Reloading: What Do You Really Need to Get Started?

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While the basics are simple when it comes to getting set up to reload ammunition for your handgun, there are still some critical choices that need to be made. Here's some advice from long-time reloader Patrick Sweeney, from his recent book Reloading for Handgunners:

A progressive press will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend reloading.
A progressive press will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend reloading.

What you need is simple: empty brass of the correct caliber for your needs/firearms/gear, and appropriate bullets, powder and primers. Then, you need equipment to process that empty brass and stuff a suitable amount of powder between the bullet and primer.

Here is where the decision-making comes in. Once you have exceeded the basic threshold of function, it all comes down to “how fast do you want to go?” Which, translated, becomes “how much do you want to spend?”

Reloading equipment of all levels can and will turn out entirely suitable ammunition, but some will do it faster, and some will do it for a longer period of time before needing a rebuild/overhaul.

Handgun Shooters Need Volume

One aspect of reloading for handguns that you should be aware of is volume. It is not unusual for a rifle reloader to sweat the details on a couple of boxes of brass and handcraft perfect little jewels of brass cases. When loaded, those 40 cases can last several hunting seasons. Benchrest shooters are even more extreme; they may sweat the details on 100 cases, winnowing down this or that near-microscopic “fault” until they have twenty hand-crafted, identical in every aspect that can be measured, perfect cases.

Handgun shooters, however, tend towards volume. As in a couple of hundred rounds in a weekend’s practice session. Even just plinking, it is easy to go through that much. If you’re shooting in competition and trying to improve your skill, that every weekend is the minimum norm. 200 rounds a weekend, every weekend, is only 10,000 rounds a year. In a lot of competition circles, that is barely enough to keep your skills level and not slipping back. It is not unusual for those wishing to move up in the world to shoot 20, 30 and even 40 thousand rounds in a year’s practice session, and extra ammo in regular matches. Those striving to reach the pinnacle of practical shooting may consume on the order of 75,000 rounds a year for a couple of years in their quest for Grand Master and National Champion status.

So, you have to balance capital investment against production capacity, keeping in mind just how much time you will have to shoot. Now, volume production does not always mean you are planning to be awash in ammo. You see, with a bit of practice and proper notes, you can produce ammo quickly, even if you do need buckets of it.

brass flying
Tip: Police departments do not reload; if you have an “in,” you can quickly acquire a lifetime supply of brass.

Consider This: How Much Time Can You Spend Reloading?

Not to jump ahead, but let’s take for example a single-stage press and a progressive press. The single stage press will have a final production rate of perhaps 50 rounds per hour. For the rifle loader, that means he’s spending an hour a week in the basement (many reloading locations are in the basement) and have an embarrassment of ammo, ending the year with 250 rounds. (I’ve known successful hunters who have not fired 250 rounds in decades of hunting.) However, a single stage press used to load your 200 rounds of handgun practice ammo means not less than four hours down there during the week. If your wife (or husband) is happy with that, fine. If not, then a progressive press will produce that much ammunition in less than one hour. With the progressive press, you’ll spend the time of one TV show that he/she likes and you don’t, loading ammo. You spend a bit of money and find the time, and thus preserve domestic bliss.

So, when you consider equipment, consider not just what it does but how quickly it does it, and what effect that will have on your total throughput. The minimum equipment you’re going to need falls into the following categories:
Brass prep, to make sure your brass is clean and ready to load.
Loading gear, to mash all the various parts together. This will include the measuring tools you’ll use.
Component storage, because you can’t just let all the ingredients spill across the floor.
Recordkeeping, because if you load more than one load in one caliber, you have to keep track of it all. Failure to do so in an efficient manner can lead to more than embarrassment, it can lead to busted guns and/or shooters.
• And finally, a place to do all this. Ideally, a dedicated space, one that can be secured against prying eyes and busy hands.

You may be tempted to scrimp on gear, to “make do” with a compromise or a something of lesser quality. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m solely advocating the purchase of gold-plated equipment, but keep this in mind: you’ll most likely be the one holding the firearm that will be firing the ammo you loaded.

Reloading for HandgunnersReloading for Handgunners is the indispensable guide to reloading handgun ammunition for recreation, hunting and competition. Inside this comprehensive volume, you get:

  • step-by-step tips and techniques
  • loading data for the most popular calibers
  • specialty loading info for competition (IPSC/IDPA, Bullseye, Steel Challenge, Cowboy) and hunting (heavy magnums and big bores)

Stop by the Gun Digest Store today to order your copy of Reloading for Handgunners. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order. (Promo code fine print: Items which ship directly from the manufacturer do not qualify for free shipping.)

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For DIY tips for learning to reload, check out Good Information is Key to Learning How to Reload Ammo by GD Online Editor Corey Graff.