Reloading could be considered the fly tying of the gun world. It takes incredible focus, patience, attention to detail and a lot of time.
But unlike fly tying, there’s not the kind of external pressure — both political and market-driven — on the supply side of fishing tackle like there is on firearms ammunition. When anyone in government drifts towards more infringement on the Second Amendment, there’s a rush to the ammo shelves and a spike in folks who want to reload for themselves as a hedge.
While Washington seems to be searching for creative ways to restrict gun sales, more people than ever before are looking for creative ways to optimize their ballistic performance and store a few chestnuts under the continuing threat of more politically charged 2A weather. What does this mean for reloading retailers? Business is good.
The fear of shortages aside, more people are enjoying recreational and competitive shooting. With increased interest in shooting, more firearm enthusiasts file into our ranks searching for knowledge, affordable ammunition and the perfect ballistic setup for their favorite rifles, shotguns and handguns. For example, two recent new cartridges include the 87-gr. Sharps .25-45 — a .223 necked up to a .257 — and the Weatherby 6.5-.300 Magnum. Both rounds perform exceptionally better than comparable munitions, including in muzzle velocity, muzzle energy and like measurements downrange.
These rounds and others perform as well as they do because they were born in presses by innovative, envelope-pushing ballistics experimentation. In fact, although Weatherby’s 6.5-.300 Mag wasn’t officially launched until the 2016 SHOT Show, Roy Weatherby designed the cartridge back in the early 1950s and his original was displayed proudly last January in Weatherby’s booth. Weatherby has reserved the 6.5-.300 for Mark V and Vanguard model rifles. The Sharps .25-45 AR-15 Modern Sporting Rifle solves deer and other mid-sized game hunting concerns where .223 falls below the minimum hunting caliber with the .257 round that fits perfectly in a .223 case, thus functions perfectly out of a standard AR-15 with nothing more than a barrel change. To take ballistic innovation and experimentation a step further, consider how 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, .300 Blackout and other newer, popular calibers came about.
Although increased numbers of firearm owners and shooting enthusiasts translates to more people reloading, yet another element has also resulted in more people taking ownership of their ballistic performances: competitive shooting. From local fun shoots to high stakes Precision Rifle Series tournaments and even the unnerving NRA King of 2 Mile Match, the swelling ranks of competition shooters are realizing the importance of reloading to both save on ammunition costs and achieve the best ballistic performance possible out of their firearms for competition’s sake.
No matter how you slice it, who you blame or who you thank for the sales opportunities, reloading continues to surge, offering quite the healthy opportunity for retailers catering to people who truly value our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Since we know the surge of reloading is not in question, the only question remaining is, “What do I need to get customers started in reloading?” While the list is short, reloading is not without inherent safety concerns; precision is paramount. As such, consider this list of equipment and supplies your customers can trust when setting up personal reloading stations.
The Heartbeat Of Reloading
The most recognizable pieces of reloading equipment are the press and dies. When it comes to precision, the combination of these two critical loading components is perhaps the most important. Adjusting cases, including necking up, down or ensuring exact shoulder angles and headspace occur in the press and are a direct function of press operation in relation to dies. The combination also happens to be responsible for ensuring precise seating depth to ensure exacting cartridge dimensions.
The press and dies are the heart and soul of your reloading station and as such are deserving of quality-focused attention. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings true here. RCBS and Redding presses and die sets rule the reloading roost and for good reason. They have proven their worth as top-shelf precision reloading equipment for decades and are names you and your customers can trust to produce consistently precise ammunition.
As the reloading process relates to presses and dies, reloaders have a choice between single stage and progressive presses. Novice reloaders or those on a budget might be better served with a single-stage designed for a single task at a time. But single-stage reloading is challenging because of the constant changing and precision adjusting of dies for each step in the reloading process. This might be fine for low volume reloading and, again, for loaders on a budget, but is not necessarily practical for higher volume reloading.
For higher volume reloading, customers are better served with a progressive press. A progressive press features multiple process stations on an indexing shell plate, with dies for each, to accomplish all press and die stages of reloading simultaneously, much like a production line. The result is many more rounds turned out in a shorter amount of time than a user operating a single-stage system. Progressive presses are much more costly, running into thousands of dollars. Like the presses, die quality is important, recommending carbide dies from manufacturers like RCBS or Redding ensure perfect press compatibility and long-term precision performance.
