Shotshell Reloading: A Step-by-Step Guide

The first step in reloading a shell is to inspect your hulls for flaws. A modern hull has a certain lifespan and, barring some specific injury – being stepped on, for instance – it should last a dozen shots or perhaps more.

The natural tendency with reloaders is to push a hull’s lifespan. It is better for performance however, and for your own peace of mind to discard a hull at its first sign of wear or irregularity. If the crimp looks like it is developing a crack, or the plastic seems to be separating from the brass base, or there is anything out-of-the-ordinary about the hull that causes you to look twice at it, discard it.

RESIZING

A press resizes a hull in two ways. It can use a steel-fingered sleeve to slide up on the brass and squeeze it or neck it down to proper size as a single step in the reloading process.

A second method is to force the entire hull into a full-length resizing die at station number one. This die can then hold the shell tightly through the entire process of reloading and crimping.

DE-PRIMING

The next step, called “de-priming,” involves removing the spent primer. Unless you are using a hydraulically-operated progressive press, which accomplishes these steps automatically with the tap of a toe, you must physically push the old primer out the bottom of the hull with a pull of the lever. This step is gauge-specific, so be sure you have the correct de-priming pin in place.

De-priming must not crush the hull’s base wad as this can cause a drop in pressure for your next load.

Never de-prime live primers from hulls, either! Pressing a live primer out could cause it to detonate!

RE-PRIMING

Any time that you handle primers, it is best to wear safety glasses and, in fact, this safety precaution is urged throughout the reloading process.

Modern shotshell primers have been standardized to the #209 size. If the primer does not fit easily into the empty pocket, do NOT force it, as a detonating primer will hurt you. Stop and look for the problem.

Primers are built with different levels of energy and each load calls for a specific primer in order to function properly. Use only the primer recommended in your load recipe. If you do not have that particular primer, get some.

It is easy to seat a primer correctly and the only correctly seated primer is one that is flush with the bottom of the base. Primers extending out beyond the level of the base have in rare cases been known to explode prematurely during action cycling before the gun is properly locked. This will cause your shell to literally, “go ballistic.”

DROPPING POWDER

Powder is measured in grains. One ounce equals 437.5 grains, and 16 ounces, or one pound, are 7,000 grains. Remember this measure.

Every loader requires bushing adjustment for different loads. Most presses have independent, replaceable bushings, but some modern presses have measuring and dropping systems for powder and shot that eliminate physically replacing bushing components.

Using traditional single or progressive presses, the proper bushing for each specific load must be used for controlled measurement of a powder charge. Charts, provided by the manufacturer of your reloader, will specify which bushing to use for a specific type and amount of powder.

INSERTING THE WAD

Your next adventurous reloading step is placing the proper wad into the shell. Modern wads are available with specific heights and thickness. One wad does not fit all.

Wads need to be seated correctly on top of the powder and there is always a certain amount of flex needed for proper crimping. To seat a wad, press it firmly into the base of the hull. Do not apply so much force that you might tear or distort the plastic. Crushing a wad causes it to cant or lean inside the hull. This effectively destroys the midsection and ruptures the gas seal.

A workable method of wad seating is to observe the top of the wad as it relates to the hull’s crimp folds. The top of the wad petals should sit just below the crimping line. If for any reason, the wad protrudes from the top of the hull, or it drops completely out of sight inside the hull, something is wrong.

If your press uses wad guide fingers, get used to the fact that they occasionally must be replaced. Wad guide fingers sit directly above the hull at the wad placement station. These thin, usually plastic, fingers extend into the mouth of the hull, easing passage of the gas seal.

Hunting loads often require that a filler wad be placed inside the wad/shotcup at this point. A filler wad can be felt, cardboard or cork. These wads are shaped like a disk and come in varying thickness. Should your load require a filler wad (or two), place it into the wad guide, just as you would like it to sit inside the wad column.

DROPPING SHOT

Loose shot fills a cavity, an empty cylinder inside the bushing, which is cut to the specific diameter required to accommodate a certain payload. Although it seems a little primitive in the digital age, this method works quite well, especially with lead pellets #4 and smaller. For common trap, skeet and sporting clays loads, you simply drop in the proper bar or bushing and proceed, because #7-1/2, #8, #8-1/2 and #9 shot flow like water and measure almost perfectly.

Larger pellets occupy space, just like smaller pellets, but those larger pellets need more “elbow room.” You will also notice a slight weight reduction for every shot size increase. So when using any particular bushing, always verify the shot weight by pulling a sample or two after first settling the shot in the reservoir.

CRIMPING: CLOSING THE SHELL

Developing the crimp and starting and finishing the seal are normally a multi-station process. For different payloads, powders and other ingredients, you will need to carefully check and perhaps adjust the crimp stations of your press.

Crimping is “not a static setup, once achieved, never altered.” In other words, like driving in traffic, reloading is not something you can do effectively while you are watching an exciting ball game on television or preparing the family dinner.

To determine which crimp-starter to use in your press, simply count the folds in the top of the hells you are reloading. You can do the same with the crimp-starter itself if the six-pointer and the eight-pointer look alike on the outside, and they often do. It is important to use the proper crimp-starter, because folding a six-point hull with an eight-point crimp starter for example is going to make a mess of your hull.

Do not agonize over the six-point or eight-point crimp decision. Go with what works for you and your machine. Adjust the crimp starter until you can see that folds have been introduced to the hull. Closing your shell is often a multi-stage process and starting the crimp is only step number one. If you overdo it with this adjustment, the crimp may smash together in the center during the final stage.

In applying crimps, we often refer to a hull’s “memory.” This means that once plastic “takes a set” or is creased, it will usually return to this shape the next time you bend it. New, unfired hulls may have to have folds introduced to the plastic by slowly working the hull into the crimp starter station a couple of times before moving on to the final crimp station.

The final crimp station closes the hull, leaving what should be a flat, level surface across the top. You want the center hole to be as small as possible, without being crushed together completely, and to form a spiral swirl. In general, the folded crimp will provide you with a positive closure that is about 1/16- to 1/10-inch deep.

MARK YOUR SHELLS

Since reloaded shells may have nothing to do with the original markings or the original boxes, you are faced with needing to mark your loads. Short range, long range, rabbits, spreader loads, different size shot … write it all down on the shell or on a card inside the box and you will be less inclined to forget or make a mistake.

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