May 13, 2013
By Lane Pearce
Reloading is not just for rocket scientists. And there's nothing magical involved, either. If you have a modest measure of mechanical ability and a healthy dose of common sense, you're an excellent candidate. However, the process details you need to know and follow to assure your continued good health and to make safe and reliable ammo are not inherently obvious. Thoroughly reviewing as many load manuals as you can before you try your hand at reloading is recommended.
There are several excellent ones to choose from, including the latest editions published by Barnes, Hornady, Lee, Lyman, Nosler, Speer, Sierra and Swift. (There are four new-for-2013 manuals that I'll get to in a moment.) These are what I refer to as "full-service" reloading manuals because they include detailed narrative (often with illustrations) describing each step in the process from A to Z. They also provide cartridge descriptions, dozens of tested recipes for each bullet or propellant product, and often bullet ballistic data.
You might think, "These manuals cost money, right? Why can't I just get on the Internet and read about it?"
You're correct. A manual may cost you $25, but it's well worth it! Everything you need is in one place, and after perusing several chapters, the whole handloading mystery is revealed. In addition, you'd be ahead of the game if you ask around and find someone who reloads to give a simple tutorial and demonstration. They should have one or more of these manuals on hand that you might borrow. If they don't have at least three of the latest editions, seriously reconsider their handloading acumen and, preferably, find another mentor.
You have to be wary of load data shared on the Web, especially from individuals. I'm an engineer; have reloaded for 40+ years; and have all my fingers, both eyes, and can still hear pretty well. I load for 85 cartridges, including several wildcat rounds. I have the latest editions plus dozens of old loading manuals that I refer to constantly.
I've either read about or experienced most of the pitfalls handloaders are likely to encounter, but I've also learned that it's prudent to verify every load recipe by researching and comparing data from several reliable sources. The emphasis is on the word "reliable." These include the companies mentioned above and the Accurate, Alliant, Ramshot and Vihtavuori reloading data booklets. They're all fully engaged in 21st-century media technology, including comprehensive websites.
Unlike the way it was when I started reloading, almost all of these companies have fully equipped and staffed ballistic labs. They test-fire tens of thousands of rounds each year to develop new load data and also to revalidate previously published data.
That's not necessarily so on Web threads. I look at a few sites occasionally just to see what topics seem to be of interest. When I see someone asking for load data for a common, everyday cartridge, I cringe. Often there are several responses that usually include why this or that "favorite" load is the best. Remember, these data are coming from complete strangers. So why would any sane person assemble ammo using an unsubstantiated recommendation, chamber a highly energetic .44 Magnum or .30-06 cartridge in their favorite revolver or rifle, grasp the grip or press their face against the stock firmly, and then squeeze the trigger?
Just remember, the latest edition reloading manuals are the most reliable sources for safe load data.