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DIY: How to Begin Reloading Your Own Ammo

Good Information is Key to Learning How to Reload Ammo

By Corey Graff, Online Editor

The ABCs of Reloading, 9th Edition | Learning to Reload is Easy

Enjoy step-by-step guides on reloading rifle and handgun cartridges and shotshells

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Reloading your own ammo can be rewarding and save you much money over the course of your shooting career. You can custom tailor loads. And experiment for optimum accuracy to your heart’s content.

If you’re just getting started, good information and neat work habits are critical to safe reloading. If you’re the type of person who glosses over the safety section of instruction manuals, you need to change your habits. Good tools help, too.

 

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Ensure Safety First when Reloading Ammo

Reloading ammo is a safe activity. But you need to understand the risks and follow the "how to reload ammo" steps outlined in reloading manuals to the tee. There is a reason those steps are defined.

Keep your work area neat and organized, with only the powders, primers and components on the bench that you are currently loading. This will minimize chances of mixing the wrong stuff.

Use a loading block. A loading block allows you to visually inspect all the cartridges after you drop the powder to be sure you didn’t double charge a cartridge. Reduce distractions. Only reload when the house is quiet and people are not tugging at your shirt for attention.

Ammo Reloading Components

Cartridges are made up of brass cases, primers, powder and bullet. Depending upon what ammo you’re reloading — rifle, handgun or shotgun — there is different nomenclature you’ll learn as you study reloading manuals.

One common thing to watch for when reloading handgun and rifle cartridges is brass quality. You can only resize brass so many times (by “resizing” I mean pressing the brass into a resizing die to squeeze it back within specs after firing). Eventually the brass will become work-hardened and crack or simply get too thin to be able to take chamber pressures.

Reloading ammo, bullets and shotgun shells

Powder Charging: After weighing the charge, use a funnel to pour it into the case without spilling. Note the use of the loading block, which allows you to peer down into the cases to spot a double charge. 

The ABCs of Reloading 9th Edition lists a variety of case failures to watch for, including split necks, body splits, longitudinal splits, head separations and more. Get this book before you start reloading.

Bullets come in different weights (measured in grains), different lengths and styles. Note that different length bullets will create greater or lesser chamber pressures depending upon how deeply they are seated into the case.

Always watch chamber pressure and follow the bullet manufacturer’s reloading manual closely, starting with the minimum load and work up gradually observing cases for excessive pressure.

Primers should be loaded into a primer loading tool, with no more than 100 primers at a time, again for safety. Take your time and make sure they are all facing the same direction. There are standard primers and match-grade primers. Try both. Sometimes it can make a big difference in accuracy.

Common smokeless powders are available from IMR, Winchester, Hodgdon, Accurate, Ramshot, Vihtavuori, Norma and Alliant.  Reloading manuals are available from these manufacturers, and should be a part of your library.

Powders are generally classified as “slow-burning” or “fast-burning” for three main uses: Shotgun powders, handgun powders and rifle powders. Pistol powders are typically fast-burning, as are shotgun powders. Rifle powders, on the other hand, tend to be slow-burning — to squeeze the maximum velocity out of a bullet as it speeds down a rifle bore.

There are innumerable variations and “recipes” available from each of the powder makers, so get a good manual and follow the suggested loads. I typically start with the bullet I want to try, and then get a couple types of suggested powder, following the data in the reloading manual to the letter. 


Recommended Reloading and Handloading Products

The Cartridge Comparison Guide | Compare Cartridges for Reloading Ammo

Compare every factory available cartridge from 17 to 50 caliber for both rifles and handguns

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Massad Ayoob's Greatest Reloading for Shotgunners, 5th Edition | The Essential Book for Reloading your Shotgun Shells

Shotgunners won't find an easier to follow or more comprehensive guide

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Reloading for Handgunners | Essential Guide on Reloading Bullets

Learn how to safely reload your own high-quality, precision ammunition.

