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Author Topic: Is Handloading for your Rifle Rewarding? by Dutch-Hunter  (Read 476 times)

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Is Handloading for your Rifle Rewarding? by Dutch-Hunter
« on: March 03, 2013, 05:18:55 PM »
There are many benefits to "loading your own" ammo; it is cost effective, cutting your ammo cost in half, saving you money over the cost of factory ammo and most importantly FUN. Also "hand-loaded" ammo can be fine-tuned and tailored to your specific rifle, gaining greater accuracy with the “right load”.

First Step: Learn Reloading Safety to Prevent Costly Accidents

1)     Be Aware, and Careful at all times, reloading can be dangerous if you are distracted and not paying strict attention. Always wear safety glasses when reloading.

2)     Keep powders and other combustible materials separate from each other, avoid other sources of ignition. NO SMOKING near powders and reloading work area.

3)     Keep out of the reach of children, use lockable storage for powders, primers, and other reloading components.

4)     Store powders in its original container, label powders correctly, DISCARD powders that are old or of unknown origin. DO NOT MIX DIFFERENT POWDERS IN SAME CONTAINER!!

5)     Clean up powder spills right away. Use damp cloth or brush and dustpan. Using a vacuum can turn it into a bomb. Keep waste powders watered down until you can safely dispose of it.

6)     Develop a consistent routine of reloading safety procedures that incorporate "Safety Mindset" each step of the way. Avoid distractions when reloading! If visitors stop by, stop the reloading process. Consistency and uniformity is crucial to reloading safety.

7)     Use only one powder and bullet at a time. This will prevent mixing components together. Double check your load data of powder type, bullet weight, and charge amount before proceeding.

8)     Inspect your brass cases and projectiles with a magnifying glass for cracks, splits, deformities, foreign matter, etc. Use a clean towel to wipe away oils and dirt. Jersey or cotton gloves may be a good addition if you can comfortably work in them. If you can’t function in gloves dry your hands often on a clean dry towel or paper towel.

9)     Because each rifle is different, work up loads from a powder weight 5-10% lower than the recommended maximum charge weight, watching for excessive pressure signs; sticky bolt extraction, flattened, cratered, or blown out primers, gas leaks or unusual muzzle blast and recoil, etc. If any of the signs are present, reduce loads by .5 to 1.5 grains, or consider changing powder brand.

10)  Check your weighing process of powder charges often: if you use a balance beam scale, recalibrate the scale every 5 charges. If you use an electronic scale check it against a balance beam scale every 5 charges.

11)  When charging powder into cases, ALWAYS INSPECT cases to avoid double charging or overfilling. Use a flashlight to inspect each case. Never exceed maximum recommended loads. Do not trim cases too short, and after seating bullet, check the OAL (overall length) of cartridge to ensure that each cartridge has not fallen excessively below minimum seating depth, to avoid excessive pressures. Do not attempt to decap live primers from brass; rather shoot primers in a firearm SAFELY prior to decapping primer.

12)  Keep complete and detailed records of handloads that are accurate and work for the particular rifle you are reloading for. Look for any changes in the performance of your loads (Pressure Signs) and be prepared to rework the load if any of the components change.

13)  Do not leave powders or primers in the reloading press dispensers or in the work area after reloading is completed. Store in their proper containers and put back in their place. Keep newly reloaded cartridges wiped clean, oil and dirt free, properly Labeled/Stored/Packaged, and ready for firing.

14)  REMEMBER; ALWAYS "WORK UP" Powder Charges in .5 INCREMENTS to the Optimum Load, realizing that maximum loads RARELY produce the ultimate accuracy you’re looking for. But lead to Excessive Pressure signs, and Dangerous Shooting Conditions!

Second Step: Reloading Equipment You’ll Need

A new complete kit can cost $125 to $175 to see if you’re going to like it. Used equipment is not hard to find. All you need is an adequate space, such as the basement, small utility room, or the corner of a room (with no distractions) for your work-bench and tools. The kits come with instruction manuals. READ them. Most die sets have load data included with them READ them. Your components (powder, primers and brass) should cost less than $100 to get started.

You should purchase one or two reloading handbooks that contain your cartridge loading information. Always start 5-10% below stated powder charge, and slowly work your way up.

The kit should contain:

1)     Press, which is the frame that holds in place the dies and shell-holders, and does the actual loading of the cartridges. The Press should be a solid “O” shaped fixture that will be sturdy and non-flexing. The press must be securely anchored to your bench and in a position to freely work around it.

2)     Case lubricant, spray-on or wipe-on lube will keep the brass from binding and getting stuck into the dies during the reloading process.

3)     Priming Tool is needed for inserting a new primer into the base of the newly resized cartridge. The primer tool comes as an accessory attachment, or getting an hand held priming tool seems to give the best “feel” to the priming process.

4)     Powder Dispenser is needed to dispense a measured amount of powder into a pan, to be weighed.

