Good afternoon fellow riders and Second Amendment aficionados. As I write this article, it is nearing the winter solstice. The days are very short, the mornings are cold, and your ever-lovable Grey Beard Biker is a bit grumpier. I really am not a fan of it being dark at 16:45 in the afternoon. I prefer the warm sun at my back in the evening, while blasting along a backroad. But I guess we should look at things from a positive standpoint. After December 21, the days will start getting longer and it will be a downhill slide to spring. Right?
This is the second installment on the basics of reloading. The first article dealt mainly with the costs of the basic equipment you will need to reload your own ammunition. Summarizing my first article, unless you only planning to reload rifle ammunition, you will need to purchase the following items to reload: progressive reloading press, shell plates, reloading dies, powder scale (recommended even if you are using a shell activated powder drop), brass sonic cleaner (or tumbler), reloading manual and a dial caliper. This is in addition to your powder and primers.
This is a three part series:
Part 1: Reloading Basics – Part 1
Part 2: Reloading Basics – Part 2 – Brass, Primers & Powder
Part 3: Reloading Basics – Part 3 – Loading Ammunition
Most people that have considered reloading their own ammunition have been a bit of a junkyard dog at the range, picking up as much spent brass as they can find. I did this before I started reloading, nearly a decade ago. I would gladly go around and sweep up everyone’s spent brass, knowing at some point I would resurrect this byproduct of shooting and make superb ammunition from it. But this is the easiest part.
If you are serious about the quality of your reloads, you have to sort it by caliber, de-cap it (run it through your press to remove the spent primers) and properly clean it. This is a rather tedious process. After I have sorted and de-capped the spent brass, I run it through a tumbler with cleaning solution and stainless-steel media. My tumbler is made by Frankford Arsenal. It is essential that you clean your brass with calibers of the same size projectiles. For example, I tumble .357 SIG and 9 mm brass at the same time. They take the same diameter bullet. If you tumble 9 mm with .40 auto or .45 ACP brass, the smaller brass will end up inside the the larger brass and none will be properly cleaned. I am a stickler for perfection, so after I have cleaned the brass, and used my magnet to remove the stainless-steel media, I stand up all the brass on a cookie sheet and dry it in the oven, at 275 degrees, for about 45 minutes. If you do not do this, your brass will be quite spotted – and the old Grey Beard Biker doesn’t like water spots!
Powder is the building block for your ammunition. I have several dozen different powders which I use for reloading. They are all unique and have very different burn characteristics. For example, if I am reloading .357 SIG, I may use Alliant Power Pistol, Accurate No. 9 or Hodgden CFE Pistol. Each of these powders have different burn rates. I reload my .357 SIG target ammo with CFE Pistol. It’s a great powder, but the velocities are a bit slower than the other two powders. For my personal protection ammunition I use 125-grain Speer Gold Dot bullets over 8.1 grains of Power Pistol. This provides velocities north of 1,400 FPS with the only downside being a fairly significant muzzle blast – but I will accept this trade off because the stopping power is superior. For .45 ACP I use any number of powders including IMR 800X, Hodgden Longshot, Alliant BE-86 or Power Pistol. These, along with many others, work great for plinking at the range. But for my personal defense ammunition, I use 6.8 grains of Longshot powder with a 230-grain Gold Dot bullet. This produces a velocity of 900 FPS, which is plenty sufficient with a .45-inch bullet weighing 230 grains.
Your most important consideration when loading handgun ammunition is the burn-rate of the powder. It is especially critical when reloading smaller calibers, such as .380 auto or 9 mm. I use a lot of Accurate No. 2 powder for these smaller calibers. But because No. 2 is a very fast burning powder, the case pressures ramp up extremely quickly. For example, with a 124-grain bullet, the recipe for No. 2 is 3.6 – 4.2 grains of powder. Because this powder burns so rapidly, if you exceed the 4.2 grains your case pressures increase exponentially. At just a few tenths of a grain over the maximum charge you risk a catastrophic case failure which can self-destruct your gun, in the best case, or seriously injure you. This is why it is very important to follow your reloading manual. When I am loading these smaller caliber cartridges, I use a digital powder scale so I can load them hot – but safely.
Rifle powder is even more temperamental. When you shoot long range, like I do, it is even more tricky to work with. This will be covered in a separate article.
Primers are definitely not all the same. They do act differently, based on what you are rolling. I like Winchester primers in my larger caliber pistols, Federal in my .380, 9 mm and .40 pistol and Remington in my magnum rifles. The most important thing to remember, when it comes to primers, is to follow the recipes in your reloading manuals. Magnum primers burn much hotter and faster than a standard primer. Incorrectly using these over a very fast burning powder, you will definitely risk exceeding the recommended maximum case pressures on your brass.
If you follow your manuals, use the correct primers and load towards the middle range of the powder recipes – you will have consistent usable ammunition.