Handloading ammunition is a daunting experience. For those who have not yet done it, there are so many horror stories about people blowing up their rifles and getting injured. In reality, it is much more simple and less stressful than some people would have you believe. Another factor that often puts people off, is the initial cost of the equipment; It seems like you have to spend a small fortune to get in to it. This article will set your mind at ease; I am a beginner reloader and I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have done my research and loaded up and shot a few batches and things are starting to look good.
So I went to Cheshire Gun Room a few weeks ago to pick up a .243 Tikka T3 Lite and a Wildcat Evolution moderator from UK Custom Shop, I already had a Hawke Varmint SF 3-12x44 handy to start me off and a Harris Bipod. Whilst I was there I picked up a Lee 50th Anniversary Reloading Kit, some 87 grain V-Max bullets, Federal primers and H4895 powder along with 100 cheap PPU 90 grain soft-point cartridges to plink with and supply me with cases to reload. I also picked up some RCBS dies, a bullet-seating die and a neck-sizing die as well as a Lee case-holder for the press in the correct size. I already had calipers, I later ordered a Lee .243 case-trimming die to go with the Lee Quick Trim tool, I also bought an ultrasonic cleaner for cases on Amazon for cleaning the brass, and I may one day invest in a tumbler to polish the cases.
How much does it cost for all this equipment I hear you ask?
- Lee 50th Anniversary Kit is about £120
- 100 Hornady 87 grain V-max bullets are £21.50
- Powder is about £40 per lb (7000 grains)
- PPU cartridges are about £12 for 20 x 5 = 60
- Primers are a little under £5 for 100 (cheaper by the 500)
- Sizing and seating dies are about £40
- Trimming die is about £12
- Powder trickler £20
- Bullet case £5
- Calipers (already had some)
The total is about £325 for 100 loaded cartridges and the gear to make your first 100 (Same as buying 200 premium factory loads. After that, it works out a little under 50p per round which I think is a lot better than paying through the eyeballs for fancy factory ammo at £2 per trigger pull.
The Lee kit contains just about everything you need except the consumables such as bullets etc, it also does not contain dies as you need the correct ones for the calibre/s you are reloading. The ultrasonic cleaner I bought was just a cheap jewellery cleaner from Amazon and it is much cheaper than the branded ones and the media tumblers.
Basic reloading method:
Setting up your press for action is the first step, you need to firmly bolt it on to a solid built table or a work bench using some bolts (not included) attach the press handle, the primer collection tube and deflector and the quick prime system attachment. No need to put the primer feed bit on of the arm that seats the primers until you are seating your primers. Whilst you set this up you can set up the powder dispenser and screw that to a piece of wood or your bench as well as assembling the beam scales that come in the kit too.
Neck sizing and de-priming is my first step, for this I use the Lee press and the RCBS neck-sizing die I bought with decapping pin built in. Insert the shell holder and raise the press up by pulling down the handle till it goes to the end of its travel, screw the die in until it meets the press and then tighten down the locking nut. You are now ready to neck size and de-prime, you will need the case-sizing lube provided or you risk getting a case stuck in the die. Put some lube on a rag and roll the neck in the lube (if you are full length resizing you need to do more lubing. Slot the case in to the press and raise the case in to the die, push in and then pull out. Your case neck will now be the right diameter and the primer will have been removed. Repeat for all the cases.
Next step is trimming, chamfering and deburring. Your cases will increase in length when fired, this is due to the high pressure in the chamber making it flow forward. You need to check that your cases are the right length using some calipers (I already had some for measuring groups) or you can just run them through the trimmer anyway to keep consistency. The case trimming die is set to the correct length for your calibre already. You then chamfer the inside of the neck (aids bullet seating) and deburr the outside using the tool provided. You will want to be careful to not over-do it, a couple of turns inside and outside the neck is just right. If you are not cleaning with an ultrasonic, you will also need to use the primer pocket cleaning tool to remove carbon from the primer pocket.
Once I have prepped the brass, I clean it using a 50:50 solution of lemon juice/vinegar and warm water in the ultrasonic cleaner. I run it until it looks clean, unfortunately the jewellery cleaner I bought only runs for 3 minutes at a time, but it hasn’t been too much trouble. When it starts to look clean, I change out the lemon water for some metal cleaning solution that is made for the cleaner to remove any acid that may cause corrosion of the brass and to give it a little more cleaning. I drain the cases and then leave them in the basket on a radiator, some people put them in a low oven to dry. They come up pretty nicely as you can see in the picture.
You can now take your dry cases and prime them using the Lee Quick Prime system, fill the hopper with primers, give it a shake to get them facing up then put the lid on. Put the priming arm in place on the press and locate the priming arm (use the right size for your primers). Insert a case and raise it up to the arm, there is a button on the arm you pull towards the case and push down in to the priming arm to place the primer. On the downward stroke the primer is seated, make sure it is flush with the case or a hair under.
Eye protection advised for this bit
Your cases are now ready to receive powder charges, it is imperative you do not overcharge them so make sure you do not exceed the data given for your powder and bullet combination initially. Most people I have spoken to on the POI groups and others recommend starting at 90% of the max load and working up from there. You should seek advice from experienced reloaders on this step, there are many forums and Facebook groups whose members can offer you advice, do not just take one person’s word though. What works in one gun may be dangerous in another and all brass is different also. I loaded bullets up from 90% to a bit over the max charge in the book as I had supplemented the book data with data obtained from others and I worked up in 0.5 grain increments loading 5 of each charge. When it came to testing I watched closely for any pressure signs (look up on YouTube) and would have had to halt testing if I observed any and get a bullet puller to disassemble the rounds and start over on those.
You will need to use the guide to find out how to zero the scales and get it set to the right charge weight. You can then fill the powder thrower and set it to approximately the correct weight, you want to be just under. You can then fine tune each powder charge to the exact weight using a powder trickler. You then need to load the case with powder using the funnel that comes in the kit and place it in the bullet case to avoid it falling and to make managing them easier. Once all cases are charged check for DOUBLE CHARGES or uncharged cases using a torch or a light of some kind. If in doubt, empty the case and recharge.
Finally, you come to bullet seating, you need to refer to your manual about the COAL (case overall length) which is the length of the cartridge from bullet to case head (bottom bit). Mine for 243 with 87 grain V-Max was 2.640”, so what I did was screw the bullet seating die in to the press and wound it down on to a factory bullet, I then wound it off a little and part seated a bullet in one of my cases, measured the length and it was a way over as expected. I then began turning the die to draw it further in to the press a little bit at a time, seating the bullet with the press each time and measuring until I worked it down to the correct COAL. I did this very slowly towards the end so I did not overshoot (no pun intended, but I will roll with the happy accident). I then seated all of the bullets. A tip I picked up on YouTube was to half-way seat the bullet, lower the press, turn 90 degrees and then fully seat the bullet (improves concentricity of the bullet in the case).
Congratulations, you are now the owner of some nice shiny bullets you made yourself. Have fun testing and check each case as you fire it to make sure the pressure is not excessive. If pressure signs appear, do not shoot any more rounds! Buy a bullet puller and start again with them. I am by no means an expert and there are likely many who would criticise what I have written, which is okay, we are all here to learn and I appreciate the comments. I hope many of you beginners found this article useful and that you share it with your friends who want to start rolling their own. In the meantime, you can ask any questions here or hit me up on POI Social. Thanks for reading.