HAND LOADING 101 by Steve LaMascus

January 25, 2016
TEXAS SALTWATER by Calixto Gonzales
January 25, 2016

Handloading, also known as reloading, is in its simplest form the act of replacing the components of an expended centerfire cartridge. This can be rifle, pistol, or shotgun. It is not possible for the handloader to reload rimfire cases such as the .22 Long Rifle or .22 WMR. 

The handloader takes the cartridge case that remains after firing a cartridge. After lubricating the case so that it will not stick, he runs it up into a sizing die. The sizing die resizes the case back to near the original dimensions, squeezes the neck of the case to hold a bullet friction tight, and at the same time removes the expended primer.

Then the handloader replaces the expended primer, puts in a new load of powder, and seats a bullet on top—simple. To reload a shotgun shell, the handloader takes the expended shotgun shell, resizes it, replaces the primer, drops a fresh charge of powder, seats a plastic wad over the powder, drops in a fresh charge of shot, and crimps the mouth of the shotgun shell to hold the components in place.

Go to www.HodgdonReloading.com for instructional videos and other handloading resources.

Again, simple. Well, sort of simple, anyway.

The two best reasons for a person to begin handloading are 1) to save money, allowing him to shoot more for the same price and 2) to make better ammunition than he can buy.

Most of us started in handloading to save money, but have found it to be a fun and relaxing pastime in itself. Not only that, we learned that we can tailor our ammunition to our individual firearms, providing ammunition that is actually more dependable and more accurate than we can buy over the counter.

To reload metallic cartridges, the handloader needs a number of tools to accomplish the task. 

Along with primers, bullets, and powder, the beginning handloader will need a reloading press; a set of dies for the cartridge being reloaded; a shell holder; a powder scale; something to hold the cases to be loaded; a pad to lubricate the cases to be resized; case lubricant; and a set of brushes to clean and lubricate the inside of the case necks.

As he progresses he will find he has use for other devices such as case trimmers, powder measures, powder tricklers, primer seating tools, primer pocket cleaners; and other gadgets that help him to more easily make better ammo. Starter kits are sold by most reloading tool makers. For the last 35 years I have used the same old press for all my rifle reloading. The most difficult part is selecting the correct components. 

Today there is a bewildering array of components for about every cartridge you can think of. The vast majority of the powders I use are Hodgdon products. I have used them for 40 years with perfect satisfaction. Hodgdon currently produces both Hodgdon and IMR powders.

If I am able to choose the brass to reload, I prefer Winchester, Federal, or Hornady, but any name brand brass is perfectly okay. I use brass from many sources. From time to time I buy new commercial unprimed brass. This is especially true for cartridges that are hard to find or very expensive, such as my .240 Weatherby Magnum or .348 Winchester.

New unprimed brass may not be cheap, but new brass can be used many times—with mild loads, as many as ten or even fifteen times—so the price is relative. Don’t turn your nose up at brass discarded at the local rifle range. Properly cleaned and resized, it will work just as well as new brass, as long as it is not corroded or damaged

If you are loading practice rifle ammo, you can use homemade lead bullets and lower the price per round tremendously, but if you are using the ammo for hunting, commercial jacketed bullets are the best way to go. Revolvers, on the other hand, which operate at much lower velocities than rifles, can be used with perfect satisfaction for hunting with cast lead bullets. I shoot almost nothing else in my personal revolvers. Most semi-autos of any caliber—rifle or handgun—need perfect ammo with jacketed bullets to operate properly.

To make cast lead bullets you will need more tools, such as a melting pot, which can be either a plain steel or cast iron pot heated on a propane burner, or a commercial electric melting pot. You will also need a mold for each of the bullets you intend to make.

You can buy your lead and tin from a website, such as Midway USA, or you can scrounge it from tire shops and garages in the form of wheel weights. Wheel weights are very cheap and make perfectly good bullets. Lyman publishes a very good book on casting and loading lead bullets.

Wildcat cartridges necessitate handloading. I have several such wildcats, cartridges that are not loaded commercially. These include the Ackley improved series such as the .243 Ackley Improved, .257 Roberts Ackley Improved, and other non-factory cartridges such as the .30-338 Winchester Magnum. A real rifle nut takes great pleasure in loading for and shooting such cartridges, and they have many advantages over their factory parents.

Fresh Powder

IMR 4955 is the latest introduction to the Enduron series of smokeless powders.

IMR 4955 lands between IMR 4451 and IMR 7977 on the burn rate chart and is an ideal choice for many popular calibers such as .270 Winchester, .25-06 Remington and .300 Winchester Magnum. Enduron Technology allows accuracy to be maintained over longer shooting sessions, thanks to a special additive which helps remove copper fouling as the rifle is fired. 

This environmentally friendly formulation delivers ideal loading densities in medium and big game hunting calibers. 

Ballistic variations based on climate conditions are a thing of the past with IMR 4955, thanks to its temperature insensitivity. From extreme heat to extreme cold, shooters will see uniform velocities. IMR 4955 has a small grain size, making it extremely accurate, and it flows easily through a powder measure. 

With the addition of IMR 4955 to the series of Enduron Technology powders, reloaders can find a technically advanced powder for reloading anything from .223 Remington all the way up to the .500 Nitro Express. 

IMR 4955 will be available in early 2016 in one-pound and eight-pound containers. Complete reloading data is available in the 2016 Hodgdon Annual Manual or in the Reloading Data Center online at www.imrpowder.com. 



—story by Steve LaMascus


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