Basic Reloading


Good morning Bruce

I’m about to take the plunge into reloading. I’m having a lot of fun with my two young boys shooting with me now, but I’m getting wiped out from ammunition costs. Any savings at all would help. Wait to my wife sees that I’ve taken up another outdoors related hobby, oh boy.

As per your archives, I’m going to buy the simple, single stage MEC. I’m going to start with reloading for my boy’s 20ga 1100 — light skeet loads for the boy to shoot plenty of. I am an all-around hunter and an informal clay target shooter. A couple of questions …

1) One step up from that little MEC is the single stage “Sizemaster.” It has that really nice re-sizing tool in it (I think you would call it a collet). Is it worth the extra money to get this re-sizer? All the shells will be shot out of the same 1100.

2) I’m starting at stage one. Which hulls do I buy and save? Winchester AA’s seem to be the favorite. But what about these new Remington hulls? I read the press release in one of your FYI’s, and I do hear people talking about them. Do you know if you really get greater reloading life out of them? I think they have those smooth, plastic tubes.

3) I bought the Lyman Shotshell Reloading Handbook the latest Edition. I learned much from it. However, the guy at my local, large sporting goods dealer said he never used a scale. One of Lyman’s “Commandments of Shotshell Reloading” is to sample weigh ten charges of powder and shot at the beginning of each reloading session. I am going to be reloading the same, exact recipe, over and over again. However, the reloader will be disassembled between reloading sessions. What do you do?

Thanks for Shotgun Report.

Jim

Dear Jim,

Yup, ammo costs will just kill you, especially when you get a couple of enthusiastic young kids involved. The usual local “best deal” on factory ammo is something in the area of $5/box. It will usually be the promotional “quail and dove” 3-1/4 dram 1 oz loads, or the surprisingly excellent Wal-Mart “All Purpose” Federal 1-1/8 oz shells.

Reloading should cost you something in the area of $3.50 to $4.00 per box, depending on how you buy your components. Buy your powder in the largest container you can. An 8# cannister is MUCH cheaper than 8 one pound cans of the same powder. The standard “fast” powders, such as 700X, Red Dot or Clays, are the least expensive simply because you use fewer grains per load. You can also save 11% of your lead costs by using one ounce loads rather than 1-1/8 oz. Standard shot, rather than “Magnum” is a couple of dollars per bag cheaper too. No, it doesn’t give as good patterns, but for casual shooting it will be adequate. “Claybuster” brand wads have given me excellent performance over the years and cost considerably less than the front line factory wads. I generally used Winchester AA 209 primers and recommend that you stick with a standard brand in this department. You do NOT want to mess with undersized or odd sized primers when using a semi-auto.

If you don’t have a good local source of components, you can mail order them from Gamaliel (search the Web for their page). HazMat costs can kill you on powder and primers, so if you belong to a local gun club or can go in with other reloaders on a bulk purchase, you can save some money.

1) Now to the reloaders: Single stage is OK if you aren’t going to do a whole lot of shooting (or if you have willing young hands just dying to do the reloading for you). MEC makes an excellent single stage machine. If you are going to be using new hulls or hulls shot from your own gun, then the most basic MEC single stage will be adequate. The collet resizer of the next size up is much smoother to use and that machine also comes with auto-indexing, but if you can remember to index the machine and stick pretty much with hulls that are new or from your gun, then the base model is fine, although slooooow. If you pick up other people’s hulls which may have been shot in a larger chamber than your gun has, then the base MEC’s collar (not collet) resizer is going to take some extra strength and could become tiring when reloading many shells.

2) Which hull? My favorites, in order of preference, are: the new Remington STS, Winchester AA, Federal, Fiocchi. The new metallic green STS (or gold Nitro 27- same thing, different color) is a superior hull for reloading. They are in a league of their own. Winchester AA used to be the first choice, and still isn’t a bad one, but the STS is easier to reload and has lasted longer for me. All of the standard brand hulls will last a dozen reloads, so if you have a good source of once fired hulls from a friend who doesn’t reload his, don’ t be too picky about the brand. The hull is really the least important part of the economics of reloading. Tests have shown that a hull can give good ballistic performance over 20 plus reloadings, just as long as the crimp is decent and hasn’t lost any pieces. It’s really the wad that does the gas sealing and you use a new one of those every time.

3) To weigh or not to weigh? Lyman is right. The sporting goods store guy is wrong. Period. You really should weigh your powder and shot, especially when setting up for the first time. The only reason that the salesman hasn’t had a problem yet is because MEC bushings often throw light. MEC sets them up this way just so that people like that salesman don’t get blown up. I recommend that you get a scale and weigh your powder and shot charges just like Lyman tells you to do.

Though I do NOT recommend this, some people will borrow a friend’s scale to set their machine up (cut the powder bushing to the exact charge, etc) and then NEVER change any components and hope that all remains safe. If you stick to light loads that are well below max pressures and hope that your component makers don’t change anything, it might work. Still, I don’t like it. I have always felt that a scale should come with a reloader. Besides, if you have a scale you can experiment with all those different loads in Lyman’s! That’s half the fun of it. Think of the money you would save making your own hunting loads. You gotta have a scale if you want to make a variety of shells.

Disassembling the reloader between reloading sessions shouldn’t matter. Powder drop is measured by bushing diameter, while shot drop is measured by bushing or bar hole. Both of these aren’t adjustable other than by replacing the component. Still, anytime that you mess with the machine, there is that extra opportunity for something to go wrong. This is another argument for getting a scale. It is the only way that you know you have reassembled your reloader correctly. (You aren’t really going to “disassemble” that reloader. Don’t you mean “dismount” it so that you can store it in a cabinet or something?)

That’s it. Everything that I know about reloading. And even more than I know.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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4 Responses to Basic Reloading

  1. Steve Jacobs says:

    Good advise. However I can not find lead at a price to make it cost less than $5 a box and I can by ammo on sale for about that much. Crazy me I reload anyway. Must be a habit from the days when lead cost less. How can I make my own lead shot? That would be interesting.

  2. Pat McGill says:

    I started with the MEC 650 progressive. After 30+ years it still runs well and is fast enough not to be a chore. I did end up getting a MEC Supersizer after feeding problems between my shotgun and my sons. Were I to start over I would go for the MEC Grabber which is a progressive with sizer built in.

    I also have a MEC single stage, it is too slow.Life is too short. I seldom use it.

  3. G. Barraclough says:

    I have been using Claybuster’s excellent 3/4 oz. wads in 12 ga. and 20 ga. for a few years with excellent results. Low, low recoil, even more savings over a 1 oz. load and 3/4 oz. is all you need for skeet and 16 yard trap distances. You might have to experiment with a 3/4 oz. load in an autoloader, but once you dial it in, it’s a pleasure to shoot.

  4. William Eddleman says:

    Since you will first be loading for 20 gauge then a powder that is specified for 20 such as Alliant’s 20/28, Hodgon’s International or Universal would be appropriate. Stay with the published data and you will never have issues. As Sir Technoid indicates, you need to buy components in bulk to achieve any real savings and ALWAYS use a powder scale. Your main component costs will be the lead shot so if you can find shot for a good price try to stock up. Good Luck!

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