shotgun shells


You can improve accuracy and save money by reloading your own shotgun ammo.

If you’re a shooter and hunter inclined to New Year’s resolutions, I have a good one for you.

Start reloading!

Volumes have been written in debates about whether to reload your own ammunition or not. I fall strongly in the camp that says every shooter should have the equipment and know-how to reload ammunitions.

You might not reload ammunition for everything you shoot, and you can’t reload rimfire ammunition. Sometimes you find factory ammunition for sale as cheaply as you can reload your own.

In rare cases you might even find that a particular factory load is more accurate than you can manage at your reloading bench for a particular gun.

But outside those limited circumstances, the advantages stand heavily in favor of reloading your own ammunition.

If Christmas put a new gun under your tree, or better yet a complete reloading outfit, why not get started right away in reloading?

If you’re an experienced reloader, I bet there are lots of new components and tools on the market you’ve never tried.

Whatever your circumstances, the long, dark days of winter are the perfect time for reloading.

To clear the air, reloading your own ammunition is perfectly safe when you follow the procedures published by the ballisticians and engineers who publish reloading manuals.

The first chapters are devoted to detailed instructions for using the reloading equipment and developing safe loads for your specific gun.

Better yet, the following chapters provide detailed reloading recipes for safe ammunition in a wide array of calibers. If you stick to their instructions and use only the loads they’ve tested for safety, you’re on solid ground.

I have to follow that by pointing out that there’s a lot of rotten reloading information on the internet. There’s no big engineer in the sky who makes sure things posted on the internet are safe and accurate. In fact, anyone can post anything they want, and it’s up to the reader to determine how safe the loads and procedures really are.

A beginning reloader is well advised to steer clear of loading data posted by individuals on the internet. You simply don’t have the background to sort fact from fiction and fantasy.

Certainly go to the websites of major manufacturers of bullets and powders for loading recipes. They publish new data for new products on the internet long before it appears in their reloading manual. After more than 50 years of reloading experience, that’s the only place I’ll go on the web for reloading data.

OK, OK. I’m through preaching.

But in the same breath as telling you that reloading is safe, I needed to tell you when it is not. Consider yourself informed and forewarned.

Now it’s time to move on to the fun and practical side of reloading.

Compare the cost of assembling your own ammunition with that of an equivalent amount of factory ammo. Ignoring your initial investment in equipment, the savings can be startling. 

But here’s the “truth in advertising.” Certainly you’ll save more per round, but since the reloaded ammo is cheaper, you tend to shoot lots more. In the end I bet you don’t save a penny by reloading, and in fact spend more overall on ammo. That’s because you’re shooting more.

Hard as I look at that fact, I fail to see a reason not to reload. If you’re shooting more and having more fun both at the reloading bench and the range, that’s a good thing, right?

But that’s only the start of the fun.

Through careful testing and adjusting, you can fine tune your ammo to match your specific firearm. Guns are as individualistic as people and each will have its own preferences for ammo. Factory ammo is an average load designed to work in all rifles, but a reloading setup lets you go further. Lots further. You’ll have a hard time believing the improvements when your ammo matches your rifle perfectly.

You can also use your reloading outfit to “customize” ammo for different uses. Factory ammo is extremely limited in the selection of bullets. Study the bullets available for reloading in any caliber or diameter, and you’re likely to discover dozens of new possibilities.

Sure, you won’t buy and use all of them. But you can find bullets that are much better suited than factory ammo for specific game.

Beating the performance of bullets in factory ammo is only the tip of the iceberg. You can also explore uses well beyond the realm of hunting or defense. 

That’s where the fun lies for me.

I keep my eyes open for deals, really cheap bullets that I never intend to hunt with. They’re perfect for assembling cheap practice rounds while I save the expensive premium bullets for hunting.

You’ll never see factory rifle ammo loaded and darned few handgun rounds loaded with lead bullets. But using lead bullets for reloading and the savings go through the roof.

No, you can’t push lead bullets as fast as jacketed bullets, but that’s the point. The lower velocity loads use lots less powder and the cast bullets are lots cheaper, so the savings mount even further. You can reload cast bullet ammo to feed rifles and pistols for little more cost than shooting .22 rimfire ammo!

The low velocity of cast bullets opens another important door. It’s absolutely perfect for small game hunting.

I know of no better field practice for big game rifles and handguns than hunting snowshoe hare with low-velocity cast bullet ammo. You’ll get more shots at snowshoe hare in a single winter than you’ll manage in a lifetime on big game. The extra shooting pays off handsomely when you switch over to high-power big game loads.

Of course, you’re not restricted to rifle and pistol ammo at the reloading bench. Different equipment is required, but you can also save money and often improve performance by reloading your own shotgun ammo. The savings aren’t as great as with rifle and handgun ammo, but if you shoot lots, every cent counts.

Another area for “reloading” has nothing to do with cartridges at all. I’m talking about load development for muzzleloaders.

You have to assemble your ammo every time you load a muzzleloader, so what’s the big deal?

Through load testing and adjustment you can also make your muzzleloader cheaper to shoot and much more versatile. You can make it lots more accurate, too. If you’re using a modern inline rifle with pellets, sabots and jacketed bullets, hang onto your hat. 

Try switching to loose powder rather than pellets for more flexibility in the amount of powder you use. Loose powder can result in a huge improvement in accuracy as it also cuts costs. Along with the change to loose powder, you can drop the expensive jacketed bullets and switch to lead for your practice rounds.

You can go one step further and do away with the sabots and bullets altogether, moving on to the round balls with patches of traditional muzzleloaders for off-season use. Reduce powder charges to the realm of 25 or 30 grains with the round balls, and you have perfect snowshoe hare rounds.  

You can shoot well over 100 round ball loads for the cost of 10 or 20 loads with pellets, sabots and jacketed bullets. Best of all, they are perfect fodder for head shots on snowshoe hare.

So what’s stopping you? Isn’t it high time you got busy with winter reloading?

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