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Reloading Ammo 101: How to Get Started

Reloading can be economical and effective in more ways than you’d think.

One of the best ways a shooter or hunter can perfect their shooting skills and knowledge base is to reload their ammunition.

That’s right, picking up your fired brass, knocking out the old primer, seating a new one, adding powder and loading a new bullet will make you a better shooter and could put money in your pocket by way of savings on ammunition costs. You just need to learn the right steps to take. Here’s how.

Starter Equipment

The most important piece of equipment to a hand loader is a quality loading bench. For your safety, this must be set up in a dedicated area free of distractions and, most importantly, free from clutter. Catastrophic mistakes can happen due to improper loading, avoid that with a dedicated work space.

Closeup view of hunting ammunition pile suitable for background

When choosing a loading bench, the most basic criteria should be stability. An unbalanced bench can lead to inconsistency in your loads. Drawers, cabinets, shelves and racks are nice to have, but are completely worthless if the bench moves every time you lower or raise the handle on your press.

Make sure you have a powder scale and loading manual — the scale is vital for weighing powder charges. Believe it or not, too little powder in the case can be as dangerous as too much.

The Press

Choosing a press is a matter of personal preference. New hand loaders are strongly advised to begin with a single-stage model. They are versatile, hold their value and last forever. It is the best way to familiarize yourself with the process, as each stage is independent and requires a new setup of a different die.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the single-stage press, consider upgrading to a progressive press. The progressive press can save time, as each pull of the handle completes a number of stages simultaneously. Many quality single-stage presses can be upgraded to a progressive press.

Dies

The key to successfully loading a cartridge is through the dies. Each die accomplishes a different stage in the process. The first one, known as a decapping or depriming die, pushes out the old primer from the case while slightly expanding or reforming the mouth of the case.

After the primer is removed, a new primer must be seated. A separate priming tool is used to seat the primer on a single-stage press, some progressive presses also require this.

Next, a premeasured powder charge is poured into the case. The scale and loading manual will tell you how much is needed for each particular bullet.

The bullet is then placed on the mouth of the case and a seating die is used to crimp it. Sometimes this die will resize the neck of the case with this action, but for most pistol cartridges, it will not.

Other Equipment

Along with dies, you will need shell holders to hold the case securely. Some holders will work with a variety of different calibers while others are only suitable for one. A single-stage press operator will need to use loading blocks to hold the cases between stages.

150 gn bullets reloaded into cases for greater accuracy and reduced cost per shot

Make sure the rounds have been properly sized by using a drop gauge. If the rounds fit in the gauge, they will fit in the firearm. If not, the rounds will need to be taken apart and the components reused.

A Better Shooter?

Seeing each stage of the loading process will make you a better and more knowledgeable shooter. How? Knowing the ins and outs of your ammo help you with velocity and accuracy. For example, one type of primer might be lighter and reduce your lock time, or a magnum primer might be needed when using a high-density, slow-burning powder. You can also tailor loads for your particular firearm. This is more in the realm of the rifle shooter than the handgun shooter, but the concept applies across both platforms.

You may not see the savings after buying all your equipment initially, but after a few months, the equipment pays for itself. Bonus: If there is an ammunition shortage or a favorite factory load gets discontinued, you will be able to produce your own.

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Reloading Ammo 101: How to Get Started