’s summarize the pros and cons of SST’s cases for the handloader.
No case stretching—hence no trimming is necessary.
Resizing cases requires lubrication. Adding this step back into the handloading process negates one of the joys of clean, rapid reloading on the progressive press with carbide dies.
WARNING: All technical data in this publication,
especially for handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components
under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article and over which the National Rifle Association
(NRA) has no control. The data has not otherwise been tested or verified by the NRA. The NRA, its agents, officers and employees
accept no responsibility for the results obtained by persons using such data and disclaim all liability for any consequential
injuries or damages.
The use of coatings instead of waxy lubes means that the bullet no longer needs a lube groove. Many manufacturers
have changed or added molds to their lineup that offer bullet designs with no lube groove.
Figure 6. Traditional wax lubed and identical coated bullets used for accuracy comparison
How often to clean?
The more I test and use handguns, the more respect I have for the operating reliability of these machines. Tolerances held by Kimber, Colt, Glock, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, SIG, and CZ are excellent. When we fire these handguns on the range, we should have every confidence that they will fire time after time without any type of problem. After all, many of these handguns are based on service pistols that were designed to function in horrific situations.
The Colt 1911, as an example, is famous for operating when soaked in mud or snow. The SIG P226 came out on top in a rigorous test in which 228,000 cartridges were fired in a grueling program. Just the same, these handguns need maintenance. They need cleaning and lubrication. Many will run dirty, but they will not run dry.
If a handgun isn’t cleaned properly, eccentric wear will impede function. Normal wear is simply even wear. The finish is worn and the pistol becomes worn as it is used. The springs eventually wear and need to be replaced. The bore becomes worn. Eccentric wear is different.
The finish or the handgun’s parts are gouged by foreign material. Dirt, grit, and unburned powder make for eccentric wear. If the tolerances are such that good accuracy is guaranteed, the pistol simply will not be as accurate if the operating mechanism is filled with powder ash from firing. Lead buildup is even worse.
The question that is often asked is how often should we clean the handgun? The answer really depends upon the firearm. .22 caliber rimfire handguns should be cleaned most often. Due to the powder used in this caliber, the .22 is the dirtiest cartridge in common use. Few .22 handguns will go more than 300 rounds without a malfunction if they are not cleaned.
A modern 9mm self loading, firing good quality factory jacketed bullet loads, may go several thousand rounds before function begins to become sluggish due to the buildup of unburned powder—but we really don’t wish to abuse our firearms. Even handguns that will perform well without cleaning at a high round count still demand lubrication.
Revolver springs seem to never go out of whack, as they are not compressed when in storage. Self-loading pistols should have their recoil spring changed every 3,000 to 5,000 rounds in the case of the 1911 .45 at a similar event with the Glock, SIG, Beretta, and other quality self-loaders.
We all know of handguns that have been going since World War II without changing the springs, but this simply isn’t optimal performance. We purchase high-end pistols so we will not have to worry about reliability, true, but maintenance is part of every firearm.
The Browning, Ruger, and Smith and Wesson .22s are recreational firearms and cleaned as needed. When the chamber begins to look cruddy and the bolt seems greasy with lubricant and powder ash, I clean the MKIII. When the pistol is clean, lubricant is applied for function. When powder ash is present there is a muddy soup. When you go to the range you will lubricate the handgun more heavily because you may fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition. A carry gun is best served with a thin application. I fieldstrip, wipe down, and lubricate the carry gun after every practice session. It gets a thorough field strip and inspection every 500 rounds or so. When you are faced with a critical incident, the events have gotten out of control and there are many factors beyond your control. One thing you can control is that the handgun will be clean, ready, well lubricated, and in top firing condition.
Owner’s manuals usually have good information on field stripping the handgun. Field stripping simply means removing the slide from the frame of the self-loading handgun and then separating the barrel, spring, and recoil guide from the slide. Revolvers usually do not need to be field stripped at all, although you will need to learn to remove the cylinder from a single action revolver for proper cleaning.
A professional will learn detail stripping, in order to properly maintain the trigger action, but a hobbyist has no need to do so. Most agencies have an armorer to maintain issue firearms. If you seek to modify an issue handgun, let’s hope you and the Chief are on a first name basis.
It is quite easy to damage the ejector, extractor, or firing pin through attempting to disassemble the firearm without knowledge of the correct procedure. As an example, it is easy enough to field strip a Series 70 1911. The firing pin simply slips out after removing the firing pin stop. A modern Series 80 with a firing pin block is another matter.
