Reloading Safety Basics

Personal Protective EquipmentPresumably, if you’re reading this column, you have at least a passing interest in handloading your own ammunition. This is, of course, a great thing and I would encourage all hunters and shooters to at the very least become knowledgeable about the practice. Like nearly all things involving firearms safety needs to be paramount, and that’s what I’d like to talk with you about today.

First, let’s talk safety equipment. When reloading ammunition we work with components that are flammable and explosive. Loose powders can catch fire quite easily and primers can occasionally detonate inadvertently. Accidents happen despite all the precautions we take. Presses and dies place brass under immense pressure. Power trimmers especially can launch shards of brass at high-speed right at your face. It is exceedingly difficult to be an accomplished shooter without your eyeballs. Take care of them. Eye protection in the form of safety goggles or glasses is absolutely necessary.

Nitrile gloves are also essential in helping to prevent the spread of lead residue. Traces of lead contaminate not the bullets, but the brass. Residue from the primer, along with a tiny amount that is occasionally vaporized from the bullet itself, is left covering the brass when a round is fired. For this reason, even if you are wearing gloves, you should always wash your hands after handling firearms, brass, and other components that may be exposed.

Along those same lines, don’t eat while reloading. Regardless of your dietary needs, a peanut butter and lead sandwich probably isn’t something your doctor would recommend. Again, don’t forget to wash your hands before eating if you’ve recently spent time at the range or been handling any reloading components.

Do I really need to mention that smoking while reloading is a bad idea? Don’t do it. Better yet, quit the habit completely if you’re able.

Your work area should be neat and organized. This not only helps you keep track of what you are doing, it also helps to eliminate potentially dangerous accidents and errors. Additionally, your work area should be distraction-free. This may mean that it’s set up in a designated work area, such as a garage or basement. It may also mean that you only set up your press after the kids are in bed. If you have a television or other media distraction in your work area, turn it off. Your focus should be 100% on the task at hand.

When loading ammunition you should only have the components necessary for that one load out and on your workbench.This helps to avoid inadvertently using the wrong powder or primers. All components should be stored only in the original factory packaging, and care should be taken to verify the label before use. When not in use, powders and primers should be stored separately in a cool dry place. The use of a fire-resistant metal cabinet is highly encouraged.

Never mix components. Every part of a cartridge interacts with the others. If you’re switching out one component for another you need to work the load up again. Changing something as simple as the bullet manufacturer, even if the bullet weight and construction are the same, can have great effect on your load. The same applies to brass. Case volume can vary from headstamp to headstamp, and the result very well could be a boom instead of a bang when you pull the trigger. Any time that any component of your cartridge is changed back off the load by 10% and work it up again.

Keep up to date on your loading manuals. Don’t simply rely on that one reloading manual you bought 20-years ago with your first press. Powder formulas change over time, and loads are constantly tested and refined by manufacturers. Furthermore, use extreme caution when following recipes found on the internet or relayed by someone at the range. What works for their firearms may not necessarily work in yours. Do your research and always start at 90% of the recommended load.

Along those same lines, make sure your reloading log is up to date. You do keep a handload journal, don’t you? Such a resource is invaluable when tracking and evaluating round performance as well as spotting possible component degredation in older rounds. Log details of not only components and weights, but also lot and batch numbers along with date of manufacture, if known, and date loaded.

At the end of the day, reloading is about all the little details. Develop a ritual, a series of steps that you follow and don’t deviate from. Get in the habit of working safely. Creating effective loads requires not just careful logging of load performance, attention to weights and measurements to create accurate and safe cartridges, but also attention to various safety protocols.

Office Furniture Part Deux: Electric Boogaloo

You may recall that around a month ago I bought a very nice hand-crafted table from Phil of Random Nuclear Strikes.

This is how the table arrived.

This is how the table arrived.

I haven’t posted more on it because, well… the table didn’t survive the journey in one piece.

But Phil’s a stand-up guy, who also had the foresight to take out insurance on the package. It was shipped back and will be rebuilt (Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability…) after which it will be repackaged and shipped back – this time with strict oversight of the packing process.

I’m pretty excited to get the finished product back, this time in one piece hopefully. The office remodel has been completed and most of the other new furniture pieces moved into place. The glass top for the table was ordered last month and has already arrived as well. Once everything is put together I’ll post some additional photos in another update.

Reloading Shotgun Shells

IMG_0120When it comes to reloading ammunition, most people immediately think of handgun and rifle cartridges. What many don’t realize, including a avid shooters and firearm enthusiasts, is that shotgun shells can also be reloaded. Whether you’re looking to save a few cents per round loading your own shells for sporting clays, or you’re seeking to develop a specialty load, shotgun shell reloading could be the answer you’re looking for.

