It would seem that individuals who spend a lot of time around firearms would take to reloading ammunition like ducks take to water. And it’s not as though the shooters described below don’t know how to reload ammunition.
Rather, they’ve picked up some bad habits as they do so. The results aren’t just sloppy, as an improperly reloaded firearm can:
- Affect firearm use.
- Waste ammunition.
- Lead to serious injury.
Modern gun design can make it more difficult to notice problems as one is reloading. So read on to learn more about common issues to keep an eye on while reloading.
1. Too Much Lubrication
It is possible to have too much of anything, and that includes sizing lubrication. But it doesn’t cause the issues you might think. The weight of this lubricating solvent can cause dents to form on gun cartridges. Many types of firearms have tiny venting holes to deal with excess lubrication before this happens.
But some types (such as those with bottlenecked rifle cases) do not. When a “dinged” cartridge is fired, the pressure actually smooths these dents out. So what’s the problem? Larger dents can lead to diminished cartridge capacity, which leads to increased pressure build-up. And denting can also lead to cartridge stress, which in turn causes case splitting.
There are several. First, carefully clean the case with a dry wire brush before solvent application. Second, remember that too little sizing application is just as bad as too much. To insure an even application of lubricant, apply it by hand as opposed to using a spray on product. Third, make sure that you’re using an appropriate lubricant. That solvent that you bought for squeaky gate hinges is absolutely not what you should be daubing on your gun.
And finally, how the cartridge exits the gun affects how sizing lubricant is applied. The cartridge web should get the heaviest application. And don’t forget to occasionally lube the cartridge neck as well. Use a specific “dry neck” lube for this purpose.
You can read this thread on the Smith & Wesson forum on the topic.
2. Gunpowder, Gunpowder, Gunpowder
It’s not that shooters don’t appreciate the fact that gunpowder is potentially very dangerous. Because of all of the reloading accidents over the years, new products have been developed to make this process safer. These include powder measures to insure that precise amounts are poured. Different types of powder for very specific types of firearms and uses.
So why are we still not having trouble locating recent gory images of blown apart guns and people on the internet? Among the many, many mistakes that shooters make with gunpowder, these stand out:
- Using powder that hasn’t been stored properly.
- Using powder that’s past its expiration date.
- Substituting black powder for smokeless powder.
- Using any gunpowder outside of its manufacturer’s instructions.
- Pouring powder when distracted.
- Handling powder around heat or flames.
- Smoking around gunpowder.
- Intentionally mixing gunpowder types.
- Unintentionally mixing gunpowder types.
- Not immediately cleaning up gunpowder spills.
- “Guesstimating” powder amounts to be poured.
- Not immediately and properly disposing of empty gunpowder containers.
Although manufacturers occasionally send out “bad batches”, this is quite rare. The vast majority of accidents involving gunpowder are due to misuse by shooters.
Every single step in the process of reloading is important and needs to be done correctly. But if there’s a single “plutonium” aspect to reloading, it’s in the handling and misuse of gunpowder.
Data from the FBI indicates that hundreds of injuries and more than 50 deaths per year occur as a result of powder mishandling. Many of these accidents happen in and around homes.
Fortunately, the fix for these gunpowder mishaps can be as easy as reading. Shooters reloading, transporting, and storing gunpowder should start by reading and carefully following all instructions.
When pouring powder, the reloader should:
- Pour in a comfortable, well-lit work area.
- Pour only in a work area free of distractions.
- Only pour one type of gunpowder at a time.
- Never set out more gunpowder than you’ll be working with.
When there are gunpowder pouring errors, it’s generally because the reloader has added too much. But remember that too little gunpowder can also cause problems, such as ammunition failing to discharge. One can be a little short of the desired powder amount and still be all right. But this shortage should never exceed 10 percent of the correct amount.
3. Cartridge Cases That Are Too Long
What’s probably the least enjoyable aspect of reloading ammunition? Trimming down cartridge cases that are too long to meet certain gun specs. Some shooters will “make” these cartridges fit unaltered. And some guns often fire just fine without doing this. At first.
Bolt action rifles can often handle firing out of spec cartridges. But if cartridge necks become too long, they can cause a compression effect in the chamber. As a result, the rifle’s accuracy decreases with use. Most AR pieces have problems right away with oversized cartridges. Jamming severe enough to warrant gun dismantling often results.
If you’re going to fire a cartridge, there’s going to be some “growth”. This lengthening can potentially cause dangerous levels of pressure to build within chambers. So trimming cartridge cases to spec is an essential part of reloading. This step will never be fun, but it can be made more efficient by:
- Sizing cartridges before trimming.
- Not reusing cartridges fired from aggressive ejectors.
- Trimming from the cartridge’s shoulder, which is both faster and more accurate.
And trimming cartridges also gives reloaders an opportunity to check them for wear, bad divots, and cracks.
Reloading ammunition can be rewarding for many reasons. It’s relaxing, saves money, and often provides shooters with better ammunition. But it can also be tedious, and requires patience and concentration. Understanding this is an important first step on the road to helping shooters avoid reloading mistakes altogether.