The sins of the reloader: How handloading goes to hell

Rule number one in handloading ammunition is to get it right. There is little room for error and these errors could cost you dearly.

1. Failure to trim cases.

With few exceptions, cartridge cases stretch through use. Basically, the hotter the load, the greater the increase in length. 

Cartridge case length needs constant monitoring.

Cases should be checked for length every time you reload them. If they are not trimmed, they may not enter the rifle’s chamber or, if they do, the camming action of the bolt may drive the lip of the case into the projectile thus raising the pressure considerably. 

There are several methods of trimming. One type is a small rotary lathe-type tool. Its only downside is that it has to be reset for each cartridge type. 

A much easier method is a form and trim die which is caliber-specific. Lubricate, insert in the die, file off anything protruding above, then re-chamfer inside and out — job did.    

2. More than one powder container on the bench

Despite all the warnings, this situation continues to occur. I’m directly aware of several occasions when there were two or more powder containers on the bench and the wrong one was loaded into rifle cartridge cases. 

On each occasion it involved pistol powder. Both rifles were blown apart and both of the men who pulled the triggers suffered some medical problems. 

Limit yourself to one container in use and check it against the paperwork involved. You just cannot be too careful.

3. Constantly check the scale

If you are using a mechanical scale, it is necessary to constantly check the powder setting against the paperwork. Scales get bumped and the setting changes. Don’t let it happen as it could cause a problem. It happens more often than you think.

4. Using loads other than from a recognised manual

There are many loads available on the internet. They may be well-meaning but invariably, when compared with loads in official reloading manuals, they are over maximums. 

ALL loads obtained from whatever source other than a manual must be checked against a manual before use. 

You simply have no way to check the pressures generated. Remember, every barrel is an individual. You must start low and work up carefully, watching for pressure signs at all stages. 

Joe Blogs cannot wait to tell you he gets 3200fps with five grains more powder than the manuals, which only achieve 2900fps — and he has no pressure signs. What is missing is that the rifle is 40 years old and the barrel is well worn!

5. Keep extensive records

Aside from any other reason, good records prevent repetition. In addition, it may be a record of what does NOT work, preventing you from using it in the future. 

Good records can also show up trends, which can be useful.

6. Open powder and primers

Do NOT have primers and powder in open containers on the bench at the same time. 

Accidents do happen. A recent one in the USA ignited a primer on the bench, setting off a chain reaction, igniting several others. 

Thankfully, no powder was present. A disaster was avoided.

7. Excessive speed when load developing

Nothing affects group size in the early stages of load development quicker than excessive heat simply caused by shooting at a rapid rate. Slow it down, pace your shots, and do NOT allow the barrel to heat up excessively. 

Further, when shooting cartridges with around 50 or so grains of powder, allow a minimum of ten minutes between shots to let the barrel cool down. You will be surprised how this shrinks groups!

8. Failure to clean

Eventually, the combustion residue build-up in the barrel will affect the group size. 

Because every barrel is a law unto itself you might have to experiment as to when exactly you should clean. 

I normally clean all calibers after 10 shots — three groups of three plus a sighter.

9. When in doubt, measure 

It is often difficult to tell the difference in size between projectiles. When in doubt, reach for the calipers and make sure that the size is, in fact, correct. A case point: .264 (7mm) and .277 projectiles, which case easily be mistaken for one another. 

Don’t take the risk when in doubt. Measure!




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Ron James