Reloading Preferences


Dear Bruce,

Recently you commented on liking the MEC reloaders, which I also like very much. What is your opinion on “recipe’s”? (i.e. what kind of hulls, wads, powder, primers do you like and why?)

Thank you very much,

Kevin M.

Dear Kevin,

In a way, that’s a tough question. There are so many reloading combinations that provide excellent performance. I really don’t want to get into specific recipes. There’s a lot of tripe being written about “Of course performance with your gun may differ”. Yeah, well, maybe so, but probably not. A good load is usually a good load in most guns. The problem is defining what a “good load” is. Some guys think a good load is the tightest one. Some guys like their loads a bit more open. Other people concentrate on shot string (good a short distances with an excess of small pellets, bad at longer distance with a paucity of large pellets). So, I won’t get into specific recipes. Trust me, if one competitor is using Red Dot and Federal components and another is using 700X and Remington components, the shells won’t be deciding the winner of the shoot.

The first rule of reloading is: Take advantage of the experience of professionals. Translation: use only recipes published by reputable sources. They have the equipment. They’ve done the research. They have attorneys to handle the lawsuits. The powder companies and component makers also have a vested interest in recipes that show their products off to best advantage. It isn’t only that improper mixing of components can be dangerous, but it can also produce inefficient loads with poor performance. If a certain combination of components isn’t listed in a manual, there may well be a good reason for it.

OK, now that’s out of the way. As to hulls: there isn’t a “best”. Some hulls are longer lived than others. Currently, I think that the Remington STS hull in 12 gauge is the durability leader. The new Winchester is second, with the Federal Gold Medal probably a close third. The longevity of most of the standard Reifenhauser hulls isn’t meant to be very long. Of course, this doesn’t matter if you get once-fired hulls and use them only once in an auto. It also doesn’t matter much if you get your hulls for free. Longevity does matter if you buy your hulls.

There has been a lot said about hulls losing their ability to provide constant ballistics after a few reloadings. That may be true with cheap “single use” hulls, but may not be true with target loads of fast burning powders in modern plastic hulls. The Hodgdon Powder “Shotshell Data Manual” (1996, Hodgdon Powder Company) had a nice article by Don Zutz on component selection and performance. In this article Zutz writes of Hodgdon testing a Remington Premier 12 gauge hull (predecessor to the current STS) by reloading the same hull 15 times. Insuring that the reload had an adequate crimp depth of .055″, the hull developed minor pin holes in the crimp fold after load 7 and some small splits in the crimp after #10. After #15, it had split too much for continued use. During the entire 15 reloadings, velocity remained within 5 fps of the original 1154 fps. Pressures with load one were 11,100 PSI and at load 15 they were still 10,900 PSI.

In Hodgdon’s tests, the Remington Premier 28 gauge (28 is a notorious hull eater) made it through 7 reloads without significant ballistic degradation before Hodgdon considered the hull to be no longer serviceable.

You can draw your own conclusions from the above as to how long to run your own hulls. I currently use mostly STS hulls in my O/Us. They are durable and I get them for free. I think that the latter condition is the operative one. If you get a particular brand of hulls free, then that’s probably the brand you will be using. If you buy hulls or buy new shells to get the hulls, then go with the order I mentioned above.

I’ve used Winchester AA209 primers for thirty years. I have no argument with any other major brand, just as long as you follow the published recipe. In certain loads a specific primer may produce higher pressures than another primer, but the order of brisance may change with another load. One primer is not always “hotter” than another. It can depend on the recipe. The only primers I ever had problems with were when I used older Fiocchi primers and then tried to go back to using AA209s in the same hull. The old Fiocchis were very slightly oversized, so if was fine to go from AA to Fiocchi as to size, but not fine to go the other way as loose primers resulted. I haven’t used Fiocchi primers in the past ten years, so I don’t know the current state of their sizing. My AA209s fit just fine in the current Fiocchi hulls, so they may have standardized sizes. If you always use the same brand of primer it doesn’t matter. It’s only when you switch.

