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What are the habits and trick of the trade that can help reloaders avoid making mistakes? For one, good records. Author Photo.
What are the habits and trick of the trade that can help reloaders avoid making mistakes? For one, good records. Author Photo.

When it comes to getting down and dirty at the reloading bench don’t learn from your own mistakes. Instead, allow custom ammunition manufacturer Philip Massaro help you avoid them through his lifetime of experience.

When I started out handloading, it was a simple matter of economics. The younger me couldn’t afford to buy the Federal Premium and other top shelf ammunition, but I desperately wanted that level of performance. I owned but one big game rifle, a Ruger 77 in .308 Winchester (which still serves me well), so I really didn’t have a major investment in reloading gear. I asked my dad, Ol’ Grumpy Pants, to drag his Lee turret press and RCBS grain scale out of the closet, and I purchased a Lee trimmer and a set of RCBS dies. The first few seasons were spent just making ammo that worked, and I was successful in that department, but the mad scientist experimentation wasn’t far off. It still continues today, in varying forms. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way, which might help you on your path.

1. Don’t Try to Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear
My .308 Winchester, while a fantastic big game round, wasn’t a .300 Magnum, though I did my best to wring every last ounce of velocity out of it. Studying the reloading manuals, I did my best to turn it into a flat shooting magnum. I was obsessed with velocity, and lost sight of the big picture. Cratered primers, erratic accuracy and wasted money were the end effects. When I regrouped my thoughts and loaded the cartridge for the purpose that it was intended for, I got the results I should have been looking for in the first place: accuracy, and great field performance. Read up on your cartridges performance specs, and try to stay within reason.

2. Don’t Discount Old Data
There are many new powders and bullets on the market today, and they are wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that a tried and true bullet and powder combination from yesteryear won’t produce for you. I hoard old reloading manuals, because canister grade powders don’t change, and some of the newer manuals don’t cover all the possible powders. I’ve found great recipes in the old Speer, Hornady and Sierra manuals that have dropped out of print in recent years. Scour the gun shows, peruse eBay, and read through those old books.


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3. Be Diligent
Once you become comfortable and proficient with reloading ammunition, it is not difficult to become lax. It’s simply human nature, and I’ve caught myself doing it. But, like the attention given to a chainsaw or a kitchen knife, we loaders need to be consistent and diligent. Treat every loading session as if were your first, and follow the rules of safety and common sense. Don’t clutter your bench with two or three projects. Turn the cell phone off, and free yourself from distractions.

4. Keep Good Records
When you finally find that sweet load that your pistol or rifle likes so much, you certainly don’t want to lose it. Or, when things don’t work, say a load that proved to give dangerous pressures with a particular bullet/powder combination, keep good note of that. I keep a spiral bound notebook that is precious to me, as it contains all the load development information that I have compiled, both things that worked well and things I’ll never do again. I also keep a digital copy of that in my computer, so the work isn’t lost should my notebook fall into enemy hands.

Attempting to force a cartridge to do something that it's not suppose to can lead to inaccurate results and wasted money. Author Photo.
Attempting to force a cartridge to do something that it’s not suppose to can lead to inaccurate results and wasted money. Author Photo.

5. Clean Your Gear
Sounds silly, but with the very precise tolerances that are involved with reloading, it doesn’t take a great amount of case lube mixed with tiny brass shavings and spent primer residue to gum up a resizing die, or the copper and lead shavings to get jammed in the bullet cup of a seating die. This will change the dimensions of the loaded ammo, and affect accuracy in addition to creating feeding problems. I like to disassemble my dies to give them a bath in the ultrasonic cleaner every so often, to keep things neat and tidy. If you don’t have an ultrasonic, take some cotton swabs and a good copper solvent and scrub away. I then give them a light coating of RemOil or other lubricant to prevent rust, and then reassemble. One more trick in this department: I make a dummy round, using the bullet/cartridge I like, but without primer or powder, so I can easily readjust my seating dies to give the proper dimension after cleaning. Don’t forget to degrease and lubricate your press as well. All of these tips will make your life as a handloader safer, easier and much more enjoyable.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Jan. 1, 2015 of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been reloading since I was 8 years old, so it’s not rocket science. I’m now 71. Learned a few things over the years. Keep you equipment clean and well taken care of, Keep good records including primers used, powder amount and bullet used, not only as to what you loaded but label the box as well, never smoke when reloading, I know a lot of guys do but it gives me the willies, I’ve seen what gunpowder fires do to peoples skins, not a pretty sight. Start loading at the minimum suggested load in a good reloading manual. NEVER take anybody’s suggested load until you check the manuals. Never put powder in a canister labeled for another powder. it’s just asking for trouble. Work loads up slowly looking for optimum performance in your rifle. If you see flattened primers back off the load, it’s a sign of excess pressure. Just a few pointers for you beginners, use common sense above all , and be safe out there.

