Reload Your Own Ammo, If You Want To Be A Good Shot!, by Steve Collins

Common Sense and Facts About Shooting

Common sense tells us that if you want to be a good shooter, you need to shoot often. Facts tell us, though, that our wallets won’t allow us to shoot as often as we want or need to. While resorting to the .22 caliber firearms is often cited as an acceptable alternative, at some point you need to shoot your primary gun. The answer to buying factory ammo is to reload your own. I started reloading in 1984 when I got my first Colt 1911 .45 auto. Shortly thereafter I received a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver for Christmas, along with my first reloading kit. Mom must have known something, or it was Divine Providence, that led her to get both of those items at the same time, because I found out very quickly how expensive .44 ammo was!

Not Somewhere Between Rocket Science and Black Magic

Reloading is seen by many as being somewhere between rocket science and black magic. Nothing could be further from the truth! Reloading is a safe activity, as long as you pay attention to what you’re doing. Making our own ammo allows us to tailor a particular load to our particular situation. We also aren’t left at the mercy of the manufacturers during times of short supply, such as we saw in 1994 and again in 2008. While a lot of folks were scrambling to find practice ammo, I was at my loading bench making as much as I wanted.

If you’ve chosen a caliber that isn’t that common, such as .38 Super, 10mm, or .41 Magnum, reloading isn’t just a nice hobby but becomes almost a necessity. Making your own ammo can allow you to shoot that old rifle that belonged to your grandpa and for which you can’t find factory ammo anymore, too.

Preparing to Reload

Basic Overview of Beginning Reloading

This is going to be a basic overview of beginning reloading, since reams of paper have been written on the subject. I’m just hoping to get you started down the right path.

Let me put this note in right now: Reloading is a potentially dangerous activity. Neither I nor the publishers assume any responsibility in your loading practices. My loads are safe in my guns. Take appropriate precautions when handling reloading components.

Get Reloading Manuals and Read

First, get a reloading manual, preferably three or four of them, and read them from cover to cover. They all say many of the same things, sometimes just a little differently. Every company has their own way of measuring velocity, pressures, et cetera. My personal favorite is the Lyman 50th Edition Reloading Manual, which has data from many different sources. It’s usually the first one I grab when I’m looking up a new load or caliber. They will all cover the basics of what goes on when reloading your own: de-priming and resizing the case to factory configuration, seating a new primer, adding gunpowder, and seating and crimping a new bullet. The manuals usually have good pictures in them to help you along.

Talk to People Who Reload At Local Gun Shop

Next, go to your local gun shop (or two or three) and ask to talk to the individual who knows the most about reloading their own ammo. I’m pretty lucky in that I have a friend who has been reloading for nearly 60 years, making my 25 years seem paltry. They can probably answer a lot of your questions and give you some good recommendations. If you have a friend or family member who is willing to help you along, that’s even better. Getting some hands-on experience before venturing out on your own will help assuage some of the fear that most have about making their own ammo.

Obtaining a Reloading Press

Begin With Single Stage Reloading Press

At this point, we’re going to assume that you’ve decided to continue on with learning how to reload your own ammo. Now you have to get a reloading press, but which one? Should it be a progressive or single stage? I always recommend that a beginner use a single stage press. A single stage press means that each operation has to be done to every round you intend to load. Then you go on to the next operation and the next. Yes, it can be tedious and slow, but you will get a better feel for each operation, and you can inspect your brass at each step to see what is really going on. Plus, you will always have the opportunity to use the single stage press later on, even when you decide to move on to something more advanced.

My single stage press, an RCBS Rock Chucker, is 35 years old, and it is still going. I’ve seen some older presses in gun shops that were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s and worked just fine. I use it for developing new loads for my pistols and for my rifle ammo, since I don’t shoot near as much rifle as I do pistol.

Progressive Press by Dillon Reloads Over 100 Calibers

My progressive press is made by Dillon Precision and is their model 550B. This press will reload over 100 calibers (and yes, I have friends that reload that many or more!) A progressive press means that with each pull of the handle, a new fully loaded round is made. It’s accomplished with the use of a turret style head of some type, allowing each round to be moved to the next phase of the operation. We’re going to focus primarily on the single stage though, since it’s easier to show you each step.

Basic Accessories For Reloading

Reloading Dies

Reloading dies are next. These come made for each individual caliber, and you’ll need new ones for every caliber you decide to reload. Most of the reloading companies make dies, but some, like RCBS, make them for nearly every caliber ever made and then some. Dies come in two, three, and four die sets, depending on what caliber you’re loading for. Once again, this comes back to reading the manuals and asking questions. A shell holder is needed and may be purchased separately, or it is sometimes included with the dies. This is what holds the case in the reloading press. One shell holder can hold several different sized cases, such as the 30-06 shell holder that will also hold .243, .270, and .308 because they have the same case head size.