5)     Scale is a must for accurately measuring powder charges for your cartridges. The balance beam type scales are really good, and accurate to 1/10 of a grain. Also there are a few good electronic scales such as the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 that are popular with many handloaders.

6)     Case trimmer, used to trim back cases that have been fired, to proper length.

7)     Deburring tool, used to clean up the burrs off of cases that have been trimmed.

 Additional tools you should strongly consider purchasing are:

1.     A die set for the cartridge you are going to load (what your rifles chamber is).  The dies and shell-holders are needed for every caliber and cartridge you plan on loading. Dies will deprime, resize, and seat your bullet onto the case. Shell-holder holds the base of the cartridge on the Press.
2.     Dial or Digital Caliper is needed to measure case length, case mouth diameter, cartridge overall length, etc. 
3.     Tumbler uses a polishing media to clean brass and make it shiny.
4.     Bullet puller, (cam type) used to pull apart the components to reuse.
Third Step: Reloading Steps, Get Consistent

I’d recommend starting out by loading up ten rounds. Take them to a range or set up a target and see how they work in your gun. If your gun doesn’t like them, you won’t have an entire box full of useless ammo and money wasted.

1)     Clean your brass in a tumbler, wipe cases clean with a soft cloth, and inspect all brass for splits, cracks, or bulging (every single one). Any defective cases should be bent with pliers, and thrown away.

2)     Clean inside of brass case with a case neck brush; add a light coat of case lube to aid in ease of resizing. Also lube the outside of the case. One Shot aerosol spray lube works great for this.

3)     Install the correct shell holder and sizing die into the reloading press. The shell holder grips and holds the case. The sizing die is threaded into the reloading press until the die touches the shell holder with the ram/handle at the top of the press stroke. Raise the handle and turn the die down 1/4 turn and set the locking ring.

4)     Insert the case into the shell holder, and resize the case by lowering the press (ram) handle and running the case up into the sizing die. The case will be resized to its correct dimension and will also push (decap) the spent primer. When the ram handle is raised, the case is lowered, and the expander ball (in the die) comes out, expanding the case-mouth.

5)     Check case length and trim the case when needed. Cases will always stretch, becoming longer after several firings; you must check the length and trim to size for proper chambering and safety.

6)     Chamfer and deburr each case, inside and out, after each trimming to remove any burrs; this process bevels the case for easier seating of the bullet.

7)     Prime the case, inserting primer into bottom of case. A good way is to use a hand held priming tool to insert primers into the case. This provides a better feel for the primer being inserted. The other method is to use the reloading press and a priming tool attachment for seating primers.

8)     Powder Charge: consult a reputable reloading manual and look up your load and learn which powder and what charge amount to weigh on your scale. DO NOT start at maximum load; rather start at 5-10% below the max and "WORK UP" to the Optimum Load. Put the charge into each case carefully using a powder funnel. Always inspect each case with a flashlight to insure even charges in each case.

9)     Bullet Seating: thread the seater die into the press. Put your case into the shell holder and lower press handle, running the case to the top of the press stroke. Turn the die body down until it is touching the top of the shell holder (full contact). Back the die out ¼ turn, raising the crimp shoulder above the case mouth. Secure the die with the locking ring.

10)  Next, unscrew the seater plug to keep the bullet from being seated too deeply. With the ram handle in the up position, insert a properly primed and charged case into the shell holder, take a bullet and place it gently into the top of the case mouth, holding it with one hand. With the other hand, lower the press and raise the case and the bullet up into the die. The seating of the bullet will begin. Take note of seating depth of the bullet into the case, if the bullet needs further seating into the case, then turn the seater plug down ¼ turn.

11)  Run the loaded round up into the die, raise the ram handle and check the seating depth again. Keep repeating this process of adjusting the seater plug, and running the bullet into the die, and measuring seating it until you reach the proper seating depth. Once you do, tighten the lock ring on the seater plug. You are now ready to start reloading ammo, round by round.

12)  Place each charged case in the shell holder, guide a bullet on top, and run the case and bullet up into the seating die, seating the bullet. Then check the seating of each bullet. Once the proper seating depth is reached, you are done!! You can load a box or as many rounds of ammo as you want.

Last Step: Reloading for Accuracy

One of the most rewarding aspects of reloading is accuracy shooting and the confidence to step up to long-range shooting. There is nothing more satisfying than to take game animals or punching tight groups in a target at 200 yards or more, with ammunition of your own making. You can experiment efficiently with different loads by loading five rounds each of several different powders, and bullet weight combinations before heading to the range. Load development with factory ammo would be much more costly, you could wind up shooting 5 or 6 different boxes (at $20-$45/box) to see which brand was the most accurate out of your rifle.

It is imperative to fireform all of your brass before going to the next steps. If you have been saving your used brass from factory loads you will not have to buy any and they are already fireformed to your chamber.

