Ammunition Reloading: An Essential Basic Skill, by J.D.F.

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When compiling a list of our survival necessities, we end up with a few basic categories: food, fuel, shelter, water, and protection. Stranded in the wilds, or a deserted island, water is the most important. Shelter comes in a close second, followed by fuel for water purification, food preparation, and sanitation, and ending with food for sustenance. If you add a sharpened stick, perhaps topped with a sharp rock, bone, or metal point, you can protect yourself from wild animals, kill or spear game and fish, and most importantly, fend off adversaries intent on taking your necessities for themselves, or harming or killing you.

In the modern context, our firearms provide the ability to protect our homes and persons from those criminals, or as recent national events have revealed, a movement by government officials, to strip that right of self protection from us to further an agenda of repression and abuse disguised as the philosophy of distribution of equal necessity and eventual misery to all of us. The push to limit, or remove from us, the most efficient firearms available, has been promoted alongside the limiting of magazine capacity, and even the quantity of rounds of ammunition at time of purchase, or acquired through the mail in bulk. We may retain the right to possess a semi-automatic self-loading rifle, and even make do with limited capacity magazines, but if the ability to fill those magazines with ammunition is curtailed, or out-right denied, then we are in serious trouble. You may have a gun safe loaded up with several rifles, and a few magazines, but if you run out of ammunition, you’ll end up with an expensive, un-wieldy club.
 
My wife and I have enjoyed ten years of participation in the shooting sports, namely Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). This discipline has allowed us to travel across the United States and make many friends and hone our rifle, shotgun, and pistol shooting abilities. One of the first things we became aware of, was the fact that if we competed more than once a month, we would incur a significant cost of purchasing commercially manufactured ammunition. When I started shooting CAS back in 2003, I could buy a box of 50 rounds of Winchester .45 colt “cowboy” loads for $17.99, and a box of shotgun shells for $ 2.99. That added up to about $40 per match.

Now, a box of both rifle/pistol, and a box of shotgun cowboy rounds is about double that, approaching $80. Most CAS shooters shoot more than one match a month, and the average is 3 matches or so locally. That adds up to quite a bit of money. We were fortunate to have close friends gift us a Dillon 550B and dies as a wedding gift, (we met through mutual friends while CAS shooting) and I found I could drop the $17.99 cost of  box of .45’s down to $3!. My monthly ammunition coast plummeted from 80 per match, down to $6, and then I found a used Lee Load-all 12 gauge shotgun loader, and further dropped my shotgun shell per box cost down to 1/3 of the coast of a commercially loaded box, while adjusting the shot and powder load down to a comfortable “feather-light” type shell. I helped a friend sell bullets he started casting after he bought a lead bullet casting machine, and was making and selling cowboy-type lead bullets at quite a savings. Now all I had to do was buy powder and primers, and re-use my brass, to further drop my cost down to about $2 a box for both rifle/pistol AND shotgun shells.

Back a few years ago, post-election, and fear-driven, ammo sales and availability cleaned out most shelves of stock. Not for us, we had always have components on hand, as we shoot 3-4 matches per month, and travel to larger state and regional shoots requiring double the normal amount of ammunition. Fortunately as well, we are constantly running into folks who have bulk amounts of primers and other components, which we buy at a savings over sporting goods, or box stores. The shortage never impacted us, as we always used the “off” time between competition seasons to load enough rounds to compete in the next season, mostly several thousand in each caliber. My wife shoots .38 Special cartridges in her rifle and pistol, and I shoot .45 Colts in mine. I spent any time after getting our handgun cartridges loaded, to loading as many 12 gauge shotgun shells as I could, just for that “rainy day.”

For the prepper, or even average gun owner, who see’s the hand-writing on the wall, and is concerned about the availability of rifle, pistol, or shotgun ammunition, or for those who just want to invest a small amount to save on future is ammo costs, or even to add a universally needed survival commodity to their barter stock, or home mini-store, ammunition reloading equipment is a great choice.

Getting started in reloading ammunition is very easy. You can start out with a single-stage or multiple-die turret-style press, and move up as you wish to a the next stage, which is a manually indexed press, all the way up to a fully-automatic self-indexing commercial ammunition reloading press. Most all major manufacturers of reloading presses, have a life-time warranty on the units, covering replacement of parts and even some add-on accessories damaged or broken during normal usage.

Single-stage presses, such as those from RCBS and Lee Precision are extremely well-made, and can last several generations. RCBS makes  several single-stage presses you can find used for under $100 such as the RCBS Rock Chucker from Midway which when new comes as a kit with everything you need to start loading. If you buy just the press, you simply purchases a set of 3-4 stage dies in the favorite caliber, and a 50 or 100 round loading plate, in order to process the cartridges 50-100 at a time. First you would  de-cap and size the cleaned cases, re-prime either with the priming die, or by sizing, and then hand-priming with a hand-held primer tool. Then the powder charges are measured out with either a pre-measured powder dipper, (Lee Precision makes the universal set of graduated dippers in a set) and dropped into the primed cases, then the seating and crimp die is screwed into the press and the primed and charged cases and topped with a bullet, and rammed up into the die to produce a finished cartridge.