The Right Charge Every Time
Whether reloaders use single-stage or progressive presses, a powder measurer — also called a “powder thrower” — makes the process exponentially quicker. After all, who wants to use calibrated scoops to manually load each charge, especially when a powder measurer does your dirty work cleanly, accurately and consistently? Most premium powder throwers from RCBS and Redding as well as Battenfeld’s Frankford Arsenal brand include accurate metering chambers for consistent charging and feature accurate micro-adjustability.
While Frankford Arsenal’s Platinum Series Measurer features adjustability from .8 grains up to 120 grains, other premium RCBS and Redding measurers go even further, from .5 up to a couple hundred grains. The most popular powder measurer in today’s personal reloading world for simple, precise distribution is the RCBS Chargemaster, a combination powder dispenser and digital scale delivering big on insane accuracy.
Good, Clean Brass
Starting with exceptional quality brass like Starline for handguns or Nosler for rifles is just as important as clean brass. You heard right. Quality brass from a reputable company such as Starline helps you minimize common issues such as excessive expansion, cracks and other issues potentially indicative of poor case quality. Using trusted brass brands not only make reloading and shooting safer, but it also makes such activities more precise and consistent.
As for preparing brass for reloading, clean cases not only result in more consistent cartridge production and more accurate shooting, but it also dramatically increases the life of your dies by ensuring all media and other debris have been removed prior to beginning the reloading process. Reloaders generally have two time-saving brass cleaning options, tumbling or ultrasonic. While discriminating reloaders tend to agree tumblers clean brass more effectively than ultrasonic systems, both are quite suited for the task of providing a clean foundation for reloading. Some reloaders actually use both cleaners — a tumbler for collected range brass and an ultrasonic cleaner for newer controlled personal brass. Still, others report great performance in prepping dirty range brass with ultrasonic cleaners.
To that end, cleaning processes becomes more subjective and might be better left to a customer’s budget. Personal tumblers range from just over $40, for a truly remarkable Frankford Arsenal Quick-N-EZ Tumbler, to as much as $400. Ultrasonic cleaners generally cost between $100 and $400. Both RCBS and Battenfeld’s Frankford Arsenal tumblers and ultrasonic cleaners are brands reloaders can trust through and through for consistently clean, worry-free brass.
After tumbler cleaning either with wet or dry media such as walnut shells, brass should be passed through a media separator to ensure media has been cleaned off of the brass, including potential debris hang-up often experienced in primer pockets.
Over the past couple of years, reloaders have been raving about tumbling with stainless steel pin media. The results have been quite exemplary without the potential for residue issues associated with traditional media like walnut, corn cob or others. Stainless steel tumbling in water also eliminates any potential for case hardening issues occasionally experienced by vibratory tumbling for excessive periods of time. Stainless steel media also does an exceptional job of cleaning the inside of cases as well as primer pockets, returning brass to an almost new appearance.
As a final measure of preparation after brass has been cleaned, it should be lightly lubricated. Ensuring cases are lubricated prior to processing reduces stress on the brass, promotes trouble free reloading and prevents the case from sticking to the dies. A number of brands, including RCBS, Redding, Frankford Arsenal and Hornady offer quality case lubes designed to lubricate and protect cases without gumming things up. Case lube pads also make the uniform application of lubricant an easy, efficient and clean process.
Bullets, Primers, Powder And More
When it comes to bullets, primers and powders, personal preference comes to mind and depends on applications. While the solid reputation of Nosler partition bullets might be an amazing choice for hunters reloading centerfire rifle cartridges, it wouldn’t be an option for a handgunner reloading 9mm; perhaps, they would track down Hornady 9mm 124-grain HP XTP.
Primers are also a critical piece of the reloading puzzle and must be replaced as a last preparatory step before loading. Once the primer is placed, the case is considered a hot or live round. The primer, a small replaceable part of the embedded in the cartridge base, ignites the cartridges charge when struck. Primers are an ancillary part of a reloader’s budget, costing roughly $40 or so per 1,000.