A Concentricity Gauge (runout gauge); is the most important investment when you are loading for accuracy. Without this, you are guessing at how you’re loading technique and dies are working. By checking each step, you can identify problem areas quickly and correct them. I want my finished rounds to have a shoulder/neck/bullet runout of less than .004, .001 or .002 is my goal. Pay close attention to chambering your ammo. There must be little to no resistance when closing that bolt. After a few firings, the case will start to get a little fat and chambering can get a bit stiff. I will push the shoulders back just enough for perfect chambering using a Redding body die. They come in all sorts of calibers and work really well. No runout is induced either. Some may want to use a full length sizing die. The downside with this type of die is the expander ball. Sometimes the rod and ball are not perfectly inline and can cause runout (neck distortion) when you pull it through the neck. Make sure you do before and after checks on your sized brass to ensure excessive runout is not produced. This is why you need to test with a runout gauge. You can't eyeball a few thousands of wobble. If the die does induce runout it’s not worth the trouble, talk to another reloader or the manufacturer for advice, or get rid of it.

The steps for accuracy loads are:

1)     Weigh every component. Separate all of your components into groups by weight and record these groups, every case, primer and projectile. The variations your find will amaze you. The group parameters can be your own choosing. To get truly accurate performance you must determine what combinations works best and this can only be determined with experience.

2)     Case Neck Preparation. The neck consistency will have the single largest effect on the accuracy of your load. Trimming and deburring combined with precise sizing must be held to very close tolerances. For sizing, I consider the Lee collet neck sizer to the best on the market. If the case leaves the chamber with little to no runout, none will be created with the die. The die also sizes with the common .004 to .005 needed to keep that bullet in place while in the magazine during the recoil of the rifle and handling in the field.

3)     Primer Preparation and Installation. Measure each flash hole and separate as in step 1 with parameter you set up and record. Inspect primer seating checking consistent depth and uniformity. Lee hand auto primer does a superb job. You can feel that primer fully seat which is critical to consistent ignition. I don't recommend using a press primer as there is simply no feel.

4)      Weigh your powder charge to tenths of a grain. Finer weight recordings will make it easier to determine optimum load for accuracy. Once again you set up the parameters and as with all of these parameters you can alter them with experience. The best powder measure can only drop to ± 2 tenths. That is an extreme spread of 4 tenths. I want all cases to be within 1 tenth. If you use a mechanical scale, just make sure it doesn't stick and gives repeatable results. Digital scales have become very popular and are quicker to use.

5)      Cartridge Overall Length (COL). Fine tune your press adjustments to get consistent lengths of your cartridges. Measure every one and place it in your box by length. Again separating and recording them for future reference. If you do not know your exact headspace I suggest you buy a gauge since you’ve committed yourself this far. With your headspace known you can then determine the freebore that makes your rifle perform most accurately with. I use the generic seating die found in off the shelf die sets. With the runout gauge and properly sized bench rest brass, I have found little runout to happen during the seating stage. If runout is caused, it is likely caused by a mismatch in the seating stem and the bullet ogive. The tips of these long bullets hit the top of the stem before the ogive can be supported by the stem.

6)     Working up a load. When load testing, I always try and test at 200yds or 300yds. The further you go the better as it will allow you to identify stringing. I also don't shoot a lot of development rounds for each load level. I make up 5 rounds every 1/2 grain as I work up. Groups are going to start large, shrink (the node), then expand. I am looking for the highest node as this will yield the highest velocity and best powder combustion (low extreme spread and reduced stringing). I will go back in 2 tenth increments around the highest node, even in a magnum case, and fine tune the load. Once I have a couple of accurate loads that vary by a few tenths, I will shoot multiple 2 or 5 round groups to confirm which is most consistent. Testing further out becomes a huge benefit. A well-tuned load and accurate rifle/shooter will be able to hit consistently sub MOA as far as he wants to hunt. Testing your load at long range increases your practice and makes you aware of your limitations. You don't need every round to go into the same hole but you need the load to be reliable and consistently accurate over a wide range of ambient conditions.

7)     Final tuning. Now that you have your best load, test with your optics at various ranges with a cold barrel. That first shot is everything so make sure your load will do its job every single time. When testing, I limit to 5 rounds at any given range. That's about all the time you are going to have in the field and if you need more, start tweaking your shooting fundamentals and keep practicing. Ideally, you will have a load that is dead on accurate in a cold barrel, precisely dialed into your rangefinder and scope. It takes a lot of work and shots fired but when you get it, the confidence it gives you is awesome. With practice, one shot, one kill at extended ranges will be as common as most hitting a water melon at 100yds.

Hand Loader’s Creed: Load more, Shoot more! It becomes an addiction.

Hopefully you’ll begin to enjoy "hand-loading" so much that the “savings” that you saw in the beginning will start to diminish, because you will find yourself loading and shooting more than you did when you first started out. Then think about the money you saved to get more enjoyment.

Dutch Hunter


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