Powder Dispenser

A powder dispenser is necessary, since it holds the powder you’re going to put in the case. You adjust it for a certain amount of powder, whatever amount the reloading manual says. This gets measured on your powder scale. The powder scale lets you precisely measure the amount of powder that you are putting in the case. Follow what the manual says; do not guess at how much powder to put in!

Those are the basic accessories you need to reload. But, you also need to get the components, i.e., what bullet do you want to use, what primer, what powder? You thought we were done? Not quite…

Components for Reloading

Unless you’re doing something task specific (hunting, precision shooting, et cetera), your basic full metal jacket bullet or lead bullet will be fine for practice. I do use specific bullets for certain things and have my own preferences. Only through a lot of study and experimentation will you find your own.


Primers come next. They’re made in small and large pistol, and small and large rifle. They’re also made in magnum versions, which we won’t worry about right now. You can get them in packs of 100 or an entire sleeve of 5000. The manual will tell you which size you need for your particular cartridge.


You also need gunpowder, and there are many different kinds. Some are specific for rifle, pistol, or shotgun, and some are multi-purpose. Powders are not all the same! Do not substitute one for another! The results can be disastrous. Use the powders specified for your cartridge in the manual. (See the recurring theme here?) Also, you may find references to very popular loads from famous gun writers in print and on the internet. Do not jump in and start using these without a thorough knowledge of what you’re doing! Some of these “legendary” loads were developed several decades ago. Over time, powders and primers have changed and those old loads may not be safe in your gun. With any new load you work on, the story stays the same: start low and slowly work your way up.

Small Overview

This is just a small, quick overview of how to get into reloading. Mountains of paper and gallons of ink have been used up in the last eighty years detailing the finer points of it. I truly enjoy it and sometimes wonder if I shoot more so I can reload more, or vice versa! Reloading allows me to tune a load to my particular guns and shoot something not offered by the factories. As long as I have primers, powders, and bullets, I can keep shooting even when the gun store shelves are empty. If I cast my own bullets, it becomes even simpler. (But that’s the subject for another article.) Try reloading your own ammo. You just might find it as addictive as I do.

Steve Collins owns Martial Arms Tactical, LLC in SW Missouri, teaching concealed carry and defensive firearms and tactics classes. He is a former member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and an NRA Certified Instructor.

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  1. I have been reloading for over 25 years with a Dillon RL550B and it works like a champ! The Dillon company is above top shelf and of the quality of other advertisers on this blog, with a 100% warranty. I have used it, and they never fail. Their on-line assistance is just as good. As for reloading, I personally find it relaxing as I have to concentrate on the process for safety. All of the problems slip away while I create a thing of beauty. Safety and following established procedures are paramount!

  2. A couple points

    First the cost, if you take your time and buy the components on sale and in bulk, the price per round is about 1/3 the cost of buying new ammunition. Its a bigger savings the more obscure the cartridge you shoot.

    Second a single stage press will give you about 50 rounds per hour, a progressive will produce around 400 rounds per hour. Mine is a Dillon 450 and is pushing 40 years old (Dillon is the 1 to buy IMO).

  3. I’ve been reloading over 40 different calibers for about as many years, and i have tried a progressive press several times, and end up selling them off. I’m sure we are reloading for different reasons, you and i. I can’t control individual case length with a progressive press, and the automatic trimming contraptions do a sloppy job of case length trimming anyway.

    I also dont feel comfortable not checking individual powder charges, as even with my rcbs powder charger, there is a variance of up to a half grain with larger powders, between charges. There are also differences between the full hopper and the nearly empty one.

    The only ammo i reload on a progressive press, is pistol ammo on my square deal b. I just can’t seem to get enough accuracy out of a progressive for rifle ammo.

    Just my unsolicited opinion.

    Good article though.

  4. I have both an RCBS and a Dillon. One mounted and the other still in the box. I use the old Herters press I learned on at my fathers knee. I collect and shoot a lot of obscure calibers. Thanks for all the lessons DAD.

  5. I own a Dillon Square Deal and a 1050, but those first few hundred rounds loaded on a single stage Lee press taught me as much as the next 10,000 loaded on a progressive!

    I recommend every reloader get a set of check weights and verify their scale accuracy from time to time. I once blew the extractor out of my Glock before I learned my scale had drifted. And a chamber check gauge is a useful accessory, too.

  6. I would suggest the RCBS turret press to start. One of the more tedious tasks of reloading is getting your dies properly adjusted. Each turret holds six dies and I have two turrets that I can easily swap and additional turrets aren’t expensive. I would also suggest a chronograph as a first purchase to verify the velocity of your loads.

    Always remember, safety first, gunpowder explodes. And NEVER exceed the manufacturers recommended load. If you think you need more power then step up to a larger/magnum caliber.

  7. To: fifth-disciple
    Gun-Powder doe’s NOT EXPLODE.
    It Burn’s Very quickly.
    That is the reason for different makes of Powder for handguns
    and Rifles.
    As always Safety First.
    I use Lee myself.

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