Powders vary and can be quite subjective, meaning different powder types perform, well, differently. There’s no single answer for the right powder for an application beyond understanding important factors such as burn rate and density, so cartridges can be loaded with powder types best suited for different applications.
For example, reloaders likely prefer ball or flattened-ball powder with a fast burn rate for handgun loads, while stick powder with a slower burn rate might be the best choice to charge centerfire rifle cartridges. Powder variations include ball, flattened ball, flake and stick, also referred to as extruded. Bulkier density generally means a fuller case and helps promote a more uniform ignition, while denser powder leaves a void. A safety benefit related to density is maximized charge bulk. Bulk effectively eliminates the potential to double-charge a case since doing so would likely result in either an overflow of powder or the inability to properly seat the bullet — both great indicators of a dangerous condition.
Tools Of The Trade
Reloaders need a small cache of tools to produce quality ammunition. While RCBS produces ridiculous accurate grain scales, Battenfeld’s Frankford Arsenal offers pretty affordable, precise digital calipers with instant calibration for extreme accuracy when measuring everything from headspace and case diameter to neck dimensions and more.
Redding produces a case neck gauge complete with an indicator, while RCBS offers a precision ball micrometer, also exceptionally well suited for checking neck wall thickness. Other tools are certainly worth their weight in reloading gold, including a case trimmer, comparator, neck turner and primer tool. RCBS and Redding both offer a comprehensive array of these and other helpful tools. In fact, the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center combines a number of arduous prepping steps, including trimming, deburring, chamfering, military crimp removal, primer pocket cleaning and dry lubing case necks, into one automated, easy-to-use system.
While they might seem unnecessary, tweezers are perfect for picking up everything from primers to cases and generally make easy work of tiny handling tasks. Bullet pullers can also be an important tool in the event a bullet needs to be extracted from a case. RCBS makes several case-saving bullet pullers ranging from $14 to $165. Powder funnels are also a necessary tool in reloading. Powder funnels can be universal or caliber specific and definitely make loading charges into cases a safer process by preventing spills and eliminating waste.
Finally, from case prep to finished ammo, the importance of organization and data collection cannot be overstated. Frankford Arsenal’s reloading trays keep your work area organized with case staging and orientation, while RCBS and Redding Ammo Boxes are provide the perfect solution for storing completed cartridges. A number of ammo box products even include data labels and reloading data sheets are exceptionally easy to find online.
Reloaders Target Repeatable Results
Once reloaders have completed a batch, it’s time to run some tests. One of the most useful testing tools is a chronograph. Designed specifically to record speeds from 30 to 7,000 fps with exceptional, repeatable accuracy averaging 99.5 percent, Shooting Chrony offers an affordable line of precision chronographs more than capable of capturing velocity data for handgun, rifle and shotgun loads.
Testing, in fact, reloading as a whole, would be a waste if loading and testing data was not recorded. Good reloaders track every aspect of the process for easy repeatability or to make load adjustments depending on test results. Record keeping should be organized and meticulous. Redding offers a well-formatted reloading data sheet on its website, under the Tech Line tab. Keeping a few copies on-hand for customers might be a great gesture.
Ballistic And Reloading Resources
Two books worth their weight in gold for reloaders and ballistics enthusiasts alike are Lyman’s Reloading Handbook and the Cartridge Comparison Guide. Authored by the premier ballistics expert in the shooting industry, Andrew Chamberlain, the Cartridge Comparison Guide provides the most reliable, comprehensive collection of ballistics data available today.
Competition and recreational shooters as well as are sure to consider Chamberlain’s guide the best resource for comparing performance when trying to find the perfect ammo for a given situation. Reloaders are certain to find the guide’s greatest usefulness is as a resource to compare ballistic data against their own loads as a way to forecast expected performance.
The Final Shot
Whether it’s a budgetary decision, healthy addiction to better ballistics, a necessary part of a competitive shooter’s strategy or just hoarding as a result of today’s political landscape, the bottom line remains obvious: reloading continues to surge.
Being prepared with the equipment and knowledge to properly outfit new reloaders with the right equipment, material, tools, guides and basic knowledge not only makes good sense, but it also makes for a great addition to existing business. If you haven’t already, now is the time to pull the trigger on reloading inventory.