Many gun enthusiasts typically stock up on all the ammunition needed when hunting or spending a day of recreational shooting a budget build AR15 with a newly modified upper receiver at the range.
While you can probably search long enough to find less expensive ammunition to feed your firearm habits, the costs involved in the long run may prompt you to take the next logical step of reloading spent ammunition yourself.
Another benefit of reloading your own ammunition is being able to precisely tune your ammo to your rifle’s barrel length, barrel twist rate, and even the new AR15 optic you just mounted.
While it might not be as necessary for an AR chambered in 5.56, if you are running an AR with a caliber like 6.5 Grendel or .224 Valkyrie or any other precision-oriented round, you will be able to see tighter groups at longer ranges.
Performing your own reloads is a safe and effective way to keep your weapons stocked with sufficient supplies of ammunition, but there is one thing you should pay close attention to, and that’s, above all else, safety.
Remember that when reloading, you’re dealing with a fuel source that’s explosive, and primers intended to ignite the powder inside the cartridges with enough power to send the projectile hurtling through the barrel with massive amounts of velocity.
Your first rule of thumb is to have a safe place to work, free from open flames and sufficiently ventilated to allow you to perform reloads safely and without incident.
Once you’ve accomplished that, you’ll need to have a few types of equipment in place before you begin your very first reloads. This article is just a brief introduction into the massive world of reloading and is not a “how to” guide, but a “why should you” guide.
Read the Manual First
While you may think a manual specific to the caliber of reloads you intend to work on may not be equipment, a manufacturer’s manual will be your one crucial source of information. These manuals will provide the required grains to load, pressure applications, and, lastly, tips and tricks that will help you perform the load process more efficiently.
Remember that several ammunition manufacturers will provide information specific to their types of ammunition only, so be sure to match the exact manual with the caliber you intend to reload.
It’s interesting to note that you’ll have three different choices of reloading presses to choose from on the market today. There are a few pros and cons with each, so you’ll probably want to investigate whether a single-stage, turret, or progressive reloading press will meet your needs.
One of the best features of a single stage is that it’s easy to set up and is typically one of the most chosen presses for the beginning reloader. While a single-stage press is the least expensive reloading equipment on the market, the major drawback is that it offers you the slowest production rate and typically limits you to smaller batches of reloads.
After several successful reload sessions, you may want to consider graduating to a turret press over time. Think of a turret press as the middle-of-the-road reloading choice.
A turret press is a perfect solution for an experienced reloader who needs to reload larger batches of ammunition, but not enough to justify advancing to a top-of-line reloading press such as a progressive.
Another great feature of a turret press is that you can load multiple dies on the same turret and rotate it to the following die sequence until you complete the reload process.
Most turret presses on the market today come equipped with a hole for attaching a powder measure which shaves off a considerable amount of time during the reload process.
At the higher-priced spectrum of a reload, the progressive reloading press is something you’ll need to consider if you’re a high-volume shooter that needs to reload hundreds of rounds at a time.
Although a progressive reloading press takes a little longer to install the multiple reload dies and often requires more routine maintenance, using a progressive reloading press will help you churn out around five hundred reloaded cartridges an hour.
Once you’ve completed all the reload sequences, you’ll still need to deprime the brass cartridge, which is simply a removal of the spent box primer, resize the cartridge to specifications noted in the manual you purchased, and crimp in the bullet.
While you can buy the dies separately, you may want to consider getting what you need in sets. When purchasing these die sets, what you’ll typically find on the market are two-die sets for bottleneck cartridges and a three-die set for straight-walled shells.
While there are a few differences between bottleneck and straight-walled dies you’ll need to master, one important rule is to examine the straight-walled die for either a carbide or nitrate ring that eliminates the need for lubrication. If the set of straight-walled dies you’ve purchased does not have this type of ring, you’ll need to include a lubrication step in your reloading process.
You will need a shell holder with any reloading process, regardless of the type of press you choose. If you’ve gone to the trouble of selecting the best reloading press for you and a variety of top-of-the-line primers and powders, the last thing you’ll want to do is try to hold the shell in place with a pair of pliers.
Remember that each shell holder specifically grips the brass and keeps it in place while accounting for the exact thickness and diameter of the cartridge, including the taper of the case rim and the extractor groove.
When choosing a shell holder, you may want to consider picking out one that fits a broad range of shells universally or you may want to stick with purchasing both the reloading press, the dies, and the shell holder from the same manufacturer for reloading consistency.
Powder Scale and Trickler
If you’re venturing into the world of shot reloads, having an accurate powder scale and trickler are the heart and soul of a successful reload experience. Powder scales have an important place in a successful reloading process because they, of course, help you determine the exact amount of gunpowder you’ll place in each reload.
If you’re starting your reloading adventure, you may want to consider a balance scale. They are easy to calibrate and use and don’t risk electronic malfunction such as a battery source suddenly draining and rendering the electronic scale unusable.
While electronic scales provide much quicker readouts, they are usually more expensive and sensitive to interference. A powder trickler does what the name implies. Most veteran reloaders will tell you using a powder trickler is probably one of the only ways to ensure you have the exact number of powder grain weights in your bullets.
A powder trickler will drop one kernel of powder at a time, allowing you to load only the number of grains the manufacturer recommends and not a single kernel more or a kernel less.
Bench Mounted and Hand Priming Tools
While most of today’s reload presses come with a primer tool included, you may want to consider purchasing either a bench-mounted or a hand priming tool to add to your equipment. A bench-mounted primer tool is a little more expensive, and because it’s more than likely fitted to your workbench, it means you’re going to spend more time on your feet finishing all the shell loads.
Not only does a hand primer tool help you prime significant amounts of brass cartridges, but you also don’t have to be standing at your reloading bench to do it. Additionally, using a hand priming tool helps you maintain a better feel of the primer sliding into the pocket and offers you more control of the primer insertion process.
Save Your Data
Although there are a few other tools you may decide to pick up along the way, this brief overview will certainly set you on the right path. One last thing you’ll need to do is collect all the data of your reload attempts along the way. Additionally, there is a huge amount of books related to reloading out there on the market as this hobby has been around basically since firearms have existed.
Nothing beats a physical book that you can flip through to find the information you need but the internet obviously is a quick and easy way to find literally any information regarding caliber, bullet weights, powder charges, and more for basically any rifle that you are reloading for. With so many resources out there to get you started, why haven’t you yet?
Determine how each load reacted when fired. Make a list of all the reloads you performed that worked as they should have and all the ones you’ll want to avoid when you start another reload process. Using the right tools and collecting all the data as you go will make your adventure into the world of reloads a continuous and pleasurable experience.