By Steve Horsman
I have been involved, in some way or another, in the shooting world since the early 1980s. Whoa — that sounds like a lifetime ago!
My favorite thing about the shooting industry has always been the people — the friends I have made at the shooting matches, while attending training classes, and by just going to the range. Many of these shooters have become very close, lifelong friends. And I wouldn’t trade those shooting friendships for anything!
A second favorite thing about my shooting life has been learning about and getting involved in handloading/reloading my own ammunition. Now, I know that there are hundreds of articles written about reloading, but this article is going to be about my experience. I am going to give you a rundown of how reloading changed my shooting life.
I am not here to endorse any brand of reloading machine, but I will state that I have used only RCBS and Dillon. My fist reloading machine was a single-stage RCBS loader, and I loaded A LOT of ammo on that baby! However, living in Arizona for pretty much all of my life, I have been a much better and more frequent customer of Dillon Precision.
I bought that RCBS machine immediately after I graduated Marine Corps boot camp, and I remember looking forward to loading when home on leave. I finally packed it up and took it with me to 29 Palms when I got stationed there. A buddy of mine and I would spend hours loading 9mm and .357 Magnum, only to go out in the nearby desert and immediately shoot it all up. But that only meant that we got to go do it all over again.
During the summer of 1988, I bought my first Dillon reloading press. I knew I wanted a progressive reloading machine from Dillon, because all the “cool guys” in the shooting game were using them. So, of course, I too had to have a Dillon reloader.
I made the drive to Dillon (in Scottsdale, Arizona) one Saturday afternoon. Back then, from my home in the lower east valley of the Phoenix area, it took a good hour to get there in light traffic — but it was totally worth the trip and gas.
I purchased a Dillon 550 progressive reloading machine that day, and my life was forever changed. I used that machine for loading 9mm, .38 Super, and .45 ACP. I literally went from loading 100-200 rounds in an afternoon session to cranking out hundreds of rounds in under an hour!
I would be remiss though if I didn’t mention that I purchased a “Reloading Manual” or two. If you’re a new reloader, you should do the same. The best manuals are from Hornady and Lyman in my opinion. They are equally good and will teach you how to safely load your own ammunition. And safe ammunition is always priority one.
Back to my shooting life changing. Once I was using the 550, reloading was immediately much quicker and easier, and so many things started to improve.
Bank Account: At first, the cost of loading my ammo was MUCH cheaper than buying it at the local gun shop. I had access to once-fired brass, so I was actually only paying for primers, powder and bullets. Loading my own ammo was also a lot cheaper when I used lead bullets. Lead bullets have been around for a long time and shoot well out of a majority of guns. Just make sure you study up on the hazards of lead and follow guidelines for reducing your exposure.
Though the price gap between mass-produced factory ammo and loading your own has decreased over the decades, it’s still cost-effective to load your own (especially with the current ammo shortages, assuming you can get all of the components).
Range Time: The biggest change due to reloading on my 550 occurred at the range. I was suddenly able to shoot/practice a lot more than I had before (pre-progressive machine). And I soon saw the results in my match results! To me, to this day, that has to be the biggest benefit of loading my own ammunition. There is just no substitute for quality range time, and no better feeling than seeing your overall position higher up on the final match results.
Back in the day, before electronic scoring, the results were physically printed out and posted in a common area on a wall. Most shooters know that feeling of having to continue going down, down, down through the pages of match results. It’s always better when you can keep your eyes and head looking up.
Enjoyment: I really enjoy the “making” of my own ammunition. It is a fun, rewarding process, and in the beginning, it was an actual learning experience for me. Knowing how my ammo worked also helped me understand how my gun functioned.
Off-Season Hobby: One of the perks of loading your own ammunition is that you can do it when the weather is not optimal for shooting. I often look forward to reloading on a cold, windy afternoon. I find it relaxing, rewarding, and it warms me up!
Customizing: Loading my own ammo not only allows me to shoot more often, but it allows me to develop loads for specific shooting disciplines that I love participating in! With my own machines, I can make ammunition that shoots perfectly out of my specific gun(s), for the specific events and exact distances/ranges that I need.
Grouping and Sighting: Custom loading ammo allows you to experiment with different bullet types, shapes and weights. I find it challenging and rewarding to develop, chronograph, group and sight in different loads. It’s something I really enjoy.
Quality Control: It goes without saying that when you reload, you have total control over the quality of your ammo, good and bad. If you’re detailed and attentive when you load, your ammo should be safe and function perfectly. If you’re not a detailed, thorough personality type, and/or easily distracted, you may want to stick to purchasing factory ammunition.
As a professional home reloader, I have primarily loaded pistol ammunition, but I have also loaded my fair share of .223 and .308 rifle ammo. Over the last few years, my rifle reloading has evolved and expanded into many different calibers. Living off grid, with a range literally in my backyard, has led me to buying a few more rifles. Multiple rifles in multiple calibers are a necessity for several reasons, right?
Realize up front that rifle ammo is slightly more complicated to reload than pistol ammo, but if you read your manual, it is NOT any more difficult. You just need to follow directions and pay close attention to your process — but you should be doing that with all reloading!
Try It — You’ll Like It
I may not have listed all of the benefits of loading your own ammunition above, but if you have been thinking about taking the dive into reloading, I promise that you will not be disappointed. I love loading my own ammo, and I take pride and have great confidence in knowing that I have the final quality control over the ammo I shoot.
After several decades, loading has almost become as much of a way of life for me as shooting. I said almost because shooting is so fun, exciting and challenging, reloading will never surpass it for me. But who knows, you may be the next famous ballistician?
So, take control of your ammo and start your reloading journey — there is no time like the present. When you get your reloading machine, head over to The Armory Life Forum, and bookmark the section dedicated to “Reloading”.
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