Dan has been reloading his own ammunition!

(Updated (just a little bit) Winter 2018)

(Remember to scroll down!)

Dan's reloading the center is my turret press, and on the right, my older (but still useful) single stage press. Also shown are an extra turret, bullets, and some other tools.

Dan has been enjoying a hobby related to his shooting -- reloading (or, as it is sometimes called, hand loading) his own ammunition. He has been making his own custom ammo, since the beginning of 2013, in .45 ACP, .38 Special, and 9mm Parabellum calibers.

(Over a period of nearly 5 years now, he's reloaded almost 2,600 rounds, and safely, accurately, and effectively shot over 2,400 of them (as of Winter 2018).)

After thinking about it for a long time, in early 2015, Dan decided to upgrade his reloading operation with the addition of a new press! It's a turret press, which means the dies (up to four at a time) ride in a rotating turret at the top. The turrets are actually interchangeable, too, so Dan can keep his dies for each caliber pre-calibrated, and quickly swap them out as desired.

As shown in picture above, the turret press also has an powder measure and a primer feed system installed.

Why reload? Well, for four major reasons:

  • Recoil: Factory .45 ACP ammo, bought commercially, has a pretty stiff recoil. In the fall of 2012, Dan and Gaye took our .45 pistol to a Speed Steel competition, which requires shooting 5 turns of 5 shots each at 4 separate stages, for a total of 100 rounds fired (plus extras when you miss targets). Dan fired the entire course, but had a sore wrist and elbow for a couple of days...Gaye was a good sport, and really wanted to do the full course with Dan, but could only make it through one stage (25 shots) before giving up.

    So, when Dan reloads, he uses a smaller amount of gunpowder (based on published data and his own testing) that still operates the gun correctly, and produces MUCH less recoil! Even Gaye likes shooting our .45 pistol now! It actually produces LESS recoil than our 9mm pistol with factory ammunition!

  • Cost: It turns out that commercial .45 ACP ammo can cost as much a $0.50 a round! Dan had been buying on line for about $0.35 a round (including shipping)...BUT he can reload (using his already-fired cases) for about $0.17 a round! Savings are similar for the other calibers. In fact, in just five years of our normal target shooting, we figure that we've saved approximately $500 in ammo costs. That's enough that we've now paid for the up-front investment in equipment (both presses, dies, scale, accessories, etc.)!

  • Availability: If you've been shopping for ammo in the last couple of years, you know it can be hard to find certain calibers. Dan is happy to now be somewhat insulated from the shortages (though even some reloading supplies are hard to find sometimes...)

  • Customizability: Dan can tailor the best loads for his purposes for each gun, in ways that factory ammo just can't match. For example, Dan uses a slightly slower-burning powder than usual for his 9mm ammo for shooting in his carbine, that has a much longer barrel than a pistol, and can take full advantage of the burn time. And, he loads a .38 caliber bullet in the same ammo (which is wider than the usual 9mm bullet), because it actually fits the bore of his 9mm carbine better.

  • It's fun! (Yeah, I know, I said four reasons, didn't I...) So maybe Dan's just weird, but he has found that he really enjoys the discipline of having to be careful and precise, and of calculating the exact loading of powder for each cartridge. It gives him more control over the final product, and lets him experiment!

O.K., so now I'm going to share how all this reloading thing is actually done! (in case anyone is interested...normal people can go back and peruse other parts of the website now...)

For this, I'll be going through the loading of a .38 Special cartridge...

The red thing is my first press – the heart of the reloading operation. This one is a Lee brand, single stage press, which means it can only do one operation at a time. (There are some that can do multiple things at a time...but they cost more.) Typically, with this press, I'll do one of the following operations on about 50 cases at a time, and only then reconfigure the press.

In this photo I'm installing the first of four dies, which are the components that actually do the work of reloading. This one is the resizing and depriming die. It screws in to the top of the press. Below it, on the top of the ram, is the .38 caliber shell holder.

O.K., next we'll take a look at the dies themselves...

Here are three of the dies I use - these three were sold as a set, and are the same brand as my press (Lee). They were a gift from my parents. (Thanks again, Mom & Dad!) Left to right, you see the

  • Resizing and depriming die
  • Expander die
  • Bullet seating die
And now we'll see how they get used!

With the resizing and depriming die fully installed, I put a used, empty .38 Special case in the shell holder...

...then, as I pull down on the handle, the case is pushed up into the die. This die resizes the brass, meaning it squeezes it back down to it's normal dimensions (because when a cartridge is fired, the case bulges out within the gun)...and it deprimes, meaning it pushes out the old, expended primer. (The primer is the part that gets hit by the firing pin, and in turn ignites the gunpowder.)

This is what a case looks like after the old primer is removed.

Then I put in the expander die, which flares the mouth of the case a little bit, so that it's easier to seat the bullet.

Then I set up a different die called a Ram Prime die. It's used for seating a new primer in the case. For this operation, the shell holder is moved to the top of the die, which allows the case to be mounted on the top of the press. Here you can see the little brass primer at the top of the plunger...

...and then the primer is pressed into the bottom of the case, You can see several primers on the bench on the left.

The next step is to add the gunpowder. I measured out a precise amount (3.6 grains of Bullseye powder) into each of ten cases...because even when demonstrating my process for photos, I couldn't bring myself to NOT batch process at least a FEW cartridges!


Now we get to seat the bullet. I install the bullet seating die, put a case (with gunpowder) in the press, set a bullet into the flared mouth of the case, and adjust the die to push it in the proper amount. I also make different adjustment to the same die to simultaneously crimp the end of the brass, to get rid of the flare and help hold the bullet in place.

And then we're done! As I said, I'll typically do each step on 50 or more cases at a time, just to be more efficient about how often I'm changing dies.

And, voila! From an empty case to a new, ready-to-shoot .38 Special cartridge! (I use plain lead bullets, because they're cheaper than other kinds.) In April, I shot my revolver at a Speed Steel competition, and used about 65 of my own .38 caliber reloads – and they all worked perfectly, and hit the targets accurately!

Hey – if you want to learn how to reload, just give Dan a call sometime...just like with his photography and his shooting, he loves sharing what he's learned with anyone who's interested!


Please understand that any specific reloading information mentioned on this site is based ONLY on Dan's own experience, derived from his own sources, using his own processes, and tested for reliability and safety in his own firearms.
We can't take any responsibility for results others may get with this information.
Consult published information in reputable reloading manuals (Dan uses Lee, Hodgdon, Alliant, IMR, Ramshot, and Lyman data when working up his loads.)

That said, here are a few of my favorite recipes:

.45 ACP:
- 3.6 grains Alliant Bullseye powder with a 200 grain cast lead bullet
- 3.5 grains IMR Trail Boss powder with a 200 grain cast lead bullet

.38 Special:
- 2.8 grains Alliant Bullseye powder with a 125 grain cast lead bullet
- 2.8 grains IMR Trail Boss powder with a 125 grain cast lead bullet

9mm Parabellum:
- 3.3 grains Alliant Bullseye powder with a 125 grain cast lead bullet
- 3.2 grains Ramshot Zip powder with a 125 grain cast lead bullet

All of these are low recoil, accurate, function fine in my guns, and are fun to shoot!

THANKS FOR READING! (Special kudos for actually reading this far!)

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