Most reloaders hand load because it is interesting, less expensive than shooting factory loads and because they can often develop more accurate loads for specific guns. The NRMA wants you to enjoy this hobby safely and this leaflet provides some basic rules observed by all top-notch reloaders. Obviously, it is not a reloading manual. You are urged to read all available books on reloading. Go to demonstrations, talk to experienced hand loaders. Make yourself as knowledgeable as you can.
Basic Reloading Precautions
1. Modern ammunition uses smokeless powder as the energy source. Smokeless powder is much more powerful than black powder or Pyrodex®. Never substitute smokeless powder for black powder or Pyrodex® and never mix it with either.
2. Follow loading recommendations exactly. Don't substitute components for those listed. Start loading with the minimum powder charge in the loads shown.
3. Never exceed manufacturers' reloading data. Excess pressures caused by excessive loads could severely damage a firearm and cause serious injury or death.
4. Understand what you are doing and why it must be done in a specific way.
5. Stay alert when reloading. Don't reload when distracted, disturbed or tired.
6. Set up a loading procedure and follow it. Don't vary your sequence of operations.
7. Set up your reloading bench where powder and primers will not be exposed to heat, sparks or flame.
8. DO NOT smoke while reloading.
9. ALWAYS wear safety glasses while reloading.
10. Keep everything out of the reach of small children.
11. Keep your reloading bench clean and uncluttered. Label components and reloads for easy identification.
12. Do not eat while handling lead.
13. NEVER try to dislodge a loaded cartridge that has become stuck in the chamber by impacting it with a cleaning rod. Have a competent gunsmith remove the round.
All smokeless powders obviously have to burn very fast, but handgun and shotgun powders must burn faster than rifle powders. You will readily note the differences in physical size and shape of various powders, but you cannot see differences in chemical composition that help to control the rate of burning. Burn rate is also affected by pressure. "Hot primers," seating the bullet too deep, overcrimping the case on the bullet, tight gun chambers, oversize bullets, use of heavy shot loads and anything that increases friction or confinement of the powder will increase the pressure. Obviously, this hobby requires attention to detail, patience and meticulousness to insure the safety and quality of loads produced.
1. NEVER mix powders of different kinds.
2. Use the powder ONLY as recommended in manufacturer reloading manuals.
3. Store powder in cool, dry place.
4. If you throw or measure powder charges by volume, check-weigh the charges every time you begin loading, occasionally during loading and when you finish.
5. Pour out only enough powder for the immediate work.
6. NEVER substitute smokeless powder for black powder or Pyrodex®.
7. Don't carry powder in your clothing. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling it.
8. Store powders only in original package. Don't repackage.
9. Keep powder containers tightly closed when not in use.
10. Specific powders are designed for specific uses. Don't use them for other purposes.
11. Smokeless powder is EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE. To dispose of deteriorated powders, follow recommendations in The Properties and Storage of Smokeless Powder SAAMI Reprint #376-2500, which is published in some reloading guides or available from NRMA.
12. Empty the powder measure back into the original powder container when through with a reloading session. DO NOT MIX POWDERS.
13. Clean up spilled powder with brush and dustpan; do not use a vacuum cleaner because fire or explosion may result.
Priming materials differ in brisance (initial explosive force) and in the amount of hot gas produced. Don't mix primers of different makes.
1. Don't decap live primers. Fire them in the appropriate gun then decap.
2. Don't ream out or enlarge the flash hole in primer pockets. This can increase chamber pressure.
3. Over-ignition creates higher gun pressures. The best results are obtained by using the mildest primer consistent with good ignition.
4. Don't use primers you can't identify. Ask your local police or fire department to dispose of unidentifiable or nonserviceable primers.
5. Keep primers in the original packaging until used. Return unused primers to the same package. Don't dump together and store in bulk. There is a risk of mass detonation if one is ignited.
6. If resistance to seating or feeding of primers is felt, STOP and investigate. DO NOT FORCE PRIMERS.
7. Store primers in a cool, dry place. High temperature, such as in a summer attic, causes them to deteriorate.
8. Don't handle primers with oily or greasy hands. Oil contamination can affect ignitability.
9. There have been instances of "primer dusting" in the tubes of loading tools because of vibration. Clean the machines after each use.
10. Refer to SAAMI reprint SPORTING AMMUNITION PRIMERS: Properties, Handling & Storage for Handloading. If you don't have one, write NRMA.
Lead, a substance known to cause birth defects, reproductive harm and other serious physical injury, must be handled with extreme care. Handle lead bullets or lead shot only in a well-ventilated area and ALWAYS wash hands after handling lead and before eating. Discharging firearms in poorly ventilated areas, cleaning firearms, or handling ammunition also may result in exposure to lead. Have adequate ventilation at all times.
Handloading Rifle & Pistol Cartridges
1. Examine cases before loading. Discard any that are not in good condition.
2. Put labels on boxes of loaded cartridges. Identify caliber, primer, powder and charge, bullet and weight, and date of reloading.
3. In handgun cartridges, the seating depth of the bullet is extremely important. Handgun powders must burn very quickly because of the short barrel. They are sensitive to small changes in crimp, bullet hardness, bullet diameter, and primer brisance and especially to bullet seating depth.
4. Check the overall length of the cartridge to be sure the bullet is seated properly. *
5. If you cast your own bullets, remember their hardness, diameter and lubrication affect the ballistics.
6. Plastic cases designed for practice loads (where the bullet is propelled by primer gas only) can't be used for full powder loads.
7. Consult manufacturer regarding disposal of unserviceable ammunition. Ask your local police or fire department to dispose of small quantities.
*Accumulation of lead or grease in the bullet-seating tool may force the bullet in too far. If the bullet isn't seated deeply enough, it may engage the lands of the barrel when loaded. This will increase the chamber pressure.
Reloading Shotgun Shells
1. Select cases that are in good condition. Be sure base wad is intact and the shells are of the same brand and type. Discard any with split mouths.
2. Check the powder bushing to be sure it is correct for the powder weight recommended. Check-weigh thrown powder charges.
3. Check shot bushing for shot charge weight.
4. Shotshell wads differ in their sealing ability. Use the load combination specified in the reloading guide.
5. FOR YOUR SAFETY, PLEASE NOTE: YOU CANNOT substitute STEEL, BUFFERED LEAD SHOT or BISMUTH SHOT in loads recommended for LEAD SHOT ONLY. To load steel or Bismuth shot or add buffer materials to lead shot, you MUST use different components, and follow EXACTLY the instructions provided by recognized authorities.
Prevent Missing & Double Charges
1. It is easy to double charge if you are momentarily distracted. Use a depth gauge to check powder height in a shell. A piece of doweling rod can be used as a depth gauge.
2. Observe the powder level of cases placed in the loading block. This is a way to discover any cases with missing or double powder charges.
3. Take care to operate progressive loaders as the manufacturer recommends. Don't back up the turret or jiggle the handle. Don't use a shell to catch the residue when cleaning out the powder train.