Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guns: The Minimalist Handloader, Part 3

This week, I'll be taking a look at the raw materials needed for reloading, and how best to track them down.

The great thing about reloading is that the necessary equipment is quite durable. A good press and die set, when properly maintained, will persist for a long, long time. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the components that go into a cartridge, three out of four of which are expended with every shot. Thankfully, you can acquire most without much trouble...


Fired cartridge cases (colloquially known as "brass") litter the floor of most of the shooting ranges in the country. While most public ranges are okay with reloaders scooping up brass, be sure to check with the shooters on the line and with the owners of any private range. After all, others may be reloading or selling those cases, too.

You can buy brand new cases online, but that's expensive. I've found that "gun show special" bags of fired brass are often iffy, as well. So your best bet is still to collect 'em at the range.


I like to purchase primers in person, to avoid the hazardous materials fees incurred when shipping from an online vendor (I think they're $20 or so). If you're buying more than a few thousand primers at a time, though, it might be worth it to buy them online if you find a good deal.

If you don't have a place that sells reloading supplies near you, though, finding primers could be a problem. When you do get a chance to buy some, go ahead and splurge - you can buy about 3000 of them for $100, and they keep for a long time when stored properly.


One of the coolest parts of reloading is that one bottle of smokeless powder can supply a lot of loads, especially when you're talking about pistol rounds. As with primers, powder may be hard to come by in an area with few reloaders, and even decently-stocked stores can lack some common powders (my nearby Gander Mountain didn't have Varget, for instance). Before buying a powder, it's important that you have a load you can use for it from some reputable source.


Once you get everything else squared away, the bullet is far and away the most expensive component in the reloading process. Avoid brick-and-mortar stores and buy bullets in bulk online. If you're loading rounds that contain fancy bullets (say, a nice electroplated hollowpoint like the Gold Dot), you can really save a ton over loaded factory ammunition. Thankfully, there's no hazmat fee or anything to worry about, though shipping will be high (you're essentially ordering a bunch of lead).

Storage and Longevity

Bullets and cases are pretty tolerant of heat and cold - I guess you could leave them out in the garage, if need be. The conventional wisdom regarding powders and primers is to store them in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. It's best not to remove powders or primer from their original packaging. If you follow these guidelines, powders and primer should last for years or even decades without any noticeable degradation in performance.

Next week: Reloading .38 Special, start to finish


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