The Dillon 550B is a very popular press, used by 80% of the cowboy action shooters, and it’s set-up with a set of separately purchased dies, which consist of the case forming/de-priming die, the case belling / powder charging die, which has a automatic pre-set powder measure atop it, actuated by the up-thrust of the sized and primed case into the die, the operator then manually indexes the entire case plate to the next die where he places a bullet atop the charged, and primed case which seats the bullet to the proper depth, and then indexes it around to the final crimp die which crimps the bullet firmly into the case, producing a finished bullet. The Dillon press has an automatic primer feed device, which one pre-loads with 100 or so primers in a tube which places, and seats, a primer automatically into the case after the de-priming action has completed its action. The Dillon is sturdy, easy to adjust, and it’s easy to remove a case midway through the loading sequence to check powder charge, etc., by removing station holding pins at any point. The operator is required to only perform two manual moves, to place an empty case in the first station, the de-prime/sizing die station, and then place a bullet atop the charged/primed case at the third station, all the while rotating, or indexing the base-plate with finger movement, which positions the cases under each appropriate progressive die in the sequence.
Dillon makes a basic single-stage-type hybrid press, the 550 both a bit less expensive, but upgrade called the Square Deal B without some of the 550B’s features, and also an XL 650 with an auto-indexing feature, an auto-case feeding feature etc.  Dillon makes a commercial grade automatic-type press as well if you want to get into mass production and cartridge sales, the SL 900.

A Lee Turret-style press is a take-off on the moving base-plate type press, and the 3-4 dies are positioned atop a rotating top plate mount, while the cases remain stationary below them. Priming and charging the cases with powder are done manually be the operator, although a auto-prime attachment can also be purchased and affixed to take care of this function. This type of press is most often used in reloading at a slower rate, in reloading rifle cartridges, especially shouldered rifle caliber cases.

Lee Precision makes an automatic pistol caliber press called the Lee Pro 1000.  Lee also makes an upgrade as well, the Lee Load Master. It functions very similarly to the Dillon 550B, with the exception of the unit costing much less, and it is auto-indexing, however the down-side is that the priming mechanism is gravity fed, and if the mechanisms are not kept stringently clean, and full of primers, the occasional un-primed case will make its way through to the end. It’s harder to remove a case mid-way through the process to double-check for powder or other component, unlike the Dillon, which is fairly easy to do so. The operator is only required to perform one hand function, aside from operating the press operating handle, which is to place a bullet onto the charged /primed case. This is because the Lee is equipped with a case-feeder, which collates, and sorts, rim-down, cases, after a handful is dropped into the top of the case feeder device funnel.

Having been a prepper for many years, harkening back to the late-1970s “survivalist” movement when the Oregon Rogue River was the destination of many like-minded individualists, I easily saw how accumulating the proper reloading equipment would come in handy. 

The first reloading press I bought, was on the internet at one of the CAS sites where shooting-related merchandise was sold. It was an RCBS single-stage press, for $50 shipping included. I picked up the loading block, and components at my local gun shop, and stared reading up on my new hobby. The first few years shooting under the rules of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) in cowboy action shooting, I reloaded black powder, and black powder substitutes for rifle/pistol, and 12 gauge. The substitute black powder was easier to clean up, and more forgiving with loading data. I sold the press for $75, after loading many thousands of rounds on it. The Dillon 550B is a great machine, and setting one up is fairly easy. I acquired a video-tape of the set-up, which answered many questions for a beginner such as me, and any time I had a broken part, I could call toll-free, and would get replacements at no cost. Many of the larger shoots we attended have prize drawings included with the shoot registration, and many time Dillon 550B, and even auto-indexing XL 650’s would be given away as prizes to a lucky few. One that note, you can buy a 550B and add on case feeding devices and other upgrades.

I found a used Lee Pro 1000 for $75 at a cowboy shoot swap table, and apparently the owner had a few “mechanical” issues with it, as he had broken a few parts, and rather than call and get free replacements, he had rigged the thing up with fishing snap-swivels and discarded the case feeder tubes when they got bent. I called Lee and bought a collator for it, and they sent me replacement plastic case feeder tubes and the proper linkage for free along with it. It is not as forgiving a the Dillon, but is quite a bit faster once you get it all dialed in. It’s a love-hate thing.

Once the last two elections solidified in my mind the almost inevitability of the political atmosphere's left-leaning swing towards firearms, magazines and gun ownership, I decided to accumulate as many common caliber die sets and components as possible, 9mm, .30-30, .380, .38, .45 ACP, 7.62x39, .308, and 30-06. That way I could re-load for anyone that happened to need ammunition post-TEOTWAWKI. I can use this set-up as barter fodder, and have stock-piled primers, brass, bullets, and shot. For this enterprise. Speaking of the later, one can find lots of re-claimed shot at most gun ranges now days, since the anti-lead environmental extremists have made enough noise to force gun ranges to either contract to have the lead removed, or they do it themselves, and re-bag it for resale.

I can buy a bag of pre-sorted and cleaned recycled shot for $24 per 25 pound bag, as opposed to paying $46 currently at a local sporting goods chain.

A company called Corbin makes bullet-bases disks to swage onto the base of lead bullets, so his one can load them into rifle cartridges without the lead bullets leading the barrels. This is essential when loading battle-rifle cartridges in 7.62, and .223/5.56 calibers. Since I have several rifles in pistol caliber, both .38 and .45 Colt, plus several sets of single-action pistols in the same calibers, I plan on using them post-TEOTWAWKI around the homestead, and saving my 7.62 ,.223, and like caliber loaded commercially for heavy engagements. As long as I have powder, lead, primers, re-usable brass cases in .38,. .45 Colt, and ..45 ACP, I’m calling it good for the long haul.

I would encourage anyone who has firearms to look into reloading as a way to provide an almost un-ending supply of ammunition if TSHTF. Ammunition to use to protect your own household, and to use to barter for goods and services.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Rawles published on February 23, 2013 9:37 PM.

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