Some pistols have blind holes and other variances that really make a difference. There is only one correct way to do things and that means study. Something as simple as allowing a spring to launch across a room may not be serious, but small parts may take flight and not be found.
As a rule of thumb, the better quality firearms are simpler. As an example, Smith and Wesson revolvers follow a template that hasn’t been changed in many years save for an upgrade to a transfer bar ignition. Less expensive clones of the Smith and Wesson have small parts that are easily lost, and which do not make sense such as springs in blind holes on the sideplate that complicate disassembly. On the other hand, Ruger has made the revolver simpler, more durable, and has taken the SR 1911 automatic and permanently attached the plunger tube. This results in one less item of concern in this venerable design. Take each handgun as a problem unto itself, and be completely familiar with the design and take down. Take down and disassembly is found in several tiers of difficulty.
Possibly the simplest to take down and clean are the Beretta 92, SIG P226, and Walther P 1-type self loaders. Unload the handgun, press a takedown lever forward and move the slide forward and you may perform routine maintenance. The CZ 75 is a little more complicated and the 1911 even more complicated, although not difficult. The smaller the handgun, the more difficult in some cases as downsizing parts results in design compromise. Depending on the handgun, the difficulty in fieldstripping may be a deciding factor when choosing your handgun.
When you begin to care for the handgun, get in the habit of setting aside a designated work area. The cleaning materials you use can be dangerous in some instances, although the primary concern is the strong smell. This odor is more pronounced in a small work area. A well ventilated area is important. You are dealing with chemicals that have certain properties intended to cut through lead and powder deposits.
A heavy plastic covering over a table is a good idea. Even a trash bag will work well. A wastebasket will serve to handle your cleaning patches when you are done with the chore. Cleaning is necessary and should be learned properly.
Before you clean, be double certain the handgun is unloaded and the ammunition isn’t in the same room. Many of the chemicals used in cleaning, kill the ammunition’s priming compounds so keep the material used to clean the handgun well separated from ammunition. Double-check the handgun’s chamber after unloading. Be certain the magazines are unloaded; they will need attention as well.
Wear eye protection. There will be droplets of solvent thrown in the air as you vigorously clean the barrel. Do not clean over an expensive table cloth! Field strip the pistol into its basic components. If cleaning a revolver, simply swing the cylinder open. Carefully remove the stock or grip panels before cleaning if you are going a bit deeper than fieldstripping.
The bore of the handgun is where most of the cleaning is needed. Powder and lead deposits are found in the grooves of the barrel. It takes a bit of effort to clean the bore even if you have used only full metal jacketed bullets and do not use lead. There is nothing wrong with lead bullets, they are both accurate and economical, but they do leave more deposits in the barrel.
Modern hard cast bullets such as those available from Magnus Cast Bullets are very hard and not really similar to factory swaged lead bullets. I use such bullets exclusively in my handloads. I run the brush into the solvent bottle and get it sopping wet.
I run the brush through the barrel several times, loosening the deposits in the bore. A mixture of solvent and powder residue will run from the barrel. I switch to cotton patches next. These patches are run through the barrel. Some of the first patches will be black with powder ash. Keep going until the patches come out clean.
If the deposits are very heavy, you may move back to the bore brush. If fairly light but consistent, then soak the cotton patch in solvent and run it through as well. But the last patch should be a dry patch. The final patch should have a light coating of gun oil. This helps preserve the bore from rust.
The procedure is modified with the revolver. While the barrel is cleaned in the same way each individual chamber of the revolver cylinder is cleaned. The area at the chamber step often collects powder and lead residue and should get particular attention. The recoil plate of the revolver gets dirty and may impede function.
When cleaning the self-loader, wipe the slide rails and long bearing surfaces. The feed ramp and the outside of the barrel should be clean. Check the cocking block and locking lugs. The cocking block is the section of the slide toward the rear that cocks the hammer during recoil. The locking lugs are the part of the barrel that locks into the slide.
Look for collected grit, powder ash, and lead. The firing pin channel collects powder ash and even brass particles, so clean the firing pin tunnel occasionally. The breech face of the self-loader gets dirty and must be addressed as well. This area should be cleaned often. You do not have to bathe the handgun in solvent, but be certain that you use an adequate amount in cleaning. Once you have cleaned the handgun, it should be lubricated.
