Three Letter Re: Cartridge Reloading Dollars and Cents

Having just read the letters regarding reloading economics, I noticed the following caveats and had two important points about them:
1.  “do not shoot lead bullets in a Glock” because of the polygonal rifling.  Polygonal rifling essentially creates rifling engagement angles that are less than 90 degrees, therefore whatever bullet material you use seals the bore better (because it’s easier to deform lead/copper into a rifling groove that has a more obtuse (open) angle) than a sharp 90 degree angle.    A standard cartridge fired out of a conventionally rifled barrel will travel faster out of a polygonal rifled barrel because of the superior seal that the polygonal rifling creates and that is why Glock uses those kinds of barrels, bullets perform better out of their barrels. Better seal = higher pressures,  higher pressures = higher velocities.   It needs to be noted that the HK USP series of pistols also has polygonal rifling as well as the Baby Eagle line and problem some others that I haven’t listed here.  Lead is perfectly safe to shoot out of Glocks or HKs, as long as you decrease your powder charge.  Polygonally rifled barrels do lead up any more readily than conventionally rifled barrels, in fact, because polygonal rifling seals the bore better the number one cause of leading  is reduced, “gas cutting” the increased pressure does not melt lead bases to any appreciable extent – gas cutting does.  This was all figured out decades ago by better men than me, like Elmer Keith.  Since higher pressures also yield higher temperatures (simple physics) even a conventionally rifled barrel can build up lead quickly if you use hot loads, or try to reproduce +p type ratings using lead or copper plated bullets.  It isn’t lead build up that leads to a “kaboom”, it’s nearly always a compressed load which is far more dangerous in any barrel.  Gas checks (copper jackets that go on the bottom of a lead bullet) are effective not because the leading lip of the gas check hits the rifling and splits to seal the angle of the rifling in addition to shielding the base of the lead bullet.  Don’t believe me?  Check the effective velocities of a gas checked bullet, it’s higher than just lead – less pressure leakage.
2.  Copper plated bullets should be treated as if they were lead when calculating your powder charge.  Because the plating is not a “jacket” but a very very thin microscopic coating of copper the hardness of the bullet is still essentially whatever the hardness of the lead that was used in casting it before plating.  The plating process does not harden the lead bullet, it seals the bore better than a copper jacketed bullet – and should be loaded accordingly otherwise you can create higher pressures and you may damage your pistol or yourself.  Always load copper plated bullets as if you were loading lead.  You get less lead fouling with copper plated bullets, but I’ve pulled lead deposits out of a pistol bore that was only shooting copper plated bullets, although it had a couple thousand rounds through it prior to the cleaning.
3.  Remember that the higher pressure rounds will have more problems with overpressure than low pressure rounds, typically autopistols shoot 9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W – I’ll ignore the other more uncommon rounds, so look them them if you’re going to reload for them., as an example only (look up your specific combination of powder, bullet, primer and casing) the following number can give you an idea of the pressures involved:
9mm Luger (9×19) is around 34,000 psi
45acp (45 auto) is around 20,000
40sw (40 short and wimpy) is around 32,000 psi
ammo manufactures spend a seriously paranoid amount of time calculating not only pressure, but the pressure curve (burn characteristics inside barrel) and they minutely examine the components after firing before determining a load is safe, they do this for each and every “lot” of ammunition they produce, if they change one component then there is a different “lot number” assigned to it and the workup is repeated for it.  Since their powders and components are custom blended and manufactured, they tend to repeat this process a lot.  A typical handloader will not have access to the testing equipment that a manufacturer has and has to be at least as meticulous.  Pressure is king and over-pressure will injure you and destroy your weapon.  In a grid-down survival situation the nominal savings that reloading will yield are offset by the very serious chance a non-expert reloader will inadvertently take.  If and when THSTF I do not plan on shooting any reloaded ammunition out of my autopistols or autoloading rifles.
As a side note, a few more thoughts on reloading practices:
The typical reloader who uses “junk brass” that is harvested from a shooting range is taking some serious chances.  Without realizing it, a handloader can work up a load that is perfectly safe in a Lake City 5.56 case, and start producing with a large range of brass cases from various manufacturers – without realizing that the internal dimensions of each manufacturers casing are different, in fact the typical Lake City nato 5.56 casing has a thicker web and thicker walls than a commercial Winchester .223 Remington case – so a perfectly safe load in a different case will yield MUCH different results and since we’re worried about pressure (as we should be) we inadvertently are producing loaded cartridges that are quite different while believing we are making a consistent product because we’re using only one type of bullet/powder/primer.  Whenever possible, use ONE head stamp AND be sure they’re of the same year of manufacture.
I have reloaded now for 20 years, from .50 BMG to .380 and the one thing I keep as my watch-word is that I’m loading for target ammo only and I am not trying to reproduce factory maximum pressures.  I’ve had to toss out a serious amount of ammo from time to time because I wasn’t as careful as I should have been, and in case you’re wondering – no I never considered breaking apart the casings to reclaim components – why?  Because it’s just not worth the time and potential hazards to re-use bullets that have already been crimped, and powder that may be contaminated by whatever was in the case when I reloaded it or handled it during disassembly.  Sure a lot of old codgers will say that you can avoid problems, but I have a healthy enough paranoia to toss a couple of bucks in the trash (actually I take them to a public range to put in their “red bucket”  I’ve see these same guys pull ammo out of a red range bucket – such disregard for Murphy will surely clean the shallow end of the gene pool at some point
It comes down to pressure and amassing as much possible knowledge about interior ballistics as is humanly possible.   Most of the “kaboom” problems that Glocks and other autopistols have had occur when a reloader tries to reproduce a hot cartridge – or as the old competitors used to call it “make major” because before a typical competition each competitors load would be chronographed to insure they weren’t using a “wimpy” load to reduce recoil and thus increase accuracy.
I’ve had two kabooms, both were from compressed loads in reloaded ammo (one mine and one a factory reload) I’ve met other people that have had compressed loads from factory ammo, which is a major cause of “kaboom” in police departments across the country as they use duty ammo on a rotational basis during qualifications (use up the duty ammo to issue fresh duty ammo).   I’ve shot a lot of lead out of Glocks, never had a problem – the one I reload for most often is my Glock 20 and 29 – the ultra-hot 10mm.  And in case you’re wondering, reloading for revolvers has a slightly different set of problems that can be just as dangerous as those faced by autopistol reloaders.
Remember that no firearms manufacturer will warranty your firearm if you shoot reloads of any kind avoiding lead in Glocks while shooting jacketed reloads is just as much a warrantee problem as the other.    Seek knowledge and understanding, understand why polygonal rifling creates higher pressures and you can anticipate and compensate for it, understand why shorter barrels are less efficient at launching light and fast loads, and a host of other knowledge that is useful.
For me the greatest value that I get from reloading is that I’m much better educated than a typical shooter about the products I shoot and it’s a relaxing hobby that helps keep my mind sharp.  When I first started reloading I did save a significant amount of money on ammo, but component prices have skyrocketed since then and the savings are now pretty much non-existent. – Jim H. in Colorado