  2. I agree with you on keeping your press clean and lubed as it is a good idea. To date after hand-loading for 47 years I have yet to meet anyone else I know personally that ever put even a drop of oil on their presses or bothered to clean the dirt and bullet lube out of their dies. The same goes for their guns. Not a drop of oil and heaven forbid a spot of grease anywhere on their guns. They take great delight in trashing everything they own as soon as possible as it gives them an excuse to go out and buy something new. And to put icing on the cake the last yo-yo I knew took a super expensive but beat up Anschutz target gun to a gun show and stapled a for sale sign right to the stock of the gun. Sounds unbelievable but its normal where I live.

  3. Old reloading canister data does indeed change as I found out years ago. It even changes from lot to lot within the same year. in the “Wild and woolly 1960’s” manuals had some pretty hairy hot loads in them as well. Modern manuals are listing loads more conservatively which is really all to the good as it saves wear and tear on guns besides being a lot safer and it results in more accurate loads when you keep your velocity down.

    To give you an example of how burning rates change one of my pet loads for the .270 all of a sudden started blowing primers and it was not a maximum load. I checked with the factory and was told the old loading data I was using was no longer safe and to use the new data (which I did) and the problem went away immediately.

    In my experiments with Rem oil it is one of the worst oils you can use. Not only is the lubricating properties poor but also the Rem oil does not allow moisture to float to the top of the oil either trapping it against the metal which causes rusting. Spend a few pennies more and use Break Free as it is superior in every way and it is a great rust inhibitor as well as my own experiments proved years ago.

  4. Good information and useful.

    I would emphasize ‘record keeping’. Nothing worse than loading up some ammo and then NOT knowing what load it is to enter the results. Or having three loads all delivering the desired velocity and NOT knowing which is the most accurate.

    Also, when one obtains a new or “old but new to me” loading manual, read all the boring stuff prior to the data portion FIRST. One can be an assembler of provided recipes and not really understand why they don’t work as desired, or one can understand the ideas of why we do as we do to obtain the results we desire.

    Have to brag on my luck – provided by the Lord. Went to a garage sale a year or two ago; found a cope of Phil Sharpe’s book on hand loading and a copy of Elmer Keith’s “Sixguns” in the old book pile. They wanted FIVE DOLLARS each for them. Nearly ripped my trousers getting money out of my pocket.

    In reloading, as with getting married, driving in traffic and life in general: Go slow, be careful, pay attention to details.

  5. Good article. Another source of loading manuals , are amazon. ,bargain bins at dept stores, yard sales, used book stores.
    I have been reloading since about `72 using the Lee handloader that comes in the little box for .44 mag
    Still have the S., Ruger Super (3 screw) Blackhawk as then.

    • My first pistol was a rugar SB new model in 1990. Couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn! Started reloading then. Slugged the barrel, measured it, had a mold made for it from LBT. Fire lapped it and that revolver shoots better than most of the rifles at hunting camp. Bullets touch at 50 yards and the 280 gr. hard cast bullets rip through 12″ trees! Better performance than the 300 Win. mag’s. Since then I gotten 4 deer with it. Playing with a new toy TC Contender in a 30 Herret. I have to hand load for that. Another tack driver. Good talking with you. Good luck