This is the first part of a short series concerning reloading. It will cover what you will need to get started, basic safety, practice methods and ways to feed your firearms in a more economical (and fun) way. The first part covers the basic essentials concerning reloading components that are necessary and the second part will actually cover the basics concerning reloading your own cartridges.
If you love to shoot and enjoy days at the shooting range then it is very possible/probable that you’ve had some exposure to reloading your own ammunition or know someone that does. In my opinion, reloading, carrying and tactical training all go together hand-in-hand to help us learn, improve and even to help stave off the effects of any future ammunition shortages.
Aside from being a great skill to have, it can be fun, economical and allow you to shoot more and develop the kind of accuracy you might not get with stock ammo. The savings from loading your own ammunition definitely varies by caliber but I feel the need to caution you as loading your own can lead to shooting more and chasing that elusive “perfect blend” of velocity, accuracy and reliability (thus eliminating savings but increasing training and accuracy). If you reload something like 223 rounds, you can do so for as cheap as about $0.08 a round if you get brass from the range for free and cast your own projectiles (casting is a different article for a different day but very fun and economical) or if you reload 9mm, you might not save too much.
There are some extreme circumstances where reloading is the only situation available to shoot your beloved firearms; such as the Martini-Henry. It is a beautiful antique rifle developed around the 1870’s but chambered in a 577/450. Just buying the brass for that can be around $120 for only 20 cases but you can make your own cases and load your own for less than a dollar a round.
Overall, reloading makes sense for so many shooters and while it might be something that seems daunting and too challenging, I am sure you can do it. With practice, patience and a willingness to listen and learn, you can absolutely reload your own ammo and get a lot more range and practice time…Just save that brass!
Components of Reloading (Here are Basic Essentials):
I recommend a single stage press to start and use a Lee Cast press myself. You can buy a press for as low as about $70 for a Lee Breech-Lock single stage or you can buy a whole kit (which I recommend) for around $120 or so off Amazon (Link)
Reloading Dies and Shell Holder
This is caliber specific and Lee is the most inexpensive and comes with shell holders. Again, for the novice and new reloader, I recommend Lee due to the price difference between other brands. Prices vary here but for a set of Lee “Pacesetter” dies, you can expect to pay about $30 (but it comes with a shell holder whereas some others do not). Reloading Dies
These can be purchased off Amazon for between $8 and over $100 depending on brand and type. I use a small digital scale used for reloading that measures grains that I got from Amazon for about $15. Powder Scales
Primers (caliber specific)
I recommend getting primers from your local brick and mortar gun shops as Hazmat (hazardous materials) fees do add a lot of cost…circa $30 per order if you buy online. Group or very large buys make sense for online purchases but for 1 pound, it can easily double your cost. A good deal is about 1,000 for around $30 for large/small rifle or pistol.
Smokeless Powder (related to the caliber you are reloading)
This was the hardest part for me as there are so many types out there and you want to be sure you get the right type for whatever you are reloading. If you buy a Lee die set, they have a powder load data which is specific to the caliber you are loading and it lists powders that work best and have been safety tested. As with primers, I recommend you check local gun shops first to try to avoid the hazmat fees. You can expect to pay around $25 to $30 a pound. One pound has about 7,000 grains so if you reload for 9mm, you could potentially get 1,750 charges/loads. You’d potentially get around 250 charges for 223; so it does differ a bit between rifles and handguns (rifles usually take more powder).
Projectiles (caliber specific; also what you might’ve previously called a “bullet”)
These can be purchased from online stores without the hazmat fees and there are some stores I like a lot; such as US Reloading Supply, Diamond Brass or Bold Ammo. I can personally vouch for US Reloading Supply and Bold Ammo as they have been great but I’ve read good things about Diamond Brass. You can also find supplies at a lot of the big box stores that sell firearms and ammunition; such as Midway, Academy, etc. You can actually buy projectiles off of Etsy…Yes, THAT Etsy!! It might get some odd looks if your significant other sees you spent $50 on Etsy but it is very much worth it. Casting from lead is fun (to me) and inexpensive once you get equipment but that is another topic for another day. You can expect to pay between $20 and $50 (or more) depending on caliber for around 100 projectiles (again, way cheaper if you cast lead).
Brass (“Once-Fired” can save you some money)
This should be actual brass casings that are “Boxer Primed” and not “Berdan Primed”. It is absolutely NOT fun trying to deprime a Berdan primed case (the inside is different and it has 2 smaller holes on the side instead of in the center like a Boxer primed case and can break your depriming rod). A lot of steel cased ammo is Berdan primed but we don’t want that. Make sure you save the brass you fire and even some other brass that you find at the range if you can/are allowed to take it. Some ranges sell it for inexpensive prices. If you have no brass, I recommend checking out the places I indicated for projectiles (IE: US Reloading Supply, Diamond Brass, Bold Ammo). Yes, even Etsy again as they have them there for “crafts”. If you do this, you have to make sure to let your friends and family know how much fun you’ve had “crafting” lately!
Chamfering and Deburring tool or kit
This is inexpensive if you buy a Lee one and if you buy a reloading kit from Hornady, Lee, RCBS, Lyman, etc, it will usually be included but you can pick up a small “kit” for about $12 at time of writing Case Conditioning Kit Link.
These should be some that are comfortable but also provide ample protection. You definitely do not want to take chances. From my research, most accidents occur with progressive presses that have tubes filled with primers and not single-stage loading but we still need to be careful. This can be picked up for a couple bucks at Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
This can be a binder with just plan ol’ notebook paper in it. You’ll need this to keep notes as to what works well and what does not (Overall length, powder charge, primer type, projectile, etc). This is important as it helps us prevent repeating the same mistakes or forgetting our best-performing loads.
I recommend any from the big manufacturers…Lyman, Lee, Redding, RCBS, etc. I personally have the Lee one (it was on sale). They have a lot of great information that we won’t dive into here. They also generally have a lot of load data and tips, tricks and ways to save money and time. Also, they give some good examples of situations you might encounter. Click here to look at different reloading handbook options.
What You Might Want to Buy:
Disposable or work gloves
Some people worry about lead exposure so they wear gloves and never eat or drink anything while they are reloading (there can be lead residue when dealing with dirty shells). This is a personal choice and not absolutely necessary.
Tumbler with Media
This is a simple, easy and effective way to clean a good bit of brass in a few hours. This does run around $100 for a setup with a good priced tumbler and some media such as crushed walnut or something similar.
Be on the lookout for the second part of this article where we actually get into the “meat and potatoes” of reloading!
***Note*** I am not sponsored by Lee nor am I paid by them or anyone else…I just always recommend them to a new reloader because of the difference in prices between them and the other brands. RCBS and Hornady have some beautiful and nice dies but they can cost 2 or 3 times as much. For a new reloader, prices like this might dissuade you from taking “the plunge” because of pricing. As you get into reloading, you might want to change to RCBS/Lyman/Hornady/Redding but at first, the pricing and effectiveness for Lee just makes sense to me, personally.