A Beginner’s Guide to Reloading Ammo

Reloading ammo is something most gun enthusiasts consider learning how to do, but few learn the fine art of sizing, priming, and setting their own bullet cartridge. Although a technique that must be done in a specific manner, it is not a difficult task, and with the proper instructions and practice, you won’t ever have to worry about an ammunition shortage again. 

If you have ever wondered how to reload ammo, and what information you needed to get started, this reloading for beginners guide is the perfect place to start to decide if this is a hobby you’d like to take on. Everything from how your bullet cartridge actually works, to what tools you need to get started are explained. 

What Is Reloading and How Does it Work?

Production of cartridges for a rifle, reload. Many empty shells in the stand, close up.

Curious about making your own ammunition, but not sure how to get started? Reloading your bullet cartridges is exactly what it sounds like, you can literally collect, resize, prime, and reset a bullet in your spent cartridge shells to save on cost, customize your shooting experience, and never run out of ammo again. 

This isn’t a difficult process, but it is an exact one and you aren’t going to be an expert at it just because you decided to take on the task. It will take the proper tools, a bit of education, and an experienced eye or two until you get the hang of it. But once you do, you’ll quickly gain a skill that will allow you to truly understand the relationship between your firearm and what you load it with. 

The first step in learning to reload is looking over an article just like this. Knowing the ins and outs of your bullet cartridges, what tools you’ll need to invest in, and what steps to expect in this journey provides you the information you need to get started. 

Reasons to Reload Your Own Ammo

Close up of man's hand reloading handgun at training

Reloading ammunition is truly an art, and one that is well worth pursuing if you have the patience. It also is fairly easy once you get the hang of it. Most people who regularly reload their own find it to be a soothing process that is not only enjoyable but results in some pretty badass results on the range. 

Maximizing Accuracy and Customizing Loads

Many match and competition shooters like to load their own to ensure they have a customized shot, that is dependable and more accurate than what you can buy in a store. But you don’t have to be in an organized event to take advantage of this. A fun day on the range plinking, a few rounds between friends, or simply practicing target shooting for accuracy and muscle memory are all good reasons to have a dependable round. 

Hand loaded rounds are also popular for use with a suppressor. First off, suppressors tighten clusters and improve accuracy, and when combined with a customized load, you may never shoot another cartridge off a shelf again. 

Saves Money

Cartridges of .45 ACP pistols ammo.

There is no denying that recycling spent cartridges or even loading new ones will save you quite a bit of money in the long run. Ammunition can get quite pricey, and rather than spend a bundle on your choice of round, you can save up to two-thirds of the overall cost when you master reloading your own. 

Ammunition Shortage Solutions

You shouldn’t even have to be at the mercy of what’s on the shelf when buying ammo, but unfortunately, ammo production can barely keep up with the demand, leaving you with few choices- or none at all. Shortages also drive up the price, making popular calibers expensive to stock up on. But if you reload your own, this isn’t even going to be a problem again. 

Restrictive Gun Laws

Every now and then we get wind of new, restrictive gun laws that are in the making, or introduced into legislation. Although few pass, some are quite worrisome overall and bear watching: such as limits on how many rounds you can purchase at a time. This creates shortages and drives up prices as people stockpile. 

It’s FUN!

Production of cartridges for a rifle, reload. Empty shells and gunpowder scales.

Let’s face it, if you are this far into the article, you are definitely interested in reloading basics and getting started. Why? Because of all the above, and it’s fun to learn new skills that have to do with guns and shooting! Plus it is a very cool skill to learn and teach others to master. 

What You Might Need

If you are wondering what you need to reload ammo, we’ve outlined the main basics below and what they are used for. Of course they represent an investment, but one that will quickly pay for itself the more ammo you load on your own. You can gather and reuse spent casing or buy your own new ones to get started with this process. You’ll also need to research the best powder for the job, as well as your choice of caliber bullets. 

Brass Tumbler

Brass tumblers are a must if you plan on reusing spent casings. They will clean and polish them up so they are safe to use. 

Reloading Press

There are 3 types of presses you can use. These are defined in more detail below. Be sure to look them over carefully to decide which is best for you. 

Resizing Die

Cases that are being reused need to also be resized since they will have expanded upon firing. 

Deburring and Chamfering Tool

You may have to cut your cases to the correct size. This tool helps to deburr and smooth out your cut for an accurate fit. 

Hand Primer

Add a new primer easily with a hand primer. All cases being reused require a reprime. 

Powder Drop

It is important you add the correct amount of powder to your case, and you can avoid spillage and mismanaged weights with the correct tools. This generally consists of a scale for weighing and a funnel. 

Types of Reloading Presses

As mentioned, there are 3 types of reloading presses. Before making a commitment to one, it is best to talk to somebody familiar with the process to help get insight to their use. Inform yourself about which you feel is best since it is such an important product. 

Single Stage Press

reloading cartridge by shotgun shell reloader, closeup

This is the simplest type of press and can only hold one die at a time. It has a rigid frame and is popular for reloading rifle cartridges. These are the slowest options overall, but are a great choice for highly customized rounds.

To use it, the die is screwed into an opening located at the top, and a shell holder is attached to the ram that holds the cartridge case rim. When you push the level down, the ram rises and the die works on the case. 

Some single stage presses have a priming attachment so you don’t have to purchase a separate hand priming setup. 

Turret Press

The turret press is similar to a single-stage in that only one die acts on a cartridge at a time, but it can hold multiple dies so you can move from one to another quickly. These can be manual, or may auto-index depending on the model you purchase. 