The self-loading pistol should be lubricated on the long bearing surfaces where the metal comes into contact. Some handguns—such as the 1911—need to be well lubricated, the Glock needs a single drop of oil. Heavy lubrication is needed when shooting a match or during long practice sessions. Lighter lubrication is needed for carry. After cleaning and lubrication, reassemble the handgun and wipe the slide and frame off with a clean rag. And that’s it. Get it down pat and repeat as necessary, and you will have long service from the handgun.
It's never too late to get started.
GETTING SET UP TO RELOAD.
Its hard to prepare accurate reloads without the right equipment and the right surroundings. I will try to focus on your loading location, whether it is at home or in the field. Most reloading activities take place in the home at a workbench, in the garage, basement: attic or even at the kitchen table. I will discuss reloading in the field later. So for now, I will focus on reloading at home.
I have spoken to hand-loaders who load in very tight surroundings, where space is limited. I knew of one individual who had about 500 square foot bunker dedicated to reloading and firearm maintenance, along with a shooting range. Regardless of your own situation, lets talk about some basics for a reloading area and some nice to have features.
The number one priority on your list should be to choose a location for your reloading, where you can work undisturbed. Reloading, especially precision reloading: requires your complete and undivided attention to the task at hand. Its fine to sit in front of the TV and do some case preparation chores, but when you are actually loading (handling powder or primers) try to give it your undivided attention. This is why a corner of your basement or garage is a pretty good location.
Your next priority is a solid reloading bench. The general rule of thumb is to make it as thick and as sturdy as possible. It doesnt have to be a big work area, but you need to fasten it to the floor if possible or, at a minimum, secure it to the wall. By eliminating bench movement you have eliminated another variable in your reloading equation. Make your bench as comfortable as you can. If you are serious about your hobby you will end up spending countless hours loading and trying new things. If you can make your bench at least five feet wide you will have plenty of room. Make sure it is at a comfortable height for you. It should be at least 38 inches high which enables you to use it standing or sitting on a standard 24 inches stool.
Pre- built workbenches are available almost anywhere, including home centers, hardware stores just to name a few sources. Be careful of these ready-made benches, as some of them can be quite shaky and would not be suitable for reloading unless they are beefed up considerable.
When you have located your reloading bench in the right spot, surround yourself with as much pegboard and sturdy shelving as you can. Prior to bolting any equipment in place, you may want to clamp your big tools down for a short time until you can get the feel of where to put everything.
Reloading is a popular hobby among shooting enthusiasts and is a great skill for frequent shooters.
Of course, safety is always the most important thing to consider, and there are safety precautions reloaders should always follow. For example, always wear safety glasses while reloading and anytime you are handling primers (e.g. loading primer tubes). Powder spills will happen. And always keep the reloader, the area around your reloader and the floor under it free from spilled powder.
If you are completely new to reloading, there are a variety of books and online information to help you get started. This article discusses some reloading tips and tricks I've learned over the years through my own experience and that of others.
Powder generally comes in five basic forms:
From time to time, manufacturers will modify the formula for a given powder, so always use load information from current reloading manuals or the powder manufacturer's online data.
The powder's shape and density directly affects how it will pack and then flow from your powder measure's reservoir. With some powder shapes, you must maintain a consistent fill or pack in the powder measure's reservoir to ensure each charge the measure throws has the same weight. I refill my powder measure when it reaches the three-quarter mark anytime the powder I'm using has cut round flakes or cut sheet flakes.
You must always visually confirm that the powder level is consistent in each and every case as you load — this is the single most important reloading step. If you find a load for a particular application that uses a bulky powder that fills the case more than halfway, all the better. Experience will help you calibrate your eye and enable you to detect differences in powder charges.
Inconsistent powder charges can cause serious problems. For example, when you fire a round with no powder or too little powder in the case, you will typically have a bullet lodged in the barrel. If you hear a slight "pop" instead of a bang when firing a round, stop, properly clear the firearm and make sure the bullet exited the bore.
With pistols and rifles, be careful about automatically doing a "tap/rack" and trying to fire another round during a match or in training. If the bullet did not exit, firing another round will likely cause a bulge in the barrel at best and may destroy the firearm and cause injury if the barrel bursts. In the past several months I've seen shooters destroy three barrels (and one pistol) due to reloaded ammunition with no or too little powder in the case and the shooter automatically doing a "tap/rack."
