Updated: Nov 8
This is not a "how to reload" post. For those interested in the general method and procedure hit the above video as I walk you through reloading a single round of 357 magnum on my single stage press. This article is more of the brain work behind the process. I especially hope those of you interesting in reloading/handloading your own ammo take this to heart and consider if the benefits of handloading ammunition tip the scales in favor of you following suit.
Of the various justifications for reloading your own ammo, cost savings is probably the most oft cited and the least applicable. The savings is there in most cases, more evident in the case of more exotic or expensive factory ammunition. I save about a nickel per cartridge reloading common 9mm and 38 special, a little more on 45 ACP, over a dime on 357 magnum, and forty cents on 308 Winchester. But, as a result of having so much loaded ammo at my disposal I often spend far more time at the range shooting that I would otherwise. Also consider the investment in equipment and time, and you'll quickly find you could make up your cost difference between reloaded and factory ammo working a few extra hours at your day job. No, cost isn't a great reason for reloading, so what is?
Consistency, accuracy, repeatability; I can manufacture in my own garage far more consistent ammunition than I am able to purchase off the store shelf. I can also tune the powder load, seating depth, and crimp of the round to what my individual firearms prefers. Even in pistol ammunition, I've seen a difference of tenths of a grain (a grain being a measurement of weight equivalent to 1/7000th of a pound) having a tremendous impact on the accuracy of my 357 magnum cartridges. The full power stuff hits steel harder, but backing down from 11.5 grains to 11.2 tightens up the groups noticeably. The right combination of bullet, powder, and loading variables produced a load for my 308 bolt action that turned a 2 MOA hunting rifle into a 1/2 MOA rifle just by virtue of which cartridge goes in the chamber.
How I reload is well established; read the manuals, watch some YouTube videos, you'll get the gist pretty quickly. But, behind the process is the brain work. I have to take the time to insure my dies are correctly set, resizing a fired case and verifying it precisely fits in the chamber of it's intended firearm. I then slowly adjust the expander die, a quarter turn at a time, until the bullet will JUST fit in the neck (note, a change in bullet changes this setting, and even a difference in lot number among the same bullet type could introduce a variance.) Then, I always seat a primer by hand to verify it isn't being crushed, and start at my minimum recommended powder charge and the prescribed seating depth for that load. If I have to err, I'll err on the side of seating slightly long BUT I will double check that the rounds fit the magazine or cylinder before I start cranking them out. In the case of a tight chamber or magazine, I'll seat slightly short, but this will raise chamber pressure. Not a huge issue on a minimum load, but one to keep in mind.
To all of the above, I always start with making a handful of dummy cartridges without powder or primer. These will have the bullets colored with permanent ink and the primer pockets filled with silicone to be used as snap caps/dummy cartridges for dry fire training after they're done, but they also serve to insure that all of the die settings are in fact appropriate for feeding and function in the firearms. Then, I brew up a small test set, typically 20-50 rounds depending on the application, and have a reasonable volume (3-5X as much handloaded ammo) of factory ammo. I want to insure that my ammunition is working well, and I like to have some factory ammo on hand as a control. If my ammo will not reliably run in the firearm, but factory will, I know I have an issue. If neither runs reliably, may an issue with the firearm itself.
Per all of the above, I always encourage serious shooters to reload, by serious I mean those that are shooting regularly to frequently. On the weekends I can't get away to drive to my local range, I can pop out a few hundred rounds and still feel connected by this hobby and lifestyle I enjoy so much. I produce better quality, more consistent ammunition that I can buy for less money, and while my young daughter isn't quite big enough to join us at the gun range she is PLENTY excited to spend time in the garage "helping Daddy make bullets." Reloading isn't for everyone, but it certainly has it's appeal, and I hope you'll give it consideration and come find us at Facebook or YouTube if you have any questions at all. - Phil Rabalais