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Getting Back To Reloading
30 Years Later Mark Finds Happiness — Again!
By Mark Hampton
An assortment of powders is critical as it’s rare one powder can manage loads for a
cross section of guns. Plus, it’s easier to tailor your loads if you have more choices.
Mark found today’s bullet selection to be remarkable, of high quality and with a high level of performance.
While whacking some steel plates with His Editorship and his wife Suzi (editor at American COP) a few months back, they politely asked if I was saving my brass. At the time, we were shooting a single-shot handgun chambered for one of my favorite cartridges, the .308 Winchester. The steel plates were getting a workout with Suzi knocking the paint off them. I informed Roy and Suzi I planned to get back in the handloading gig, after a 30-year departure, and I would be saving the brass.
Roy asked, “You haven’t reloaded in 30 years?” I had to admit he was right, and it’d been 30 years since I’ve pulled the handle down on a RCBS Rockchucker — but I’m looking forward to “rolling my own” when I retire very soon.
As a college kid who liked to shoot a lot, I reloaded in order to shoot more for the same amount of money I would have spent on factory ammo. I was broke! At that time I also shot a couple of wildcat cartridges so I had to load for such rounds as the 6.5 JDJ and .375 JDJ. After college I got married and lost interest in reloading due to family and career obligations. Luckily, I had a good shooting buddy crank out loads for me when I wasn’t shooting factory ammo. Now that retirement is staring me in the face, I’m anxious to start handloading again. The same basic reasons as before, economics and several wildcat cartridges are the driving forces.
RCBS’s hand-priming tool is reliable, relatively fast and does a great job inexpensively.
Mark says even today’s dies are better than ever and offer features often
not found on early sets. It may be time to up-grade!
Before Roy left that day, he assigned a story to me. “When you start back up, keep tabs on things, take pictures and write an article about what you learn. I’ll bet readers who are in the same boat will be interested in what it takes to get back up to speed.”
So here’s what I learned.
When shopping around, exploring, and dreaming about what I wanted in the reloading room, I found some interesting things that changed over 30-odd years. The amount of quality bullets with diverse construction and design is staggering. You can get almost any bullet for any intended purpose, in most any caliber. That’s just pretty neat! The selection of premium bullets for both hunting and competition is phenomenal. Not only has the bullet selection improved, the powder selections have gained substantial ground as well. The improvement of both powders and primers are impressive.
Although when I was shopping for some of the primers and powders needed, it was tough getting exactly what I wanted due to the overwhelming demand at the time. It should be no surprise I ran into sticker shock when I went to purchase some primers and other components. A lot has changed in 30 years and the escalating prices are no exception.
Another area where I got a real eye opener was the proliferation of excellent measurement tools at affordable prices, including micrometers, dial indicators, and calipers. Not to mention inexpensive chronographs, comparably speaking. The digital powder scales and dispensers are just too cool. Of course I was drooling over these babies!
RCBS’s Charge Master allows ultra-accurate powder measurements.
Lymans tumbler is typical of today’s affordable case tumbers.
Make sure you get media to match your needs.
But the biggest change I found in 30 years has to be the shared information over the internet. While it’s handy for comparisons, or to give you ideas, I’d be very careful about trusting advice on loading data from the internet unless you are positive it comes from a reliable source. The powder and bullet companies that produce loading manuals have the tools and resources necessary to provide accurate and safe loading data. I have picked up loading manuals from several companies such as Lyman, Nosler, Hornady, Sierra and Speer to name just a few, and will continue reading these books over and over again. I’m not implying all information found on the internet is inaccurate but I would trust my gun, and my life, with data in reputable loading manuals.
I begin my quest for reloading supplies by drooling over Sinclair’s 2009 catalog. The catalog alone is an educational tool. My wife, Karen, made the mistake of asking what I wanted for Christmas. She didn’t enjoy the catalog as much as I had hoped! Since I had previous experience with handloading, I decided against going with a reloader’s kit. However, for some, that’s not a bad way to get started. Several manufacturers produce quality reloading kits such as the ones from RSBS, Redding, Lyman, Lee Precision or Hornday.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these starter kits but I wanted specific components for various tasks.