The other side to that coin is the dreaded double charge. A double charge can literally destroy your firearm and may cause serious injury. If you believe you have double charged a case and it got by you, you must not shoot any suspect rounds in that batch of reloaded ammunition. If you do, you may end up with a blown case at best; at worst, you can end up with a destroyed pistol or severe injury.
You can certainly pull all the suspect rounds; however, another means to find the suspect cartridge is to weigh every round in that batch. Any round that is overweight by more than a grain should be segregated and the bullets pulled.
The picture below shows a 9mm case that experienced a catastrophic failure on firing. It is possible that this round was double charged and the pistol could not handle the pressure. No one was injured in this incident, but the pistol was destroyed — an expensive round of ammunition.
Weight the charge
Weight at least three charges to ensure you are throwing a consistent charge weight when you first set the powder measure. With most powder measures, the charge weight should not differ by more than 0.1 to 0.2 grains across the three measurements. If I get a spread of 0.2 grains or more, I continue to weigh charges until I get a consistent reading.
Certain powders (e.g., long grain extruded and stick rifle powders) may not meter as uniformly due to their grain size and the fact that you often cut grains as you throw the charge. Experience weighing a lot of powder charges will teach you how to consistently throw accurate charge weights.
I have found that using a device to gently vibrate the powder measure helps maintain consistency in charge weight. I use an aquarium aerator pump which vibrates gently and is not excessively noisy to perform this function (see image below).
Polishing the interior of the powder measure body can also aid in maintain powder charge consistency. The polished surface helps powder flow more easily into the powder bar. This is easy to do yourself and several instructional examples of the process are posted on the internet.
Aftermarket powder measure accessories can help you throw consistent charges. A number of manufacturers offer micrometer meter inserts or powder bar kits that can significantly ease the process of achieving consistent measures (see image below).
One example that I use consistently throws charges of flake pistol powder within .01 to .02 grains of accuracy — that's hundredths of a grain. My normal powder scale will not even measure to that degree of weight. I used a special gem scale to check its consistency.
Consistent stroke (OK, no giggling)
Another factor in consistent powder charges is cycling the powder measure or press using consistent force. Varying the amount of force you use as you cycle the powder measure or press can result in slightly more or less powder in the charge.
Additionally, on a progressive press, a heavy-handed operator who slams the lever hard against the stops can cause the powder to settle a bit more and/or bounce out of an already filled case, which will result in inconsistent charge weights. If you notice that powder has bounced out of a case, dump that charge and refill the case with a fresh powder charge.
If am interrupted during the reloading sequence, I always place the handle fully down before I deal with the interruption. When I am ready to begin the loading sequence once again, I raise the handle and then visually confirm the status of every station on the press (I use a progressive machine), ensure the powder fill is correct, that I have primed the case in the priming station, etc.
New brass can be harder to size, prime and seat bullets in than fired brass at times because the brass may be lacking lubrication. Sometimes the powder-thru expander can be hard to get back out of the case when dealing with new brass, particularly with short cases. This happens due to the brass being stripped clean and polished during the manufacturing process.
On progressive presses, the lurch when the case pops free from the die can upset powder drop consistency and bounce powder out of filled cases.
Brass residue buildup on the expander can also cause this problem. Periodically cleaning off the brass residue using a Scotch-Brite pad (or similar product) will restore smooth operation.
You can also tumble your new cases in used media for half an hour before reloading. The powder residue in the tumbling media will add just enough lubrication to the brass to ease the loading process. Another option is periodically swab a small (less than a drop) of lube on the expander.
Check your brass
When brass cases are reloaded a number of times, the brass will eventually develop splits upon firing. With pistol cartridges, these splits often (but not always) occur at the case mouth.
The picture below shows a piece of 45 ACP that split further down in the case body. The 300 AC Blackout case experienced a similar split. The 9mm case however, has a very unusual split pattern. This split may have resulted from using an ammonia-based cleaning solution to clean the brass.
Check your rounds
I check every round in a chamber checker. There are a variety of chamber checkers on the market, and they are well worth the money.
Prior to the advent of chamber checkers, it was common for pistol shooters to remove the barrel and check every round by hand. You can still do this; however, the chamber checker has made this step easier. A chamber checker's dimensions replicate the chamber of the barrel in your firearm. If your reloaded round does not easily go into and drop out of the chamber checker, then that round is suspect.
The picture below show several rounds that failed the chamber check.
