Presumably, 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.