In my previous SurvivalBlog article, Melting Lead for the Meltdown, I gave a basic explanation of molding bullets. In particular, I described the molding of 200 grain lead semi wad cutters and the 185 grain SWC. In addition, it was pointed out to stock these up for use as barter if there is a social/economic/political meltdown. If you cast your own bullets or are thinking about reloading your own ammo, I would urge you to jump in. It is enjoyable, therapeutic, and practical in the times we live. Additionally, it is also economical. I just checked at Wal-Mart for their prices for .45 ACP ammo and the least expensive I saw was $19.95 for a box of 50. Reloading your own ammo will pay for itself in the long run because a reloader can beat that price quite easily. If you pay .05 per bullet, .03 per primer (recently paid 28.50 for a 1,000 Remington primers on sale), and .02 per powder charge, you have a bullet for .10 per round or $5.00 per box less your time involved. Even if your bullets cost .10 a piece, you’re still looking at $7.50 for a box of 50. You would also include the cost of your brass, however, as I’m a ‘range scavenger’ and retrieve my brass after a stage in competition, I left that out. But, the time spent reloading is “fun time.” It’s time spent on a hobby not work time. And, if you compete you know you’ve saved hundreds if not thousands by reloading your own ammo. I try to break down the reloading process so that I’m not depriving my family of time by spending massive amounts of time away from them (i.e. one evening tumble and polish the brass, another evening deprime/ resize 300 pieces, another night for an hour neck expansion/powder charge and bullet seating).
Now, for someone just kicking around the idea of reloading, I want to talk about “getting the lead out.” That is, you want to get some ammo loaded up and use that lead or pick some up online before component prices jump. Depending upon what style learner you are, a brief overview that I will provide may be sufficient for you to start. I started literally the most primitive way with the use of a Lee handloader. Your rubber mallet, hand dies, and a powder dipper was how I started…yikes…There was no YouTube, CDs, or instructional tapes in 1975. I did have a Lyman reloading manual that provided my initial instruction as well as my oldest brother who had also started reloading. Money was tight for me so I started with a single stage press from Lyman. You can start here and progress to the Hornady or Dillon progressive reloading press which will turn out from 350-400 rounds per hour.
“Getting the lead out” and getting it loaded into your brass is the subject of this entry. The main functional areas that will be addressed are: 1) equipment needs, 2) brass preparation, 3) the components for your ammo (i.e. powder, primer, projectiles), and 4) the process or steps of reloading.
Basic equipment that will get you started in basic reloading are the following (I was fortunate to find much of my equipment gently used at Biff’s Gun Room & Knob Creek Gun Range in Shepherdsville, Kentucky):
- Tumbler for cleaning your brass, media, and polishing agent (check Midway, Natchez, Brownells etc)
- Carbide dies (RCBS, Lyman, Lee etc), shell holder, single stage press (various manufacturers)
- Scale to weigh powder charge
- Powder measure
- Caliper to check your measurements
- Loading block to hold your brass casings
- Headspace/bullet gauge
- Bench to mount your press on
- Priming unit (RCBS hand primer)
Now with your equipment lined up and ready, you need your .45 brass prepped for reloading. If you’re using ‘once fired’ brass from the range you need to fire up your tumbler. Put your media (corncob or walnut) into the tumbler, start it up, and then put in the amount of polishing agent specified on your unit. Let it run a couple minutes to get the polish worked in and then add your brass. I like Flitz as a cleaning and polishing agent. Does a great job and takes less time. Check your brass after tumbling 20-30 minutes and if sufficiently cleaned and polished, separate the brass from the media. The brass is ready for your next step.
Let’s talk components before we get to the actual process of reloading. I have used many different powders (231, WST, Clays, Unique, Bullseye, 4756, VV 320, Titegroup, Autocomp etc). You will discover there are many pet loads and you will find there are varying opinions on the ‘best’ powder to use. Experiment and make your choice. Many stay with the tried and true Winchester 231. I have had my best groups with Vhita Vhouri 320 and Titegroup. VV320 is more expensive and can generally be found at larger gun shows. Titegroup should be available at most gun shops, gun ranges, and can be also found at gun shows. I am a life member at Knob Creek Gun Range in Kentucky and have tried to keep Kenny Sumner in business over the years. My pet load for 200 grain lead SWC (semi-wadcutter) is 4.6 grains of Titegroup. The next component is the choice of primers. Again, there are a number of brands such as Winchester, Remington, Federal, and CCI and so on. For your .45 you need “large pistol” primers. Next we come to the choice of projectiles. I’ve used just about everything. For competition you definitely want a bullet that leaves big holes on paper so you can tell where you’re hitting. Since I decided to cast my own bullets I primarily use the 200 grain lead SWC. Feel free to experiment with 185 Hornady SWC copper jacketed, 230 grain FMJ(full metal jacket), Remington Golden Sabers, 230 Lead Round Nose, 225 grain Lead Truncated Cone and so on. I’ve had splendid groups using VV 320 with jacketed bullets with groups less than one inch (pretty much hole in hole) at 45 feet with a free standing stance.