Round 1 is clearly out of spec and may have been the result of a high-pressure load fired in a pistol with a chamber configuration that does not fully support the chambered cartridge case, Round 2 has the primer upside down (a condition that might have gone unnoticed without checking the rounds), and Round 3 is questionable and will likely not chamber.
The four rounds in the bottom row passed. As you can see, they sit flush or slightly below the chamber checker opening.
Reloading can be very satisfying and can save you money. I hope you've found these tips and tricks useful, and I welcome tips from readers
F class reloading
However, reloading for long range shooting, bench rest or F-Class shooting is a different story. We don’t know any world-class centerfire rifle shooters who use factory loaded ammunition. The commercial stuff is fine for regular hunting distances, but when you stretch it out to 500 yards or more, it fails miserably. Hence, it is necessary to reload for accuracy.
Before we list the reloading equipment that you need, hang on to your wallet and sit down. The costs are sure to give you heartburn. However, once you have taken the initial plunge on equipment, it doesn’t cost appreciably more to load match-grade ammo than your favorite deer or elk loads. And, if you use the same techniques and equipment for reloading your hunting stuff, you will be amazed at the newfound accuracy of your favorite rifle.
Reloading for Long Range Shooting
The additional equipment for reloading match-grade ammunition has as much to do with the rifle as the ammunition. The chamber tolerances of competition rifles are very precise for maximum performance. Most factory rifles are manufactured with somewhat less precision due to the necessities of mass production. As such, they easily accommodate the variations in factory ammunition. While it is true that factory ammunition meets the minimum specifications of each caliber, the +/- tolerances vary from company to company, as well as from lot to lot.
Most competition shooters re-load one cartridge at a time and have no need for multi-stage turret presses. As such, if you have a good single stage press you are in business when reloading for long range shooting. If not, we would suggest the Redding Big Boss II to handle some of the newer match dies with 1 ¼” threads. The Boss II is supplied with a steel bushing for use with standard 7/8” dies. The bushing can be removed to handle 1¼” dies.
The number of tools that you will need for brass preparation depends upon the brand you select. If you decide to use Lapua or Norma brass, you won’t need buy a concentricity tool or flash hole reamer. But, if you use Winchester, Federal, R-P or Hornady brass, you would be well advised to purchase those tools to “true up” your brass before loading. The reason is that their cases are softer, with thinner walls. Softer brass “flows” more readily during firing and needs to be brought back to specs prior to reloading (Lapua and Norma brass also flow, but to a lesser extent). If a hunter reloads softer brass without “truing” the neck and flash hole, accuracy will be in the neighborhood of 1” at 100 yards. That’s quite acceptable for most big game hunting, but not good enough for long range hunting or competition shooting.
One thousand yards is a long, long way out there.
Before everyone gets on my case about brass, we know an NRA Master shooter who uses .308 R-P brass because he can squeeze an extra couple of grains of powder into the case due to it’s thinner wall. But, he has to turn and trim the necks after every firing, check them with a concentricity gauge (throwing out a fair number of cases), ream out the flash hole and debur the flash hole inside the case before reloading. That’s a lot of extra work for a slight gain in powder capacity. As of this writing, his loads have not been more accurate than folks using Lapua or Norma brass.
You get what you pay for. Lapua is considered the “standard” for brass quality, and Norma is superb if you aren’t worried about cost. Susannah and Mary use Lapua brass because we don’t want to spend the additional time on case preparation required with inexpensive brass.
Many reloaders use the primer attachment on their press for seating their primers. That is great for hunting, but problematic for competition. Match primers need to be seated snugly against the bottom of the pocket, but not compressed. This is difficult to do consistently with a press. Most competition reloaders use a hand priming tool. These vary in price from the $14.95 for the Lee Auto Prime to $33.60 for the Hornady Handheld Priming Tool and finally $119.99 for the Sinclair Priming Tool. We do not recommend the Lee tools as they are not manufactured to hold up under extensive use. We prefer the Hornady or Sinclair tools. They will all do what is required after you develop the “feel” for them. Jim bought the Sinclair tool due to it’s stainless steel and aircraft aluminum construction. You can’t break it and it’ll last a lifetime.
You can use just about any powder measure. They range from $30 up to $300, depending on their accuracy. Jim actually uses an vintage Pacific volumetric measure that cost $15 when it was new. Why not a more expensive one? He weighs every load, even when using his friend’s Harrell Classic Culver measure. Ok, he's picky. But, he wants every load to be within +/- 0.05 of a grain. Because each charge is weighed, there is no reason to spend money on a more accurate powder measure.
