A Case for Reloading Your Own

A Case For Reloading Your Own
Phil Massaro is the author of Shooter's Guide to Reloading and the owner of Massaro Ballistic Laboratories.

As the owner of a custom ammunition shop, one that provides many different types of centerfire loads for customers with many different demands, I’ve gained a lot of experience reloading ammunition. But I still remember all the apprehension I had while assembling my first cartridges. Though it can seem intimidating, it’s really a lot of fun.

I get this question the most: “Is it dangerous?”

Well, yes and no. Any mishandling of firearms or ammo can be dangerous. But when the rules are adhered to, reloading ammunition is no more dangerous than operating a kitchen stove. Storing the components requires a bit of common sense, but if you have a safe area, and store gunpowder and primers in a safe manner, there are few concerns.

Another question I get is: “Is it worth it?”

Absolutely. In years past it used to be financially advantageous to reload your own rifle and pistol ammunition, but unless you shoot extremely often or shoot some uncommon calibers, that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. There are some fantastic deals on bulk ammunition for plinking with a handgun or modern sporting rifle. However, if you’re an accuracy hound like me, it’s often hard to beat the precision associated with handloading. Not that the factory ammunition produced today is poorly made; in fact, factory ammo is better than it’s ever been. But, in their effort to fulfill the demand for ammunition, manufacturers often loaded with only the most common projectiles. Also, the recent shortage of some types of ammunition has prompted some to load their own.

A Case For Reloading Your Own
RCBS 505 Balance Beam Scale: Handloaders can fine-tune loads to get all of the accuracy they can out of a rifle, handgun, or shotgun.

The biggest reason for me is to feel comfortable knowing that the ammunition I produce is exactly what my rifles and handguns shoot well. I also enjoy some firearms that shoot cartridges that are obsolete. Basically, by reloading, I can make ammunition that I cannot buy.

The process itself, generally speaking, is not difficult, but as you’ll find there are a lot of intricacies. You start with a spent (or new) brass cartridge case, and use a reloading press and dies to resize that case from its expanded dimension to the dimensions specified by SAAMI (the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute). You remove the old primer and install a new primer. You then charge the case with an exact amount of a specific type of powder and install a new bullet in place of the old one. All this is done by basically pulling the lever on a reloading press as you move the case through each step.

What You Need to Get Started

You'll need a book and reloading manuals. There are many good books available regarding the process of reloading ammunition. I wrote a book called "Shooter's Guide to Reloading," and there are a variety of fantastic reloading manuals containing data that are the result of countless hours of strict research. If you follow the instructions and recipes, you'll be making ammunition in little time.

A Case For Reloading Your Own
Reloading presses come in many price ranges and for various cartridges. This is the Rock Chucker Supreme Single Stage Press from RCBS.

You’ll need a quiet place with a small workbench. You’ll need a reloading press, a set of reloading dies for the cartridge that your rifle/handgun shoots, suitable primers (as specified by the reloading manual), projectiles, and some powder that is suitable for your cartridge. You’ll also need brass-trimming tools, to trim the cartridge case to length, a powder scale (balance beam or digital will work), and some calipers to measure the cases and assembled cartridges.

You may use spent brass, which you can often pick off the ground at the range (just pay attention to the rules of the range you’re shooting on, as some ranges don’t allow this). You can also purchase newly manufactured component brass from several of the major ammunition companies.

Projectiles are available from many different sources, and reloading provides an opportunity to use ones that you wouldn’t be able to shoot otherwise.

The reasons to reload also apply to shotgun shells. Spent hulls can be reshaped. With a new primer, wad, and shot, you’ll find that with the purchase of a shotgun press you’ll be able to spend more time at the trap range, as you’ll save money by reloading shells. Also, you can cook up a custom turkey or waterfowl load just for your particular hunting situation.

Why Reloading in Addictive

I have several rifles in classic calibers suitable for the most dangerous game on earth, and the ammunition it fires comes with a hefty price tag, were I to buy factory loads. This is one instance where handloading ammunition allows me to practice and shoot much more than if I had to buy it.

A Case For Reloading Your Own
Stick Powder: Reloading manuals will tell you what type of powder you can use and the minimum and maximum amounts. The amount you choose to use on depends on your gun, cartridge, purpose, and more.

The pride factor is another big reason to reload. Seeing tiny groups on the target, or taking a game animal with a load that I concocted, allows me to enjoy the sport I love that much more.

Then there is what I consider to be the most important and rewarding part of being a handloader. You will, inevitably, become much more in tune with your firearms, as well as with the working parameters and capabilities of the cartridge you’ve chosen. You’ll develop a thorough knowledge of how the cartridge or shotshell works, in addition to having a hand in the design of the finished product. You end up poring over the reloading manuals, getting a better feel for which cartridge does what, or the feasible limits of a particular cartridge, and this knowledge will influence future firearm purchases.

I have made some very close friends through a shared love of handloading ammunition, and those relationships are something I cherish. I’ll warn you, if you pursue this hobby, you may find yourself at a party discussing ballistic coefficients and sectional densities, or perhaps the burn rate of Hodgdon’s H4831SC versus IMR7828. Those in the know will delve into the conversation eagerly, while the rest of the partygoers will look on as if you were debating the finer points of dryer lint.

You’ll also spend much more time with your hunting and shooting buddies, and your spouse and/or your children may help you make your own ammunition. My daughter Angelina was the videographer for the accompanying video, and she can work a press handle pretty well in her own right!