by Phil Bourjaily - Monday, August 24, 2009
Premium factory target shotshells now cost up to $8 a box, with good budget ammo like Remington Gun Clubs selling for $6. Even the cheapest promo loads cost more than $5.
Forget that loading your own shells is fun, or that there's satisfaction in shooting ammo you made yourself. The bottom line is: reloading saves you money. Buy components in bulk, scavenge hulls, shoot 7/8- or even 3/4-ounce payloads in your 12-gauge, and you can lower your cost to $3.50 a box.
While single-stage reloaders that make one shell at a time are great for getting into reloading, if you shoot a lot, you'll want the speed of a progressive machine that works on several shells at once. I moved up to RCBS' The Grand this year, and the main problem I've had with it is keeping the "Green Monster" fed. It gobbles components as fast as I can buy them, loading a box of shells in just over three minutes.
Although RCBS is best known for metallic cartridge presses, The Grand is an impressive entry into the progressive- shotshell-loader market. Physically, it's massive, weighing more than 50 pounds. The Grand has to be mounted so its large lever, compound linkage and spent primer bottle extend beyond the front of your bench. Despite its size and apparent complexity, assembly and preliminary adjustment were straightforward. In well under an hour I had the whole unit put together, mounted on my bench and loading shells. The powder charges weigh out consistently and the shells emerge from the last crimp station looking factory-new.
The Grand works on eight hulls at once, with each pull of the handle producing a finished shell. The first station de-primes and does a full-length resizing of the hull; the second primes it; three through five add powder, wad and shot. There are three crimp stations: a start, the crimp and a final taper; then the shell ejects from the loader down a ramp. The Grand's bottles hold more than 25 pounds of shot and a pound of powder, while the primer tray accommodates 100 209s. All you have to add are hulls and wads, then pull the handle. Although it lists at nearly $1,000, I've seen The Grand for sale in catalogs for $700. It pays for itself after 7,000-8,000 shells, and at the speed it loads shells, it won't take long to break even.
Although progressive loaders work much faster than single-stage machines, when you have eight operations taking place at once, the potential for powder and shot spills increases. Among The Grand's smart features are "case-activated" powder and shot drops. The powder and shot tubes are spring-loaded, and without a hull to push them up, they won't work. The feature not only saves messy spills, it allows you to use The Grand as a single-stage press if you desire. That's a plus if you're just learning to load, or if you need to give extra attention to special hunting loads.
The powder and shot bottles pivot among three positions: "off," "on" and "empty." By attaching the included hose beneath a bottle and sliding the bottle into "empty" position, you can empty powder and shot bottles easily if you want to change components, without having to tip bottles or unscrew them. Swing them to the "off" position, pop out one pin, and you can change powder and shot bushings in the charge bar in a minute.
The wad guide swings out on a spring-loaded arm, then swings forward automatically into the loading position when you cycle the press. The swing-out arm works perfectly and makes adding the wad convenient. All eight stations on the open frame are easily accessible so you can remove shells at any time to weigh powder or shot charges or inspect them.
Since last winter I've loaded several thousand shells on it with little trouble, once I realized I didn't have to hurry to load fast. You only have to be smooth, and speed takes care of itself.
Occasionally a primer fails to drop. Most of those failures I attribute to the shaky bench on which I have the unit mounted, and my tendency to pull and push the handle too hard when I first started using the machine. As vibration jiggles the primer tray, sometimes the primers hang up. For best results you need to bolt The Grand to a solid surface.
The only problem I've run into with parts breakage is the vanes on the case holders. Through operator error, it's possible to bend them and prevent the case holders from working. RCBS sent me a bag of new ones. Changing them was simple, and it solved the problem.
The Grand comes in either 12- or 20-gauge models. Buy the one you shoot most, then if you want to reload the other gauge, too, buy a Conversion Kit for half the cost of a new machine. And, I should mention here that The Grand has a lifetime warranty on parts, and RCBS techs are wise, patient and ready to work with you to keep it cranking out shells. At savings of $2.50 a box, running The Grand isn't quite as efficient as printing your own money, but it's as close as you can legally come.
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