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Cartridges of the World, 13th Edition | Complete and Illustrated Reference for Over 1500 Cartridges

Containing everything the active cartridge collector and firearms enthusiast needs to know

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subscriptions, and 3rd party products. 1 use per customer. Other exclusions apply.

 


Learn about precision reloading tools

Case length should be checked after sizing and neck expanding. A good pair of calipers is an essential tool for the handloader.

Manuals on Reloading Bullets, Ammunition & Shells

Hornady reloading and many other companies including Nosler, Norma, Sierra and Speer produce reloading guides for their bullets. Buy them all.

Reloading manuals provide reloading data for their current line of bullets with a variety of powders. They give suggested starting loads, accuracy loads, and maximum loads.

In addition, reloading manuals provide reloading steps on how to reload ammo properly so the handloading process is safe and efficient. Read and follow these procedures. (As a side note, reloading dies often contain specific steps for safe and proper use. I generally start with the reloading manual, but defer to more specific processes defined with the dies I’m using)

More reloading resources I recommend are the Cartridge Comparison Guide and Cartridges of the World, 13th Edition.

Tools for Precision Reloading

When I started reloading it was with a simple single-stage press that came as part of a whole “reloading kit.” The kit contained a powder measure, loading block, scale and various trinkets that eventually became evidently useful.

A single-stage press — even for handgun reloading — forces you to slow down and learn the basics. You can graduate to a progressive press for large quantity reloading later. The reloading press should be mounted to a rock-solid reloading bench. The bench should be heavy with a double-thick top, and mounted to the studs in the wall. There is a lot of pressure generated with you yank that handle to seat bullets, and a sturdy workbench is vitally important to ensure rigidity in the setup.

There are fancy electronic scales, but the good ‘ol fashioned beam-type scale works great to get you started.

You’ll also need case deburring tools and a case trimmer. To measure cases — yes, when you started reloading you opened a can of worms — you’ll need a good quality calipers and understanding of how to read measurements in one-thousandth of an inch increments.

There are other tools you’ll quickly learn you’ll need, but one of the things I find super handy is Hornady’s hand primer tool. This allows me to feel the primer being seated in the primer pocket. If there’s too much resistance I can stop and inspect. And I can get a consistent seating pressure.

Learn how to reload ammo safely and easily

The Rockchucker single-stage press from RCBS is simple and tough. It’s a great reloading press on which to learn the basics. 

The Process of How to Reload Ammo

In general, the reloading process is actually quite simple. Find the load you want to try in your reloading manual. Organize all the components on your workbench.

Measure your cases and trim and deburr as needed. Clean and lube the cases, running them through the sizing die. Clean the cases again (to remove the lube). Seat the primers.

Set up the powder measure and powder charge the cases. Inspect the cases visually to ensure you didn’t double-charge (once again: get a loading block!). Set up the seating die, and slowly adjust as you seat a bullet, measuring with the calipers.

Relax. Concentrate. And repeat.

Testing Your Reloaded Ammo

The real joy of reloading your own ammo is seeing the results at the range. When I’m looking for an accurate rifle load, I like to load up 10 shots — one for a cold bore, and 3 sets of 3-shot groups to determine accuracy.

Buy a bunch of the plastic ammo containers for your cartridge and get some white labels. Mark each batch with the caliber, bullet type, bullet weight, powder type and charge amount, plus any other details such as adjustments to seating depth.

After those three groups you’ll quickly know if you’ve achieved an accurate load. If you didn’t, the fun of reloading is getting to try something different — a hotter load, different bullets or alternate seating depths. Just stay within the specs of the reloading manual. Experiment and shoot. And keep a log to track your progress.

Reloading is great fun. Like anything involving firearms, the key is good information, the right tools and a focus on safety. 

 

Save 10% Off Select Reloading Products!
Use Promo Code: SAVELP

Final discounts will be displayed within the cart for qualifying items. Discount not valid on pre-orders, value packs,
subscriptions, and 3rd party products. 1 use per customer. Other exclusions apply.

 

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Corey Graff is the Online Editor for GunDigest.com. His personal interest in firearms includes handguns for hunting and self-defense as well as guns from the World War II era.