Having good luck previously with the RCBS Rockchucker — unfortunately it got lost somewhere in 30 years — I ordered a Rockchucker Supreme press and mounted it on the bench exactly where the original was. Yes, I’m still using the same reloading bench, at least I didn’t lose it. After reading several positive reviews of the company’s new Chargemaster Combo, scale and dispenser, of course I had to try one of these time savers. This is a delightful item for any reloading bench, with their digital scale and advanced technology. However, I still have my old Ohaus 10-10 beam scale and can verify or compare accuracy of the powder charge. After all, the powder charge is one of the most important aspects of the reloading task. A few other goodies from RCBS such as a primer pocket brush combo had my credit card singing.
Even with the chargemaster combo, I always wanted a really accurate powder measure so I ordered a Redding Model 3BR with features a benchrest shooter would enjoy. Along with the powder measure I needed some Imperial sizing die wax and dry neck lube. Redding manufacturers a ton of reloading goodies.
I bought a new Lyman reloading handbook, 49th edition, which was loaded with valuable information. After that, I called the company to order one of their 2500 Pro Magnum tumblers with media. This is a piece of equipment I use frequently. The magnum tumbler cleans brass thoroughly leaving a shiny, like-new finish.
A quality case trimmer was needed and one call to Forster for their original case trimmer and collets for cartridges I would load filled the bill. If using brass multiple times, then case trimming becomes a necessity. This case trimmer is user-friendly and a good choice for any one who shoots considerably. Forster produces a lot of top drawer products for the handloader including precision dies, deburring tool, presses, and headspace gauges.
Mark’s converted bathroom has plenty of light.
He’s practicing using some calipers to check over-all case length
Mark’s adjusting a die in his Rockchucker RCBS press, almost like the one he had 30 years ago
My journey getting back in to reloading was quite fun. Much like preparing for a hunting trip, the anticipation and planning was a big part of the excitement. There are so many quality components for reloading today it’s simply staggering. There’s no way I could mention all of them, or the companies that manufacture them, but reloaders have never had it so good. I know there will always be items added to my reloading room but I had the basics covered and ready to get started. Luckily I still had several dies, loading blocks, and MTM plastic boxes for storing loaded ammo.
Some of the cartridges I would be loading include .357 and .44 Magnum, .223 Remington, 6.5X47 Lapua, 6.5 WSM, .284 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and .375 JDJ. Like many of you, I had preconceived opinions of what bullets I wanted. A phone call to Nosler, Hornady and Sierra had a variety of bullets, both target and hunting purposes, headed my way. Powders varied, but Hodgdons and Alliant seemed to fill the shelves quickly. Primers were another matter. Whatever I could get my hands on would have to do in a pinch.
Brass is another matter. I had saved a lot of .308 Winchester brass over the years so all that was necessary was a bath in the Lyman tumbler. Luckily, .357 and .44 Mag cases were plentiful too. Starline manufactures quality brass for pistol cartridges in case you need any. Lapua brass is the only option for the 6.5X47 Lapua and case life is excellent. It’s great brass that allows multiple loadings. For the .284 Winchester and 6.5 WSM, I use Winchester brass exclusively. Saving brass comes naturally when you handload.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years is the fun and enjoyment I get from reloading. It’s almost therapeutic at times, addictive at others. The cost savings from handloading is not the only reason I’m pulling the handle on the Rockchucker Supreme. I like the ability to tweak or customize loads to enhance the performance of a particular firearm. Even with today’s accurate factory ammunition, I can usually find a particular handload that’s suited for my gun that shoots exceptionally well.
Hunting with ammo I have assembled is also gratifying. There’s just something enchanting about taking game from ammunition you have loaded yourself. The handloader has the ability to custom design loads from mild, recreational plinking fodder, high-performance hunting loads for specific applications, to match-grade benchrest ammo loaded specifically for bug-hole groups.
Retirement is looking better all the time. Now that I have got a meaningful way to occupy my time, shooting a whole bunch is not going to be a problem. Many of you already know and experience the benefits of reloading. If you haven’t got into handloading, you’re missing a great deal. For me, getting back in to reloading was not a fortuitous decision. Heck, if I can get back into this gig after 30 years, anyone can do it.
This RCBS Charge Master allows rapid case charging with accuracy and reliability.