With that being said: If you don’t want to weigh every charge, then buy the most accurate measure you can afford. The Harrell powder measures are very accurate and range in price from $200 to $350. However, the most convenient device around is the RCBS Chargemaster Powder Dispenser/Scale Combo at $350. It dispenses your powder and simultaneously weighs the charge.
When reloading for long range shooting, buy a good digital scale if you are going to weigh each charge. We realize that a lot of folks swear by the balance scales, but they have some issues which can affect their accuracy. When shopping for a digital scale, DO NOT buy an Asian knockoff. There are a lot of them around (internet auction sites abound with them). These cheap copies are inaccurate, break easily and carry no warranty. Buy your scale from a reputable dealer. Don’t go cheap, as your rifle (and life) depends on an accurate load. Among the best scales are RCBS, Dillon and Sinclair, with prices ranging from $200 to over $300. We have used a My Weigh DuraScale for several years with no complaints. However, the GemPro-250 from Sinclair is hard to beat for accuracy. This scale weighs your loads to within 0.02 grain. It costs $150, but is well worth the price if you are going to do a lot of reloading.
Your choice of bullets depends on the caliber of rifle and barrel twist that you are using. For example, in 6.5mm x 284 Norma, the 142 grain Sierra HPBT (MK) or 139 grain Lapua Scenars are most commonly used (1 in 8 twist), while in the 6mmBR, the 105 grain Berger VLD or 107 grain Sierra HPBT (MK) are preferred (1 in 8 or faster twist).
When reloading for long range shooting the choice of bullets for the .308 Win and .300 WSM is the subject of an ongoing debate among competition shooters. That also applies to seating depth, and whether you are going to “jam” your bullet into the lands or “jump” it. Our suggestion is to seek out an experienced F-Class or Bench Rest shooter and get their advice for the rifle and twist that you are using.
Now comes the fun part. You have fired your new brass once and are ready to prepare it for reloading.
Please read through these reloading steps for long range shooting, several times, before beginning.
For the purposes of this article, we have assumed that you already have the tools found on most reloaders bench, such as powder funnels, powder trickler, case neck brushes, case lub pad, case lubricant loading blocks, case tumbler, etc. If you are just starting out, they can be ordered online along with the other reloading tools.
Those of you considering reloading for long range shooting are ready to go back to the beginning of the article with a calculator and start adding things up. To save you a bit of time and trouble, we have included the following reloading equipment list. The prices are estimates (subject to change over time), some tools will be higher and others will be lower, but the bottom line is that you are looking at almost a thousand dollars to get set up properly for reloading for long range shooting. Once these tools are on your bench, you have the satisfaction of knowing that everything is a one-time purchase. From now on, all you have to buy are primers, power, bullets and new cases (after 3-4 firings), pretty much the same as you would for your “regular” ammunition.
Reloading is a great way to enjoy the shooting sports.
All materials and videos are supplied, chronos are supplied for field tests.
These are one day clinics, cost is $40. non refundable per session.
Hard Primers/Soft Primers.
One of the most persistent myths in shooting is that there are hard primers and soft primers. This isn't true. The real issue is primer sensitivity or-more frequently-something within the firearm or loading process which causes the firearm to go click instead of BANG.
All four of the major ammunition manufactures make primers and they all do it the same way.
Thin brass or steel in huge rolls are bought from a supplier. From it, primer cups and anvils, respectively, are stamped by simple presses. Every manufacture does it this way. A soapy lubricant is used in the stamping operation, both cup and anvil are then washed, dried and proceed to become primers. Some primer cups receive a thin nickle plating. While there may be some small differences in specifications for the raw material from one maker to another, none of it is hardened.It could'nt be stamped correctly if it was.
It is commoon knowledge that brass-work hardens with bending, but the only place this could happen to a significant degree would be along the radius where it rounds out from bottom to sides. There is no need to worry much about hardness in that area since it isn't where the firing pin strikes. There have been instances where that area became so hard as to be brittle, and there could be tiny perforations when the primer was fired. Some makers include an annealing step to prevent this possibility. But since there is no "work" done to the bottom of the cup, it is much less affected and remain essentially as it came from the mill. Still everyone who reloads has probably experienced a misfire, and found that the firing pin impression on the primer was much smaller than normal. It is perfectly to conclude that the primer was hard, but the trouble can almost always be traced to other causes. Very often that primer will fire if it is hit again.