Dear Mr. Rawles,
This was an excellent article. I have a few comments for consideration. There are several aftermarket barrels available for Glocks to allow shooting lead bullets. Search for “Glock replacement barrels”.  Many of the competition shooters I know use them quite successfully.

Reloading ammo or buying factory ammo are definitely not mutually exclusive activities. I do both. My goal it to increase opportunities to keep shooting. Where I seem to save the most is in reloading my own match ammo. Not only do I save money but my groups are significantly tighter with my reloads. The downside I see with reloading is for those of us who can be distracted into endless pursuit of the “perfect” load.

For folks who have a short memory, reloading is a good thing when ammo is either not available or is so expensive it is unaffordable.

Get out and vote. – Jim Z.

Just a few observations about R.S.O.’s article.

I had a few issues with R.S.O.’s article on reloading and wanted to share them.

First, if you order powder or primers by mail, there will be a $25 hazardous materials fee for each package (not item, but boxes in which they’re shipped) you receive. Also, I have yet to find a business which mixes primers and powder in the same package. If you’re going to mail order either, get some friends who also reload to place orders for their needs to defray the costs (Besides, if you don’t already reload, you’re going to want some help with set up and some instruction, right?).

If you use range brass (and there’s nothing wrong with that), beware that some (mainly polymer) pistols, like the Glock, generally have issues with bulged brass at the base. Over time, this brass will not feed reliably. There are a number of methods to deal with this, like roll-sizers ($$$$$) or some specialty dies. Proceed at your peril. You can generally feel this bulge, and many dies do not size the base low enough to completely get rid of the bulge.