Reloading once-fired shotgun shells isn’t necessarily more difficult than reloading pistol or rifle cartridges, but it is different. To start with, there are three main types of shotgun cartridges: brass, paper, and plastic hulled. Plastic and paper cartridges may have “high brass” or “low brass” or the brass may be replaced with zinc coated steel. Additionally, plastic hulls can be a one-piece or multi-piece construction and have a six or eight point crimp. All of this is in addition to the obvious variations of the length and gauge of the hull.

The process for reloading the shotshell itself is actually not that complex. Just as you would with a rifle or handgun round you start by cleaning and inspecting your hulls. If you find any splits or cracks in the plastic, or if the brass has been deformed or caked with dirt, the hull should be discarded. You can clean the hull and the brass using a tumbler and soft media such as corn cob, but this isn’t strictly required.

The process of depriming spent shells is virtually identical to that of a metallic cartridge, and in most cases you will resize the hull and brass base at the same time. Resizing here isn’t a huge deal the way it is with metallic cartridges however. The brass base on a shotshell doesn’t expand much at all, zinc coated steel bases have virtually no expansion, and the plastic hull is flexible enough that crimping will generally force it to the correct shape and size. At this stage in the process resizing basically opens up the mouth of the hull where it was previously crimped shut.

Most presses have a combination priming and charging station where a new primer is pressed into place and the powder charge is dropped. At this point, things get a bit different than what a traditional rifle or pistol handloader might be used to. Shotshells require a wad to separate the shot and powder. The wad also serves to take up any extra room in the shotshell, and to protect the barrel from steel shot.

There are a few different ways of seating the wad. Most presses use a sleeve that slips over the shell, or some other device that will hold the shell open while guiding the wad into place.

With the wad properly seated, the shot charge is dropped and then the shell is crimped shut. The art of the crimp is something that is easy to learn, but takes a bit of practice to get just right. A good press will have 3 separate stations for the crimp: one station to start the crimp, a second one to close it, and a third one to finish it and make a nice rounded lip.

Shotshell powders are fast burning powders and are usually compatible with pistol loads as well. I use Alliant Red Dot and Blue Dot in most of my handgun caliber recipes and try to use the same powders on my shotgun loads just to make the number of different components I have to keep in stock down to a bare minimum.

Hornady, Lee, and MEC pretty much make up the “big three” when it comes to shotshell presses. My first shotshell press was an old Lyman Easy Loader. Lyman no longer manufactures shotshell presses, and I’m pretty sure this one was older than me when I picked it up. Lee Precision’s Load-All II is probably the closest comparable press manufactured nowadays.

Obviously you’ll spend a bit more on a progressive press, and they take a little longer to set up, but you’ll be able to crank out the shells very quickly afterwards. I personally prefer to have multiple multi-station presses like my Lyman or the Lee Load-All. They’re inexpensive enough that I can keep multiple presses ready to go with each set up for a specific load.

Shooting 2 1/2″ blackpowder shells out of my Remington 1894? I can go right to that press and crank some out. Do I need 2 3/4″ loads that will
run reliably in my autoloader? I just go to that press and get to work.

How you choose to set up your own press is of course a personal choice. If you shoot your scatterguns often, whether it’s busting clays, hunting waterfowl, or competing in 3-gun matches, loading your own shells may be something you should look into.

Spotting Scope Bleg

I need a spotting scope. It’s not that money is no option, but I don’t mind paying for quality.

Ideally looking for something that can be used on a tripod or on a weighted pole mount. Must be waterproof.

The Belgian Corporal

The Belgian Corporal

by Neal Knox

In the summer of 1955, I was a young Texas National Guard sergeant on active duty at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. A corporal in my squad was a Belgian-American named Charles DeNaer. An old man as far as most of us were concerned, being well over thirty, Charley commanded a certain amount of our respect, for not only was he older than the rest of us, he had lived in Belgium when the Germans rolled across the low countries by-passing the Maginot Line on their way into France. He had seen war.

One soft Oklahoma afternoon, sitting on a bunk in the half-light of an old wooden barracks, he told me his story.

In Charley’s little town in Belgium, there lived an old man, a gunsmith. The old man was friendly with the kids and welcomed them to his shop. He had once been an armorer to the king of Belgium, according to Charley. He told us of the wonderful guns the old man had crafted, using only hand tools. There were double shotguns and fine rifles with beautiful hardwood stocks and gorgeous engraving and inlay work. Charley liked the old man and enjoyed looking at the guns. He often did chores around the shop.

