Reloading Ammo 101, by Dave McCracken
Many shotgunners reload their own ammo citing economy as the big reason they do so. That's a bit of a fib; few folks ever save money. Most get to shoot more for the same amount of discretionary income expended. While few consider it a hobby in itself, we often think of it as a pleasurable adjunct to shooting like a fly fisherman tying his own flies. The break point for considering a reloader is probably about 100 rounds a week.
Reloading's also surprisingly simple,safe (With a disclaimer later), and enables us to tweak a load for a specific target, shot opp, choke, etc.
A minimum of equipment is required, and a few accessories are nice to have.
The very first thing one should buy is a Manual. The Lyman Shotshell Manual contains not only recipes for various loads, but ancillary stuff like how to set up the press.
For your information, recipes are tested
combinations of components that are SAFE to shoot. Leaving the tested
stuff behind is rushing in where angels fear to tread. Stick to the
loads listed in the manual exactly, no substitutions.
Brand and type of hull.
Presses measure powder and shot volumetrically, not by weight. The very next thing you should buy is a scale to check the weights of both powder and shot. The bushings used for powders come close, but they vary a little from the published weights and MUST be checked. These weights have to be checked out before loading and during the process.
Once you've read the manual thoroughly and figured out how to work the scale, you need to buy a press. These come in two kinds.
Single stage presses do one shell at a time. They are slower than progressive presses, which do several, one shell being made every time the handle's pulled. S/S presses are much less expensive than progressives.
Single stage presses start off with the mostly plastic Lee Load All. It's very inexpensive, holds up well, loads darn near all kinds of loads in one gauge, and has lots of happy owners.
However, the MEC 600 Jr is the 870 of the reloaders. Everybody has at least one and they hold up forever. Brand new, they run less than $100 from the catalog places like Midway and Gamaliel. With add-ons, they adapt to 3" mags, steel shot, 2 1/2" shells, ad infinitum. MEC, (Mayfield Engineering Corporation) is a class act, and stands by their stuff. They'll rebuild an old MEC for a few bucks, but my bet is they do few.
I broke a shot bottle holder on mine. I called them, they sent me a new part for a pittance, and wouldn't take plastic over the phone, They billed me later. Meanwhile tech support there told me how to patch up the old one with JB weld. So I've a spare part for something that'll never need it. A class act...
Mine was bought used, along with manual, scale, and some components for $80. My guess, the payback period was 3 weeks. It took a half hour to set everything up, another half hour to load up the first box of reloads, and maybe 15 minutes for the second. Without busting a sweat, I can knock off a box of stuff good or better than factory loads now in 12 minutes. The most expensive reload I use is the same quality as an AA or STS target load, and runs less than $2.80 a box.
Pacific, among others, makes a good single stage press, but the MECs rule.
Among progressives, there's more choices, from more MECs up to the Spolar, which roughly corresponds to a Lamborghini. The hydraulic version runs less than $1500, and Dicksie Spolar will set the thing up for your pet load and run off 100 on it before it leaves the factory. A box in 3 minutes with this is not near the record.
For new folks, I recommend getting a single stage. Less mess when we botch the sequence, easier to learn. Spills are inevitable. I bolt my MEC to a piece of 2X8", set that in a shallow pan and C clamp the whole thing to the workbench. The pan catches most of the spillage.
It's best if we do not set this up over a carpet. Bare floor is easiest to clean up, and less static electricity. I run a ground wire from the press to reduce the chance of static electricity. Powders meter more uniformly. Also, do not set up your loader near open flame. Or, use a vacuum cleaner to get up spilled shot and powder. Shot will ruin the vac, and a spark from the motor to spilled powder granules can ruin your day.
Next, you need hulls. I vehemently recommend sticking to the top line target stuff. AAs from Winchester, STS hulls from Remington and Gold Medals from Federal are the best. Value packs and off brands do not hold up to repeated loadings. Few shoot as well, some turn dangerous.
Commonly, one buys top ammo like the AA stuff a case or so at a time, shoots it up and uses the cases until they're ragged, then repeats the above. Or, picking up discarded hulls at the range is often used to supplement one's purchases. I've a friend, known as the Hull Elf, who gives me once fired STS hulls 500 at a time. Everyone should have such a friend....
Winchester primers are found nearly everywhere, so is Clays powder, made by Hodgdon, an old and upright company.
The Winchester wads are ubiquitious, but the clones made by Claybuster are as good, in my opinion. They cost considerably less. These are easy to find.
A killer recipe for Old Trusty Rusty means zilch if you can't find the stuff or buy them over the internet. Use common stuff and skip the aggravation.
A few extras are nice to have. I use a stacker which holds the loaded rounds as they sit in a box, one pulls an empty box down over them, inverts, removes the stacker and closes it up. Great time saver.
An auto primer is also good for saving time and hassle.
Bins and boxes for holding wads, hulls etc are nice to have but you'll figure this one out yourself. The one that holds my hulls came with canned soup in it.
While there's universal charge bars around,I hear they tend to drift settings. I use different bars for shot weight from 3/4 to 1 1/4 oz and maybe 5 powder bushings. Add these as needed,if needed.
Again, use the scale to ensure consistency and safety.
One can learn how to use the equipment rightly by reading the Lyman manual. I did. But, I had a good background in loading metallic cartridges and a strong sense of self preservation. Go carefully, or get an experienced reloader to show you how.
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.