Loading The 9mm

The world — now America’s — favorite
; .

John uses a variety of jacketed and cast bullets in loading the 9mm.
He also finds the Lyman Case Gauge and Lyman Calipers useful for checking
loaded cartridges, and the Lee Factory Crimp Die for accomplishing the final loading step.

Even though a dozen or so 9mm cartridges arrived in the 20th century, today when we say “9mm” virtually everyone knows exactly which 9mm we are talking about. Introduced in 1902 in the Luger semi-automatic pistol, it is the 9mm Luger or 9mm Parabellum or 9×19. It was adopted by the German Navy in 1904 then the German Army in 1908 assuring it would become very popular in Europe.

There would not be an American-made 9mm until the 1950s when Colt brought out the Lightweight Commander in the 9mm in 1951. Then, in 1954 Smith & Wesson’s Model 39 arrived in 9mm and was adopted by at least one State Highway Patrol. Until this time 9mms were rarely ever seen in the United States, and when they were, it would be a P 38 Walther or a Browning High-Power.


One of John’s most used powders for loading the 9mm is Hodgdon’s Universal;
pistol is an early Colt Lightweight Commander.

A Change Comes

The revolver was King in this country and then things started to happen in the early 1980s. First, GLOCK introduced their then revolutionary polymer pistol and in 1985 the military dropped the .45 ACP Model 1911 in favor of the Beretta 9mm. These were followed by more and more improved ammunition and today the 9mm is the most popular semi-automatic pistol not just here but around the world. Virtually every manufacturer offers a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with many of them offering almost endless versions of polymer pistols, as well as 9mm on the 1911 platform. Two things have made the 9mm very popular — the widespread proliferation of very reasonably priced ammunition and the easy-to-handle felt recoil.

Before the “shortage” of 9mm ammunition, it was not unusual to find a box of 50 rounds selling for $10 or less, making it the only ammunition that was cheaper to buy than to reload. Over the years I simply tossed all my empty brass into 5-gallon buckets and whenever I found myself in a situation where virtually no ammunition could be found, I went back to reloading 9mms.

First it was necessary to sort all the brass by head stamps. Well, maybe it isn’t necessary, however, I feel better when I do it and spent two days sorting brass, finding 14 different head stamps and about 7,000+ empties.

Normally, I use the RCBS Pro-2000 Progressive Press to re-size, de-prime, re-prime and expand the case mouth. This gives me a large supply of brass to load in the amounts preferred on the RCBS RockChucker Single Stage Press. The re-sizing effort is greatly reduced by using the Lee Tungsten Carbide Sizing Die along with spraying the brass first with Hornady One-Shot Spray Lube. This waxed-based lube does not contaminate primers or powder and I have also found it handy for lubricating the priming punch. I do not expand the case mouth but rather just kiss the mouth with the Lee Universal Expanding Die to allow the bullet to enter the case. This helps provide a tight bullet-to-brass fit. Once the cases have been given the proper charge of powder, bullets are seated but not crimped. Revolver reloads receive a heavy roll crimp as the bullet is seated, however, this does not work with semi-automatic pistol rounds as they headspace on the case mouth. This requires a special taper crimp which is accomplished in a separate step by using the Lee Factory Crimp Die. Although it means an extra step in reloading, I have found it well worth the effort. Combined with the tight bullet-to-brass fit, there is no problem with bullets being shoved into the case during the path from magazine to chamber.


Lyman’s Turbo 600 with added Lyman brass polish results in
very clean and shiny brass, all 7,000+ cases!

On The Bench

When loading large batches of bulk 9mm, I use the RCBS Pro-2000 for all steps except the last one (crimping with the Lee Factory Crimp Die). Every 200 or so rounds that have completed their cycle on the Pro-2000 are then moved over to the RockChucker for applying the final step, the crimp.

All 9mm brass is not equal. Some of it has heavier walls that may become a problem when loading heavier bullets. Each bullet manufacturer gives the desired overall cartridge length which is measured using a mechanical or digital caliper. The former I use is a Lyman while the latter is Frankford Arsenal’s. By having both I can check on myself to make sure I am reading everything right. However, length measurement does not stop here. If it has been done correctly and the proper taper crimp is applied, the cartridges “should” work just fine. I use a Lyman Cartridge Gauge to check them but there are two other checks.

I start with several dummy cases properly set to the suggested/required overall cartridge length and then run two other checks. The dummy rounds are placed in the magazine to make sure they will fit and work smoothly. If too long, the bullet will butt up against the front edge of the magazine and jam things up. The second check is to make sure they will feed from the magazine smoothly and into the chamber. Use dummy rounds only for these checks. If everything is done correctly, we have cartridges as perfect as we can make them.


Powders used in loading the 9mm include Hodgdon’s
Longshot, CFE Pistol and HP-38.

Kimber Stainless Steel Target II (mislabeled as 185, should be 115);
Springfield Armory Range Officer at 20 yards.

Powder It Up

There is a long list of applicable powders for use in loading the 9mm. Over the years my most-used powders have been Hodgdon’s CFE Pistol, Alliant’s Unique and Accurate #7. I am also now using Hodgdon’s Universal, Longshot and HP 38. When it comes to bullets, my mainstays have been the Hornady 115 XTP-JHP, Rainier 124 HP and Oregon Trail’s hard cast 122 FN, 125 RN and 147 FN bullets. As this is written, it is almost impossible to find 9mm jacketed bullets. However, I did locate 2,000 of Sierra’s excellent 115 JHPs and these are now being loaded with various powders preparing for shooting next spring.

I earlier mentioned normally sorting all brass by head stamps while raising the question of whether or not it really accomplishes anything. Using mixed brass, I have received excellent results to the point of making me really wonder as to why I should bother separating. However, old habits are hard to break!

Using mixed brass and the Rainier 124 hollowpoint over 5.0 grains of Unique is right at 1,200 fps while putting five shots at 20 yards in a 1-1/4″ group when shot in the Kimber Stainless Steel Target II or Citadel Cerakote 1911. The same bullet used with 5.3 grains of CFE Pistol shoots inside 1″ in this Citadel and also in the Browning High-Power. My most-used practice/everyday-shooting loads are assembled with the Oregon Trail Bullets. The 147 FP over 6.7 grains of Accurate #7 clocks out right at about 1,075 fps and I load the 122 FP Hard Cast bullet over 7.2 grains of Accurate #7. When the Ruger P85 arrived way back 30+ years ago, there were complaints of the inaccuracy. I have never found this to be true and this practice load clocking out at 1,170 fps places five shots in 1″ at 20 yards. It does the same thing with the Rock Island Armory 1911.

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