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Reloading ammunition
Lee loading pressThere are several reasons why people choose to reload their own ammunition. The two main ones being accuracy and cost. With reloading, there are many variables that can be adjusted and tested to obtain optimum accuracy from your rifle. Some of these variables include powder type and weight, primer type and brand, bullet weight, type and brand, neck tightness and bullet seating depth - reloading can be a very involving pastime! The second reason is cost - you make a rifle cartridge with premium case, powder, primer and bullet for less than half the cost of a premium 'factory' cartridge, making the attraction obvious.

To reload your own ammunition, there are a few things you will need to get started. Firstly, a basic press. The one pictured is the one I use, the Lee Classic Turret press. This costs about 60 and includes a single three die turret. The dies can be purchased new or second hand. A basic set of dies can be had for about 30 for the pair and you will need 2 to start. The first die punches the old primer out of the case and sizes the neck (the firing expands the neck of the case so it needs squeezing in slightly so that it will grip the new bullet). The second die seats the bullet in the case to a depth suitable to the calibre.

WARNING: Incorrectly loaded ammunition can cause death or serious injury. Under- or overloaded cartridges can blow up your gun when fired. Before you start reloading, make sure you consult a current loading manual and start with the minimum recommended powder load and work up in 0.1 grain increments. Manuals are available as books or as PDF downloads from ammunition/powder manufacturers websites. Even better, ask an experienced friend or fellow club member to show you the whole process.
Before reloading any fired cases, it is essential to get them clean of firing residue and soot. This allows the cases to be examined for defects such as split necks or potential case head seperation. Reloading cases in such poor condition can be extremely dangerous. Any such cases MUST be disgarded.
My own case prep routine
De-priming and cleaning the cases:
Firstly, I de-primer the cases using the central mandrel and decapping pin from an old RCBS die and manually knocking out the primers using the shell holder on a block of lead to hold the cases. I remove the primers at this stage so the primer pockets will be cleaned when the cases go into the ultrasonic cleaner. The cases then go into the ultrasonic cleaner for 3 minutes. This removes all the powder residue from inside the case and primer pocket. I use a solution of two thirds hot water, a third clear vinegar and a dash of Flash detergent. The cases then spend a night on a hot radiator.
Trimming and annealing the cases:
Any cases that need trimming are trimmed to length using my RCBS trimmer. I then use a deburring tool on the inside and outside of the neck to remove the sharp edges. I then anneal the necks of all the cases using a blowtorch. I rotate the cases until a blue/purple ring appears just below the case shoulder. I then take them out of the flame for 3 seconds to let the temperature even out and drop them into cold water to keep the heat from moving down the case. The base of a rifle case is hardened to resist the firing forces. If this hardness is lost, the case becomes extremely dangerous to reload. After an overnight dry, the cases are then neck-sized.
Polishing the cases:
Photo of prepared brassThe cases are now tumbled in an RCBS case tumbler for 3 hours using Lyman green walnut shell polishing media. A case tumbler is a large round container with a removable lid and a powerful motor underneath it. The spindle is slightly offset so as it turns, the container vibrates strongly. The media and cases in the tumbler move around in toroidal motion. This allows the media to rub against the cases which gets them clean. Tumbling in the green Lyman media gives the cases a new look which I like. The cases are then sealed in ziplock bags until they are ready to be reloaded. Some people use a tumbler as their sole case cleaning tool but I like knowing that all the muck is off my cases.
Sizing the cases and seating the bullet:
I use Lee collet dies to neck size my cases as they are easier on the brass and alleged to give less case neck runout than conventional dies. As the shell enters the die, the bottom of the collet contacts the shellholder and starts to move upwards. The top of the collet then enters a hole. This pushes the 4 sections of the collet together forcing the case neck against the central mandrel sizing the neck. Once the cases are primed and charged with powder, I seat the new bullet in the case with the Lee dead length seating die that comes with the collet die in a set. The mechanism is self-centering and produces cartridges with minimal runout.
SAFETY, the humble torch. A critical safety check when reloading ammunition is performed when all the cases are sitting in the reloading tray charged with propellant. Use the torch to look into each case and confirm that the propellant is present and in the correct quantity. If a bullet is seated into a case that has a primer seated but no propellant, it can easily go unnoticed. If this cartridge is fired, the shooter may notice the reduced report but may not notice that the bullet is almost certainly stuck in the barrel. If another shot is fired, the gun will be destroyed potentially causing death or injury to the shooter and any bystanders.
Bullet seating: How deep the bullet is seated in the case is critical. The throat on most factory rifles is usually fairly long so most home loaded rounds will fit the chamber. Seat the bullet too deeply in the case however, and pressures can rise dangerously with high loads or you simply deprive yourself of powder space with normal loads. What many people prefer to do is experiment with seating the bullet either against the lands or a certain distance from the lands to get the optimum accuracy. This requires knowledge of how long the throat, or leade, of your rifle's barrel is. There are expensive gauges available but there is a simple method that I illustrate on the 'Odds and ends' page. By using this method which gives you the COAL with the bullet touching the lands, you simply set your seating die to seat the bullet so the COAL of the cartridge is this length plus or minus the distance you want the bullet from the lands ie:
If this method indicates a COAL of 3.015" and you want your bullet fifteen thousands off the lands, simply set your COAL to 3.000". Conversely, if you want your bullet jammed five thousands into the land, set your COAL to 3.020".
Of course, this method only works using an identical bullet and case combination because the curved shape ('ogive') of bullets differs therefore affecting how deeply the bullet will seat against the lands.
This picture shows a 5-shot group I shot at Minsterley Ranges whilst testing a new powder with Lapua Scenars. The group was shot at 100 metres from a large bench bag and shows just how accurate home loads can be when you take the time to find a load that your rifle likes. The sticker is 30mm in diameter.
Photo of 5-shot group from Minsterley
Rifle:Tikka T3 Stainless Varmint
Calibre:6.5x55 Swedish
Case:Lapua trimmed and fire-formed
Bullet:139 grain Lapua Scenar
Powder:44.3 grains Accurate 4350
Primer:CCI 200 large rifle
C.O.A.L:3.107 inches
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