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Handloading is a Safe And Enjoyable Hobby

Outdoor Activities & Adventures

February 15, 2008
By Kenneth Cobb
Handloading or reloading is the process of loading firearm cartridges or shotgun shells by putting together the individual components that make up the shell — case/shot shell, primer, powder, and bullet/shot load. There is nothing complicated in doing this. I have often stated handloading cartridges are just about as simple as putting something together with Tinker Toys. Using the proper tools and a good reloading manual, a teenager could figure out how to do it with very little, if any, adult help or supervision.

While modern smokeless powders are differently flammable they are actually safer to have in the house than such things as lacquer sprays, lighter fluid and even rubbing alcohol. Reloading powders are classified as propellants, not explosives like dynamite. When properly used, smokeless powders burn when ignited; they do not detonate or explode.

There are many reasons why people who enjoy shooting may want to take up the hobby of reloading. Economics is one reason. A box of shells purchased from a retail outlet can be reloaded at about one-third of the original cost. In rifle or pistol ammunition, the cartridge case is the most expensive component. The handloads will most likely be just as good as or better than the factory ammunition.

Reloading is also a fascinating hobby because it widens the scope of the shooting sport. The various combinations of available cases, powders, primers and bullets are almost endless for all known cartridges. This includes many that are now obsolete. An obsolete cartridge is one that is no longer factory-made. Here is a hobby that one can choose to keep simple, or they can pursue it with the seriousness of a ballistics engineer.

Benchrest target shooters are constantly seeking the best achievable accuracy as well as the best shot-to-shot consistency or precision. Here is a competitive shooter trying to tailor a certain handload combination that his firearm handles best. This type of shooter would still prefer to handload even if the cost of doing this was higher.

For the person just getting started, reloading manuals are a must. The beginning reloader should never attempt to load any cases until they have studied and fully comprehended what happens with each step that takes place in the reloading process. The Lyman Reloading Manual is one of the best on the market today. This manual explains each step with illustrations that are easy to understand. I have been handloading rifle and pistol cases since 1971, and I still find this particular reloading manual interesting reading.

The basic piece of equipment for handloading is the press. This is a device that uses compound leverage to push the fired cases into the dies that perform the loading operations. They vary from simple, inexpensive, single-stage models to complex, progressive models that are capable of loading cartridges at a rate of ten cartridges per minute.

Dies are sold in sets of two or three dies, depending on the shape of the cartridge. The three-die set is needed for straight-walled cases, and the two-die set is used for bottle-necked cases. Reloading dies are made of hardened steel that requires the case to be lubricated for the resizing operation. Just about all rifle cartridges require lubrication because the resizing process requires a large amount of force.

The first step when reloading cases is to examine each individual casing. Make sure there are no dents or cracks in the case. Next, check the case to make sure of its length with the cartridge length gauge. If it is too long, then it will have to be file trimmed. The sizing die unseats and reseats a new primer. A reloading beginner would do well to invest in a quality powder measure and scale. After the case is resized, a primer inserted, powder measured, insert a seating die into the press. Hold the bullet in front of the cartridge mouth and run it up into the seating die. After you finish loading, be sure to wipe off all the lubricant on the newly reloaded rounds.

I don’t have room to explain each step in detail of the reloading process; this is what the reloading manuals are for. In addition to the Lyman, Hornady, Sierra, Speer and the National Rifle Association publish outstanding reloading manuals.

Today, more than 4 million shooters have become reloaders. Each year, they produce as much ammo as all of the major ammunition factories combined. Money is really not the major concern to the reloader seeking a high level of accuracy. This is the type of shooter who wants to practice, practice, practice and practice some more, because this is how marksmen are mode. Reloading makes it possible for a person to enjoy all the pleasures of shooting and enjoy it often.

Handloaders in the United States are indeed the most fortunate in the world. Many countries heavily restrict, even expressively forbid, the civilian possession of firearms, ammunition, ammunition components and even reloading tools. Handloading here has not been subjected to any government regulations, largely because of the NRA and other organizations that defend the right to enjoy shooting sports. However, I do have to admit this is a segment of the shooting sport that is bitterly detested by the gun control fanatics we have in this country. At the present time, no one has to have a federal license to purchase reloading components or to possess reloading tools, and I don’t know of any individual state that has such a requirement.



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