In addition to this introductory section, you may find the following comments worthwhile:
I make no apologies about the fact that I handload all of my own centerfire ammunition. Sure, I occasionally invest in a little factory fodder to tell me a bit more about my own loads, but for recreational practice, I strictly use handloads. It is good economy for me to handload and it increases my ability to adapt to changes in firearm or shooting need. I can choose the shape and weight of bullet that will do what I need my cartridges to do; I can select a powder type and charge to maximize accuracy while reducing muzzle flash; I can recycle my brass at the end of the shooting day (something every good environmentalist ought to do!). All in all, handloading makes good sense for me. It may not make good sense for you. Here are some clues that handloading might not be a good thing for you:
- If you cannot make simple recipes in the kitchen because you never bother to measure anything
- If you have more money than time (significantly so, since you're sacrificing more than money in this particular trade-off)
- If you only shoot rimfire ammunition
- If you only shoot a couple boxes of ammunition a year
And here are some clues that you might do well to look into handloading your ammunition:
- If you have a very tight budget and find that you are not getting out to shoot because you keep balking at the price of factory ammunition (there is nothing more expensive in the firearms world than not being able to afford to practice regularly)
- If you want to maximize the reliability and accuracy of the ammunition you shoot through your gun (if you wish to tailor ammunition to your chamber, barrel length, recoil spring, etc.)
- If you trust yourself more than you trust mass-producing machinery
- If you enjoy spending time at your workbench to "get away from it all"
- If you get frustrated when bad weather keeps you away from the range, and wish there was something you could do around the house that gives you that "I spent time improving my shooting" feeling
Great! So now you've decided that you are a prime candidate for handloading, but none of your friends are into it yet (you are the group's pioneering spirit), and you need to know how to get started. The first
thing to do is call Mike Dillon's company at 1-800-223-4570 and ask them to sign you up for The Blue Press
. Then call Midway Arms and ask to be included in the next catalogue shipment they put out. Then hit the library and look up books by folks like Dean Grinnell. It will take several weeks for the catalogues to start coming in, so you've got some research time ahead of you.
What you need to know about Dillon Precision
Dillon Precision, located in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the great bastions of the American spirit left in this country. Mike Dillon is a guy who loves to shoot and agrees with you that factory ammunition gets too expensive for frequent shooting. He wasn't satisfied with the low productivity of single-stage presses available, and so he got directly involved in the production and marketing of what have come to be the best progressive reloaders in the industry. Mike's outfit has quality control standards that other American companies (like those guys in Detroit) have long since dropped from their business philosophies, more's the pity. At any rate, Mike also believes in standing behind his product 100%. For most businesses today, the only good customer is a gullible one. For Dillon precision, the only good customer is a satisfied customer. I should mention that Mike has to put moderate to high prices on some of the components he offers in The Blue Press. He does this largely because he has such a huge overhead. He has this overhead because of his dedication to customer satisfaction. A lot of other companies assume that people want low prices to the exclusion of all else, and they take serious strides to eliminate overhead costs. Mike saw the light over there in Arizona and realized that a low price doesn't mean anything if the product is poorly constructed, lacking in technical support, and loses its value over time. But the only way to provide all the quality that his company promises (and delivers!) is to charge the customer for it. With Dillon Precision, you get what you pay for. If I could buy Dillon stock, I would.
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What you need to know about buying reloading equipment
I know that there are other folks who have written prolifically on this topic, and as soon as I can track down their URLs, I will provide links here. In the meantime, however, I'd like to pass on a few thoughts. At the bare minimum, to reload, you are going to need the following:
- 2 reloading manuals from different companies
- Lyman puts out a few good ones
- Speer is another good option
- Hornady has a two-volume set
- a reloading press
- Without question, I recommend a progressive press for the beginner. A base Dillon RL 550 B (pictured to the right) is a good investment of $325 US.
- reloading dies in a caliber you want to shoot
- Just about any carbide dies will do, though I tend to prefer RCBS
- a scale to measure powder
You need more than one manual because manuals frequently disagree. The only way to reload safely, then, is to double or triple check all data before using it. Err on the side of caution, and you will be able to enjoy reloading for a long time. Err on the side of adventure and you may need reconstructive surgery. The choice is yours.
Obviously, you need a press to assemble the components. Many people believe that a single-stage press is best to learn on because it is so simple. I disagree. Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. Because single-stage presses are invariably slower than quality progressive presses, you have to be more careful about setting aside enough time to complete a batch of ammunition. You do not ever want to leave half-loaded cartridges sitting out on the top of your bench because you got an important phone call in the middle of a reloading session. With a progressive press, each cartridge is assembled start to finish in sequence; thus, you never have a whole tray full of half-loaded ammunition at any point. If that call comes through, you just crank a few more times to empty the press, dump the powder back in its canister, and close things up. There is also the matter of frustration. Single-stage presses, because they are slower, can get tedious to use in a hurry. A progressive press, because it cranks out reliable ammunition at a rapid pace, gives you results without compromising quality or safety. All around, the progressive press is a good investment for the beginner. If, later, you get into benchrest shooting and you want to control every tiny aspect of reloading, then you might want to look into single-stage equipment. But the majority of your shooting is likely to be of the kind for which progressively-reloaded cartridges are more than satisfactory.