Wads are a function of the recipe, but also of size. I have found that it is seldom a mistake to use hulls and wads made by the same manufacturer. That way, you know that the gas seal is built for that type of hull. Yes, you can use AA wads in Federal hulls because there are plenty of recipes, but I don’t usually do it. An important aspect is to select a wad that is the right length. You want to be able to seat the wad deep enough so that there isn’t an air pocket above the powder. A modest amount of wad pressure assures this. Then you want the wad column to be the correct height for a good crimp with the shot load you have selected. Again, look at the recipes published in the manuals.

In addition to factory wads, I’ve had good luck using Claybuster brand “clone” wads. They use virgin polyethylene, not an unknown mixture from reclaimed plastic bottles and the like. This gives them good quality control and, more important, consistent performance in cold weather. Part of cold weather performance is the use of the right kind of polyethylene. You want to have a mixture with just the right amount of plasticizer. Years ago, I used some other brand of clone wad in my 28 gauge. It worked fine in summer, but in very cold winter weather, I got a lot of bloopers. They got their poly mix wrong.

Powders: My main criteria for powders is that they be economical. After all, why reload otherwise. You aren’t going to make a better shell than the best factory loads, but you sure can make one that’s as good and for less money. There are two functions of powder economy. First is initial purchase price. Always buy powder in the largest container you can find. For me, that’s usually 8# kegs. That size gets you the best price. Powder prices can vary a good bit, even from the same manufacturer. Clays is almost 20% more expensive than Titewad. And… Titewad is a more potent powder and usually calls for a lower charge to reach equal velocities in many loads. So you save two ways.

Yes, sometimes I will use a slower powder in the 12 gauge to change the performance of my loads. For certain loads, a slower powder sometimes (note fudge word) will produce a slightly denser pattern in some loads, occasionally, every now and then, etc. I do use a lot of Alliant Unique. It’s my favorite powder for the 20 and 28 and is useful in some 12 gauge loads for certain applications.

I don’t give a darn whether a powder burns clean or dirty. That’s all advertising hoohaw. If one powder leaves a bit of carbon in your barrel, so what. The next shot cleans it out. It’s lead and plastic smears from cheap wads that cause real dirt. I shoot gas guns a great deal and haven’t noticed that my cleaning chores are more intense or more often whether I use old Red Dot or Promo (supposedly dirtier powders) or Clays, a very clean one.

I do like relatively fine grains in my powders. That’s because powders meter more accurately in fine grains. The Winchester Ball process powders are among the finest and I’ve always had good measurement from them. Titewad is also fairly fine and meters well. Clays, 700X and Red Dot are about the same in the middle range. 800X is the worst. I won’t use it because it has flakes the size of waffles and doesn’t meter well in my machines. You may have better luck in your reloader.

Shot is an easy selection for me. In #7-1/2s and #8s, I tend to use the hardest shot I can find. I use those pellet sizes for longer shots and I am willing to pay the extra dollar or two to get higher antimony content and harder shot. When I tested the best and hardest shot against the chilled Star shot from Peru, with all the rest of the components being the same, I found that one particular gun of mine averaged 60% patterns with the good shot and 50% patterns with the softer low antimony chilled shot. Of course, you may want a more open pattern if you are running fixed chokes. Up to you. In #9s in 12 gauge, I’ve had good luck with cheap chilled shot at skeet distances as it opens my pattern a bit. I don’t think high antimony shot is a big advantage here. In the subgauges, I use high antimony #9 shot at skeet.

One final point. When you buy promo shells from the “marts”, pattern them against a known premium shell before you back your truck up to the store and buy them out. Promo shells often have less shot (saves money) and softer shot (saves money). Not all do (the original Wal-Mart Federal “All Purpose” loads were great), but some do. Caveat emptor.

So there it is. Short question, long answer. I may change my mind next week. As to the MECs, yes, they are generally great, but this new RCBS Grand I am testing looks very, very promising.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)
http://www.ShotgunReport.com

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One Response to Reloading Preferences

  1. stanley says:

    It’s a journey and really kinda turns into a hobby and let the shooting be the sport. Be careful and don’t start with a bunch of different loads but begin with something in the middle of the road like 1 oz. Don’t totally trust your powder bushing, weigh the powder beginning the loading with a good scale. Good luck.

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