I’m not an expert but I have learned a couple of useful things.
In no particular order, here they are.
- Leftover dust from walnut shell cleaner does not seem to be a problem (other than in the primer tube). After tumbling to separate brass from walnut shell cleaner, I do nothing else to the brass. It does not get wiped, rinsed, blown off or lubed before reloading.
- I have two large 5 gal. buckets of “to be reloaded” brass. One is marked, “Put cleaned brass here but do not use. Dump into other bucket when other bucket is empty.” And the other bucket is marked, “Reload with this brass. Freshly cleaned brass does NOT go in this bucket. See other bucket.” That sequencing ensures that all my brass, starting with 100% virgins, have all been fired approximately the same number of times.
- I have three “batches” of brass at the moment: Winchester, Starline and mixed. (The Winchester and Starline go through similar but separate buckets and use smaller lidded containers from Walmart.) The Winchester and Starline brass are used for “it counts” competition whereas the mixed brass is for practice and “just between us guys” shooting.
- One quart yogurt containers from the grocery store hold about 250 empty 45 ACP shells — just the right amount to dump into the case feeder bin, or 200 loaded rounds — two “dumps” of finished cartridges, one after each primer tube reload. I have about a dozen of these empty yogurt containers near the bench and, if I load 500-600 rounds, several will be “in use” in various places on the reloading bench.
- At the beginning of a reloading run even if it’s with the same components and measurements as yesterday, I still drop and discard three shells of propellant before dropping ten (10) more and weighing their total (all ten at once) weight of propellant. If I’m looking for 4.2 grains for each shell, the ten should weigh 42.0 grains. If the total is within half a grain (41.5-42.5 grains), I deem that acceptable. [Temperature and/or humidity changes from one day to the next seem to be what trigger my needing to adjust the drop.] I also verify OAL and crimp but, barring something coming loose and going out of adjustment, those measurements usually not out of range from one day to the next.
- I have 1″ and a 7/8″ open end Sears wrenches for adjusting the dies. (I can’t tell you how many nuts I chewed up with that crappy wrench from Dillon.) And you need two wrenches so you can tighten the locking nut while holding the die in exact position. One wrench won’t cut it.
- For a desired OAL of 1.240″, I will accept anything from 1.235-1.245″. That’s a 1% tolerance.
- For the crimp, getting the calipers right at the end of the brass can be frustrating. I’ve tried a couple of mechanical aids to make the positioning of the calipers more reliable but have not, as yet, found any good solution.
- When I measure crimp, if I’m looking for 0.469″, I will accept 0.466-0.472″. That’s a 1.5% tolerance. But, if I measure something very different, I will put the round down, pick it up and measure it again. If I see the same “bad” reading a couple more times, then something is wrong with the round and the crimp setting on the reloading die. If I get the correct reading, then I assume (!) I had the calipers in the wrong place.
- The one single biggest contributor to accuracy, IMHO, is consistency of bullet weight. Good bullets, again IMHO, should be within a single grain of weight (that’s ±0.5 grains of the average). After one bad experience, I now sample all new batches of bullets to that tolerance. (For a 200 grain bullet, that translates to a 0.5% tolerance.) [Note: If you are stuck with a batch of crappy bullets, you can do what I did. Weigh and sort the bullets into single-grain piles — yeah, this is boring work. Then, load all the bullets weighing the same, for example 197 grains, and shoot them as a unit. Once your sights are zeroed for those bullets, they will probably fly reasonably well to the same area of the target. But when the 197s are gone and you start shooting the 198s, expect to adjust your sights.]
- Develop a rhythm when reloading and don’t try to go fast. When reloading, “same, same, same” is good (and boring).
- Don’t have anything else going on while reloading. No TV, no radio, no conversation with the wife, no buddy drinking a beer on a stool nearby talking to you. Instead, the reloading machine will often “speak” when something isn’t right, and sometimes it is the absence of a sound that is significant. You need to be able to hear the machine, and you need to be paying attention to all that’s going on, especially with a progressive.
- When something doesn’t feel right, I FREEZE! I hold the handle in its current position while looking to see what might be happening. I may or may not be able to complete the current cycle — but if I can finish the cycle, and before I move the handle, I try to remove any previously completed rounds (the ones in the finished bin) so that, when the next one comes out when I finish the cycle, it won’t get mixed in with the good ones. (That last round as well as everything in the ring is now suspect.) I then take every partial shell out, inspect it and decide how far back in the cycle it needs to go. (I never trust a powder throw when this happens so if the bullet isn’t seated, the shell gets emptied.) Basically, if I’m not 100% sure of a cartridge, it gets taken apart and redone.
- I’ve seen double-charges and squibs on the line and what they have done to the shooter’s guns and body. Repeating: If I’m not 100% sure of a cartridge, it gets taken apart and redone.
- My son and my daughter and my grandkids and my friends shoot my ammo. Repeating: If I’m not 100% sure of a cartridge, it gets taken apart and redone.
- If the reloading process is interrupted by anything unusual, I clear that problem, sort out the partials and get the machine ready to continue before doing anything else. (No bathroom break or other interruption!)
- After a jam, I’ll have shells with brass but nothing else, cartridges that need to have their bullet seating checked (and redone), and those needing final crimp. Each of these goes in a separate (yogurt) tub along with a piece of paper stating what needs to be done to finish it. I often have a tub marked for “take apart and start over” shells where I’m not sure what to do — so they go back to the beginning (but retain their new primers).
- Bathroom breaks happen when everything is going right so that, when I come back, there’s nothing else to do except give everything a quick visual double check before I resume cranking.
- Bathroom breaks do not happen when it’s time to reload primers. I reload them first then take a break, or finish loading what’s left, unload everything and then take the break.
- Crushed shells and sideways primers go into a screw top plastic jar filled with water. They stay there until I remember to dump the wet primers into the trash on garbage day — sometimes they’re in the water for months before I remember. I adopted this process after talking with the City of Phoenix Police Department, bomb disposal squad (after talking with the State of Arizona Hazardous Waste folks who would not take them) and being told to do it this way. Read the whole report (click here) if you’re interested.
- After reloading, I put the new cartridges in the usual 50 round plastic boxes and add a label — see the graphic at the top of this post. I do not wipe or do anything else to the new cartridges.
- Before a big match, I will pull out the ammo I expect to use and chamber check every round. I do this by removing the barrel I expect to shoot and checking them in that exact same barrel. The end of the brass should be flush with the tang at the rear of the barrel. If it is too long or too short, I set that cartridge aside for practice use.
- Big matches will be fired with the Winchester and/or the Starline head stamps only. The mixed brass reloads are for practice.
- I haven’t determined when a whole batch of brass should be discarded but any split or otherwise defective shells are discarded as they are found, often by ear.
No doubt there are a bazillion other tips but, for me anyway, that’s all for now.
See you on the line (with your reloads)!