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Walking Before We Run-The First Steps Of Reloading Equipment Choice

Many people once they have decided to jump in and load their own ammunition can find themselves lost on how to actually get started. When I first started my first stop was my local sporting goods stores and to check out the reloading sections. I found my head swimming as I strolled through the reloading sections of my local sporting goods stores and looking at all of the different options such as single stage presses, progressive presses, neck sizing dies, full length sizing dies, case lubes, bullets, powders, primers, powder dispensers and throwers, scales, etc. All of the options were overwhelming. With the heavy upfront investment coupled with my complete lack of any loading background I knew that I had my work cut out for me on doing my homework and figuring out what was best for my needs before jumping in. I scoured the internet like a man obsessed for the following weeks and was able to get up and running over the course of about a month. I am hoping to share a few tidbits of information that I learned to help streamline your process as you might find yourself in the same situation as you try to get started.

There is a ton of reloading information on the internet, however I feel the best route to go for the new reloader is to pick up an actual published reloading manual from a reloading component manufacturer before purchasing any equipment. Every reloading manual will lay out the reloading process step by step of what it takes to turn a fired (or new) brass cartridge case for both rifle and pistols into loaded ammunition ready to head to the range. Most always manuals comes with great illustrative pictures to showing the process as well. This step by step process in the manual is also an excellent guide to give you an idea of the basic guidelines on what equipment you may need as well. On top of laying out the reloading process and equipment guide, a reloading manual will also give you the information needed to load your own ammunition safely such as inspecting cases, weighing and storing hazardous materials such as primers and gunpowder, etc. When first getting started I found my reloading manual to be one of my cheapest and most used reloading investments. There are many great manuals from Lyman, Berger, Sierra, Nosler, etc. Over the years I have acquired many different manuals and my personal favorite as a great overall manual for both rifle and pistol reloading has been the most current printed versions from Hornady (they also have a digital download version which is incredibly handy which can be found on Amazon or through iTunes). I know we live in a digital age and the internet has a ton of reloading information for free, however I feel that having at least one to two published reloading manuals and actually reading through them and reviewing them as a refresher is invaluable and can also help guide a new reloader in the next step of the process, equipment selection.

The most common question I have come across with people who I have shot with and have wanted to start reloading and I know I had first starting out has been with equipment choice. One thing that I can’t stress enough is that if you’re interested in reloading and want to get started to understand that your process will most likely always be evolving as you find what works best for you and equipment choice will most likely reflect this changing process over time. My personal recommendation as a starting point is to start with a reloading “kit” with either a single stage or progressive stage press. A single stage press means that the press will only facilitate one “stage” in the reloading process such as case sizing, priming/de-priming, dropping powder, and bullet seating at a time where a progressive press has a “rotary” style table where the case rotates from station to station with each stroke on the press enabling multiple stages to be carried out at one time. A single stage press is about as precise as it gets for loading your own ammunition which is perfect for precision rifle rounds and since it is rather simple in construction is most often the cheapest style of press. However single stage presses are slower than a progressive press since everything is done one case at a time. A progressive press since it can be set-up to go from an empty case to loaded ammunition in one sitting is an extremely faster option than a single stage. A progressive press would be ideal for those looking to load big batches of pistol ammunition or to keep up with high round count firearms such as AR-15’s. The downside to progressive presses are they are commonly more expensive, can be less precise (more moving parts requiring looser tolerances for function and can be reflected in ammunition produced), and for a new reloader can be tougher to get set-up and running smoothly. My personal recommendation would be to pick up either a single or progressive stage kit based on whichever suits the bulk of your shooting the best such as an RCBS Rockchucker Supreme (single stage) or a Hornady Lock-N-Load Ammo Plant (progressive stage). These kits include everything except dies, calipers, and your ammunition components and are a great starting point. These kits can be a bit more expensive than other offerings from other brands such as Lee, however both of these kits combine a great balance of price point, features, ease of use, and resale value should you decide to upgrade or that reloading just isn’t for you.

I will be honest, since I first got started the only original piece of my reloading kit that I am still regularly using has been my press, almost everything else has been upgraded as time has went on and have even purchased a progressive to compliment my first single stage press and make loading pistol ammo more bearable. As I’ve gone about reloading I’ve found we are always trying to make the best compromise with our time, quality ammunition, and money. I still find though that I use my manuals every time I’m at my bench (or need a sleep aid) and still feel that with a kit purchase I came out ahead with monetary investment going this route. I found that as I was getting started reloading, how to get started seemed to be one of those frustrating questions that you asked ten different people, you got ten different answers and did not understand until after I had acquired my own equipment that there are many ways to skin this cat and there isn’t a necessarily wrong way to do it (unless it is unsafe). I hope this helps you aspiring reloaders to point you in the right direction and into just getting started!