“Everything in life is a trade-off.” There’s wisdom in that and anyone who wants to be prepared has to make the best trade-offs for functionality and their budget.
Most people who prepare for emergency scenarios, whether it be civil unrest, terrorist attack, EMP, or whatever, include a firearm in their plans. A firearm provides protection and a way to harvest game that is second-to-none. But firearms require cartridges and there’s the rub. Unless your last name is Gates, Walton, or Rockefeller, you can’t afford to have 10,000 rounds of ammunition just setting around. If you have regular job and are working on being prepared as a contingency, you can’t spend all your money and time on ammunition. There are too many other things that need to be bought and done.
This article assumes you know some basic nomenclature. If you look at a centerfire cartridge, that is almost any [modern brass-cased[ cartridge except a .22 you’ll see on the bottom a circle that is the primer, which is the contact explosive which sets off the main gunpowder charge. The cartridge case is the brass tube that holds the primer and the bullet. The bullet is the projectile that the powder charge forces down the barrel and out to do the actual work. Fully loaded and ready to shoot, this is called a cartridge.
Reloading your ammunition is a way to get multiple shots from one cartridge case. Reloading treats the bullet, primer, and powder as expendables, and recycles the brass case to be used again. Here again, there are trade-offs. You can easily spend over $2,000 for reloading supplies for just one cartridge and need a full-size workbench just to reload your ammunition $2,000 buys a lot of ammunition and unless you are a competitive shooter who shoots hundreds of rounds a week, this is probably not the way you’ll want to go. You can step down to a couple hundred dollars for a reloading press and dies that will do an excellent job, but still is bulky and hard to transport if you have to leave in a hurry.
There is a way to reload that only takes up about as much space as a paperback book and only requires a wooden stump and a small chunk of wood to completely reload ammunition if you have the consumables: the Lee Loader. This simplified reloading device was invented in 1958 by Richard Lee. Although the center fire rifle and pistols reloading kits did not come around until a couple of years after that. I recently purchased a couple of loaders for less than $20 each online on sale. This will give you easily over $100 to spend on consumables. You can stock up quite a bit of primer, powder, and bullets for the $100 (at minimum) you saved by going with a Lee Loader.
These loaders have superb accuracy and lengthen the life of the case because they only size the neck of the case. A regular press with dies sizes the whole body which is necessary if your brass has been fired in more than one firearm. However, if you’re only using one firearm for that caliber, the brass will fire form to fit that chamber like a glove. The accuracy is second to none. For over seven years, according to the Lee web site, the Guinness World Record for accuracy was held by ammunition loaded by a Lee Loader.
[JWR Adds: Because these small hand presses do not full-length re-size cases, they may prove unsuitable for reloading ammunition for many semi-auto rifles, but they usually work fine for single shot and bolt action rifles. ]
The small plastic case contains four or five parts that let you de-prime, size, re-prime, charge, and seat the bullet on the case. I’ve seen a video on You Tube of a man starting with a once fired case, completing all the steps and having a round ready to go in 40 seconds. I wouldn’t recommend going this fast. Although, after using one to reload several hundred rounds, you’ll begin to get a rhythm that will increase your speed.
The first step is to de-prime the case. The kit comes with a de-priming pin and de-priming chamber which basically holds the base of the cartridge but doesn’t support the spent primer. By sliding the pin through the case neck onto the primer, a simple tap with either a non-marring hammer or a piece of wood drives the spent primer out of the case.
Here’s where an extra not included in the kit can be very handy. A case-specific trimmer can be used to make sure that the brass hasn’t flowed forward and your case has hence become too long. The
load card that comes with the kit gives the maximum trim length of the cartridge as well as the maximum overall length. So another extra that would be very handy is a set of calipers.
The second step is resizing the neck. The largest part of the kit is the resizing chamber which is just a piece of steel machined to the size of the case. By putting the case into the chamber and driving it home with whatever you used to de-prime the case, you size the neck to fit the new projectile.
The third step is to re-prime the case. With the case fully seated in the sizing die, a new primer is set on the priming chamber cup up. Then you turn the sizing die upside down so that the base of the cartridge is pointing down and place this over the priming chamber. They are made to fit together so that the pocket and the primer will match over each other. Then the priming rod is fed into the case mouth just like the de-primer which was used earlier. A couple of good solid whacks will seat the primer into the pocket. Because of variations in pocket depth and primer sensitivity, you should make sure that your head is not above the case when doing this. Although I’ve only had it happen a few times and never had the priming rod fly out, I’ve heard stories of this happening and the pop of the primer going is enough to startle you.
[JWR Adds: I strongly recommend setting the priority of purchasing a Hand Priming Tool. This is not only safer, but will provide far greater consistency in primer seating depth. It is also a tool that you will want to keep, if and when you graduate to a more sophisticated bench-mounted reloading press. With the “feel” provided by hand-priming tool, you will get great consistency, which helps contribute to making the most accurate and reliable ammunition.]
While priming, the base of the case will be driven a short distance out of the sizing chamber. You should put the case on the de-priming chamber because it will protect the primer from any impacts and will make it much less likely to detonate. Use the priming rod to push the case far enough out of the mouth that it will come loose from the sizing die and set on the de-priming chamber.
The next step is to put your powder into the case. The top of the sizing chamber will now act as a funnel for inserting the powder. The Lee kit comes with a powder scoop sized in cubic centimeters and a list of powders that will work with this cartridge and this scoop. The best way to do this to achieve maximum repeatable accuracy is to pour the powder into a larger container, dip the scoop down below the level of the powder, bring up and rake across the top with a stiff piece of paper, like a business card. From there, you simply dump the powder into the top of the sizing die to charge the case.
Once the case is loaded, all you’ll need to do is insert your projectile. Use the seater that is integral to the priming chamber to set the bullet by hammering the bullet into the case mouth, creating a newly-loaded cartridge. Here’s a place where the calipers I spoke of earlier would come in very handy again. You could check the seating of the bullet to a factory-loaded case. But a pair of inexpensive calipers would be very handy to make sure the bullet is seated to the proper depth.
After this is done, you will have a fully-loaded cartridge. However, for the sake of efficient motion, if I am reloading a box of cartridges, I will go through and de-prime them all first and then load them all in batches. Before you start, you should also wipe down the cases to make sure there is no grit that could case wear on your loader.
Another nice thing about this way of reloading is that it doesn’t require special lubricant like most other presses. It also doesn’t require a powder scale, although it could be useful if you want to work up a special load for your firearm.
So here’s a way to reload a complete cartridge that only takes minimal space, weighs little, doesn’t require a bench or any special tools that don’t come in the case and can load high quality ammunition. It also costs less than a fifth of what other reloading systems would cost, giving you more money for either consumables or other projects.