Although it still requires quite a bit of lever movement but, being able to index from one die to the next fairly quickly helps speed up the process. Because of this, they may have more flex, and not as much precision as a single stage press, but for reloading for plinking and day to day shooting or self-defense purposes- this is not much of an issue. 

It is popular for both pistol and rifle loads, and is a popular choice for experienced reloaders as well. 

Progressive Press

Progressive presses are your most efficient press and use a shellplate to hold multiple cases at the same time. It is able to complete a full round for every cycle of the lever, and once the ram has cycled, the shellplate indexes while kicking the completed round into a chute or bin. They come in both manual and auto-indexing progressive models for you to choose from.

How to Reload Ammo

Another major buy you need to consider before getting started with handloading your own ammo is a quality reloading manual that includes the specific caliber round you are reloading. Manuals regularly update to include advanced technologies so be sure to always check your publishing date and manual edition. 

You also may want to seriously consider having somebody on hand who is experienced and comfortable with reloading to help guide you through the steps the first few times you learn to reload. A simple task altogether, it can be a dangerous one when you have no idea what you are doing.  

Parts of a Bullet Cartridge

Before getting started, it is important you understand the breakdown of what we call a ‘bullet’ actually is. The bullet that is projected down the barrel of your firearm is seated in a case that holds all you need to fire accurately. The bullet itself is only one part of the whole, and what you are actually purchasing when you ‘buy bullets’ is the whole cartridge. 

Case

Smoking 9mm bullet casing over black background

This holds the cartridge altogether and is what you load when you load a firearm. 

Primer

This is what ignites the smokeless powder in the cartridge to fire your projectile. These may be located in different places depending on the type of cartridge you choose. 

Powder/Propellant

Black gun powder isolated in white background.

Smokeless powder is what is used as the propellant. This is ignited by the primer spark to eject the projectile. 

Projectile

The projectile is the bullet and is fired down the barrel of your firearm. 

Types of Cartridges

You also need to understand that there are two different types of cartridges you can choose from. These are simple to understand, and both can be reloaded. 

Centerfire Cartridge

.44 magnum bullets *** Local Caption *** .44 magnum revolver bullets on reflective black surface

A centerfire cartridge is aptly named, and holds the powder and primer ignition system in the center of the base of the cartridge. These are popular high-pressure loads popular with hunting and self-defense. These are more costly than rimfire, but generally more available and accurate for target shooting.

Rimfire Cartridge

Not as popular as they once were, rimfire cartridges have been slowly been replaced by centerifre options due to the enhanced accuracy. However, they are still a favorite for many and are widely used. 

Scattering of small caliber cartridges on a wooden background. Other cartridges cartridges lies in capsules up. The picture from the top point.

In a rimfire, the priming compound is sealed around the edges of the rim and the base is round and smooth. They are great for low-pressure loads, small game hunting and long days of plinking. 

Case Prepping and Resizing

The first thing you need to do is case prep. This means you need to clean and check spent casings for cracks, bulges, and other defects that could create a dangerous shooting scenario. Once you have them picked out, you can use them into brass tumblers. 

After you have your cases clean, you need to lubricate the body. You can do this by simply putting lube on a soft cloth and rolling the case over the cloth. Also run a case neck brush with lube into the casing to help clean out anything you may have missed.

Once clean, you can install the case into the press ram and adjust the sizing die on the press to fit your case. Once fit in, resize, decap, and expand the mouth using the correct die to each step if needed. 

Production of cartridges for a rifle, reload. Measurement of the empty cartridges with a caliper. Top view.

If you trimmed, you’ll need to debur. Always use calipers or a case gauge to ensure the length is correct to be within safe limits. 

Priming

Put your primers on the primer tray and get them set anvil side up by giving it a little wiggle. Then get your hand primer set to help seat the primers quickly in the case. Hand primers are a popular way to do this, but some people prefer to do it with the press. This is also where your reloading manual should come in handy. This helps explain exactly how to complete this step for your choice of caliber. It also is what you will want to refer to in measuring your powder.

Adding Powder

reloading process shotgun shells with special reload equipment. Powder, bullets, fraction, shells, buckshot on the wooden background

Once your case has been primed, you can measure the proper load for your bullet weight and cartridge. Your reloading manual is invaluable at this point as it will help you get the precise measurement. Be sure to weigh each load when you get started, and then about every 10 loads thereafter to be concise in your measurements without having to weigh each and every one. 

Bullet Seating

When seating your bullet you’ll want to ensure the seater die is threaded to the proper depth; your manual can help with this as well. Put a case in the shell holder and insert the bullet into the mouth of the case. If the bullet is upright and concentric you are good to go and crank the lever to seat the bullet. 

Production of cartridges for a rifle, reload. Empty shells and tools for trimming and processing.

Always check the depth of the bullet to ensure it is where it belongs. If too shallow, you can adjust. Once done, you can tighten the locknut to crimp and secure. 

Conclusion

Obviously, if you are just starting to learn about reloading, a lot of this may be a little confusing without having seen it at work. Do yourself a favor and look up videos of the process, as well as check with people who reload their own ammo to watch it in action and get tips and pointers from those comfortable with it. 

No matter whether you shoot a handgun, rifle, or shotgun, you can customize your load and take advantage of the savings the process offers. It also doesn’t matter what make and model gun you have: luger, remington, mossberg, smith and wesson (amongst a very few)- it’s the caliber you are reloading, not the gun itself and as long as the caliber matches the firearm, you can shoot it. 

Let us know what questions you may have below, and, as always, please share!

Learn How to Reload Ammunition - Infographic

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