So now you have everything ready to go. Your brass is cleaned and polished, your components are assembled, your equipment is set up and ready to crank it! And, remember, no smoking while you’re reloading!!! I am assuming you have followed your instructions and mounted your press and adjusted your dies. You have your loading blocks (50 rounds per block) ready with your brass. The process of reloading will entail the following steps:
1. Depriming and resizing
3. Neck expansion and powder charge
4. Bullet seating and taper crimp
In the depriming and resizing stage, you will be using a carbide tip resizing/depriming die. Follow the directions in your die kit regarding the installment of the die. Then you will take each .45 casing and place it in the shell holder on your press and run the ram up. The brass is fed into the resizing die/deprimer and backed down out of the die. You have just resized the brass to the appropriate dimensions so that it will now chamber in your .45 and knocked out the expended primer. Do this with whatever number of pieces brass you want to reload. I do one hundred per session so that I’m not letting the reloading consume too much of my time from other important things like my wife. Once you have resized your brass, use your calipers to measure the length of each piece and inspect each piece. You must maintain the right measurement with your brass to avoid excessive pressures that could be detrimental to your firearm and health. Anything with cracks you pitch or put aside for recycling. The shortest or minimum case length I’ve seen in any manual is .888 thousandths of an inch. Anything shorter and you can put that in your recycling pile as well. Maximum case length is .898. You will likely never have to worry about trimming any of your pistol brass because that normally doesn’t lengthen like rifle brass when fired. Also, I don’t worry about the primer pocket or primer hole. This isn’t critical in pistol bullets like it is in competitive rifle cartridges. All pieces of brass are now resized, deprimed, inspected, and checked for proper length.
The next stage is priming. You have your large pistol primers (you won’t need ‘large pistol magnum’ primers) and have loaded them into your hand priming tool. I have an RCBS hand priming tool. Place each piece of brass in the tool and squeeze the handle. This presses the primer into the primer pocket of the brass. Place primed pieces back onto the loading block until all pieces are primed. This step with 100 rounds will take about 10-15 minutes. Again, follow the instructions given in your hand priming tool guide.
In the neck expanding stage you will be removing the resizing die from the press and placing the neck expanding die in the press. My neck expanding die will also hold my Lyman powder measure so that while the brass is in the expanding die, I can cycle the powder measure and charge the cartridge with powder. What I have done prior to this in preparation is adjusted the powder measure and weighed the powder charge in the scale to ensure it is dropping the 4.6 grains of Titegroup. So, with your brass in the neck expanding die, operate the powder measure and drop the powder charge into the brass and remove the brass by running the ram back down. Pull your charged brass from the shell holder and place in an empty loading block. Do this with each piece of brass and visually inspect each cartridge to ensure you have a powder charge. Also check to ensure that you did not inadvertently drop a double charge. If you have any question about something that doesn’t look right just take the brass and empty the powder back into the powder measure and drop a new charge. Again, this stage with 100 pieces of brass will take some 10-15 minutes with a single stage press. Okay, we’re having fun and things are coming together nicely.
We have now come to the bullet seating stage. Change out the neck expanding die with the bullet seating die and follow the instructions in your manual. Take a charged cartridge and put it into the press. Follow this by placing your bullet into the case mouth. Run the press up and back down. Check it out!!! You just completed loading that first bullet. But, before you jump for joy, get your calipers out and check the overall case length of the bullet. I seat my 200 grain SWCs for 1.235 overall case length. You will need to check your overall case length and be sure you follow the specs in you loading manual. In addition, your pistol may be picky and you may have to find thru experimentation the best OAL (overall length) for your pistol. I have a Para Ordinance P-14 .45 which is equipped with a feed ramp. I get flawless feeding of my loads at this case length. With your bullet seating die set to the adjusted correct length, run each charged cartridge up with bullet placed in the case mouth and seat the bullets. Don’t they look lovely! Now, last but not least, put a light taper crimp on your bullets. Replace the bullet seating die with the taper crimp die. I set my taper crimp die so that it will give me a round that measures .469 thousandths where the bullet goes into the brass. Run this thru your headspace gauge. Your completed round should drop into the gauge with no problem and drop back out. You can also pull your barrel from your .45 and drop the bullet into the barrel chamber and check the fit. Lyman recommends keeping simple records for your loads. I think that is a good idea and I record the bullet size/weight/type, powder type and powder charge, overall case length, and results of the fired bullets (i.e. feeding issues, accuracy, smoke, kick, and velocity if a chronograph is used[for power factor requirements for competition]).
Remember, this is just one load for the .45. There are many pet loads that reloaders have. Go online and check everything out that you can and enjoy your reloading. It feels good when you look down and see that by following the steps, you turned out a good accurate load. Like Hannibal Smith used to say on the “A-Team”, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
This leads me to a spiritual parallel in reloading. A reloaded cartridge comes from very specific measurements, intelligence, and design. If you were wandering out in some field somewhere and came across a .45 cartridge you would have to think that it didn’t get there on its own nor was it assembled at random. Someone was in that field and someone put that bullet together. So to, we have bodies, a world, and universe that to me indicates “Someone” was in the universe and “Someone” assembled all that we see. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” I encourage you to seek that Someone and look to Him to assemble your life and trust Him to guide your steps.
Now go “get the lead out”.