It was just six months ago that the new Acme Sniper Rifle was released to the public. It is chambered in the time-proven .308 Winchester cartridge, and Steve had read every review he could get his hands on. This rifle had his name written all over it!
Steve saved every penny he could until his “gun budget” finally reached that golden amount. He proudly marched down to his local gun shop, and the Acme was his.
A few months later, he was able to buy a decent scope and his first box of Match Grade ammunition. Soon, he was heading to the range, where he was ready to put Acme’s MOFH (Minute of Frog’s Hair) accuracy guarantee to the test.
Being a romantic at heart, I’m going to let this story have a happy ending, and tell you Steve shot a five-shot group with a center-to-center spread of only 0.88 inches. He is one happy camper.
However, once his box of 20 rounds was gone, poor Steve realized that each shot had cost him $1.35. This was the moment he remembered what his former co-worker Harry had told him about the cost savings of reloading your own ammunition. Harry had even told him something about matching the bullet and powder to get the best accuracy out of his rifle; but Harry had gone to another job, and so Steve had no clue of where to find out any more information.
Steve’s story is how the majority of people get their first exposure to the hobby of reloading. Unfortunately, it is also where the story ends for most shooters: They mistakenly believe there is more involved than there actually is, and thus shy away from the concept. Firepower is here to tell you to rethink the prospect, and we are going to show you, step by step, how to reload that .308 Winchester. We are using .308 Winchester just because it is a common cartridge (my favorite), but these steps apply across the board to just about
THE BASIC CONCEPT
A cartridge consists of four basic parts: the cartridge case, the primer, the powder and the bullet. Once a loaded cartridge is fired, the primer is spent, the powder is burnt and the bullet is long gone. The art of reloading entails putting the case back in its original form and replacing the primer, powder and bullet. The really nice part of this scenario is that it is almost as simple as it sounds.
The tools needed to complete this process are few in number, and there are several “starter kits” on the market, from companies such as RCBS, Lyman, Lee and Hornady. The most important tool used in reloading is knowledge, and this knowledge can be obtained from a good reloading manual. Several bullet and powder companies print these manuals, and most are updated every couple of years, as new bullets and powders are added to the market. A good manual will start off by explaining the complete process of reloading, and will go into more detail than we can here. However, by reviewing these pages, you should gain enough understanding to follow the information.
The heart of a reloading setup is the press: It holds the reloading dies, and applies the leverage needed to reshape the empty cartridge case and seat the bullet.
The dies come in a set of two or three, and each performs a separate function. Each cartridge you want to reload has a separate set of dies, and you will also need a small shell holder to adapt the ram of the press to hold that particular cartridge.
You will also need a scale that measures in grains, and a powder measure that speeds up the process of dispensing the powder.
Besides the tools above, all you need are primers, powder and bullets. These can be purchased at any good gun shop.
You can use the cases you have collected from shooting factory ammunition, or you can buy empty cases in bulk. Bullets normally come in boxes of 50 or 100, with numerous choices. Primers are packaged in boxes of 100, and again, you have several choices. Once you start to reload your own ammunition, you are on a path that will expand your understanding of your weapons and the science of ballistics.
It all starts by getting a good reloading manual and doing a little reading. These pages only give you the basics, but they should show you that there is no black magic involved in reloading. Reloading handgun ammunition normally has one additional step of expanding the mouth of the case prior to seating the bullet, but that doesn’t add any cost and very little time. As you get more involved in reloading, you will also learn additional processes you can complete to improve your finished product, to compare to any commercial match grade load available.
In short order, Steve was back at the range enjoying that new rifle. He had also discovered that “loading your own” is less expensive than factory ammunition. An added advantage is that with the right powder and bullet combination, his next five-shot group was only 0.50 inches. He never did find out how Harry did at his new job, but it was Steve soon extolling the benefits of reloading to the newbie at the shooting bench next to him.
“The most important tool used in reloading is knowledge … ”
1 Read the manual! An up-to-date manual will give you the information needed for any cartridge on the market, and most will also give you a short history of that cartridge. The manual will show the powders and bullets that are usable, and a “starting” and “maximum” amount of powder to use for each bullet weight. You will notice there are several powders listed, and some manuals will indicate the load that gave the best accuracy results during their testing.
2 After you mount your press to a sturdy work bench, you can slip in the appropriate shell holder at the top of the ram, and thread in the resizing die. This die will swage the fired cartridge case back to its original shape (they stretch when they are fired), and push out the spent primer.
3 Add a little lubricant (available from the various reloading companies) to the outside of the case prior to inserting it into the resizing die. Rather than smear the lubricant on a foam pad and roll the cases across the pad, I prefer putting a little on my fingers and applying it by hand. Some people even use a spray-on lubricant when loading several cases in one session.
4 Pull the handle and insert the case into the die. The case is reformed and the old primer is removed.
5 Wipe the lubricant off the case, or remove using a tumbler or chemical case cleaner.
6 It is time to replace the spent primer with a new one; most reloading presses are set up to complete this process on the up-stroke of the press. A few companies also make re-priming tools, and my favorite is the Lee Auto-Prime. I think the use of this tool gives me a little more “feel” of the process, and it also speeds up the process when I am doing large batches of cases in one sitting. These tools simply press a new primer into the primer pocket of the case.
7 By using the powder scale, adjust your powder measure to dispense your desired “load.” I normally double-check the amount of powder dispensed about every fourth or fifth case, and visually check the amount of powder in each case before going to the next step.
8 Replace the sizing die with the bullet seating die. Put your resized case (with the new primer and powder) in the shell holder, and hold the bullet at the top of the case as you feed it into the seating die. You can adjust the stem at the top of the die to insert the bullet the proper depth in the case. Remember, your loading manual will give you the powder amounts, proper bullets and seating depth for the bullet.
9 Once the cartridge is removed from this step, it is ready to be fired once again.
Based on the current prices at the time of writing this, a box of 20 Match Grade .308 Winchester cartridges can be purchased for $27 and up. A box of 100 168-grain match bullets costs $32. The primers are six dollars per 100, and a pound of Reloader 15 powder is $26. Add this together, and your cost per cartridge is only 56 cents compared to $1.35 of factory ammunition. You don’t have to shoot much before you have paid for the tools needed to reload. After that point, your savings just increase. Some of my equipment is over 30 years old and is as good today as it was new.
The above is based on the prices at Midway USA, and on using the cartridge cases you have left over from firing factory ammunition. Even ordering new cases keeps the prices below factory ammunition, and these cases normally can be loaded several times before they need to be replaced.
Editor’s Notes: The information given here is written to show you that reloading is well within the reach of any shooter. Obtaining the proper manual and reading its contents is the first, and most important, step of reloading.
A version of this article first appeared in the November-December 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.