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This article is for informational purposes only. Suthenboy is not a credentialed expert. Do not attempt any of these activities without first consulting an expert or a manual published by accredited experts or manufacturers.
Before beginning your reloading operation you need to choose a load. A lot of factors go into this choice. What do you intend to do with this load? Are you hunting and if you are what kind of game? Are you target shooting or plinking? How much recoil can you tolerate? Are these self-defense loads?
First I would like to discuss self-defense loads because it is the most important to consider. There are a lot of bullets out there that are advertised as having near magical qualities. Forget them. It is all marketing and if you fall for it and ever have to use them in earnest you can land yourself in hot water. You may have to defend yourself against serious felony charges and it is a certainty that the prosecutors are going to say that you chose bullets that have multiple projectiles or super claws or extra expanding hollow points because you were itching to smoke someone. I repeat, it is a certainty. You want to have the most generic, least scary looking ammo possible. Rest assured that this ammo is just as effective as kewpie doll bullets. A simple hard cast, lead bullet with a flat nose designed for shooting paper targets is more than adequate. Don’t load them up too hot – pick a mid-range load. In a .357 Magnum or a .38 Special a 158 grain semi-wadcutter travelling from 800 to 1000 feet per second will do what you need it to do very effectively and no one can accuse you of being a vigilante wannabe. In 45ACP a 230 grain round nose at 800 fps is just as effective as Golden Swords or Blue Talons at 1000 fps.
Another good tip: Don’t use ball powders, use flake powders for defense loads. Ball powders burn slower and hotter and tend to create large, blinding fireballs at night, especially in short barreled guns. Flake powders can be tuned to create no or nearly no flash at all. If you have to defend yourself at night you don’t want to be blinded on the first shot.
With that unpleasantness behind us we can move on to more interesting discussion: hunting. Do you intend to harvest deer? In heavy brush or at long distance over open ground? Deer don’t require high energy bullets but heavy brush is easier to defeat with heavy bullets . This would usually be at short range so any heavy, flat nosed, hard bullet would be a good choice even if it has a flat base. Long ranges are easier to cover with boat tail bullets and the heavier the bullet the more velocity it will retain at range. Hogs are considerably tougher than deer and I recommend as much energy as you can get your hands on. Heavy, fast bullets are preferred but don’t go crazy and make something that is going to hit you as hard as it hits the hogs…keep recoil in mind. For larger animals you want deep penetration which means harder bullets that don’t expand rapidly and dump all of their energy before they hit the vitals.
For plinking light loads and light bullets are fun because they don’t wear you out with recoil and blast. Go light. You can shoot them all day.
Always choose loads from reputable publications. All of the manufacturers publish them and they can be found in reloading sections of stores or online. Never try to cook up a load from scratch on your own and never, ever mix powders or use powders or bullets not recommended by the loading manual. Powder manufacturers test their powders in special guns designed to measure pressures safely and you can easily find published starting and maximum loads so there is no point in taking chances. Always stay inside those parameters and work up towards the maximum loads with great caution. My favorite source for loads is www.loaddata.com. I have subscribed to them for years. They are not expensive and I have never had a load that didn’t perform as advertised.
When making your chosen load make only one and test it. You don’t want to have to dissemble a large number of loads that are unsafe. Watch for signs of pressure as you test each change in the load. Then work up one half grain at a time until you reach your target load.
Signs of pressure
- Flattened primers. The exposed part of the primer has a beveled edge. When the pressure gets high enough to start flattening that bevel out you are getting into the danger zone.
- Split cases or bulged cases. This should be self explanatory. In an a semi-automatic if the load is too hot it can move the slide or bolt back before all of the pressure is released resulting in a bulge, usually on one side of the case near the base. You are way into the danger zone. Split cases could be the result of work hardened brass that you need to replace or it could be a load that is hot enough to expand the brass too quickly. Splitting on the side of the case is more of a danger sign than a split mouth. The split mouth is more likely work hardened brass that has been loaded too many times. Replace it.
- Soot around the outside of the case. If you find an excess of soot around the outside of the mouth or down the side of the case your pressure is too low. The case is not expanding enough to seal the chamber.
Interesting historical note and excellent tip
Always make sure the case is at least half filled with powder. Once upon a time you could buy very light loads intended for small game in large, powerful calibers. You are out deer hunting and see a cottontail rabbit or a squirrel? Simply pop one of these load in and bag it. They were made with round balls instead of cylindrical bullets and used very light powder loads. Occasionally one of those loads would blow a gun to pieces and injure people. How could a light load do that? It took a lot of experimentation and quality checks before they figured out what was going on. You can no longer buy them but there are people out there unaware of why it happens and are wildcatting their own loads. Never do this. What happens is called SEE or Secondary Explosion Effect. It is how Primacord works. When you lay the rifle down on your target there is a small chance that the light powder load can string itself out in the lower part of the case. If the primer ignites the powder string at both ends it will burn from both ends towards the center. When those two pressure waves meet they can be additive and create enormous pressure, enough to blow the gun apart. It is difficult to duplicate but it can happen so don’t take the chance.
One more tip: The rifling in gun barrels comes in different speeds of twist. It is designated with two numbers such as 1:9. This means one rotation of the bullet in 9 inches. The longer a bullet is the faster it has to rotate to stabilize. If it does not stabilize it will begin to tumble. This completely destroys accuracy and the effectivness of the bullet. You may find loads for your caliber using bullets that your particular gun is not designed to shoot. They are safe if you find them in a manufacturers publication but they are useless. If you find keyhole shaped or oval shaped holes in your target or cant find any holes at all you have chosen a bullet that is too long in relation to its diameter for your gun. Choose a lighter/shorter bullet.
Next time we will go through the steps for reloading from spent brass to loaded ammunition.