If you decide to buy brass (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you can lower the cost of purchase by reusing that brass. So, while $.18/round is somewhat expensive for brass, you’ll reuse most of it multiple times, spreading out the cost. If you want another way to get bulk brass, just buy loaded ammo, run it thru your favorite unloader (mine’s a M1911), keep track of the brass you shoot and pick it up after you’re done. Lots of people like once-fired brass better than pristine. (Note–If you shoot bolt-action rifles, you’ll get better results from fire-formed brass than from pristine or fully-sized brass. Use a neck sizer only after you fire form your brass, and it’ll be custom to your rifle’s chamber.)

Your mileage may vary here, but I’ve had no issues shooting unjacketed lead (moly coated and uncoated) thru my Glock. Granted, I’m more diligent about cleaning the barrel when I shoot lead thru my Glock (which isn’t often, I’m not a Glock fan), but have had no ill effects. If you want, Lone Wolf Distributors makes a great aftermarket barrel, and one of the marketing points for it is you can use unjacketed lead in it. The biggest issue with Glock is the fact that shooting reloaded ammo (yours or anyone else’s) voids your warranty, tread at your peril.

I recommend specifically against buying any Lee Precision progressive press, which is unfortunate, because most of their other equipment is outstanding an affordable. The reason I recommend against their progressives is the large number of important parts made of plastic–especially the primer feed system. I owned a Lee Loadmaster for several years, and spent a lot of money on spare parts to replace broken ones.

The Dillon 550B is NOT a true progressive press, as it requires a manual index of the shell plate. True progressive presses index the shell plate by using the lever–every time you pull the lever, the ram goes up and down, does all the operations, and the shell plate rotates. The 550B requires you to turn the shell plate by hand after each stroke.

R.S.O.’s point about buying dies made by he same manufacturer as the press is a good one, but not entirely accurate. Almost all dies are threaded the same, so they’re theoretically interchangeable. However, the depth of the place where you screw them into the press can vary. If your die bodies are too short, they won’t adjust or work properly. I currently use Lee dies on an RCBS single stage press with no issues. Lee dies have the advantage of coming with a shell holder, no other die sets do (at least as far as I can tell).

I wholeheartedly agree with R.S.O.’s point on the manuals. If you use a recipe someone else gives you, you’re risking losing vital body parts. Don’t be that guy/gal.

R.S.O.’s point about Boxer and Berdan priming is a good one, but many foreign manufacturers of handgun ammo use Berdan primers. Look into the case, and if you see two small holes instead of one relatively large one, it’s not reloadable.

When cleaning your brass, a tumbler is not strictly necessary, it’s just the most efficient and easiest method. You can clean brass with water and let it dry. When you go thru the sorting operation, make sure you check the cases for dings, dents, Berdan priming, and cracks. Dings and dents may not be a problem, discard Berdan and cracked cases. Also discard any steel and aluminum cases, as they’re generally poor candidates for reloading.

R.S.O. is mostly correct that you don’t need to lubricate most handgun brass if you use carbide dies. However, having reloaded a bunch of .500 S&W Magnum, I recommend lubing long cases, even if you’re using carbide dies–I snapped a Lee Loader trying to resize .500 brass without lube. Additionally, most bottleneck cartridges (like many popular rifle calibers) require some lube to make the operation effective, even when you use carbide dies. I can’t say this is strictly true for calibers like .400 Corbon or .357 SIG, but I refuse to own pistols chambered for these cartridges–they are answers to unasked questions, and if you’re going to go to the bother of chambering a pistol to mostly .40 S&W or .45 ACP, why not just go with the straight wall version and use heavier bullets?

R.S.O. omitted a step–you have to prime the cases. Make sure you use the appropriate primers. One thing to note, some popular calibers (like .45 ACP) have manufacturers who have switched from large to small primers, so pay attention–especially if you’re using range brass. It is generally not smart to interchange rifle primers for pistol primers–there’s a reason why they make primers specifically for rifles and pistols. Also, be aware that using a magnum primer in a non-magnum cartridge will give you inconsistent velocity.

Three additional sources for reloading supplies: (based in Columbia, Missouri) (based in Montezuma, Iowa; they recently acquired Sinclair International) (based in Mexico, Missouri)