What You Need to Start Reloading

posted on May 21, 2024
What You Need To Start Reloading Lead

A running theme in our community is to be as independent as possible through the use of only minimal equipment. While we ensure the hard-to-find items are always kept at hand, we often neglect to keep a stockpile of “the givens.” The state of ammunition has been in pure disarray for the last few years, and thus, the most common hunting cartridges might as well be made of pure unobtanium. Who would believe rounds like .30-30 Winchester or .30-06 Springfield would ever be referred to as “hard to come by,” yet here we are. Reloading has always been the answer to an uninterrupted supply of your preferred rifle food, but most of us who limit our firearm use to hunting cite that we can’t justify the investment for a reloading setup. However, the truth is there isn’t much required to roll off a modest amount of ammo, meaning that a setup consisting of just the basics will indeed pay for itself while ensuring you’ll never run out of your favorite cartridge ever again. There’s a lot of gear out there, but here are the basics you’ll need to turn fired brass back into live ammunition.

RCBS single-stage reloading press.

A Single-Stage Press
At the core of the process sits the reloading press. This tool will be used for sizing brass, decapping, flaring, seating and crimping, along with other specialty functions. Far too often, reloading equipment is depicted by multi-stage presses that cost upward of $1,000. The truth is those are built for churning out high volumes of ammunition with mid-level consistency. Therefore, pricing aside, they are not the best option for making hunting cartridges. Single-stage presses offer better precision, with some options costing less than $100. Like any tool, buying one is a “get what you pay for” endeavor, so I advise dedicating a few extra bucks to this area of your budget. The RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme is by far my favorite single-stage press. I’ve churned out tens of thousands of rounds with one and have found it to be exceptionally well built. Additionally, it offers a built-in priming solution and can be upgraded to Hornady’s Lock-N-Load Bushing System.

Lyman reloading manual.

A Reloading Manual
If you avoid handloading because you worry you’ll hurt yourself or damage a firearm, remember the enemy of fear is knowledge. For more than 100 years, reloaders have learned the craft using nothing more than a Lyman reloading manual (lymanproducts.com). The front half of the book covers step-by-step instructions on the entire process, as well as tips and tricks to accurize your finished product. While you can “YouTube” this information, it’s hard to compare “Gunguy193251’s” knowledge to a book in its 51st  edition. The Lyman manual also has a plethora of load data that proven to be safe, staving off any possible chance of injury, just as long as you stay within the charts and heed its advice.

Hornady dies and bullets.

Dies, Shell Holders and Bullets
Consider dies to be your molds, and with a few exceptions a different set is required for each cartridge. A typical die set contains everything you need except a shell holder, depending on whether you are loading a straight-walled or bottle-necked case. There are lots of good dies out there, but Hornady is by far the best value. At the time of this writing, as in years past, each set of Hornady dies includes 100 Hornady bullets through the “Get Loaded” promotion. After factoring in this offset, the dies drop down to almost no cost.

Hodgdon Varget primer.

Powder and Primers
The most interchangeable components involved are powder and primers. If you plan to load a variety of cartridges, cross-reference them in a manual to see if you can get away with buying just one. Look for data involving Hodgdon Varget, IMR 4895 or IMR 4064, as these are some of the most compatible. Additional data can also be found on Hodgdon’s website. Primers are even more cross-compatible, as all you need to do is match size and power (standard or magnum). For reference, I load my .308 Win., .30-06 Springfield, .30-30 Win., .45-70 Gov’t. and 6.5 Creedmoor all with the same CCI BR-2 primers for efficiency.

RCBS Case Slick lubricant.

Bottleneck cartridges typically require lubrication before being sized. However, this will be one of your smallest investments. For light-duty work, RCBS Case Slick works fine and can be applied rapidly. Harder-to-size brass might require the old pad-and-lube method. Feel free to buy them one at a time, but a little trial and error will show you what’s best for your specific needs.

Frankford Arsenal DS-750 digital scale.

A Scale
Powder measurements are listed by weight, so a scale that can measure in grains is a must. Thanks to technology, hundred-dollar balance beam scales are a thing of the past. Digital scales like the Frankford Arsenal DS-750 are a fraction of the price, faster and more accurate than the equipment our grandfathers used. A digital scale is all you need to measure anything reloading.

Lyman Powder Pal Funnel.

A Funnel
Getting the powder from the pan will require a special funnel and a steady hand. However, if the pan is the funnel, life gets much easier. Lyman’s Powder Pal is compatible with any scale and speeds things up without sacrificing safety. The price difference between this and a standard funnel is negligible, so you might as well opt for easy.

Frankford Arsenal caliper for reloading ammunition.

There are a few specific measurements that we are concerned with when reloading ammunition. First, we need to confirm that the brass hasn’t stretched to an unsafe level. If it has, it needs to be either trimmed or discarded. Next, we need to be able to measure a completed cartridge’s overall length so that we can clone a factory load and seat bullets to the same depth next time. Frankford Arsenal makes one of the least expensive options, and it is built better than some of the others that are no longer on my bench.

Depending how you shop, this initial investment can sum up to as little as $300, which is a far cry from some of the estimates floating around the Internet. If you have a buddy who is also flirting with the idea, you can cut that down to about half. The beautiful thing is that it’s one of the few things in life that isn’t buy once, cry once. I still utilize my basic equipment with very few regretful purchases. As time went on, I added items like a sonic cleaner to bench my shaker jar cleaning method, a digital powder dispenser to speed charging and an electric case trimmer to salvage over-stretched brass.

With the exception of my mayo jar, none of the original items were tossed, as these products represent an upgrade to my method and not my equipment. Many hunters are quite content with the basics, while some really start to enjoy the precision associated with handloaded ammunition and expand their workbench. It really just depends on where the hobby takes you. Like all things in our community, dip a toe in and see where it goes. At the very least, I can guarantee you’ll never find yourself scrounging for a box of ammo the week of opening day ever again.


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