One day the gunsmith sent for Charley. Arriving at the shop, Charley found the old man carefully oiling and wrapping guns in oilcloth and paper. Charley asked what he was doing. The old smith gestured to a piece of paper on the workbench and said that an order had come to him to register all of his guns. He was to list every gun with a description on a piece of paper and then to send the paper to the government. The old man had no intention of complying with the registration law and had summoned Charley to help him bury the guns at a railroad crossing. Charley asked why he didn’t simply comply with the order and keep the guns. The old man, with tears in his eyes, replied to the boy, “If I register them, they will be taken away. ”

A year or two later, the blitzkrieg rolled across the Low Countries. One day not long after, the war arrived in Charley’s town. A squad of German SS troops banged on the door of a house that Charley knew well. The family had twin sons about Charley’s age. The twins were his best friends. The officer displayed a paper describing a Luger pistol, a relic of the Great War, and ordered the father to produce it. That old gun had been lost, stolen, or misplaced sometime after it had been registered, the father explained. He did not know where it was.

The officer told the father that he had exactly fifteen minutes to produce the weapon. The family turned their home upside down. No pistol. They returned to the SS officer empty-handed.

The officer gave an order and soldiers herded the family outside while other troops called the entire town out into the square. There on the town square the SS machine-gunned the entire family-father, mother, Charley’s two friends, their older brother and a baby sister.

I will never forget the moment. We were sitting on the bunk on a Saturday afternoon and Charley was crying, huge tears rolling down his cheeks, making silver dollar size splotches on the dusty barracks floor. That was my conversion from a casual gun owner to one who was determined to prevent such a thing from ever happening in America.

Later that summer, when I had returned home I went to the president of the West Texas Sportsman’s Club in Abilene and told him I wanted to be on the legislative committee. He replied that we didn’t have a legislative committee, but that I was now the chairman.

I, who had never given a thought to gun laws, have been eyeball deep in the “gun control” fight ever since.

As the newly-minted Legislative Committee Chairman of the West Texas Sportsman’s club, I set myself to some research. I had never before read the Second Amendment, but now noticed that The American Rifleman published it in its masthead. I was delighted to learn that the Constitution prohibited laws like Belgium’s. There was no battle to fight, I thought. We were covered. I have since learned that the words about a militia and the right of the people to keep and bear, while important, mean as much to a determined enemy as the Maginot line did to Hitler.

Rather than depend on the Second Amendment to protect our gun rights, I’ve learned that we must protect the Second Amendment and the precious rights it recognizes.

Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included. Text is available at To receive The Firearms Coalition’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Knox Hard Corps Report, write to PO Box 3313, Manassas, VA 20108.

©Copyright 2009 Neal Knox Associates


RascalDogs never die. They don’t know how to. They get tired, and very old, and their bones hurt. Of course they don’t die. If they did they would not want to always go for a walk, even long after their old bones say:” No, no, not a good idea. Let’s not go for a walk.” Nope, dogs always want to go for a walk. They might get one step before their aging tendons collapse them into a heap on the floor, but that’s what dogs are. They walk.

It’s not that they dislike your company. On the contrary, a walk with you is all there is. Their boss, and the cacaphonic symphony of odor that the world is. Cat poop, another dog’s mark, a rotting chicken bone ( exultation), and you. That’s what makes their world perfect, and in a perfect world death has no place.

However, dogs get very very sleepy. That’s the thing, you see. They don’t teach you that at the fancy university where they explain about quarks, gluons, and Keynesian economics. They know so much they forget that dogs never die. It’s a shame, really. Dogs have so much to offer and people just talk a lot.

When you think your dog has died, it has just fallen asleep in your heart. And by the way, it is wagging it’s tail madly, you see, and that’s why your chest hurts so much and you cry all the time. Who would not cry with a happy dog wagging its tail in their chest. Ouch! Wap wap wap wap wap, that hurts. But they only wag when they wake up. That’s when they say: “Thanks Boss! Thanks for a warm place to sleep and always next to your heart, the best place.”

When they first fall asleep, they wake up all the time, and that’s why, of course, you cry all the time. Wap, wap, wap. After a while they sleep more. (remember, a dog while is not a human while. You take your dog for walk, it’s a day full of adventure in an hour. Then you come home and it’s a week, well one of your days, but a week, really, before the dog gets another walk. No WONDER they love walks.)

Anyway, like I was saying, they fall asleep in your heart, and when they wake up, they wag their tail. After a few dog years, they sleep for longer naps, and you would too. They were a GOOD DOG all their life, and you both know it. It gets tiring being a good dog all the time, particularly when you get old and your bones hurt and you fall on your face and don’t want to go outside to pee when it is raining but do anyway, because you are a good dog. So understand, after they have been sleeping in your heart, they will sleep longer and longer.

But don’t get fooled. They are not “dead.” There’s no such thing, really. They are sleeping in your heart, and they will wake up, usually when you’re not expecting it. It’s just who they are.

– Author unknown