Carbide dies, due to the smoothness of the surface, require less force when resizing brass. Less force means less wear and tear on the cases, which means greater longevity in terms of number of uses. Like I said above, I use RCBS carbide dies almost exclusively, but the Dillon and Hornady dies are both good. I've never used Lee dies and recommend you talk to somebody who has before you buy them.
Scales come in a wide variety of flavors and prices. I've heard many good (and a few bad) things about electronic scales, but since I don't own one, I'll not comment on them further. As for the balance-beam scales, like the common 5-0-5 scale many reloaders use, just about any of the scales marketed towards reloaders will be adequate. You will not notice a huge difference between a $20 scale and a $50 scale. They are both designed to do the same job and both will do so with adequate accuracy for the average reloader. If you could "try before you buy" with balance beam scales, my guess is that you wouldn't spend a whole heck of a lot of money on your selection. With powder scales, there is a decided diminished return on the investment as price increases.
As for components, that is such an individual matter that I cannot provide many useful comments. I can only tell you what I prefer for my own uses and budget. I buy lead alloy bullets from Bull-X for all my shooting needs except for my Glocks, which only get fed jacketed bullets (and I get those from Remington or Winchester, whichever is having a sale at the time I want to buy). Lead alloy bullets produce less wear on the barrel and are cheaper to shoot. They are easier to recycle (the West Liberty Gun Club--where I do most of my own shooting--regularly cleans its bullet trap pit and melts down the lead for club members who like to cast their own bullets) and give great accuracy. I like the quality of bullets the Bull-X produces, so that's why I shop from them in particular. As for brass, I get pickier and pickier every year. There is no substitute for reloading a bunch of brass that all comes from the same lot. Reloading is a lot more consistent from cartridge to cartridge, and as a result the reliability and functionality of your ammunition will benefit from being consistent with your headstamps (the markings at the "bottom" of the brass casing). I still use a lot of mixed-headstamp brass, but the money I save in so doing is at odds with the occasional frustrations that result from inconsistent brass. Eventually--as soon as I am able to afford to, that is--I will only reload same-lot brass. Right now only my .45acp and 10mm are at that level, and it is such a joy to shoot and reload them that I have plenty of motivation to spread this investment to my other calibers as well.
With powder, there is such a staggering array that it is very difficult to know which powders will be best for you. In general, if you are a handgunner, I recommend you look into Alliant Bullseye. It has a lot of flexibility (good in a number of different calibers) and it has been popular for so long that just about every reloader has worked with it (and many of them still swear by the stuff, myself included). Winchester Action Pistol (WAP) is another good choice, as is Winchester 231. There are many other great powders out there, but any one of the three listed above would be a good starting powder, though there may not be a whole lot of reloading data on WAP, as it is a young powder. Primers, on the other hand, are one of those things that I am not very picky about at all. Federal primers are wonderful, but rather soft. CCI primers are generally hard. I'm kind of a goldilocks reloader, and I like mine right in the middle. Winchester primers take up the most space where I keep my primers (though I do keep some Federal on hand as well).
Canadian content: Ammomart (recently renamed to Higginson Powers)
in Hawkesbury, Ontario is Canada's largest supplier of reloading components and is a
dealer for Lee and Hornady equipment. Their prices and selection are usually excellent. Here is their four page catalog in PDF format
(page 1, 2,
3, and 4)
Give them a call at 613-632-9300
and support a family business that has been supporting the Canadian shooting sports for over fifty years. They are
primarily a mail-order operation, but do have a small store front as well, just 40 minutes east of the EOHC's ranges.
Ah, I see you scratching your head. "But there are so many reloading products out there. Don't I need more than just this?"
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Dial calipers. These indispensible gadgets let you know if your dies need to be adjusted. You can get by with a good ruler, but I wouldn't want to try.
You might find Dillon's primer flip-tray well worth the investment as well. It is a convenient device for making sure that all primers are facing the proper direction for loading purposes. You can make a flip-tray of your own, but Dillon's has the advantage of being made of thick brass with one ridged side and one smooth side to facilitate safe manipulation of primers. I do not know of any other company that offers a similar product.
When I get time, I will add comments about extra primer tubes, bullet pullers, case trimmers, reloading benches (one of my favorite subjects), component storage, and whatever else folks tell me they think I ought to address here.
EOHC's Ammunition Reloading Related Links